Hermione Granger
Drama Romance
Multiple Eras
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Quidditch Through the Ages Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Published: 03/19/2002
Updated: 09/01/2005
Words: 220,150
Chapters: 28
Hits: 163,807

Falling Further In


Story Summary:
The story begins in the summer holidays before the sixth year. After her parents are murdered by Voldemort Hogwarts becomes Hermione's home. She joins the staff in the fight against Voldemort and learns more of the man behind the dark sarcasms of the classroom. Will *eventually* be Snape/Hermione. Lupin is again the Professor teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts, and has a black dog who lives with him - Sirius Black in his animagus form.

Chapter 05

Chapter Summary:
Hermione learns more about the man behind the dark sarcasms of the classroom


Snape's day was full of small humiliations as he experienced all the difficulties of a cerebral man finding himself at the mercy of his hormones, in a way he hadn't been since he was thirteen. The situation was exacerbated by everyones' enjoyment of Miss Granger's 'wit'. Eventually he conceded defeat and escaped to his quarters. He supposed that the speed and frequency of his body's responses to the most innocent stimulation was only to be expected after so many years impotence but it made it no easier to deal with. If this euphoric, hormonal rush didn't wear off soon he would be in danger of developing a nervous tic; it seemed advisable to take preventive measures. While he had never had occasion to visit Madam Min's, for obvious reasons, it seemed to offer the solution to his problem.

But, damn, Hermione had smelt wonderful.

Oh, not again.

He eyed his right hand ruefully. There wasn't a trace of hair on the palm which, he supposed, was something to be grateful for.

Whistling under his breath and almost in tune, Snape showered and changed before replaiting his inclined-to-fluff-out hair. There. That was about as good as it got. Idly thumbing his smooth chin and grateful that a simple charm applied morning and night dispensed with the tedious need to shave, he wandered back into the steamy bathroom and used the back of his hand to smear condensation from the rarely used mirror.

He stared into the glass, reacquainting himself with his own face rather than the one which belonged to 'Snape-the-bastard', although he had long suspected that the two had merged into one, to the detriment of both. He tried, and failed, to remember the last time he had looked himself in the eye. It was easier than he had expected.

Without being aware of it, he rubbed his forearm before unfastening the cuff of his shirt to check the mark wasn't engraved on the pale, blue-veined flesh. No Dark Mark, no pain and a body burgeoning with health. Impatient with the damp-smeared glass, he dried it off and improved the lighting with a flamboyant flick of his fingers before peering into the mirror again.

There were more lines on his face than he remembered, and you could drive a Bludger down the frown line above his nose but... It was true no one would ever call him handsome but he wasn't that bad, surely?

Realising he was worrying over the opinion of a chit of a witch, he scowled and stalked out of his quarters, although as the heavy door refused to slam his exit wasn't as satisfying as it might have been.

"... While I enjoy being thanked as much as the next witch, I can't take the credit for this. I have no idea why you should be free of pain and virtually glowing with health. It's a treat to see you looking like your old self." Madam Pomfrey took out her wand and automatically began to take some readings.

"I'm far from complaining just... What if it suddenly wears off while I'm - ?" Snape stopped. There was no need to impose his maudlin concerns on other people.

"From all these readings there's nothing to indicate that you need worry on that score," said Madam Pomfrey, at her most matter of fact. This was more than she had ever dared hope for. The relief that he wasn't going to die while she could do nothing but watch almost overset her hard-won detachment; years of experience came to her rescue.

Prowling up and down the ward with more energy than he had displayed for months, Snape gave the impression that if he had a tail it would be lashing.

"Which still doesn't explain why I feel... It's as if I never suffered from the Cruciatus." Frowning, he slowed to a halt. "Did Fawkes - ?"

"We tried phoenix tears in the first month, to no avail. Nothing worked," she said with renewed bitterness.

"No. It wasn't your fault," he added awkwardly.

She glared at him. "Well it felt that way to me!"

Snape sank onto the edge of a bed and gave her a considering look. "I feel the same way each time I lose a Slytherin to the Dark Lord," he offered, repaying his debt in the only way he knew.

The open affection in her smile made him fidget.

"I suppose I couldn't run a few more tests?" Madam Pomfrey asked, without much expectation that he would agree.

