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A Maker of Potions

Severus Snape – dark enigma.

    e  Pompous and sarcastic Head of the Noble House of Slytherin

    e  Dumbledore’s Dark Spy, and now hero of the war against Voldemort

    e  An inspirational speaker (when he bothers), yet – in terms of scholastic results – we learn that              he’s only a ‘ fairly mediocre’ teacher

    e  Mean and cruel to students

    e  Tetchy, manipulative, and at times intimidatory to colleagues

    e  And in his private life – a wealthy seeker of carnal pleasures

What is his past, present and future?

What could this irascible wizard possibly have to fear from a new trainee teacher?

What are his long-term ambitions, and can he develop the maturity to achieve them?

Could he ever come close to equalling the great Albus Dumbledore, that powerful wizard and inspired manager of difficult personalities, who – as we shall see proved again for us in this tale – can bring all the right people together to resolve a crisis.

And is ‘Super Sleuth’ Snape as good a spy as he thinks he is?

If you would like answers to these questions, this emotional roller-coaster of a story should fit the bill nicely.

Bookmarks

Introduction & Disclaimer

Part 1 - Chapter 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10

Part 2 -  Chapter 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15- 16  

                17 - 18 - 19 - 20  -  Epilogue

 


Introduction

 

Introduction

Disclaimer

The inspirational basis of this fan fiction is J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories, and Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films, as well as some of his other notable performances.

Undisputedly, J. K. Rowling owns the world of Harry Potter.  No copyright infringement or disrespect is intended.

I make no money from my fan fiction, nor do I intend to.

Censorship Rating – NC-17

In accordance with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) criteria I rate this story as not suitable for persons under 17 years of age because it contains some explicit descriptions of sexual activity, adult themes at many points, a potentially violent scene, some slightly disturbing reminiscences and a little mild swearing.  Most of the descriptions of sexual activity are more romantic than erotic; however THIS IS NOT A CHILDREN’S STORY!

What My Story Covers

This, my first piece of fan fiction, is based on J. K. Rowlings’s first four books, and the rumours circulating on the internet that Snape is a Death Eater spy for Dumbledore.  Subsequent Rowling novels may disprove this, but nevertheless it is an appealing rumour.  This story will not be readily understandable by persons who have not read the first four Rowling novels.

My fic covers the period from 1989 when Snape is aged 34, to 2031 when he is aged 76, but it is almost entirely focused on 1998 to 2000, i.e. when Harry has just left Hogwarts and when Snape is aged 43 to 45.  Also please note – Hermione Granger and the other students get barely more than a mention in this, as students; they get more of a mention later as adults.  In the year after he leaves school Harry has one particularly important conversation with Snape, but essentially this is not a ‘Harry Potter at school’ story.  My story mostly explores how Snape interacts with his colleagues, and whether the arch Slytherin is capable of redemption and transformation.

Book 5 has given us new information and my view of Snape has changed.  With that in mind I made tiny updates to this in September 2004 because it is so painfully out of date, but I cannot overhaul it enough to make it consistent with Rowling’s fifth novel, nor with how I now see Professor Snape.  It must remain as it is and you must forgive my immature style.  Despite its faults I hope you still enjoy reading this.

For an explanation of some of the more obscure references (such as the pun Sinan Bin) see Author’s Notes at the end of the Epilogue.

Afictionado

Sussex, England
February 2002; updated September 2004


Part One

Chapter One - The Red Dress

 It was the fourteenth of August in the year 2031.  Severus Snape stared out of the high window at the trees below.  Beneath him and out of his view, people were moving.  He could hear snatches of conversation in raised voices and occasional shouts.  He stepped closer to the window to get a better view, curling his fingers around the bars.  He was too hot – hot enough to be conscious of the cord around his neck; hot enough for the metal bars to afford some cool relief to his hands.  He lent forward, letting his sweating forehead rest against the hard iron.

He caught a glimpse of a woman walking away, disappearing under the trees.  A young witch, slim, with shoulder length black hair.  She wore a red dress.  Is it the same red dress, he asked himself.  Fool, no of course it isn’t, he sneered.  This red dress is dark and has tiny white spots, not discernable from this distance.  That red dress – the red dress – was years ago.  It must long ago have been disposed of.  It was unpatterned.  And scarlet.  Worn by a witch with lighter hair.  A witch younger than the one below.  Decades ago.  Forty-two years ago!

The bars at the window made a pattern on the bare floorboards.  The wooden floor was worn, marked and lined as though by the scraping and dragging of devices across it.  It was a utilitarian room.

Conscious of the echoing sounds of his footsteps, Severus Snape moved away from the window and sat down in the only armchair the room had to offer.  He stretched out his long legs and crossed them at the ankles.  He was letting his mind wander back forty-two years.  1989, he mused; that’s when it all began.  A sunny day in July and I hadn’t received my Apparating licence…

* * *

Generally speaking Professor Severus Snape took no interest in the arrival of the post owls.  A sarcastic and unpopular wizard, he had no family, no friends, and never received so much as a birthday card.  But today he watched with increasing disquiet as the handful of owls swooping over the breakfast tables deposited letters to most of his colleagues but nothing to him.  Seated on his left, Professor McGonagall could sense his unease.  He had been growing gradually more edgy throughout the last week of term.  And now it was Saturday, the last of the students had departed yesterday and the school had closed for the summer holidays.

McGonagall had never actually liked Snape; he was too acerbic and unfriendly to be likeable.  His looks didn’t flatter him, either – greasy black hair framed a sallow face and glittering black eyes which, except when they flamed with anger, often held a studied fathomless emptiness.  He was, however, a most talented maker of potions, a competent House Master, he had a sense of duty, and, since his teaching appointment over a decade ago, he had never let the school down in a crisis.  McGonagall had a certain deep-rooted regard for him as she had for all of her colleagues.  She also remembered him as a pupil; a greasy-haired youth, dark in looks and character, cunning, desperate to prove his abilities, and, when it suited him, hard-working to the point of obsession.  Very much a typical Slytherin in fact, McGonagall thought.  And now at the relatively young age of thirty-three, he was already the proud and pompous Head of Slytherin House.

“Anything wrong, Severus?” she asked.

“My Apparating licence” he grumbled in his deep, drawling voice.  “I completed the renewal form a month ago.  My new licence should be here by now.  I was hoping to be in London by tomorrow.”

“Take the train” she retorted, speaking of the Hogwarts express which departed each weekday morning from Hogsmeade Station and arrived in London by the early evening.

“No thank you” he snapped.  “There won’t be one until Monday.  And it’s a drag of a journey, it takes all day!”

“Stay here, then.”  She was terse almost to the point of rudeness with him at times which was usually no more than he deserved.

Snape made no reply.  Minerva McGonagall, many years his senior, was Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  She was also Head of Gryffindor House and Professor of Transfiguration.  Snape remembered her (with feelings bordering on trepidation) from his own school days at Hogwarts.  She had been young then, mid-forties, which was not as young as he was now, but certainly young in wizarding terms.  McGonagall, a tall, elegant and very accomplished witch, was equally short tempered and quite capable of putting the likes of Severus Snape in his place.  Almost invariably she spent her summers at Hogwarts.  Dedicated and hard-working, it seemed she had little need for relaxation, or diversion.  Her lips compressed with distaste as she pondered the likely reason for Snape’s haste to get to London.  Since his appointment to Hogwarts in the late 1970s, this notoriously prickly wizard never appeared to have a girl friend or to be emotionally close to anyone, but there were rumours that he satisfied his considerable carnal needs in the fleshpots of the capital as often as possible.

Breakfast over, the table gradually emptied as the staff wandered off, some to pack for holidays, some to visit the nearby village of Hogsmeade, some merely to relax in the sunny school grounds.  McGonagall was talking quietly to Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster, who then lent forward to speak past her to Snape.

“Severus, if you are stuck for a means to get to London, Cornelius Fudge is dining with me tonight.  He is travelling back by private train from Hogsmeade – an overnight sleeper – special executive service for the Ministry.  If you explain your plight, he may offer you a lift.  You could be in London in time for breakfast tomorrow morning.”

“But I still won’t have my licence, Headmaster” Snape simpered, his velvet voice betraying a trace of a whine.

“By the time you want to Apparate back, it will no doubt be here.  Or perhaps you could visit the Ministry and collect it.  You have paid the fee?  You have got the receipt?  Well then, why worry?  You are allowed to Apparate – it’s only a renewal after all – a formality.”

“Thank you, Headmaster.”  Snape’s voice was silky.  The Headmaster’s reasoning was faultless.

But the Head of Slytherin did worry, and not without cause.  He was a former Death Eater, which meant he had once been a close supporter of Lord Voldemort, the darkest wizard to have lived in the latter half of the twentieth century; whose crimes still caused those who remembered those dreadful days to shudder.  During that time Snape had actually changed sides and turned spy against Voldemort, helping to bring to justice many of his Death Eater colleagues.  The risks he had run in playing double-agent were enormous.  As a result Dumbledore had vouched for him before The Ministry’s Council of Magical Law and Snape had not had to stand trial for his crimes, thus escaping a sentence in Azkaban, the infamous wizard prison.  Dumbledore had then offered him a job at Hogwarts and Snape had begun to rebuild his life.  Since those dark days however, Snape was wary of doing anything which might cause him to run foul of the law, even something as apparently trivial as Apparating without being in possession of a current licence.

But when, later that day, he spoke to Cornelius Fudge the then Minister for Magic, Fudge agreed with Dumbledore, so Snape put aside his worries and accompanied the Minister on the overnight sleeper.  They breakfasted on the train and arrived at Kings Cross at twenty to nine the following morning.

“Got a chauffeured car here, to take me to the Ministry” Fudge said.  “I can drop you off on the way.  Where are you bound for?  Diagon Alley suit you?”

“Yes.  Thank you, Minister” Snape replied in his oiliest voice.

But it wasn’t Fudge’s Ministry limousine that awaited them in the bright summer sunshine.  Looking slightly embarrassed, his chauffeur Phelps sat in the front passenger seat of a scarlet Mercedes four-seater convertible.  The hood was down, revealing next to him a young girl of about nineteen.  She had chestnut brown hair tied back in a high pony tail, flawless, lightly tanned skin, and the face of an angel.  Snape found himself in danger of becoming entranced.

“Oh no” he heard Fudge groan.

“Minister?”

“My grand-niece.  She’s staying with us for a few days” Fudge grumbled.  “Phelps, what is all this?”  He made a gesture of irritation towards the red sports car.

Phelps took Snape’s overnight bag to store in the car’s boot and started to explain.  Smiling impishly, Fudge’s grand-niece turned her large hazel eyes on them.  “Don’t blame Phelps, Uncle.  I twisted his arm.  He’s giving me a few tips on wizarding driving.  And I’m learning my way around London; after all, I’m going to need to, aren’t I!  Now – where to, gentlemen?”

But Fudge wasn’t satisfied.  “Have you bought this?” he barked at the girl, his quivering hand still pointing to the car.

“No, no!  Borrowed it.  It’s Dieter’s” she replied carelessly.  “I’ve got to return it before five o’clock, otherwise I pay him a forfeit.  Now – where are we going?”

“The Leaky Cauldron, first.  And I don’t like you getting mixed up with the likes of Dieter Brandauer” Fudge said tetchily.  He gave a sigh of exasperation.

And with that they were off, gliding effortlessly through the traffic.  Snape settled into the cream leather upholstery and studied the young witch.  Although obviously having fun, she paid close and serious attention to Phelps’s instructions and drove with a smooth self-assurance as though machines were second nature to her.  Her scarlet sun dress matched the sports car and showed off her slender but surprisingly muscular body.  Apart from the skimpy dress that no doubt cost a small fortune, she wore neat gold ear clips in the shape of saw-toothed leaves and a gold wristwatch of the kind only seen in advertisements in glossy magazines.  Melissa officinalis, Snape thought, as he studied the shape of the ear clips which reminded him of the herb Lemon Balm.  He therefore subconsciously nicknamed the witch Melissa.  A rich little spoiled bitch, Snape decided, as Melissa reversed smartly into a small parking space by The Leaky Cauldron, beating a white Vauxhall Astra for the only free slot.

Silently, Fudge seethed with anger.  Hans-Dieter Brandauer was an Unspeakable, employed by The Department of Mysteries where he did something clever, technical and hush-hush.  He was a young, blond, German with the grace and strength of a ballet dancer and the morals of a pole cat.  He had the sort of handsome-but-cruel face witches fell for.  He was, in Fudge’s opinion, exactly the sort of wizard his grand-niece must be protected from.

“Well, she’s quite a proficient driver; it wasn’t too traumatic” Fudge said, as Phelps handed Snape his bag.  “Taking her to the ballet tonight.  Swan Lake.  That’ll keep her quiet for a few hours.  Hope we don’t run into Brandauer.  Don’t worry about your licence, Severus.  Have a word with Octavia Pinerro in Magical Transportation.  I’ll tip her the wink.  Just Apparate home when you’re ready, licence or not.”

“Thank you again, Minister” Snape gushed.

Snape watched them go, his eyes lingering on the girl’s slender neck.  Rich little bitch, he mused again.  But somehow all too soon the car had melted into the traffic and he had lost sight of her.

Snape passed quickly through The Leaky Cauldron, strode down Diagon Alley and arrived at his club, The Mephistophelean, a discrete establishment in Di Vios Alley.  The club was ideal.  The bathrooms were stocked with good quality toiletries, members’ spare clothing could be stored, and laundry and valeting services were provided, so he need arrive with only the minimum of luggage.  The dining room and bar were adequate so he didn’t even need to eat out.  He arranged his few belongings in his room and threw himself down on the bed.  What now, he thought.  Gringotts Bank and then – The Sultan’s Pestamal perhaps.

The Sultan’s Pestamal was a hamam, or Turkish bath.  Like Snape’s club it was discrete, expensive and strictly wizards only.  One could spend hours sweating away ones worries in the hararet and enjoying the invigorating massage.  And supplementary services were, of course, available.  For an additional fee the masseuses would perform various sexual services.  When availing himself of these Snape always selected the most beautiful young witches to minister to him, however he was aware that young wizards could also be called upon, but this had never been to his taste.

In tribute to its accommodating attitude to licentiousness, The Sultan’s Pestamal was often referred to as The Sinan Bin amongst the Dark Wizarding fraternity – a jocular reference to the Anatolian architect Mimar Loca Sinan, who designed many hamams and hundreds of other important Islamic buildings.  Snape visited ‘The Sinan Bin’ and stayed there until five o’clock, skipping lunch and returning to his club to change for dinner.  He dined in the club dining room and had an early night, taking a potion for Dreamless Sleep to ensure no horrors would creep out of his Death Eater past to disturb him.

The following day Snape browsed the shops of Diagon, Knockturn and Di Vios Alleys, lunched in The Leaky Cauldron and contacted Madam Mimi’s Escort Agency to book some company for the next few evenings.  That night he dined at Mario and Luigi’s, a smart and very fashionable Italian restaurant run by a couple of slightly camp, middle-aged Italian wizards who employed a flock of snake-hipped young waiters.  His escort for the evening, a beautiful golden blonde witch who said her name was Angelica, arrived at the restaurant punctually at eight o’clock, and proved witty, sociable and quite adventurous.  She was fully up to Madam Mimi’s usual standard of immaculately groomed, well educated and young-but-worldly attractive companions.

His escort for the following night was a disaster.  She was a slender platinum blonde, named Fiona and with a high-born and arrogant expression that rivalled Snape’s!  She had the largest and deepest blue eyes he had ever seen and he was utterly captivated by her, so much so that he suspected she was part Veela.  Captivated or not, he was nevertheless his usual caustic self.  They dined at the restaurant in The Necromancer, a five-star hotel near to Gringotts Bank.  Partway through the meal, he threw out one of his typically dry and sarcastic comments and she threw something back in return; he suddenly found himself dripping in dry white wine and confronted by her retreating back!  There were a few guarded sniggers from nearby tables.  Snape’s blistering eyes raked her shapely back as she walked away and he was tempted to pull out his wand and curse her, but with an effort he controlled himself.  He slammed a handful of gold coins onto the table and left the hotel.  He retuned to his club, took a sleeping potion and spent the following morning sweating out his anger in ‘The Sinan Bin’.  In the afternoon he had an altercation with Madam Mimi and eventually managed to negotiate a discounted fee, but much to his annoyance she refused point blank to dismiss the Veela witch.  Snape, for his part, would not admit that his conduct was in any way to blame.

The next evening was not exactly a failure but nevertheless slightly disappointing.  Snape had stipulated a witch who enjoyed classical music because he had booked seats for a concert.  The witch who arrived, a black haired beauty by the name of Giovanna seemed to quite enjoy the Tchaikovsky ballet suite they listened to, but she appeared bored by Handel’s Water Music.  Later, he found that she was undeniably fun in bed, but in terms of the whole evening Snape was not altogether satisfied.

After a few experimental forays in his early years Snape never strayed into Muggle London.  He had no wish to try to understand its electronic brashness, nor the mind set of its people, and he never felt at ease in Muggle clothes.  Muggle women, no matter how good looking, seemed ill-educated and uninteresting to him.  He had once tried to bring one back to Diagon Alley.  When he met her, he had judged her to be adequately self-possessed and level headed, but the reality of the magical world threatened to unhinge her and he had to perform a memory charm and return her quickly to her normal surroundings.  He had attributed her fear to the strangeness of his world – he had not realised how much his world-weary turn of phrase, and his eyes, which often held an unnerving hollow quality, had also undermined her confidence.

* * *

And thus Snape spent his summers until Diagon Alley thronged with students and their clamouring parents, which as ever drove him back to Hogwarts by mid-August.  Whereupon he prepared for another round of endeavouring to teach Potions to devious Slytherins, defiant Gryffindors, unflappable Ravenclaws and compliant Hufflepuffs, until the Christmas and Easter breaks gave him an opportunity to slip away for a further day or two of relaxation.  But no more than that.  As Head of House, Snape had extra responsibilities, and some students stayed on over the Christmas and Easter holidays.  Only in the summer did he habitually depart from Hogwarts for more than a couple of days.

But the limited routine was easily bearable, certainly compared to the darker aspects of his life.  Although his personal life was running at a minimum, this suited Snape’s needs.  He had no emotional space for anything more complicated.  Aside from his job he had another task which made romantic involvements inappropriate, and even without that consideration, he could still feel the pain of the one hopeless love affair he had ever embarked upon.

Life appeared to have settled into a tolerable pattern.

Yet within two years radical changes would take place.  Harry Potter would arrive at Hogwarts.  Voldemort would begin his second bid for power.  And Snape would be swept up in a new round of danger; bouncing like a ping pong ball between his rôle in maintaining the safety of the school, the unique part he was to play in the final downfall of Voldemort, and his fury at being repeatedly upstaged by a disobedient pupil he couldn’t even bare to look upon – Harry Potter.

Author's notes: Sinan Bin is a pun on ‘Sin Bin’ which is a fairly obsolete English slang term for a corrective or punitive unit, usually aimed at combating disruptive behaviour of youths.  The Anatolian architect is certainly genuine.

Chapter Two - The Candidate

It was eight and three-quarter years later.  Eight and three-quarter largely dreadful and very eventful years.  Voldemort had risen and fallen.  The last remaining Death Eaters had been rounded up and imprisoned.  Marius Findlayter had replaced Cornelius Fudge as Minister for Magic.  Snape had gone from regarding Harry Potter as an overindulged, lazy, lying, disobedient upstart who posed some danger to his own position and authority, to a boy more sinned against than sinning.  And now that golden boy had taken his final exams and by the end of term he would be gone.  Gradually life at Hogwarts was returning to something Snape could describe as normal.

* * *

The beginning of July 1998 was miserably wet.  Harry Potter left Hogwarts to start training as an Auror – a Dark Wizard catcher.  Snape sighed with relief, feeling a difficult chapter had finally closed.  Not that he hated the boy as much as he used to, but life would be easier without him.

Snape desperately needed a break; he was anxious to get to London.  Just a simple staff interview to do and he could be off.  He should have known things are rarely that simple.

As it turned out the interview panel consisted only of McGonagall, Flitwick and Sprout.  Snape was of course to have been present as well, but the candidate from Brazil suffered a sudden family bereavement and to ease his plight the interview date was then put back until 6th July, by which time Snape had planned to be in London.  Dumbledore was adamant that every candidate would be seen on the same day.  He said it was imperative that everything should be scrupulously fair.  Snape, annoyed that his plans were to be disrupted, insisted on starting his holiday on July 4th as originally agreed, and the atmosphere at his departure was somewhat acrimonious.

“That dammed man” McGonagall said as he set off.  “Can’t even spare us three days.  Anyone would think he was the only one with holiday plans.”

She had to admit however, that Snape had played his full part in short-listing the candidates.  She could still picture the four Heads of Houses sitting in Dumbledore’s spacious office, pouring over and over the application forms, Snape’s head bent in fierce concentration, his face hidden by his curtain of greasy hair.

Three months earlier Dumbledore had put forward the suggestion that they take on a trainee teacher.  The suggestion had been well received.  After the horrors of the years of fighting Voldemort, everyone was keen to return the school to normality.  The Department for Magical Education had handled the advertisement and by the closing date of 14th May five application forms had been received.  None of the applicants had any previous teaching experience and all were seeking a one-year work-experience placement before they applied for fully-paid permanent teaching positions.

The Department for Magical Education was meticulous about equal opportunities, the application forms were forwarded from The Department to the school and did not disclose the candidates’ names, nor any indication as to their gender, race, or ethnic origin.  During the latter part of May and with some slight assistance from Dumbledore, the Heads of Houses selected three of the five for interview; Candidates Two, Four and Five.  Snape stated that of these short-listed three, Candidate Number Four was by far his preferred choice.  This was hardly surprising; Candidate Number Four was everyone’s preferred choice.  Privately, all were looking beyond the one-year training period to possible longer term recruitment needs.

* * *

Candidate Number Four got up and was shown out of the Headmaster’s office.  A moment later Dumbledore entered and seated himself in the interviewees’ chair.  Having selected the order of the numbers at random, the panel had interviewed Number Five, followed by Two and lastly Four.  Now was the time to hear their deliberations.

“Well?” Dumbledore asked, as the panel consulted their scorecards.

“Candidate Number Two is trilingual – English/Spanish/Italian – unusual – and has a good combination of Herbology and Potions knowledge, which is always useful” Amarila Sprout replied.  “Other areas however are rather weak” she added sadly.  “Four has a lot of strengths – the best all-round academic record, the strongest team player, tough, practical and willing to turn a hand to anything.  I think Number Four will fit in best and be a credit to the school in the long term.  A long term asset.  And that’s what this is about – maintaining our position as a centre of excellence.”

“This is a very unusual combination of the academic and the practical, here” Felix Flitwick observed, tapping a long fingernail on Number Four’s application form.  “I agree with Amy’s assessment, and as to languages Four is bilingual in English and French, although I don’t envisage we will have much call upon it.  Having seen and heard them all, Number Four scored highest on the questions and is still most definitely my preferred choice.”

“Both Number Four and Number Five have extensive experience of the Muggle world; something many of us lack.  I include myself in that assessment” Minerva McGonagall said, her steely gaze taking in everyone.  “However I just don’t see Number Five as a team player in the way Number Four is.  We don’t need someone whose main concern is to pursue their own agenda, we need a colleague.  In that respect Four fits the bill far better than Five.  Two would be acceptable on that score but the academic excellence just isn’t there – as we see in the low scores to many of the technical questions.  It has got to be Four, has it not?”

They all agreed.  Dumbledore beamed.  Candidate Number Four was brought back into the office and the offer was made.  McGonagall said she would owl Snape to inform him of the decision, but as she was rushing to be ready to go on holiday the following morning, Flitwick offered to contact Snape on her behalf.

That evening at dinner, McGonagall was aware of an extra bright twinkle in Dumbledore’s blue eyes.  He was in excellent spirits.  “I wonder what Severus will make of our new trainee” he muttered.

“Number Four was his top choice, he’s in no position to complain” she replied archly.

“Since when has that ever stopped Severus?” Dumbledore chuckled.

* * *

It was a hot afternoon in early August.  Temperatures in London had reached the nineties and the network of magical lanes centred on Diagon Alley had filled up with students earlier than ever.  Snape had been button-holed in Borgin and Burkes by Pansy Parkinson’s fearsomely shrill mother who demanded to know why her daughter had done so badly in her Potions final.

For Snape that was the final straw!  Students were bad enough, but parents who were loud, pompous, fussing, or ingratiating were to be avoided at all costs.  He wanted peace and quiet, and a little less heat.  Snape Apparated at Hogsmeade just after lunch and the carriage that now bore him from the village bumped and bounced in the dry ruts of the lane.  As it turned in at the school gates and began its slow ascent toward the imposing Main Entrance, his only thoughts were of unpacking his few belongings, settling back into his dungeon chambers and brewing a refreshing beaker of tea.

Shouts and the buzzing roar of machinery cut in on his thoughts.  Four people were working amongst the trees that bordered the grounds.  Someone was hanging from a harness high in an oak tree, sawing off dead branches and lowering them to Filch and Hagrid.  Filch the Caretaker and Hagrid the Care of Magical Creatures teacher, were grasping the branches and dragging them to one side, whilst from a safe distance Sprout the Herbology Professor was directing the surgical operations.  Snape gazed up at the person suspended from the oak tree.  This might be the new trainee, he thought; he was supposed to start in mid July.  All Snape could make out was a tall figure clothed in a denim boiler suit, unseasonably thick socks and brown safety boots.  A bright yellow safety helmet was clamped over brown hair.  The only view of the face was a flash from the lenses of rather large goggles.  The hands, swathed in dragon hide gauntlets, wielded a chainsaw with panache and a certain ruthlessness.

Well it seems he is the outdoor type, Snape sneered.  Can’t be much of a wizard if he has to use all these Muggle devices and protective clothing.  Probably something of a straw-chewing yokel.  He remembered the application form.  The candidate had graduated from Beauxbaton Academy with excellent all round results, his strongest subjects being Arithmancy and Herbology, his weakest Potions and Divination.  He was only just above average in Potions and a trace below average in Divination.  (Snape smiled his cold smile – he intended to have no challenges to his mastery of potions!)  The candidate had played Beater for his House Quidditch team.  After leaving Beauxbaton he took a Muggle degree in Physics with Applied Mathematics, studying in London via the Open University.  He has a fondness for mechanical devices.  Prior to seeking a teacher training position he spent five years working with dragons in Romania as part of Vladimir Gordeev’s team.

Snape lost interest in the tree surgery; his thoughts returned to tea.

*

Five o’clock; still hours to dinner.  Snape decided on a stroll in the grounds.  He rarely spent much time outside and the afternoon sun would be hot on his black robes, but he could shelter under the trees at the edge of the forest and maybe speak to the new trainee; size him up.  The Head of Slytherin liked to get the measure of people – he was by nature inquisitive and suspicious; traits which had repeatedly saved his life during his days as a double-agent.

Snape glided to the Main Entrance, but once there he halted.  Someone wearing a denim boiler suit was plodding wearily towards the foot of the steps.  A slim brown hand was pulling off the yellow helmet and easing the goggles down around the neck.  The person tossed his head, and a wealth of chestnut hair cascaded around it.  Snape, his heart rate rising, stepped back into the deep shadows of the doorway and looked down into a face.  A woman’s face.  The face of a beautiful witch.  With the adeptness born of years as a spy, Snape glided soundlessly back into the Great Hall and stood watching from behind one of the tall oak doors, looking through to the Entrance Hall.

Clump, clump, clump.  With a measured tread and far from dainty footsteps the witch walked purposefully to the marble staircase, sat down on the sixth step and proceeded to pull off her steel-capped boots.  She stuffed the socks into the top of a boot and pressed her hot, tired feet against the cool marble.  “OK, Rubeus?” she called.

“Yeah.  Yeah, Miss Celeste, tha’ were great.”  Hagrid’s voice sounded from the main entrance.

Please call me Celeste, just Celeste, OK?”  She rotated her shoulders to ease the muscles.  “Tomorrow, if it stays fine, we’ll chop up the logs.  I’ll let you loose with the chainsaw.”  She grinned.  “But not today – don’t try it; I’ve disabled it in case you get tempted.”

