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The Reformed Man

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First there was only pain, relentless, searing, burning, then a jolt, a sense of time having passed and the pain altering, coming and going, in waves and starts, surging and receding like the sea, tossing him this way and that. This is hell, Snape thought. Is this my reward for fighting so hard, for doing the best I could?

The pain receded enough to allow a tentative analysis of his state. There was a blank emptiness in his head that made him think that his face must be wrapped in bandages to exclude even the slightest hint of light, immobilising his eyeballs. He could hear nothing; not the rasp of his own breath, the stutter of his heart or the hiss of blood flowing in his veins. His body was heavy and lax, he could not feel his extremities or move his limbs.

Eventually he was lucid enough to catalogue his own senses. Hearing and sight; nothing. Touch, variable and untrustworthy. Taste, operational, his mouth held a lingering coppery taint of blood. Smell, functioning, worth investigation. Magic, uncertain, too risky to attempt anything until he had a better grasp of his situation.

He breathed slowly and steadily, concentrating on his sense of smell. Initially the scent of medicinal potions engaged his highly sensitive nose, then he picked out the background odours of ancient wood and stone, stale cooking, doxy droppings and dust, furniture polish and the musky traces of dark magic. This was an old Wizarding house, and if he was not mistaken, hell strongly resembled number twelve, Grimmauld Place.

He allowed himself a brief interval of wallowing in misery before pulling himself together and continuing his analysis. There was something out of place in his catalogue of aromas, lingering softly underneath the smell of the house; he scented oakmoss, amber, a hint of vetiver and spices, restrained and dry. Someone had left the base notes of a classic chypre perfume on the air. He breathed in like a dog seeking an elusive trail, and felt a pressure on his upper arm, a hand on bedclothes. Then a finger pressed on his lip, replaced by something hard, which dribbled cool water into his mouth. Swallowing, however, brought back the excruciating pain, followed by unconsciousness.

When he awoke, he realised that someone was monitoring him, and whenever the pain grew too intense, they put him into a magical coma. He should be grateful, but why leave him in darkness and silence? He knew the answer to that; he fought against the knowledge but it was there in his head, he could not unknow what he already knew.

After Nagini had failed to kill Potter, the Dark Lord tinkered with the serpent's poison glands. Her reformulated venom chewed its way through synapses in a carefully predetermined manner. First came paralysis of the limbs, then the loss of sight, hearing, the nerves of the extremities, taste and smell, leaving the victim trapped and helpless as the venom languorously destroyed the nervous system before an agonising death by suffocation.

He retained feeling in his skin and his face and mouth. He deduced that someone must have found the antivenin in his pocket and applied it before the venom completed its destruction. Why hadn't they left him to die, or better still, put him out of his misery with a painless Avada Kadavra?

The next time, swallowing was no worse than suffering from laryngitis. A potion dripped into his mouth, a general healing draught of acceptable quality, the flavour partially masked by a tincture of sweet spearmint. Only Slughorn pandered to his patients in that way. The potion came from Pomfrey's stores. How odd.

Next came a potion that he did not recognise. Again, the medically inert spearmint extract indicated Slughorn's work, but beneath it was a cacophony of components, herbs and minerals, the tang of magic-infused ingredients, all folded together into a conformation that reminded him of Skele-Gro. His entire body began to prickle, his remaining nerves sparked and burned, and then merciful unconsciousness.

When he woke, it was to a disconcerting jangling in his head, which resolved into sound, buzzing at a pitch that almost hurt. As if down an echoing tunnel, a voice remarked 'Such a shame, what was Tonks thinking? The poor child's an orphan just like Harry, and not even old enough to remember his mother's face. Right, young Severus, let's see how you're doing …'

'Poppy?' he tried to say, but he could only mouth her name. He felt a hand grasp his arm.

'Severus? Can you hear me?'

'Yes,' he pushed out in a hiss.

'Oh how wonderful!' Even though she was holding him, she sounded as if she was on the far side of a large room, distant and muffled. 'That's excellent news, the Neuro-Gro's working. I must owl Horace, he'll be delighted. How clear am I? How's this?' He felt her breath puff against his ear.

'Faint,' he mouthed.

'Faint? Hardly surprising, the potion had to regrow the auditory nerves.'

He felt her warm breath on the other side of his face. Then she returned to his right.

'I think only one ear is operating. Well, time for your next dose, and then I'll put you to sleep again. You don't want to be awake for this, regenerating nerves is far more painful than regrowing bones. Open wide.'

He swallowed the potion, and as the pain rose all across his body, he heard her voice, chanting the spell to place him into a coma.

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A number of formidable witches were arguing around his bed. He feigned sleep.

