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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

Review


Part Two


Chapter Eleven - Fire and Hot Chocolate

 Virginia Rushbrooke’s skin suddenly cleared and she recovered (as did her father, at the wizarding hospital of St Raphael).  A handful of the other Hogwarts patients were on the mend.  At Dumbledore’s request an inspector came from the Department of Magical Health to study the treatment process Hogwarts had developed.  He interviewed key staff and made copious notes.

By the end of the following week there had been a marked improvement.  There was a net decrease in occupation of the hospital wing beds.  St Mungo and its satellites were producing their own potions and gum; their process being on a larger scale than was possible at Hogwarts.  Marius Findlayter, the Minister for Magic had for some time been working in close co-operation with the Muggle Prime Minister, and once the Hogwarts treatments looked like they were going to be safe and effective, details of the preparations were progressively leaked to the pharmaceutical research laboratories linked to several major universities.  It looked as though the epidemic was finally easing and the medical profession would be better prepared for recurrences in future years.  After announcing that event, the Muggle press gave it less attention.  The weather was still cold but dry.  There was a stinging north-east wind but nevertheless the air held an unsuppressible promise of spring.

By the end of the first week in March the distillation process was curtailed in the Potions classroom as any further supplies of Zenthem gum could be obtained from the laboratories attached to the seven wizarding hospitals.  The greenhouses were still in production however – supplies were now coming in from abroad, but nevertheless Hogwarts remained for the time being a significant source of Spartina argenta leaves for the magical community in Britain, a situation not lost on the Minister for Magic.

It was three weeks to the end of term.  The staff were looking forward to getting the school back to normal – teaching to the timetable once again and working their normal hours, getting the Quidditch teams back into training and enjoying Hogsmeade weekends.  And not worrying that every visitor was a potential source of infection.

Hogsmeade hadn’t escaped the epidemic.  Ophelia Namdrake, the witch who for decades had run the Lilac Tea-Time tea rooms, had succumbed to the disease and the empty shop was boarded up.

However students were returning to the school.  At dinner on 8th March Dumbledore looked out over a sea of happy faces.  Sadly there were a number of permanent gaps in the House tables, but the students’ mood was generally upbeat.

Celeste was again sitting with Hagrid and Filch.  She sat beside Snape at breakfast but returned to her old seat for lunch and dinner.  She liked to keep up with news from the Caretaker and she was very fond of the kindly Hagrid.  Hagrid particularly appreciated her company because she was one of the few people he could meaningfully confide in about his hit and miss love affair with Olympe Maxime.  As she had been Celeste’s Headmistress, the trainee teacher’s sympathy and advice were important to him.

In her own mind, Celeste no longer felt like a trainee.  She had ‘proved herself’ in the eyes of the faculty staff, and was now more akin to a colleague than a student.  The Professors still had a wealth of knowledge and experience she had not yet acquired, but she possessed areas of expertise they did not share, that had enabled her to make a contribution none of them could have made.

Snape was relieved to note that Celeste looked quite fit; she was not so thin and her skin had regained its bloom.  She and Hooch had resumed their early morning runs.  Unquestionably, Celeste had become Snape’s friend.  Apart from Madeline Hooch whom he could almost count as a friend and Felix Flitwick with whom he enjoyed the occasional game of chess, Snape had not had a true friend since his own school days.  His manner had never encouraged friendship.  Celeste seemed relaxed in his presence now and never reproached him for his hostility earlier in the year.  He was deep in thought about her when Dumbledore’s voice sounded in his ear.

“How are you, Severus?”  While Snape had been gazing at Celeste, Dumbledore had setteld quietly into the late Professor Vector’s chair.

“I’m fine” Snape replied.  “Never better.”

Dumbledore followed his gaze to Celeste.  “Good to see her smiling again, isn’t it” he murmured.  “Did you know that she and Amy went to visit the Wilson twins’ parents?”

“Oh yes” Snape said, letting his gaze continue to rest on the trainee teacher.  “Celeste wasn’t looking forward to it, but felt she had to do it.  As far as I can gather they both coped very well.”  He turned to Dumbledore and added “The Wilson boys’ parents are – not surprisingly – still numb with shock.”

“As I would have expected” Dumbledore replied sadly.  He fell silent for a moment and then continued.  “The Ministry are talking of making a presentation to the school and to some of the staff for our achievement in combating the epidemic.  I believe they are thinking in terms of a plaque for the school and certificates for the individuals.  I have asked them not to hold any ceremony it in term time; we have lost so much ground this year.  So we may have a trip to London during the Easter holidays.”

“I will enjoy that” Snape said.  “Headmaster, you haven’t yet made any announcement about the pupils who died, nor about Dora.  Do you plan to do so?”

“I do; but not until the end of the year” Dumbledore confirmed.  “A few of the students have still to return, and some of them have parents or siblings in a delicate state of health.  The problem is not totally quashed.  But as you see, the survivors are quite buoyant – I believe that is a normal reaction.  I haven’t the heart to dampen their spirits so soon.  However, that need not stop you and Amy writing up your findings for your journals.  Amy has started on her article for The Master Herbal, and Celeste is helping.  I presume you are writing something for The Potion Maker?”

“I am.”

“Giving Celeste some of the credit I hope.”

“Of course.”  Snape looked a little irked at the implication that he might do otherwise.  “You may rely on that, Headmaster” he said emphatically.

Dumbledore smiled, amused at how situations could change so radically.

* * *

Snape was hoping to talk to Celeste at the weekend but she disappeared to London on the Saturday, just after breakfast.  His attention was taken by a letter he received by owl and he didn’t notice her slip away.  The letter was one of the very few pieces of post he ever received – the subscription renewal for his club.  He took it to his chambers, wrote out a Gringotts bank transfer form to authorise the payment, and enclosed the club’s remittance advice.  It was now ready to attach to an owl that evening.  He searched the castle for Celeste but she was nowhere to be found.  She didn’t reappear until tea time.

On Sunday morning after breakfast he put aside his dislike of being outdoors and suggested they take a walk through the Forbidden Forest.  Celeste had become so important to him, he was determined to ‘bite the bullet’ and make a start on being open about some of his dark past.  It seemed necessary because of their developing friendship, and Snape also nurtured the tentative beginnings of particular hopes for the future.  He was interested too, to hear about Celeste’s early life.  He realised he had long ago made certain assumptions about her, but aside from the details on her training application form he knew very few facts.

They held their wands at the ready as they entered the forest.  It was a dangerous place but they were both powerfully magical and experienced people, so they had relatively little to fear.  As they walked Celeste began her tale.

“I grew up in Northumberland” she explained.  “My father, who is French, taught French at an English state comprehensive school.  My mother was an Auror.  That was a bit of a joke in the family because her name is Aurora – Aurora the Auror, you see.  I went to a Muggle Primary School and so did my brothers before me.  We were all down to go to Hogwarts when we turned eleven.”

“But none of you came to Hogwarts.  I would have remembered” Snape pointed out.

“Yes.  That is perfectly true” Celeste said hesitantly “We none of us came.”  She walked on for several paces without speaking.  Snape realised she had already got to the point of saying something difficult – a situation he knew only to well.

“You see, something happened” she continued at last.  “It was the time of He Who Must Not Be Named’s early rise to power – 1978.  I was almost eight and Mother had returned to work a year or so earlier.  She had arrested several Death Eaters and there was a price on her head.  They failed to capture her, but they took my father and my two brothers captive instead.  They killed my brothers.  My father, they tortured for information, but he would say nothing.  I don’t think he knew anything, anyway.  It was all so pointless.  So horribly pointless.”  Again Celeste fell silent for a while, and again, with difficulty she took up the story once more.  “Eventually, out of spite, they set his robes ablaze.”  Her voice quavered and she compressed her lips in the way he had seen he do when she was fighting not to get upset.

At length Snape asked “Couldn’t he cool the flames?”

His simple and obvious suggestion stopped Celeste in her tracks, and her face when she turned to him bore an expression of incredulity.  “My father is a Muggle” she explained.  “He has no magical powers.  When he married my mother he always dressed in wizard robes at home; he was always very much at home in the wizarding world.  No.  He had no means of cooling the flames.”

They resumed their walk.  “He was badly burnt” she continued, “but he survived.  He hung on.  With help, Mother rescued him and got him to St Mungo’s.  My brother’s bodies were recovered too.  They were virtually unmarked; they must have been killed by a curse.  Father spent months in hospital.  His body is a mass of scar tissue but his face, amazingly, was untouched.”  She smiled.  “He is still handsome.  I longed for him to come home but … well … I didn’t realise what it would be like.  He was a broken man.  He used to have nightmares.  Dreamless Sleep would help but it clashed with other treatments, and anyway as you know, you can’t take it continually, week in week out.  It’s a dangerous potion.

“I became affected by Father’s nightmares and began to have them too.  It got to the stage where I was afraid to go to sleep.  My schoolwork went to pieces.  After a few months of that my parents decided they had to do something about it.  I was getting progressively worse.  Mother spoke to Uncle Albus and Professor McGonagall, and she also got in touch with Olympe Maxime at Beauxbaton.  A place was found for me at Beauxbaton and I was allowed to start a year early.  My parents wanted to move – make a clean break.  When I started at Beauxbaton they moved to France, but I was not allowed home while Father was there.  He, however, spent long periods at St Mungo’s, so I could sometimes go home for a while in the holidays.  My dorm mates were good to me at Beauxbaton.  The staff explained about the nightmares and everyone rallied round and helped me.  My House Master, Professor Peor, was very supportive.

“Doing my first year twice, I was soon well ahead with my schoolwork.  The rest you know.  I got good exam passes, then moved to London and did a Muggle degree.  Once I left Beauxbaton my parents sold their house in France and settled in the Scilly Isles.  They live there now, on their own island.  It’s wrapped in enchantments.  That’s why we don’t have electricity at home – the island has more spells weaved around it than Hogwarts has.  Even so, my parents never feel entirely safe.  You can’t just Apparate there – when I want to go home Mother sends me a Portkey.”

Their amble through the forest had brought them to the River Hogg.  There was a tree near the water’s edge with a sturdy horizontal branch.  “Let’s sit and look at the water” Celeste suggested, so they manoeuvred themselves onto the branch, Snape with far more difficulty than Celeste, who despite her cloak, was so at home clambering in trees.

She stared out across the river for some time, idly swinging her legs.  Snape sat beside her as they gazed over the forest-clad far bank to the distant snow capped mountains.  “Why did you go to Romania?” he asked at length.

“Fire” she replied simply.  “I have this horror of fire, you see.  It was turning into a phobia; even made some lessons a bit difficult.  We had a Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson where our Professor, Septimus Peor, used a Boggart and asked us each to consider what it would turn into, and plan how we would overcome it.  I knew what my Boggart would be – what I saw in my nightmares – my father screaming, wreathed in fire.  Well … I could come up with absolutely no plan for coping with that, so I had to opt out of that lesson.  Professor Peor talked it through with me afterwards and got me thinking about how I might learn to rationalise my fear.  He spent a lot of time with me, working on it.  He was very kind, and patient.  It took me some years to straighten it all out in my head, but eventually I decided just to face up to dealing with real fire.  Working with dragons seemed like a way to test it; see if I could come to terms with real situations.  I arranged to see Vlady Gordeev, discussed it with him, and he was keen for me to try.  Wanted to help me.  He, too, was very supportive.  People have been good to me over the years.”

“And was it useful, working with dragons?”

“Oh yes!  I haven’t had true nightmares for years.”

I have to ask, Snape thought.  I have to know for sure.  “You met Charlie Weasley there, didn’t you.  Were you in love with him?”

“We were lovers for a time” Celeste said frankly, “but, no, I wasn’t in love with him.  I don’t know how to explain this – people seem to want to misunderstand it, and Stella’s gossiping doesn’t help.  Charlie is a really nice person.  He’s kind; he’s considerate; he’ll make a great husband, and father too, no doubt.  But I’ve never been in love with him.  If I was, I could have married him – he did ask me!  That’s when I realised things were getting too serious.  I’d be wrong for him.  It was tempting in its way, but I wasn’t prepared to wreck his life and mine by accepting his proposal.  I like him far too much to do that to him.”

“So that’s why you left?” Snape ventured.

She didn’t answer directly, her mind had moved on.

“He didn’t understand” she said sadly.  “I think he does now that he’s met Mandy.”  She sighed and stretched her arms over her head to release the tension.  “Orrh … I’m bored with me … with me … with hearing about me!  Come on, Severus; let’s hear about you.”

If Snape had been dreading this at the outset, his fears had multiplied tenfold since he heard Celeste speak of Death Eaters, and even of her House Master’s use of a Boggart.  He was shocked at the way events in his past came back to haunt him.  How was she going to feel when he admitted to once having been a Death Eater?

Stealing himself to face up to it, he started by telling her about his childhood.  She remembered the photograph of his parents; his tall, grim-looking father and his kindly young mother.  He told her about growing up in Suffolk, in a small but imposing Tudor manor house not many miles from the village that bears his family name.  He explained that local Muggles kept away from the Snape family; they were considered to be weird.  Severus wasn’t allowed to go to Muggle school.  His father Sebastian taught him at home.  When Severus was six year’s old, Miranda, his mother died.  There was no proper inquest and the cause was never established.

Sebastian was a great potion maker and had his own laboratory at home.  He was a stern, silent man whom Severus feared.  “I could never please him” Snape said hopelessly.  “I just seemed to be in the way.  I did learn a great deal from him, however.  A very great deal.  But he was extremely strict.”  Snape paused, almost visibly shaking, as, unbidden, a memory intruded into his consciousness – a recollection of a day when his father had threatened to force a swelling solution down his throat because Severus had accidentally broken a glass retort.  He had never been able to decide if his father would really have done so – nor if he had, if he would then have administered the deflating draft in time or let his only son swell to death.

“He seemed pleased to get rid of me to Hogwarts” Snape continued.  “And in fact things were easier once I settled in.  I knew a good deal more than my peers, and I actually felt more secure than at home.  I even made some friends for the first time in my life – Madeline Hooch who was in the year above mine, and Lucius Malfoy who was in the sixth year.  I knew more about the making of potions than did Lucius, even though he thought himself so good.  Until then I never had any friends.  And since those days Madeline was the only person I could describe as a friend, until now.  Until you.

“My father died when I was twelve.  I have never been able to grieve for him.  Two business associates of his – Gaius Avery and Aurelius Malfoy – saw to the funeral arrangements, and the London solicitors Lazarus, Brownlow & Slope took care of the legal affairs.  They relocated our house-elves, put the house up for sale and put the contents into long-term storage for me.  I was allowed to go home briefly to take a few personal possessions, but I let most of it go into storage.  The house now belongs to the National Trust – a Muggle organisation.  They have filled it mostly with Regency and Edwardian furniture but it still looks quite attractive.  Muggles browse the knot garden on sunny Sunday afternoons – they do not know they are looking at my parents’ grave.  Sebastian Salazar and Miranda Augusta Snape, née Featherstone, lie very, very deep and undisturbed beneath the beds of herbs and the little box hedges.

“Most of the house contents are still in storage; I used a little to furnish my dungeon rooms at Hogwarts.  All the money and the sale proceeds of the house were put into trust for me until I was twenty-one.  I was surprised to find, on reaching twenty-one, how wealthy I was.  I had always thought we were quite poor – rich in fine possessions but lacking cash.  Perhaps we were, but I think now that Father was just not interested in spending money.  Most of the things he owned he had inherited, we never went on holiday and I never remember him taking Mother out anywhere.  I sometimes wonder why she married him.  She was thirty years younger than he.  They were so different; she was kind, romantic, unrealistic perhaps.  I wish I remembered her better.  She never made me feel afraid.”

Snape fell silent.  He sometimes wondered if his mother hadn’t died as a result of one of his father’s experiments.  However he would never voice this suspicion, partly because almost subconsciously he still felt a certain loyalty to his father, and partly because, consciously and rationally, he did not want to initiate any legal investigations.

“By the time I was thirteen, I was starting to fall in love” he continued.  “A bad choice.  The girl in question was Lily Evans and she was in Gryffindor House.  Lily was quite kind to me – she comforted me when Father died; she seemed to sense how scared I was.  But Lily didn’t love me – it was simply that she was kind to everyone.  That was her nature.  I had a few enemies at school – Sirius Black, James Potter, Remus Lupin.  Black and Potter were typical Gryffindors – arrogant, lazy, bullying, and quite unreasonably popular.  Lily fell in love with James and by the time we were in the seventh year it was clear they were made for each other.  James was the hero of the Quidditch pitch, idolised by everyone.  He never seemed to put himself out about schoolwork yet he always got good marks.  Lily had no eyes for anyone else while James was around; even Sirius Black – a typical handsome dare-devil show-off – could not turn her head.”

“So what did you do?” Celeste asked, wondering whether to say she knew Remus Lupin.

“I lost out to James” he said shortly.  “Can we go Celeste; I’m cold.”

They began the long walk back.  Snape seemed deeply sad.

After a silence he said “I didn’t realise your father was a Muggle.”

“You made some comment once, about my breeding” Celeste reminded him.  “I thought that’s what you were getting at.”

“No, no.  I didn’t mean–  No … I was referring to the fact that you are related to Albus Dumbledore and to a former Minster for Magic, Cornelius Fudge.  I looked upon you as coming from a well-connected, pureblood family.”

“How do you know about Uncle Cornelius?” Celeste asked in surprise.  “Did Albus tell you?”

“No” Snape said cautiously, realising he had slipped up and wondering how to retrieve the situation.  He could hardly say ‘your driving licence bears his address’.  “Do you remember driving a red, open-topped sports car in London?  Many years ago; before you took your degree.  I think you were staying with the Fudges.”

“Yes–” Celeste said, working hard to think back.  “Yes, I borrowed a car from Dieter Brandauer at the Ministry.  I picked Uncle up from the station.  He was cross about that car – didn’t want me to have anything to do with Dieter.  He went on and on about it!”

“And when you met your uncle at Kings Cross, was there anyone else there?”

Celeste racked her brain.  Yes, perhaps there had been someone else.  A wizard?  A young wizard.  Could it have been?  Hadn’t the young man been dressed unseasonably in black?  Celeste wasn’t sure, but she recalled her introduction to Snape in the Great Hall at Hogwarts – how he had stared at her and then acted very off-hand, and then spent the rest of dinner glancing in her direction.  “You!  Were you there that day?  Was it you I gave a lift to?  I knew I knew you from somewhere when we were introduced last summer!  But you never said.”

Snape smiled ruefully, but again said nothing.

“Well-connected, pureblood family!  Wow!” Celeste continued.  “Well, despite Uncle Cornelius’ fall from grace, I suppose it is in a way.  But many of my relatives are not against marrying Muggles – as you now know.  Uncle Cornelius is old-fashioned, but he’s not typical of most of the family.  Err, since you made that point I suppose I should also tell you, my mother’s maiden name was Aurora Gryffindor – she’s a descendant of Godric Gryffindor.”

“I see” Snape said, intrigued by this news.  “This is very strange, Celeste – you see, my family are linked to the family of Salazar Slytherin.  Not by blood, but by adoption.  My great-great-grandfather was a foundling – presumable illegitimate; anyway, nothing of his family is known.  He was adopted by a female descendant of Salazar Slytherin, a witch by the name of Guinevere Morgana.  She married a wizard by the name of Augustus Sebastian Snape and they named the adopted boy Salazar Augustus.  My great-grandfather was named Alexander Salazar; his son was called Severus Salazar and my father Sebastian Salazar.  It’s all very confusing I know; the same names get used over and over again.  Salazar always crops up – from what I could make out, the family were proud of the Slytherin connection.  And, in a way, so am I.  Forgive me if I was rather too blunt about Gryffindors just now.  I do find them heroic to the point of recklessness at times.  I didn’t intend to hurt your feelings, but that is how I find many of them.”

The phrase ‘shrewd Slytherin from fen’ was running through Celeste’s mind.  It was from a poem Dumbledore had shown her.  It was connected with the Sorting Hat.  “Don’t worry, Severus.  I’m not desperately hurt.  I’ll live” Celeste assured him.  “Anyway, as far as Houses goes, the Sorting Hat would have put me into Ravenclaw.  Uncle Albus asked me to try it.”

“Really?  Why?  I mean why Ravenclaw?” Snape asked, again intrigued.

“The hat struggled for a while, wanting to put me in Gryffindor, but eventually decided my love of knowledge for its own sake, won out over other considerations” she explained.

In due course they reached the edge of the school grounds.

“Where to now?” Celeste asked.  “Shall we give Rubeus a knock and scrounge a cup of tea?  Or shall we sit by the lake?  You didn’t finish telling me about Lily Evans.”

“No, I didn’t, did I” Snape said warily.  “Um, how about tea in my room?”

“Yes, fine” she agreed.  “I’m going up to my room first though, to dump my cloak and boots.”

They made their way to the castle.  Half an hour later they were settled in front of the fire in Snape’s sitting room. Snape had changed his mind about tea, in favour of coffee.  Celeste has opted for hot chocolate and had brought down the jar of organic chocolate granules from her room.

Snape sat in the armchair near the bureau, leaving the Chesterfield free for Celeste to curl up on.  Once again she studied the lady in the portrait.  “Is that Lily Evans?” she asked at length, as Snape seemed lost for words and had fallen silent.

“Yes” he admitted sadly.  “I made Lily lend me a photograph and had that painting produced from it.  You do know, don’t you, that she was Harry Potter’s mother.”

“Yes, I realise that” Celeste said.

“So you know she’s dead” he added carefully.

“Yes” she replied.  “I’m sorry, Severus.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because it hurts you so much” she explained.  “Even after all this time.”

He leant his head back in his chair and his knuckles whitened as they gripped the armrests.  “You must not feel too sorry for me, Celeste” he cautioned her.  “I am not an honourable man.  I have done some unforgivable things in my time.”

Celeste thought carefully about her next words.  She knew Snape was an intensely private man, but she had to risk it.  “Severus–  Just–  Just level with me” she said frankly.  “You’re leading up to something and then pulling away.  I know because I’m the same about talking about my father.  I know how it feels.”

“Curious you should mention your father” he said awkwardly.  “He was tortured by Death Eaters.  Well, you see, I was, for a while, a Death Eater myself.”

“No” she replied simply.  “You couldn’t have been.”

“Oh, you think I couldn’t stoop so low” he countered.  “I have news for you–”

“No, I don’t mean that” Celeste said, struggling to explain.  “I mean if you had been a Death Eater you would now be in Azkaban.  Or are you telling me you have never been caught?”

“Well, I never was caught” he admitted.  “I, err, changed sides.”

“Changed sides?” she asked, astonished.

“Yes.  I joined the Death Eaters on leaving school in 1973.  But within three years I had become a spy and was secretly working for the other side.”

Celeste’s mind was racing.  “So you could not have been involved in torturing my father” she said carefully.

“Well, no” Snape agreed reasonably.

“Nor killing my brothers.”