Hagrid grinned in return.  “Wha’ we gonna do about the smaller branches?  We’ll ’ave a lot of ’em.  ’Eck of a lot of ’em” he pointed out.

“I’ve hired a shredder” she replied.  “Should arrive the day after tomorrow.  We’ll shred the small stuff and try mulching around the shrubs and the rose bushes.  If we’ve got too much we may have to have a bonfire.  Shame though, I’d rather not–.  If we keep on top of this job we’ll be able to use severing charms most years; won’t need a shredder, nor have to use the saw so often.”

“Yeah, well, I ’ave let the grounds go a bit, I know.  Bin a bit preoccupied these past years what with one thing an’ another.”

“I know; I did hear about the Voldemort wars you know” Celeste said with a calm smile.  Hagrid flinched, marvelling that she could say the name.  “Err, Rubeus” she added, apparently alluding to a topic they had been discussing earlier, “if you want to nip over and see Olympe, just go!  Argus and I can manage.  Certainly for a day!”

“Ohrr, I dunno” Hagrid replied.  He appreciated the offer but he was a bit sensitive about his on/off relationship with Olympe Maxime, the feisty Beauxbaton Headmistress.

“Well, it’s up to you” Celeste said, “but you two won’t get anywhere if you don’t talk to each other.  Anyway, you know my offer is there if you need it.  Right; I’m off for a shower and a tidy up before dinner.  And a cup of tea wouldn’t go amiss.  See you later, Rubeus.”

One brown hand grabbed the helmet, inside of which the goggles now rested, the other hand grabbed the boots, and she was up and off, taking the stairs three at a time.  Hagrid turned and ambled out into the grounds, and Snape was left alone with the sound of her cool voice still ringing in his ears.  He stood for a long moment in the Great Hall; then he glided down towards the lake and sat on the bench.

What was Dumbledore playing at?  What was this woman doing here?  He thought they had agreed on Candidate Number Four, whom he had assumed was a tough, rugged wizard.  Had Number Four withdrawn – was this a second choice?  Worse still, he thought he knew this witch’s angelic face.  He remembered a slender neck beneath a high pony tail, graceful but muscular arms and a glint of gold at a strong young wrist as she caressed the gear selector.  A red sun dress to match a large, red, luxurious sports car.  This was that rich little bitch who many years ago had given him a lift to The Leaky Cauldron.  The witch he had nicknamed Melissa because of her ear clips.  This, dammit, was Fudge’s grand-niece!

Snape was beside himself with fury!  No wonder there had been such careful arrangements to hide the identity of the candidates.  But what about her name?  Flitwick had kept him informed of the outcome of the interview and had owled him to say they had appointed ‘Candidate Number Four, Celeste Leander Lavelle’.  Celeste was surely a man’s name; it meant ‘heavenly’ – several Popes had been called Celeste!  Leander certainly didn’t sound feminine; in Greek mythology Leander had swum the Hellespont to join his lover, Hero - literally, his name meant ‘lion man’.

Snape’s foul mood lasted all through dinner.  Celeste was introduced to him and he went out of his way to be as cold and formal as possible, staring haughtily down his long nose as he barely muttered “Good evening, Miss Lavelle” and working hard not to return her friendly smile.  She gave him a quizzical look.  Hagrid sat as usual at the opposite end of the staff dining table from Sirius Black, and McGonagall had placed Celeste at right angles to Hagrid, facing in the far distance Madeline Hooch.  Shortly after Celeste took her seat, Argus Filch joined them, sitting on Celeste’s left, and she was soon engrossed in conversation with both Hagrid and Filch.  Snape was aware that from time to time she glanced in his direction, a puzzled look in her eyes.  Whenever he looked in her direction she seemed to be always in deep conversation with Filch and Hagrid.  Snape worked hard at keeping his gaze away from her.

“Well, she seems to have entranced Rubeus and Argus.”  McGonagall’s voice made Snape jump.  He glanced in Celeste’s direction.  She was drawing something on a pad of Muggle paper and indicating various points to Hagrid and Filch.  A blue plastic roller-ball pen was in her hand.

Dumbledore lent forward, turning to McGonagall and Snape.  “She is explaining the difference between two-stroke and four-stroke engines” he chuckled.  “Just by way of conversation!”

“Fascinating” sneered Snape.  “What have we taken on?  She can’t be much of a witch if she has to use all those Muggle devices.”

McGonagall bridled.  “She is using those so that Hagrid and Filch can take over from her” she snapped.  “Filch, as you know, is not magical, and Hagrid is perhaps not the most accomplished wizard.  She is instructing them in a way that is appropriate to their abilities.  It will be helpful if they understand both the possibilities and the limitations of mechanical devices within the confines of the school.”

Snape said nothing in reply.  He studied Celeste.  She was an old fashioned girl in a way; her clothes, although expensive, did not follow the latest trends and her chestnut hair, styled in a French pleat, was certainly old fashioned!  She’ll be like McGonagall when she’s seventy, he mused, frigid and prickly.  No, perhaps she won’t!  He recalled the way she had enjoyed pressing her hot feet against the cold marble of the stairs and the expression in her eyes as she had shaken her hair free of the safety helmet – there was a sensuous quality to her nature that McGonagall surely didn’t possess.

He studied Hagrid and Filch, her faithful audience.  Hagrid looked engrossed and was concentrating hard on what she was saying, trying to understand Celeste’s diagram and to follow her hand-waving explanation of the firing sequence of an internal combustion engine.  And Filch?  Was he concentrating on mechanics, or was he trying to peer down the cleavage of her royal blue evening gown?  Snape grinned sourly and turned his attention to his cup of black coffee.

It didn’t take long, however, before the Head of Slytherin resolved to do more than merely sit and let his annoyance fester.  He decided he must thrash the matter out with Dumbledore, and the Headmaster agreed to see him the following morning at ten o’clock.  Inevitably, it was an acrimonious meeting…

*

Snape swung back his curtain of greasy hair and scowled at the Headmaster.  “But she’s Fudge’s niece!” he snarled.

Rain beat on the windows as Dumbledore studied the House Master’s face.  The leaden sky matched Snape’s foul mood, the wet weather was settling in for the day.  All in all, Dumbledore was surprised at Snape’s reaction.  He knew him to be an angry man by nature, but it didn’t often surface – Snape was usually sarcastic or sneering, but quite cool and in control of himself.  This bout of histrionics was a little out of character.

“I think you are wrong to make this fuss, Severus” Dumbledore said mildly.  “When you looked at the application forms no one, apart from myself, knew the identity of any of the candidates.  It was quite clear to me which application form belonged to Celeste because she not only happens to be Cornelius’ grand-niece but also a relative of mine.”

“Yours?” Snape roared, his anger rising sharply.

“Yes.  She is my brother’s wife’s youngest sister’s granddaughter.  Now don’t ask me what that makes her to me” he continued deprecatingly, holding up a hand, “because I have no idea, but suffice it to say we are related.  I took a good deal of advice from the Education Department about this.  No one was to know of our connection so that no one could choose her as a favour to me, nor reject her to spite me.  The candidates were to be examined purely on their merits.  I did not take part in the interview, that is one reason why I particularly wanted you to be there.  I felt I could not explain all this to you without alerting you to the circumstances.  You, however, had other priorities and chose to absent yourself.”

At this caustic remark Snape’s eyes gleamed in fury.  “You may not have taken part in the interview but you could have helped her to fill in the application form” he growled, but immediately he knew he had gone too far.  All trace of warmth leached out of Dumbledore light blue gaze and Snape was forcibly reminded of the occasion three years earlier, when the Headmaster had interrogated the bogus Mad-Eye Moody at the end of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, in the tragic summer of 1995.

“I can assure you, Severus, I would never do such a thing.”  Dumbledore’s voice was icy.  “On that point you will have to take me on trust.”  He pronounced the last word with great emphasis.  He gazed at Snape for a moment, then got up, wrenched open a filing cabinet and threw a bundle of parchment, tied in pink tape, across his desk.  “Here are the forms” he boomed.  “Examine them for yourself.  If you find any points that are not factually correct or are in any way misleading you are at liberty to speak to the Ministry.  That is all I have to say on the matter.  Good day to you, Severus.”

Snape stood up.  He stared down at the parchment forms but decided not to touch them.  Without a word he strode from the Headmaster’s office leaving the door open behind him because he could not trust himself not to slam it.

He spent the day in anger and resentment; and by the evening felt little better, so he decided to sit in the staff room before dinner and unwind by reading the evening paper.  Consequently, at around six o’clock he was bounding up through the castle with ill-considered haste, and flinging aside a tapestry that concealed a short-cut passageway, he collided with Adoración Everista Vector.  Fortunately, the haughty Arithmancy witch contented herself with giving him a petulant stare.  Older even than McGonagall, and with her greying hair adorned by a black lace mantilla, the dark eyed witch had a temper the equal of Snape’s and a look of anger that could melt ice.

“Sorry, Dora” he mumbled.  I must calm down, Snape told himself, and he completed the journey to the staff room at a more judicious speed.

*

“Oooh, look at that, Helena Wilkinson has died her hair again!  She must be a hundred-and-sixty now” Estella Sinistra remarked, flicking over her pages of Witch Weekly.

“That was a rather unkind remark, Stella” McGonagall observed.  She glanced towards Snape and a tiny smile twitched the corners of her mouth.  Ensconced in his favourite armchair by the staff room fire, Snape shook out his newspaper irritably and buried himself behind it, refusing to be drawn into Sinistra’s invariably bitchy conversations.

“And how is dear Celeste coming along, Minerva?” Professor Sinistra enquired in her sing-song voice.  “Such an unusual girl” she went on, not allowing McGonagall to reply.  “My great-granddaughter Simone was at Beauxbaton with her, you know.  Such pretty girls both of them.  All the boys used to chase after them but Celeste showed hardly any interest in them.”

“Perhaps she was more concerned about her exams, Stella” McGonagall replied testily.

“Perhaps” Sinistra simpered.  “Do you know what they nicknamed Celeste in the end?”

“Estella, I don’t think we should be discussing this–”

“Celeste the Unattainable.  Imagine that!” Sinistra announced with triumph.  “And yet there was that Charlie Weasley episode in Romania.  Of course, he is a little younger than her, you know – less than a year I believe, but–”

“Enough, Estella!”  McGonagall snapped.  “I have no wish to hear any such gossip.  Will you kindly desist!”

“Ooh well, I was only–” Sinistra replied, pretending to be hurt, but then abruptly she stopped talking because the staff room door was opening.

Celeste walked in, said a quiet good evening to everyone in general, and took a seat on a pouffé between McGonagall’s and Sinistra’s armchairs.  Under her clothes her body was lean and muscular, lending an air of powerful suppleness to her movements.  Her clothes however made her look like an early 1960s fashion model.  She wore a long, jade green, satin evening dress and her high-healed shoes were a perfect colour match for it.  Her hair was again slicked into a French pleat.  Silver ear clips glinted at her ears.  Incongruously, the scar from a badly healed burn could at times be seen on the inside of her right forearm and she seemed to have no vanity about it being in view.

“I was just wondering how you are getting on, Celeste” Sinistra cooed.

“Fine, thank you” the trainee replied with a modest smile.  “I’ve got a lot to learn.  I may be in danger of information overload at any moment, but even so it’s all great.  I’m working on next year’s timetable with Professor McGonagall.”  Briefly she glanced at the Deputy Headmistress.  “Well, I think she’s already planned it really” Celeste added warmly to Sinistra, “but she’s letting me have a go to see what I come up with.”

“I’m trying to persuade her to give Severus fourth year Gryffindors for double Potions first thing on Monday mornings” McGonagall smirked.  “I know how much he loves a good challenge as the start of a perfect week.”  Snape lowered his Evening Prophet to glare briefly at McGonagall, his eyes gleaming dangerously; but not wanting to be drawn into conversation with Celeste he retreated once more behind its pages.  “However Celeste is being too kind to him” McGonagall continued.  “Planning to start his weeks with Slytherin and Ravenclaw first years.  They will gaze up at him, hanging on his every word.  I’ve tried to explain to Celeste that it doesn’t do to be too kind to Severus.”

“Well I’m glad you’re enjoying the work but I hope you will find time for a bit of recreation” the Astronomy Professor continued solicitously to Celeste, turning the conversation in the direction she wanted.  “A pretty young girl like you should find a handsome wizard to amuse her.  But perhaps you already have someone special?”  She raised her eyebrows in polite enquiry.

“Oh, I have so many” Celeste replied airily.  “This is why I can never choose.”  Beneath his newspaper Snape could just see her feet.  They were pressed together quite tensely in the pointed-toed shoes, and she lifted them momentarily to flex her leg muscles.  “How is Simone?” he heard her ask Sinistra.

“Oh doing splendidly” came the gushing reply.  “Just about to give birth to her second.  You don’t see anything of your old friends from Beauxbaton?”

“No.  Not often” Celeste replied.  “I met Melanie and Yvette at the Paris opera some years ago.  We were there to see Tosca.  You must be very proud to be a great-great-grandmother.”

From behind his newspaper’s business section Snape emitted the tiniest groan, and his long, bony fingers clenched the edges of the pages a fraction more tightly.

“Oh yes!  I can’t tell you…” Sinistra began, clasping her hands in delight.

But of course Estella Sinistra could tell them, and did tell them, at great length, at every opportunity.  Clever girl, Snape thought.  Got her onto her pet subject, so the spotlight’s off you.

At last it was time for dinner and Snape sighed with relief.  Estella Sinistra’s tales of her great-great-grandchildren were threatening to drive him up the wall.  He sauntered down to the Great Hall, letting the elderly Astronomer prattle beside him, oblivious of his silence, while he listened to the clip, clip of Celeste’s high heels as he watched her walk like a dutiful child beside McGonagall.

At dinner Celeste spent most of her time chatting to Hagrid and Filch but when coffee was served they slipped away and Filch’s place was taken by Amarila Sprout the Herbology Professor.  She was soon deep in conversation with the trainee, so much so that the two witches turned sideways on their chairs and hooked the heels of their shoes on the side rungs.  Sprout’s right arm hung over the back of the chair.  Her left hand alternated between seizing her coffee cup and clutching at her hat which tended to slip sideways on her wealth of fine grey hair.  At Celeste’s temple a small chestnut strand had broken free and she was absentmindedly twisting it into a ringlet.  Her other arm dangled over the back of her chair, and waved about at times as she outlined in the air some point she was explaining.  As Snape watched, Celeste turned to pick up her water goblet, Sprout made some comment, and both witches laughed, Celeste displaying a row of even, very white teeth.

Against her better judgement Celeste’s eyes were repeatedly drawn to Snape.  He looked ever so slightly familiar yet she couldn’t believe she had ever seen him before – his looks were so striking, she would surely have remembered him instantly.  His hair, roughly parted in the centre and hanging in a heavy, greasy curtain gave his long face a pointed, gothic appearance.  He was unhealthily pale, as if he spent all his time in the dungeons, and when she had glimpsed his teeth they had looked rather yellow.  He had a long, aristocratic face, a powerfully aquiline nose, and such eyes!  Cold, black tunnels, drawing you in to, to – to what?  To doom?  And yet she already knew there was anger in those eyes – they could sear like hot coals.

And his mouth, his lips – oh, what lips!  Finely chiselled and eminently kissable, yet they issued only bitter sarcasm in a cold, baritone purr – like acid dropping onto velvet.  What would it be like to be kissed by such lips?  Stop this, she warned herself.  This is too ridiculous for words!  Angrily she dragged her mind back to her conversation with Sprout.

By the end of dinner Snape was working hard to ignore Celeste.  Her pearly laughter irritated him.  Her enthusiasm irritated him.  Her easy friendliness irritated him.  Her adaptability irritated him.  He made up his mind.  Celeste had got to Hogwarts by means of a trick and he was not going to go along with it.  Outwardly he was going to ignore her as much as possible.  He was not going to help with her training, and he was not going to converse with her except whenever it was unavoidable.  As far as possible he was going to carry on as if she had never turned up.  But he was never going to trust her.  He would be on the watch and would find out anything he could about her.  Surreptitiously.  She was threatening to be like the Potter boy – fêted by everyone as so wonderful, such a treasure!  Potter had been just a kid, but this was a calculating woman of twenty-seven.  She was just too good to be true.

Chapter Three - Clues and Suspicions

The buzzing of the chainsaw in the sunny afternoon told Snape that Celeste was busy in the grounds.  Hagrid was operating the saw, but Celeste would not yet let him work unsupervised.  She was definitely there too, which gave Snape a chance to search her room.  The new term would start in a few days time – it was best to do it now.

In the privacy of his bedchamber Snape charmed his hands to obscure his fingerprints.  Then, light as a cat on his feet, he bounded up to the sixth floor and looked along the deserted corridor.  He walked its length, throwing open each door to right and left, revealing in turn a disused classroom, a couple of store rooms, girls’ toilets, boys’ toilets, the female prefects’ bathroom, the male prefects’ bathroom…  Apart from curtains flapping at a window in the female prefects’ bathroom and the faint buzz of the chainsaw, each room was silent and deserted.  Now for Celeste’s room.

He knocked smartly on the door.  As expected there was no reply, but he knocked again to make sure and then eased the door open an inch, listening.  The distant noise from the grounds swelled to greet him – a window must be open.  Peering in, he was relieved to find no one in the room.  He tiptoed to the bathroom and put his ear to the door.  No sound.  He knocked twice and was again rewarded with no reply, so he eased open the bathroom door and verified that no one was inside.  He then quickly checked the wardrobe, the trunk, and under the bed.  The room appeared to be empty.

He returned to the bedroom door, closed it quietly and sealed it with the Adhaevo charm.  It was a ‘soft’ adhering spell, designed to impede the opening of the door long enough to give him time to get away should the need arise.  He went to the service panel near the fireplace and held his wand to it, muttering ‘Transparecium’.  It was a spell that rendered the panel momentarily transparent to his gaze, like a one-way mirror, revealing whether any living thing lurked behind it.  No one appeared to be there, so he eased it open and was greeted by the empty tunnel stretching away into darkness.  It connected with the network of small passages the house-elves used to service the rooms.  Heaving a sigh of relief, Snape used a spell to seal the panel closed and surveyed the bed-sitting room.

It was a neat and tidy room; orderly and spotless.  The stone walls were panelled in mid-brown oak to three-quarter height.  By the door was a kind of vestibule area with a row of wrought iron coat hooks fixed to the panelling.  The hooks held two travelling cloaks; one in maroon, the other bottle green.  Incongruously beside them were two smart, broad brimmed summer hats trimmed with black ribbon – one scarlet, the other daffodil yellow.  Wellingtons, winter boots and running shoes stood in orderly alignment on the floor beneath the cloaks.

Across the room, on the opposite wall to the coat hooks was the fireplace, around which were grouped two armchairs and a two-seater sofa, upholstered in rather worn dark red, blue and cream tapestry.  In a chimney recess, a heavy oak table stood against the wall.  It was clearly Celeste’s writing table, and a chair was tucked beneath it.  The table’s top bore parchment, ink bottles and quills, a spiral bound Muggle note pad, a pad of Post-It Notes and a quantity of Muggle roller-ball pens in a pot.  A black chord dangled from a stubby pink pen – it reminded Snape of the chord attached to McGonagall’s reading glasses; presumably it fulfilled a similar function.  Carefully, he lifted each piece of parchment, tested it with his wand and replaced it as he had found it.  He used a similar spell on the spiral-bound pad and the Post-It Notes.  They were all blank.  He unscrewed the plastic pens and had difficulty reassembling some of them.  Nothing was hidden inside them.

The high mantle shelf held a quantity of squat yellow candles and five tall, tapering candles in a wrought iron candelabrum.  Behind an armchair and running across the room to divide it from the sleeping area, was a long, low bookcase.  Much of it was empty but the few books it held were sorted into subjects – a section on physics, another on mathematics, a section devoted to English classics – mainly Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare – and, separate from these, a few French classics.  Snape picked up volume one of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past and found it was written in French; as, too, was a copy of Emile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin.  Replacing the novels carefully, he looked through the science books.  As well as college texts there were two or three ‘popular’ Penguin paperbacks on number theory, relativity, quantum physics and the nature of time.  No loose papers were hidden in the books.

He looked around, up and down.  The barrel vaulted ceiling was of bare stone, and except for a worn burgundy rug by the hearth, the floor was of bare boards.  He moved on.

Backing onto the low bookcase were two chests of drawers, standing side by side.  A box of tissues and a tea-tray stood on top.  Crowded onto the tray were two oatmeal coloured beakers and several tightly stoppered glass jars.  One held sugar, the others tea bags – Indian, chamomile, comfrey and peppermint, Snape verified.  Half a lemon wrapped in a twist of cling film, sat on a saucer beside a small knife.  Next to it, a screw top jar labelled Green & Black’s Organic Hot Chocolate did indeed contain chocolate granules.

The chests of drawers ran parallel to a single bed, neatly made.  Snape knew that approaching the wardrobe and the trunk required caution because he may be seen at the window.  Glancing carefully out, he discovered that Celeste was a long way off and not in a good line of sight to spot him, but anyone else nearer to the castle might do so.  He must not be seen – he had no particular reason to be on the sixth floor.

Opposite the end of the bed, the large wardrobe flanked the bathroom wall, and he found that it contained three sets of plain black work robes, long-sleeved satin evening gowns in jade, royal blue, emerald and carmine, and velvet edged evening robes in appropriately toning, rich colours.  High healed satin shoes matched each dress and were arranged alongside more ordinary, black, leather-looking shoes, three pairs of fabric sandals, and a large, flat, empty gabardine bag.  Two sun dresses were topped by bolero jackets, one set in scarlet and the other daffodil yellow.  The hats on the coat hooks obviously belonged to these summer outfits.  A glance at the labels revealed that the clothes came mostly from French and Italian wizarding design houses and that the ‘satin’ clothes were not true satin, but made of a synthetic Muggle fabric.  The few remaining items were of lesser value – a long denim skirt, some embroidered cotton T-shirts and two pairs of narrow black trousers.  The wardrobe held nothing but clothes, shoes, and the navy gabardine bag.  Next to it, the empty trunk was squeezed against the exterior wall.

One chest of drawers held two fine jersey wool dresses, one in dark red and one in cream, a brown belt in a synthetic suede-type material, jeans and sports clothes – there were track suits, leotards, leggins, socks, a couple of pairs of shorts, some T-shirts and a swimsuit.  The other held synthetic ‘satin’ nightdresses and underwear.  But such underwear!  Snape didn’t need to disturb the lingerie; he could tell enough just by gazing down into an opened drawer.  These delicate lace bits and pieces were surely not for a woman with no inclination for the physical side of life.  This was the underwear of a woman interested in romance, seduction, sex.  But who ever saw them?  Who got to undress Celeste, apart from Celeste?

Resenting the ideas and images that coursed hotly through his mind, Snape slid the drawer closed and took a deep breath.  He caught sight of his reflection in the wardrobe mirror.  A slight flush tinged his normally pale face.

In an angry whirl of robes he rounded the end of the bed, flashed past the window and sat down on the floor.  Providing he leant his shoulders forward, his head was almost below the window and he was therefore effectively out of sight, certainly from ground level.  He turned his attention to the bedside cabinet.

On its top was a photograph and a black lacquered box with a Chinese Fireball Dragon painted in flaming reds and oranges on the lid.  There was also a book; a paperback edition of Richard P. Feynman’s QED The strange Theory of Light and Matter – his seminal text for laymen on Quantum Electrodynamics.  Snape opened it at random, glanced by chance at the foot of page thirty-seven and thumbed his way through ten pages.  The section broadly explained how the classical law of reflection – the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection – is just a simplification of the way light really reflects from a plain mirror.  Feynman’s quirky, chatty, New York style was getting on Snape’s nerves and terms such as photo-multiplier and diffraction grating left him cold.  Angrily, he snapped the book shut.

The lacquered box contained two pairs of leaf-shaped ear clips, one in silver and one in gold; and two very fine wristwatches by the renowned Swiss wizard firm of Xavier-Schwartz-Colbert.  Again one watch was silver and one gold.  All the jewellery was hallmarked.

He picked up the photograph and checked behind it, inside the frame.  Then he looked at the photograph itself.  It showed a man and a woman dressed in elegant wizard robes and Snape guessed he was looking at Celeste’s parents.  He judged the woman to be in her mid fifties.  She was a proud beauty with an athletic build, challenging green eyes and flowing red-brown hair streaked with grey.  Her arrogant smile deepened as she gazed back at him and she arched an eyebrow.  The man looked much older.  He too was handsome with startlingly blue eyes, but his long hair fell perfectly straight almost to his waste.  It was ash white and looked strangely dead.  This uncanny effect was echoed by his build – under his powder blue robes he was skeletally thin.  He didn’t move.  The man’s regular features looked as though he had seen much sorrow; the woman’s face, by contrast, looked resolute and unconquered.  Snape gazed for some moments at these two faces.  In her straight-nosed and angelic beauty Celeste most resembled her father, he decided; but she had her mother’s inner strength.

He replaced the photograph at its original angle on top of the cabinet and turned to the body of the cabinet.  It contained three handbags of different colours, in a fabric that was – like the black shoes – a very good imitation of leather.  Behind those he found two small velvet evening bags.  The evening bags were empty as were the brown and ivory ‘leather’ bags.  The black bag was clearly the one currently in use.  It contained an Apparating licence, a Muggle driving licence, a Co-Operative Bank cheque book, and a Visa credit card in the name of Miss C. L. Lavelle.  There was also a purse containing a large amount of wizard gold, another containing Muggle coins and notes, some sort of electronic Muggle device, membership cards for Compassion In World Farming, the British Union For The Abolition Of Vivisection and The Royal Society For The Prevention of Cruelty To Animals; and a pocket diary.

Judging by the dates on the cheque book stubs Celeste wrote very few cheques.  The stubs revealed subscription and donation payments to the three animal protection organisations, a cheque made out to ‘cash’, the monthly settlement of her Visa account balance which varied between a few pounds and a few hundred pounds, and there were other regular payments – quite possibly monthly – to someone by the name of F. Wheeler.  The Apparating licence was in the name of Celestine Leander Lavelle and bore Hogwarts as its address; the driving licence address belonged to Cornelius Fudge.  Neither showed signs of secret inks nor of having been tampered with.  Nor did the membership cards.  Snape flicked carefully through the diary.  It held a few appointments and reminders scattered throughout the year – ‘Post application form today – LATEST’ was written against May 11th , ‘Interview Today’ appeared against July 1st and was crossed through, reappearing on July 6th.  ‘Start Hogwarts Today’ appeared against July 13th.  ‘Students Arrive’ was written against next Tuesday; then nothing until November 1st which said ‘Carmina?’.  Blank again until December which said ‘FL H+?’ against Christmas Eve and a grid reference.  ‘O St C 1:00am?’ and ‘Home?’ appeared against Christmas Day.  Snape wracked his brain to think of every revealing spell he had ever known but, as with the parchment and note pad, there were no signs of hidden messages; the only items written in the diary were in plain view.  What did the initials stand for and why did most items have question marks?  Who was Carmina?  And who was F. Wheeler?  Leafing through the diary again, he saw that the first Saturday in each month was circled, but there was no indication as to why.

He weighed the small but heavy Muggle device in his hand and looked at its numbered keys.  This is a mobile phone, he realised, but he had no idea how to operate it and did not expect to be able to do so inside Hogwarts.  If it held secrets he had no way of revealing them here.  He knew little of Muggle money and nothing of their banking system.  Nor their dreadful electronic devices.  The credit card was signed C. L. Lavelle; the hologram on its face – a dove in flight – gleamed back at him.

Snape sighed.  The only clues he might be able to work on were the circles around the first Saturday in each month, Carmina against 1st November, FL H+ against Christmas Eve, O St C against Christmas Day and the regular payments to F. Wheeler.  He crawled along the floor, level with the foot of the bed, stood up and went to the table in the chimney corner.  Careful to leave no shreds behind, he tore a leaf from the note pad, chose a blue plastic roller-ball pen and returned to sit under the window.  The hideous Muggle pen worked far better than he had expected as he noted details from the diary and the cheque stubs.  Stowing the slip of paper carefully into a deep pocket inside his robes, he returned the diary and cheque book to the handbag and replaced the handbag in the cupboard.  Once again he took precautions to get away unseen from the open window.  He jabbed the plastic pen back into the pen pot.  Now for the bathroom.