'He'll be better off in Saint Mungo's,' Pomfrey said.

'Nonsense!' snapped the unmistakable voice of Minerva McGonagall, 'he belongs at Hogwarts! You're perfectly capable of looking after him, Poppy.'

'The poor man needs peace and quiet,' proclaimed a third witch, 'he doesn't deserve to be made a public spectacle, not after all Harry says he did. He should come to the Burrow.'

'You already have enough to do!'

'Nonsense; I need to keep busy! Ginny and I can look after his physical needs, Poppy and Horace have his potions regime under control.'

No, he thought, please, let me die!

Then he caught the illusive fragrance of that chypre perfume, just a hint of dry elegance, and his heart rate settled. His instinctive reaction made sense when he heard another familiar voice.

'Why not ask Severus what he wants?'

There was a moment of silence, then the three spoke at once.

'He has no idea how seriously injured he is!'

'He'll just hide away for ever licking his wounds.'

'He needs protecting!'

'Severus,' Narcissa Malfoy said softly, and from the waft of perfume, he realised that she was leaning over him, 'You do know you're very ill, don't you?'

'Yes,' he mouthed.

'You don't want to be taken to Saint Mungo's, Hogwarts or the Burrow, do you?'

'No.'

'There, that's settled. He'll stay here where Draco and I will keep an eye on him.'

'He needs proper medical attention!' Poppy protested.

'Of course he does,' Narcissa said frostily, 'Horace Slughorn has agreed to brew all his potions and Healer Pye will attend on a daily basis.'

His attention drifted somewhat as the two Gryffindors and the Hufflepuff argued strenuously against what sounded like a perfectly reasonable plan.

Why here, though, and not at Malfoy Manor? Had the Manor been destroyed? Was Lucius dead? Molly Weasley had mentioned Potter; did that mean that the Dark Lord was still alive? Had Potter not understood Dumbledore's plan after all? He fell into anxiety-ridden dreams in which he had to do it all over and over again.

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'Good evening, Professor.' The voice was that of a young, well-educated man.

'Good evening, Draco,' he mouthed, then after a deep breath, 'Narcissa.'

'Of course, you smelled me,' she said.

'Mother!' Draco exclaimed, scandalised, and Narcissa gave a little huff of laughter.

'My perfume, dear; Severus knows my favourite; in fact, he used to buy it for me.'

Draco made no reply but Snape could almost hear his mind working. Snape bought her perfumes? Did Lucius know? Were they – gasp – Muggle perfumes?

He formed a word, exaggerating the movements of his lips. 'Lucius?'

'Is awaiting trial,' Narcissa said. 'The Ministry has seized Malfoy Manor, which is why Draco and I are here. Has anyone told you anything?'

'No.'

'Of course they haven't,' Draco grumbled, 'that would be too much to ask, wouldn't it?'

'Draco,' she said mildly and he subsided into silence. 'The Dark Lord is dead,' she began, and she told him how Hogwarts had stood against Voldemort, and Potter had finally destroyed the monster, and Longbottom had killed Nagini. He fell asleep before she had finished, content that his work was done.

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It appeared that Potter, who owned number twelve Grimmauld Place, had offered sanctuary to Snape along with Narcissa and Draco Malfoy. Also a variable number of Weasleys, the Lovegoods, Hermione Granger and anyone else who wanted bed and board.

To Snape's amusement, Draco was caught between wanting to resent his rival's charity, and having no viable alternative. Narcissa was pragmatic; she considered that the family was in Potter's debt anyway, so what did a few weeks of admittedly minimal hospitality matter?

'Potter owes us,' Draco said, as if trying to convince himself, never mind his mother. 'We both saved his life; we had the opportunity to give him up to the Dark Lord and didn't take it!'

'Yes dear,' Narcissa replied.

'Mother! It's true!'

'And so is the fact that your aunt tortured his best friend in our house,' Narcissa responded tartly. 'Draco, whining doesn't become you! Harry Potter did us all a great favour – unless you actually preferred to give up your inheritance to a half-serpent?'

'I thought you were loyal,' Draco said, to which Narcissa gave a lady-like little huff.

'Loyal to whom? To you, always. To a monster who demanded everything that we had and wished to lead us into a war that we couldn't win? I lost my loyalty to that cause months ago.'

'Of course we could have won,' Draco scoffed, 'a wizard can beat a Muggle every time!'

'One to one, dear, yes. Against a hundred million? I think not.'

'Stop calling me "dear" like that,' Draco muttered, 'Like I'm a child.'

'Of course, dear.'

'Mother!'