“No … No, but what does that signify?  A crime is a crime, whoever the victim” he pointed out bitterly, although he did not go on to admit to any specific crimes.

“Yes.  That’s true … Why are you telling me this?”

“Because I would not want you to have any illusions about me.”

“Did you stand trial?”

Snape was stung by the sharpness of her question – it was perhaps how he would have fired it at someone.  “No” he replied.  “I was already working against the Dark Lord, and helping to bring Death Eaters to justice when the question of a trial arose.  My integrity was vouched for by Albus.  He even gave me a job – this job.  That is how I started teaching here; I had no plan to go into teaching – I had made a mess of my life and needed a job and somewhere to live.”

“Why did you ever become a Death Eater?” Celeste asked.

“Oh, I hate this question!” he moaned, leaning forward and hiding his face with his hands.  “I don’t know, I just don’t know.  I was full of hate.  And pride.  V-Voldemort was determined to conquer death.  A potion was possibly the key to it.  Something akin to the Elixir of Life.  I was a great potion maker.  I wanted to be the best there ever was.  I was going to perfect the Death Eater potion.  It didn’t matter that Voldemort and the Death Eaters would never die.  It didn’t matter that their evil would persist and proliferate – I would be the greatest potion maker of all time!”

“Better than your father?”

“If you like, yes … Yes.  You’re probably right” he agreed softly, lowering his hands and staring into the fire.  It shocked him to realise he would never have admitted such a thing to anyone else – except possibly to Dumbledore.  “Voldemort played upon my vanity, I suppose – no I don’t suppose, I know he did!  And his plans afforded me an opportunity I otherwise would not have had.  Once you signed up to that select little club, it wasn’t exactly easy to leave.”

He picked up his forgotten coffee, drained it, and set the beaker down in the hearth.

“And, Lily?” she whispered timidly.

“Lily?  I had no expectations of Lily” he sighed hopelessly.  “She married James Potter, as I knew she would.  The Potters were, like your mother, implacable in the hunt for Death Eaters.  They suffered a similar fate – hunted down and killed.  All except Harry.”

“I need time to think” Celeste said.  “This has all been too much.  Please … excuse me.”

She got up, looking bewildered.  She, too, set her beaker down in the hearth, but rather harder than she intended; it almost cracked.  “I’ll see you at dinner” she said decisively, and was gone.

*

When Celeste entered Dumbledore’s office he could see she was upset.  He sat her down and offered her a cup of hot chocolate.

“Oh, no thank you, Uncle.  I’ve just had some” she said.

“Then what can I do for you?” he enquired gently.

“It’s about Severus.  I don’t know where to begin” she replied.  “We were telling each other our life stories.  Severus said he was once a Death Eater, a supporter of Lord Voldemort!”

“Then he told you the truth; and that is not an easy truth to tell.”

“I can’t believe it” Celeste exclaimed.  “Why is he here – at this school – teaching children?”

“I have known Severus Snape since he was eleven” Dumbledore said firmly.  “He was an unhappy child – sensitive, talented, obsessive, friendless.  Ambitious.  Not attractive in his looks.  I also met his father once.  Severus caught ’flu’ during his first winter here.  He became very ill and we grew concerned; so concerned that we thought he should be admitted to St Bathild.  It was almost a prologue to this last winter plague we have endured.  Minerva owled his father and eventually impressed upon the man to come here.  Sebastian spent all of ten minutes with the boy, said he was doing fine where he was, and we were not to fuss.  And he left.  I believe that was the last time the two of them met.

“No one saw Severus as sensitive – they saw only his father’s nature, which he has in large degree.  If anything hurts him he armour plates himself against future pain.  Over the years the armour has grown very thick.  Paradoxically, his chief fault perhaps is that he cannot always tell when he causes hurt.  Sometimes he intends to hurt others.  Sometimes he only realises afterwards, and is often too proud to make redress.  Sometime he has no notion of his affect upon others.

“When he told you he was a Death Eater, Severus spoke no more than the truth – although fanatically cautious, and at times devious, he is basically an honest man.  He has been amazingly frank with you today.  He must now feel quite vulnerable.  As to crimes he personally committed, I have no actual knowledge of any, and have been given no evidence of any.  When he came over to our side in 1976 it was to be the start of just over twenty years of working under cover to bring about Voldemort’s downfall.  For which Severus received the Order of Merlin.  We played a dangerous, elaborate game during those years – he the dark Slytherin whose motives and loyalty were always ‘suspect’; I the bastion of the righteous.  Thus Severus kept his credibility with the Death Eaters and could undermine them from within.  The game intensified in 1995 and even more so in 1996 when he ostensibly returned, a repentant ‘lapsed’ Death Eater, to Voldemort.”

Dumbledore paused, remembering how Voldemort had reacted to Snape’s ‘contrite return to the fold’.  He had been suspicious, particularly in view of Snape’s pursuit of Quirenus Quirrell, and he had been angry at Snape’s delayed response to his original summons.  To warn him never to stray again, the Dark Lord had repeatedly put Snape under the Cruciatus curse.  He had then thrown him back to spy and work for him from within Hogwarts – ironically to be hisVoldemort’s Mole!  Snape had dragged himself back to Hogwarts, ill mentally and physically, but still determined to fight on.  I cannot tell her those details, Dumbledore realised; she has too many horrors of her own already.

“He lived on a knife edge” the Headmaster continued, glossing over the minutiae.  “One whisper of his real purpose would finish him.  One mistake in his clever act would finish him.  Through all the deceptions and double-games, Severus always kept a grip on who he really was and where his true loyalty lay.  How he endured the stress and the loneliness of his unique position I do not know.  But he did.”

“He never stood trial for being a Death Eater” Celeste whispered.  It was more a statement of fact than a reproach.

“No.  He was never called to stand trial” Dumbledore confirmed, “but in his own mind Severus has put himself under trial ever since his Death Eater episode.  Perhaps he still is under trial.  He has complained bitterly at times, but always followed my orders.  Sometimes most resentfully.  He took care of Harry Potter though he hated the child and thought I over-indulged him.”  The Headmaster smiled.  “He was always trying to show that Harry should be expelled – wanted to prove to me that the boy was disobedient and meddlesome; and that I was blind to his faults.  Harry was no paragon of virtue.  But he had a destiny that none of us could alter.

“Severus will never be a popular man, and ironically, he probably will never be entirely trusted.  But I have no doubt as to his loyalty or his courage.  As to whether a witch is safe in his presence, I cannot answer that.  Minerva will doubtless have a view.”

Celeste was thinking furiously.  “Do you remember the night I got upset about the Wilson twins?” she asked.

“I do” Dumbledore assured her.

“I went up to the Astronomy Tower” she explained.  “I needed to think.  I believe Severus though I was going to commit suicide.  He was very kind to me that night – has been ever since.  He was attentive – but – didn’t invade my privacy.  I felt cared for; looked after.  It was so curiously different to the Professor Snape I had been shown prior to then.”

Dumbledore nodded.  “A caring man who hates to show he cares” he murmured.  He gazed at his grand-niece for a long moment.

“I don’t know what to do now” she said forlornly.

“Lunch, I think” Dumbledore suggested.

However Celeste decided to skip lunch.  Severus won’t approve, she thought; but she wasn’t hungry.  She had, for a while, been trying to explain to him the correlation between space and time – how in relativity theory, one must stretch as the other shrinks.  Now she sat by the fire in her room, searching through two paperback books where she knew there was an easy, fairly non-mathematical explanation she could use as an illustration.  Paul Davies’ book God and the New Physics was a possible help and she had marked page one-hundred-and-twenty-one with a Post-It Note.  However his book About Time was probably even better and she was scanning page fifty- three.

Or trying to.  Snape himself kept intruding on her quest; she found her mind repeatedly turning over the paradoxes of this difficult, complex man.

By two o’clock her stomach was rumbling.  I could order something from the kitchens, she thought; no I’ll make do with a cup of chocolate.  Where’s my chocolate?  Oh blow!  I left it in Severus’s room.

She knocked quietly on his door and heard his bored voice drawl “Come in.”

He was sitting at his desk, drafting internal examination papers.  Looking anxious, he got up hurriedly as she entered the room.

“Did I leave my chocolate here?” she asked brightly.

“Oh … Yes.”  He looked both relieved and confused.

He found the jar in his office and carried it back.  They looked at each other for a moment as if unsure of what to do next.  Then, gently, he folded his arms around her and kissed her softly on the lips.  She responded.  Without looking round, he threw the jar accurately into the Chesterfield.  Celeste heard it land, bouncing once on the leather cushions.  Snape’s arms enfolded her more tightly and his kiss became increasingly passionate as she revelled in his tenderness and power.  His restrained strength was impressive; it was threatening to turn her weak at the knees.  She was aware that he was strongly aroused and she enjoyed the fact that he wanted her.  For several minutes they remained locked in each others arms.  Finally they broke away but he continued to hold her.  Greedily his eyes devoured her, and yet there was fear in them too.

“Where do we go from here?” he whispered, his face white with uncertainty.

Unafraid, she gazed into those black, burning eyes.   “Well, not too long a journey – the bedroom’s just through there, isn’t it.” she suggested.

Review

 Author's Note: These are genuine...

God and the New Physics by Paul Davies, published in paperback by Penguin.

About Time by Paul Davies, published in paperback by Penguin.

Chapter Twelve - Darkness and Trust

Celeste awoke as the mantle clock chimed the three-quarter hour.  She didn’t move – she decided she was too comfortable, warm and relaxed to ever want to move again.  She was lying on her side in Snape’s king-size four-poster bed and he was nuzzled tightly against her back, their naked bodies pressed together.  Like two spoons in a cutlery box, she thought.

Considering his cold and sarcastic manner he was a surprising lover – playful, thoughtful, passionate.  Is he handsome, Celeste wondered?  Well, he would be if his normal expression wasn’t sneering, which it often was; or fanatically intense which it quite often was; or stern which it sometimes was.  Sometimes he looks bored, sometimes sad, often defensive, never happy or friendly.  But yes, to me he is handsome, she decided.  His teeth are uneven; not so yellow as they used to be, but not perfect.  And yet he is so alluring, so fascinating.  I know I’ve been in love with him for a while.  If I’d wanted someone conventionally handsome I could have made a play for Dieter Brandauer.  If I’d wanted someone kind and considerate, open, and happy, I could have had Charlie Weasley.  And yet Severus can be considerate – that is part of the allure, that a wizard so powerful and potentially dangerous can be tender, kind, even vulnerable.

But Dieter has a similar air of cruelty, she realised, and he is extremely handsome; so why do I want Severus?  Why did I never fall for Dieter?  Celeste had never been interested in pursuing Dieter Brandauer, but she found this idle comparison of the two wizards an interesting exercise.  Severus is arrogant, she thought.  But so is Dieter.  Severus can be insufferable.  Dieter is too much of a smarmy wheeler-dealer to portray himself as insufferable – it wouldn’t serve his purpose.  Severus is a strange mixture of ego and insecurity – that’s it!  Dieter has no insecurity!  He knows he is wonderful!  He knows he is clever!  He knows he is God’s gift to women!

And Severus has, or perhaps has developed, a certain ethical foundation, an irreducible limit beyond which he will not now sink.  He is ambitious, but not pitilessly opportunistic like Dieter.  Dieter is educated, skilled and clever.  But Severus is more – intellectual, wise, honed by sad experience.  Cold, but dependable; ultimately trustworthy.  And the only wizard I had ever found who, despite his sarcasm, will make a serious attempt at discussing mathematics and quantum physics.

Just let me stay here for ever, in this rather gothic room, with this rather gothic man.

Without moving, she checked to see how well she could recall Snape’s bedchamber.  It had the same plain green luxurious carpet laid over flagstones as was in his sitting room, but the rug by the hearth was black and pearl grey with a bold design of a ferocious black dragon.  A Hungarian Horntail, Celeste mused – fiercest dragon I ever tackled!

The bedroom walls were of stone and merged seamlessly with the vaulted ceiling.  They were unadorned except for a huge Persian carpet suspended from a brass rail on the inside of the corridor wall, opposite the foot of the bed.  It was there partly for decoration and to give the room some warmth, but mainly to conceal the disused door that lead from the bedroom to the corridor.  For reasons of security Snape had never used that door – he had sealed it when he first took up residence of the dungeons.

The hanging carpet was worked in shades of peacock blue, jade and sea green on a background of pale cream.  The central oval panel of its design showed a magnificent peacock in full display; and other animals, some commonplace, some mythical, were depicted in rectangular panels around its border.  The panel pictures were fused together into one harmonious whole by a flowing decoration of leaves and tendrils.

Apart from the carved bed, the room was furnished with two double wardrobes, a linen chest, two low seated, spoon-backed chairs, two bedside tables, a sea-captain’s chest and two trunks.  The furniture ranged from old to ancient and was of carved oak.  The bed hangings were of dark green velvet and matched the velvet upholstery of the spoon-backed chairs.  A venomous serpent, embroidered in silver threads wound across the pale green, silk counterpane.  Beneath it, cream wool blankets and silver-grey monogrammed, white cotton bed linen covered their entwined, drowsy figures.

The wardrobes flanked a black marble fireplace.  It was identical to the sitting room fireplace, and had a high shelf upon which rested a little French carriage clock with a soft double-note chime like an elfin bell.

As Celeste lay in bed, thinking Snape must have a lot of clothes to fill all this bedroom furniture, the little clock emitted five discrete double tings.

“Severus, it’s five o’clock!” she exclaimed.

“Mmmmm?” he sighed.

“We ought to get up soon” she added, half-heartedly.

“Soon … Don’t fuss” he drawled.  Snape felt blissfully sated and far too comfortable to get out of bed.  He laid his cheek against hers and his hand stroked her hip.  The edge of her pelvis was still quite sharp to touch.  “You’re fleshing out a little bit at last, thank goodness” he whispered.  “You did get very thin.”  He nibbled the lobe of her ear and moved his hand up to her breast.  “I suppose we must get up soon.  But before we do … wouldn’t madam like to have … just … one more …”

“Oh, Severus!”  She could feel him becoming aroused once again.  It was growing exceedingly apparent.  She eased her thighs apart and reached down to encourage him.  “Mmmmmm!  Oooooh, Severus!” she sighed excitedly.

*

It was six o’clock before they got out of bed.  Snape showed first and hauled a fresh set of robes out of a wardrobe.  “Get out of that bed” he growled playfully.  “You are the one who insists we mustn’t be late for dinner.”

Reluctantly Celeste slid out of bed and went into the bathroom.  “Have I got time for a bath?” she called.

“Despite your touching faith in my psychic abilities, I cannot foretell how long it takes to clean that skinny body of yours” he called back.  “Yes, of course, take a bath if you like.  But Celeste, you must– aah!  Phah!”  He spluttered as a damp sponge hit him accurately in the face, and ruefully he recalled Celeste’s Quidditch abilities.  Picking up the sponge, he lobbed it back to her.  “You must take this potion soon!” he insisted.

He started work to prepare a goblet of Contraceptive Potion.

Surrounded by a fragrance of sandalwood, Celeste basked in the warm, foamy water in the long, white, enamelled bath.  The bathroom did not look as she had imagined it.  She had expected a green colour scheme like the bedroom and sitting room, but these surroundings were predominantly soft grey, white and maroon.

The sanitary ware was white, with fittings of solid brass.  The bath and the capacious hand basin were panelled in a rich, purplish mahogany. All the wood in the room was mahogany.  The separate shower cubicle was panelled with etched glass.  The walls were clad with expansive slabs of white marble, veined with silver grey.  The floor was literally a mosaic – white, dove grey and silvery hued tesseri depicting the classical Boy-on-a-Dolphin motif, copied from the Roman Villa at Fishbourne in West Sussex.

The only mirror in the room was tiny and fixed to the wall above the hand basin.  It appeared to be a Muggle mirror.  It could be tilted to any angle and Celeste guessed Snape used it for shaving.  The hand basin’s mahogany panelling formed a vanity unit upon which she could see his shaving kit and the few toiletries he used.  Few indeed!  And hardly ever used?  But costly nevertheless – she noticed Givenchy Pour Homme, and Chanel’s Allure Homme and Egoiste Platinum.  Expensive presents from admiring witches, Celeste wondered – he certainly seems to be an experienced lover.

The Victorian wooden towel stand was draped with fluffy maroon towels, all bearing smart grey monograms – pairs of red-eyed serpents forming the capital letters SS.  The monogram motif was identical to Snape’s bed linen.

All in all, a rather masculine room, she concluded.  It reminded her of a gentlemen’s club.  She lay back and gazed at the vaulted stone ceiling with its black iron ring of candles.  They, like the bath foam, were emitting a delicate scent of sandalwood.  “Aah!  What a pity I can’t lie here all day” she sighed.  Then she remembered that she hadn’t eaten since breakfast and decided this bath must get underway!  She sat up and reached determinedly for the Chanel Allure Homme hair and body wash.

In less than half an hour Celeste emerged from the bathroom swathed in an enormous bath sheet and with a towel wrapped around her hair.  She sat on the bed, watching Snape.  He was standing in front of the mirror that hung on the inside of a wardrobe door, carefully ‘brushing’ any fluff off his black robes with his wand.  He returned the wand to his sleeve, perched on the opposite edge of the bed and leant across to her, proffering the goblet of potion he had prepared.

“You should drink this” he said solicitously.  “I am not quite ready to become a father.  Not just yet.  But perhaps … one day soon.”

She looked at him and realised there was a look of deep longing in his eyes.  “You’re a funny thing” she said, stroking his hair.  He kissed the palm of her hand.  As she sipped the potion, her eyes were again drawn to the open wardrobe door.  She could just see the mirror’s edge, and as Snape stood up she compared its position to his height.  “How can you see yourself in that mirror?” she asked.

Snape was already swinging the door closed.  “Well enough” he replied curtly.  He seemed suddenly displeased.  Or perhaps uneasy.  Maybe he didn’t like the mirror talking back, and had set it so that it did not reflect his face.

“Your wand, Severus” she asked, changing the subject.  “Is it ebony?”

“Yes” he replied proudly, pulling it out.  “It has the heartstring of a Hungarian Horntail.  And yours?”

“Red cedar” she said, picking hers up from the bedside table.

“With phoenix feather, no doubt” he added.  “Or unicorn hair.”

“No.  Mine has a dragon heartstring too – Chinese Fireball” she replied.

Snape was surprised.  “Curious” he said. “Curious we should both have dragon cores.  Red.  And black.”

“Trust you to have the Horntail” Celeste snorted.  “Fiercest dragon I ever had to handle.  And the hottest fire.  That’s where I got this from.”  She turned her arm to display the scar.

“But Chinese Fireballs are fierce, aren’t they?” he asked.

“They’re very playful” Celeste explained.  “Mischievous – a bit like Peeves.  They can produce a big mushroom burst of orange fire, but it’s not so hot as the Horntail’s.  The Horntail’s definitely you – fierce, unpredictable and blisteringly hot.”

“Hmm, enough of this character analysis, Woman” he replied.  “Come on, or we will be late.”

Celeste dressed hurriedly in her day clothes, and then went to her room to change for the evening.  “I’m sitting in my old place at dinner” she had told Snape.  “You won’t mind will you.”

He would have preferred her to sit beside him, but he didn’t mind too much.  He watched her walk into the Hall in company with McGonagall.  The Deputy Head wore her usual green velvet robe over a black dress.  Celeste looked magnificent in her velvet-edged plum robe over her high-necked carmine dress.  As usual she had put up her hair.  She sat chatting to Filch and Hagrid, and whenever she turned her head, gold glinted at her ears.  She looked across at Snape and smiled, and he felt as though his heart had turned a summersault.

* * *

From that Sunday onwards Celeste spent every night in Snape’s dungeon bedchamber because there was nowhere else she would rather be.  She knew he had a capacity for coldness and spitefulness and she wasn’t sure how this might manifest itself, but she was determined to deal with it somehow if the need arose.

She hadn’t told Snape she loved him because he hadn’t said those words to her, and she didn’t want to make him feel trapped.  But she knew she wanted no other wizard – Snape was the one!  How long he would want her, she of course could not foretell, but she was prepared to live for the moment.

Being a person who normally prowled the castle into the early hours of the morning, Snape tended to sleep as late as possible so he was surprised at first when Celeste slid out of bed at six o’clock to go for her run with Hooch.  He was a muffled heap in the bedclothes when she returned an hour later; armed with fresh clothes she had brought down from her room.  She took a shower and began to dress.  He sat up, tousle-headed and watched as a red satin bra and suspender belt smothered in black lace, were snapped into place.  Now black stockings were being fastened.  She was reaching for the briefs when he got out of bed.

Celeste’s thoughts had been upon breakfast until Snape grabbed her shoulders and kissed her.  As his kisses deepened he unhooked the brassiere and dragged it aside.  By the time he was bidding her stand on the floor, bend forward and hold onto the bed’s carved footboard, food was no longer top of her agenda.  As she dipped her back and braced her legs, her mind was filled only with the skilful caress of his hands upon her breasts and his expertise as he entered her.  Her head spun at the ecstasy of his strong thrusts.

*

Tuesday evening found Snape in a bad mood – almost a reversion to his characteristic rage.  He returned just after ten o’clock from a private meeting with McGonagall and Dumbledore, and he paced restlessly about as Celeste sat by the sitting room fire drying her hair.  She could guess what the meeting had been about – Snape had been finalising his exam papers, and she suspected the thorny subject of performance and success rate had been raised again.  It was no use asking what had upset him – he would never discuss such matters.

“Calm down, Severus” she demanded.  “Come and sit here.”

He obeyed, taking a seat on the Chesterfield.  “Sorry.  It’s been a bloody awful day, Celeste” he admitted.

She stood behind him, massaging his neck muscles through his clothes.  Eventually he began to relax.  “You ought to let me do this for you properly” she suggested.  I have some oil with lavender, white rose and linden that would help you to unwind.”

He stood up and caught her wrists, forcing her to walk around to his side of the sofa.  Then he pulled her fiercely against him.  “I can think of a far better way to unwind” he murmured.  “Can’t you?”  He buried his hands in her damp and fragrant hair and kissed her; lightly, and then more deeply.  “I need this” he said hoarsely “I need this now.  No, not in there; here” he added, as she made a move towards the bedroom.

He bent down and with one smooth, swift movement grabbed the hem of her towelling tunic and lifted it up and off.  Celeste gasped, but made no objection.  He waved his wand and cleared the top of his desk, banishing piles of papers, ink bottles and quills to the top of the cupboard.  A further wave doused the ring of candles, leaving the room in the bright glow of the firelight.  He pointed his wand in turn at the door to the corridor and the door to the office, muttering twice the single word “Ungoliant”; the password that locked them.  Then easily, as if she had been a child, he picked her up, carried her to the desk and laid her down upon it.

“Severus, this is crazy” she breathed.  “You’re too tall for– … I’ll have a cushion for my head, please.”