The room was bigger than he had expected.  It was panelled to half height in pine, above which the stone walls merged with the ceiling.  The room held a bath with a shower above, a hand basin, a lavatory, a marble-topped washstand and a free-standing wooden towel rail.  The wooden fittings and the bath panelling were of pine.  In a corner was an empty cane linen basket. As with the bedroom, the window was wide open; the sheer drapes wafting on a gentle breeze.

The external sounds were now different – the chainsaw had stopped and the shredder was in action.

The bathroom was immaculate.  All the fabrics were white – the window drapes, a long towelling tunic that hung from the back of the door, the towels neatly folded over the towel rail and the candlewick bath mat draped over the side of the bath.  The only items on the marble wash-stand top were a long block of soap the size of a brick from which tablets had been cut, a roll-on deodorant, a hair brush and comb, a pot of lip balm, a glass tumbler and a bottle of mouthwash.  The cupboard underneath housed a store of toiletries and a box of Natracare 100% natural-cotton tampons.  The toiletries were totally unfamiliar, and apart from verifying that they were what their labels proclaimed them to be, Snape paid them scant attention.  The roll-on deodorant was from Animal Aid and bore their Purple Monkey accolade; the lavender foam bath and shower gel were from Original Source.  The soap turned out to be Buttered Lavender Swirl from Natural Collection, as did the mint-and-fennel toothpaste and mouthwash, the marigold and primrose lip balm and the box of tampons.  At a corner of the bath a lavender aroma therapy candle stood in a glass saucer.  There were no cosmetics; not in the bedroom, nor here, and certainly no illegal substances.

Snape was running out of ideas.  Short of ripping off the bath panel, checking inside the toilet cistern’s ball-valve float, stripping the bed or prizing up the floorboards there was nowhere else to search.  Apart from special pouches to take a wand, few of Celeste’s clothes had pockets, and those that did were empty.  Aside from the Muggle telephone and bank account and the question marks in the diary, it was all quite ordinary – the tasteful possessions of a well-read and wealthy young woman living away from home.  There was certainly nothing he could immediately use against her.

Snape caught his reflection in the mirror above the sink and the desperate expression of his pale face made him start.  Was it really in order to pry like this?  He was after all Hogwarts’ distinguished Potions Master and Head of its noble House of Slytherin.  He was also a noted hero of the Voldemort wars, the proud bearer of the Order of Merlin First Class.  Wasn’t this snooping rather beneath him?

No, he was right to do it, he told himself.  If he thought it was necessary, it was necessary.  In his own mind he needed no further justification.  He would seek no one else’s permission.  If he felt cheap doing it, well, he’d have to live with that; one had to live with all sorts of feelings.  He turned on his heal and left the bathroom, closing the door quietly behind him.

After a last look around to see that all was in order, Snape unsealed the service panel and then the door to the corridor.  He inched the latter open.  Within the castle all was as soundless and deserted as before.  He stepped into the corridor and was pulling Celeste’s door closed behind him when he felt a tug at his hand.  Instantaneously an almighty crash reverberated around the sixth floor.  Shocked and trembling slightly, he closed the trainee’s bed-sitting room door, and strode up the corridor in search of the noise.  Of course!  He had left all the other doors open and the female prefects’ bathroom door had slammed because of the wind surge through the open windows.  Stupid, stupid error!  He ought to have foreseen that.  Cursing himself for an utter fool, he headed for his dungeon chambers to hide the scrap of paper and remove the charm from his hands.  Having done so, he glided out into the sunshine.

At the edge of the grounds Filch and Hagrid were wheeling barrow loads of shredded prunings and piling them into a heap near the paddock.  A cart had arrived, pulled by a small piebald horse.  Celeste was patting the horse and talking to its driver – a skinny, dark man who sat lazily holding the horse’s reins.  Sprout was nowhere to be seen.  Filch and Hagrid lifted the shredder onto the cart and the stranger handed Celeste a scroll of parchment.  She read it, queried something and a long discussion started.

From a distance Snape watched them.  He judged that they would be occupied for some time so he went in search of McGonagall.

He found the Deputy Headmistress in her classroom and asked to have a word in private with her.  Cordially she conducted Snape to her office and motioned him to a chair.  She was friendly enough to begin with but when Snape stated his business her mood soon changed.

“I don’t understand you, Severus” she said finally.  “Just exactly what is the problem?”

“I don’t want her in my classroom” he whined.

“Why not?” McGonagall demanded.

“I just don’t!” he shouted.  It was rare for him to raise his voice and he felt slightly out of control.  “She shouldn’t have come here” he added more softly. “Had I interviewed her, I would NOT have chosen her.”

“You would have been out voted!” McGonagall retorted icily.  “You cannot duck out of this, Severus.  You are a key member of staff and cannot opt out of staff training.  If you detest this young lady so much, let her come to your Monday morning double Potions lessons, then it’s over and done with very quickly each week.  Slytherins and Ravenclaws indeed – you can thank her for that!  I don’t understand your attitude about this.  Why do you resent her being here?  It’s not because she’s a woman, is it?”

“Don’t be ridiculous” he whispered.

But McGonagall knew she had hit somewhere near the truth.  She had lost all patience with this now and wanted the issue closed; she had more important things to deal with than prima-donna Potions Masters.  She would brook no refusal and relentlessly pressed the matter home.  “Monday mornings, Severus.  From the seventh.  Double Potions.  First thing.  She WILL attend. That is final!”

Snape glared at her, but knew he had no choice; he could not override the authority of the Deputy Head and to press his demands would only expose their unreasonable nature.  He got up and wrenched the door open.  Celeste stood outside.  Had she heard?  How much had she heard?  She had obviously come straight from working in the grounds.  Her feet were bare; her muddy boots placed to one side of the doorway.  “Is Professor McGonagall free, Professor?” she asked Snape.

“Come in, Celeste” McGonagall called.  “Severus is just leaving.”

In silence Snape stood back, but only just enough, forcing Celeste to brush past him.  He sneered at her.  Once outside the door he lingered for a second to listen.  He heard a rustle of parchment and Celeste’s voice saying “This is the invoice for the hire of the chainsaw and shredder.”

“This is dearer than I expected.”

“I know, Professor, but–”

“This won’t do.”

“Yes, but–”

Snape grinned.  He had heard enough; it seemed the Golden Girl was already losing her glister.  Feeling more at peace with the world, he headed back to the dungeons.

* * *

The Great Hall was bathed in soft warm candlelight.  Celeste was excited to observe the arrival of the students and captivated by the Sorting process.  Filch was not at the Start-of-Term Feast – the arrival of the students always disrupted his relaxed holiday routine, but as the Sorting started Madeline Hooch, the Flying Instructor, took Filch’s usual seat next to Celeste.

“We didn’t do it this way at Beauxbaton” Celeste explained, indicating the students lining up to sit on the stool.  “We had four Houses – Descartes, Roland, Suger, Rudel.  I was in Rudel; yellow.  Each House had just a single colour; red, green, blue and yellow.  We were just listed alphabetically, then divided red, green, blue, yellow over and over again.  It was only used as a way of splitting us into convenient sized groups for administration.  And of course it made things like inter-house Quidditch possible.”

“So people of very different characters found themselves together in the same House” Hooch observed.  “That might actually be better than what we do here.  There’s a lot of rivalry between the Houses.  It’s not very harmonious.  But then it all stems from the rivalry between the four founders of course.”

“You were in Slytherin weren’t you” Celeste ventured.

“Yes.  Ha!” Hooch laughed.  “The hat nearly put me in Gryffindor; it kept dithering between the two.”

“Would you have preferred that?”

“Nah … well … maybe.  Long story!”

“So you had Professor Snape for House Master” Celeste ventured again.

“Ye gods, no!  How, how old do you think Severus is?  He’s a year younger than me!”  Hooch snorted with suppressed laughter.  “I know he looks old but he’s only forty-two.  No, the reason I wouldn’t have minded Gryffindor was because of Sirius Black.”  She jabbed a thumb towards the handsome but grim-looking Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor who sat in silence at the far end of the table, two seats beyond Snape and next to Adoración Vector the Professor of Aritmancy and Ancient Runes.  Normally Hooch sat at right-angles to Black, as Celeste did to Hagrid.  “Believe it or not, Sirius was quite a hunk when we were at school” she explained.  He was in Gryffindor.  Same year as Severus.  Didn’t have much time for Slytherins though” she added ruefully.  “Ah!  He was so handsome.  And he had a flying motor bike!  He was a friend of James Potter and Remus Lupin.”

“Remus Lupin?  I know him” Celeste exclaimed.  “He’s a friend of my House Master at Beauxbaton, Septimus Peor!  Remus teaches there too, now – Transfiguration, and he’s Head of Descartes House.”

“Oh well, small world” Hooch observed.

And it was true – the wizarding world was, compared to the Muggle world, very small indeed – almost in some respects like a large family.

As she looked afresh at the faculty staff, Celeste noticed a curious similarity between Black and Snape.  Both wizards were stern of countenance, but whereas Snape’s expression was often one of anger, Black tended more to sadness – he had at times an almost ‘defeated’ look, as if he had seen too much anguish.  Celeste knew that disposition only too well and she put her next question with a degree of concern.  “But what’s happened to Sirius” she murmured, looking anxiously as his mass of tangled dull-grey hair and his ashen complexion.  Madam Hooch glanced at Black and sighed; then she lowered her gaze to the table top and gripped the edges of the table with her hands.

“He was falsely accused of a dreadful multiple murder and sent to Azkaban” she whispered.  “Managed to break out after twelve years.”

“You mean he was the escaped convict” Celeste said, astounded.  “The first prisoner ever to break out past the Dementors?”

“Yeah, that’s him.  Do you remember the Peter Pettigrew business, when that whole streetful of Muggles got blasted to death and Sirius Black got arrested?  It happened in eighty-one” Hooch added.

“No, I’m not sure I do remember.  Eighty-one.  I was eleven.  I … life was a bit of a mess then.”  Celeste looked embarrassed.

“We all have our bad patches” Hooch said sympathetically.  “I’ll fill you in another time about the Black business.  The Sorting’s almost over.”

Celeste’s eyes were again drawn to Snape.  She recalled how he moved – usually in a swirl of black robes, or marching down a corridor; vigorous and purposeful, with drive and determination.  There was a suppressed ambition, a fierce energy, almost an anger in his movements.  Now he sat motionless, watching the Sorting in a calm silence.  Strange how he embodies both, she mused – furious activity and utter stillness.  In the golden light of the many candles, Snape’s expression was intense and also now tending towards sadness.  But suddenly his head turned slightly to the left and his menacing eyes slid sideways, locking onto hers.  It was totally unexpected and caught her off guard.  She felt blood rush to her face.  Annoyed to find herself blushing, she looked quickly away, covering her confusion by muttering a comment to Hooch.  From then on she concentrated very hard on the Sorting.

They watched a boy called Raymond Wardell who was sorted into Gryffindor and two tiny, scared-looking blond-haired twins, David and Jonathan Wilson, who both became Hufflepuffs.  Finally a girl called Sarah Woods was directed to Slytherin, the Sorting was complete and Dumbledore rose to make his customary speech of welcome.

“Well, here we are at the start of another year.  And let us hope it will be a year very different from the last – a year of calm study and uninterrupted learning.  As it happens, you young people will not be the only ones studying this year.  We have in our midst a trainee teacher, who will at times be assisting Professor McGonagall with some administrative duties, but is principally here to sit in on lessons and observe the experienced Professors in action.  I am sure she will find it all most instructive and quite possibly entertaining.  So will you please welcome Miss Celestine Lavelle.”  Dumbledore paused, and as the broke into polite applause Celeste rose, smiled at everyone and made a modest bow.

“I must also remind you” the Headmaster continued, “that only third years and upwards are allowed out to Hogsmeade on certain weekends, and the forest – which is extremely dangerous – is out of bounds to all students.  And now I think I have delayed the feast long enough.  Let the feast – begin.”

As the banquet got underway Celeste took up her conversation with Hooch.  “I’m so used to seeing this hall empty, it’s funny to see it full of students stuffing their faces” she remarked.

“Yes, it’s great.  Great place, Hogwarts” Hooch mused happily.

“I suppose for you it means home.”

“It does now.  I left.  Got married.  Widowed – thanks to Voldemort and his Merry Men.  Back here.  Funny how life works out.  (Hooch sighed, and then an idea occurred to her.)  Celeste, now that you’ve finished gardening for this year, what are you going to do for exercise?  You look like the sort of person who likes to keep fit.”

“Well, I thought I might go for an early morning run” the trainee teacher explained.  “That’s my usual thing.  I always get up early, and I like to have a run before breakfast.  I like to swim too.  The prefects’ bathrooms are on my floor.  The baths are big enough to swim in.  Before the students arrived I’ve sometimes gone for a swim late at night.  I think I might still do that if the girls’ bathroom is empty after ten o’clock.”

“Watch out for Filch then” Hooch advised.  “He’ll spy on you if he gets the chance.  He won’t touch, but he likes a good leer.”

“OK.  Thanks for the warning!”

“How about us running together?  Do you mind company?  An early jog around wouldn’t do me any harm.”

“Great!”

“I could show you some good routes.”

“Thanks, Maddie!”

They began to work out the details of when and where they would meet.  Madam Hooch said no more of Sirius Black’s life history; they were enjoying the feast and she didn’t want to cast a gloom over the evening.

Author's Note: These are genuine...

Green & Black’s Organic Hot Chocolate.
QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard P Feynman, published in paperback by Penguin.
The animal welfare organisations Celeste supports (however BUAV does not issue membership cards).
Animal Aid, which is also primarily an organisation campaigning for animal welfare.
Original Source.
Natural Collection – however they have never made quite all the flavours/varieties I chose to put in this story, and unfortunately Buttered Lavender Swirl Soap was discontinued in 2003.

Chapter Four - The Timetable is a Chessboard

On Sunday the sixth of September the full moon was blanketed by heavy cloud, and by midnight the castle corridors were swathed in a ghostly blackness.  The little Henri Jacot carriage clock that graced the mantle shelf in Snape’s bedchamber chimed a quarter to midnight on its discrete, double-note gong.  Had Snape been there he would probably have been awake to hear it.  But he was not in his dungeon chambers.  Unable to sleep, he was roaming the castle corridors.  This was not an unusual event.  Snape habitually slept badly, and too frequently had to resort to taking the Dreamless Sleep Potion to ensure a trouble-free night’s rest.

But quite often – sometimes merely out of preference, on occasions because of psychological need and sometimes through concern for the safety of the school – he walked the darkened corridors.  As a Head of House he shared responsibilities for discipline and security; responsibilities he took seriously.  Furthermore, the school had seen very troubled times over the past two decades and Snape had born a major portion of the task of confronting this.

Snape had lived in the castle for so many years that moving noiselessly around in the gloom had become a fine art.  Gliding like a serpent, he turned a corner and saw a faint light coming from a gap in the wall to his left.  Soft footsteps were pattering down a narrow staircase that opened into the wall of the corridor ahead.  Wand at the ready, he stepped swiftly into the narrow staircase entrance.  Recognising the figure, he dodged from side to side in front of her, blocking her path.  The pattering footsteps had, as he had suspected, belonged to Madeline Hooch.  The faint light was coming from her wand.

“Stop it, Severus” she protested, punching his chest as he continued to dodge in front of her.

In the confined space he bore down on her, trying to intimidate her, making her back against the wall.  He raised his left arm level with her neck; the palm of his hand pressing against the cold stone behind her right ear.  A diamond stud twinkled at its lobe; he lifted his thumb away from the wall and ran it along the edge of her ear, watching the jewel sparkle like a tiny star.

“And why is a pretty witch such as yourself, roaming these corridors at this ungodly hour?” he purred.  “You might run into goodness knows what unsavoury character.”

“Obviously I just have” she replied serenely, the corners of her mouth twitching in a smile.  Her yellow hawk-like eyes mocked him.

His own eyes smouldered as they raked her face.  Lazily his gaze travelled down towards her feet.  She wore a black silk robe and, he suspected, very little underneath it.  Her feet were bare.  It occurred to him that she might be making her way back from a secret rendezvous, and he didn’t need much of a guess as to whom she might have been seeing.  “Sirius Black” he pronounced dryly, standing back and dropping his arm out of her way.  “I suppose you’ve been keeping him company.”  Snape’s tone sounded cold and disapproving, and his compressed lips showed distaste as he thrust his wand back into his sleeve.  His nostrils flared – he fancied he could almost smell the presence of Black on her.

“Your old sparring partner?” Hooch asked derisively.  “You sure about–?”  But her reply was cut short by a yell and the sound of Peeves cackling laughter.

They both turned and pounded up the stairs, Hooch’s strong legs covering the ground at a surprising rate.  Side by side they pelted along an upper corridor and came face to face with Peeves the poltergeist, Liam O’Grady a third year Gryffindor student, and a tray of fresh cream donuts.  O’Grady was notorious for stealing food from the kitchens and Peeves had no doubt captured the tray from him.  He was hurling donuts like missiles, and O’Grady, wand in hand, was trying to defend himself.  The result was that cream and jam repeatedly splattered the walls and O’Grady’s dark blue pyjamas.

“Peeves!” Hooch’s voice sounded like a whip crack.

O’Grady froze.

Peeves looked down at the two teachers, both of whom had their wands pointing at him.  Snape looked particularly murderous and Hooch was never an easy target, so the poltergeist decided it was time to withdraw.  He quickly selected the biggest of the remaining donuts, let the tray crash to the floor and simultaneously launched the donut upwards.  It exploded spectacularly like a grenade above the teachers’ heads and with a last delighted cackle Peeves zoomed away.

Snape wiped cream and jam from his cheek and licked his fingers.  “Ten points from Gryffindor, O’Grady” he murmured.  And detention.  Stealing food already, and term hardly started?  Don’t you get fed in the holidays, boy?  Pick up that tray, and those fragments of cake.  We are going to pay a visit to Mr Filch.  Oh, and a word to the wise, O’Grady – if you had used the Impediment Jinx instead of the Deletrius spell, even a butter-fingers like you would have been able to catch the donuts.  Instead of plastering the walls with them.”

In total silence they walked to Filch’s office, O’Grady leading the way, Snape and Hooch exchanging wry grins behind him.  Filch’s door was standing open and without hesitation Snape marched the student inside.

“Young Mr O’Grady has been redecorating the Defence Against the Dark Arts corridor” Snape informed Filch.  “He would like you to take a look at his handiwork.”  He paused, thinking.  “If you don’t mind Filch, I would like you to deal with this and see that O’Grady returns safely to his common room?”

“Oh–  Yez–  O’course, Professor” Filch replied.  He was slightly puzzled by this; teachers normally escorted students back to their quarters.

“Excellent” Snape said.  “O’Grady, I will be speaking to your Head of House to arrange your detention.  Good night to you.”

In an elegant flounce of robes Snape withdrew from the Caretaker’s office.  He was gratified to see Hooch waiting for him further along the corridor.

“Now … Where were we?” he drawled, gliding up to her.  Jam was matted in his hair.  A dribble of cream was making its ponderous way from a black eyebrow down towards the bridge of his nose.  Hooch could feel him motionless as a cat ready to spring, as she reached up to wipe the cream away.  “Come down to my chamber and I’ll let you lick it off” Snape purred softly.  “Then I’ll smother you in cream and do the same for you.  Aawwll over.”

“I’ll bet you would” Hooch replied in a calculating tone.  Licking her index finger, she made to turn away.

“Best offer you’ll have all night, Milady.”

She turned and considered him.  “Second best” she concluded, and giving him her trademark impish smile she continued to walk away.

Being described as second best to Sirius Black, if indeed it was Sirius Black, was something of a blow to Snape’s pride, but then the feisty Flying Instructor had intended nothing less.  It would be demeaning to chase after her, he decided, and at length Snape made his way back to his dungeon chambers.

He brewed a goblet of potion and left it steaming on his bedside cabinet.  Then he took off his soiled clothes, treated the spots with his wand, and piled them into the laundry basket for the house-elves to deal with.  He took a hot shower, shampooing his hair vigorously to get rid of the cream and jam.  Finally he sat up in bed sipping the still steaming potion and occasionally rubbing a towel over his hair.  He hadn’t resorted to brewing Dreamless Sleep tonight, but the concoction he had chosen would help him to relax.  Finally he settled down between the crisp white sheets and thought of Madeline in her rustling black silks.  He thought too of Celeste.  Lascivious images of both witches crowded his overheated brain and he became strongly aroused.  However that was, as always, easily and most pleasurably dealt with.  Before the carriage clock chimed two, the Head of Slytherin had drifted into a pleasant sleep.

*

The following morning Celeste sat in silence finishing her breakfast.  Filch did not usually take breakfast or lunch in the Great Hall, Hagrid tended to prepare early for his lessons and Hooch was at a pre-class Quidditch Planning Meeting with McGonagall, so for once Celeste was alone.  Snape eyed her warily from time to time, but she seemed always composed and self-possessed.  She wore plain black work robes and her chestnut hair was tied with a stiffly-ribbed black ribbon into a low pony tail.  Unlike many witches she wore no hat.  Having finished her muesli she had sliced the top off a boiled egg.  A copy of the Daily Prophet was folded and propped against her orange juice so that she could read as she ate.  She seemed used to eating alone.  She never glanced in his direction.  Finally Snape got up and walked past her.

“Good morning, Miss Lavelle.”  He stared haughtily down at her and carried on speaking; not giving her a chance to reply.  “You have double Potions with me first thing today.  Be so kind as to attend my classroom at nine-fifteen.  My classroom is in the dungeons; I assume you can find it.”

“Good morning, Professor” Celeste replied.  “Yes, I can find my way, thank you.  Nine-fifteen?  As you wish.”  As she finished speaking Snape was already gliding away.

He’s different this morning, she said to herself.  He’s as unfriendly as ever; that velvet purr is as cosy as a lion revelling in the prospect of a kill.  Yet there’s something different about him; about his appearance.

At nine-fifteen precisely Celeste knocked and was opening the classroom door as Snape called “Come in” in his bored, cold tones.

“Ah, Miss Lavelle.  Come in.”  Snape was cool and yet almost gracious.  “You may sit here.”  He indicated a chair set at an angle between the class and his desk, and three or four feet to the right of his own chair.  “We have Slytherin and Ravenclaw first years this morning, for which I understand I must thank you.”  A ghostly parody of a smile appeared at his lips as he inclined his head in a bow of mock gratitude.  “I intend to start them off with a solution to cure boils.  It gives them an easy start.”

“Do you want the ingredients written up on the board, Professor?”

“Err–  Yes …  Thank you.”  He sounded more taken aback than pleased, but it seemed he wanted it done.

He handed Celeste a leaf of parchment from his notes and she noticed his handwriting was even, but spiky and not easy to read – it had something of a tortured look.  However she decided to do her best with it and only ask for his help if absolutely necessary.  She pointed her wand at a stick of chalk, muttered ‘Scribario’, then pocked her wand and read softly from the parchment as she held the chalk an inch from the surface of the blackboard.  A fine white column of dust emerged from the chalk and formed words on the board.  Annoyed but impressed, Snape stood back to watch her, then when she was virtually finished he threw open the dungeon door and summoned the students inside.

He took the register, pausing sometimes to look at certain students and check their names.  He looked long at a girl named Jasmina Lestrange and at a boy named Marcus Avery.  Finally he laid down his quill, sauntered in front of his desk, leant against it looking utterly at ease, and began to teach.

“You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion making…”  His voice was barely above a whisper, yet it filled the dungeon.  Everyone’s eyes were riveted upon him.  Nobody moved.  “…I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death…”

The class was transfixed.  Celeste was transfixed.  He was almost like a priest intoning a prayer.  As the lesson proceeded, that opening speech reverberated at times in her head.  Here was a man deeply in love with his subject.  It was as if he had cast a net over the students and drawn them to him.  It was a revelation.  At the end of the lesson she supervised the students cleaning their cauldrons and putting away their excess ingredients.  A thought suddenly struck her.  As the classroom emptied she turned and looked at Snape.  Yes, she was right!  He had washed his hair!  No greasy black ropes today; the jet black hair falling almost to his shoulders was lustrous, and his pallid skin looked a little healthier too.

The students had gone and Snape became aware of her gaze.  “Anything wrong, Miss Lavelle?”  It was a cold and imperious challenge.

“Do you always introduce your subject in that way?”

“Yes” he responded curtly.  Seeing her ponder his reply, his lips creased into a sneer.  “Only in the first years’ first lesson obviously.  I assure you the Gryffindors are far less impressed by it.”

“It’s quite inspirational” she whispered.  She gave him an insightful look and then turned and walked slowly towards the door.  “Thank you, Professor” she called, and closed the door behind her.

* * *

Snape’s worst fear had so far not been realised.  Celeste’s presence at his classes had not been a problem and he grudgingly had to admit to himself that she was helpful, thoughtful and responsible.  Furthermore, she could even read his handwriting, and never complained about it – that was a first!  But even so, he would rather she was not there, so he proceeded to devise a plan.  He persuaded Madeline Hooch that Celeste’s assistance at flying lessons would be useful.  At Beauxbaton, Celeste had played Quidditch for her House team, as Seeker in the second year, and then as she grew stronger and heavier, as Beater – a tough job for any girl.  She was therefore a skilful flyer and possessed knowledge of the rules of Quidditch.  Hooch had no one to cover her lessons, nor anyone usually who could act as Quidditch umpire.  Snape had umpired once, but only to protect Harry Potter from being killed by a servant of Lord Voldemort.  Although an adequate flyer, Snape was not the world’s best and he disliked sports and outdoor pursuits of any kind.

“Just tell me why you want this, Severus?” Hooch asked suspiciously.  She had posed the question for a second time and did not want to do without an answer.  Her hawk-like eyes were fixed hard upon him.

“You know it’s sensible, Maddie” he purred.  “Just give the girl a chance.”

“Give the girl a chance?”  Hooch was so taken aback she spluttered her drink, as they sat together in The Three Broomsticks.  “It’s you, I believe, who didn’t want to give her a chance!  You’re up to something” she added slyly.  “You’re always up to something.”

“Nonsense; you’ve got me all wrong” he insisted softly, gazing imploringly into her yellow eyes.

“You forget I know you of old.  You never did anything without some deep purpose.  But why should I do anything for you?” she asked archly.

As he considered this Snape ran a sensitive finger around the rim of his goblet.  “Because … you have … just the tiniest of soft spots for me?” he suggested.

“You?  You give me the creeps!”  She sat back and smiled.  “I’m thinking it over.  And while I am, you can get me another gin and tonic.”

But as she watched Snape at the bar, ordering a gin and tonic and a goblet of red wine from Madam Rosmerta, Hooch had to admit to herself that she did have a soft spot for him.  She had known Severus Snape since he was eleven years old.  He could be witty.  He could even be fun.  He was always challenging.  True, he did almost give her the creeps.  She didn’t trust him, and he could at times be exasperatingly childish.  But there was something slightly tempting about his very dangerousness.  A dark man with a dark past who dressed in immaculate black.  He was taking better care of himself these days, she noticed.  His hair was always clean and his teeth were not so yellow.

“OK” she said resignedly as he placed the glass in front of her.  “OK.  I’ll sound her out about it, and McGonagall. Though why I should do you any favours, I don’t know.  Must be soft in the head.  That‘s where my soft spot is for you, Severus – in my head!”

Snape grinned wolfishly and took a large draught of wine.  One down, two to go, he thought.

Celeste’s timetable was full.  If she was to be available to assist with flying lessons, something had to give.  Because of the way she and McGonagall had drawn up the original timetable, Flying lessons tended to clash with Charms.  So Flitwick was the one to work on next.  However Felix Flitwick, the kindly and co-operative Head of Ravenclaw House, needed no alcohol to lubricate his agreeability.  He was perfectly happy to let Celeste swap her planned Charms slot for Monday mornings.  McGonagall was deeply suspicious that the hand of Snape was behind this, but after much persuasion and explanation from several quarters, she eventually agreed that the alterations to Celeste’s training schedule could take effect from Monday October 26th.

Snape was jubilant – he had secured Monday mornings to himself even before Hallowe’en.  Celeste was pleased to be involved in flying lessons and to have the prospect of umpiring Quidditch, but she too had her suspicions.  She guessed Snape had engineered this to get her away from his Potions classes.  The very thought left her angry and surprised, and as Quidditch matches took place on Saturdays, this wasn’t always very convenient for her.