To her surprise he allowed her take all the readings she wanted, although he balked at donating some of the samples she requested.

"Not so much as an ingrown toe-nail," she said with satisfaction. "But I have no explanation."

"Which gives me a respite until I'm summoned again," said Snape, feeling the chill clear to his spine as he contemplated Voldemort's probable reaction to finding him in such rude health.

Dumbledore looked up with a smile as Snape came into his study. "Ah, Severus. Still not wearing the Appearance Detracting Charm, I see," he said, his eyes twinkling.

Snape looked resigned. "Minerva has already twitted me about that three times. I can hardly wait until Black hears about Miss Granger's comments." Closing the study door he took his first proper look at Dumbledore; at breakfast he had been so preoccupied with his own well-being that he wouldn't have noticed if a Hippogriff had sat next to him.

"You look dreadful." Crossing the room, he sank down onto the low table in front of the headmaster.

"Ask Poppy to have a word with you about your bedside manner." Dumbledore sounded amused.

Snape remained silent, absorbing the horrifying changes in the headmaster's appearance in the last twenty four hours. He looked every one of his one hundred and fifty six years and terrifyingly frail. The flesh of his face sat too close to the bone for the comfort of anyone looking at it and the tissue paper skin was bleached of colour. Only his eyes were the same.

"Albus," he said in an agonised whisper. The realisation sank home like a shard of glass.

"I shall do very well," dismissed Dumbledore.

"I know you came to visit me last night. And that when I awoke this morning I felt...restored. What charm did you use?" Snape stared up at the man who had kept him sane all these years, his expression unguarded, as it so rarely was.

"I've never been particularly good at charms. March is the person you should speak to about them. Although Sirius has a certain talent for the - "

"Albus," Snape repeated.

Dumbledore touched him lightly on the cheek with his finger. "It wasn't a charm, although it did work better than I dared hope. While I'm not sure if I could repeat it, it was necessary. You need this respite. So do we. Watching what Voldemort has been doing to you has been...difficult for all of us. My only regret is that it didn't occur to me to act before."

The frown lines on Snape's face deepened as he shook his head. He ran his hand back over his hair in a rare gesture of helplessness.

"I... You must never attempt this again. Least of all for me. You could have killed yourself!" His voice had the sound of silk ripping.

"Nonsense." Dumbledore injected some necessary briskness into his voice. "I'm a little tired, that's all."

"You're almost translucent," protested Snape.

"Then some cucumber sandwiches and buttered crumpets should do me the world of good. Stop worrying, child. What are you still doing here? Go to Hogsmeade. Give Min my regards."

"Is there anything you don't know?" asked Snape with resignation, refusing to feel embarrassed. He was thirty eight, not fifteen, and answerable only to himself in such matters. He - just - stopped himself from shuffling his feet.

"Far too many things, I'm sorry to say. Now, go away. Have a good evening and a very pleasant night."

The combination of mischief and anticipation in Snape's grin took years from his age. "I intend to." He rose to his full height in one smoothly coordinated movement, his smile fading as he looked at the seated man. A moment later he was kneeling in front of him, one hand resting on Dumbledore's arm.

"Reverse the process, Albus. I can stay the course. I won't let you down again." It was, he thought, ridiculous that a man so old should have such vivid eyes. He sustained their gaze without difficulty.

"For someone so intelligent you can be such a fool," said Dumbledore, but the obvious affection in his voice brought a faint flush of colour into Snape's face. "Although I still maintain you weren't smacked enough as a child," he added, which was why Snape was smiling again when he left Hogwarts a short time later.


"Good morning, Hermione," said Professor Sprout, raising her tea cup in greeting. "Isn't it a beautiful morning?"

"I haven't had a chance to notice yet," mumbled Hermione, reaching for the coffee pot before she had even sat down. She was close to the stage where she would kill for an uninterrupted night's sleep, free from nightmares of faceless figures and nerve-shattering cries in the darkness.

"Someone got out of the bed on the wrong side this morning," muttered Flitwick, in a barely audible aside.

"Probably because it was her own," said Professor McGonagall, tart as a lemon.

"Minerva," protested Professor Sprout, laughing. "You don't think - ?"

"No. At least I hope not, for Severus' sake," Professor McGonagall added, a grim set to her thin mouth.