Summoning a velvet cushion from the Chesterfield, he tucked it under her head, and then proceeded to cover her upper body in kisses, from her mouth to her breasts.  Lips and tongue applied to her nipples brought a whimper of pleasure and a plea for more.  His hair brushed her body and she held his head in place, making him spend longer at her breasts.  “Oh yes; please take me now” she whispered.

He shrugged off his robe, hastily removed his tunic and unbuttoned his white shirt as far as it would go, exposing some of his sparse black chest hair.  He unbuttoned his breeches.

His sensitive hands slid down her stomach and explored lower, gently probing, teasing, testing whether she was ready, and his lips curled into a cruel smile as he noted that she was.  He took up position at the end of the desk, grasped her ankles and dragged her towards him so that her buttocks came to rest a trace over the desk’s edge.  The sharp movement caused her head to slide off the cushion, but he reached out and pulled it beneath her again.  Then he lifted her legs straight up, settling her calves against his shoulders.  Gently he entered her and lent forward, curling his hands around the upper part of her thighs to keep their bodies close together; thrusting hard; penetrating deeply.

He was too quick for her, but she was intoxicated by the sight of him standing tall above her; with hair flopping forwards and his expression in the dim light its usual dangerous mixture of lack of inhibition and fierce determination.

“Aaaaaah, Celeste!  Oh!  I’m sorry” he gasped at the end.  He sighed and smiled.  “I’ll make it up to you” he said softly.

Weak at the knees, he slumped against the desk.  Then he drew slowly away from her and threw himself into the swivel chair.  He brushed her lips with his own and smoothed her hair.  “Move back up a little” he commanded.  “You’re too far over the edge now.”

His choice of words brought a grim smile to his lips as he helped Celeste to adjust her position, relax her legs and settle the cushion in place.  Figuratively speaking she was almost ‘over the edge’.  He kissed her lovingly; then dragged the swivel chair to the end of the desk and prepared to put his head between her legs, but her voice stopped him.

“No!” she cried.  “No; what are you doing?  I– … Please, no!  I hurt very easily, Severus.”

It was only then that it occurred to Snape that Celeste had particularly large inner labia – possibly the largest he had ever seen.  She was very strongly aroused, yet the thought of pain was threatening to turn it all off – to destroy it.  He had never known a witch to refuse this form of gratification, but then he reflected bitterly his experience was almost entirely limited to ‘professional ladies’.  He would have to wise up fast, and learn to be careful.  Celeste might be broad-minded and experimental, but she was exacting in her needs.  He laid his head against her thigh and sighed “I won’t hurt you, Celeste.  Permit me to do this.  You will like it – I promise.  Just trust me.  I will be careful.”  His hands caressed her legs and his voice was as soft and reassuring as he could make it.  “Just trust me” he repeated.

She still looked afraid but there were not more protests.  At last she nodded her head.  With care he turned the labia aside and eased back the labial hood to expose the clitoris.  All the tissues were engorged, he noted.  Tenderly his lips and tongue caressed her, and she gasped, never having felt anything so good.  As she relaxed, his long arms snaked up her body until his hands supported her breasts.  Eyes closed and brain concentrating, he worked gently on.  He didn’t have to work long.

Once he was satisfied he had pleased her sufficiently, he stopped, conscious that the ecstasy of a multiple climax can all too soon give way to discomfort.  Bending forward to rest his head on her stomach, he murmured “You are very beautiful, Celeste. Very beautiful indeed.  I am extraordinarily privileged to be able to … possess … so much beauty” and felt the answering touch of her fingers in his hair.  After a short rest he carried her to bed.

She dozed for a while in his arms but Snape was wakeful now.  His thoughts returned to his row with Dumbledore and more particularly with McGonagall.  “Bloody bitch!” he mumbled.

“Whose is?” Celeste asked sleepily.  Snape was shocked; he wasn’t aware he had voiced his thought – he was so used to being alone in his dungeon rooms that, once there, he tended to dispense with the divide between thinking and speaking.  Celeste was too drowsy to pursue her question.  “You’re a clever bastard” she muttered dreamily.

He grinned – he did indeed feel pleased with himself.  And he smiled, too, at her choice of words – the last time he had heard Celeste use the word bastard, she had been cursing Filch for spying on her, and he and Celeste had been enemies.  How things had changed!

“And who was the not-so-clever bastard who hurt you?” he asked dryly, hoping it would not turn out to be himself.

“Who–?  Oh–  No.”  Celeste was fully awake now.  “No.  No one actually hurt me” she explained.  “I just know how sensitive I am – I do know my own body, Severus.”

He ran his lips along her eyebrow, nibbling softly.  “And did you find that as good as I promised?” he enquired.

“Oooh; wow!  Amazing!  Ha!”  She started to chuckle.  “Oh yes, you weren’t kidding.”

“Mmm” he replied happily.  “Well.  Now you know.  And I hope you know that you can trust me.  There, err, there is something similar I might like you to do for me, at times” he added meaningfully.

She nuzzled his ear.  “That’s fine – that’s not a problem” she whispered.  “Nothing you want is a problem.  I have only two requirements – don’t hurt me, and I want you to be careful about hygiene at certain times, or if choosing certain, err, ‘positions’.  My intention is for you to have whatever you want whenever you want it.  Just let me know.  If I need to say ‘no’ I will, but it will be rare.  Do you understand?”

He hugged her fiercely and nodded his head.  “Does this mean you are saying yes to anal?” he murmured, wanting to be absolutely sure there was no misunderstanding between them.

“Yes, whatever” she replied.

“Are you saying yes to any day of the month?”

“Almost.  Yes.  If sometimes it has to be no, I’m sure we can find other means.  But I’ll be the one to decide ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  OK?”

He held her tightly and nodded again, too emotional to speak.  He had never felt loved and cherished like this before.

As she again began to drift asleep, Celeste realised she had taken a chance.  And it had paid off.  Despite her fear, she had put her trust in Snape, and he had not let her down.  He had not allowed his natural spitefulness to take advantage of her vulnerability.  Perhaps he really does love me, she thought; he even told me how beautiful I am, at a moment when I feared I was most ugly.

*

Most of their evenings were filled with love making – Celeste was delighted to note that Snape had considerable requirements for frequent sexual gratification; and also for affection and human warmth, although he would never admit his fierce needs for the latter.  Sex used up his energy – he no longer needed to prowl the castle and he rarely required a potion to help him sleep.

However, not every night was filled with ecstasy.  There was one occasion when a blackness of despair settled around him.  They went to bed early and Snape lay half sitting up, propped with his V-shaped pillow, holding Celeste tightly to him all night, as if she was his anchor in a storm.  He wouldn’t speak.  His mind was filled with unbidden horrific memories of many encounters with Voldemort, and bitter regrets stemming from his early Death Eater days.  Celeste said she would walk around the castle with him if he wished, but he just shook his head and held her closer.  She seemed to understand his need for silence.  She had had her share of horrors and had found ways to cope with them.  She lay beneath his arm, clinging to him, her arms wrapped around his waste.  Eventually, by the early hours of the morning, he noticed she had fallen into a light sleep.  He too was dozing by four o’clock, and as it was a weekend they allowed themselves the luxury of a lie-in.  In the morning he let her massage him with warm oil, and felt wonderful afterwards.  Later, they lay on the dragon rug and made slow-burning love by the smouldering fire.

*

Snape realised he had broken his rule about no personal involvement at the school.  At times he wondered how things would work out in the long term, but he decided to manage whatever situation happened when it happened.  Physically he was exceptionally happy with Celeste.  He understood that she had a fear of pain – there was no masochistic side to her nature – so he was careful never to hurt her, nor to do anything that she might find degrading.

He was aware also, that he had reached the stage in his life when he could seriously consider getting married if any witch would have him.  Voldemort had been defeated and was beyond being a threat to anyone, he had won his Order of Merlin which gave him much of the recognition he desperately craved, and, despite some problems at school, he felt adequately secure in his job and wealthy enough to cope if Dumbledore ever dismissed him.  It was time to think about building a more complex personal life.  Celeste had never said she loved him, yet he dared to hope and believe that she did.  He couldn’t yet say whether he actually loved her; his hurt over the loss of Lily had made him put up a barrier to falling in love; but he was conscious of the fact that for some time Celeste had been unquestionably the most important person in his emotional life.  Certainly, he couldn’t bear the thought of losing her.

Yet he would hardly have admitted to having an emotional side to his life.

Review

Chapter Thirteen - Ethics and Boggarts

Unbeknown to Snape, Sirius Black and Madeline Hooch were also permanent bedfellows, and they too were thinking tentatively in terms of their future.  They had the chance of tickets for the Paris Opera House and Hooch suggested to Snape that he and Celeste might like to share a box.  She knew they both enjoyed classical music.

“Come on, Severus, it’s time you took the girl out” she told him.  “We’re going to see Madam Butterfly, I’m sure she’ll love that.”

But the idea of an evening in the company of Sirius Black was too daunting a prospect for Snape, although he had to admit they had got on far better than expected when Black had deputised as Head of Slytherin House.  The plague had been so dreadful, everyone had worked hard to put past differences behind them.

Snape did not know Puccini’s Madam Butterfly.  It was a little modern for him – apart from Gustav Holst’s Planet Suite, most of the music he knew belonged to the nineteenth century and before.  He though about Hooch’s offer for a few minutes but finally declined without consulting Celeste, deciding he would make it up to her at some other time.

*

The Easter holidays were approaching and Dumbledore let the staff know about the plans for an award ceremony at The Ministry of Magic.  Sprout, Snape, and Celeste were to receive bronze St Mungo medals for their work in devising new treatments and methods.  Pomfrey, Hooch and Sinistra were to be presented with St Mungo certificates of commendation for their tireless commitment to nursing the sick patients.  And the school was to receive a shield in recognition of its excellent developmental work and innovative approach to combating the plague.

The plague.  That colloquialism was starting to stick – in years to come it would become known as the Winter Plague of Ninety-Nine.

The award ceremony was arranged for Wednesday 31st March.  The presentations would be made in the morning and would be followed by a buffet lunch.  As the ceremony was scheduled for just after the start of the holidays Snape wondered whether he might be able to extend his Easter break, and as he hoped to stay away longer than usual, he cleared it with Dumbledore first.

The next hurdle was to approach Sirius Black.  Much as he loathed asking a favour of Black, he could see no other option.  He cornered the Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor in his office, thanked him a little stiffly for deputising as Head of Slytherin, and asked if he would be prepared to cover for a few days during the Easter holidays.

“Well, well” Black remarked with ill-suppressed glee, “I never though you’d come to me for a favour.”  His handsome face had taken on a sneer as cold as Snape’s, and Snape fought hard not to make an acid comment, or storm off, or – worst of all – punch him on the nose.  “Yes.  Very well” Black agreed suddenly, and Snape nodded back with a petulant half-smile.  “Oh; one other thing” Black said, looking slightly embarrassed.  “Look, I haven’t mentioned this to anyone else, but … well … I’ve been thinking you ought to know.  Maddie and me … we’re, well … things are serious between us.  Dumbledore knows, and McGonagall.  No one else.  I’d appreciate it if you keep it under your hat for now.  OK?”

“Why are you telling me?” Snape asked suspiciously.

“Well, I though you were once a bit sweet on Maddie.  That’s all” Black explained.  “Sorry if I read the signs wrong.”

“No … well … there was never anything between us, but – she’s a great girl” Snape admitted.  His thoughts returned to Celeste as he began to walk away.  “Hope things work out for you” he added with a note of sincerity that left Black utterly astonished.

Finally having got all the snags sorted out, Snape could ask Celeste if she would like to spend a few days with him in London.  “We could stay for the Easter weekend” he suggested hopefully.  “What do you think?  Will you come with me to London?  Shall I see if I can book accommodation?”

“Will I go with you to London” Celeste repeated slowly.  “Severus, I would go with you to the ends of the Earth if you asked me.  Yes, I would love to go to London with you!”

He pulled her towards him into a fierce hug.  “Orrrh, Severus, you’re squeezing me to death!” she gasped, so he relaxed his grip slightly.  “I do love you” she added.

“I love you, too” he whispered shyly, surprised to hear himself say it.

“Tell me more about this trip” Celeste demanded.  And, very important, when do you have in mind to return?”

“Why?” he asked in amazement.  “We haven’t got there yet and you are asking about coming back!”

“Well, I need some time before the start of next term to get prepared.  Don’t forget I’m still covering Dora’s third years” Celeste reminded him.  “It’s easy for you – you’re used to teaching.  You just seem to take it in your stride.”

They decided to spend five days in London, returning on Sunday 4th April.  As soon as he had a couple of hours to spare Snape Apparated at The Necromancer – the five star hotel near Gringotts Bank.  He wanted to book adjoining rooms and he wanted to see what was available.  I can’t just book a double room, he thought.  What if she thinks I’m taking too much for granted?  But I don’t want our rooms to be miles apart – that would be awful!  And I do want a decent bed, something a bit luxurious if it can be managed.  Fortunately the hotel had the perfect answer – their Xerxes suite comprised two en-suite double bedrooms connected by a sitting room.  It cost a fortune, even at half-board, but the rooms were spacious and well appointed.

Snape was delighted.  He explained to Dumbledore that he and Celeste would be spending the Easter weekend in London and would need to check in at The Necromancer before going to the award ceremony.  They would catch up with the rest of the Hogwarts’ party at the Ministry later that morning.

Dumbledore beamed and said “Ah!  I see why you have been looking a little happier lately, Severus.”

Snape smiled back hesitantly.  “It’s early days yet, Headmaster” he said guardedly.

Yes, he thought to himself, it is early days.  Celeste responded to him like no other witch ever had.  There was an honesty in her uninhibited lovemaking that was without guile; and that feeling was new to him.  I’ve had sex with witches in every position possible, he thought.  I’ve done all the tricks and had them all done to me.  But I’ve never had sex with a woman who loved me before – that, I suppose, is the difference!

It was an important difference.  Surely Celeste was the witch to become his wife.  If she would have him.  Coldly and objectively Snape evaluated the pros and cons.  Celeste understood his black moods – apart from one slightly alcoholic evening of counselling with Dumbledore, she was the only person he had ever let witness this side of his life.  She was beautiful, intelligent, well educated, quite resilient, independent, unpretentious, and kind.  She had skills he didn’t have – she could drive a car, swim, fly well, play Quidditch, even ride a horse.  She understood the physical properties of substances, but had no outstanding expertise when it came to making potions – that was not where her creativity lay; he would retain the mastery there!  She was good with the pupils and would surely make a wonderful mother; and although Snape didn’t particularly like children, he wanted to be married and he wanted to be a father of several intelligent, gifted children.  Celeste was by no means the ‘rich little bitch’ of his sweeping assumptions all those years ago.  True, she came from a wealthy and cultured family, but she was dedicated in her work and not afraid to work hard.  If I miss this opportunity, he said to himself, I’ll be the biggest fool that ever walked this earth.

*

However dinner at the hotel on their first evening together did not work out in accordance with Snape’s expectations.  In the preceding days he had, at times, fancifully pictured himself in charge of events, selecting their food and wine, Celeste dutifully complying with his choices, impressed with his worldliness and his impeccable taste.  The reality was markedly different – Celeste had very definite ideas about what she would eat and drink.

Snape chose bacon-wrapped scallops roasted with lemon and parsley as his starter but Celeste asked for the tomato, apple and celery soup.  He selected breast of Barbary duck with a plum and brandy sauce for his main course, but she chose spinach and mushroom cannelloni with ratatouille and plain boiled potatoes.  As she hadn’t chosen meat or fish he was not at all sure what to do about the wine.  He preferred red but decided to suggest a white wine, as most of the witches he had ever entertained seemed to drink dry white wine.

“I can recommend this” he said at length.  “This rather fine Chablis, if you are in the mood for a white wine.”  He was determined to choose his words carefully – he had never forgotten the day the platinum blonde Veela witch had publicly humiliated him for his sarcasm, and in this very restaurant.

“Just a still mineral water for me, please” Celeste said.  “British, if you have it” she directed to the waiter.  Turning back to Snape she added “I don’t usually drink alcohol, Severus.  And I don’t eat meat.”

Snape was astonished!  A little anger stirred deep inside him.  “You might have thought to mention to me that you are a vegetarian” he said testily.  Celeste looked puzzled at his angry reaction.

He lapsed into silence.  He had never known.  Never noticed!  She never sat next to him at lunch or dinner at Hogwarts, and he had paid no heed to the small selection of vegetarian options available since last September, because they had largely coincided with other menu changes – a whole range of European, Indian and Oriental dishes that had never been on offer to staff before.  They were a recent introduction by Alfonso Morelli.  Yes, he thought at length, she always drinks water or fruit juice or some form of tea; she always has muesli or porridge and an egg for breakfast; she doesn’t even have any butter on her bread!  Snape prided himself on his powers of observation and felt a fool for not realising what that must mean.  “Do you not like meat?” he ventured.

“I love it” Celeste replied.  “I just don’t like the way it’s produced.  The way the animals are kept in intensive conditions; the inevitable mistakes in the so-called humane slaughter process.  I don’t want to be a part of that cruelty.  It’s not for me, any of it.”

“Oh!” he said, very taken aback.  “Err, I eat meat.”

“That’s up to you” Celeste replied.  “It’s your choice.  I’ve made mine.”

“And alcohol?”

“Quite a lot of alcoholic drinks use animal products – gelatine and so forth, crushed bone, slaughterhouse products” Celeste explained.  “Again, it’s not for me.  I do like alcohol, and some drinks are free of animal products, but I like tea and natural juices just as much, and when I’m not at home it’s easier to stick with them.  I like to be confident about what I’m eating and drinking.  Remember when I hired the chainsaw and shredder when I was helping Rubeus catch up with his grounds maintenance?  I hired them from Hogallen Farm.  They farm organically and keep their animals in free-range conditions, weather permitting.  And they are licensed to slaughter.  I’ve seen their methods – they use the Avada Kedavra Curse.  I helped put together a contract with them for the kitchens.  That’s why I don’t mind having their skimmed milk – I have Soya milk at home.  And sunflower oil spread.”

“But where is the logic here?” Snape protested.  “You still don’t eat meat, even at school.”

“No.  Well, I’m used to not eating it” she replied.  “But the school gets through loads of meat anyway.  The fewer animals that are eaten in the world, the less misery there is.  You wouldn’t have noticed but I don’t wear leather and suede – my bags, shoes and belts are all Muggle substitutes – Ethical Wares – it’s a firm in Wales.  My supposedly silk and satin cloths are synthetic fabrics.  About the only thing I have of true animal origin is my dragon hide gloves.”

Snape was painfully aware that he had noticed – noticed but not realised.  She said no more about her views.  She seemed relaxed about the whole matter.  He suddenly remembered his storeroom full of specimens and stocks of animal body parts.  “How did you cope with doing Potions at school?” he enquired.

“I just had to get on with it” Celeste explained.  “I would actually have preferred to kill and dismember my own animals.  I’m not squeamish, and I don’t mind if animals are killed by a curse.  They die instantly.  It’s pain and suffering I’m against – especially if it’s preventable.  It’s not such an issue with potion ingredients and in the magical community in general – most animals are killed by cursing.  Muggles don’t have that ability.  That’s where cruelty on an industrialised scale really takes off – in the Muggle world.  Look, I’m happy to talk about this, Severus” she added considerately, “but it may end by putting you off your dinner.  Meat-eaters invariably are put off, when faced with gory realities.”

Tactfully she moved the conversation on to another subject.  As dinner drew to a close she asked if Snape would like to go for a walk.

“We could stroll by the river” she suggested.

“That would mean entering Muggle London” he replied in alarm.

“We’ll be OK in our cloaks; they’ll just think we’re a bit theatrical” Celeste assured him.

Snape had to admit to himself that he enjoyed his amble by the Thames.  Muggle London was bright with lights and he gradually began to worry less about its unfamiliarity.  Celeste’s unselfconsciousness was infectious.

Lying in bed that night he pondered the day’s events; Celeste receiving her medal with modesty and grace, telling him she was a vegetarian, explaining why she didn’t drink.

The toiletries in her bathroom – not tested on animals, he said to himself.  I was looking for clues, but I was so preoccupied with the sinister that I didn’t see what was in front of my eyes.  I looked at it all, but I didn’t see it.  He had put his arm around her and she was lying tightly against him again, one arm across his chest.  He stroked her shoulder.  She mumbled in her sleep and clung to him more tightly, like a little child.  She doesn’t seem to mind too much that I eat meat and drink alcohol, he thought.  She expects me to make up my own mind about such things, and to recognise and respect her values.

They slept late the following morning and had a lazy breakfast; then strolled the length of Di Vios, Knockturn and Diagon Alleys, browsing the shops.  Snape purchased a few toiletries to re-stock his bathroom supplies of Muggle brands, and in Gladrags Wizardwear Celeste bought an emerald green glazed-cotton day dress and she persuaded Snape to buy a black Fedora.

“With a hat like that and your cloak and boots, you’ll definitely be considered just someone from the word of the theatre” she explained.  “Muggles may think you slightly strange, but it won’t cause much comment.  Certainly not in central London.”

When they reached All Things Witchy, Celeste said she wanted a ‘quick look round’.  Snape had a shrewd idea what a quick look around meant.  The shop was packed with a fascinating mixture of junk jewellery, haberdashery, silks, lingerie, carved candles and aroma therapy oils.  In Snape’s opinion no witch could manage a ‘quick’ look around, so he opted to sit outside Florian Fortescue’s Ice Cream parlour and have a cup of coffee, while she shopped.

It was a cold but bright morning and he sat under a yellow sun umbrella sipping a Mocha Latte.  He watched a slender Japanese witch emerge from All things Witchy clutching two of their large purple and lavender carrier bags.  She was wearing an embroidered jade green satin sheath dress, and had two very small girls with her; obviously her daughters.  The children ran around, happy and excited, looking as bright as butterflies.

I wonder if I shall have two little girls, Snape mused.

“Hello, Professor” a voice said.

He hadn’t seen the young man approaching, but suddenly Snape was aware that a plump young wizard in formal dark grey robes was standing at his table.  Holding the wizard’s hand and standing slightly out of view behind him was a young witch with a freckled complexion and masses of dark red hair.  Snape gazed at their faces.

“Mr Longbottom” he said, amazed.  “And, Miss Weasley!  I–  You–  You look so different away from school.”

The young witch was very attractive.  Her movements were willowy and sinuous.  She looked nothing like the rather uninteresting little girl who was in her last year at school; the girl whose dark red hair was always tied back and hidden by her hat.

Neville Longbottom was different too. He had been a bundle of nerves and incompetence at school.  Now he had an air of quiet self-assurance.

“Would you, err, like to join me?” Snape found himself asking.  “I’m just waiting for a friend to finish her shopping.”  They sat down and Snape snapped his fingers for a waiter.  “What can I get you?” he enquired in that tone that said he was in charge.

Politely they requested Cappuccino, and Snape indulged in a second Mocha Latte.  He asked Neville what he was doing now that he had left school.