* * *

Nevertheless, Celeste was beginning to settle in to the scholastic side of life at Hogwarts.  Being naturally conscientious, she got on well with the permanent staff, particularly Vector, Sprout and Hooch whose subjects she liked, McGonagall who approved of Celeste’s attitude and admired her unpretentious worldliness, and Flitwick who was favourably disposed to anyone of a friendly and fun-loving but hard-working disposition.

As Hallowe’en approached Snape puzzled more about Carmina.  October 31st was his birthday and he remembered that the meeting with Carmina was scheduled for the following day, but he still had no idea who this witch could be.  Meanwhile Celeste had a habit of disappearing at odd times for an hour or so.  She also left the school for the whole day, regularly on the first Saturday of each month.  He had seen her flying off in the direction of Hogsmeade, sitting side-saddle on a broom in her long denim skirt.  During weekdays she often received letters and sometimes small packages, but never disclosed their contents in his hearing.  Dumbledore and McGonagall would not be drawn into discussing her private affairs, and, apart from Hooch and Sinistra, none of the other staff were likely to know much in the way of personal details.  Not that he could openly ask anyone – he didn’t want his interest to be noticed.

Remembering Celeste’s other cryptic diary entry, Snape looked up the FL H+ grid reference in an atlas in the library, and very early on Sunday 18th October he Apparated at the spot.  He found himself in the middle of a damp village green at Chesholme.  Cottages surrounded most of the green, and to one side was a church swathed in scaffolding and with builders’ equipment littering the grounds.  The village was dark, deserted and soaked in dew.  Apart from the church and the cottages there was a General Store which contained a Post Office and also a public house – The King’s Head.  No one was about at that unearthly hour on a cold autumn Sunday.  After a cursory walk around narrow lanes choked with parked cars, Snape cut his losses, and returned home – Apparating at Hogsmeade where he had parked a broom.

Having drawn a blank on his own, Snape decided to follow Celeste on her next mysterious journey.  He didn’t have long to wait.  It took place on the Saturday before Hallowe’en.  After breakfast she calmly walked out to the broomshed near the Quidditch Pitch, selected a school broom and rode off.  He did likewise, following her at a distance and hoping she wasn’t intending to travel far – although an adequately strong flyer, he disliked this as much as he did most outdoor activities and he rarely made it his choice of transport.

To his relief, Celeste flew less than a dozen miles.  She landed at the farmhouse belonging to the estate that bordered the school, parked her broom and went inside.  Snape flew around, unsure of what to do.  Then he landed at the far side of a copse, hid his broom and began to thread his way between the trees, making for the farmhouse.

He stopped, still just undercover.  A farm-hand was leading two horses around to the front door.  As Snape watched, Celeste and a tall blonde witch came into view.  Assisted by the farm-hand they mounted the horses and trotted off, the blonde witch in the lead.  Feeling at a loss, Snape listened to the splatters of the horse-hooves in the gravel of the yard.  The sound changed to deeper thuds as the horses turned down a muddy grass track.  Both witches rode well.  They would soon be lost to view.

Returning to his broom, Snape tried to follow, but it was hopeless.  They were cantering between orderly fields of neeps and carrot, so there was no cover.  He considered flying after them in his Animagus form but immediately ruled it out – a bat would never keep up with these horses and he still might be seen.  Eventually he was forced to fly back to the farmhouse.  He parked near the door, noticing a sign which read

 

Hogallen Farm

Organic Produce

Farm Shop – Vegetables – Plants – Herbs – Aromatherapy Products

Additive-Fee Meat – High Welfare Conditions – On-Site Butchery

Licensed Abattoir: licence number 25376645

-

Proprietor:  Helen Kirkpatrick

-

All Enquiries to Farm Manager’s Office

 

He was quickly spotted by another farm-hand who asked him his business, and he found himself stumped for an adequate reply.  What is happening to me, he thought frantically.  Am I losing my touch?  Am I getting old?  Am I bewitched?  In desperation he said he had a message for Miss Lavelle.

“Mizz Lavelle?” the man drawled irritatingly, in a Dorset accent Snape didn’t recognise.  “Woul’ that be the visitor who rode off wi’ Miss Pennyfeather?  She got an appointment wi’ the Farm Manager.  She won’t be back for a long time.  Do yer want summun ter go an’ fine ’er?”

“Err, no that won’t be necessary” Snape said hurriedly.  “Just ask her to, uhm, see Professor McGonagall on her return to school.  Good day to you.”

“Ah, who shall I say call–?” the farm-hand started to ask, but Snape was already flying away.

Professor McGonagall was understandably mystified when an hour later Celeste appeared at her office door.

“No, I’m not expecting to see you about anything” she insisted.  “No, I sent no message.  Anyway, was your trip successful?”

“Yes.  I’m confident they’ll offer good terms” Celeste replied.  “They’re putting together the tender document now.  It should arrive in a couple of days and then I can go through it with Alfonso.  Once we’re happy with it, we can go through it with you and draw up the contract.  After that mix up about the hire charges in the summer, they seem to want to get this right.”

“Well, at least we got a credit note” McGonagall said. “Sorry I jumped down your throat over that.  I didn’t realise you’d already got that underway.”

“I learned a sharp lesson about being clear about the terms!” Celeste admitted.

* * *

Dumbledore looked down the laden tables at the Hallowe’en Feast.  Happy and excited, all the students were busy tucking in to the contents of the golden platters.  The food, always very good, was this time exceptional – the new food contract with Hogallen Farm was bearing its first fruits.

Quietly, the Headmaster surveyed the top table.  Sprout sat, as usual, at his left.  She had finished her third helping of Tricky Treat and was reaching for a Gnarled Warlock’s Finger to dip in her black coffee.  Beyond her, Flitwick was finishing his wine and listening to Sinistra divulging a no doubt outrageous piece of gossip; looking merrily aghast at her revelations.  And beyond Sinistra, Hagrid and Filch seemed to be having a surreptitious drinking contest.  In their midst, Celeste was pouring over a diary with Hooch looking on.

Dumbledore turned his head.  To his right, a slight smile playing on her lips as she too surveyed the scene, McGonagall was sitting calmly at his side.  At the far end of the table Black sat in silence, awaiting Hooch’s return.  Between Black and Snape, Professor Vector’s chair was empty, and closer, just beyond McGonagall, Snape also sat in silent contemplation of the feast.  What of Snape?  Dumbledore watched as the Head of Slytherin pulled a small glass phial from his robe and poured its contents into his pumpkin juice.  He lifted the goblet to his lips, paused as if to drink a toast – indeed Dumbledore could have sworn his lips moved – then he took a deep draft.  Of course!  Dumbledore left his seat and, unnoticed, approached Snape’s right elbow.

“Happy birthday, Severus” he said softly.

Snape jumped and mumbled a thank you.  He wasn’t used to anyone remembering his birthday, not even Hooch.  Dumbledore patted him on the shoulder, and then made way for Professor Vector who was returning to her chair.

Pearly laughter cut across Snape’s thoughts as he drained his goblet; Celeste and Hooch were sharing a joke.  Celeste snapped her diary shut; Hooch made a remark; they both glanced in Snape’s direction and then looked quickly away, trying not to laugh.  Damn them, he thought.  His eyes narrowed as he watched the two witches.  As the feast had begun to draw to a close, Hooch had dragged a spare chair over to sit and talk to Celeste – they appeared to get on very well together.  They had become friends very quickly.  Celeste was also annoyingly ‘close’ to McGonagall; the little fracas over the hire charges had quickly blown over.  And she was on very friendly terms with Sprout.  Could it be, Snape wondered.  What was it the Beauxbaton boys had called her; Celeste the Unattainable?  Could it be that she preferred female company to male?  But surely the Beauxbaton girls would have known, there would be rumours, Sinistra would wheedle it out of her daughter.  But perhaps Celeste had been too careful to risk physical involvement with a fellow female student.  But what of Hooch and Black – had his suspicions been wrong about them?

It was getting late.  The Hall was starting to empty and Snape decided to head for his dungeon lair.  As he passed Celeste and Hooch, he lent over them and spoke.  “Having a good time, ladies?  I do like to see two pretty witches enjoying each other.”  They looked up in bewilderment, but he was already striding out of the Hall.

“What is wrong with that man?” Celeste asked in exasperation, glaring angrily at his retreating back.

“He’s his own worst enemy” Hooch replied.  “He’s had a rough life, has Severus; much of it his own fault.  He’s a dark man with a dark past and it’s just best to steer clear of him.  Get involved and you’re gonna end up feeling like you’re responsible for bringing the world to an end.  Yes, OK, he’s got his good points” she conceded, seeing Celeste’s questioning look.  “He’s tough in a crisis, is Severus.  Fearless.  But there’s a sort of blackness in that man’s soul that’s destructive.  Are you drinking that wine?  No?  Hand it over.  Thanks.”

“He hates me” Celeste said, passing the carafe to Hooch.  “I just don’t know what I’ve done wrong.”

Hooch snorted.  “You’re not the first person to feel like that!  Just remember kid, beneath that stone-hard exterior there’s a stone-hard interior always fighting to get out!”

* * *

Snape watched Celeste as much as possible through the following day but there was no sign of anything unusual about her Sunday routine.  She went for an early morning run.  At breakfast she received quite a lot of post which as usual she did not open at the table.  She worked in one of the greenhouses until lunchtime.  At lunch she seemed a little down-in-the-dumps, but Dumbledore went over to chat to her and soon got her smiling.  In the afternoon she and Hagrid went for a walk in the forest; Hagrid’s boarhound Fang bounding around them.  At tea time they returned from the forest and went into Hagrid’s cabin.  By half past six Celeste was playing exploding snap in the staff room with Flitwick.  After that she went to change for dinner – gracing the Great Hall in her emerald dress and robe, and gold jewellery.  She chatted with Filch and Hagrid at dinner, and then soon after ten o’clock she headed for her room.  Alone.  Sunday was drawing to a close and nothing special had happened.

*

At the end of dinner on the following evening, however, Snape got a shock; Celeste came over to talk to him.

“Professor, if you have finished your meal, may I have a word?”

“Miss Lavelle?”

“A private word?”

Irritably, he looked about as if to find something to save him from this fate.  Finally he snapped “Oh …  Very well!”

“My room?” Celeste pressed.

His eyebrows arched.  “Is that wise?” he sneered in a tone of considerable mockery.  However there seemed no denying her this, and in an awkward silence he accompanied the trainee to the sixth floor.

In Celeste’s room a cheery fire blazed in the hearth.  With a wave of her wand she lit all her candles and he saw a row of birthday cards along the mantle shelf.  They were all there, he noticed – Dumbledore, Flitwick, Hagrid and all the other members of The Celestine Lavelle Fan Club.

He took an armchair when invited to sit but refused her offer of tea.  She sat at the end of the sofa nearest to his chair, crossed her legs modestly under the long skirt of her carmine dress and draped an elbow on the arm rest.  Her gold watch glittered in the firelight as she interlaced her fingers and studied his expression for a few seconds; her large hazel eyes fearlessly scanning his face.

“I don’t quite know how to start” she said frankly, “so I’ll come straight to the point.”  Her voice was calm.  Briefly she looked down at her fingers and then up again, meeting his gaze.  “Why do you not want me to sit in on your Potions classes?”

Although taken aback by such directness, Snape didn’t flinch.  “What makes you think I don’t?” he countered coolly, giving himself time to think.

“I think … that is, I believe … that you manipulated my timetable so that Potions no longer fits into it.  I believe you apprised Madam Hooch of my flying ability, and played a sort of chess game with Flying Lessons, Charms and Potions.  Potions got knocked off the board, if you follow my metaphor.”  Celeste’s left eyebrow arched; her steady gaze was unnerving.

A hint of colour crept across Snape’s pale face.  “What is this moonshine?  What’s Madeline been saying to you?” he asked, careful to keep his voice level.

“Nothing.  Absolutely nothing” Celeste replied candidly.  “But I could ask her.  And if I ask her point blank, I don’t think she will lie to me.”  She paused, but he offered no explanation so she continued.  “Do I need to go to the extraordinary lengths of getting evidence?  I want to know why you don’t want me in Potions.  I want to know why you have gone out of your way to be unfriendly to me ever since I arrived here.”

Yet again he made no reply.  His skin had now turned as pale as Arctic snow and his fathomless eyes gazed into hers.

“Have I done you some wrong?” Celeste persisted.

Still refusing to respond, he looked away, into the fire.  His mind was racing, and a vein throbbed at his temple.  She saw him swallow.  His nostrils flared.

She lent forward.  “I have seen you teach” she continued softly.  “Seven occasions.  You love your subject with a passion, and can be quite inspirationally eloquent about it.  Yet, you didn’t want me to see that.”

By now Snape was recovering his composure.  When he looked back at her, his eyes blazed with an ill-concealed fury.  “You delude yourself, Miss Lavelle” he hissed.  “You vastly overestimate your own importance.”

“Very well.”  She leant back again and her voice was calm as she determined to keep control.  “I cannot compel you to explain why you are shutting me out, but I will remind you, Professor, I am here to train.  I want to learn.  And I want to do a good job of work while I’m here.  I won’t let a situation such as this pass unremarked.  If it gets worse I will take matters higher.”

“TAKE THEM AS HIGH AS YOU PLEASE!” Snape roared suddenly, leaping to his feet.  “I can challenge your placement here if I choose.  If need be, I can go to the Ministry.”

Puzzled, she looked up at him.  “Why would you do that?”

“Call it … a matter of breeding” he whispered, his voice just about back under control.

“What–?  You mean– it’s because I’m Muggle?”  Celeste looked nonplussed.  “Didn’t all that pureblood prejudice die with the Death Eaters?”

He didn’t understand her; she was no longer making any sense.  In a whirl of robes he turned to the door, and, wrenching it open he turned back.  “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” he spat, and was gone.

“THAT WAS YESTERDAY!” she yelled after him down the corridor.

His hurrying figure didn’t turn around and he was soon out of sight.

* * *

Relations between Celeste and Snape had reached a nadir.  Celeste made no particular effort to avoid Snape, but he usually worked hard to avoid her.  Everything she did annoyed him more and more, and to make matters worse he seemed unable to keep out of her way.  She was studying in the library when he visited it to return back issues of the journal The Potion Maker that he regularly borrowed.  And he discovered her working in Greenhouse Five when he called on Amarila Sprout to discuss stocks of dried Coltsfoot and Yarrow leaves.  And early one evening in late November, as Snape sat in the staff room trying to finish his Daily Prophet crossword, he found it difficult to concentrate because Celeste and Flitwick were at a table by the window playing with two packs of Exploding Snap cards.  Celeste had a red pack, Flitwick’s pack was blue, and they were having a house building contest.  McGonagall smiled quietly to herself as she watched Snape’s mounting irritation.

Flitwick’s blue house was five storey’s high but Celeste was marginally ahead – she was just starting her sixth layer.  Suddenly the base of her red house exploded.  The blast caught Flitwick's cards and both houses collapsed in a spectacular shower, whereupon Flitwick and Celeste burst into fits of childish laughter.

“Well that’s annihilated Gryffindor and Ravenclaw” Snape sneered.  “Haven’t got a yellow pack handy, have you Felix?  Then Slytherin will rein supreme at last.”

Celeste and Flitwick looked at him for a second, and then burst once again into peals of laughter.

Chapter Five - The Swimming Lesson

Christmas was approaching and an end of term feeling was in the air.  Celeste was helping McGonagall to make arrangements for any students who would be staying at the school over the Christmas break.  The list of names she presented to the Deputy Headmistress was exceedingly short.

“No one?” McGonagall asked in surprise.

“Well, the Wilson twins will be staying for two days, but on Sunday the twentieth their parents come to collect them” Celeste explained.

“Oh well, it will be quiet this year.  And what of your plans, Celeste?”

“I would like to leave on the evening of Christmas Eve, spend Christmas Day at home and return here by about half-past eleven.  Molly Weasley is putting me up on Christmas Night and I’m breakfasting at The Burrow before going on.”

“You can have longer if you like, a good deal longer” McGonagall said kindly.  “No students on the premises.  We’ll have a surfeit of staff and no one to discipline.  Classes don’t start until Wednesday the sixth.  It’s up to you.”

“Thank you” Celeste replied gratefully.  “Can I think about it?”

“Of course.  How are things at home?” McGonagall asked sympathetically.

“Not much different I’m afraid” came the sad response.

“I’m sorry, Celeste” McGonagall said with feeling.  She sought to change the subject to something the trainee would find less painful.  “Celeste, Friday the eighteenth; can you help to decorate the Great Hall?  We usually have twelve Christmas trees and swags of holly, mistletoe – you know.”

“Of course, Professor.  It sounds just my sort of thing.”

It was just Celeste’s sort of thing.  She enjoyed working with Sprout and Hagrid to collect suitable plants and with Flitwick to decide upon how to adorn them.  Flitwick usually used charms to decorate the trees.  Sitting cross legged on the floor in the Great Hall, they had a lengthy discussion about whether the trees should have clear glass bubbles, icicles, gold stars and moons, silver stars and moons, red bows, gold bows…   Celeste said she didn’t mind, as long as the decorations were all in the same colour scheme.  Flitwick said they always had a mixture.  Finally they decided on something he had never tried before; tiny, white-gold sparks of light.

Snape watched them as they waved their wands, bestrewing the greenery with the most beautiful minute flickering sparks.  “Oh – how – pretty” he sneered, dragging out each word.

“I suppose you would have preferred silver snakes” Celeste replied with an impish smile.  His eyes blazed at her.  He glided to the side of the Hall to watch them at work, standing motionless like a shadow.

Celeste was suddenly aware that one of the small, blond, first year twins was at her side, tugging at the sleeve of her track suit.  “Do you like the decorations, Jonathan?” she asked him.

“Yes Miss, they’re great” he replied softly.  “Miss, can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“It’s about flying.”  His voice was steady but he looked more scared than ever.

“Hold on.”  Celeste spoke briefly to Flitwick, then took Jonathan to the far side of the Hall, grabbed two chairs and bade him sit down.  “Now, how can I help you with flying” she said, sitting sideways in her chair, one foot tucked under her other knee.

“Well–” he seemed lost for words, “I’m just no good at it.  I’m rubbish at it!” he said finally.  “My brother’s OK.  You’re really good.  How do I get good?”

“Just by practice” she assured him.  “Practice, practice, practice!  You can’t learn it from a book.  It’s a bit like driving a car; the more you do it, the more the machine – the car or the broom – becomes just a part of you.”

“How am I going to practice, Miss?”

Celeste thought.  “Well, we could use the Quidditch pitch tomorrow morning if you like.  It’ll be free during the holidays.  Let’s give it a try, just you and me, see how you get on.  If you need regular coaching we’ll have to work out how to fit it in.  We could talk to Madam Hooch about that.  But to start with, how about giving it half an hour tomorrow morning?  Say, ten o’clock?”

“Yeah–  Yeah, thanks Miss.  Miss, can my brother come?”

“I thought it was only you that wanted the practice” Celeste remarked in surprise.

“Yeah, but I’d like him there too” Jonathan admitted.

“Well if he wants to come, that’s fine.  See you at ten o’clock then.  By the broomshed, Jonathan.  Don’t be late now!” she called to his retreating back.

He turned.  “No Miss.  Thanks Miss.”

He scampered off and Celeste returned to helping Flitwick, limping on the first couple of steps across the Hall because her doubled-up foot had gone to sleep.  Snape continued to watch them; his expression as sour as ever.

*

The flying lesson went quite well but Celeste agreed that Jonathan could do with regular practice; David was better and more confident.  As he and his brother were due to go home the following day they decided to wait until the new term before discussing Jonathan’s needs with Madam Hooch.

*

Snape rose earlier than usual for breakfast on Sunday morning.  He took the dungeon passage past the kitchen and then the back stairs up to the Great Hall.  He could hear singing.  As he opened the small door behind the top table the singing became markedly louder.  The vast Hall had been cleared except for one long table placed in the centre of the room.  To one side, grouped around one of the Christmas trees, stood Alfonso Morelli, the Italian Head Chef, McGonagall, Celeste and the Wilson twins.  They were singing carols, with Dumbledore conducting.  Morelli had a fine tenor voice, Celeste a respectable mezzo-soprano and McGonagall was doing her best with her usual, slightly wobbly soprano.  The twins’ voices were enchanting; they sounded like choir boys.

Aware of the opening door, Dumbledore glanced round.  “Ah, it will soon be breakfast time and then, alas, we shall have to finish” he said.  “Severus, come and join us for one last carol.  What shall it be?  Who has not chosen?  Celeste, it is your turn.  What shall we sing?”

“The Coventry Carol is my favourite” Celeste said demurely.

“The Coventry Carol!  Lulley lullah, thou little tiny child.  Everyone know that?” Dumbledore asked.

“I don’t believe I do, Headmaster” Snape said in a subtlety unhelpful way.  He had glided over to stand just behind Celeste’s left shoulder.  She could feel his breath on her neck.  No ear clips today, he said to himself as he surveyed her peach-hued skin.  She wore the inevitable black work robe over a grey track suit.  The toes of her trainers peeped incongruously from beneath the robe.

“I think you will recognise this carol, Severus, when you hear it.  It is quite famous” Dumbledore assured him.  “If in doubt, just follow Celeste.”  His eyes twinkled.  Snape looked venomous.

They began to sing.  Snape found he did recognise the carol.  Silly bloody feminine tune, he said to himself, yet he felt drawn into taking part.  He loved music, and was possessed of a mellow baritone voice.  He acknowledged that the tune, in reality, had a stately medieval grace, and he sang quite strongly, staring down at Celeste and letting the sound wash over her, relishing the fact that she seemed uneasy about his presence so close behind her…

Apart from a brown owl dropping a small package into Celeste’s muesli, breakfast passed uneventfully.  At a quarter-to-ten the twins’ parents turned up in a carriage from Hogsmeade.  They had parked their car by the carriage park at the station as it was impossible to drive right up to the school.  Simple engines such as the shredder and the chainsaw worked tolerably well at the edge of the school grounds, but the intricate electronics in a car failed miserably in any closer proximity.

Mr and Mrs Wilson were Muggles.  They were accompanied by a wizard neighbour, as they found visits to the school and the complex travel arrangements quite daunting.  Dumbledore stood by the Main Entrance doors as Sprout, the boys’ House Mistress, descended the steps with Celeste to greet the boys’ parents.  Hagrid and Filch manhandled the trunks, and David and Jonathan clattered down the steps, bursting with excited tales about their first term.

Dumbledore was suddenly aware that Snape was at his side.  “Remember Dennis Creevey arriving here, Severus” he said quietly.  “To my mind these two are something like very timid versions of him.”

“I suppose they are, Headmaster” Snape agreed.  He recalled the younger Creevey boy, now in his fifth year, a once tiny but typically reckless Gryffindor who had fallen into the lake during a storm and arrived at the Sorting ceremony swathed in Hagrid’s moleskin overcoat.  He had looked like a small, squelchy, black mountain.  He had an older brother Colin, equally unsuppressible, now in his final year.

Celeste and Sprout were rounding off their chat with Mr and Mrs Wilson.  The boys’ parents looked more at ease by the time they set off for home.  A gentle sleet fell as Celeste and Sprout stood at the foot of the steps, waving their carriage goodbye.

* * *

The school returned to an eerie quietness reminiscent of the summer holidays, and the weather turned damp and unseasonably warm.  McGonagall was surprised to see that Snape had not yet left for London, but he seemed content to prowl the school and even, at times, the grounds.  In the fine rain of an early morning he once glimpsed Celeste and Hooch jogging side by side down the lane toward Hogsmeade.  They were both dressed in lycra and seemed oblivious of the wet weather.  They gave no sign as to whether they had seen him.  Ringed by a black scrunchie, Celeste’s high pony tail swung as she jogged.

As they disappeared from view, Snape pulled the hood of his cloak further forward to shield his face from the rain and he headed back indoors.  Seeing them together was curiously painful.  He had joked about Madeline having a soft spot for him but he cared for her.  There were times when he would like to make love to her – well, more accurately he would like to have sex with her – but he had always been wary of making that too plain because even if she consented it meant involvement, and his feelings towards her were just not that strong.  Also he didn’t want to risk her outright rejection; he preferred to tease her, and generally keep things on a light-hearted basis.  As for her feelings for him?  He was sure they would not extend beyond a light-hearted but guarded friendship.

And Celeste?  He couldn’t begin to describe how he felt about Celeste!  If she and Madeline were happy together, why should it bother him?  After all it is not as if I have lost anything, he told himself.  But their togetherness made him feel as he always did, an outsider; a spectator to other people’s happiness.

*

Late that night he was surprised to find Filch pounding on the door of his chamber, calling hysterically.

“What is it?” Snape snarled as he flung the door open, half-expecting to see some wretched student.  A quill was in his hand; he had been marking fourth year homework.

Filch’s face was bone-white and he was gibbering.  “Miss Celeste–  She’s in the pool–  Bin there ages.  I can’t–  I think–, she’s drowned!”

“WHAT?  WHERE?”  Snape was already running along the dungeon corridor, the quill flung aside.

“Girl Prefects’ Barfroom, sir.  Sixth floor” Filch whined, hurrying along in his wake.  “I called ’n’ listened at the door, sir; but I can’t ’ear nuffin.”

Snape virtually flew up the stairs.

“I can’t open the door, sir” Filch called after him.  “I think she locks it wiv a spell–”

Filch’s cat Mrs Norris was pawing at the bathroom door when Snape turned into the corridor.  She fled at the sight of his fearsomely large black shape.

A moment later Filch turned into the corridor, in time to see Snape skidding to a halt in front of the door, his wand at the ready and his voice bellowing.  He hadn’t wasted time with the subtle Alohomora charm; nor even with the normal Reductor curse.  Filch had heard him yell “REDUCTO MAJORIS!” and as the once solid door began to evaporate into a mist, Snape was already entering the bathroom.

The scene before him almost made his heart stop.  Eyes closed, Celeste was floating face up in the middle of the pool.  She was naked.  Her face was serene and only her eyes, nose and mouth were above the water.  Her chestnut hair fanned out around her like seaweed.  She looked as if she was asleep.  Feet first, Snape plunged into the pool.  He gasped as very warm water surged up almost to his chest.  The water he had displaced poured in a great wave over Celeste, causing her to sink beneath the surface, arms and legs flailing.  Snape reached out to find her but in the sudden turbulence she was nowhere to be seen.  A second or so later she burst above the surface further away from him, closer to the far edge of the pool.  She was coughing, spluttering, wiping her hands over her face and pushing back her hair.  Water was glistening on her muscular thighs and streaming off her handsome breasts.  Her chest heaved.  She was alive!

She was very much alive.  She stood up at the pool’s shallow end, pulling soft plastic ‘No Tone’ acoustic plugs from her ears.  Her eyes blazed at the two men as she looked from the sodden and anxious-faced Snape in the middle of the pool to the rather shame-faced Filch standing near the water’s edge.  Hard and dark, her nipples seemed to be pointing at them accusingly.

“WHAT THE BLOODY HELL D’YOU THINK YOU’RE PLAYING AT?” she roared.  Her voice echoed sharply off the bathroom’s tiled walls and her blazing eyes came to rest on Filch.  “YOU!  This is YOUR doing!” she shouted as she waded slowly forward, deeper into the pool, angrily pointing a shaking finger in Filch’s direction.  “You’re always trying to take a peek in here when I’m swimming.”  Swinging back her arm, she smashed it forward across the surface of the pool.  “You BASTARD!” she yelled, as a sheet of water and spray lashed across the room.  It soaked Snape’s hair.  Some of it caught Filch.

“We though you had drowned” Snape whispered lamely.

“DROWNED? … OK” she panted, with an angry note of resignation.  “Turn around gentlemen.  And STAY turned around!” Silently they obeyed her, so she waded to the pool’s far edge and heaved herself out.  “As it happens, I come prepared in case I have visitors” she informed them.

They could hear the snap of elasticated material and her voice softly cursing, as Celeste struggled to pull a swimming costume over her wet skin.  “You can get out of the water now” she called to Snape.  “And you are allowed to LOOK” she added, walking to the end of the pool.