"He wouldn't," said Flitwick with conviction. "And you know it. Although I confess it can be irritating when Slytherins display the odd moral compunction."

"Speaking of which, where is Severus?" inquired Professor Sprout, scattering raspberry juice with every movement of her spoon.

Flitwick relieved her of it. "Hogsmeade."

"At this hour? Most of the shops won't even be open."

"He left yesterday evening. To visit Madam Min's House of Mirth," added Flitwick.

"Oh... Splendid," said Professor Sprout with decision. "He'll have a wonderful time."

Professor McGonagall looked shocked. "Ceres! Not that I object to Severus... It's relief to see him so... But I am surprised that you, of all people, should approve of witches permitting themselves to be used as mere - "

"You've never visited Min's, have you," interrupted Professor Sprout placidly. "I really think you should. While it's been a few months since March and I - "

"You and March!" gasped Professor McGonagall. "But you... Together? With strangers?"

Professor Sprout gave a patient sigh. "Minerva, it's a House of Mirth. And while sex is obviously one of the more joyful pastimes available to like-minded people, it is only one of them. As for - what was it you said? - witches being used, that's far from the truth. First, all are welcome at Min's, witch, wizard and those of more mixed parentage. And the only things for sale in that house are food, drink and accommodation. Everything else is freely given - including good conversation, laughter, art, music, seminars... Some of the finest minds end up at Min's, if only for a night or two. You must come with March and I. As our guest. One of the most frequent attendees, Phryne, is a most interesting witch. An architect and a fine scholar of wizard and witch behaviour. She's also one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen. I believe she had a Veela grandmother. She and Severus have been corresponding for some time, so I imagine they'll have plenty to - um - talk about."

Having absorbed enough caffeine to be more aware of the world, Hermione sat stony-faced, absorbing the knowledge that, far from remembering the promises he had made to help her, Snape was off doing who knew what to - with - this Phryne. Which was a ridiculous name to give anyone, no matter how beautiful they might be.

"Ah, post," said Flitwick with pleasure as owl after owl flew in to deposit packages beside him.

Conversation around the table trickled to a standstill as everyone concentrated on reading their mail. Having run out of money in her Gringotts account Hermione had been unable to do any mail-owl shopping, and so she had only letters. She skimmed them without much interest. Lavender was in love again - yawn. Harry was bored and miserable and Ron was still besotted with the Chudley Cannons.

Her expression brightened when she saw Viktor's quill writing. Even he couldn't write Quidditch non-stop, surely. Re-reading his letter for the third time, and disconcerted that it should matter so little beyond the sting of rejection, Hermione was oblivious to the concern being directed her way. Eventually she realised that Professor McGonagall was trying to attract her attention.

"The marmalade? Certainly."

Not pausing to wonder why Professor McGonagall hadn't used magic Hermione handed her the pot and went back to staring at the curled parchment. Viktor had been her first - her only - boyfriend and while she couldn't pretend it had been the most satisfactory relationship in the world she hadn't been ready to let go yet. Now she had nothing.

An irritable sound made her look down in time to see Crookshanks float up onto the empty chair beside her. He batted her arm with his head, pushed the parchment aside and spread his considerable bulk between the chair and her lap.

"I hope you're not psychic," muttered Hermione, giving him a look of suspicion.

"I beg your pardon?" said Flitwick, who sat on her other side.

"Nothing, Professor. I was just talking to Crookshanks," she replied, absently scratching an orange ear as Crookshanks rubbed his cheek against the heel of her hand.

It was silly to be like this about it. It wasn't as if she and Viktor had ever had much in common - apart from sex. He wasn't much of a conversationist and his own interests in life were Quidditch and sex - and she was pretty sure that, if pushed, Quidditch would come first. There again, it probably would for Harry and Ron. Next time round she would avoid the sports mad. Maybe she could even find someone who voluntarily read a book.

"I trust that Messrs Potter and Weasley are both enjoying the holidays," said Flitwick.

Recognising the concern and kindness of those around the table Hermione felt a wave of affection for them.

"It isn't from them, it's from Viktor Krum. A 'Dear Hermione' letter," she added, proud of the lightness of her tone.

"Oh, my dear," said Professor Sprout, while Flitwick just looked puzzled.

"I'm afraid I don't - " he began.