“I’m working at the Department for Magical Education” Neville explained.  “Arthur, Ginny’s father, tipped me off about a vacancy coming up, and I applied.”

They sought for things to talk about as they sat in the bright spring sunshine.  Ginny was rather shy but Neville was full of enthusiasm about their future.  It transpired they were planning to get engaged once Ginny left school in the summer, and they hoped to marry in the following spring.  Snape looked afresh at this clumsy boy he had written off as hopeless.

Clutching a purple carrier bag from All Things Witchy’s lingerie section, Celeste came over and joined them.  To Snape’s surprise she knew Neville and Ginny very well, so the foursome was soon chatting happily.  Eventually they fell to reminiscing.

Ginny mentioned the incident of the Basilisk in the chamber of secrets as being her most frightening and most famous event at school.  This prompted Neville to remind Snape about the Boggart, as he felt it was his own most famous Hogwarts moment.  Laughingly, he recalled the day when Remus Lupin had used a Boggart in a Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson.

“Hey, my House Master did that with us!” Celeste said.  “Remus is also now a Beauxbaton House Master.  They are friends – Remus Lupin and Septimus Peor.”

“Orrh, that was his best lesson ever!” Neville said passionately.  “Only trouble is, my Boggart emerged as Professor Snape – I knew it would of course – and I dressed him up in my grandmother’s clothes.  She has this awful old, lace-edged, green dress – still got it!  And a big crimson plastic hand bag.  And she wears this hat with a stuffed vulture on the top.  I managed it though – eventually.  Trouble was, the story of Professor Snape dressed up like that went round the school like wildfire!”

“Yes, it did wonders for my authority in the staff room, not to mention the Slytherin common room!  Thank you, Neville” Snape responded sarcastically.

They all laughed.  Snape however was slightly displeased.  He felt Neville was putting on an act to impress his girlfriend; apart from Herbology he had surely never liked any subject, so why this sudden feigned passion for Defence Against the Dark Arts?  Snape was also embarrassed that the Boggart incident had been mentioned, but he was determined to take it in good part.  Celeste however looked thoughtful.

“Well, we had better be making tracks” Ginny said at last.  “Thank you for the coffee, Professor.”  She and Neville got to their feet.

“I won’t be at St Mungo’s on Saturday, Celeste” Neville said.  “Ginny and I went this morning.  Are you visiting on Saturday?”

“Not this month” Celeste replied with a dazzling smile.  “Father’s home for Easter.  And possibly for longer.”

They said their goodbyes and Snape watched Neville and Ginny walking away hand in hand.

*

Having breakfasted late they didn’t want lunch.  They spent the afternoon in The Elfin Gallery looking at works of wizarding art and then returned to the hotel to relax before dinner.

“You’re very quiet” Snape observed.  “Is anything wrong, Celeste?”

“There’s something I want to talk to you about” she said.  “Can we have dinner early and then go for a drink?”

Perplexed, he agreed.  She chatted almost normally at dinner but although she seemed to be trying hard, there was the faint undercurrent of an atmosphere.  He was most surprised at her suggestion of a tavern.

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice?” he retorted.  “Have you ever been there?”

“Mmm.  I do know London, Severus” she reminded him.  “I did live here for a while, remember?”

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was a dark and gothic tavern in Knockturn Alley, frequented by all sorts of creatures, and notoriously popular amongst the Dark Wizarding fraternity.  Snape could picture himself drinking there, but not a sensitive creature such as Celeste.

Celeste, however, walked into the tavern quite casually, nodded to one of the barmen whom she seemed to know, paid no heed to the noisy rabble of wizards, goblins, hags and a half-giant who were leering at her from the bar, and chose a table in one of the private booths.  There were a number of these booths, enclosed in ancient wooden panelling carved with strange and gruesome devices.  They were exceptionally effective at soaking up the sound of conversations, making the booths ideal for clandestine meetings.

“Well, I’ll order you a pumpkin juice” Snape began, “but it might come laced with Devil’s Claw.”  He referred to a hallucinogenic potion popular amongst Dark Wizards.

“Actually, I will have a drink” Celeste said.  She sounded very business-like.  “Err, Jean-Claude?”  She called one of the young barmen over and in faultless French requested a bottle of red wine.  Except that the wine was a Merlot Syrah and came from southern France, Snape understood not a word of their exchange.  “And don’t try giving me anything else, Jean” she concluded firmly in English.

“You must try this – I think you’ll like it” she said to Snape.  “It’s an organic wine – a blend of two grapes produced in the South of France.”

Stunned this display of authoritative worldliness, Snape sat down.  “I thought you didn’t drink” he breathed, “yet here you are, quite at home in a dive like this!  Is there anything else I should know about you?”

“You’re forgetting my parents lived in France and I went to school there for years!  My father is French” Celeste reminded him.  “But I suppose the real point is, Mother was an Auror!  She knows her way around, and she can take care of her self.  And so can I.  We’ve been to this inn a few times.  It has its good points, like the privacy afforded by these enchanted booths.”

Jean-Claude arrived carrying two goblets and an unopened bottle which he uncorked using a corkscrew.  He poured the wine for Celeste to taste, but she passed the goblet to Snape who pronounced it excellent.  Reading the label, Snape noticed it was suitable for vegetarians and vegans and bore an organic certification number.  He decided against asking her what a vegan was.

“Well, let’s get it over” he sighed at last.  “You’ve got something on your mind, and it must be bad if you need to force-feed me alcohol to cope with it.”

But this time Celeste didn’t smile at his wry and world-weary turn of phrase.  “It’s about Neville’s story about the Boggart” she began.  “Is it true?”

“Of course” Snape insisted.

“Doesn’t that matter to you?” Celeste asked carefully.

“In what way?” Snape replied, thinking she must be alluding to his slight loss of face.  It wasn’t that bad, he thought.

“Look, you know that a Boggart assumes the shape of the thing we most fear” Celeste said.  “I told you what it becomes for me – my father burning almost to death.  Are you calmly telling me that when he was a schoolboy of thirteen or so, Neville was so afraid of you that his Boggart took on your shape?  And that all that meant to you was that it made you look a bit foolish?”

Snape paused, feeling he was on shaky ground.  “It’s not absolute, it’s relative” he countered irritably.  “Just the thing he most feared.  It just showed Neville didn’t have anything much that frightened him.”

“Oh–yes–he–had!” Celeste said with a menacing softness.  “I know that for a fact!  I know Neville, Severus!  I’ve been seeing him at St Mungo’s for as long as I can remember.  Do you know why he goes to St Mungo’s?”

“I didn’t know he did” Snape muttered in a guilty admission.

“I visit my father who has periods of mental trauma” Celeste said, her voice breaking momentarily and recovering, “and Neville visits his parents who are in a similar condition – far worse, actually – they are insane.  They will never leave that hospital.  They do not recognise Neville, but, although he dreads it, he dutifully visits them regularly.  That’s what the nature of his Boggart should be, Severus.  That is what his Boggart would be, now – probably.”

Snape’s pale face turned paler.  To cover his mounting rage and anxiety he drained his goblet and refilled it.

“Not his teacher” Celeste whispered.  “Not a House Master at his school.  No teacher should inspire a pupil with so much fear!  Neville’s a bit inept, but he isn’t a bad boy – he can’t ever have deserved that of anyone.”

Snape said nothing.  A vein throbbed visibly at his temple.  Not for the first time he felt his world was collapsing.

“Is that why you don’t want me in your classroom?” Celeste asked with deadly calm.  “Would I not approve of what sometimes goes on in your classroom?”

“I’m not sitting here and taking this from you” Snape hissed angrily.  “I will not have my teaching ability called into question!  And not by a trainee!”  He stood up, knocking over his goblet.  Dazed, he hesitated for a second, looking at the spilt wine, and then stormed out of the tavern in a billow of black.

Celeste righted the goblet and cleared the spilt wine with a wave of her wand.  She sat for some minutes finishing her own wine and thinking.  It had been just as bad as she feared.  Two concerns were uppermost in her mind.

First, and by far the most important, was the probability that Snape bullied his students.

A secondary consideration was Snape’s own teaching career.  While she had been helping McGonagall with administrative duties, Celeste had been privy to certain information regarding the teachers’ performance records.  McGonagall let her work on the evaluation of past exam results, and Celeste, poking and prying a little further than was strictly allowed, knew that year after year Snape’s pass rate was thought to be too low.  In terms of consistency he was the worst teacher in the school – even Trelawney could beat him too often.  Dumbledore kept Snape on because his reliability in a crisis was evaluated at one-hundred percent, he was the most talented maker of potions the school had ever come across, and he had had a pivotal part to play in the defeat of Voldemort.

But that last consideration was in the past; Voldemort was a soulless shell in Azkaban.

Celeste knew she couldn’t talk to Snape about his unacceptable pass rate without breaching a confidence, and McGonagall would never forgive her if she proved herself untrustworthy.  The Deputy Headmistress had perhaps been a little more lenient than usual, in view of the fact that Celeste was related to Dumbledore and she was also by temperament and by family connection a ‘fellow Gryffindor’.

Celeste realised too that it would be difficult to mention Snape’s performance without giving away clues as to those of the other staff.  And that would not be ethical.  She was fairly certain that Dumbledore and McGonagall had on occasions raised the matter of work performance with Snape and that he had, so far, proved unreceptive to their comments.  But they wouldn’t give up.  Like Snape himself, Dumbledore and McGonagall were fearless and unrelenting in pursuit of their aims.  If they discovered evidence of serious bullying, things could turn very ugly very quickly.  No, she had to get through to him somehow.  If only he wasn’t such a difficult man!

I suppose that’s why I love him, she thought.

She finished her wine, paid at the bar – ignoring the comments of the rowdy crowd – and left.  Not wanting to walk the length of dingy Knockturn Alley, she Disapparated for the short journey to The Necromancer.  She ordered a black coffee and sat in the lounge to drink it.  Then at ten o’clock she quietly entered her own room and got ready for bed.  Before settling down however, she propped open the door to the sitting room – she believed in keeping channels of communication open.  She listened at Snape’s door but there was no sound from his room.

Feeling very sad she climbed into bed.  Against her will, her brain kept re-running scenes from the day, and she couldn’t get to sleep.  Have I done the wrong thing, she asked herself.  Severus is so full of pride and I have wounded it deeply.  Have I lost him for good?  What –?  What do I really want?

This took a lot of thinking through, but she couldn’t settle down to sleep, so she decided to draw up a wish list to try to bring some order to her thoughts.  What I really want is to be married to Severus and to have his children, she realised.  Well, I’ve probably blown the chance of that, but what if I haven’t?  He’s never proved himself good with children; none of the students have a good word for him except some of his Slytherins, and even they are always on their guard.  If Neville is to be believed, Severus is quite capable of striking abject fear into the hearts of students, so how would he be with little children?  Worse?

None of the staff really like him, except Madeline who warned me he’d hurt me, and gentle, happy-go-lucky Felix who loves everyone and everything.  And Uncle Albus, who gave him a second chance.  But if I let Uncle Albus know about the bullying I think his attitude to Severus would change.  Minerva certainly wouldn’t stand for it.

(Because Dumbledore had fought shy of revealing the saddest details of Snape’s past and because Snape would never divulge to her the full horror of his encounters with Voldemort, Celeste could not know that Dumbledore would never abandon Snape.  If necessary the Headmaster would take steps to protect the students, but he would never simply dismiss Snape and throw him out to exist on his own resources.)

Poor Neville, Celeste thought.  He doesn’t know what a hornets nest he’s stirred up.  Good thing he did it, though.

What if we married but didn’t have children, and if Severus could be persuaded to give up teaching; do something else; make potions for a living?  But I’ve always wanted children – would it tear our marriage apart to be childless?  Perhaps we can’t have children – who knows?  If we had children, and if he was cruel to them, I’d end up leaving him; take the children away with me.  So the marriage would be over, anyway.

What if I cut my losses and looked to marry someone else?  At least that’s realistic – Severus probably won’t give me a second chance.

And who will I marry?  A nice kind wizard like Charlie who’ll be a wonderful father.  And whose life I’ll make a misery of within twenty years, and I’ll eventually walk out on.  People need to marry for love.  They need a reasonable degree of financial security, and they need a common set of values, but they need to adore one-another; yearn for one-another; be aroused by one-another.  Oh; this is hopeless…

Eventually she drifted into a troubled sleep.  She dreamt she was entering an old, walled, herb garden.  Opening a black iron gate, she stepped into a garden of little square beds, each growing a different plant.  A Muggle was working in the garden; someone she knew; it looked like Fred Wheeler.  She went to speak to him but as he straightened up and turned she saw he was a chessman – a White Pawn.  Then she realised the whole garden was a chessboard and she was a White Rook.

“Where is the Black Bishop?” she asked, but he made no reply.  Frantically she began searching, but every piece she approached jeered at her.

“You’re too late” they cried “The game’s already begun.  Get out of the way.”

“The Black King is dead” she yelled back at them.  “The game is over!  Where is the Black Bishop?  Beside him is my square.”

She ducked and weaved among the pieces, searching for the Black Bishop, but each black piece turned white as she approached it.

“Get back to your own side, White Castle” they yelled at her.  “You can’t stand beside the Black Bishop!  It’s not your square.”

She was finding it harder and harder to move around the board.  It was like wading through invisible treacle.  Eventually the black squares disappeared, leaving a vast white plane like a frozen lake.  On all sides it stretched away into nothingness, utterly flat.  Empty, smooth, and sterile.

In a panic Celeste awoke.  She lit her wand and searched for one of her wristwatches.  It was almost a quarter to five.  She tip-toed through the sitting room to Snape’s bedroom door as was relieved to hear faint snores coming from the other side.  Tears sprang to her eyes.  Wiping them away, she returned to bed and slept soundly until four minutes past seven.

It was a cold and misty morning when she awoke, but the Wizarding Wireless Network’s Weather Witch said the South East would become cool but bright after a grey, murky start.

After a quick shower, Celeste chose her red and black underwear and glossy tan stockings.  When she was doing up the last suspender she suddenly remembered the previous time she had worn these clothes – with black stockings!  She remembered standing on the floor, bent over at the foot of the bed.  She recalled Snape’s hands caressing her breasts as he entered her from behind.  Oh, how wonderful life had been…

Hastily she tore her mind away from the memory, telling herself not to pursue this torment of hopeless recollections!  Her fingers trembled as she fought alone with the zip of her red jersey dress.  She smoothed it out and looked at her reflection in the mirror.  The world is full of powerful wizards, she told herself.  As she hadn’t spoken aloud the mirror offered no reply.

The sound of light snoring was still audible through Snape’s bedroom door, so at eight o’clock she went down to breakfast – alone.

Review

Author's Note: These are genuine...

The Merlot Syrah, my favourite red wine, is avail able from Co-Operative stores in South-East England.

Ethical Wares exists – however their range does not include all of the styles I put in this story; nevertheless I can attest to the comfort of the Birkenstock range!

Chapter Fourteen - Transgressions

Having stormed out of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Snape strode up Knockturn Alley in a furious temper.  Never, never, NEVER, had anyone had the audacity – the sheer unmitigated cheek – to speak to him in that manner!  He turned into Diagon Alley and the March wind hit him in the face.  He pounded fifty yards along the Alley and then stopped dead.  He suddenly realised he should never have walked out on Celeste.  I should never have left her alone, he thought; not in Knockturn Alley.

He hurried back to the tavern but she was not there.  The bar tenders and several customers insisted she had left a few moments earlier.  Some of the customers made jeering comments, and Snape was tempted to start a fight – he felt like pulling out his wand and blasting them all to hell.  In a swirl of robes he once more left the tavern, panic rising in his heart.

There was no trace of Celeste in Knockturn Alley.  Nor in Diagon Alley, which was quite busy – wizards and witches were thronging Mario and Luigi’s, or sitting outside Florian Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, enjoying impossibly large confections out of ridiculously tall glasses.  As he looked around in despair, he had a fleeting impression that, suddenly, nothing was real.  Then, gradually the panic in his heart subsided to a forlorn emptiness.

Snape returned to The Necromancer where he was unnecessarily sharp with the young wizard at the reception desk.  Nevertheless, the young man checked the board of keys and informed Snape that it appeared that Miss Lavelle was in the hotel.  Snape hurried upstairs to the Xerxes Suite.  He entered his room, went through the sitting room and knocked softly on the door to Celeste’s bedroom.  There was no answer.  He eased the door open, but the room was silent and dark, so he pelted downstairs and checked the restaurant and bar.  Finally he saw her sitting relaxed and composed in the lounge.  A coffee cup was in her hand and she was reading a copy of Witch Weekly.  He didn’t go over to her, and she didn’t look up.

Back in his bedroom Snape stared unseeing out of the window at the busy street below.  Hours passed and he took to pacing about.  He was still angry.  And distressed.  And lonely – surprisingly lonely.  He had grown used to her being there for him.  He couldn’t sleep and he had no potion to help him.  At length the purple All Things Witchy bag on the dressing table caught his eye.  Opening it he found it contained a sea green satin camisole top and matching French knickers, and a long purple satin nightdress.  All three items were bordered with black silk lace.  The nightdress had a deep side-split.  He sat down on the bed, his elbows on his knees, the nightdress clutched in his hands.  Gradually his shoulders bent forwards and his forehead came to rest against his balled fists.  He could smell the newness of the material clenched in his hands.  She had bought these for him.  Would he ever see her wear them?  Hot tears were pricking behind his eyes but he was determined not to give in to them.  He hadn’t cried since Lily had died, and before that he hadn’t cried since he was a small boy.  He wasn’t going to start now.

*

It was past eight o’clock when Snape awoke on the following morning.  He felt terrible.  He had fallen asleep fully dressed on top of the bed.  It was almost nine o’clock by the time he had showered and changed his clothes.

Celeste was not in her room but all her belongings were still plainly in view – Snape had half-expected her to have packed and gone.  He found her in the Breakfast Room.  She had obviously finished her breakfast and was drinking a last cup of black coffee.

“Good morning” she said soberly as he glided up to his seat.

He mumbled something in reply and sat down.  “Coffee?” he enquired incredulously, staring into her cup.  “Not tea?”

“I had rather too much red wine last night” Celeste said.  “I’m chasing out one poison with another.”  She smiled.  “You look awful” she added with soothing honesty, noting his bleary-eyed, puffy face.

“Well you can thank yourself for that” he retorted.  A waiter arrived and he considered what to have.  “Err, orange juice, toast, and coffee” he snapped.

“Nothing cooked, sir?” the young wizard asked politely.

“No thank you.  I am capable of choosing my own food” Snape replied acidly.

“Mixed toast, sir?” the waiter asked, quite unperturbed by Snape’s display of bad manners.

“Wholemeal” Snape barked in reply.  “And I will have the orange juice immediately.”

“As you wish, sir” the waiter said evenly, and disappeared to the kitchen.

On the verge of issuing a reprimand, Celeste glared at Snape, and he returned glare for glare.  Do I let this go, she wondered.  If I censure him, I’ll surely lose him.  After a moment she lowered her eyes to her coffee cup, angry with herself for letting him off the hook.  His orange juice arrived.

Why did I say wholemeal, Snape asked himself in exasperation.  I much prefer white.  What on Earth possessed me to say wholemeal?  I can’t change it now – I’d look a complete fool.  Does she know?  He stole a glance at Celeste looking demurely into her cup.  Of course she does, he realised savagely.

Celeste took a sip of coffee.  “What shall we do today?” she asked lightly.

“I’m surprised you’re still here” Snape growled back.  He saw her wince at his words and felt ashamed.

“Why?  I wasn’t the one to leave” she replied coolly.  “You walked out on me … well … stormed out on me would be more accurate.”  She said the words objectively, as if she was describing an experiment.

“You really are THE most infuriating person” he hissed.  Suddenly, inside his head, he could imagine Hooch’s voice scolding ‘Oh, why don’t you grow up, Severus’.  The rest of his breakfast arrived and he busied himself with buttering toast.  The Breakfast Room emptied and a silence fell as he munched.  His conscience pricked him as he recalled his behaviour of the previous evening.  Celeste had remained calm.  She had been upset but under control as she talked about the Boggart.  She hadn’t raised her voice or made a scene.  He should not have abandoned her – certainly not in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice!

Any other witch would have burst into tears, or slapped his face, or walked out.  He hadn’t realised just how tough Celeste could be.  Yet her resourceful Auror of a mother had rescued her father from near death and got him to hospital.  She still looked after him, coped with his trauma and the loss of her sons.  God knows what sort of life they had together, but Aurora Lavelle was loyal to Lucien.  Given that, he shouldn’t underestimate Celeste – she had coped with months of his hostility and intimidation at Hogwarts.

“So you still want to spend the day with me” he said at length.  His mind was racing.

“Of course” Celeste replied evenly.  “I have no intention of going anywhere else.  Can I have one of your pieces of toast?  Thank you.  I was wondering” she continued, speaking as she ate, “about hiring a car and taking you for a drive.  I presume you don’t drive.”  Her large eyes scrutinized him carefully.

“No.  No I don’t drive” he said softly.  “I’ve hardly ever been in a car.”

“Well, it’s just an idea” she explained.  “We could have a day out, and be back here for dinner.  And it would fit in with an errand I could get done.  What do you think?”

“Err, yes, very well” he said cautiously.

She took out her mobile phone and a series of beeps filled the empty room.  He watched her speak into the Muggle device.  The person she spoke to seemed to know her.

“No, not a sports car this time” she was saying.  “Something large and comfortable – a big saloon.  Oh yes!  Perhaps.  1982?  A Silver Spirit.  Yes, I’ll take it.  We’ll be with you within the hour.  Thanks, Mr Bryant.  See you later.  Good bye.”

After breakfast they went upstairs, because Celeste insisted Snape must do something about his wizard robes.  He would probably be too hot in his robe, she pointed out, as he would need to wear his cloak.  And he would need his hat and boots.  While he was changing his clothes, she hauled on her boots.  Before they set off she eyed him appreciatively and nodded, seeming satisfied with the result.  In his Fedora hat, outdoor cloak and long supple, Cavalier-style leather boots, he looked theatrical but quite acceptable.

They slipped through The Leaky Cauldron and into Muggle London.  Celeste hailed a black cab for the short journey to Heritage in Motion, where a 1982 Rolls Royce Silver Spirit was waiting for them.  The Silver Spirit was painted silver and it gleamed invitingly.  Celeste had decided on a Rolls because she wanted Snape to feel secure and pampered.  She was sure he would appreciate this!

The car-hire staff did indeed know Celeste; on seeing her they hailed her by name.  As she dealt with the paperwork, a company employee stood by the car’s passenger doors, waiting to hold a door open for Snape.

“Will you be riding in the front or the rear, sir?” he asked discretely, indicating the doors with a white-gloved hand.