Encumbered by his saturated robes, Snape struggled to heave himself out of the water.  Filch offered him a hand but Snape refused with a look so poisonous that Filch flinched and drew back from him as the Professor finally hauled himself out.  He then turned and saw Celeste climb the diving board.  Dimly his brain registered that he recognised her glossy bronze swimming costume from the day he had searched her room.  Facing backwards, Celeste balanced for a second, and then took a neat flip off the board, somersaulted once, and cleaved the water so precisely there was hardly a ripple to be seen.  She swam the length of the pool in an fast crawl, swam back all the way underwater, then something caught her eye and she headed towards the two men in a lazy breaststroke.  She moved like a slim, darting fish; water seeming to be her second home, and with a certain added discomfiture Snape recalled that one of Celeste’s names was Leander.

Celeste stopped at the water’s edge near to Snape’s feet and reached out for something that was floating at the very edge of the pool.  A thin sliver of polished ebony, thirteen-and-a-half inches long.

“Your wand?” she asked, handing it up to Snape.

“Thank you” he whispered again.  He tipped it up and water poured from it.  “I’m sorry, Celeste” he added awkwardly.  “We did–  We did think you might be in difficulties.  Mr Filch couldn’t make you hear.  We had better go.”  He looked at Filch.  “You have a door to replace tomorrow, Mr Filch” he said acidly, as he stepped out of the spreading puddle of water that had collected around his feet.

“Yez, Professor” Filch muttered.

Celeste watched them go, Snape trying hard to recover a little dignity.  She could hear his footfalls squelching along the corridor, and she had noticed that he had addressed her by her first name.  She smiled...

With Filch beside him, Snape began his trek back to the dungeons, water still streaming from his winter-weight robes.  He tried to dry them with his wand, but without too much success.  Finally he gave up and instead rounded on Filch, herding him into a corner.  His eyes seared across Filch’s face and his lips curled in fury.  One-handed, he grabbed a fistful of Filch’s robes above the breastbone and dragged the trembling Caretaker towards him, until his own face was only inches above Filch’s quivering countenance.  “Don’t you EVER get me into a situation like that again” he snarled.

“No, Professor” Filch whimpered.  “I’m very sorry, sir.”

“How long have you been spying on her?”

“I … I don’t know what yer me–”

“DON’T give me that” Snape hissed.  “I know your habits, Argus.  I know your inclinations.  That’s why she’s taken to sealing the door.  A wizard can unseal it, but she knows full well that you can not.  Doesn’t she, Argus.  Doesn’t she–”

Filch’s pallid face was starting to redden as Snape’s iron grip pulled the Caretaker’s robe tighter around his throat.  At last Snape thrust him away.  “Stay away from her” he ordered.

“But I ’ave ter work wiv–”

“You KNOW what I mean” Snape roared.  “And if I catch you leering down her cleavage again” he continued in a softer voice, “remember, I don’t even have to leave my dining chair to reach you with my wand.”

With a last, most pointed look at Filch, Snape turned and walked slowly away, wishing his feet didn’t squelch so much.

Oblivious of the comical sound of Snape’s footsteps, Filch, white faced once more, stared after him, still trembling.

* * *

On Christmas Eve, Snape watched Celeste like a hawk, but her behaviour was again disappointingly normal.  She went for her usual early run with Hooch, had breakfast, visited the kitchen for a chat with Alfonso Morelli, and then spent the rest of the morning working with Sprout in the greenhouses.  During lunch she chatted to Sprout and Hooch.  She then took another turn in the greenhouses until tea time.  She worked in the library until half an hour before dinner and dined as usual in the company of Hagrid and Filch.  Leaving the table early, she went to her room.

Snape flitted around the castle as quietly as he could, trying to keep track of her movements.  By ten-to-eleven he was actually considering turning in.  Surely she would simply be asleep by now.  Whatever had been planned was not going to happen.  Or perhaps Celeste had never intended to do anything herself, perhaps the grid reference and the cryptic FL H+ referred to someone else’s actions.

The Head of Slytherin returned to his chamber.  But he couldn’t rest.  His instincts warned him to be on the alert – somehow this felt different to All Saints Day.  And, he reminded himself, the day was not yet over.  He put on his cloak and went outside.  It was raining so he raised the hood.  He walked around the castle, cursing the cold east wind that struck him as he rounded the corner near to the broomshed.

He froze.

A figure clutching a broom and a gabardine bag was fastening the door of the shed.  It mounted the broom and was off.

Snape rushed to the broomshed.  He chose a broom at random and mounted, heading the way he thought the figure had gone – towards Hogsmeade.  He pulled up at the Village Broom Park behind The Three Broomsticks, but there was no one in sight.  There was, however, a school broom in a rack, neatly parked and locked by a spell.  Its handle betrayed a trace of warmth.

He didn’t know for certain where Celeste had gone, but that hardly mattered as he had already explored the grid reference of the likely destination.  Snape parked his own broom out of sight, and then Disapparated, emerging at the grid reference at Chesholme, tweaking his Apparition point slightly as he didn’t want to arrive at exactly the same spot as Celeste.  He’d have to chance where he emerged.

He found himself on the edge of the village green furthest from the pub but not too far from the church.  The scaffolding was gone and there was much slamming of car doors as Muggles arrived and hurried inside, hunched against the cold.  The weather was awful – far worse than at Hogsmeade!  The rain was pelting down and the gusty wind bitterly cold.  The church clock was striking the three-quarter hour; it would soon be midnight.  A single bell, tolling at a slow pulse beat, took over as the clock chimes finished.  Snape watched as, minutes later, the church door closed.  Celeste was nowhere to be seen.

Muted light shone from the curtained windows of a couple of cottages, but the church was the only building that looked busy, so not knowing what else to do, Snape cautiously approached its door.  He eased it open and blessed his luck – it turned out to be the outer door in a porch.  If he closed it before opening the inner door, there might not be too much of a draught to draw attention to his presence.

Carefully he slipped inside the church.  It was bedecked with Christmas foliage and just over half full of Muggles dressed in overcoats, hats and headscarves.  Most were kneeling or bent forward in an attitude of prayer.  Sitting upright, in a pew to herself at the back of the nave, was a figure in a maroon travelling cloak.  Her hood still covered her head so he could not see her face, but he was sure it was Celeste.  Snape pressed his back against a shadowy door in a deeply inset doorway and waited.  The bell stopped, and as the church clock began to strike the hour he was aware of sounds from behind the door at his back, which unbeknown to him, lead to the Choir Vestry.  Crossing hastily in front of the tower’s screen, Snape repositioned himself in the church’s far corner, pressing his back against the west wall as he stood near to the foot of some steps that lead, via a short corridor, to the Vicar’s Office, Vestry, and Sacristy.

The clock completed its twelfth chime.  The door to the Choir Vestry opened fully and men in long robes paced majestically along the isle towards the altar.

Eleven Dominican Friars.

Their bare feet were sandaled and their robes were black.  Centred at the front, his brothers in two columns behind him, the leading Friar carried a pale yellow altar candle in an iron black holder; its flame casting a dancing light over his face.  Unaccompanied by any instrument, the Friars were chanting in Latin:

Hodie, Christus natus est

Hodie Salvator apparuit…

The slow and deliberate pace of their feet fitted the rising and falling of the Latin cadences.  Once beyond the communion rail, ten of the Friars filed into the choir stalls; two with three behind them, and to the other side the same pattern was repeated.  Their exquisite voices were both sad and uplifting.  Among the mingling tones Snape thought he could detect one counter-tenor, three tenors and one bass to each side.  After a moment of deference at the altar, the leading Friar took up a position on the step just above the communion rail.  His singing voice was – like Snape’s own – an arresting, mellow baritone.

Finally a chord from the organ heralded their closing Alleluias, and the chant ended.

An altar boy stepped forward to relieve him of his candle, and the leading Friar began to welcome the congregation to the service.

The service itself was meaningless to Snape.  He did not understand the hymns, the prayers, the intonations, the responses, nor the taking of Holy Communion.  Celeste seemed to be in a similar position; she sat as a spectator, attentive and quiet, her gaze at times wandering around the beautifully decorated church but mostly resting upon the leading Friar.

As was Snape’s!  He was riveted to this face even more than Celeste; for this, surely, was the face he had seen in the photograph – the face of Celeste’s father.  Or was it?  This face was less gaunt, less haunted.  Or was that just an effect of the short, monkish hairstyle that framed it?

While he spoke, the leading Friar let his eyes stray over the congregation.  They rested on Celeste, and – despite the deep shadows at the back of the church – they did not miss Snape.  When he felt the power of their deep blue gaze, Snape was reminded of Dumbledore.

The service was not lengthy and when it was over Snape remained quietly in his place, as, followed by the organist and the bell-ringer, ten of the Friars filed out and the congregation made their way to the door, where the leading Friar stood to bid everyone goodnight.  A few Muggles glanced in Snape’s direction but no one paid him any serious attention because he looked much as the Friars did, black-clad, motionless, and belonging in his surroundings.

A young Friar handed a small object to the leading Friar, muttered something to him and then left the church.  The leading Friar returned to the pool of light cast by the altar candle.  Celeste lowered her hood, walked forward to greet him, and they embraced.  They took seats in a front pew and spoke together in low tones.  A Muggle, apparently the church caretaker, approached the Friar and interrupted their conversation.  It seemed he wanted to lock the church; he needed them to leave.

“Lock the Main Door, Mr Armstrong” the Friar said.  “When we go we will leave via the door near the Vicar’s office.”

“I usually lock that too, sir; in fact I ’ave done now like.  I don’ like to leave it jus on the Yale lock, cos o’ the Sacristy.  And there’s money in that office.  Cash.”

“Then, can you give me the key of the Main Door and I will put it through your letterbox when I leave?  Turn off all the lights, and lock up everywhere else” the Friar suggested.

“Yes, sir.  Orright then.  Yeh won’ be too long will yeh?  Ony the heatin’s off now, see.  It’ll soon be freezin’.  Yeh won’ forget the candle, sir.”  He was walking around, switching switches and checking doors as he spoke.

“I promise not to be long.  And I won’t forget the candle.  Merry Christmas, Mr Armstrong.”

“Thank yeh, sir.  Merry Christmas, sir; mam.”

The latch sounded and he was gone.  Celeste and the Friar took up their low conversation once more.

They spoke for over twenty minutes, but to his extreme frustration Snape could not make out a word because they spoke softly, and in rapid French.  He debated whether to cast a translation charm, but the rest of the church was so silent that he didn’t see how he could do so unobserved.

Snape’s legs were growing stiff.  He was also beginning to get very cold and to wonder how he was going to get out of the church.  He considered stunning the pair of them and slipping away before they awoke, but abandoned that plan in favour of waiting until they had left and then making his Animagus transformation.  He could flutter in bat form through a missing section of window in the east face of the North Transept – a tiny damaged section of the leaded light the builders had overlooked during their renovations.  However, as he was resolving to do this, the Friar raised his voice and spoke in English once again.

“I will need to return soon, Celeste; but there is someone I would like to speak to before I go.”  He directed his gaze into the shadows where Snape stood and Snape felt suddenly exposed as if by a spell.  The Friar took Celeste’s hands in his own.  “Are you ready to travel on now?”  His voice held the quality of a benediction; Celeste seemed in some way healed by it.

“Yes” she replied simply.

“Give your mother my love; and Lucien if you see him.”

“I will.”

They embraced briefly once more, kissed cheek to cheek, and bade each other Merry Christmas.  Then Celeste raised her hood, picked up her bag, and walked quickly to the door.  She didn’t look in Snape’s direction.  The latch clicked, and she was gone…

“She has gone” the Friar called out.  “I must not forget to extinguish this candle safely or Mr Armstrong will never forgive me.”  He picked up the candle and walked slowly towards Snape.  “You cannot follow her further tonight.  Are you a Professor at Hogwarts?”

Snape was taken aback, and thought for some seconds about his answer.  “Yes” he replied guardedly.

“Then be so good as to light your wand; contrary to popular belief I do not see well in total darkness.”

Snape pulled out his wand, muttered ‘Lumos’ and the Friar blew out the candle.

“Is there anything you would like to talk over?” the Friar asked as he paced slowly towards Snape.  “I can see you are taken by surprise.  This is not what you expected, and I do not have your trust.  Very well.  That is understandable.  I must return, soon, to my Order; but if you ever need to see me you can find me… here.”  He reached inside his robes and pulled out a business card.  “Have you a pen?”

Snape had a quill but no ink, but the Friar found a ballpoint pen on the table by the visitors’ book.  He left the doused candle there, and wrote on the back of the card; then handed it to Snape.

“That is my name, Fabien Lavelle.  I am usually known as Brother Fabien.  And that” he said pointedly, “is the grid reference.”  He tapped a fingernail on a long number he had written beneath his name.  Snape turned the card over and saw, beside the emblem of a black dog carrying a red torch, the words The Priory of St Michael the Archangel.  The address, telephone and fax numbers were printed underneath.  Fabien watched him read.  “As yet we do not have a website” the Friar chuckled.  “The Priory is near the Kielder Burn.  Come, we had better leave.  Mr Armstrong will probably not go to sleep until he hears the key drop through his letterbox.  Will you walk with me?  It isn’t far to his cottage.”

They stepped into the dark, chilly night.  The rain had virtually stopped.  Fabien locked the church door; then the two men crossed a narrow lane and walked together across the green to a cottage beside the General Store and Post Office.  An old fashioned black lantern hung by its front door, casting a deep yellow-gold light onto its whitewashed walls.

“Are you Celeste’s father?” Snape asked, as they walked towards the patch of light.

“No” Fabien replied.  “Has she not spoken to you of her family?  Well, she will do.  If you ask her.  Her father is my twin brother Lucien.”  He flipped the key through the letter box and headed back across the green towards a Range Rover parked in the lane beneath a new and quite freshly-painted sign saying The Church of the Holy Cross.  As he drew near to the vehicle, he stopped, pulling out the key and transponder the young Friar had given him earlier.  “That is my transport home.  You, presumably, will return to your home by other means.”

“Err, yes” Snape replied, not knowing what else to say.  Fabien’s knowledge was uncanny and his mind impenetrable.

“Don’t forget to contact me, should you need me” Fabien continued.  “We are a Dominican order.  People imagine we meditate in silence all the time but actually we are involved in many pastoral and preaching works; hence our invitation here tonight, to conduct this Mass.  And our full choir is often in demand; you saw only a part of it tonight.”

Snape was recovering his composure.  “You are most kind” he said arrogantly, “but I cannot imagine I will need–”

However Fabien held up his hand, much in the way Dumbledore habitually did when calling for silence.  “ It is a long road you travel; a long and twisting route” he said, looking curiously at Snape as if seeing him for the first time.  “Are you of my faith?  Are you a Christian?”

“I do not have any religious beliefs” Snape replied irritably.

“Then you are of the same views as Celeste.  She too has a difficult road in front of her.”  The Friar seemed to make up his mind about something; he held out his hand and Snape suddenly felt it would be churlish not to take it, so hesitantly he shook it.  “May peace be with you, this Christmastide” Fabien said softly.  “Goodnight.”

His manner seemed to Snape, to be at once patronising and mysteriously other-worldly.  It angered him but he also felt unaccountably charmed.  Most uncharacteristically the Head of Slytherin found himself bidding Fabien a courteous goodnight.  He watched the Friar walking the last few yards to his car, proffering the transponder to trigger the locks.  Then, angered by his own uncharacteristic friendliness, he Disapparated even before Fabien had opened the car door.

Freezing sleet stung his face as he rode the broom from Hogsmeade back to the castle.  Once in bed he lay awake pondering the evening’s strange events.  Fabien was a curious man.  Was he a wizard?  Could he foretell the future?  Or did he just like to put on a bit of an act – as a man of mystery and power?  Snape couldn’t imagine any circumstances under which he would ever need to visit the Priory.  And what was all this about the long road he had to travel?  Lunatic ramblings!  Annoyed, the Head of Slytherin rolled himself tightly in the bedclothes, turned on his side as was fast asleep in five minutes, without the need for any potion.

Author's Note: These really do exist...

The ‘Coventry’ carol – I don’t know its proper title.
The ‘Hodie’ chant – again I don’t know its proper title.
No Tone ear plugs.

Chapter Six -  Fate Plays a Word Game

The staff woke up to a light fall of snow on Christmas morning.  As there were no students staying for the holidays Snape expected the late and leisurely breakfast to be exceptionally quiet, but halfway through the meal two visitors appeared at the door to the Great Hall.  Accompanied by Hagrid, Hermione Granger and Harry Potter entered rather shyly and made their way to the dining table.  They had only left the school a few months earlier but already they looked older.  A pearl button shone at the frilled collar of a pure white blouse beneath Hermione’s smart navy robes.  Harry was dressed in casual Muggle clothes – blue jeans and a dark blue sweatshirt.  He looked taller and rangier – very much the image of his late father.  Hermione, her hair still a bush of rich brown curls, had become a most attractive witch.

Snape took one look at Harry’s face and hastily looked away – Harry’s green eyes still reminded him of the beautiful Lily Evans.

The two ex-students were greeted very warmly – Dumbledore and McGonagall were especially welcoming, Flitwick squeaked with delight, and Black was particularly thrilled to see his Godson.  Snape sat in silence at the end of the table as Hermione and Harry gratefully accepted toast and coffee, and chatted to the other staff.  Eventually however, Hermione left her chair and came over to the Potions Master.

“And how are you, Professor?” she asked shyly.

“Perfectly well, thank you Miss Granger” Snape replied in a condescending voice.  He felt obliged to be polite and say something more so he added “And are you enjoying training to be an Auror?”

“Ah, I’ve changed my mind about that” she confessed.  “Next year I’m going to train to be a teacher.”

“Oh no” Snape groaned quietly.

“What’s wrong?” Hermione asked in surprise.

“A trainee teacher” he whispered.  “You are not going to come here, are you?  I won’t find you invading my classroom in a year’s time will I, sitting in on my lessons and putting me right about everything?”

Hermione didn’t know what to say.  She supposed she should have expected a reaction like this.

McGonagall intervened.  “Severus is suffering from another trainee teacher at the moment” she said merrily, her blue eyes twinkling at Hermione.  “And that particular young lady doesn’t have quite your penchant for correcting people and putting them in their place!  So he thinks he’s got worse to come.”

“Did I do that?” Hermione asked.

“Merlin’s beard!” Snape groaned again.  As there were no students present he allowed himself to unbend a little; with theatrical style he buried his head in his hands.

“Oh quite a lot, quite a lot” McGonagall assured her, watching Snape shudder behind his hands.

The two witches looked at each other, and then at Snape.  Slowly he raised his face to peer through his fingers.  Hesitantly he smiled.  Then suddenly they all started laughing.

“You were bloody awful, Granger” he mumbled darkly.

“Severus, language!”  McGonagall hissed.

“Well she was, Minerva” Snape insisted.  “There wasn’t a question I could ask without Granger would have the answer.  Give her half a chance and she’d be running the bloody lesson.  And actually you are not quite right about our Miss Lavelle” he added broodingly.  “She does have a certain flair for putting people in their places.”

As this light banter continued a number of things struck Hermione.  One was that she was no longer their student; she had immense respect for her former teachers, but she was an adult and could in a sense count herself on equal terms.  Another was that her teachers, although powerful wizards, were only human after all, and to face a class of children could on occasions be something of an ordeal for them.  And she also realised that she had a certain fondness for them as human beings, even for her moody, and sometimes cruel, former Potions Master.

Snape suddenly found Harry was by his side.  “Hello Professor” Harry said.

“Potter!  Is there no getting rid of you?” Snape exclaimed softly.  The ghost of a smile played around his lips again as, rather self-consciously, he shook Harry’s hand.  “Well, are you still training to be an Auror, Potter?  Only, Miss Granger here, tells me she’s giving it up and is going to teach.”

“I’m still gonna be an Auror” Harry assured him.  “Definitely, Professor.  It’s a great job!  I certainly wouldn’t like to teach – I remember what I was like!  Hermione, I’m gonna disappear to Sirius’s room, give him his present and so forth.  But Hagrid’s invited us for a cup of tea at half past ten.  Shall I see you then?”

Tactfully Hermione realised that Sirius and Harry must have a lot of private family business to catch up on.  “Well I’m going to talk about my teacher training with Professor McGonagall” she explained.  “Shall I call for you at, say, ten-fifteen?  We can walk over to Hagrid’s together.”

“Yeah, good” Harry agreed.  “Well, it’s nice seeing you again” he said to McGonagall and Snape.  “If I’m allowed, I might pop back next year.”

“It’s good to see you, Harry.  Come back any time” McGonagall said.  “Merry Christmas, my boy.”  Quite unexpectedly she gave him a hug.

Snape shook his hand again.  “Good luck, Potter” he said softly and Harry was impressed by a certain sincerity in his tone.

“All the best to you, Professor” Harry replied.  “Merry Christmas.”  And with a last, rather curious look at his former Potions Master, Harry walked away.

“Come on Hermione, we have things to discuss” McGonagall said briskly.  “Let’s go to my office and sit by the fire.”

“Yes, lets.  Oh, and Professor” Hermione said, turning to Snape, “trainee teachers usually look for a placement at a school other than their own.  To broaden their outlook.  So don’t worry; my first choice was always going to be Beauxbaton.  And my second … Sienna.”  And after squeezing Snape’s arm affectionately she set off with McGonagall, Snape staring after her in amazement.

Snape and Flitwick spent the rest of the morning playing chess.  Flitwick won; he was the slightly better player and tended to win about sixty per cent of their matches; but even without the fun of a victory Snape appreciated a challenging game.

Lunch began at one o’clock.  Sybill Trelawney, the aloof Divination Professor joined them for lunch, enticed from her lofty tower classroom, as she was every year, by the irresistible aroma of roast turkey and plum pudding.  She sat next to Dumbledore, displacing McGonagall from her usual position next to the Headmaster.  McGonagall chose a seat next to Snape and found him in a surprisingly agreeable mood.

“Sybill is enjoying herself” McGonagall observed darkly as they watched Dumbledore insisting on refilling Trelawney’s wine goblet.

Once the coffee and mince pies had been consumed Dumbledore lured Trelawney away, adamant that she should try a special liqueur he had stowed in his office; Trelawney rather giggly and unsteady on her feet as she tottered after him.

Dumbledore’s office was full of Christmas cards; they hung festooning the walls, magically suspended as if on strings.  “Oh you are popular, Headmaster!” Trelawney exclaimed as she sank into a Queen Anne chair and looked around the room.

“Yes, yes I must be” he agreed.  “Now, where is that bottle.  Somewhere in here.”  As he knelt and rummaged in a low cupboard the change in her voice alerted him.  He straightened up, grasping a small brown bottle and gazing at Trelawney.  Her eyes were rolling in her head and her mouth was oddly slack as though she was having a fit.  Her voice had become deep, harsh, almost inhuman.

“The dark road opens before us.  It will draw us into a maze.  The only route through?  A twisting route.  A long, twisting route to get us through the coming darkness.”

The Headmaster watched her carefully.  “Is there … light at the end of this dark road?” he ventured to ask.

“Light?  Yes, for some.  For some” Trelawney replied sadly.  “Walk beside the heavenly child.”

With that she said no more.  Her head lolled sideways against the wing of the chair and she appeared to have fainted.

*

Having had far too many goblets of red wine at lunchtime, Snape fell asleep on his Chesterfield sofa before his sitting room fire.  He was awoken at half past seven by a house-elf knocking at the service panel near the fireplace.

“Come in” he called, swinging himself into an upright position and running a hand around the back of his neck.  His head ached, and his mouth felt dry and sour.

Dobby entered quietly through the small service door.  “Please sir, the Headmaster wants you to be at supper at nine o’clock, sir” the elf said in his high, sing-song voice.  “He particularly wants to speak to you, sir.”

“Very well, Dobby” Snape replied quietly.  “Tell the Headmaster I will be there.”

A shower, a shave and a change of clothes made him feel better.  At supper Snape ate little and drank only apple-and-elderflower juice.  He sought out Dumbledore.

“You wanted to see me, Headmaster.”

“Yes, Severus.  There is something I want to show you” Dumbledore said confidentially.  “In my office, after supper.”

Neither of the wizards wanted much to eat, so after staying for just under an hour for the sake of politeness, they headed for Dumbledore’s office.  Dumbledore took his Pensieve from its cabinet, gave the ancient stone bowl a swirl and placed it on his desk.  His memory of the afternoon’s events came swimming into view.  Together they stared into the bowl and watched the picture – the memory – of Dumbledore searching in a cupboard.  They heard Trelawney’s exclamation about the Christmas cards, the sound of her plumping down in an armchair, and the clink of bottles.

“This is it now” Dumbledore said.  They both watched as, clearly in a trance, she uttered the words about the dark road, the twisting route through the maze and the heavenly child.

At length Dumbledore straightened up and the picture and sound of his thoughts dissolved into semi-solid white mist in the stone bowl of the Pensieve.  He took his wand and replaced the memory inside his head.

“I showed that scene to Minerva just before supper” he said.

“What did she make of it?”

“Well, she is a bit suspicious, naturally.  You know her opinion of Divination, and indeed of Sybill.”  Seeing Snape’s bitter smile, Dumbledore added “Yes, I know you share Minerva’s views, Severus.  But Sybill has on occasions been proved correct.  Spectacularly correct; as we all know.  In her own mind Minerva is trying to play this down, but we are both aware that this might be a warning of some impending problem.  I intend to discuss this with Amy and Felix tomorrow.  Anyhow, if you have recovered from your rather liquid lunch would you like to sample this liqueur that Sybill and I tried earlier?”

They sat by the fire, chatting and sipping a deep red syrupy liquid from jewel-like Waterford crystal glasses.  At a quarter past eleven Dumbledore noted the time and called for a house-elf to attend his office.  He was drawing a third chair to the fireside when Dobby appeared through the service panel.

“Dobby.  Go down to the broomshed” he instructed.  “Celeste should be arriving at half past eleven.  Ask her to come up here, please.  She may of course put away her travelling clothes first.”  He noticed Snape’s sullen expression.  “I want you to stay, Severus” he commanded.

“As you wish, Headmaster” Snape replied wearily.

A few minutes later Celeste arrived.  She wore a long-sleeved, calf length, cream wool dress, and her belt and thick-soled high boots were of imitation brown suede.  She entered quietly, wished both wizards a Merry Christmas, took a seat by the fire and gratefully accepted a glass of liqueur.  Snape regarded her cautiously.  She looked tired, as though her day had been stressful, yet she was as immaculately groomed as ever.  Her lips bore a trace of lip gloss as protection against the cold.  Her chestnut hair was brushed back and tumbled loose about her shoulders, its colour exceedingly rich against the cream of the dress.  Snape thought it very beautiful.  The way it had fanned out about her in the prefects’ bath came to his mind.  She is very lovely, he conceded.

“Did you have a pleasant time, Celeste?” Dumbledore asked in his kindly voice.

“Wonderful thank you, Headmaster” she replied.  “I saw my uncle at Midnight Mass, then spent the night with the Weasleys, then left after an early breakfast.  I was home before nine o’clock, so I had the whole day!”

“And how are your parents?” Dumbledore enquired.

But Celeste was not listening.  She had taken a sip of liqueur and was holding up her glass to study its garnet colour against the firelight; entranced both by the liquid’s ability to portray the fire’s warmth and the way the crystal magnified its light.  “Beneath the still, cold, ruby glow of everlasting Polar night” she murmured.  Then she seemed to remember where she was and she pulled herself together.  “Sorry … ‘The Ice Cart’ … not appropriate really – it’s a celebration of cold.  I’m more taken with how this captures the light and warmth.  Err, my parents… (Snape suspected Celeste was choosing her words carefully.)  Mother is … blooming.  Father is, quite well, in fact best I’ve seen in a long time.  He is home until Boxing Day!”

“You could have stayed longer if you had wanted” the Headmaster pointed out gently.

Celeste finished her drink in one gulp.  “I know.  But one day was fine.  The Weasleys’ house was packed.  It’s amazing how they all fit round the breakfast table.  I didn’t see Percy and Penny, but Charlie was there with his new girl friend, Amanda Fitzwarren.  It turns out she and I are distantly related.”

“Yes, well Charlie always did have an eye for a pretty witch” Dumbledore chuckled.  “And you do come from quite a large family.”