"'Dear' insert name of recipient," said Professor McGonagall briskly, "'while I will always hold you in the greatest respect...' Krum has ended his relationship with Hermione. You aren't the only witch to have received one of those, my dear. But I am sorry. I can still remember the smart of those I received. You'll discover wizards are rarely willing to tackle difficult emotional issues face to face. I have to admit, much as I admire his skill on the field, I found Mr Krum dreadfully dull once he stopped talking about Quidditch. I trust there were compensations."

"Only one," said Hermione. "And that could have used some practice. Uh - " Her hand went to her mouth as she realised what she had let slip and she found herself laughing instead of feeling sorry for herself.

"That's better, dear," said Professor Sprout, pouring her some more coffee. "There. While it would undoubtedly have been more satisfying for you to have been the letter writer, you're left with the moral high ground. And, more importantly, you're free to decide who to honour with your company next term. I'd steer clear of dark and brooding. They're dreadfully high maintenance."

Weak with disbelief, Hermione sat in fascinated silence while her professors reminisced and gave her advice on her love life; what was more disconcerting was how knowledgeable they all were about the romantic entanglements of their students.

"Don't you find it difficult at times?" she asked Flitwick.

He beamed at her, then nodded. "Very. But my dear Ceres gives me the woman's perspective. And there's always Severus to help with the preoccupations of the human male, although he assures me that at Hogwarts sex and Quidditch pretty much covers it."

She could almost hear him saying it, too. Her eyes almost crossed as she tried not to laugh at the idea of Snape giving advice to the love-lorn, until it occurred to her that was a prejudice carried forward from her experience of him in the classroom. Although the idea of him interesting himself in her sex life was...

She fidgeted in her chair. Crookshanks grumbled and let her feel his claws.

"So what are your plans for today?" asked Madam Pomfrey.

"Well, I had... Nothing," said Hermione.

Which was why she spent the entire day out harvesting seed heads. Feeling drugged with the sun she returned to Hogwarts to find that Peter Frayne, the Muggle lawyer the headmaster had recommended, was waiting to see her. He was a plain and exceedingly kind man, with an air of competence which was immediately reassuring. Hermione arranged to visit her parents' house within a day or so to remove those belongings she wanted to keep - the agents he appointed would deal with everything else on her behalf. While she was dreading that visit, she tried to convince herself that it was a relief to have come to a decision.

Taking one look at Hermione's expression Madam Pomfrey took her off for tea and kept her busy all evening, so she didn't have the chance to brood.


Snape flew back to Hogwarts just as it was getting light, landing with an exuberant loop-the-loop manoeuvre he hadn't employed since he passed the Ministry's Quidditch referring exams. They had been worth all the hard work just to enjoy the expression on Minerva's face when she had realised her precious Gryffindors were at his mercy. Though since the arrival of Potter, their star Seeker, refereeing on a regular basis had been out of the question. Unbiased decisions weren't an option for him at present - presuming he wanted to make them in the first place.

His crumpled jacket slung over one shoulder, he sauntered down to the edge of the lake, causing panic amongst the toads which lived in the shelter of the reeds. A startled heron launched itself clumsily into the air, the creak of its wings sounding loud in the silence. He watched it go, enjoying a sense of well-being he hadn't experienced since...

Never, he conceded. And only part of it was thanks to his hours spent with a witch who was a quarter Veela.

He gave a contented stretch before glancing up as he became aware he was under surveillance. He relaxed when he saw Dumbledore approaching. He looked a little tired but that terrifying air of fragility was gone.

"Good morning, Severus."

"You're all right," exclaimed Snape, eschewing the usual civilities.

"Thank Fawkes," corrected Dumbledore, smiling.

"Oh, I do," said Snape, before he followed the direction of Dumbledore's gaze. "What's Fawkes doing up on the battlements?"

"I reminded him that he was capable of real flying," admitted Dumbledore, looking rueful. "He got up there - just - but seems to be in some difficulty about coming down again. I suppose you wouldn't like to go and - Ah, no need. I think he's seen you," he added as Fawkes launched himself into the air with a great deal of flapping of his wings. His large, ugly feet tucked up under his plump belly, his flight feathers strained wide as he struggled to ride what little breeze there was; the long golden tail streamed out behind him, the delicate, decorative feathers undulating in the down draught as he made his relentless descent - obviously faster than he intended, or was prudent.