Snape settled into the front passenger seat, wondering with some amusement how Celeste might react if he had chosen a rear seat and treated her as a chauffeur.  He noted with appreciation the car’s walnut facia, and pale grey Wilton carpet trimmed with hide piping that exactly matched the grey leather upholstery.  He gazed around, impressed, at the seventeen feet of unashamed luxury.

“It’s called the Spirit of Ecstasy” Celeste informed him, as she slid into the driving seat.  “The mascot you’re staring at” she added.  “The lady on top of the radiator grill.”

“Oh, I see” Snape replied.  “I didn’t think of it having a name.”

She glided out of the car-hire premises and drove south and west.  Snape liked the appreciative looks the car drew from passers by, but he felt adequately separated from the Muggle world.  As they drove, Celeste drew his attention to a few famous sites – the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Wimbledon, and Hampton Court Palace.  On route she drove him through Richmond Park and then through Bushey Park.  Snape had only the vaguest notion of the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament and knew nothing of the historical connection between the Muggle games of tennis and croquet.  He had heard of Hampton Court Palace and pondered whether they might one day go to see the collections of tapestries and fine carpets.  He didn’t suggest it today, however – he was still too angry with her.

The car’s engine was whisper-quiet and Snape noticed the journey between these various places took very little time – Celeste had not forgotten the tricks she had learned from transport staff at the Ministry.  Finally she headed out into the Surrey countryside and they stopped for a stroll on Headley Heath near Box Hill.

Not having eaten much at breakfast, they were soon ready for a meal, and they lunched quite early, at a public house at Abinger Hammer.  It was crowded, but Celeste seemed to be able to get a table.  Snape half suspected she had used a memory charm to cause some Muggles to vacate their table.  He watched her stepping up to the bar to order drinks and find a menu, so at home in the Muggle world.  She made a phone call while they were at lunch and then said to Snape “I’m going to pick up my post on the way back”.

Her route ‘back’ was still quite a large circuit.  She drove out towards Windsor to point out the castle, and then headed back into London on the M4.  The speed of the motorway traffic made Snape think he was flying around a wind-free Quidditch pitch, with all the players travelling in the same direction.  He was amazed by the number of planes buzzing around Heathrow Airport.  He was used to seeing the odd plane fly over the Alleys of London, but he had never been aware of them lining up a mere few minutes apart to land, and taking off at the same closely packed rate.

Near Hounslow, Celeste took a detour to Whitton on the edge of Twickenham.

“Now for my errand” she said as she sped down Nelson Road.

Not far from the rugby ground she swung the car up onto the kerb opposite an ordinary looking semi-detached house, trotted across the busy road and spoke to a Muggle who was digging in his front garden.  He greeted her courteously, went into his house and reappeared moments later with a handful of letters.  When she got back to the car Celeste handed the letters to Snape.

“My Muggle post” she said.  “Bank statements and so forth.  Mr Wheeler provides my Muggle address.  For a fee of course.  He probably thinks I’m a Russian spy.  You can open them if you like” she added, seeing Snape staring curiously at the envelopes.

But Snape’s mind was again racing.  Mr Wheeler, he was thinking!  The ‘F. Wheeler’ of the cheque book stubs – he’s a Muggle who provides Celeste with a Muggle address.  Is he nothing to worry about after all?

They glided back to central London, returned the Rolls Royce and took a taxi back to The Leaky Cauldron where they stopped for a quick drink.  As Celeste went off to the Ladies Room she said to Snape “You will be here when I get back, won’t you.”  He couldn’t help giving her a sheepish smile.

By half-past-six they were entering The Necromancer.

At dinner they chatted quietly over the day’s events.  Snape knew very little of London and the Home Counties, or indeed of Britain.  His dealings with Voldemort and the Death Eaters had necessitated the odd foray into central Europe, but aside from that he knew nothing of the outside world.  He hardy even knew anything about his home environs in Suffolk.  He knew Hogwarts and Hogsmeade and the magical community’s London alleyways.  Essentially that had been the sum total of his universe.

Celeste was amazed at his unfamiliarity with Muggle life.  The wizarding world was small in comparison, and she considered it essential to be able to function in the Muggle world.  To understand their money and be able to operate telephones were, in her opinion, minimum requirements.  He’s been fighting a war for too long, she decided as she regarded Snape.  What has it been now – twenty years, twenty-five?  Too long; he needs to know what real life can be like and what the world at large is like.

Their evening conversation moved on, ranging widely over many topics and finally landing upon the nature of consciousness.  They debated whether human consciousness was separate from people’s physical bodies – the ‘ghost in the machine’ theory – or whether it was a property of the living cells themselves.  Snape was quite supportive of the ghost in the machine concept, because it seemed to fit with the observations of people becoming soulless shells in Azkaban.  Celeste supported the notion that consciousness was a result of interactions between living cells – principally brain cells – although she held the view that all cells had at least a rudimentary form of consciousness, which manifested itself as a response to the surroundings.  She suspected the soulless shells in Azkaban still retained a measure of consciousness.

They slept together that night but they didn’t make love.  Celeste was affectionate and ready to respond but she was careful to make no demands.  Snape still felt too guilty and angry for romance.  It began to rain.  As he lay awake in the dead of night, listening to her even breathing, and the pattering rain, and to the muted chimes of Gringotts clock sounding through the open window, he had to admit her assessment of him was accurate.  He did bully the students – some of them.  And he enjoyed it!  And he didn’t want anyone observing his teaching because he didn’t want his behaviour exposed or criticised.  He was not prepared to admit it openly, but aside from the mere predicament of being ‘found out’, criticism was a thing Snape greatly feared – it was like a Portkey, propelling him back to the painful days of his childhood.

Twice Celeste had challenged him, being very direct in what she said, cutting through any smokescreens to expose the truth.  Even if she had no hard evidence, she would confront him with her suspicions.  Fearlessly.

“Bloody Gryffindors” Snape mumbled.

He still loved her, though.  She hadn’t run out on him.  She hadn’t left.  Unwittingly, this was important to him because buried deep in Snape’s subconscious was the notion that ‘women always left’.  His mother had disappeared from his life, and Lily had, too, in her turn.  Women were ephemeral beings like butterflies – attractive, diverting, comforting, but essentially transient, unreliable.

But Celeste was not like his mother.  Although an archetypal beauty, she was worldly – tougher and ‘older’ certainly than she looked.  She had proven herself to be a loyal and steadfast friend.  Devious, too, in her way.  Staunchly ethical about the things that were of the utmost importance to her, but possibly a little less than ethical when it suited her.

I have to get her back, he concluded.  She is too precious to lose.  But that means paying her price.  Can I pay her price?  That was the other thing about women, and this was a view he consciously held – every woman he had ever managed to lure into his bed had exacted a price.  During his teenage days the price had been a love potion the witch of the moment wanted him to make for her, to ensnare some wizard of her dreams, or a ‘darker’ potion to use on an enemy.  As he grew older things got simpler – normally the transaction was merely a matter of cash, unless he risked putting his victim under the Imperious Curse.  No one ever wanted him for himself.

But Celeste’s price would be more difficult to pay – it seemed to call for a change in his conduct.  She wanted him to change for the sake of what she held to be right.  And from a few hints she had dropped during the evening, it appeared she saw that as being of benefit to him too.  It seemed she did love him.

For the first time in his life Snape realised how much he loved her.  He though back over their time together.  I was certainly in love with her when the Wilson twins died, he realised; I may have been in love with her that night I found her in the prefects bathroom.  Each time I thought fate had taken her from me.  Am I now to be the hand of fate that brings that very thing about?

But can I be the person Celeste wants me to be?  Can I even be the person I would like to be?  I made a radical change once before – rejected the Dark side.  Can I manage such a change again?  Is it too much against my nature?  But if I don’t, will I stay as I am forever – a fairly mediocre teacher, with an ‘unacceptable pass rate’.

Two o’clock sounded.

Snape scooped his left arm under Celeste’s neck and stroked her shoulder.  Automatically she snuggled against him, sliding her arm across his chest.  With his free hand he cupped her breast, feeling the nipple harden at his touch.  He stroked her face.  On the verge of waking up, she raised her face to his, hoping to be kissed.  Her lips were parting.  He stroked his hand gently down her stomach and onward.  As her legs parted in anticipation of his caresses, he inclined his head an inch or so and kissed her, sliding his left arm back to bury his hand in her hair, holding her mouth to his.  He murmured her name.  He knew he couldn’t resist her any more; he needed to make love to her.  He needed her desperately now, and he needed to reassure himself that she needed him.

*

When they awoke at breakfast time it was raining heavily, and it continued all through breakfast.  Celeste tried out her new green dress, but though her wool dress would probably be more sensible.  She decided to change after breakfast.

Snape had had vague plans of a theatre trip for the evening but not being sure of Celeste’s tastes he had not pre-booked anything, and then their argument had caused him to shelve all plans.  Now it looked as though the bad weather was set for the day, so they considered what they might do.  Snape insisted that whatever they did, he needed to go to the bank and Celeste must go with him.

The hotel’s duty receptionist showed them some leaflets about various matinée performances they might attend to occupy their afternoon and Celeste spotted a performance of Carmina Burana by the Virtuosi Choral Ensemble of Ghent.  “Oh, I love this!” she said.  “Do you know it?”

She had pronounced it Car-min-ah, with the stress falling on the first syllable, as in majesty or ecstasy.

Snape looked at the leaflet.  “Carmina!” he exclaimed.  “It’s an opera.”

“It’s a choral work, really” Celeste explained.  “A collection of medieval poems and songs in Latin and Middle-High German.  Set to music by Carl Orff in the mid-1930s.  Mother had tickets for me as a birthday present last year, but we couldn’t go.  Father was unwell and she spent a couple of nights at St Mungo’s instead.  Originally we were hoping to go literally on my birthday, but there wasn’t a performance on the Sunday; only on the Saturday.  I was a bit wary of taking time off, as that was the night of the Hallowe’en Feast, and I thought it would look bad if I wasn’t at school, as I was so new to Hogwarts.  Anyway, it wasn’t to be – Father was ill and the whole plan was scrapped.”

But Snape wasn’t paying attention.  “A birthday treat” he whispered.  “Your birthday is on October the thirty-first?”

“No, it’s November the first – it was on the Sunday” Celeste repeated.

“I remember your cards, lined up on the mantle” he murmured.  He did remember them, and the quarrel they had had the following evening – it was the evening Celeste had accused him of manipulating her timetable.  She had yelled something after him as he stormed off down the corridor.  Ah yes; there you were, storming off again, he realised.

Snape asked the receptionist to see if two tickets for the matinée performance could be obtained.  “I want the best seats you can get!” he stressed, pressing a gold coin into the young wizard’s hand.

When they went to fetch their cloaks Celeste said she was going to change into a warmer dress.

“No, don’t” he said sharply.  “That green dress is perfect.”

“But I’ll be cold, Severus.  It’s tipping down outside!”

“Your cloak will keep you warm.  Now, come on, please – I want to get to the bank.”

He seemed edgy, or possibly even afraid.

And yet as they hurried to the bank in the pouring rain Snape could have laughed out loud.  Mr Wheeler didn’t seem too threatening and the mysterious Carmina wasn’t a person at all!

*

Snape asked Celeste to accompany him to his vault, so this she did, but dutifully waited at the door with the goblin attendant.  She was surprised to see that Snape’s vault was large enough to walk into.  Snape asked the goblin to wait at one side, warning him that they would be some time.  He then beckoned Celeste inside.  She was very hesitant about entering the vault, protesting that it was a breach of privacy, but Snape was most insistent.  His vault was quite an Aladdin’s cave – there were many piles of gold coin and some of silver.  There were also precious objects.  He picked up a black leather case and, standing close to her, he opened it.  It contained a silver necklace in the form of two serpents.  Their minute, smooth, interlinked scales were of marvellous workmanship.  The tales linked together to form the clasp.  Their necks crossed over, forming the bottom loop of a distorted ‘figure of eight’ shape, and set between their heads was a single, very fine, long oval emerald.  Tiny emerald chips formed the serpents’ eyes.  The necklace was clearly of ancient workmanship.

“I want you to have this” Snape murmured gravely.  “Please turn around, Celeste.”

She held up her hair and with trembling fingers Snape fastened the clasp.  Then, he walked around her, admiring the necklace which sat perfectly at the base of her slender neck.

“Magnificent!” he whispered, his eyebrows arching.  “Exquisite!  My mother used to wear this – it looks just as well on you.  It has been in our family for many generations.”

Her eyes widened.  “This is an heirloom of the House of Salazar Slytherin” she ventured.  “I thank you, but I cannot accept this, Severus.  This must be reserved for your wife.”

“Ah, yes” he said.  “And that brings me to another little matter.”  Looking embarrassed, he faced her, took her hands in his and glanced down at the floor.  He hesitated as if wondering what to do with his body which had become suddenly awkward.  Eventually he sank down onto one knee.  She could feel his hands trembling and his grip tightening.  Finally he raised his head and looked into her eyes; the dark, fathomless gaze searching her soul.

“You know only too well that I am not a perfect man” he began.  “But I do love you, Celeste.  And I cannot bear the thought of living without you.  You can see that I am a man of some means – the proof, here, is all around you.  Will you take this unworthy, cantankerous, miserable fool to be your husband?”

After watching her for a second he lowered his head, dreading her refusal.  She pulled a hand free of his, lifted his chin, leaned forward, and kissed him.

“I should be honoured” she replied.

Snape stood up, his head spinning.  He kissed her lightly at first and then passionately.  The goblin, waiting patiently outside the vault door, shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

Finally Snape broke away and said “Since, Celeste, you have consented, may I offer you this as well?”

He picked up a small red leather box.  It contained a wide platinum ring, built up into steep shoulders like a man’s signet ring.  Set into the peak was a square-cut, rather flat, deep green emerald with a heart of blue fire.  On each shoulder, flanking this fine stone, was a smaller, very brilliant diamond.

“This was my mother’s wedding ring” he explained.  “You may prefer to have a traditional gold ring of course, but I though I might show you this.”

He slipped the ring onto her finger but it was a little too small to fit properly.  Celeste was a strong, muscular witch with a relatively heavy skeleton.  By contrast Snape’s mother had been exceptionally slender, indeed rather frail.

“I would very much like to have this” Celeste said softly.  “If it could safely be made bigger.  I wouldn’t want to risk it being damaged.  Severus, we have to talk.”  She looked suddenly worried.  “There are things I need to say – things I need to know.  Can we return to our sitting room?  We will have privacy there.”

*

In the sitting room of their hotel suite Snape paced anxiously about for a while and then settled in an armchair.  Near to him, Celeste stood at the window looking out at the pouring rain.

“First of all” she said “I need to know what you want from a marriage.  I don’t know if you want children, or whether you expect your wife to have a career.  Or indeed what your own long-term ambitions and hopes are.”

“I see” Snape said.  Fleetingly he looked relieved, but as he thought on, his anxiety returned.  “I do hope one day to be a father” he said awkwardly.  “I hope for sons and daughters.  I don’t mean I want a whole tribe of children like the Weasleys.  I would expect my wife to look after the children while they are small.  Once they are at school however, that is a different matter.  I do not see why you could not go back to teaching if the hours could be made to fit.”  He had slipped from talking objectively to talking about her.  “I have no objection to our children going to Muggle Primary School.  But I vehemently hope they will go on to Hogwarts.”

He paused, but not wanting to influence him or prompt him in any false direction, she said nothing; so he continued.  “As to ambitions, I am content to be House Master, certainly.  If the opportunity arises to become Head or Deputy Head I will most definitely apply – I believe I am competent to fulfil such a rôle.  I do not have any great ambitions.  If you want to be married to the Minister for Magic, I’m afraid, I … I am not the man.”

“And if you didn’t have children?”

“Do you not want children?” he countered.

“I do.  But I’m just saying what if we didn’t have any?  What then?”

Snape seemed nonplussed.  “Then … well … then we both … just teach.  Full time.  I suppose, in that event, we could continue to live at Hogwarts.  If we have a family we will need a house.  Hopefully we can find something near to Hogsmeade.  If there is nothing to our taste I can have a house built – I can provide for a family, Celeste!  You need have no fears–  I am a wealthy man; I have much in the way of funds earning interest on deposit; not just the assets you saw in the vault–”

“So you would be prepared to marry me even if we didn’t have children?” she said, interrupting him.

“Oh … yes!” he gasped.  “Oh, ye gods, yes!  Is that what this is all about?”  He thought he understood now.  He got up and hurried over to her, reaching out to put his arms around her.  “Celeste, do not worry” he added reassuringly.  “I just want us to be together – whatever happens.  I’m hoping you want the same too.”

Celeste had turned from the window and was looking very forcefully back at him.  “I do” she said.  “I promise you, Severus, I do.  I love you very, very much.  I do want to marry you; and if I do not marry you I don’t think I will ever–  No, this is NOT THE POINT!  Please.  Sit down.  I must not be deflected from what I need to say.”

Her hands had balled into fists.  Bewilderment crossed Snape’s face, followed by a trace of anger.  “This harks back to that damned Boggart, doesn’t it” he said flatly, returning to his chair.  He didn’t sit down however; he paced slowly around it, one hand playing on its back.

“Yes” she said simply, relaxing her fingers.  “I have no doubt that you can provide for your wife and family.  I have no fears that you couldn’t keep a roof over our heads and keep us fed.  But children need more than material security.  They need–”

She was lost, casting about hopelessly, trying to tread a path between tact and honesty.  So Snape put the thought into words for her, knowing that in doing so he voiced what he feared to hear her say.  “You think I will be cruel to our children” he said coldly.  “I can assure you I have never, never hurt a child; never raised my hand to a pupil.”

“I’m not talking of you beating them” Celeste explained.  “I’m talking of intimidation; mental cruelty.  I will not bring children into the world for you to bully or intimidate!  If you will still have me, I will marry you.  But before we start a family I will need to see a change in you – a change of behaviour.”

Anger boiled inside him and in two strides he was in front of her.  He snarled and put his hands around her throat, resting his thumbs lightly across her windpipe.  Under his palms her pulse fluttered rapidly and he knew from experience that she was very afraid.  But she didn’t attempt to move.  He knew he wasn’t going to kill her, or even push her to the edge – his days of uncontrolled violence were long in the past, but he had a fierce desire to strike fear into her; to shatter that cool poise, that maddening ability to challenge, that inbuilt self-assurance.  He increased the pressure of his hands very slightly and his lips curled.

Resolutely, she stared him out.  With difficulty she spoke.

“I love you, Severus” she whispered.  “I will always be here for you – unless you send me away.  I will be your wife if you wish.  But as for children – I believe I have made my position plain.  If you are going to strangle me, do so without harming the necklace.  It would be a tragedy to damage such a fine work of craftsmanship.”

She hadn’t even reached for her wand.  She was tough.  And was she, as he had once thought, too good to be true?  No, he decided; it was simply that Celeste was ‘true’.  Honest.  Obstinate but sincere.  He heaved a sigh, closed his eyes and bent his forehead to hers, relaxing his hands so that they cradled her neck but no longer encircled it.

“You bitch” he breathed.  “I don’t deserve you.  I don’t want to do as you ask.  I’ve never needed anyone like I need you.  What choice do I have?”

You asked yourself this last night, he thought to himself.  You knew it would come to this.  You have reached – what would she call it in Chaos Theory?  A cusp point.  You either fall back to the ground state, or you flip into a new state.  And the transition is often traumatic.  Either way.

“I think…” he said slowly.

“Yes?” she prompted.

“I think…  I think, we should go to see Herr Klaftenberger in Di Vios Alley.  He should be able to enlarge that wedding ring.  If not…  I’m sure he will have something you will like.  If not… I will scour the magical jewel smiths of Europe for a ring that pleases you, Madam.  Because I am never, never going to forgo the chance of making you my wife.”

*

Herr Klaftenberger said it would be a simple matter to widen the ring.  He took careful measurement of Celeste’s finger and promised to have the task completed within a fortnight.  He then took Snape’s measurement because Celeste said she wanted to have a ring made for him, but its design was to be a secret – not to be revealed until the wedding ceremony itself.

They concluded their business with the jeweller and wandered out into the rain, pulling up their hoods.

“It’s been quite a morning” Snape said.  “I feel like I’ve been on the rack.”  He glared up at the rain.  “Hmm.  How about coffee at Florian’s?  We’ll have to sit inside this time.  And hopefully no one else will arrive out of the blue to regale us with anecdotes of my past transgressions.”

Review

Chapter Fifteen - Owls and the Mole

The first thing Snape did when he was safely alone at Hogwarts was to destroy the scrap of paper he had concealed in his chambers ever since the day he had searched Celeste’s sixth-floor room.  If any suspicions of Celeste remained in his mind, Snape had already relegated them to the archives of his memory.

They had much to talk over during the next few days.  Snape had started to calm down after the heated exchange about children.  He admitted his personality was not ideal for teaching, but there was nothing else he wanted to do.  In his final year at school he had entertained the idea of becoming a Healer, but he felt he was no more a natural physician than he was a teacher.  He was, like his father, a skilled maker of potions, but he didn’t particularly want that to be his sole occupation.  Most of all, he wanted to know what Celeste’s wants and needs were if they were to have children.

Celeste explained that if they really were to have a family, she wanted to start fairly soon.  “I will be thirty next year” she said.  “I know that’s not old for a witch but I don’t want to make too late a start.  So we have got to get this sorted out!”

She hoped for between two and four children, boys and girls.  If they had children, and she reminded Snape it was still very much an IF – she wanted to return to work as soon as possible – either to teaching or to some form of administrative job at Hogwarts.  She didn’t want to raise their babies in the castle dungeons because the rooms were very cold and lacked natural light.  She hoped that if they were to be parents they would have a home of their own as soon as possible and certainly by the time any children were of school age.  She was prepared to live in a cottage in Hogsmeade.  She would like to have a house-elf or elves, but they must not be slaves – they must be paid for their labour and have proper clothes.

“I think we may soon outgrow a cottage” Snape said.  “What I would really like is a manor house in the style of my parent’s home – a traditional house of brick, with spacious rooms, flagstone floors and exposed beams.”

“That sounds wonderful, but is there such a house?” Celeste wondered.  “We don’t want to be miles from Hogwarts do we.”

“Remember, I’ll have one built if necessary!” Snape said determinedly.  “If you are agreeable.  And we will have house-elves – free, since you insist.  I was also wondering if you would like a motor car.  If we live on the far side of Hogsmeade it should be no problem.  I am quite taken with the idea of being driven around the countryside during the holidays.  After all, with an army of house-elves to take care of the housework you’ll have nothing else to do but to entertain me!”

“Hmmm” Celeste observed shrewdly.  “I can see you’ve recovered your composure about all of this.  Of course I could spend some of my supposed excess leisure time, teaching you to drive!”

“Oh, I think not” Snape countered quickly.  “These Muggle devices are not for me.”  Privately Snape determined never to try to drive a car.  Celeste was obviously a good driver, so much so that he was not likely to better her.  He would not put himself in the position of being second best.  He decided a change of subject was called for and asked “Where shall we spend our honeymoon?  Have you any thoughts on where you would like to go?”