Celeste smiled.  “I think Charlie and Mandy will be very happy together” she said.  “I’m glad for them.  Apparently Harry Potter and a friend called Hermione are visiting tomorrow.”

“They were here today” Dumbledore remarked.  “Hermione wants to go into teaching.  The idea gave Severus a bit of a shock.  Not one of your favourite pupils was she, Severus.”

“She used to drive me up the wall” Snape drawled.  “And Potter?  I’m sure he threw a firework in my classroom one day!  Landed in a cauldron and splashed everyone.  I should have reminded him about that – he would probably admit to it now.  He was almost as bad as those awful Weasley twins.”

Celeste smiled at Snape.  “It’s scary sometimes, trying to keep control” she said softly.

“As Miss Granger will find out” Snape observed coolly.  “Apparently she hopes to train at Beauxbaton so I won’t have to endure her as trainee.”  He sounded contemptuous but his ghostly smile made a brief appearance.

“As you endure me” Celeste grinned.  “Mmmm, Beauxbaton.  My old school!  I wish I’d met Hermione.”

“You could see her at The Burrow, tomorrow” Dumbledore suggested.

Celeste mulled the idea over.  The Weasleys appeared to prefer a houseful of guests – this was their third Christmas without their son Ron, and furious activity seemed to be their answer to coping with his loss.  However, it put a strain on their tight budget.  “Mmmm?  I’ve imposed on Arthur and Molly’s hospitality already though” she decided.  “They have so many people turning up at their house.  No, I’ll leave it.  I’m bound to run into her sometime.  She won’t start training until next September, will she.  Well, if you will excuse me, gentlemen; I’m very tired.  I think I’ll go to bed.”

She bid them goodnight and Dumbledore showed her to the door.  Snape listened to the sound of her boots clumping gradually away.  He was always surprised that her footsteps could be so heavy, almost masculine, yet in high heels she sounded just like any other woman.

Dumbledore stood in silent thought for several minutes; then he too seemed to remember where he was.  He refilled their glasses.  “You have heard Estella teasing Celeste about Charlie Weasley” he said to Snape.

“Yes, I have heard the odd remark” Snape replied casually.

“Celeste, as you know, joined Vladimir Gordeev’s team in Romania, controlling the dragon problem there” Dumbledore explained.  “That was the team Charlie took over three years later when Vladimir returned to Russia.  So she worked with Charlie for two years.  They were … drawn to each other, shall we say.  They had what Celeste describes as ‘a bit of a fling’.”  He smiled.  “That is to say she looked upon it as a bit of a fling.  But Charlie, it seems, began to take it seriously.  I believe he actually proposed marriage.  That is why Celeste left.”

Snape’s eyebrows arched.  “I see” he said.

“She always wanted to teach” the Headmaster continued quietly, almost talking to himself.  “That just made her take the plunge.”

“Why did she ever want to work with dragons anyway?” Snape asked in a derisive tone.

“She has her reasons.  She might explain in her own time.  It wouldn’t be a bad thing if she did.  But what I’m telling you about Celeste and Charlie is in confidence, Severus.”

“Of course, Headmaster” Snape replied smoothly.  “Do her … do her parents live apart?”

“No, and yet sometimes yes” Dumbledore said cryptically.  “It is a difficult situation and I suppose I should also leave that to Celeste to explain properly, if she chooses.  She has a few horrors in her life.  Not many of us are totally spared them, are we?  It is late.  Perhaps we ought to turn in.”

*

There was a heavy fall of snow during the night and the following day the grounds looked as enchanting as a Christmas card.  In the staff room after breakfast Celeste asked if anyone would accompany her on a walk through the forest.  No one seemed keen, however.  She considered going alone but Snape took delight in pointing out that this would be ‘most unwise’ as the forest was so dangerous.  Celeste went away thinking this over as Snape and Flitwick set up the chessboard.

But Snape could not settle down to his game of chess.  With a mumbled apology to Flitwick he went in search of Celeste and to his extreme annoyance found her heading towards the forest.  Silly girl, he fumed, hurrying after her.  Damn, I’ll have to go with her now – she doesn’t know these woods well enough.  Why didn’t she heed my warning?  Why does she always think she knows best?

But Celeste didn’t enter the forest; Hagrid’s cabin was her destination.  Five minutes later they both emerged, accompanied by Fang, Hagrid’s boarhound.  Chatting happily together, they headed for the forest at a brisk pace.  They didn’t see Snape.  Hagrid was carrying his crossbow.

“The minx!” Snape whispered aloud.  So she has got her walk.  And she does have company.  And she does have protection!  So Severus, you can stay indoors, which – after all – is what you wanted.  But he couldn’t help regretting that he had lost the opportunity of being her companion.

Many of the staff lunched late that day.  His chess game long over, Snape patrolled the castle, irritated at having no students to upset.  Cold air rushed up to meet the Potions Master as he went down to lunch by way of the marble staircase – Argus Filch was coming through the Main Door.  Behind the Caretaker two people were arguing on the steps.

“It was too badly injured, Rubeus!” Snape heard Celeste shout.  “What would you have me do?  Leave it to suffer?”

“Well – no, but there no need to feed every bloomin’ wolf ’n’ fox.  They’re vermin–”

“They’re not doing us any harm!  If and when they do, we can deal with them.  Meanwhile, surely there’s enough room on this planet for more than just us and whatever we decide is useful to us!”

Celeste burst in, in a temper, stamping the snow from her boots and loosening her cloak.  “Excuse me, Professor” she mumbled to Snape, flouncing past him as she strode up the stairs.

Snape stared after her, listening to Hagrid’s heavy tread marching into the Great Hall.  “And just what was that all about?” he enquired of Filch.

“Ohrr nuffin, Professor” Filch replied dismissively.  “Miss Celeste Aay Kayed a rabbit in the forest but wouldn’t let ’Agrid take it fer Fang.  Said some passing carnivore would be glad of it.  Said Fang ’ad enough wiv scraps from the kitchen.  Esscuse me, Professor.”  Filch didn’t want to get into too much conversation with Snape.  Instead he shuffled off to get a mop.

So Celeste used the Avada Kedavra curse, Snape mused.  So much for my thinking she needed protection.  He conceded that it was true about the kitchen scraps.  The school consumed tons of meat.  There were plenty of scraps to feed Fang as well as all the cats.  Snape took his place at the table and moments later Celeste reappeared, her cloak gone and her boots clean.  She sat near to Hagrid as usual but their conversation was a trifle stilted.

Snape watched her again at dinner that evening.  She marched down the Hall in her royal blue robe and evening gown as if she was wearing battle colours.  It will be silver jewellery tonight, he said to himself – she rarely wears gold with the blue or the jade green, rarely silver with the carmine; as for the emerald – it can go either way.  Ah yes, the blue dress – the lowest cut dress!  What will Argus do?  The Head of Slytherin smiled to himself as he watched the conflicting emotions on Filch’s thin face.  Celeste greeted Hagrid and Filch, and was soon in friendly conversation with them.  It seemed she had no use for sulks or grudges.

* * *

Without students, New Year’s Eve was a particularly sedate affair.  A champagne buffet was served in the Great Hall and The Weird Sisters played music from the 1920s and 1930s.  Many of the teachers danced.  To Snape’s mounting annoyance, Black showed off by dancing a playful two-step with Celeste, followed by a sinuously provocative tango with Hooch.

“Well, ask one of them to dance, Severus” Dumbledore advised, seeing Snape’s look of fury.

But Snape would not.  He thought himself to be a hopeless dancer.  And, he reasoned, it was just possible that, as he normally went to such pains to be unfriendly, any request of his would be declined, leaving him looking a fool.  He stormed off and took a walk around the building.  Half an hour later he was glowering out of a window on the second floor when Hooch found him.

“Why aren’t you dancing, Severus?” she asked.

“I don’t dance!  I NEVER dance!  You KNOW that!” Snape snapped.

“Yes … but … I thought … Celeste–” Hooch began.

“Celeste WHAT?” he roared.

“Oh nothing!  You’re such a pillock sometimes, Severus!” she shouted.  And, not trusting herself to say anything further to him, Hooch stormed back to the Great Hall.

Disgruntled, Snape continued to prowl the building, only reappearing in the Great Hall at midnight in time for Auld Lang Syne, whence he found himself lined up between Celeste and McGonagall.  Both witches grasped his hands tightly, their grip surprisingly strong.  From across the circle of excited, singing faces Hooch winked at him.  He flicked his hair out of his eyes and sneered back at her.  She was hand in hand with Black on one side and Hagrid on the other, clearly revelling in male attention.  Snape decided he was definitely wide of the mark when he suspected there was ‘something going on’ between Celeste and Madeline Hooch.

Chapter Seven-  The Road Beckons

Three days before the start of term, McGonagall received and owled letter and wandered into Dumbledore’s office as she read it.  Dumbledore was staring out of the window as he sipped a cup of coffee.

“Paul Catesby’s parents want him to return to school, early” she announced.  “His mother’s got ’flu’ and needs to rest.  I’ve owled back to say ‘Yes’.  I had better let the house-elves know, although catering for one extra for three days is not going to overtax them.”

“Yes, of course” he murmured.

“You are not with me this morning, Headmaster” McGonagall observed, irritated by his lack of attention.

“I was just thinking; the season of the Heavenly Child – it’s over for this year isn’t it.”

“Oh, that!  Too much wine, that’s all that was about!” she replied scathingly, remembering Trelawney’s prediction.

* * *

In the second week of January the weather again turned unusually mild and very wet.  Mr Filch caught a cold and dabbed at his red nose as he moaned about the tracks of mud the students trailed through the castle.  As the days ticked by he got no better.  He thought of going to Snape for a potion – that was what he would normally do – but he had been doing his best to keep out of Snape’s way since the incident of Celeste in the prefects’ bathroom.  So he stumped up the stairs to the hospital wing to ask Poppy Pomfrey for some Pepperup Potion.  En route he met Professor McGonagall escorting Russell Dunwoody, a second year boy, to Madam Pomfrey.  The boy was coughing badly and making a fuss about a pain in his back.

Three days later there were three similar cases in the hospital wing, and on the following day two more were admitted.  Madam Pomfrey hurried to Dumbledore’s office to alert him to the situation.

“There is a ’flu’-like bug going around, Poppy” he replied.  “It is getting a mention in the Muggle press.”

The situation grew worse and Dumbledore called a meeting with the four Heads of Houses.

“There is a bad ’flu’ epidemic” he said.  “The Muggle news media is full of it now.  And as Minerva will explain, even we do not remain untouched.”

“Paul Catesby’s mother” McGonagall said gravely, holding up a further letter she had received that morning.  “She’s in hospital.  It doesn’t sound good.”

“How is Paul?” Snape asked.

“He seems fine” Sprout said.  “No sign of illness.  And apparently his father is OK, too.”

“Any news you get from Paul, let me know please, Amy” McGonagall asked, “and naturally I’ll let you know at once if I hear anything further.  I have a bad feeling about this.”

“Can you keep me stocked up with Pepperup Potion, Severus?” Pomfrey asked.  “And I could do with some more White Horehound and Angelica.”

“Yes of course, Poppy.  We’ll check your stock after this meeting and I’ll get to work on it this afternoon” Snape assured her.  “My fourth years can produce a reliable Pepperup brew.  I will attend to the Marrubium and Angelica.  And a Tussilago preparation might help as well.”

Within two days several more students and Professor Vector fell sick.  None of the original cases had yet been cleared.  The hospital wing was filling up.  Almost out of the blue Paul Catesby’s father arrived to take the Hufflepuff boy home.  Dumbledore and Sprout saw them off.  Paul was distraught; his mother had died.  The boy had not spoken to her since his hurried departure just after New Years Day.  Now he would never speak to her again.  He was going home to a funeral.  In just a few days his world had turned upside down.

Dumbledore called a full staff meeting.

“This seems to be getting very serious” he said, handing round copies of the latest press reports.  “Paul Catesby’s mother has died.  She developed breathing difficulties and died in St Dymphna’s yesterday evening.”  He gave the staff a moment to scan the press reports and then continued.  “I think we have got to the stage where we must ask parents to take alternative measures for their sick children.  We are not a hospital.  And if more staff fall sick we will not be able to maintain the timetable.  That is unless we can get supply cover.  But in view of the illness, that seems a secondary concern.”

“No one here has got over this yet” Flitwick pointed out.  “Do Muggles have a cure for this?”

“Unfortunately we cannot tell so very much from this type of press report” Dumbledore replied.  “They tend to overlook good news and reasoned interpretation in a quest for sensational headlines.  I have owled the Education Department to make this very point, and to say that we need objective data and guidance, and we may need staff cover.  How are the patients, Poppy?”

“Not so good” Pomfrey admitted.  “Russell Dunwoody – he was the first case – says it hurts him to breath.  Says he feels as though someone has wrapped an iron band around his ribs.”

All the staff seemed concerned.  They talked round and round the problem for some time but without any definite plans.

“Do you want me to cover Professor Vector’s junior classes?” Celeste asked quietly.

“Do you feel you can?” Dumbledore countered.

“Well, I know I’ll be OK with the third years” she assured him.  “We’ve done a bit of work on lesson plans, and I know the syllabus.  I’ll just try to pick up the thread, using her notes.”

“Well, how do the rest of you feel about this?” the Headmaster asked, casting his gaze around the circle of staff.

There was a general nodding of heads.

“Very well” Dumbledore continued.  “For the time being we will aim to provide cover.  Celeste, you take the third year classes; Severus, Felix and Estella – you divide the rest up between you.  But,” he paused and held up a hand to ensure he had their attention, “this course of action is only to begin with.  If the sickness increases we will not be attempting to cover lessons, we will be struggling to treat the sick, prevent new cases and possibly deal with the evacuation of the school.  I am sorry to alarm you, but it will do no harm to start forming contingency plans now.  Minerva, I want you to prepare letters to owl the sick children’s parents – we’ll speak about what to write after this meeting.  We don’t want them to panic.  And we don’t want a stream of adults traipsing through the school.  But I am concerned about the Dunwoody boy; this has been going on for over a week now.  Poppy, how is Dora?”

“Not too bad” she said thoughtfully.

“If she gets worse it will undoubtedly mean hospitalisation” Dumbledore pointed out.  “She should let her family know that she is sick.  Is she well enough to sit up and write a letter?”

“Oh, yes” Pomfrey replied emphatically.

“Good.  Make sure she owls her family” Dumbledore insisted.  “But I don’t want them to come into the school unless they have to.  Meanwhile, I will be visiting the hospital wing every day to note the situation.  Any questions?”

The worried silence was finally broken by a question from Snape.  “When do we meet again, Headmaster?” he asked quietly.

Mindful of Trelawney’s prediction, Dumbledore pondered the question for some time and at last he said “Today is Thursday.  We will meet again, here, at ten o’clock on Saturday morning.  Severus, and Sirius – I want to see you at eight-forty five on Saturday morning; Amy, and Sybill I want to see you at nine thirty, again on Saturday, prior to our full meeting.  Any other points? … Very well; thank you, everyone; the meeting is closed.”

*

At Saturday morning’s staff meeting Dumbledore shared the latest press reports and also an update from the Education Department.  Attached to it was a memo from the Health Department giving, amongst other information, the remaining capacity of St Mungo’s and its six satellite hospitals.

“Don’t the Muggles have any idea how to treat this?” Black asked, “or are we just not receiving the information?”

“Celeste has been in touch with The Department for Magical Health, about this very point” Dumbledore explained.  “Celeste, enlighten us please.”

“The Department for Magical Health regularly checks publications such as Nature, New Scientist and Pharmacopoea Today” Celeste said.  “They shed no light on this.  As far as developing a treatment is concerned, new drugs can take years to perfect, so any research papers leading up to them cannot be expected for months.  The Muggles just seem to be using paracetamol and anything to relieve the symptoms.  Their hospitals are becoming quite full.”

“As you can see” Dumbledore said, “our own hospitals all have heavy caseloads.  Some wizards are even choosing to go into Muggle hospitals.  Minerva has owled all the parents – anyone who wants to take their child home, is free to do so.  The choice is theirs.”  He fell silent for a moment.  “Severus, Amy” he said finally “Pepperup isn’t making much impression on this.  Nor is Horehound, Coltsfoot or Angelica.  Can you get your heads together and try to devise new treatments?  Get together, and bring Celeste in as well.  You will need help with your duties as House Heads.  Sirius, I want you, when needed, to deputise for Severus as Head of Slytherin.  Sybill, I want you to do the same for Hufflepuff.  I want you to be prepared to work in close co-operation with the Head of House, giving as much support as you can.  Is that understood?”

“Yes, Headmaster” Black and Trelawney said in unison.

This had been the thorny subject of their discussions at their pre-meetings – the Headmaster was now merely formalising the arrangements in the ‘public’ arena of the staff meeting.  Sprout was reasonably happy about Trelawney acting as her deputy if and when the need arose; Snape however was furious about Black being his choice of deputy.  But he had had to agree with Dumbledore that all the other suitable staff were already earmarked for various demanding rôles.  Privately Snape was determined to try to keep control of his House and cope with any Potions work as well  – he did not want Black of all people meddling in his affairs or ‘helping him out’.  The Headmaster however, was concerned that they would have a testing time ahead of them, and that specialists such as potion makers, herbologists and healers would need all the support they could get.

“Estella and Madeline” Dumbledore continued, “if the hospital wing gets more cases it won’t be long before Poppy needs additional help.  You have both proved your nursing skills in the past – can they be called upon again?”

“Of course, Headmaster” the two witches assured him.

“Excellent.  Thank you” Dumbledore replied.  “Celeste, you have shown your initiative by starting to cover Adoración’s classes.  Can you make time to work with Amy and Severus on possible new remedies?  I want you to assist them with putting forward ideas, taking notes, turning plans into actions.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, Headmaster.”

“Can you take this on?”

“Yes, Headmaster.”

“Good.  Thank you.”  Dumbledore sounded relieved.  “And if anyone has any ideas as to how we might limit the exposure of the rest of the school” he continued, “I want to hear about it.  Bring your ideas to Minerva or myself.  Minerva, Amy, Severus, Felix – I want us to meet after dinner tomorrow night.  A quick meeting – just to keep up to date.”

By the afternoon, the hospital wing was over half full.  Mr and Mrs Dunwoody arrived to take their son to hospital.  After a worrying search, they had secured a place for him at St Bathild’s.  Celeste escorted them to and from the castle.  Dumbledore’s brow was furrowed with concern as he watched Russell Dunwoody being floated out on a stretcher between two Mediwizards.  Celeste lead the way and in total silence the Dunwoody parents brought up the rear.  The boy’s breathing was laboured and shallow; his skin clammy.

Dumbledore took a look at the next case, David Wilson.  The boy’s white-blond hair was damp with sweat and he seemed not far from delirium.  At the next bed his twin brother Jonathan was sitting up and emitting a dry, racking cough.  Next to him, Virginia Rushbrooke lay in an apparently peaceful sleep.

 

Author's Note: Nature and New Scientist are genuine

Chapter Eight- A Pointless Fascination

That same evening Sprout met Snape in his office.

“Where is Celeste?” she asked, looking around the small dungeon room.  Snape made no reply.  “She is supposed to be in on this, Severus” Sprout reminded him, her voice rising angrily.

“Oh, very WELL” Snape shouted.  He went to the service panel, summoned a house-elf, and very shortly Lonnie appeared.  “Ask Miss Lavelle to attend a meeting, here, immediately” he said curtly.

“Yes, sir” Lonnie replied and disappeared.

“What is it with you and her?” Sprout asked Snape.  “Why do you keep cutting her out?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about” Snape replied icily, and he would say nothing more on the subject.

Sprout’s hat was slipping sideways on her unruly grey hair.  She took it off and looked for somewhere to put it down.  The desk top was bare but the rest of the office was crowded, atypically every bit of shelf space seemed to be occupied – vast tomes on Potions stood alongside Herbology texts, copies of the journal The Master Herbal, and specimens in jars.  The Herbology clutter was her own fault.  Not wanting to keep all her most precious text books in the greenhouses, and with her own office already bulging at the seams, she had asked Snape for some temporary shelf space in his office.  As Herbology provided a considerable selection of potion ingredients, the two Professors worked quite closely together at times, and Snape was uncharacteristically relaxed about sharing space with Sprout.  Just lately they had both dragged out extra text books and journals from the library in their search for new ideas for remedies.

“Shall I take that for you, Amy?” Snape said tetchily, irritated by her dithering movements.  He took the hat from her, opened the side door that connected his office with his sitting room, and hung the hat on a wrought iron coat stand that stood in the corner just beyond the door.

Five minutes later there was a knock at the office door.  With a glare at Snape, Sprout got up to open it and found Celeste, in navy track suit and grey trainers, waiting outside; her notepad and pen in her hands.

“Come in, Celeste” Sprout said.  “We have decided to have that brainstorming session Albus requested.  Take a seat.”

She indicated the chairs drawn up around Snape’s desk.  They all sat down, and as Snape appeared to have lapsed into a sullen silence, Sprout chaired the meeting.

“We’ve been asked to come up with ideas” she said.  “Well, let’s start with what facts we know.  What facts do we know?”

Celeste read from her notepad.  “As of half an hour ago we’ve got fifteen cases in the hospital wing.  That’s seventy five percent full.  Symptoms are coughing, breathing difficulty, backache, weakness, sweating, no appetite.  Could this be an air-born bug?”

“Brilliant” Snape sneered.

“Probably it is” Sprout agreed.  She turned on Snape.  “It’s not definite, Severus!  You know that – we’re talking probabilities.  Keeping an open mind is important.”

“Yes, alright” he conceded wearily.

Why do you have to be so mean, Celeste thought savagely.  Why can you never be supportive?  You wouldn’t behave like this in front of Uncle Albus.  “We don’t know the source or the nature of the problem yet” she continued, determined not to be intimidated by Snape, “but I think we should bear in mind that any visitors may be a source of infection.  I’ve had a look at the routes to the hospital wing.  We could isolate a route for outsiders so that their contact with the rest of the school is kept to a minimum.  Here’s my idea…”

She spoke for several minutes, outlining some significant points and Snape began to get interested.

“As to treatments” Sprout said, “if it’s a breathing problem and if Pepperup or Horehound won’t work, I’m a bit stumped.  Can we alter the atmosphere the patients breathe?”

“As if they were in an oxygen tent” Snape suggested.

They talked this over and Celeste scribbled many notes, but they concluded they didn’t have the means to create an oxygen-rich atmosphere, and that it was too dangerous.

“It isn’t our type of treatment, is it” Celeste said.  “It doesn’t fit our lifestyle.  We are used to candles and torches and open fires in our hearths.  In an oxygen-rich atmosphere that could be disastrous.  And I’m not sure about ‘making’ oxygen.  None of us are chemists, are we.  Molecular oxygen is vital to life but atomic oxygen is actually poisonous.  And I believe the blood has to be slightly acidic to take up oxygen.  That’s achieved by the CO2 content – it’s a balance.  No, we’re out of our depth here, aren’t we.”

“Miss Lavelle is right” Snape said at length.  “That type of treatment belongs in a hospital, not our amateur attempts in a school.  We must stick to what we know.  Nevertheless we might do something with some type of inhaled fume that can alter the patients’ physiology…  I was reading recently about a variant on the basis of the Wit Sharpening Potion.  Using Stipa macropungens in place of ginger.  It can be used rather like a Basil camphor inhalant.”

“Stipa macropungens?” Sprout asked.  “It grows very slowly at this time of year.  I’ve got some in Greenhouse One.  I could encourage it – heat the greenhouse and divide the clumps, try to promote new growth.”

“While you’re doing that, I might be able to get the ball rolling with dried supplies from Diagon Alley” Snape said.  “I might even be able to acquire some fresh plants for you.  I think we should try it as a potion and perhaps also get some patients to inhale it.  It is said to assist with oxygen take up, and looks promising as a variation to the traditional Wit Sharpening Potion.  But presumably it won’t kill the ‘bugs’ if these are ‘bugs’.  Miss Lavelle, help” Snape looked suddenly irritable and tired.  “What do I mean by bugs?”

“Well, traditionally that term used to mean a bacterium” Celeste replied, looking surprised at his question.  “But it’s often used more generally now, and there are many types of disease agents.  We could be dealing with a bacterium, a virus, a microscopic ‘animal’ such as a protozoan, or even a mould.  There are some even more exotic things such as protein-based replicating molecule fragments – prions and the like.  I hope it’s not anything like that, because they are quite new to science.  Muggles don’t seem to be using antibiotics against this, so possibly it’s not a bacterium.  A virus such as a new ’flu’ strain seems to be the most likely cause.”  Her enquiring mind ranged over more possibilities.  “Could it even perhaps be something like a poison – I mean a chemical or a metallic poison; or even a gaseous poison?”

Snape regarded her intently.

“Wild idea, but worth stating” Sprout said.  “Personally, I reckon not” she added moments later.  “I feel this is being ‘transmitted’, the way an infection is transmitted.”  She fell silent and they all lapsed into thought.  At length she began to voice her thoughts.  “The victims are weak and they can’t breathe very well.  And they cough.  They don’t want to eat.  Coughing takes energy.  They are weak because of their poor breathing and the coughing makes it worse – drains their energy.”

“They cough because their lungs are full of diseased tissue” Snape remarked.

“If we could get nutrition into them they’d gain energy” Celeste said.  “If we could stop them coughing they’d save energy” she added, thinking out loud.  “No, that won’t work – if this is like ’flu’ they have to cough up the dead cells; they’d drown in them otherwise.”  Sprout looked slightly disgusted.  “It’s true” Celeste insisted.  “The ’flu’ virus hijacks the biochemistry of each cell it infects.  Makes it turn out more viruses.  So the victim’s body frantically sheds infected cells, which need to be coughed up.  The victim’s body also tries to find a way of stopping the virus gaining entry to healthy cells.  It’s a race.”

“Yes … OK” Sprout said thoughtfully, needing to slow Celeste’s over-exuberant flow of ideas.  “Celeste, run through what you’ve noted down.”

The trainee read from her notes.  “Rope off route to hospital wing.  Notice boards.  Disinfectant mats – parking bay, West Door, Main Door.  I’ve crossed out enrich oxygen.  Stipa macropungens – Diagon Alley – potion and fumes.  What is the agent? – bug, virus, protozoan, mould, prion, inorganic?  Antibiotics?  Energy gain/loss/nutrition/coughing.”

“That’s not bad for a start, surely” Sprout said.  “We’ve kicked around a lot of ideas, and that was the point of this.  Can we now sleep on it?  I’ve had a really busy day and I’m just about done in.”

“Yes, let’s” Snape agreed.  “Amy, I think Miss Lavelle should attend the House Heads’ meeting tomorrow evening.  Don’t you?”

Sprout was almost speechless.  “Severus, you astound me sometimes” she whispered.  “Well” she exclaimed more pointedly “I don’t see any reason to keep Celeste out of any of our meetings.  Do you Severus?”

“Err, no” Snape agreed.  “Miss Lavelle, can you bring these notes to the Heads of House meeting tomorrow evening?  We will want you to explain your ideas.”

“Yes of course, Professor” Celeste replied.

Snape hesitated for a second.  “Would you like some tea, Amy?” he enquired a little stiffly.

Sprout paused, but then decided to refuse.  “No thanks, Severus.  I’m gonna get my head down.  Thanks anyway.  May I have my hat, please?”  Snape stepped into his sitting room and came back holding the witch’s hat in front of him as though offering a crown to a monarch.  “Thank you.  Good night everyone” Sprout said, clamping it on her head.  She gathered up her papers and left the office, Snape holding the door for her.

“Well, I am going to have some tea” he said.  “Miss Lavelle?  Peppermint tea?  Can I tempt you to a brew?”

“Err, yes; thank you, Professor” Celeste replied cautiously.

“Come this way” Snape commanded imperiously, and without a backward glance he lead her through the side door from his office.  “Mind the step he called” to warn her of the high threshold.  “Leave the door.”

How could I refuse such a gracious invitation, she smirked.