"That damn bird's fallen on its head once too often," said Snape irritably. "Fawkes is to flying what I am to patience." But he was watching the phoenix through narrowed, unblinking eyes and his lips began to move silently.

Dumbledore smiled to himself as Fawkes, resisting all attempts to steer him away, unerringly headed for Snape, making a more or less graceful landing on the arm Snape outstretched for him at the last moment. There was a short breathless pause on Fawkes' part before he shook himself and sidled up to Snape's shoulder, where he lovingly began to groom Snape's hair.

Snape winced, then reached up to rub the top of Fawkes' head, rapidly reducing the phoenix to a state of ecstasy so great that he lost his balance and fell onto the grass with an ungainly thump.

Shaking himself with immense dignity, Fawkes glared at Snape before perching on Dumbledore's shoulder; pointedly turning his back on Snape, he started to preen his gorgeous tail feathers.

Dumbledore shook his head in amusement. "You're the only wizard I know who would risk teasing a phoenix."

"Nonsense," dismissed Snape briskly. "Fawkes and I understand one another well enough. He knows I owe him a debt I can never repay."

Fawkes swivelled his head around one hundred and eighty degrees until he was staring at Snape. For a few seconds the sound of phoenix song filled the air then, without ceremony, Fawkes vanished with a small pop.

Shivering in reaction to the exquisite song Snape slid his hands into the pockets of his black trousers. "That damn bird gets his revenge every time."

"You're too susceptible to beauty."

Snape cocked his head. "Headmaster?"

"Stop searching for hidden meanings. I meant only what I said."

"That would be a first. It's a great relief to see you looking so... You look well," Snape added with satisfaction.

"I feel it." Dumbledore tucked his arm into Snape's as they strolled at a snail's pace back to Hogwarts. "It seems that while Fawkes cannot act directly to counter the Cruciatus administered to you, there was no impediment to him being able to help me. Which means - "

"Nothing," interrupted Snape. "That solution isn't an option. I won't permit it."

"Let's not argue this fine morning. And please, stop blaming yourself. I haven't seen you look this guilty since I found you with that pretty blonde girl in her dormitory. What was her name again - Monica?"

"Melisande," said Snape.

"Ah, yes. She giggled a lot, as I recall."

"All the time," confirmed Snape pensively.

"All the - ?"


"Then why did you - ?"

"I was sixteen and distracted by her - " Snape's hands moved in a descriptive arc.

"I doubt if there was a male member of staff who failed to notice those. May I ask you a personal question?" continued Dumbledore, his eyes sparkling with mischief.

Snape viewed the sight with grave mistrust but made no objection. "You don't usually bother to ask permission."

"It is very personal."

"Because that will be such a novelty."

"The reason I have to ask so many questions is because you never volunteer anything," said Dumbledore with a trace of asperity.

"No, Headmaster."

Accustomed to Snape's sense of humour, Dumbledore gave him a brooding look before asking, "How many of your year did you have sex with?"

Caught unawares, Snape tripped over his own feet and would have fallen but for Dumbledore's grip on his arm.

"I shouldn't have asked," said Dumbledore, pinned by Snape's disconcertingly direct gaze.

"Wouldn't it be easier just to ask whatever it is that you really want to know?"

"Probably, but this is more entertaining. You don't have to tell me."

"I think I already knew that. May I ask why you want to know after all this time?"

"Vulgar curiosity," said Dumbledore mildly. "According to rumour you were a candidate for satyriasis."

Snape looked bored. "The truth was more mundane."

"I had a feeling it might be." Dumbledore waited expectantly.

Snape raised his eyebrows. "You want specifics? You weren't joking about vulgar curiosity, were you. Um, Melisande Barnes, Despina Evangelides. Oh, her twin Maria. Jeremy Wean - "

"We've a Buttercup Wean joining us this autumn."

"Buttercup?" Snape's grin knocked twenty years from his age. "Ah. He's keeping his promise to send me - Never mind. Private joke that I have no intention of explaining. Except to say that Jeremy was very...educational."

Dumbledore looked pained and wondered how he could have forgotten that Severus always found a way to get his revenge.

"You did ask," Snape pointed out blandly. "Nimue Smith. Sirius Black - "

Dumbledore's head rose and he visibly swallowed a number of questions.