“No, I haven’t really” she said at length.  She smiled a bashful smile.  “I just want us to set up home together as soon as possible.”

Sitting beside her on the Chesterfield, Snape took her hand in both of his, stroking the slim, brown fingers.  “At the end of the wedding reception we will be expected to depart on a honeymoon” he pointed out.  “If only for a few days.  It’s tradition.”

“You are a stickler for tradition, aren’t you!” she remarked.  Giving the matter more thought finally she said “I have two suggestions.  How about visiting a beautiful old city – Prague for example?  Or, how about having a couple of days just idling about in lovely countryside somewhere really quiet?  We could rent a cottage in the hills of Portugal and spend our days in the sun and by the sea.”

Snape pondered this.  “As it happens, I like both of those ideas” he said.  “I have never thought in these terms.  My world has been Hogwarts and Diagon Alley.  And the menace of the Dark Lord.  I need to think this over for a day or so.  Can you give me a little time?”

“Of course!  It was your suggestion anyway” Celeste pointed out.  “I’m quite content to stay at Hogwarts.  I suppose you’re right though; we can’t.  There will be a point when we depart and everyone else parties on.  And that reminds me – music.  I know you don’t like modern music, but I think we will need to have some.  The party’s not just for us, really.  You can’t expect students to be able to dance minuets and gavottes.  People of Minerva’s age seem to be happy with music from the thirties to the fifties, and Uncle Albus dances to anything, but we do need some modern music.”

“Yes, indeed I suppose we do” Snape agreed sadly.  “Although, it’s our wedding, not theirs!  But you’re right, I can see that.  We’ll draw up a list; then we’ll know if we’ve got a good balance of the traditional and the popular.  Felix might have some ideas about who we can get to play for us.  And we need to think about music for the service, to enter and leave by; and perhaps something for while we are signing the register.”  He bent his head and kissed her hands.  “We need to speak to Albus” he said.  “Explain our situation – our marriage plans, and the possibility of setting up home.  I – I know we are not certain about parenthood, but can we talk as though we are planning to have children eventually?  Do you mind?”

“Why?” she asked, surprised.

“Well, it would mean moving out of Hogwarts, and Albus should be prepared for that” Snape said.  “I’m sure he’ll be sympathetic.”

*

Albus Dumbledore was more than sympathetic, he was delighted for them.  “Well, well” he said, conspiratorially, “it never rains but it pours!  I’m telling you this in strict confidence.  Madeline and Sirius are planning to marry in the summer.  They are going to live in Hogsmeade.  Minerva and I are the only ones who know at the moment so please do not say anything about it yet.  Just keep the news between the four of you.”

Dumbledore understood that they would need a home of their own once their family was underway, and he understood about Celeste’s need to put her teaching career on hold.

“I will soon be advertising for a replacement for Professor Vector for next year” he said.  “I suppose you won’t be applying.  Never mind.  Perhaps some opportunity will present itself when you are ready.  Who knows?”

Celeste impressed upon Dumbledore that she had not yet broken the news to her parents and she did not want them to hear it from anyone else until she had been able to speak to them.  Privately she suspected that her mother might not take it well.

* * *

Celeste decided to travel home alone to let her parents know.  She owled them to say that she had met a wizard who had become ‘very important’ to her and she had ‘big hopes for the future’ which she wanted to discuss in private.  “Ah-ha!  I do believe this sounds like an engagement or something of the sort” her mother replied.  “How about you spending the whole day with us on Saturday 10th April?  Start out after breakfast and stay for dinner.  Your timed Portkey is enclosed – let me know if you need it changed.”

Celeste breakfasted early on the Saturday and was soon gone.  Snape felt at a loss without her but he respected her wish to go alone.  It also gave him the opportunity to attend to two very important pieces of business.  As soon as she had flown off to Hogsmeade, he went in search of Hooch.

“I want to ask a favour, Madeline” he said.  There was a note of urgency in his voice and an unusual degree of frankness.  “It’s really important.  Please … don’t laugh.”

“You’ve gotta damned cheek, asking a favour” she replied.  “You weren’t particularly warm to Sirius the other day when you were supposed to be congratulating him.”

“Well, he was equally off-hand with me” Snape said, sounding hurt.

This was true.  They were both as bad as each other.  “Oh, I could knock your heads together sometimes” Hooch moaned.  “You’re worse than a couple of kids.  OK.  Whadderyer want?”

Snape took a breath.  She noticed that he looked slightly nervous.  “Well” he said, “as you know Celeste and I are planning to marry in August.  It’s going to be very traditional – a ceremony in London and then back here for the reception.  Eats, and drinks and … you know the drill.”

“Yes, go on.  You make it sound like I make weddings my hobby” she grumbled.

“Well, it’s traditional for the bride and groom to open the dancing” Snape pointed out.

“Yes.  So?” she added, wishing he would get to the point.

“Well, I don’t dance, do I!” he said despairingly.  “Come on, Maddie – you know I don’t.”

“Well what do you expect me to do about it” she snapped.  “Take a turn round the floor in your place?”

“No, you exasperating woman!  I want you to teach me to dance!” he pleaded.

“What?” she gasped.  “You’ve gotta be joking!  Take a potion!  Use a charm!”

“This is not the Yule Bloody Ball!” Snape raged.  “This is my wed–”  He stopped abruptly, aware of the hurt look on Hooch’s face.  It suddenly occurred to him that he had never put himself out for anyone else, yet here he was asking a favour of someone, who, despite her better judgement, liked him – someone he was happy to tease, but had never even bothered to ask to dance in all the years they had worked together.  Why oh why did I shout at Maddie, he wondered.  I always make a mess of considering other people’s feelings.  She can hardly be expected to help me now.  “Please forgive me, Madeline” he whispered remorsefully.  “It’s just that I am not convinced that a charm would be successful in my case, and I most certainly do not trust any potion to be able to remedy my woeful terpsichorean deficit.  Do you?”

Hooch was taken aback to receive an apology and she could tell from his contrite tone that he was absolutely serious.  He would unhesitatingly have advised a charm or a potion for anyone else, but for himself he required far more certainty of success.  As he once again requested her expert and discrete help, Hooch realised how much Snape longed for his wedding to be perfect – he didn’t want anything to spoil Celeste’s day.

“You must really love her” she said at last.  “Ok.  OK!  But it’s NOT going to be a secret.  Not from Sirius, and not from Celeste.  Nope.  No.  It’s no good, Severus” she insisted, overriding his entreaties.  “If you want me to do this, we must let them know.  What would they think if they caught us dancing together.  In secret.  Use your common sense!”

Having finally talked Hooch into agreement, Snape then went to the black iron coat stand in his sitting room and removed the central finial, inside of which he had stowed Fabien Lavelle’s business card.  He consulted the atlas in the library, and then at twenty-five minutes to eleven he took a broom to Hogsmeade and Disapparated from the Broom Park to the Priory’s grid reference, Apparating in an orchard.  The Priory itself – a grey, gothic stone building – was quite close by.  At the incongruously modern visitors’ entrance he found a young Friar sitting at a reception desk.

Feeling slightly uneasy, Snape said “Good morning.  I should like to see Fabien Lavelle.”

“Do you have an appointment, sir?” the young Friar asked.  “No?  One moment please, I’ll see if he is free.”  He phoned through to Fabien’s office but there was no reply.  “Ah, he’s not there.  Please take a seat and I will try to find him for you.”

Snape waited patiently, sitting very upright in the visitor’s chair.  A taxi rattled up to the entrance as the young Friar tried more extension numbers.  Carrying a black briefcase, a harassed looking Friar bustled through the reception area, on his way out to it, and the young Friar called to him as he hurried past.  “Cuthbert, do you know where Fabien is?”

“Err, try the Novice Master’s Office” Cuthbert called back.  “Sorry; can’t stop.”

It seemed Fabien was in the Novice Master Office because after speaking to someone on the telephone, the young Friar said to Snape “Brother Fabien will be with you shortly, sir” and a few moments later Fabien arrived.  Snape rose to his feet as Fabien approached and shook the hand that was cordially extended.

“Come and have some coffee” Fabien said, and conducted Snape to his office.

“Coffee?” he asked motioning Snape to an armchair.

Snape said he would prefer tea if possible, and Fabien spoke to a novice attendant to request the refreshments.  He then took the armchair opposite to Snape and said “Now, what can I do for you, err, Severus isn’t it.”

“You know my name.”

“Celeste has spoken of you” Fabien replied.  “And I know she has gone home to speak to her parents about a matter of importance.  Your visit and hers – do they have related causes?”

“Yes” Snape said, resisting the urge to growl ‘Very well, you tell me what I’ve come here about, since you know so much’.  “Celeste and I are planning to marry in August” he explained.  “It will be a civil ceremony at the Ministry of Magic state rooms.  I don’t know if you are familiar with the service.”

“Only to a small degree.  I attended my brother’s wedding and I have been to, I think it is, two others over the years.”

“Then perhaps you remember that during the signing of the register there is the opportunity for a song or a piece of music.”

“Yes, I believe I do remember.  Ah, here is the tea.  Thank you, Aidan.”

He handed Snape a cup of tea and sipped his coffee.  “Yes, carry on” he said to Snape.

“I was wondering if you would, err, sing for us.  Sing at our wedding” Snape explained.

“I?  I should be delighted” Fabien boomed.  “If I can.  When is the wedding to be?”

“We haven’t finally fixed the date but it is likely to be Saturday 14th August.”

“Let me see.”  Fabien got up and brought over his diary and fountain pen.  “Yes, yes.  I will need to get permission, but that date should be possible.”  He made a careful note.   “Do you have any particular piece of music in mind?”

“I do, yes” Snape replied.  “The baritone solo Omnia sol temperat from Carmina Burana.”

“Ah yes.  Sunshine Overrules the World”  Fabien smiled.  “That is one of Celeste’s most favourite pieces!”  Snape explained that they had recently attended a performance in London.  “Ah, did Celeste block her ears when they came to the Roast Swan Song?” Fabien asked.  “She always used to do so.  (Slightly ashamed, Snape had to admit he didn’t know.)  Yes, well anyway – I will be delighted to sing that song.  Does Celeste know about this?  What if she has planned something else?”

“That is the point” Snape said awkwardly.  “I want this to be your suggestion, not mine.  Can you … can you simply offer to do this?”

“But why?” Fabien asked.  “Why can you not say you have asked me to sing?  Celeste will be delighted.  I’m sure she will.”

“Because I am not supposed to know of your existence” Snape said bitterly.  “All that she has ever told me about you is that her father has a twin brother called Fabien.  That’s all! … I do not want Celeste to know I followed her that night.”

“Ah, I see” Fabien said.  “Is it really that important that she doesn’t know?”  Snape assured him it was.  “You are asking me to lie” Fabien pointed out.  “I do not want to do that.  It not only seems wrong to me, I also find it usually complicates matters.”

“Then, I am sorry I troubled you” Snape replied civilly.  “Can you please treat this conversation as not having taken place?”

“Yes, I can certainly do that” Fabien agreed.

“Thank you” Snape said.  “I trust I can rely on that.  And, as I say, I am sorry I troubled you.”  He drained his teacup and got up to leave.

“Oh, don’t worry about that. It didn’t hurt to ask.  And to be perfectly honest I’m grateful for any interruption to this paperwork” Fabien said, waving a hand at his littered desk.  “Um, Severus … I’ll think it over; but I’m not making any promises.  If I can see a way to do this, I’ll owl Celeste.  Otherwise, can I owl you?  Or would it be more discrete to write to you, care of Albus?”

Snape considered.  “Um, via the Headmaster, I think” he replied.  “I never get letters, and Celeste always sits with me at breakfast.  I suppose if I should need to contact you, it must be by Mugg – err conventional post”

“Muggle post?” Fabien beamed.  “Oh no; not unless you want to.  You can owl me.”  Seeing Snape’s look of astonishment, he added.  “I may be a Muggle but I have my own owl, and I’m used to getting owls from my Brother and Sister-in-law.  Don’t forget, Aurora’s quite a witch!  Perhaps you haven’t met her yet.”

“No, not yet” Snape said.  “Well, thank you again, Fabien.  Good bye.”

“Goodbye Severus, and congratulations” Fabien said, pumping his hand vigorously.  He then summoned Aidan who escorted Snape to the main entrance.

The Head of Slytherin was back at Hogwarts in time for lunch.  He decided that on balance he was feeling pleased.  His dancing lessons were organised and Fabien just might sing for them – the Friar had probably been thrown off balance by the unexpected request; once he had time to mull it over he might find he could say yes.

* * *

Strolling in the large garden at her parents island home, the legs of he narrow black trousers wet with dew, Celeste explained about her marriage plans and described her fiancé – what he was, what he had been, his strengths, his faults, his personal circumstances.  She tried to be honest and not to sound too starry eyed, but she couldn’t help speaking at some length about Snape’s Order of Merlin and the part he had played in combating the plague.  She also told of how Snape had helped her to get over her despair about the death of the Wilson twins, and the hilarious incident when he thought she was drowning.

On hearing that, Celeste’s mother smiled.  At the island Celeste kept a small boat and whenever the weather allowed she was often to be found on or in the sea, sailing and swimming.  Aurora also knew of her daughter’s particular fondness for dosing in warm, calm water.  She was however not at all pleased to learn that her only daughter was planning to marry a former Death Eater.  Nothing Celeste could say about Snape’s heroic part in the downfall of Voldemort, nor accounts of any subsequent noble actions would make her change her opinion.  But she was fascinated to learn that he was ‘the Death Eater Mole’.

“So he was the double agent” she said.  “As I was leaving the service a whisper had started up amongst the Aurors.  The faintest rumour of the likelihood of a Mole – a deep under cover spy.  Nothing was ever actually known; it was ultra hush-hush.  But certain events pointed to the possibility of a Mole amongst the Death Eaters.  Albus was paranoid about not blowing the Mole’s cover – the slightest breath of suspicion and he would be finished, you see.  Zapped!  History!  No question.  No one envied the Mole his job!  At least the Aurors had the comradeship of being part of a team, and didn’t have to live in a state of total deception.”

“And knowing all that, you can still never accept him?” Celeste asked sadly, absentmindedly wiping mud off her black shoes onto the edge of a rock.  “What does he have to do to atone for being a Death Eater?”

“Celeste, he cannot atone for being a Death Eater” Aurora Lavelle said simply.  “Don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not pretending anything.  I have made it clear to you that I have killed people in the course of my work.  I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed of it either.  I brought them in alive as often as possible, but I openly admit I have, on occasions, resorted to the ultimate sanction.  Aurors are ruthless.  But Death Eaters are evil.  That’s the difference.  Death Eaters, by being what they are, lay bare their evil nature.  Those that remain Death Eaters are proud of their nature; those that repent are not proud of it, but it remains their nature nevertheless.”

A silence fell.  Finally Aurora Lavelle continued.  “If you are determined to marry this wizard I cannot stop you, and yes, I will come to your wedding, and no, I won’t make a scene.  Of course I won’t.  And I will try always to be civil to your husband.  But don’t ever expect me to trust Severus Snape.  I’m sorry, but that’s how it is.”

Celeste’s father was a little more sympathetic.  He said he would meet Snape and, since it seemed this match was to be permanent, he would make every effort to be on good terms with him.  It was potentially a stressful situation for Lucien Lavelle, having been a victim of Death Eater torture; but for Celeste’s sake he was prepared to try.

So Celeste returned to Hogwarts rather sad but still resolute in her plans.  She was not totally convinced by her mother’s distinction between ruthlessness and evil – it may be an accurate distinction she conceded, but some evil people may be able to masquerade as ruthless in the cause of right.  She wouldn’t put her mother in that category but she felt the distinction was too neat to be always valid.

Celeste was due to arrive at Hogsmeade at nine thirty and Snape waited for her at the castle’s West Door.  And suddenly there she was at nine forty-one, her firm footsteps smacking along the path from the broomshed, her cloak swinging about the Cuban heels of her black shoes.  She had dined at home and Snape had dined in the Great Hall, so they sat in his sitting room talking over the day’s events, because Snape was anxious to hear whether her trip home had gone well.  He also had to admit about his dancing lessons.

“My parents want to see us soon, and they suggested early in the summer holidays – they know we are busy until then” Celeste said.  “How about if we go on the first Sunday in July?  They suggest we leave Hogwarts just after breakfast and spend the day with them, staying for dinner.  What do you think?”

“Yes, excellent.  I, err, hope they approve of me” Snape said hesitantly.

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll impress them” Celeste replied.

The following morning at breakfast a tawny owl swooped in with a white envelope for Celeste.  It contained a letter written in fountain pen.

“It’s from Uncle Fabien” she cried.  “I thought that was his owl.  Oh, wow!  Oh, I wonder if you’ll agree to this.  Listen…” and excitedly she read the letter to Snape.

Dear Celeste,

Your mother told me of your forthcoming wedding and I send you my heartiest congratulations.  I hope the poor wizard concerned understands what he is letting himself in for.  (‘Pshaw!  He doesn’t know you, does he!’ she said to Snape.)  I don’t know if you have chosen the music for the ceremony yet, but if you ‘have a free slot’- is that the term? – I would be happy to sing something.

If you find this an agreeable idea, please let me know what you would like.  In case you are scratching your head for ideas, might I suggest Omnia Sol Temperat from Carmina?

But if you have already chosen all the music, I will not be offended if you cannot fit me in.  I should in any event like to attend the ceremony.  Father Anthony has given his permission.

My love to you both.

Your,

Uncle Fabien

“Omnia sol temperat.  How do you feel about your uncle singing that while we sign the register?” Snape suggested, trying to sound as though the idea was new to him.

“Are you sure, Severus?” Celeste said excitedly.  “I would love it.  Erm, Uncle Fabien – you’ll probably find this a bit strange – he is a Friar.  A Dominican Friar.  He has a very good voice – he is in the Priory choir.  Are you sure you don’t mind about this?”

“I have no doubt it will be quite magnificent” Snape assured her.  “Why not let him know as soon as possible – if you’re sure it’s what you want.”

Celeste needed no further prompting.  She pulled her blue pen out of her pocket and wrote a grateful reply on the back of Fabien’s letter.  She also confirmed the likely date of the wedding “Just in case Mother didn’t make that clear” she added to Snape, “although I expect she did.  As you can see, the jungle drums have been busy already!”

Late that evening Celeste went to the owlery to send the letter, and the following morning at breakfast the same school owl brought her a further note from Fabien, written in fountain pen beneath her message, confirming the final arrangements.  ‘Muggle’ Fabien kept the owl and reused it, Snape realised.

* * *

As the week progressed, Celeste made a start on helping Snape to examine his teaching technique.  She felt this was about as safe as poking a stick into a sleeping dragon’s eye, and she actually admitted as much to Snape.  However, she had made up her mind that it had to be attempted.  Celeste’s approach was to try to be non-judgemental and supportive.  She knew her fiancé was both proud and sensitive – a tricky combination.  She knew, too, that no one likes being criticised.  But how to help him to examine his behaviour objectively?  And how to help him to recall accurately and unemotionally what had taken place during lessons.  Suddenly she remembered her great uncle’s Pensieve.

Grudgingly Snape agreed to use a Pensieve, so she ordered one from Machiavelli’s Magical Paraphernalia in Diagon Alley and it arrived a few days later.  They then spent arduous evenings siphoning off his thoughts and analysing what took place.  Progress was exceedingly slow at first, but it did exist.  Celeste worked hard at getting Snape to view matters for himself and determine his own answers.  She felt she was walking hand-in-hand with him along a difficult path, checking when he checked, encouraging him forward over hurdles, supporting him when he wanted to run back.  At her insistence they worked in the Potions classroom so that at times they could re-enact incidents.  She had to withstand frequent temperamental outbursts, of which Thursday’s was typical…

“Oh, this is hopeless, Celeste!”

They were staring into the Pensieve, looking at Snape’s memories of his last Potions class with the first year Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs.  Celeste was encouraging him to study the words he used and how he stood and moved about the room.

“See here” she asked quietly, ignoring his angry roar.  “See where you’re standing beside Hazel d’Sousa.  Well, she’s small compared to you; you are very tall, and black, and leaning over her.  I believe it’s at that point that fear immobilises her.  You’re asking her a question here and expecting her to use logic to work out the answer.  Study her face now.  And what do you think of her posture compared to yours...?  I would say she’s become too frightened to think.  Logic requires coolness, but she’s gone into ‘fight of flight’ mode.  She can’t fight you obviously, and she’s too sacred and obedient to run away, so her mind is in turmoil.  Higher mental processes like logic are now impossible for her.”

“So … what should I have done?” he asked irritably.

“How might you change how you stood?”  Snape made some suggestions and Celeste nodded.  “And this question here” she indicated gently, turning to a later incident.

“I suppose I snapped it at him” Snape said, sounding rather resentful.  “I was angry that he hadn’t been listening!  I don’t instruct them to provide myself with entertainment – I’ve go to drum it into their heads!”

This is a fair point, Celeste conceded – potion making is inherently dangerous; wrong mixtures are at best ineffective; but more frequently they are explosive or corrosive or poisonous.  But Severus’s style had fuelled an accelerating spiral of failure in Neville Longbottom, digging him deeper into a pit of ineptitude.  I don’t want anyone else to suffer that.  I can’t tell Severus that; he is, in his own way as capable of feeling pain as Neville is.  He’ll have to come to that realisation for himself.  Over time.  “Is it going into their heads as much as you want?” she asked.  “Might you get more in with other tactics?”

It was a tedious process, and a painful one for Snape, but it was starting ever so slightly to pay off.

* * *

Snape had never been so busy.  His dancing lessons took place in a disused Charms classroom.  Flitwick was let into the secret and he produced an orchestra of charmed musical instruments to play for them.  He also soundproofed the room.  Snape was quite touched by these efforts on his behalf – he wasn’t used to such kindness.  He supposed it was mainly done as a favour to Celeste.

Hooch was not impressed with Snape’s initial attempts at dancing.  “For heaven’s sake loosen up, Severus!” she scolded.  “Just go with the music…  Feel the beat…  Let your self go…  Ohrr, you’re such a control freak, that’s your trouble – you won’t let go.”

He made slow but dogged progress.  Two nights later Black and Hooch went out for an evening drink with Snape and Celeste, as they needed to discuss wedding plans.

“We don’t want to clash” Hooch said.  “Is it right you’re aiming for an August wedding?”

“Yes” Celeste said.  “We think it will be Saturday the fourteenth.  Uncle Albus says we can have the reception at Hogwarts.”

“Yes, he offered us the same” Black said, “but we want to go somewhere hotter.”

Black and Hooch’s wedding was to take place on an island in the Seychelles.  Most of it was owned by a wizard called Mesmerius Arrabin, and it was where Black and Buckbeak had spent their exile after their dramatic escape from Hogwarts in the days when Black was an escaped convict.  Buckbeak still lived there, pottering happily around Arrabin’s vast estate.  Black and Hooch were arranging their wedding for July, and everyone from Hogwarts was invited.