'Draco!' she responded, 'you're not a fool! Slouching around in this state of petulant resentment is doing you no good at all, I shall ask McGonagall if she needs another wand at Hogwarts, to assist with the clearing up.'

'That's servants' work!' Draco exclaimed, appalled.

'And what,' Narcissa asked in a tone of delicate censure, 'would we have been doing, had the Dark Lord won, if not servants' work? Your father was without a wand, you were in disfavour, I am a mere woman. The Ministry has left me only my Black inheritance, most of which is invested for your future. I have a small amount of cash, clothing and books, my jewellery and heirlooms from my mother that I will sell if I must, that is all.'

'Oh,' Draco whispered, chastened. 'But what about Severus? How can you afford to pay for his potions and for Healer Pye?'

'Severus is family,' Narcissa said firmly, 'we'll do whatever is needed.'

'Mother!' Draco gasped, and she gave her little tinkling laugh.

'Oh darling, stop being silly! Potter offered to pay the healer; I'm not too proud to accept on Severus's behalf.'

Snape wallowed for a few minutes in resentment, then he let it go. If Potter junior wished to spend his inheritance from Potter senior on James's rival, why not? Snape shuddered. Then he realised that he had physically quivered; some degree of movement was already returning to his limbs. He lost the thread of Narcissa's argument as he tried to move his fingers and toes.

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He could hear the approaching sounds of Narcissa speaking with an unfamiliar male, their words indistinguishable. Then a door banged back against a wall, and the man declared loudly 'He's under arrest, that's all there is to it. We're taking him in.'

'You can't! He's dangerously ill!' Draco exclaimed, sounding frantic.

'Dangerous, for sure. Watch it, boy,' the man said, 'you draw that wand and you'll be in front of the Wizengamot faster than you can squeal!'

'Please,' Narcissa said, 'you'll kill him if you move him.'

Snape felt someone grip his arm. He was fearful of what would follow if he ended up in the Ministry holding cells, or Merlin forbid, Azkaban.

'Mother!' Draco gasped, and then Narcissa's voice, low and steady, murmured 'Expecto patronum!' Snape was impressed; he had not realised that she had the ability to create a patronus.

'I thought you'd taken her wand!'

'Don't you dare lay a hand on my mother!'

'Draco, no!'

His arm was released in the ensuing scuffle, and then Snape heard a new voice. It was taut with anger, and the thrumming power behind it made the hairs rise on the back of his neck.

'What the fuck is going on here?'

Someone beside him was breathing heavily and he caught the lime and vetiver tang of Draco's favourite cologne.

'These gentlemen intend to arrest Severus,' Narcissa said, her precise tones as sharp as glass.

'Snape the war hero,' said the newcomer, 'you're kidding, right?'

Snape was impressed, in exactly the instant when he recognised Harry bloody Potter.

'Look, Potter,' the presumably more senior Auror said in a placating tone, 'these Slytherins really shouldn't be here, we can get them out of your house –'

'If it wasn't for these Slytherins, I'd be dead.'

Another new experience, Snape thought, I'm actually going to enjoy this. Keep provoking him, you dunderhead!

The Auror obliged.

'You've done your bit, lad, you can leave the tidying up to us.'

'Really?' said Potter, in a scathing tone that resembled Snape's on a bad day, 'so where were you when Voldemort took over the Ministry? I didn't notice much tidying up being done then, or when protecting Hogwarts was left to us kids!'

'This bastard ruled Hogwarts under the Dark Lord!' The Auror was as fixated as a dog with a bone.

'This wizard saved my life!' Potter growled.

'Our job is to apply the law,' one of the other Aurors interrupted.

'In that case,' Potter said, 'mine is obviously to apply some bloody common sense! The man's completely paralysed, deaf and blind, what is the point of throwing him into a cell? To let him die?' Potter paused, then murmured, 'Obviously, yes.'

'We've got to –'

'Where's your warrant for his arrest?'

'I don't need –'

'Get out of my house.' Potter's voice was steely and implacable. 'Come back if someone in authority issues a warrant. Bring a legal representative because I'll bring mine.'

'Potter –'

'Out.'

There was the sound of receding footsteps and some low grumbling, then the distant slamming of a door.

'Mrs Malfoy,' Potter said, 'I'll tell Kreacher that he's to check with you before letting any strangers in.'

'Very well,' Narcissa said. 'Do you have a legal representative, Mr Potter?'

'Not really,' Potter said blithely, 'unless you count Bill Weasley or Kingsley Shacklebolt. Can you recommend someone to represent Professor Snape?'

'They'll be from Slytherin.'

'I wouldn't trust anyone not from Slytherin to look after his interests,' Potter said.