"Just so. Carol Marksby, Freyja Hooch - Ah, no. They were both in the seventh year."

"It's a wonder you got any work done," said Dumbledore acidly.

"Probitas laudatur et alget."

"Yes, you have a point. What about Lily Evans?"

"Lily? Did we fool the staff, too?" Snape looked sardonically amused. "So that's what this has been in aid of. Don't tell me - you think the reason I don't like Harry is because he's the son I never had. Mercifully no one could ever mistake the brat for mine."

"Your name was linked with Lily's in a most pointed - "

"To irritate James. Our 'affair' was a ploy to get his attention. Lily had been in love with him for months - only he was too busy being noble to notice. I had become something of a status symbol amongst some of the students by then - an irony which didn't escape me - so Lily asked me to feign an interest in her. She had Potter eating out of her hand within a week, while I had a broken nose."

"Did she explain to James?"

"I don't know. If she did, it wasn't until they left Hogwarts. After my 'affair' with Lily, Potter's Gryffindor nobility tended to slip when he was around me." Snape's satisfaction was undiminished despite the passage of time.

"Except for when James - ?"

"Except for then," agreed Snape, his mouth thinning, warmth vanishing from his face.

"Why did you agree to the charade with Lily?" asked Dumbledore, hastily retreating from such contentious waters.

"To irritate Potter, of course." Correctly interpreting Dumbledore's expression, Snape looked amused. "No, I haven't been harbouring a passion for Lily all these years. She was wasted in Gryffindor... I liked her very much. She made me laugh. But open friendship with a Gryffindor wasn't possible, even in those days."

"So you remained friends in secret?"

"Lily had a talent for seeing straight to the heart of a matter. Unlike her son. Her sense of humour seems to have by-passed Harry, too. He's promising to be every bit as pompous as his interfering father."

"You never have given Harry much credit," said Dumbledore mildly.

"I wasn't aware I'd given him any."

"May I ask one more question? This one isn't vulgar," Dumbledore added, looking apologetic.

"Yes," sighed Snape.

"Why do you dislike - appear to dislike - Harry so much?"

"Because I'm Snape-the-bastard," he said tiredly. "What other reason could there be?"

Sometimes, as he crawled in the dirt at Voldemort's feet, or was racked by the Cruciatus, his body voiding itself as he screamed himself raw, he reminded himself that all this was to keep from harm a cocky little git with Lily's eyes and James' priggish morals. A judgmental brat who had taken one look at him that first evening and decided to hate him. Oddly enough, he hadn't been expecting that response. It had stung. Still did, he admitted to himself, sardonically amused by his own neediness.

Tucking his arm a little tighter in Snape's, Dumbledore had the wisdom not to pursue the point, although he took care to select a path that took the long way round, reluctant to let Snape go just yet.

"What now?" asked Snape, undeceived.

Dumbledore smiled despite himself. "You know me too well," he said ruefully.

"I'm glad you think so."

"Oh, did Ceres' message get to you in time?" Dumbledore asked artfully.

Snape gave a snort of what might have been laughter. "Yes, for which I'm most grateful. While my gaffe would have been gracefully dealt with, it was a relief not to make a complete fool of myself. I seem to have been doing that too often lately. Although I believe Min would be highly amused to be thought of as a more traditional 'Madam'."

"I would have told you myself but I had no idea you'd never visited the House of Mirth before," said Dumbledore, wary that Severus' edgy temper would make him see a malicious prank where none had been intended.

"There would have been little point. For a number of reasons," added Snape, before his eyes lit up again. "It's a wonderful place, Albus. Although Radmer the Poet is poorly named. Quince and Medlar arrived yesterday evening, which is why I spent my second night there. You should have heard Medlar's theories on the magical cores of wands. I must owl Ollivander. It was a pity he couldn't get away. And Oliwa read his paper on the applications of Salamander's blood with reference to - "

"Indeed?" said Dumbledore, in the faint hope of stemming the tide.

"He was kind enough to give me a preview copy of his paper. I've books for Remus, Minerva, March and Miss Granger and the seeds for Ceres finally came. Oh, and I got these." Hauling his jacket from his shoulder Snape fumbled in a bulging pocket, returned the tiny package to its full size and handed the large bag of lemon sherberts to Dumbledore. "The non-exploding kind."