“Harry and Remus will be coming” Black said to Snape.  “I thought I ought to warn you.”

“Yes.  Thank you” Snape replied.  “I shall still be pleased to attend.”

Black looked at Snape in surprise.  He seemed perfectly serious and sincere.  If he didn’t mean what he said, he had at least learned to be polite.  He was a good deal less sarcastic these days.

“I was wondering what to do about a wedding list” Celeste said.  “We are going to live in the dungeon rooms, at least to begin with.  Severus has a lot of furniture, some of it in storage, so we really don’t want to put people to the trouble and expense of a lot of presents.”

“People will still want to give you gifts” Hooch pointed out.  “When you have your own home you will need things for the kitchen, and linen.  We’ve got a couple of catalogues we are going to use – I’ll let you borrow them if you like.  See if you want to do the same.”

“OK.  Great.  Thank you” Celeste replied happily.

“Talking of kitchen things” Hooch added, “have you heard – the old Lilac Tea-Time tea rooms are opening again.  Going to open on Whitsunday.”

“Ooh, I’d like to have a look at it” Celeste said to Snape.  “Shall we go, Severus?”

“Yes, very well” he said lightly.  He smiled and added “If we must.”

* * *

Whitsunday was a beautiful day and Celeste wore her daffodil yellow summer dress and hat for the afternoon trip to the tea rooms.  The building had been completely refurbished and renamed – an elegant sign above the door proclaimed ‘The Cup and Sorcerer’ in a flowing script.

“Oh dear” Snape groaned as he read the sign, “this is going to be awfully twee.”

He was amazed to find the tea shop was radically different to the former premises.  Gone were the heavy Victorian furniture, potted palms and aspidistras.  The main dining room was filled with round tables covered in small white lace cloths over longer peach drapery.  Bowls of Anne Harkness rosebuds graced each table.  The walls and ceiling were whitewashed between many dark oak beams.  High Delft boards displayed an assortment of pretty plates, saucers and little teapots.  The minimal furniture was of dark oak and the carpet plain beige.  The whole effect was spotless and rather feminine.

Behind the main dining room was a large conservatory with white metal garden furniture – tables and chairs that looked like stiff lace doilies and clattered a little on the grey-blue terazzo floor.  Trailing alpine strawberry plants hung from the white-ribbed glass ceiling.  They were planted in greyish white planters; their tiny fruits like spots of blood among a froth of green leaves.  The planters had a strangely ethereal look, giving the impression that the plants were growing out of the clouds.  Celeste and Snape sat beneath the strawberry plants as a pretty waitress in peach and white lace livery hurried over to hand them a menu.

“Actually, this is rather gorgeous” Celeste said, as she removed her yellow, saucer-shaped hat and stowed it on a spare chair.  “Someone has a great eye for colour.”

They were surprised by the extensive range of teas and coffee on offer.

They ordered a pot of Darjeeling, homemade plain scones and preserves.  The food and drink was excellent and the range of preserves – which also turned out to be homemade – impressive.  The chinaware was a commercial Wedgwood design, and bore a simple pattern of entwined leaves, fruits and tendrils, worked in relief in the plain, off-white clay.  As they ate and drank, they watched the bevy of pretty waitresses hurrying about.  The tea room was busy.  A trace of a suspicion crept into Snape’s mind.

The proprietor emerged, beaming and pausing to exchange pleasantries with his customers.  He wore saffron robes which complemented his lightly tanned complexion but clashed slightly with his coiffured brassy-gold curls.  He was full of a superficial bonhomie and had a dazzling smile.  He spotted Snape.  “Oh no.  I might have known” Snape groaned.

“Severus!” he cried.  Hurrying over, he grabbed Snape’s hand and pumped it vigorously.  “Severus!.  How are you, old man?  And who is this? he drawled, turning appreciative eyes on Celeste.”

“Lockhart!” Snape exclaimed coldly.  His eyes flicked from Gilderoy Lockhart to Celeste and back again, and an unmistakable look of pride swept across his face as he added “Allow me to introduce my fiancée, Miss Celestine Lavelle.  Celeste, this is Mr Lockhart.  He once taught at Hogwarts.  Many years ago.”

“Miss Lavelle.  Enchanting lady!  Please, do call me Gilderoy” Lockhart gushed, kissing her hand “Your fiancée?  Then may I congratulate you, madam, on such a – err – formidable choice of wizard.”  He gave the gloating Potions Master a swift, bitter glance; and then without a trace of embarrassment chatted affably for a few more moments, before sauntering on.

Celeste was quietly chuckling.  “He was a teacher?” she hissed in disbelief, when Lockhart had moved some distance away.

“Well, teacher is not quite the word for it” Snape said sardonically.  “Not one of your uncle’s greatest appointments.  In fact Lockhart spent a term of years in Azkaban for improper use of magic on countless unspecified persons, attempted improper use of magic on Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley and for intending to abandon Ginny Weasley to her fate in the Chamber of Secrets.  I’ll tell you all about him when we get home.  It is mostly an amusing tale.  And annoying, and downright infuriating in places too.  Hmm, I always suspected he dyed his hair.”  Snape fell silent, thinking.  “I wonder if Lockhart will be open on Valentine’s Day” he mused.  “If he is, I’ll bring you here.  It should be quite a sight.  You think you’re colour coordinated, Milady, but he’s unbelievable!”

* * *

As the weeks went by Snape’s dancing efforts improved.

“I think you ought to try it with Celeste, now” Hooch advised.  “You can’t leave it all to The Big Day – you ought to practice together.”

She noticed that after an initial nervousness Snape danced very well with Celeste – entranced by her beauty, he swept her around the floor quite impressively.  He’s going to be OK, Hooch realised.

* * *

End of year exams were not as full as they should have been, as the plague had prevented coverage of some of the syllabus.  But where the students were tested less extensively, they were tested more intensively, so they still had to revise very thoroughly.  The Potions results were ever so slightly better than in past years.

Marius Findlayter attended the Leaving Feast in order to present the plaque to the school.  After a minute’s silence in memory of the victims, the students that had helped in the fight against the disease were called forward to shake the Minister’s hand and one of them, pre-selected at random, received the plaque on behalf of the school.

Because of the disruption due to the sickness and the curtailment of normal Potions lessons with Snape, the final house point results were the strangest ever – Hufflepuff won the House Cup with 273 points, Gryffindor came second with 262, Slytherin third with 247 and Ravenclaw fourth with 241.  The Quidditch Cup could not, of course, be awarded.  McGonagall insisted the house point scores proved that the pupils were normally quite evenly balanced – it was the ‘Snape factor’ that usually distorted the results!

Review

Chapter Sixteen -  Islands in the Sun

The summer holidays began.  Aurora Lavelle sent them a Portkey and Snape travelled with Celeste to her parents’ home.  He was quite worried about meeting the Lavelles.  She hadn’t divulged her mother’s opinions in any detail, but he half suspected them.  As for her father – Snape couldn’t imagine that a man who had been tortured by Death Eaters and still bore mental and physical scars of the encounter would relish the presence of a former Death Eater.

On Celeste’s instructions Snape dressed in his lightest robe and carried his cloak, whilst she wore an embroidered T-shirt over blue jeans, and carried the gabardine bag containing her wand and, for the evening, the silver ear clips and Slytherin necklace.

Aurora Lavelle was waiting to meet them when they arrived outside the front of the house.  A four-row choker of pearls glittered at her throat, and her almond green gown rippled slightly in the breeze as she stood waiting just beyond the porch.  Celeste made the introductions and Aurora gave Snape a very penetrating look.

“Welcome to Isle Sans Pareil, Severus” she said smoothly, stretching out a hand to him.  Snape bowed and kissed her hand.  Her eyebrows arched.  “So you are Excalibur” she whispered almost to herself, indicating to him to take her arm, and steering him into the house.

“I beg your pardon?” Snape enquired.

“Excalibur.  It’s what some of the Aurors secretly called The Death Eater Mole” she confided.  X you see, the unknown factor.  We suspected your existence but were forbidden even to hint at it…”

She seemed reasonably friendly towards Snape and Celeste sighed with relief.

The house was a chalet bungalow; wide, and with the roof sloping down very low almost like a cape.  It felt, Snape thought, rather like a farmhouse.  The interior echoed the wide, low, spacious feel – the rooms were airy with roughcast whitewashed walls and much honey-coloured wood.  The polished wooden floors were close boarded and furnished with large rugs in patterns of soft gold and black.  The massive beams of the ceilings were exposed, and the rooms had large hearths faced with Cotswold stone.

They stood in the low-beamed sitting room amongst sofas of rich brown velvet.

“Your father is in the garden, Celeste” Aurora said.  “Will you take Severus out to meet him?  Then you can leave them.  I believe your father wants to see him alone.  I think it will be alright” she added, seeing Celeste’s anxious look.  “He has been very well lately.”

Irregular in shape, the garden was an area hedged informally with Elaeagnus and feathery Tamarix bushes.  Unlike the rest of the island, which tended to be windswept heather, its sheltered interior contained many exotic plants such as aloes, argarves and bananas, growing in gravely beds.  Cordeline, yuccas and palms added to the tropical feel.  But, across a stretch of lawn, there was one area that appeared lush and cool, and was thronged with typically English cottage garden plants – fiery nasturtiums, fragrant nicotiana, and snap dragon of every colour.  Standing tall behind these were foxgloves, purple-blue campanula and stately lupin spires in shades of lemon and pale lilac.  In the midst of this perfumed prettiness, and in the thin shade afforded by a pair of rowan trees, Lucien Lavelle sat on a rustic bench, overlooking a large pond and watching a group of sparrows splashing in the shallows.

The stepping stone path from the house to the bench wound across the lawn between bushes of lavender and Russian sage, and as he walked Snape’s black robe brushed their stems, releasing the fragrance.  Two paces ahead of him Celeste was deliberately doing the same, and Snape realised this was what was intended – the plants and the layout had been carefully chosen. With the sun hot on his back, Snape followed the snaking path to the pond.  As he drew closer he saw that Monsieur Lavelle wore a powder blue silk robe over matching breeches and a cream cambric shirt.  His hair, which was as long as Dumbledore’s, was tied back into a very low pony tail.  It was hard to believe he was a Muggle.

Lucien stood up as they approached and held out a hand so scarred it looked as if it had been melted and reformed.  Snape took his hand gently and shook it carefully as Celeste introduced them.

“Merci, mon cherie” Lucien said to his daughter.  “I should like to talk to this young man alone, if I may.  So would you be so kind as to go and keep your mother company?”

“Very well, Father” she replied.  “I’ll see you both at lunch.”  She lent forward and he placed a kiss on her forehead.

“So” Lucien continued, as he watched Celeste’s retreating back, “I meet at last the wizard my daughter has chosen.  I trust she has explained to you about my state of health.”

“Yes, sir, she has” Snape said, “and I believe she has also told you of my past – all of my past; the dark as well as the light.”  His worried and nervous half-smile made its brief appearance as he said this.

“She has” Lucien confirmed.  “Severus, there is something I want you to understand at the outset.  The past … I do not want it to be a barrier between us.  Celeste speaks very highly of you.  Very highly.  And I set great store by my daughter’s judgement.  I had two sons once, but they were taken from me.  I wish for you to call me Lucien, and I should like to come to think of you as my son.  Welcome to the family.”  He spread his arms and the two men embraced, Snape rather hesitantly because he was not accustomed to, nor much in favour of, overt displays of warm feelings between men.

They sat on the bench and Lucien asked Snape abut the wedding preparations and his thoughts about the future – where they would live and what plans they had for a family of their own.

“We do need to live near the school” Snape explained.  “Hogwarts is, as you know, a residential school, and I am Head of Slytherin House, so my duties do not simply end when classes end.  But so far we have not found a house to our taste, so we will live in my dungeon apartments to begin with, while we continue our search.”

“But if in the meantime Celeste conceives?” Lucian asked.

“We will have enough room for an infant” Snape assured him.  “If the need arises we could easily manage until our first child is one year old, but by that time I will have had a house built if we have not found anything else.  I have the means to afford a substantial house; I do not need to call upon my teaching salary to finance it.”

As they spoke Snape studied Lucien.  He was like his brother Fabien, but his injuries had made grave differences.  He was nevertheless still a handsome man, with refined features and a facial complexion tanned lightly brown by the southerly sea air.  If his hair had remained pale blond instead of turning ash white and if his underlying expression had remained upbeat he would look very much like Fabien.

“I see you find it a little warm here, Severus” Lucien said, noticing the perspiration forming on Snape’s brow.  “The climate is very mild.  Not what you are used to – rather different to Scotland, I suspect.  Spring comes early here.  Shall we move to the deeper shade under those cherry trees?  I have to be careful not to sit in the sun when it is strong.  Mais non; on second thoughts perhaps we shall go to my study.  We are having a picnic lunch, you see, and the house-elves will need to set up the table over there.”

Lucien’s study contained an antique desk at which a house-elf in a pale blue T-shirt and shorts sat busily entering figures in a ledger, and two very old and comfortable leather armchairs.  There were also numerous books on shelves around the walls; a side cabinet with a tray of drinks; and a scattering of strange mechanical devices.  The window was open and the room was pleasantly breezy.

The house-elf stood up when they entered but Lucien bade him carry on with his work.  He motioned Snape to an armchair, went to the drinks tray and selected two heavy crystal whisky tumblers.

“A drink perhaps?” he asked, holding up a decanter.  Armagnac?  Or Calvados perhaps?”

“Whichever you are having.  Thank you” Snape replied and Lucien chose the Calvados.

“Some of these Celeste has collected” Lucien said, pointing to a Lunerscope and an ancient Greek clepsydra as he settled himself into the other armchair.  “She has a certain fascination for gadgetry, but I’m sure you know.  That is one reason why she did a physics degree…”

They sipped their drinks and chatted.  Eventually the house-elf finished his task, put the ledger away and, having verified that nothing else was required, quietly left the study.  Snape found Lucien was a pleasant man to talk to; polite, easy going and with a dry sense of humour.  His pronunciation of English was virtually faultless, and he moved seamlessly between English and French in a way that was at times disconcerting.  He was passionate about his books and also keen to hear about Hogwarts; the subjects they taught and the way the school was organised.  Snape remembered he had once been a teacher – once long ago; before the world went mad.

*

“Well, what do you think of him, Mother?” Celeste asked.

“My reservations still apply, but he is an impressive wizard” she conceded.  “I suppose I can partly understand your fascination.  He has tremendous ‘presence’.”

*

At lunchtime they found the food spread ready for them, champagne, smoked salmon, lobster, cheeses, tomato-and-basil pâté, strawberries, and many other sweet and savoury delicacies.  Two house-elves, dressed in uniforms of powder blue picked out with cream and gold, brought baskets of warm baguettes wrapped in napkins and then stood waiting to see if anything else was needed.  Snape presumed correctly that the elves livery colours distinguish them as belonging to the Lavelle family.

Lucien soon decided they had everything necessary and he courteously dismissed the elves.  It was very pleasant picnicking under the trees.  The shade was adequate and Snape made a comment about the cooling breeze.

“Breeze?  Yes, there is always a breeze” Celeste snorted.  “Except in the winter when there are gales” she added laughing.  “And the breeze is very often wet!  We have a small boat which we sail on the sea at times.  I’ll show you this afternoon, if you like.”

“Correction!  Celeste has a boat!” Aurora said forcefully.  She and Lucien were chuckling.  We do not sail it” she assured Snape.  “Occasionally the house-elves use it to fish, but Celeste is the one for messing about on the water.  And swimming!” she couldn’t resist adding, her eyes twinkling at Snape as she held out a champagne bottle.

He blushed slightly and accepted another glass of champagne.  In his mind Snape summarised his impression of Aurora.  She seemed tough and smugly confident, with a superficial friendliness that would always take second place to the dictates of her iron will.  He also sensed a ruthlessness in her nature.  And yet he felt she had been reluctantly impressed by him and possibly intrigued.  He decided he could respect Aurora Lavelle but he doubted he would ever like her, and possibly he would never trust her.  He did however trust, and liked very much, the warm-hearted Lucien Lavelle.

After lunch Lucien and Aurora went into the house leaving Snape and Celeste to laze in the garden and wander in when they wished.  Having rested for an hour Celeste fetched Snape’s cloak and a light-weight, hooded fleece for herself.  She then took her fiancé for a walk to the sea shore.  The stony path they followed passed a group of buddleia bushes, their royal purple blooms already well-attended by butterflies.  Crossing a beach of almost pure white quartz sand, Celeste showed Snape the small boat she had spoken of, and Snape, who had reservations because he couldn’t swim very well, was finally persuaded to risk going for a sail.  Unworldly he might be, but even Snape realised that the energetic waves he could see a little distance from the shore had already swelled across some three thousand miles of ocean.

“You’ll need that cloak” Celeste advised as she wriggled into her fleece and adjusted her wand in the sleeve.  “It’ll be breezy, and you may want the hood to keep the sun off – on a clear day like this it can be a bit dangerous.  Now, you have a choice – you can sit in the stern and work the tiller, or sit in the prow and just enjoy the ride.  It’s up to you.  I can easily work the tiller and the little sail – after all, I usually sail alone.”  Swinging on his cloak, Snape opted to be lazy and sit in the prow.  As Celeste manoeuvred through the turquoise shallows he stared down onto a captivating world of coral, sponges and sea fans.  The sun still burned quite high in the blue sky, and to seek some relief Celeste manoeuvred quickly towards the shady side of the island, keeping as close to the shore as the boat’s draught allowed.

“You told your mother about the incident in the prefect’s bathroom” Snape groaned.

“Well, you were trying to rescue me!” Celeste pointed out.  “You acted from the best of motives.  I didn’t tell her Argus was always trying to spy on me.  I, err, did, tell her about the Astronomy Tower.  You thought I was going to jump that night, didn’t you.”

“It did cross my mind” he said dryly.

“I don’t think I was” Celeste asserted.  “I just went up there to think.  Well … I suppose I didn’t realise how screwed up I was.  It was the work, I think, partly – the weeks and weeks of long hours.  And no end in sight.  I got myself in a mess, didn’t I!  Well, anyway, I wanted Mother to know what you’d done for me.  I haven’t spoken about everything that has passed between us – some things, most things – are not for anyone else to know.”

He nodded gravely, remembering his behaviour at Easter and relieved at Celeste’s diplomacy.  They fell silent for a while.  Herring gulls wheeled overhead and one particularly nosy bird paid them a closer look.  Noting his approach, Snape thought through his recollections of Animagi.  No, he didn’t know of anyone who transformed into a seagull.  Meanwhile, the two figures in the boat didn’t look a potential source of food so the gull made off, and they were left alone with the sea, the sky, the rocky cliffs and the occasional mournful herring gull cry.

“I can see why your parents live here” Snape said, gazing over the sparkling water.  “This is so beautiful it is almost unreal.  I feel I have stepped into a dream.  Do they get many visitors?”

“Visitors, no, but a lot of rain!” Celeste said emphatically.  “And mist!  These Atlantic winds are laden with moisture.  You’re lucky to see all this on such a fine, clear day.  They don’t get visitors because the island is enchanted to stop Muggles finding it.  It’s unplottable of course.  But it gets stormy in winter and my parents have had to rescue people on occasions, and get them to St Mary’s – use memory charms, because the Muggles are totally confused about how they got rescued.  But normally no one bothers my parents – they can rely on the charms to keep Muggle boats and aircraft away.  That’s what they want – privacy and safety.  Father is a lot better though.  Loads!  Perhaps he can finally believe the Voldemort years are over.”

*

For the evening Celeste changed into a set of sea green robes Snape had never seen before.  At dinner they were again attended by elves.  The food and wine were of the finest and Snape realised that the Lavelle’s were a very wealthy family.  None of them ate meat, although as Snape had discovered at lunchtime, Celeste’s parents did occasionally eat fish – usually local fish, caught, killed and prepared for them by their house-elf cooks.  However, just as they had provided extra seafood delicacies at lunchtime, they now provided meat for Snape – tender fillets of beef in a mushroom and sherry sauce – a delicious Italian recipe.

In the clear air, the heat of the day was dispersing fast and Lucien wore a thicker robe of royal blue, patterned with tiny silver stars.  Aurora was resplendent in a blood-red and gold brocade robe over a plain red dress.  The high neck of her dress bore an Italian cameo of cream on reddish-brown.

The elegant but informal meal provided an enjoyable end to an interesting day.

* * *

When they returned to Hogwarts, Snape set about collecting the ingredients for a potion he intended to make for Lucien.  The two men had discussed it in the privacy of Lucien’s study.  Snape had in mind a variation on the traditional Nerve Calming Potion and he began work at once.  The following morning, as Celeste helped him weigh lavender flowers and grind horn shavings from a Swedish Short-Snout dragon, he asked her if her father always wore blue.

“Yes” she replied.  “His name means ‘light’ or ‘sky’.  He usually wears light blue, often with pale cream and gold.  Sky, clouds and sun.  Aurora, Lucien, Celeste – dawn, light, heaven – if we have a daughter I suppose we should call her Estella.  And, you mentioning his robes, reminds me!  You will need to get something suitable to wear at Sirius and Maddie’s wedding.  Even the thinnest robe in your wardrobe is far too heavy-weight for tropical temperatures.  No, Severus, be sensible!  The Seychelles are a bit hotter than the Scottish Highlands and the Scilly Isles – you’ll cook in that heat!  We are going to Madam Malkin’s in Diagon Alley.  And soon!  And remind me, tonight, to owl Gladrags.”

She could be infuriatingly stubborn over such things.  Snape was no more keen to buy new robes than to attend Black and Hooch’s wedding.  At Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions he reluctantly tried on her thinnest of black, dark blue, dark green, dark grey and brown robes, but Celeste was far from satisfied.

“One of those may be OK for the evening but you need something for the day time.  You need lightweight trousers and a loose shirt – in pale colours to reflect the heat.”

Eventually, with the help of Madam Malkin herself, Celeste persuaded Snape to try on three pairs of jeans; one in pale blue, one in camel, and one (ultimately his choice) in charcoal grey.  Madam Malkin had a range of cotton over-shirts that would go with these.  Celeste thought the camel coloured jeans looked particularly good if teamed with a cream shirt, and any fairly dark shade of blue would be acceptable with the blue jeans.  She discovered there were lots of colours Snape couldn’t wear – his hair colour wasn’t a problem, but his sallow skin was shown up badly by shades of silver grey, lilac and very pale blues and greens.  Stronger colours looked better – deep yellow and orange, rust, even coral.  Both witches admired him in jeans – they suited his taught, slender figure with its elegant deportment.

Snape refused to consider the cream and camel combination and both Celeste and Madam Malkin thought that blue, whilst OK, was nothing special.  Celeste’s second choice was a bright gold shirt to go with the grey jeans, and Snape gave this some consideration.  But he wasn’t used to seeing himself in bright colours – he decided to play safe and opt for an olive green shirt to put over the jeans.