As she entered Snape’s sitting room, Celeste was taken aback by its simple splendour.  She could feel herself sinking into the deep pile of a luxurious, unpatterned dark green carpet that spread almost wall to wall on top of the flagstone floor.  The ceiling, like her room, was of stone and barrel vaulted.  From the centre of its arch a black iron ring suspended on six chains held a dozen stumpy, pale candles.  The walls were stone; most of them panelled to three-quarter height in mid-brown oak.  The few pieces of furniture were lovingly cared for.  Apart from the chairs, all the furniture stood against the walls, leaving the room spacious and uncluttered.  Snape waved his wand and the candles lit at his silent command.  He then pointed it in the direction of the hearth and the dim fire blazed into life.

“Sit” Snape directed, indicating the hearth rug.

Celeste suppressed a grin and was tempted to point out that she was not a dog, but she realised Snape probably hadn’t quite intended to imply that.  He had merely waved his slim hand in the general direction of the furniture designed for seating.  Grouped around an emerald green oriental rug were two wide armchairs and a Chesterfield sofa long enough to seat four people.  All the seating was of deeply buttoned, dark brown leather.  The sofa bore a couple of loose, green velvet cushions.  The two chairs were high backed and winged.  They would have looked at home in a gentlemen’s club rather than the average sitting room, but then this wasn’t the average sitting room.

Nothing about Snape was average, Celeste realised.  She removed her trainers and found a suitable place for them under the coat stand, leaving her pen and note pad alongside them.  Then she selected an armchair and folded herself into it so that her stockinged feet were tucked out of sight. Snape fussed to and fro behind her, moving between his office and his bed chamber while she surveyed the room.

Why did I say yes to tea, she though.  I haven’t got Amy’s company now, only snide Snape’s.  Still, if he gets too bad I can always leave.  Mmm, this is a very luxurious dungeon…

Her attention was caught by a pewter framed photograph that stood on a bureau in the chimney recess beside the other armchair.  She could hear Snape fiddling about in the office so she got up to take a closer look at the photograph.

The bureau’s drop-front was closed.  The photograph on its top was of two people; a slender, green eyed witch seated in a high backed, carved dining chair and a tall, black haired, sallow faced wizard standing behind her left shoulder.  The witch’s beautiful face had a rather dreamy expression.  Straight, copper-red hair fell almost to her waste.  Her willowy grace was accentuated by her sage green summer gown.  A silver necklace glinted at her throat.  She looked quite young, pale, and oddly vulnerable.  She smiled kindly at Celeste.

The wizard looked a good deal older than the witch.  He stood tall and proud, gazing haughtily down a long hooked nose.  He was dressed in black and his black eyes glittered with something akin to hate.  His right hand and forearm rested possessively along the top of the chair above the witch’s right shoulder.  He did not smile.  Celeste shuddered with cold, and stepped back to the fireside.

The emerald rug felt like silk beneath her feet.  It was patterned with silver serpents and its short edges were fringed with silver grey silk.  It lay before and imposing mantelpiece of black marble.  The high mantle shelf was empty except for a large Drocourt carriage clock in a gilded gorge case.  Above it, the wall of the chimney was bare.

To her left, the chimney recess held a large portrait of a very young and beautiful witch.  Celeste compared the painting with the picture on the bureau, but was not sure whether she was looking at the same person.  The witch in the painting had masses of red hair, but it was not absolutely straight, nor of such a copper hue.  Once again, brilliant green eyes shone out of a kind face.  The young lady in the portrait did not move, and Celeste soon let her gaze travel on round the room.

Some distance beyond the portrait and exactly opposite the door to the office was the door that she assumed lead to Snape’s bed chamber.  It stood ajar and she resisted the temptation to peer in.  Beyond that, and at right angles to the bedroom door, was the wall that bordered the corridor.  A tall bookcase took up much of the wall space.  The texts were mainly alternative medicine, alchemy, history, biography and English classics but there were a few modern novels including some by John Buchan, Erskine Childers and Conan Doyle.  Next to those, were a group of six books by J. R. R. Tolkien.  They looked like first editions.  At the side of the voluminous bookcase was the main door from Snape’s quarters to the corridor itself.  Celeste continued to swing left.  In the corner between the main door and the office door was the ornate wrought iron coat stand beneath which Celeste had parked her trainers.  The stand held Snape’s black cloak.

Her gaze wandered on to the third wall and past the office door.  Roughly opposite the Chesterfield stood a large desk with a wastepaper basket beside it.  Its surface contained an ink bottle, a quill and several piles of homework, and she noted that even though he had a desk in his office, work intruded into Snape’s private life.  The piles on the right were marked; those on the left unmarked; nothing stood half-done in the centre.  Snape was methodical about his paperwork.  Worn and wobbly, an oak, swivel chair stood thrust back from the desk as though vacated it in a hurry.  The rest of the wall-space was occupied by a wide but shallow oak cupboard, on top of which were a few ink bottles, spare quills and a stock of candles.

The exterior wall of the dungeon room contained only one item of furniture – a sideboard.  It was a long, low piece of ancient oak cabinetry.  Carved panels decorated the front.  The top was bare except for two items – a selection of fruit in a wide, shallow dark grey pottery bowl stood near to one end, and towards the other end was a silver tray holding several crystal decanters.  They were of varying shapes and were filled to different levels with tempting-looking liquids.

The wall behind the sideboard was of bare stone and had an etched glass, semi-circular window tucked high above the room into the curve of the ceiling.  From it, cold air seeped downwards; the high window was not curtained.  The only hanging on the wall was a huge tapestry, suspended above the sideboard, and depicting an ancient battle scene.  Celeste stepped back to the centre of the room to be able to get it properly into view.  She fancied it depicted Alexander the Great looking west from the Indus valley at the vast Persian empire he now controlled…

“And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept; for there were no more worlds to conquer” Snape said softly.

She turned and saw him standing in the office doorway, holding two dark grey beakers.  They match the fruit bowl, she said to herself; Prinknash Abbey’s famous black glaze.

A nervous smile darted across Snape’s face but was instantly suppressed; in a split second the carefully crafted mask was back in place.  “Plutarch's Life of Alexander” he added, as he walked slowly forward.  He held out a beaker.  “Tea?”

“Thank you.”  Celeste took it and resumed her seat, folding herself into the armchair again, as she wanted to hide her socks from view – they were bright red with twinkling gold stars – a joke Christmas present from Madeline Hooch.

There was a moment of awkward silence broken by the gong of the Drocourt clock sounding the half hour.

“You have quite a grasp of Muggle science” Snape said, regarding her coolly.

“Not as much as we need for this” Celeste admitted.  “I did a Muggle degree – Physics with Applied Mathematics.  But it was with the Open University.  Had I gone to a traditional university I would have made more contact with people in other disciplines.  As it is, I met a few at summer schools and so forth, but the whole point about the Open University is that you can study on your own.”

“And is that what you wanted?” Snape enquired.  His cold and unfriendly manner was off-putting, but Celeste decided to take his question at face value.

“Yes, because you know how difficult it is being in the Muggle world!” she replied.  “If you hit a problem it’s almost instinctive to resort to magic, and that can cause more trouble that it solves.  I didn’t want to slip up like that, nor to have to lie too much about my background.  And although, before Beauxbaton, I went to a Muggle Primary School, I didn’t want Muggles noticing I didn’t know simple high school stuff they would take for granted.  So I played safe and studied alone.  I had a lot of catching up to do anyway, to get my degree.”

“So you think your science doesn’t help us” Snape mused, returning to her first point.

“Well, my degree was designed to help with understanding machines and forces; processes; fluid flows and electric currents” Celeste explained.  “Actually, what intrigues me most is quantum mechanics.”

“Which is what exactly?”

“The science of the very small” she replied.  Seeing Snape’s head tilt to one side as though he didn’t understand and wanted to hear more, she continued.  “Our perception of the world is geared to the level at which we operate.  We perceive a world of ‘things’ – trees, mountains, animals and seas.  From a survival point of view, any other perception would be of no use to us.  We have learnt to model the world in terms of what we call ‘substances’ and ‘forces’ acting on those substances.  (Celeste was, as ever, entirely caught up in the enthusiasm of the topic, now – unconsciously she stopped being aware of Snape’s cold manner and thought of nothing but the evolving history of scientific thought.)  That modelling reached it height with Isaac Newton.  Using his brilliant and simple equations, you can predict what will happen to a ‘thing’ if you know where it starts out and the strength and direction of any forces to be applied to it.  It’s like seeing a game of Quidditch and being able to predict where all the players and balls will be in, say, two seconds time or ten minutes time, or an hour’s time.”

Fascinated, Snape nodded.  Celeste continued.  “That concept works well for our normal world.  It can also be extended to larger scales – to describe the movement of planets and stars.  Relativistic effects have to be considered then, but Newtonian mechanics are still valid – they are simply a special case of Einstein’s later and larger discoveries.”

“And quantum mechanics?” Snape asked.

“Below the molecular level, the Newtonian concepts don’t work when you scale down” Celeste explained.  “When you scale down as far as what atoms are said to be made of – protons, electrons and so forth, and what they are said to be made of – quarks – it’s of no use to talk of ‘where things are’ and predicting where they will end up if a given force is applied to them.  They don’t behave in that way.  They behave as if sometimes they’re there and sometimes they’re not.  Even though we are made up of these things ourselves, it is a world we are, in a sense, not part of.  We can only infer it indirectly and we can only describe it statistically, in terms of probabilities – if you do such and such, twenty percent of protons will be found in state x, eighty percent in state y.  It is a strange and very fascinating world, and the only way to get some sort of handle on it is by using mathematics.”

Snape looked into his beaker and thought.  “So, in the real world – the world of everyday experience – if I hit a Bludger with a bat” he said thoughtfully, “with a predetermined degree of force, and knowing how strong any cross wind is et cetera, I could calculate in advance where it will come to rest.”

“Yes” Celeste agreed.  And the point really is, the more precisely you know all those factors, the more accurate your prediction will turn out.”

“But if I took the bat and hit a – proton? – I cannot predict where it will end up?”

“Exactly so” she agreed again, impressed at his rapid appreciation of the paradox.

“What if I know the starting point very, very accurately, like a grid reference down to the nth degree?”

“It won’t make any difference” Celeste replied firmly.  She finished her tea, watching him think.

“Then, what if I know to the nth degree how hard I am going to hit the proton?” he ventured.

“It still won’t work.  In fact there’s a trade-off between a particle’s position and momentum; the more you know about one, they less you can know about the other” she explained.

Snape considered this for a few seconds.  He drained his beaker.  “No, I don’t believe it” he concluded.

“That is, in essence, the strangeness of the quantum world” Celeste pointed out, smiling happily.  “But to be fair, protons are not structured like Bludgers.  We don’t know what protons ‘look’ like – they are too small to be ‘seen’ in any sense we can ever mean.  But as I say, all this doesn’t help us with the present problem.”

“No.  But I agree it does have a certain fascination” Snape whispered.  “A certain pointless fascination” he couldn’t resist adding, as her face held him spellbound.  “Would you like some more tea?”

As he spoke, the single gong of the Drocourt clock began its midnight chimes.

“Oh!  No thank you, I’d better not.  I didn’t realise it was so late” Celeste gasped.

“Oh, it’s not that late” Snape said sourly.  “Not for me.  But we do want to see Mr Filch early tomorrow, do we not?  So I had better let you go.”

He relieved her of her empty beaker and Celeste knelt on the carpet to lace up her trainers.  Finally she retrieved her pen and note pad, and they stood facing one-another.  Snape put out his hand to the door handle.

“I was very surprised” Celeste admitted, “when you asked me – what were your words – what do I mean by bugs, Miss Lavelle.”

“Oh …yes …well, to use your terminology, sometimes my brain goes temporarily into overload” Snape replied, with a momentary weak and nervous smile.

His teeth are definitely less yellow than they used to be, she thought.  And his hair is always clean these days; has been for months.  What a captivating man he can be.  Why am I running away?  Be careful!  You know why!  This man is dangerous and you know how spiteful he can be!  “Do you want to speak to Argus tomorrow?” she asked.  “I was going to talk to him about roping of the special route and putting down the mats.  But just now it sounded as if you wanted to see him too.”

“I want to be sure he co-operates” Snape said gravely.

“I‘ve never had any trouble with anything I’ve asked Argus to do” Celeste pointed out.  “Do you think he’ll make difficulties?”

“Mmm?  No…  No, I suppose not” Snape conceded thoughtfully, looking down at his shoes.  A sly grin spread over his face.  “After the, err, swimming lesson you taught us before Christmas, Mr Filch will probably be even more anxious not to upset you.”

Unembarrassed by this, Celeste couldn’t resist grinning in return.  She recalled that at the time Snape had been the one who had seemed embarrassed, or at least perturbed.  The Head of Slytherin opened the door and she walked into the corridor.  “Goodnight, Professor” she said.

“Goodnight, Miss Lavelle” he replied.  “Um, thank you for an interesting discussion on quantum physics.”  There was a trace of something approaching sincerity in his voice that caused her to pause and turn.

“I though you found it pointless” she said.

“Pointless can nevertheless be utterly diverting” he explained, bowing slightly and giving her a cryptic half smile.

Pondering this, Celeste turned and walked away.  She did not hear his door close.

Within twenty minutes she was settling down in her bed and thinking over the strange events of the long day.

In his own bed Snape was also considering those events.  He hadn’t wanted Celeste at that meeting yet she had made a useful contribution.  By the end of the meeting he had wanted her to stay for tea so that he could talk to her on her own; yet he couldn’t summon the courage to ask her, and paradoxically he found himself asking Sprout instead.  How ridiculous!  Then Sprout had declined and Celeste had accepted, which was what he wanted anyway.  How strange!  He had considered touching Celeste’s hand when he handed her the beaker, then fought shy of the idea.  He hadn’t meant to sound so dismissive of Muggle science.  He remembered her studying the tapestry, looking strong and muscular in her track suit and ridiculous socks.  He recalled her in her carmine satin gown three hours earlier that same evening, her hair slicked up onto her head, a glint of gold near her sharp jaw line.  He remembered her erupting naked from the prefect’s bath, water streaming from her flawless peach skin and dripping from her breasts beneath those large dark nipples.

What is happening to me, Snape wondered.  Why is my head in such a turmoil?  All the witches I have had!  All the enemies I have fought!  How can some … some … slip of a young girl, turn my brain into a whirlpool?

He was, of course, in a mood for being self-pitying, unreasonable and inaccurate – Celeste was not a slip of a young girl; a fact that in reality he knew full-well.  Indeed he had already observed so when, in the previous August, he had described her to himself as a calculating woman of twenty-seven!

 

Author's Note:

The quotation from Plutarch’s Life of Alexander was obviously inspired by Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Hans Gruber in the film Die Hard.

Prinknash (pronounced Prinnidge) Abbey near Painswick in Gloucestershire, England, does produce a very dark grey glazed pottery.

Chapter Nine - The Route Through the Maze

When the Heads of Houses gathered in Dumbledore’s office the following evening Celeste accompanied them.  Snape summarised the main points of his meeting with Sprout and Celeste, and spoke in detail about the work on the variant of the Wit-Sharpening Potion.  He handed over to Sprout who explained the position regarding Stipa macropungen’s stocks and cultivation.  She ended by saying that Celeste had some important ideas and could also bring them up to date about the patients.

“Celeste, let us now have your news” Dumbledore said kindly.

“Right” Celeste said a little nervously.  “The hospital wing is running at just under seventy-five percent full. And that is with three students – Russell Dunwoody, Holly Van Ryssen and Rachel Costello having been taken home by their parents.”

“Hang on” Flitwick interrupted, “I thought both the Costello girls had gone.”

“Yes, they have” McGonagall cut in, “but Sally Costello was not ill, the parents just wanted both girls to return home.  Sorry Celeste, please go on.”

“I’ve got Argus to rope off an exclusive route to the hospital wing for visitors” Celeste continued.  “For parents, Mediwizards and so forth, so that it’s not so easy for them to go wandering about the school.  It links to the West Door and he’s put up notice boards discouraging others from using it.  I’ve also got Argus to maintain three disinfectant mats – a very big one for arriving carriages to park on, one across the West Doorway and one across the Main Entrance.  I don’t want to raise your hopes too much” she added, seeing their intrigued looks.  “I’m not a Medic as you know, but it seems to me that the disease agent is quite possibly an air-born thing, in which case these floor pads won’t get to it.  Also, the contact time with disinfectant pads is usually too short to kill many bugs, so you may be wondering why bother with them.  It’s because they do help to bring home to visitors the need to take precautions, and the point that both they and all of us may be carriers of infection.  It may be window dressing up to a point, but I think it’s window dressing with a message.”

“They sound an excellent idea” Dumbledore said.  “I am just astounded that you have managed to get Mr Filch to do so much, and so soon.”

“Ah, well – (Celeste smiled rather shyly, looking at Snape) – I had some help.”

“Mr Filch is co-operating very readily” Snape said smoothly.  “Since I discovered his favourite spectator sport is swimming, he and I have got on like a house on fire.  Naturally he is very much in favour of any procedure that curbs the spread of muddy footprints about the building, so he was quite easily persuaded.”

Everyone except Celeste looked puzzled about Snape’s ‘swimming’ comment but dismissed it as merely some form of in-joke.  However the point about muddy footprints was not lost on them; Filch was famous for being manic about mud.  Snape’s powers of persuasion were also legendary; as was his fondness for cryptic comments.

“Anything else, Celeste?” Dumbledore asked.

“Yes, I’ve just thought of something, Headmaster” the trainee replied anxiously.  “The back stairs to the hospital wing – does the staircase move?”

“No” Flitwick assured her.  “We broke Rowena Ravenclaw’s bewitchment of that staircase many decades ago, as it is the most direct route from the Quidditch pitch.  Didn’t want it throwing staff off course when hurrying an injured child up to Pop–” but he was cut off in mid sentence by the sudden arrival of Poppy Pomfrey herself.

“Virginia Rushbrooke is developing skin lesions” she announced.

A flurry of question greeted this remark.  “She hasn’t coughed for over a day, now” Pomfrey went on, “but these lesions remind me of Miscanoblastus Ruber.”

There were gasps.  Miscanoblastus Ruber was a rare but much feared ailment in the magical community.  It was a virulent skin disease.  Deep pink, blister-like surface lesions were produced which eventually burst, releasing some sort of disease agent into the atmosphere which was then breathed in by new victims.  The lesions were extremely difficult to heal with spells – new ones tended to break as fast as old ones were sealed.  Septicaemia was often the result, accompanied by a high proportion of fatalities.

“I think” said Dumbledore, “we will adjourn for twenty minutes.  I want to take a look at Virginia.  We will reconvene here at a quarter past ten.”

Dutifully at ten-fifteen the staff reassembled in Dumbledore’s office, while Madam Pomfrey remained with her patients.  The Headmaster looked very grave.

“This, I think, is not exactly like Miscanoblastus Ruber” he informed them.  “Or it is not like the disease used to be.  Yet in some ways it resembles it.”

“The most effective way to treat Miscanoblastus Ruber” Snape muttered, “is with Zenthem gum in an ointment.  This disease, whatever it is, has moved from the lungs to the skin.”

“Then it’s moved through the blood stream” Celeste ventured.

“Yes!” Snape said.  He looked triumphant.  “Phoebe’s Tresses” he said in a stage whisper to Sprout.

“Silverweed” she whispered back.  “Spartina argenta.  But we don’t have any.  Can we buy enough of it?  We can’t grow it, can we.”

“Erm, we may be able to” Celeste put in.

“We did try that” Sprout assured her.  “It was some forty years ago.  I was a young teacher here, then.  The Headmaster will remember.  Winter cultivation wasn’t exactly a success was it, Headmaster.”

“No” Dumbledore agreed.  “The conclusion was our winters are just too cold this far north.”

“Well, I’m going to have to heat a greenhouse for the Stipa” Sprout pointed out.  “Might as well get cracking on both plants.  I think I’ll set up two greenhouses for each one to start with, although I fear the two for the silverweed will be redundant.  Still, they can always be turned over to more Stipa –”

“Professor, hang on a moment please.”  Celeste’s voice was urgent and she put out a hand to touch Sprout’s arm.  “Remember when we spoke about day-length depended plants?  We talked about vlox and ferbenona, and silverweed too.  Do you remember my mentioning Iulio Silvestre, the candidate from Brazil?”

“I do” Sprout agreed.  “Candidate Number Two, he was.  Say it all again please, Celeste – describe it to everyone.”

“It was the day of the interviews” Celeste explained.  “We chatted while Candidate Number Five was being seen.  Iulio was keen on Potions, but Herbology was his favourite subject, and he was going over in his mind what would grow here, compared to South America.  I thought he wouldn’t be able to grow all that he’d been used to, because of the cold.  He explained that although that was largely true, temperature wasn’t the only factor.  Some plants could be found growing high in the mountains near the equator even though it could be very cold.  It was light levels that mattered.  Day length.  Not temperature.  Silverweed – Phoebe’s Tresses – is one of those plants.  Even in the toughest spots in the Andes it copes, developing long, twisting roots that reach way down through the barren rocks.  It grows well in the cold as long as it has enough light.”

“Long … twisting … roots” Dumbledore repeated, turning from Celeste to look pointedly at Snape and then at McGonagall.  “I though her words were a long and twisting route” he added in a murmur, “but she said root.  I didn’t understand.”  He cleared his throat and spoke in general to the meeting.  “Mr Silvestre, via you Celeste, has given us a ray of hope I think.  If we can cultivate the plant, you can make the potion, Severus?”

“Yes, Headmaster” Snape concurred thoughtfully.  “That will be of most effect at the transition stage, while the disease is migrating to the skin.  Once the lesions are fully formed however, Zenthem gum would be more effective.  The gum contains a concentrate of the active ingredient of Spartina argenta, but its extraction is quite a lengthy process.”

“Then let us start simple” Dumbledore ordered.  “Amy, Celeste, procure some Spartina and get the greenhouses in operation.  I’m sure you can contrive to have them artificially lit and heated.  Felix, you may be able to assist with charms to do that.  Severus, make as much Silverweed Potion as you can.  You can try Stipa macropungens as well, but not at the expense of silverweed.  Minerva, owl Virginia’s father at once, to alert him to his daughter’s condition.  Any questions?”

There were none; everyone was anxious to get things underway.

*

Virginia Rushbrooke was a child from a single parent family, her mother having died when she was four years old.  It transpired that Virginia’s father was also ill, and his short reply merely asked if the school could continue to care for his daughter.  Although he didn’t say so, he felt too unwell to try to find a hospital place for her, and he had a great deal of confidence in Hogwarts.  Indeed, a somewhat irrational degree of confidence; and in this he was not alone.  Since the victory over Voldemort, Hogwarts reputation was higher than ever.  It was a factor that Celeste would soon come to marvel at, and to worry about.

Heating the greenhouses was not too difficult, but lighting them proved trickier.  Flitwick made them as bright as Christmas decorations by filling them with fluttering golden fairies, but Celeste said this wasn’t necessarily going to work.  “It’s not just the light, it’s the frequency that matters” she said.  “We haven’t got a full spectrum here.  Plants grow in sunlight where there is a much greater range of frequencies, and they just pick up what they need from it.  Can you find fairies that give out light in the red and violet wavelengths?  If we include a fair proportion of those it should improve things.”

It did improve things and the plants began to burgeon.

Meanwhile, Snape’s first brew of the Silverweed Potion eased the plight of many of the patients but it had little impact upon Virginia Rushbrooke.  Sinistra, Hooch and Pomfrey took turns to clean her rupturing lesions and heal them with their wands, but it was an uphill struggle.  And while they battled with her condition, Professor Vector’s cough subsided and the Wilson twins began to develop lesions.

“This just goes to show the importance of Zenthem gum” Snape insisted.  He was standing in Greenhouse Three, watching Celeste record the air temperature on a sheet of graph paper pinned to a board on the wall.  She did this every hour; her pink Muggle pen accompanying her everywhere, hanging around her neck from its cord.  “I wish I’d started that rat spleen extract now” he moaned.

“What’s ailing you now, Severus?” Sprout asked, as she struggled in with a bag of compost.

“The potion’s not much good against the lesions” Snape mumbled darkly.  “The macropungens potion is helping the new cases, but the Silverweed’s no good once the last stage is reached.”

“Have you though of tolubutylene to extract the gum?” Celeste asked.

“Yes thanks” he replied curtly.  “I don’t want umpteen cauldrons full of that nasty bilge bubbling all over my Potions classroom.”

Celeste thought.  “What if we could distil it in a closed environment?” she asked.

“What is the point?” he countered acidly.  “How would you propose to separate the tolubutylene from the extract?  It’s not exactly easy.  Any significant traces of tolubutylene in the residual gum will poison the patient.”

His tone was stinging but Celeste pressed on.  “If we exploit the physical properties of both the tolubutylene and the extracted gum I think we can get an acceptably pure residue” she explained.  “Below three degrees centigrade the gum hardens and becomes brittle.  Its surface characteristics change and it turns from white to pale blue-grey.  At that temperature the two substances have no affinity.  There is zero adhesion between them; each instead is cohesive.  We should be able to decant the tolubutylene and reuse it, leaving the hardened gum almost clean.  Three washings – say – with clean water should reduce any residual tolubutylene to a safe level.  OK, I know that’s not the final product – the gum has to be warmed to soften it and make it workable.  And it needs to be made into a paste so that it can be applied to the lesions–”

“You’re gabbling, girl” Snape interrupted harshly.

Celeste knew this was true – the Potions Master was a powerful ally but he made her nervous at times.  “Alright!  My point is” she said angrily “I think my idea for a distillation method will give us a quick and workable process.”

“Quicker than rat spleen?” Snape asked sharply.

“Much quicker than rat spleen!  Hours, not weeks!”

“Are you proposing to turn our patients into guinea pigs?” he challenged.

Celeste thought hard about this.  “If I am, do we have a better option?” she said finally.

His eyes bored into her.  He didn’t answer her question, but instead said quite menacingly “Very well, Witch.  Let’s evaluate – in detail – your whole plan…”

They sat in his office and Snape made a brew of comfrey tea.  As she spoke and drew diagrams for him, he looked at her strangely at times.  He could no longer see the ‘spoiled, rich bitch’ who drove the borrowed sports car, nor the ‘tomboy’ who had joked with Filch and Hagrid and let rip with the chainsaw, nor the ‘obedient schoolgirl’ who walked beside McGonagall.  Here was more of the passionate logical thinker, but it was also mixed with a determined organiser – a woman who could put her foot on the accelerator and hold it there to get where she wanted to be.

Celeste found that talking her ideas through with Snape was very useful.  He wanted to know how she knew so much about the physical peculiarities of tolubutylene and Zenthem gum, and she was able to explain that during her degree they had studied many curiously atypical effects such as super-conductivity and super-fluidity.

“Muggles know about – say – the super-fluidity of helium” Celeste explained, “but I also knew about the sharp transition point of tolubutylene and Zenthem gum affinity.  I’ve still got my papers on it at home.  Muggles don’t have much use for those substances, certainly not together, so I didn’t say anything about it.  Wish in a way I had, now!  We might not have to be struggling on our own with this remedy.”

Although he knew little of Muggle science, Snape asked many searching and challenging questions, usually in his typically cold and bitter tones.  It was uncomfortable but ultimately refreshing; at the end of it Celeste grinned to herself – having an enema must be like this, she supposed.

Snape realised his interrogation had been perhaps a little too brutal.  “I’m sorry if you found me, at times, a trace over-brusque” he said off-handedly.

Over-brusque, she thought; that’s putting it mildly!

Apart from the prefects’ bathroom incident, Celeste had never heard him apologise for anything.  “You also have a gift for understatement” she pointed out.  “However, you brew a much better comfrey tea than I can.  If I can have some more, I’m sure I can find it in my heart to forgive you.”

He smiled his enigmatic smile, stood up and flicked his hair out of his face.  “As you wish, Milady” he replied softly.  “Comfrey tea coming up.  Then I think we need to run these ideas past Albus and the other House Heads.”

He set to immediately, to make a fresh pot of tea.