"Thank you," said Dumbledore, with real pleasure. "Did you meet Phryne? I hear she's a - uh - fascinating speaker." He already knew the answer to that query from Snape's heavy-lidded eyes and general air of languid well-being, accompanied as it was by that unconsciously smug air of a wizard who felt as if he had just invented the broomstick.

Snape raised his eyebrows. "Really, Albus." But his mouth quirked before he straightened it.

Dumbledore patted him on the arm. "Excellent. I wish I could meet her, I've heard so much about her."

"And she, you. It's easily arranged. She'll be at the House of Mirth for another two days."

"Then what are you doing here?" teased Dumbledore.

Snape extended one hand. "Not a tremor. I want to make the most of it and get on with some overdue potion-making."

Dumbledore's expression softened. Severus was a true Potions Master - the weeks of not being able to work had been hard on him.

"Also, I have made myself available to Miss Granger for whenever she wishes to leave Hogwarts."

"Ah, yes. I don't know when that will be. Apparently she heard from Krum yesterday. He has ended their relationship."

"Given that he always gave the appearance of having been hit by a Bludger one time too many, he's no loss. She deserves better. But I suppose it was too much to hope that Krum might consider her feelings - in light of her recent bereavement."

Dumbledore swallowed his surprise at Snape's train of thought. "Indeed," he said non-committally. "Sirius has again begged me to let Harry spend the last two weeks of the holidays at Hogwarts." He was careful to say nothing more.

Snape eyed him with resignation; he should have known it was too good to last.

"I haven't yet made a decision," added Dumbledore. "My instinct is to say no."

"You always say people should follow their instincts," said Snape piously.

"Are you prepared to guard Harry, as well as Hermione?"

"Don't I always?" returned Snape sourly.

Dumbledore drew him a little closer. "We couldn't have come this far without you. I don't remember to thank you often enough."

"You really do want Harry to come here, don't you."

It troubled Dumbledore that Snape should still be so uneasy about receiving a compliment but he let it pass for now.

"It would be good for Sirius," he said. "And Harry, of course. They have had so little time together. And Harry's holidays have been an unhappy time for him."

"While mine have been so much fun." The childishness of the retort occurring to him just too late, Snape fell silent.

"You need see nothing of him."

"If only I could believe that."

"I suppose there's no hope of you making him feel welcome?" snapped Dumbledore with a hint of tartness.

"And that would reassure Harry how?"

"This enmity between you is ridiculous."

"If only I was the worst thing he had to face," murmured Snape. "Let him do his worst. Although I expect to be summoned on the twenty-fifth, if not before. Bad enough to win Miss Granger's sympathy vote, I'm damned if I'll tolerate Potter's."

"Remus's quarters are large. It would be easy enough to add another spare bed there. Sirius won't want to let Harry out of his sight. They're both desperate for a family."

Snape spared the older man a brief look, wondering if he was really so ignorant of the relationship between Black and Lupin. But he had to admit, they would both place Harry's needs first. With luck he need never see the boy.

"Do as you wish," he said ungraciously. "I must get back to work. Remus had enough potion for this month but I prefer to maintain a high level of stock. Fortunately recent refinements mean it can be stored - with care."

"He has nothing but praise for your training," said Dumbledore as they approached the main door of the castle.

"If all my students displayed his level of competence, my life in the classroom would be a great deal easier."

"Will you join me for breakfast?"

"Perhaps later. I need to change."

"After you've caught up on a little sleep."

Snape just looked amused. "Do you never stop fishing? I slept. Not much, I admit, but enough. I'll join you later," he added, before he headed up the main staircase with a display of energy not seen for over a year.

Beginning to feel more optimistic about their chances of surviving until Christmas, Dumbledore headed into the Great Hall.


More information on the qualifications required to referee Quidditch matches can be found in that invaluable work Quidditch Through the Ages by Kennilworthy Whisp (better known in her Muggle persona of J.K. Rowling.) The book is available everywhere, it's cheap, informative and funny - and more importantly most of the proceeds from the sale of the book go to the wonderful charity Comic Relief.

'Phryne' - was an Athenian courtesan of the C4th B.C. who earned so much wealth by her beauty that she offered to rebuild the walls of Thebes.

Probitas laudatur et aglet - Honesty is praised and left to shiver

- Satires: Juvenal