“What do I do about my feet” he said as he padded about the shop in his socks.

“That’s all organised – we’ll sort that out in a moment” Celeste replied.  “Now, you need a robe for the evening and a change of shirt.”  She finally selected a rusty red, glazed-cotton robe and a thin polo-necked top in black silk.

The answer to ‘Snape’s feet’ turned out to be a pair of Birkenstock Milano black sandals from Gladrags Wizardwear.  On receipt of Celeste’s owl they had obtained a range of Birkenstock sandals from Ethical Wares, and Snape spent the rest of the morning trying on the very comfortable, animal-free footwear.  Meanwhile, without any difficulty, Celeste found an outfit for herself – a flared and floaty cotton dress patterned in turquoise, lime green and purple; and a turquoise crocheted shawl shot with silver thread.  Then, whilst Snape was deciding to add a pair of brown Arizona sandals to his purchases, she shot off to All Things Witchy and came back with two thin black leather neck cords.  They both held scorpion emblems – Snape’s birth sign.  One was incised into a tablet of glazed pottery; the other was shown in relief on a beaten copper disc.  Both neck cords looked quite gothic – they would hang an inch or so beneath Snape’s pronounced supersternal lodge – the hollow at the base of his neck formed by the tendons that reached down to his collar bone.

“This will probably be the only time I buy you leather” she explained to him.  “The pottery tag is for the daytime – it’ll look good on your bare chest under the open neck of that green shirt.  The copper one is for the evening, to wear with the black polo and the robe.  Trust me – they’ll look great.”

* * *

Snape felt he had little choice but to make an appearance at Black and Hooch’s wedding – it would be impolite not to attend, and Celeste was strict about good manners.  The wedding was officiated by Desmond Hills-Jones, Deputy Chief Registrar of The Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages Department of the Ministry of Magic.  It took place on the white sands of one of Mesmerius Arrabin’s private beaches at his Seychelles estate.

Hooch and Black wore pale lemon silk robes trimmed with silver grey, and they had charmed their grey hair to glisten in harmony with their clothes.

As Snape feared, the weather was hot, but a large palm leaf canopy had been erected and a sea breeze, backed up by cooling charms, made the temperature bearable.

The wedding was a light-hearted affair, with dancing late into the evening beneath strings of lanterns and free-floating fairies.  It had the fun-loving atmosphere of a carnival.  When he could find suitable tunes to dance to, Snape danced mostly with Celeste, but he was confident enough to take a turn with Sprout and once, rather guardedly, with McGonagall.  After their dance she stood by Dumbledore and watched Snape making a good effort at a tango with Celeste.  He held her close and there was an undeniable undercurrent of sensuality in his movements.  Despite the bright sunshine, he looked cool and comfortable in his grey jeans and olive shirt, and the black leather neck cord with its scorpion emblem heightened the animal hint in his demeanour.

“He is much changed” she remarked to Dumbledore, “and yet he is just the same as ever he was – just as hazardous.”

“Mmmm, I like this” Celeste said, admiring the neck cord and Snape’s shirt unbuttoned just enough to show the top of his sparse chest hair.  “I want you to wear this in bed sometimes.  With nothing else of course!  Or maybe with just a shirt – one like this that opens fully.  Aaah, yes!”

Hearing the sigh and seeing her pupils dilating, Snape smiled a knowing smile – he knew that reaction of hers very well by now, although he never understood why she found him attractive.  Sometimes Celeste tried to explain; but no dissertation of hers on his aristocratic oval face, or his aquiline nose, or his kissable mouth, or his vigorous bearing, would convince Snape – he knew he was ugly.  He held her closer as the tango progressed…

As Snape and Celeste took a break to sip pina colada and watch the beginnings of a magnificent sunset, he spotted Remus Lupin in the crowd.  Lupin was enjoying a glass of champagne with his friend Septimus Peor, Beauxbaton’s Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor – the two men seemed particularly comfortable in each other’s company; there was a warmth that was more than just friendship.

“Are they … are they–” Snape began; wondering how to voice his suspicion, but Celeste interrupted.

“Yes, Remus and Septimus are a couple” she confirmed.  “I must go over soon to say hello.  I am very fond of Septimus, as you know.  And Remus is a charming man too” she added firmly, in case Snape was about to utter something spiteful.  But he wasn’t.  Hearing the news, Snape smiled shyly but without malice as he watched the two wizards.  He had never guessed Remus was gay.

At that moment Harry Potter and Cho Chang danced past, obscuring Snape’s view of the two Beauxbaton House Masters.  Harry appearance reminded Snape of a further piece of unfinished business.  “By the way, Celeste” he said imperiously, “I intend to have a word with Harry Potter sometime.  It’s about Lily’s portrait.  I want Harry to have it.”

“OK” she replied tenderly.  “If you’re sure.  I don’t mind us keeping it – it’s entirely your choice.  But it would be a nice gesture to offer it to Harry.”

“Thank you” he said shortly, wishing to say nothing further on the matter.  “Um, shall we dance?”

Most of the music was modern, some was blues and jazz, some rock and soul.  The band, whose name was Ravelin, consisted of three musicians and three singers.  All were young black men in their late teens or early twenties.  Of the singers, one was an ex-student – Dean Thomas, and the other two were his cousins Ryan and Daryl.  The six men were dressed identically – black jeans and black leather waistcoats, unbuttoned to display bare chests glinting with silver jewellery.  Dragon hide armlets of the kind worn by archers were bound on their left forearms.  They seemed accomplished in quite a range of twentieth century music.

There was also a female singer – another ex-student – Alicia Spinnet.  She wore a white dress in a classical Greek style and cleverly set off by gold jewellery.  It turned out she was quite a diva and was trying to break into show business.  Celeste was very impressed with the singers and musicians, so later, while Alicia was singing, Snape took the opportunity to speak to Dean.  He explained about his forthcoming wedding and asked if Ravelin would be interested in performing for them at the reception.  The boys were certainly keen.  “I don’t believe I know your cousins” Snape said to Dean.

“We’re not wizards” Daryl explained.  “We didn’t get to go to Hogwarts.  Wish we had!” he added fervently.

Snape had a sudden vision of trying to teach Potions to these rather unruly boys, and he shuddered.  He agreed payment terms with them, and they asked if he would want Alicia to sing as well.

“Do you think she would?” Snape asked.

“Oh yeah, – course!” Dean said.  He looked at his former Potions Master, whom he found rather hard to recognise – Snape seemed to have changed so much.  “I know we didn’t exactly get on, Proff, but, well, it’s different now, isn’t it.”

“We’ll send her over” Ryan said, “when we next go on.  Then you can ask her, but I’m sure she’ll say yes.”

*

“I hardly recognised you, Professor” a sultry voice said to him some minutes later, making Snape jump.  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wearing anything but black.”

The temperature was dropping and Snape had changed for the evening into his rust-red robe and black silk polo.  The copper disk on his chest glittered in the lantern light.  He looked up from his empty daiquiri glass and saw a young lady standing over him.  Alicia, too, had changed for the evening – now wearing a long black sheath dress slashed to the thigh, she poured herself into a nearby seat and crossed her legs rather provocatively.  Her dark hair, swept up in a huge, stylish hair-do, sparkled with silver glitter.  She wasn’t a schoolgirl any more.

Snape’s eyebrows arched.  “Ah yes” he murmured greedily.  “Miss Spinnet.  Em, I was wondering if…”

As he spoke she regarded him coolly, enjoying his look of surprise at her alluring appearance.  She, too, noticed things about him – his hair was clean and silky, and his cold, self-protective sarcasm far less evident.  Yes, she would sing for them.  It seemed she could sing anything from the 1930s onwards and even make a stab at twenties songs, but she preferred what she called ‘big diva numbers’ that showed off her powerful voice.

“Wait till you hear my version of Shirley Bassey’s The Power of Love” she said.  “If you and Miss Celeste put together a list of numbers we’ll all come to the school – myself, Dean and the boys – and we’ll run through them with you, so you’ll know what you’re getting on the day.  We’ve gotta get the sequence worked out, and have something in reserve if something doesn’t work.”

“Thank you, Alicia” Snape said smoothly.  “Well, I hope your show business career takes off.  Although, perhaps not before my wedding.”  His dark eyes twinkled coldly.

“Don’t worry, Professor; I won’t let you down” Alicia assured him.  “Trouble with me is I haven’t really developed a style of my own yet.  But I’ll get there.”

“I’m sure you will” Snape agreed.  “And, er, you certainly know how to wear black, young lady.”

She smiled, gave him a cheeky wink, and sauntered back to the stage.

“They’ll do it” Snape said, as Celeste appeared holding two long, ice filled glasses of a Malibu and mango juice cocktail.  “It won’t come cheap, but they’ll do it!  This must be my last alcoholic drink Celeste.  You don’t need to get me drunk to have your evil way with me – in fact too much alcohol can be counter productive.”

Celeste grinned.  “We must draw up our list” she said.

* * *

The ‘list’ included not only music to dance to at the reception but also music to be played at the wedding ceremony.  They decided to hire the Registration Department’s orchestra, and tried to think of music to enter and leave by.  Snape fussed about the music in his typical nit-picking manner.

“My entrance music must be fairly slow” Celeste explained.  “Father will struggle to keep up if it’s too fast.  He’ll find it a bit of an ordeal anyway.”

“Then what about the Rondo from Abdelazar?” Snape suggested.  “Henry Purcell.”

“Oh yes!” Celeste agreed.  “That’s one of my favourites.  No, I don’t know.  It may actually be too slow.”

“The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba?  Everyone has that, I know … well, I believe they do” Snape added.  “So it may be a trifle overdone.”

“I didn’t know you had such a taste for the baroque” Celeste exclaimed.  “You’ve been keeping this very quiet.”

It transpired they both loved music from the baroque period; their absolute favourites being the Adagio in G Minor by Albinoni, the Cannon in D by Pachebel, the Purcell and Handel pieces Snape had just mentioned, and Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.

“That wouldn’t be bad” Celeste said.  “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.  I think Father and I would be OK walking to that.”  But in the end she opted for the second Andante from Handel’s Water Music.

Snape agreed.  Then we might walk out to “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” he said “Although I rather fancy the Allegro from the first Brandenburg Concerto.  But definitely nothing from the second – those last two movements sound like demented sparrows!”

They both had quite a knowledge of classical music.  Celeste however, had been to more performances.  Snape’s knowledge came mostly from music played by adult acquaintances and at his club.  Celeste had grown up in an atmosphere of music, and even after she went to Beauxbaton her mother had taken her to the opera, the ballet, and to concerts and recitals as often as possible.

Choosing the dance music was a good deal easier because of Snape’s dancing lessons.  With Hooch’s dedicated help he had been practicing to a variety of music, and for some time Celeste had been partnering him.  At first they practiced at Hogwarts, to the orchestra of instruments charmed by Felix Flitwick.  But once Ravelin and Alicia started to turn up, they moved to a little-used church hall near Clement Flitwick’s house.  Clement, Felix’s brother, was quite ruthless in using memory and soundproofing charms to keep Muggle curiosity at bay.  He was also very experienced in modern electronic gadgetry, and he helped Ravelin and Alicia to set up their equipment.  He wanted no payment for his help, only everyone’s solemn promise that they would not report him to The Improper Use of Magic Office.

“Have no fear of that” Snape assured him.  “We are all as guilty as you.”

Snape and Celeste’s song choices included My Resistance is Low; This Time the Girl is Gonna Stay; It Had to be You; Witchcraft; Crocodile Rock and The Power of Love.  Take My Breath Away was to be the final song.  For instrumental music, which was to be played by a hired orchestra, their choice included Begin the Beguine; Cheek to Cheek; the ‘Cadenza’ Adagio second movement of the third Brandenburg Concerto; and You and the Night and the Music.

Celeste was confident it was all going to be wonderful, and even Snape was feeling more optimistic.

* * *

Harry Potter was surprised when an owl arrived, bearing a polite letter from Snape which asked him to dine at the school as soon as was convenient.  In his early years at school he had always hated Snape – indeed the feeling had been mutual.  But eventually Snape’s attitude had started to change and Harry grew to see the Professor as a sad and possibly lonely figure.  By the time he was sitting his final exams he would not have said he actually liked Snape, but the Professor was no longer important; not as a foe.

Neither was his other arch enemy, Draco Malfoy.  Voldemort fell from power in the early part of Harry’s final year, and the fathers of Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle were arrested in the concluding round up of the Death Eaters.  Not being particularly academic, Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle had already left Hogwarts.  Shocked and frightened by his father’s final imprisonment, and without his henchmen to guard him at school, Draco Malfoy had to craft a new approach to life.  The snobbish, confident braggart had to go – Malfoy junior discovered the value of keeping a low profile.  The inroads that bribes, legal fees and fines had made into the Malfoy fortune could not be discounted – Draco needed to concentrate on his exams if he was to have the affluent future he had always pictured.  In Harry’s world, Snape and Malfoy were no longer figures of any significance.

Harry Apparated at Hogsmeade and walked from the village in the soft light of an early summer’s evening.  At the dining table Harry sat between Snape and Sirius Black; Celeste was careful to leave them alone all evening, she didn’t want to intrude and she didn’t want to influence Snape’s decision about Lily’s portrait.

After dinner Snape took Harry to his sitting room.  Harry had never been in Snape’s private rooms, only as far as the office attached to the Potions classroom.  He and his friend Ron Weasley had been in deep trouble on the first occasion, having illegally flown Arthur Weasley’s car to Hogwarts; and the second time Harry had been in even deeper trouble when Snape discovered his Marauder’s Map.  Harry was impressed by the unfussy grandeur of Snape’s sitting room.  As with all the North-facing dungeon rooms it was quite cold, so a low fire burned in the grate.

“This is what I want to show you” Snape explained, pointing to the portrait.  He sounded very much on his guard.

“Wow!” Harry said as they stood together in the middle of the room.  He recognised his mother instantly – he possessed the Muggle photograph upon which the painting was based.

“I was very much in love with your mother” Snape admitted gravely, in an astonishing show of frankness.  “I persuaded her to let me borrow a photograph and I had this portrait made from it.  It does not move, but, as you can see, it is an excellent likeness.”

Harry didn’t know what to say, so to save an embarrassing silence Snape continued.  “But that was a very long time in the past.  Celeste is to be my wife and I need to look to the future.  And besides, Lily was never my wife, but she was your mother.  So I was wondering if you would like to have this painting.”

Harry just nodded; he couldn’t speak but his face said it all.  He put his hand on Snape’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze, after which the two wizards spent some minutes standing in silence, side by side, looking at the painting.  Finally Harry found his voice.

“I certainly would love to have this” he said.  “Very much!  Thank you.  But, I don’t think I can take it at the moment.  Cho and I are hoping to set up home together, but we’ve got a lot to sort out.  I can’t really have a painting as large as this in my bed-sit in London.  Would it be possible for you to keep it a bit longer, Professor?  If it’s in your way, I’ll sort something out, but–”

“No. No, that will be no problem” Snape cut in.  “Celeste and I will be looking for a house in due course, but I will be keeping these dungeon rooms.  It can stay here – she doesn’t mind.  It will be here for you when you are ready, Harry.”

“Great.  Thank you” Harry said again.  “Err, Professor?  If I’m having this, would you like to have the original photograph?  It’s not much more than postcard size, so I was wondering if–”

“Yes.  Err, yes.  I would like that very much” Snape replied hurriedly, most touched by Harry’s offer but trying not to sound as desperately keen as he felt.  “Well, how about a spot of something.  I have some Ogdens here” he added, picking up a decanter.  “Oh, and Harry – since, after all these years, I have now taken the liberty of addressing you by your first name – please, call me Severus.”

They sat by the fire and Snape asked Harry his long remembered question.  “Do you remember the occasion when a firework was thrown in my classroom?  Landed in a cauldron – Goyle’s, I think.  Splashed everyone with a swelling solution?”

A smile spread across Harry’s face.  “Yes” he said truthfully.  “I threw the firework.”  Seeing Snape’s triumphant and quizzical look he continued.  “We needed a diversion so that Hermione could slip into you storeroom and steal Boomslang skin and Bicorn Horn.”

“Hermione?” Snape asked in surprise.  “That little know-it-all goody-two-shoes?  Pilfer my stores?”

“You underestimate her” Harry said.  “Hermione’s fearless when she’s made up her mind what’s right, and what’s gotta be done.  She’d make a great Auror.  We were making Polyjuice Potion so that we could pretend to be Slytherins and find out if Draco Malfoy was Slytherin’s heir.”

Snape was quietly impressed.  “The Headmaster never told me this” he said ruefully.

I didn’t tell him everything” Harry admitted.  “Silly really.  I wasn’t used to trusting adults – the Dursley’s weren’t exactly … well … anyway … I should have known I could trust Dumbledore with anything!”

“Whereas you couldn’t trust me” Snape pointed out.  “No.  Well, I did work hard at trying to persuade the Headmaster to expel you.  I was wasting my time it seems.  It was not to be, and when you tackled the Dark Lord at the Tri-Wizard final task, I think I realised then that you had a destiny that could not be set aside.  I suppose we all had such a destiny.  I suppose we all have” he mused, thinking proudly of Celeste’s rôle in combating the plague, and more sadly of events surrounding Voldemort’s final defeat.  He recalled too, the deaths of Cedric Diggory, Ernest Macmillan and Ronald Weasley – boys he had never liked, but whose deaths upset him more than he would ever acknowledge.  Harry was marked by them too, he reflected – certainly by the death of his friend Ron.  Snape took a gulp of scotch and gazed despondently into the fire.

“I certainly didn’t trust you in the first year” Harry admitted.  “I thought you were trying to kill me at that Quidditch match that time.  I couldn’t believe it when Quirrell finally told me the truth.  I can still hear him saying the words – with you going around ‘like an overgrown bat, who would suspect p-poor st-stuttering Professor Quirrell.’  Apart from Voldemort, that was the first time I came face to face with real evil.  I should’ve known.  Hagrid had insisted you were one of the teachers guarding the philosophers’ stone, and I’d got through your enchantment by then – Hermione had worked out your riddle.”

Snape looked up sharply.  “Did she use quill and parchment?” he asked.

“No.  Worked it out in her head” Harry replied proudly.

“A mere first year?”  Snape could not believe it.

Harry grinned.  “Yep.  She was quite thrilled to find it” he replied.  “Said most wizards aren’t good at logic and would find it difficult.  She’s quite mathematical, is our Hermione.”

“Yes, she is right” Snape confirmed.  “Take Felix for example.  No, Flitwick’s not such a good example because he’s a very good chess player, which means he is extremely skilled at evaluating options.  Take Minerva then, or even Albus.  Brilliant wizards!  Intuitively magical!  But, strangely, not particularly mathematical.  I have always had a certain aptitude for maths and logic.  I am not quite in Celeste’s league of course, but I love to talk to her about mathematics.  I’m not quite so enamoured of quantum physics” Snape remarked pointedly, getting up and bringing over the decanter to refill their glasses.  “I remember her saying ‘Everything we know about the world’, and by that I take her to mean the quantum world – reality at its most fundamental – ‘is the result of experiments; of interactions with it’.  But, the point she glosses over is, at that fundamental level any interaction must surely interfere with, and therefore change, reality.  So does the result mean anything?  She would say that demonstrates the limitation of my mind, which I could overcome if I studied maths and physics in far more depth.  And she is right of course.  I however, cannot overlook Gandalf’s point, ‘He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom’.  Oh, have you not read Lord of the Rings?” Snape added, seeing Harry’s puzzled face.  “No matter.  Let me show you the Potion’s Riddle.”

He rummaged in the shallow oak cupboard and finally drew out a roll of old parchment tied with purple tape.  Opening it, he spread it on the desk and weighted the corners with candlesticks.  Harry saw that it contained the poem, a drawing, and a grid.  Across the top of the grid each column was numbered one to seven, and down the left hand side the potion characteristics were listed, row by row – wine, wine, poison, poison, back, forward, giant, dwarf.  Between the poem and the grid, the seven potion bottles danced a slow, circling dance; finally coming to a halt and lining themselves up in the order in which Harry and Hermione had first seen them on the day Harry rescued the Philosopher’s Stone.  Everything on the parchment was written and drawn in Snape’s spiky and unusual but very even-sized handwriting.  The seven bottles were carefully drawn to scale and shown with different coloured liquids.  Harry hadn’t realised the Potions Master was so artistic.

“The idea” Snape said, “is to work through the poem and put a tick or a cross according to which statement is true or false.  For example, if you look at this – ‘You will always find some on Nettle Wine’s left side’.  Well, the bottle in this first position cannot be Nettle Wine because nothing – poison or otherwise – can be to its left, so you put a cross in column one against the criterion for wine.  Whenever you can score a tick you know that everything else along that row and down that column must warrant a cross, because this is a simple true-or-false logic…”

As the Potions Master continued, Harry studied the puzzle and Snape’s uncharacteristically enthusiastic explanation.  He could follow the logic now; Snape’s careful descriptions and step-by-step reasoning were brilliant.

“This is amazing Professor, er, Severus” he exclaimed.  “When you taught us Potions, it was nothing like this.”

Hearing this, Snape raised his head slowly and gave Harry a cunning, quizzical look.  They returned to their armchairs where, at Snape’s bidding, the former student continued.  “Well, in your lessons” he said, choosing his words carefully, “you would write the ingredients up on the blackboard, tell us what to do, then we would unpack our stuff and start weighing out and cutting up and mixing.  You would walk around the room and comment on our efforts.”  Harry laughed, remembering the blistering comments he usually got.  “The thing is, if you said ‘Add the puffa-fish eyes and the powdered shark’s fangs’ I never knew if it mattered which way round they went in, or if doing the reverse mightn’t just be a difference in style – your style versus my style.  Would it be the end of the world if I put the fangs in first?”

“Well, you could have asked me” Snape pointed out with a return to his old petulance.

“Asked you?” Harry laughed.  “And get verbally flayed alive?  And lose House Points?  No-ho way!  Sometimes I knew the order mattered because … remember when Neville added, err, porcupine quills to something before he stopped heating his cauldron–?”

“Oh yes” Snape said darkly.  “The solution to cure boils.  He melted his cauldron and its contents spilt across the floor.  I could have strangled the boy.”  Snape fell silent for a moment, absorbed in his memories.  Neville Longbottom – what an instrument of fate he had turned out to be!

Eventually Snape pulled himself out of his reverie and looked at Harry; and without realising it he did so without looking away.  Harry’s eyes were no longer unbearable.  Totally unaware of this development, his mind engrossed in his teaching methods, Snape sighed and his mouth compressed into a hard line.  “I suppose I see what you mean, Harry” he observed reluctantly.  “I didn’t realise a teacher could learn so much from a student.  Please.  Continue with my lesson.”

Review

Author's Note: Gandalf’s comment from J R R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings comes from the second chapter of book two.

 On to Chapter 17