* * *

Dumbledore and the staff seated themselves in the front rows of desks in the Potions classroom and Snape stood facing them, his back to the blackboard.  “The House Heads’ had a meeting with the Headmaster earlier today” he began, “because we are on the verge of a development.  Stipa macropungens – the plant that provides the variant of the Wit Sharpening Potion – is reasonably useful; as is the Silverweed Potion; but as you know we have a number of cases giving grave cause for concern, so we have been examining the possibilities of using Zenthem gum.  It is the active constituent of silverweed – the silver-leaved grass Spartina argenta, and in concentrated form it works much more quickly that the traditional potion which itself is little more that stewed leaves with porcupine quills and burdock.  Spartina is usually prepared as a water-based potion – that is what I have been making.  The active ingredient, can, however be extracted using an acidified preparation of rat spleen; that is the classic method but it is very lengthy.  Miss Lavelle has a plan for extracting it using tolubutylene.  We never normally use tolubutylene; it is very poisonous.  But it would give an exceedingly quick method of extraction.  Miss Lavelle–”  He extended an arm in her direction, summoning her forward.  “Please.  Outline your plan.”

Celeste stood up and they swapped places.  There was a cold haughtiness in Snape’s manner as he gave way to her but he made way nevertheless, taking the seat she had occupied next to Dumbledore.  She decided to put his coldness out of her mind; she had to get her point over, come what may.

“Right” she said. “Zenthem gum.  What I’m thinking of is a distillation process like this…”

Taking a piece of chalk and speaking as she worked, she proceeded to draw a diagram on the blackboard.  It showed a squat flask with the words ‘heat source’ beneath it.  It was coupled to a device she labelled ‘refluxing chamber’. She drew something that looked like a deep letter U inside the refluxing chamber and labelled it ‘cellulose thimble – porous – holds sample’.  The refluxing chamber was coupled tightly to the flask below and to a condenser she proceeded to outline above.  Finally she indicated a side arm leading from a point near to the top of the thimble to just below it, connecting just above the flask.

“The tolubutylene is heated here” she said, resting the tip of her chalk on the squat flask. “It vaporises and rises, but when it reaches the condenser it cools and drips into the porous thimble, filling it up and soaking into the Spartina.  Before the thimble overflows, the solution starts to pour into the side arm and siphons back into the flask.  The mixture is heated, the tolubutylene vaporises leaving the gum behind and the process stars again.  The gum itself does not vaporise – not at these temperatures – so the solution in the flask gets more and more concentrated.  Eventually, say after three hours, we can remove the flask, cool it magically, the gum will harden and we can pour off the tolubutylene and reuse it.  We can then scrape out the gum.”

“And that’s all there is to it?” Black asked, astounded at the simplicity of the process.

“Essentially yes” Celeste confirmed.  Seeing their awed faces she added “Don’t forget tolubutylene is poisonous.  It needs very careful handling.  Once we’ve poured off the excess, I suggest we actually wash the surface of the gum and blot it dry before we start to scrape it out of the flasks.  However, in outline that is the process.  In outline!  But there are important details that remain to be worked out … so … before we go any further, I want to know whether you think we should proceed.  Should we try this?”

“It will mean getting equipment.  Can you get all this?” McGonagall asked.

“That’s my next task – to find that out” Celeste replied.  “I haven’t checked it all yet in case you were against it in principle, and I haven’t priced it.  Professor Snape suggests we use this classroom.  Will it be possible for Argus to run a water supply to a bench in here?  We need a continuous flow of cold water for the condensers to work.  It must be continuous, no break in supply.”

“Yes, that can be done” Dumbledore said gravely.  He looked as though he had already made up his mind and was merely waiting for everyone else to catch up and ‘come on board’.

“What about tolubutylene being in the school?  It’s dangerous” Celeste reminded them.

“Then Potions classes must be entirely suspended” Dumbledore replied.

“The sixth and seventh years, Headmaster; perhaps they could help” Snape suggested.  “This process will need manning.  It is quite labour intensive.”

“If you think they are up to it, Severus, yes, obtain the help of the senior students.”

“They deal with some very dangerous substances already” Snape said.  “Miss Lavelle and I do not intend to leave them unsupervised.”  Momentarily his voice tailed off.  He paused and then said in a whisper to Dumbledore “The heavenly child!  It’s Celeste!”  His ashen face was full of concern as he wondered just what fate had in store for the trainee.  Dumbledore gazed at him and finally nodded.

“There will be fetching and carrying to do” Celeste was saying, “and the flasks must be watched to ensure nothing boils dry.  I will explain the process to the students, and either I or a senior member of staff will be present while distillation is underway.  Well, shall I start working on the details?”

“Is anyone against this?” Dumbledore asked, his blue eyes very piercing as he surveyed the room.  There was silence.  “There; you have your answer, Celeste.  Let us try this – time is of the essence!  Search out the equipment, Celeste, and list the prices, but do not worry about the cost.  This will be afforded.  And if necessary I will get the Ministry to deliver the items we need.  Meanwhile I will speak to Argus immediately.  Good work, everyone!  Thank you!”

He smiled and muttered something to Snape as the meeting broke up and everyone prepared to leave.

“Where can I recharge my phone?” Celeste asked, as the staff filed out of the Potions classroom.

“At my brother’s house” Flitwick said.  “He lives at Glenallen and has electricity, a telephone, even a computer.  Shall I take it over for you? I can nip over there tomorrow.”

“Well, that’s very kind of you, Professor, but I was sort of hoping to get it charged overnight tonight” Celeste explained.

“Then let’s fly over together now” Flitwick suggested.  “I’ll introduce you.”

“Thank you” she replied.  “I didn’t realise you knew about Muggle technology.”

“Actually, err, my brother’s house – his electric gadgets – there not exactly kosher, if you know what I mean” Flitwick said awkwardly.  “Some of them have, er, been ‘enhanced’ shall we say.  You won’t mention it to anyone, will you.”

“Like Arthur Weasley, next time I see him?” Celeste teased.  “No, Professor.  You can rely on my discretion.”

The following day Celeste phoned a few contacts she had made whilst doing her degree.  They were surprised to hear from her but were generally helpful.  Her best contact proved to be an industrial chemist doing postgraduate research at Durham University.  He had some modifications to suggest to the equipment she had in mind.  He also gave her the details of a laboratory supply company in Milton Keynes.  The firm was able to supply everything except the tolubutylene.  She gave the firm her order; Ministry staff collected the items the following day, and delivered them to Hogwarts.  Snape sent Hagrid to Knockturn Alley for a carboy of tolubutylene.

* * *

A mere three days later the weather had turned cold and the Potions classroom had turned into a mini industrial plant.  Dumbledore did not want any time to be wasted.  One side of the room was taken up by a new stone bench, upon which stood two long troughs – oil baths – into which flasks were suspended.  A row of small fires burned beneath the troughs to heat the oil.  Seventh year students sat tending the fires, watching the flasks, stirring the oil and checking its temperature.  Celeste had realised it was too dangerous to heat the flasks directly.  As she couldn’t use thermostatically controlled electric heating elements, she had decided on oil baths as the safest way of keeping the flasks from developing hot spots and also keeping the naked flames away from any possible contact with the tolubutylene.

Above the flasks, condensed tolubutylene vapour dripped onto shredded silverweed leaves in two-hundred-and-fifty millilitre cellulose thimbles.  Celeste had calculated that this was the optimum size for rapid extraction.

The students looked like laboratory technicians.  They wore new white robes, goggles and disposable face masks.  Their hands were protected by disposable gloves.  White net hats covered their hair.  They spoke very little and were attentive to their work.

* * *

Dumbledore slid into the classroom and quietly made his way to Snape, who then stopped stirring his gently bubbling cauldronful of macropungens leaves.  “Yes, Headmaster?” he enquired softly.

“I have just heard from the Ministry” Dumbledore said quietly.  “The wizarding hospital St Carmillus of Lellis is not taking any more admissions.  It is only sixty-eight percent full but, due to staff sickness, they do not have enough staff to cope with a greater caseload.”

“That is a rather frightening development, Headmaster.”

“Indeed.  Meanwhile here, Virginia Rushbrooke is a little better, and Dora Vector is being moved to hospital – St Philomena’s, near to her family.  They arranged it.  Mediwizards are taking her now.  Roger Styles and Gwen Naylor are slipping into the second stage.  The Wilson twins are not doing well.  Their parents are due here in an hour’s time.  I am going to speak to them and I would like Celeste to be there too.  Can she be spared?”

“Yes, Headmaster.  I can supervise the distillation.”

Both wizards looked at Celeste.  She was using a plastic wash bottle to rinse the gum surfaces inside a row of cooled flasks.  The washings were stored in a cauldron set carefully aside for toxic waste which she or Snape treated with an Innocuoso spell at the end of the day.  Except for the absence of goggles, she was dressed like the students.  It was early in the day but her serious face already looked tired and drawn.

“I want her to help me to persuade the Wilsons to move their boys to hospital” Dumbledore explained.  Any hospital.  Somewhere will be found.  Minerva has owled the boys’ parents about it, but they seem reluctant.”

“Very well, Headmaster” Snape replied.  He looked again at Celeste’s weary face and there was a sadness in his eyes.

 

Chapter Ten- High Point and Low Point

The winter deepened.  The days ticked by; and endless succession of making the potions, harvesting leaves, distilling the gum and delivering the remedies to the witches who tended the patients.  The school was extraordinarily quiet.  Many of the students had gone home; those that remained tended to be the children of families where one or both parents were ill.  Normal lessons were suspended but everyone was busy.  McGonagall, Flitwick, Black and Binns supervised study sessions, practicals, and discussion groups in the four largest classrooms, doing their best to help students with all subjects; not just keeping to their own.  Students who chose to work individually, beavered quietly in the library under Madam Pince’ beady eye.  Senior students helped in the Potions classroom and the greenhouses.  Hagrid and Filch, his cold long gone, gritted the icy drive, conducted visitors to the patients, supervised the delivery of supplies, and the disposal of the toxic silverweed dregs and flask washings, and the used face masks and gloves.  Rendered as harmless as possible by the Innocuoso spell, they were collected by medical staff for safe disposal at the nearest wizarding hospital – St Bathild in the Trool.  Hooch, Sinistra and Trelawney worked a twenty-four hour shift pattern, helping Pomfrey in the hospital wing.  In her spare time McGonagall dealt with the organisation of students returning home and made a start on drafting the end of year exam papers.  The house-elves delivered the constant supply of freshly laundered robes and hats needed in the Potions classroom and linen in the hospital wing.  Dumbledore conversed with the Ministry Departments and helped to cope with distraught parents.

A week later they received bad news – Professor Vector had died in hospital.  In a creeping numbness the weekend came and went, hardly distinguishable from the week.  The only thing that differentiated the following Monday was that the Wilson twins died, both on the same day, Jonathan in the early morning and David at tea time.  Thin and frail, the boys slipped away from life without a murmur.

In a deeper silence the school worked on, like a train on a track that has forgotten how to stop.

* * *

She looks awful, Snape thought, as gravely he watched Celeste instructing a sixth year student who was a new recruit to the distillation duties.  Without being aware of it, he had begun to worry about her.  It was Friday afternoon and he knew that Celeste, like Sprout and many others, himself included, had been working too many twelve hour days.  Her skin was pale, the peach hue long gone.  No earring had glinted at her ear for weeks and she was getting very thin.  She seemed to be living permanently in track suits and she had developed the habit of rubbing the back of her left wrist up over her forehead.  An unconscious, nervous habit.

They dined early that evening and returned to work afterwards.  By twenty-five-to-ten only Snape and Celeste remained in the classroom, and she was almost nodding asleep as she scraped out the last flask into the last porcelain pot.

Suddenly Celeste stopped what she was doing and sat for some minutes perfectly still.  Snape got the feeling that wherever her mind was, it wasn’t in the classroom.  Raising a shaking hand she pulled off her hat.  She summoned a house-elf who arrived as she was dropping her white robe and hat into the laundry basket.  “Take these … hospital wing please, Toby” she whispered, indicating the trayful of pots she had filled.  She bit her lip.  Then without looking up she slipped quietly out of the Potions classroom.

Snape was surprised; she hadn’t bid him goodnight.  Celeste always said goodnight, her good manners were one of life’s certainties.  As he worked on, a feeling of foreboding crept over him.  It reminded him of the day Filch had come to him when he couldn’t get into the female prefects’ bathroom.

In a hurry Snape went after Celeste, sealing his classroom door with a spell.  She was nowhere to be seen, but he made his way in the general direction of the sixth floor and eventually saw a slim figure in a grey tracksuit padding along a corridor well ahead of him.  But it didn’t go to Celeste’s room, it went on climbing.  He followed the figure up and on, up and on, finally reaching the Astronomy Tower; the castle’s highest point.

Snape was very worried now.  He thought about calling out, but Celeste was at the top of the stone staircase that lead to the observation platform, and he didn’t want to startle her.  She had opened the door.  A North wind raked across the top of the tower, stinging his eyes as he in turn reached the top of the stairs.

Celeste stood at the tower’s parapet, her hands resting on the stonework.  It was bitterly cold in the bright moonlight; a wonderfully clear night with a myriad of crisp, twinkling stars.  Frost was glittering on the parapet, and Snape felt the top step slippery under his foot.  He watched.  She was looking out over the moonlit grounds in the direction of the Quidditch Pitch but whether she saw the scene he couldn’t tell.  The biting wind ruffled her hair; she seemed turned to stone and didn’t shiver.  For a long moment Snape remained at the top of the stairs, too afraid to call out or move.  He planned what he would try if his worst fears were realised.

“Celeste” he breathed softly.

Startled, she whirled around.  In less than a second he was beside her, pinning her arms to he sides; holding them very tightly just above the elbows and she stared uncomprehending into his worried face.  Finally he felt her relax so he eased his grip, but still held her loosely in the cage of his arms.  She sighed and let her left hand slide around his waste outside his robe.  Her right hand balled into a fist clutching the lapel of his robe and she laid her head against his collar bone.  He wrapped his arms more firmly across her back, pulling her to him as her body was racked by dry sobs.

Seconds ticked by and they exchanged no words.  He stroked her hair, noticing it smelt of lavender.  He bent his head and touched his cheek to her temple.  Contact with her skin made him jump and he grabbed at the hand that was clutching the border of his robe.

“You are very cold” he said sternly.  “Come on Celeste” he urged more gently, prising her fingers open.  Her grip was strong but he forced her to break it.  Slipping out of his robe and wrapping it around her shoulders, he hurried her to the top of the steps.  “Be careful, it’s slippery” he warned.

He half led, half carried her down to her room.  Sitting her down on the sofa, he waved his wand to light the fire.  Then he lit the candles and placed his wand against the service panel to summon a house-elf.  In a very short time Tavey appeared.

“Send a female elf to stay in here, then arrange for warming pans for Miss Lavelle’s bed” he commanded.  “Both of those things are urgent.  Then go down to my bedchamber.  In the sea chest you will find a V-shaped pillow and a blanket; bring those up here, also a pillow from my bed.  Have you got all that?”

“Yes, sir” Tavey replied obediently and disappeared.

Binnie appeared almost immediately.  “You want me to stay here, sir?” she asked.

“I want you to run Miss Lavelle a hot bath and stay with her while she takes it” Snape instructed, keeping his voice low.  “Make sure the water is kept sufficiently hot; she has got very chilled.  Do not let any harm befall her.  She is not to be left alone!  Do you understand, elf?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good … Thank you.”  Feeling relieved, he turned to Celeste.  He called her by name but she seemed to be in a daze, so he knelt in front of her, holding her forearms and shaking her gently to make her focus on him.  “Celeste!  I am going to make you a potion.  I should be back well inside the hour.  I want you to take a hot bath, then get into bed.  Do you understand, Celeste?”  His face had grown anxious again, his fierce eyes fixed upon hers.

“Yes … Yes, OK” she replied resignedly.

She was shivering now, shaking uncontrollably.  The tears had finally come; they were trickling down her face and, not wanting to be seen crying, she was angrily wiping them away.  Snape got up and brought the box of tissues to her.  Grabbing a couple he blotted her face.

“Binnie will stay with you” he said gently.  “Do not send her away.  I will be back soon.  Have a quick bath; then into bed.  Do not get cold!  Celeste, are you listening?”

“Yes.  OK” she said again.  She watched him open the door.  “Severus” she called, “thank you.”  She managed a faint smile.

For a second he gazed down at her.  Then, suspecting his expression might give too much away, he quickly left the room.

*

Snape unlocked his classroom and immediately attended to the toxic waste.  He then began work on two potions.  His pre-prepared stock levels were better than he had estimated and he was back inside Celeste’s room in just over twenty minutes.  He found his robe folded in an armchair, on top of the pillows and blanket he had requested, so he put the robe back on and sat on the sofa, listening to the faint sounds of Celeste and Binnie talking in the bathroom.  As the door opened he called “Would you like me to wait outside, Celeste?”

“No, its OK” she said.  “You stay there.”

She sat beside him on the sofa and bent forward to dry her hair in front of the fire.  She was wearing the long white towelling tunic he had seen hanging on the back of the bathroom door.  Her skin looked slightly pink.

“Let me do that” he said, seeing her struggle with a hairbrush.  Alternately using his wand and her brush he soon dried her hair sufficiently.  The lavender scent was more noticeable.  “Now, into bed” he ordered kindly.  “Binnie” he called, “you may remove the warming pans.”

“Anything else, sir?” Binnie asked as she carried the pans to the service panel.  “We usually wake Miss Celeste at six o’clock, sir.”

“Don’t wake her tomorrow” Snape replied quietly.  “I will be here.  I will call you if she needs anything.  Tell the Headmaster I am here and will be staying all night.  If you can’t find him, tell Professor McGonagall.  I think that is all … Thank you.”

Celeste noticed the V-shaped pillow lying on her bed and two goblets of potion steaming on the tray by the herbal teas.  She pulled a T-shirt, leggings and socks from one of the chests-of-drawers and changed her clothes in the bathroom.  Head bowed, Snape sat by the fire quietly waiting until she was under the bedclothes, before walking to her bedside with the goblets.  He had removed his shoes and his footsteps made no noise on the wooden boards.

“This pillow is very comfortable” she commented. “Thank you.”

Smiling slightly, he proffered the goblets.  “This one is Dreamless Sleep; this one will just help you to relax and keep warm.  Which would you like?  Have you had Dreamless Sleep before?”

“Err, yes I have” she said guardedly.

“Recently?”

“No, not for some years.”

“Then the choice is yours.”

“Thank you.  I’ll take Dreamless Sleep.”  She chose a goblet.

“And I will have this” he said, retaining the other goblet.  He sat down on the floor by her bedside cabinet, his back to the window and his legs drawn up slightly so that he could rest his elbows on his knees.  He was not looking forward to what he had to say next, but he thought it best to get her to talk.

“Was it the twins’ death that finally got to you?” he asked quietly.

Celeste rubbed a hand over her face.  “Yes, I think so” she replied.  “I spoke to their parents last week.  Uncle Albus was trying to persuade them to get the boys into hospital.  Muggle hospital.  They wouldn’t listen.  They thought they would be safer here.  They think because we can do magic, we can do anything.  Work miracles.”  Her lip trembled and her grip tightened on the still untasted goblet.  “I tried–  I tried to explain that mending a cut or a broken bone in an otherwise healthy body, is not the same as defeating an army of dangerous micro-organisms.  They just weren’t listening.”

Snape nodded.  “Their attitude is understandable, really” he said.  “How can Muggles distinguish between magic and miracles?  If we can turn a teapot into a tortoise why can’t we raise the dead.  Anyway, the twins may actually have been better off here; the mortality rate in Muggle hospitals is alarmingly high.”

Celeste tried to say ‘I know’ but the words wouldn’t come.  Finally she sighed and, to his surprise, turned to the photograph beside her bed.  She picked it up and studied it for a while.  Feeling that she needed to offer some explanation, she held the photograph out to Snape and said “These two people are my parents.”  Snape took the photograph and pretended to study it as if he had never seen it before, as she continued “My parents had three children – I had twin brothers, Lucien and Fabien.  Fraternal twins, not identical.  They died when I was eight; when they were eleven.”

“Same age as the Wilson twins” Snape observed sadly.

“Yes … The Wilson twins remind me of my brothers in some ways” Celeste admitted.  “Lucien and Fabien could sing.  The Wilsons were considering sending their boys to music school, but David and Jonathan were so excited about becoming wizards they were determined to come here.  My brothers Lucien and Fabien also had blond hair – they took after Father you see.  My father Lucien also has a fraternal twin called Fabien.  They are actually very alike; people used to think they were identical twins.”

Snape looked again at the comely face of Lucien Lavelle, but didn’t admit he had met Fabien and knew him to be a Dominican Friar.  “Twins run in your family, it seems” he remarked softly, not knowing what else to say.

“Very much, yes.  Even my mother’s mother was a twin.”  Celeste started to say something else but emotion was overtaking her.  She fell silent, pressing the back of a hand to her lips.

At length Snape murmured “We cannot save everyone, Celeste.  Indeed we have just said as much.”

“I know.  It’s just … it brought back memories.”

“Ah yes, memories” Snape whispered savagely.  “I know all about those.”  She seemed to be calming down at last.  “Are you ready to settle down now?” he asked kindly.  “Then, drink your potion.”

She drank it in one.  Gently, he removed the V-shaped pillow from behind her back, and she settled down into the warm bed.  Waves of relaxing sleep were already overtaking her.  “Goodnight, Severus” she murmured.

Snape replaced the photograph beside her bed and swallowed the other potion. Then he doused the candles, removed his robe and tunic, and made himself comfortable on the sofa, covering himself with his robe and the blanket; his head cushioned on his own pillow.  Watching the fire burn low, he began to drift asleep…

A soft tapping sounded at the door.  Snape jerked awake, and cursing under his breath, rose to open it.  He was greeted by the stern countenance of Minerva McGonagall.  Her wand illuminating her face.  She had her cloak on over a tartan dressing gown.  With obvious disapproval she noted Snape’s state of dress – a white linen shirt open at the neck and now somewhat creased, black breeches just covering the tops of long black socks; no robe; no tunic; no shoes.

“What’s going on?” she hissed.  “Why are you here?  Is Celeste alright?”

“She’s perfectly alright, Minerva” Snape hissed back.  “Can we talk in the corridor; she has just gone to sleep.”

He all but pushed the Deputy Headmistress out of the room and eased the door closed.

“She became very distressed this evening” Snape began.  “I got her back to her room and with the help of a house-elf she has bathed and gone to bed.  I gave her the Dreamless Sleep Potion.”

“Then why are you here?” McGonagall demanded.  “You have no need to stay.  I can stay with her.”

“I’m not leaving her” Snape growled.  “Stay if you want to.  I’m staying too, unless she orders me not to.  She was very upset.  The death of the Wilson twins – she’s taken it hard.  You didn’t see her.  See how she looked.”  His words halted abruptly as he fought to keep his own emotions under control.

“This is most irregular, Severus” McGonagall protested.  “You should not be in this room alone with this young lady.”

“I have learned a little self control, Minerva” Snape snarled.  “You can trust me not to harm Celeste, nor to add to her distress.”

“I hope so, Severus” she hissed, and with one last blazing look at him she stalked off.  “Be sure to call me if there is a problem” she warned.

Snape settled back onto the sofa.  He was furious with McGonagall.  But then, he reflected, he was bound to have a bad reputation as far as women were concerned.  Death Eaters were notorious for crimes such as torture, rape and murder.  He though he had made reparation since those days.  However he presumed McGonagall knew of the main purpose of his visits to London.  London!  He hadn’t been to London since last summer.  He hadn’t slept with a woman since August.  He’d had other things on his mind – resentments and suspicions about Celeste, and then the disease epidemic.  He’d had Celeste on his mind too, and Hooch.  Sometimes both of them together, attending to his needs.  Oh Severus, don’t pursue this, he warned himself; you promised McGonagall you could behave!

Celeste.  He hadn’t known how to say to McGonagall he’d had this sudden terrifying fear that she was going to jump from the Astronomy Tower.  Perhaps it was best that he hadn’t shared that notion – what if McGonagall thought she was mentally unbalanced; what if she made Celeste leave?  But I didn’t want her here anyway, Snape remembered.  So what do you want now, Severus, he asked himself.  I don’t know, he concluded.  I just don’t want her hurt.

His potion was finally working – within five minutes Severus Snape drifted into a light sleep.

*

Despite her potion, Celeste woke at half past six.  Sitting up, she could hear faint snores from the direction of the sofa.  She lit her wand and tiptoed to the bathroom.  Returning minutes later, she gently rocked Snape’s shoulder to waken him.

“Would you like some tea?” she asked.

He half sat up; then swung himself upright.  “I’ll make it” he said.  “You get back to bed.  Give me five minutes.  Can I use your bathroom?”

“Of course” she replied.  “You’ll find a clean towel in the pile on the washstand.”

He lit the fire and some candles, and then disappeared into the bathroom.  A few minutes later he stood in the doorway, drying his hands on one of her white towels.

“Herbal or Indian?” he asked coolly.

“Indian please” Celeste replied.  “A house-elf will bring us some milk.”

Snape brewed the tea, but looked suspiciously at the milk Tavey brought.  “What’s this?” he demanded.  “Skimmed?”

“Miss Celeste always have organic skimmed, sir” Tavey insisted.

“That’s quite right” Celeste confirmed.  “Tavey is only doing what he knows I want, so don’t nag him.”

“I suppose you don’t have sugar either” Snape moaned.  “Really, I might have known!  I wanted you to have some nourishment to boost your resources.  I suppose it can wait until breakfast.  I bet you didn’t eat much yesterday.  And what is so funny, suddenly, young lady?  I fail to see what is so particularly amusing.”

“You sound like my mother” Celeste squeaked, trying to suppress her laughter.  “Come on, where is this tea!  And where is that nice pillow you brought me?”

With a sudden sheepish grin, Snape pushed the V-shaped pillow behind her back and then handed her a beaker of tea.  He brought a candle and his own tea, and sat on the floor again, watching her drink.  A smile continually hovered at his lips as he realised how fussing and pernickety he must sometimes sound.  He drew his legs up, rested his forearms on his knees and wrapped his hands around his beaker to warm them.

In between sips, Celeste watched him.  A sheen of dark stubble covered his chin, his hair hung in greasy ropes again and his shirt looked as if it had been slept in – which of course it had.  But she was so glad to see him.  “Did you sleep OK?” she asked.

“OK … Yes” he confirmed quietly, nodding his head.

“I’m sorry” she said.  “For giving you this trouble.”

Snape looked up at her and a spasm, almost of pain, crossed his face.  “It is no trouble” he insisted gently.  “How do you feel today?”

“I’ll be alright” she said lightly.

He paused searching for words and finally said “If things get you down … whenever you need to talk, Celeste … we can talk.  I’m not good at it – I know.  But I’ll try.  I promise I’ll try.”

She reached over and squeezed his forearm.  “Thank you” she whispered.  He heaved a sigh and in a comfortable silence they finished their tea.

Snape ran a hand over his face.  “I’m going to my room to shower and shave” he said.  “Then I’d like to come back here and we could go down to breakfast together.”

Celeste was surprised.  “I can find my way to the Hall, Severus.”

“I’d like to walk with you.”

“Then I will be glad of the company.”

The Great Hall was empty when they entered but it wasn’t long before McGonagall, Dumbledore and Black arrived.  Celeste sat between Snape and Black in the chair Adoración Vector used to occupy.  McGonagall came over and asked her how she was.  Regardless of Celeste’s protestations she seemed to think the night must have been traumatic.

“I’m fine–” Celeste kept trying to explain.  “No–  No, really Professor–  I’m OK–  Please listen–  I slept very–  Thanks to Professor Snape I had an excellent night’s sleep, Professor!”

The words finally got through.  McGonagall looked outraged.  Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled, Black snorted, Snape caught McGonagall’s eye whereupon he and Celeste collapsed together into fits of helpless laughter.

While Snape tucked into porridge followed by eggs, bacon and tomato and then by toast and coffee, Celeste breakfasted off of orange juice, muesli, a four-minute boiled egg and wholemeal bread without butter.  While she ate, she though about the Potions Master sitting at her side.  She had never seen him laugh like that – without sarcasm or spite, unguarded, carefree, genuine.  It had been a revelation.  She suddenly felt she could cope once again.  From being her enemy, Snape had changed to being on her side and he was a resourceful and experienced ally to have.  She felt supported.  She couldn’t say why, but his friendship was very important to her.

“Ready for the fray?” Snape asked, when she had finished her meal.

She took a deep breath and nodded.  “Yes, I’m all set” she said firmly, and they set off together to the Potions classroom.

 

End of Part 1 - Read Part 2