'Potter,' Draco said warily, 'you do realise that Severus is neither deaf nor completely paralysed, don't you?'

'I'm not a total idiot, Malfoy,' Potter replied, 'of course I do.' His voice grew clearer as he approached Snape's bed. 'I knew you wouldn't give yourself away, Professor. The thing is, if they know you're able to move, they'll confiscate your wand.'

'Wand?' he mouthed, and felt Narcissa's cool touch on his wrist.

'I'm sorry, Severus, they confiscated mine so I borrowed yours to call Mr Potter. Here.' She placed the wand in his palm and he curled his fingers around its handle. He felt a twist of his magic reaching out to embrace the familiar implement.

'The patronus was hazy, I couldn't make out its shape so I assumed it was Professor Snape's.'

'It is many years since I attempted to call up a patronus,' Narcissa said with dignity, 'I was under duress.'

'I'm glad you managed it,' Potter said, 'otherwise I'd have had to break into the Ministry to get him out again.'

'You can't break into the Ministry, Potter!' Draco snapped.

'That's funny, I managed it a few months ago. Why d'you keep trying to piss me off? It's getting boring, we've got better things to do than squabble like fucking schoolboys!'

'Language, Potter,' Snape breathed.

'Sorry,' Potter said, not sounding sorry at all, 'but how about telling him to mind his manners for a change?'

A year ago, Potter would have been furious and resentful; now he was simply amused. He had won, but more significantly, he had grown up. Potter wore his victory lightly, which was galling for someone who had fully intended to hate the arrogance of Potters for the rest of his life.

'I'm afraid that helplessness breeds resentment,' Narcissa said.

'D'you want to do something about that?' Potter asked, perfectly seriously. 'Neither of you is under house arrest. To be honest, you're only here for your own protection. It didn't seem fair to ask you to work for your keep or anything.'

'Doing what?' Narcissa enquired, as Draco hissed like an offended cat.

'Could you set up wards on this house that won't break the law, but will alert us if someone tries to get in?'

'I can do that, certainly,' Narcissa said. 'Mr Potter, my husband's investments have been impounded, however he has business interests which if they are seized, will impact on many innocent people.'

'What sort of businesses?' Potter asked, sounding justifiably wary.

'He rents out shops and residential properties.'

'If he died, what would happen to them?'

'Draco would inherit everything.'

'So why haven't you had them transferred to Draco?' Potter asked. Draco muttered something and Potter snorted. 'Why the hell should I want to stop you? Kreacher can take messages for you, the Floo's open or you can use the owl in the attic. I'd be more than happy for you to run your father's businesses and get yourself out of my hair – not you, Mrs Malfoy, Professor Snape needs you here.'

'Trying to split us up?' Draco sneered.

'Go or stay as you wish, I really don't care. Just look after Snape, find him a lawyer and try not to curse the house down, okay?'

'Mr Potter, are you able to use your influence to allow us to visit my husband?'

'I've got a meeting with Kingsley tomorrow, I'll ask him. See you later.'

Once Potter's footsteps had clattered away down the stairs, Draco muttered 'Merlin, I hate him.'

'Of course, dear,' Narcissa purred. Snape would have laughed, had his throat hurt less.

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He graduated from nutrient potions to soups and gruel, although having to be fed by someone wielding a spoon was demeaning; but then, so was needing to be washed, and to suffer embarrassing charms to empty his bladder and bowel. The humiliation of his position spurred him to work at regaining control of his body.

'I flop around like a fish,' he complained, or at least whispered.

'Of course you do,' replied the irritatingly cheerful Healer Pye, 'all your nerves have grown back into slightly different configurations. Now keep still, I'm going to put this into your ear…'

Snape felt fingers stretching the pinna of his left ear, then something small and cool slipped into the ear canal. It blocked all sound, then made a curious purring noise and abruptly he could hear the sparrows chirping on the roof, someone downstairs clattering saucepans, a wireless playing the Weird Sisters' latest abomination and Pye's robes rustling as he moved. 'I'll try the other one,' Pye muttered, 'that charms bloke reckons they're self-balancing but we'll see…'

He repeated the process with Snape's better ear. The difference was remarkable. Suddenly the old house was full of sound.

'Did it work?' Pye enquired rather dubiously. 'Can you hear me?'

'Yes. Muggle hearing aids?'

'They wouldn't work at first because the high level of magic ruined the batteries, so that Flitwick fellow charmed them. He says he's made some improvements, are they any good?'

'Yes,' Snape breathed. He could hear Narcissa and Draco, discussing their visit to Lucius. 'They work adequately,' he added, reluctant to reveal exactly how well. Encouraged by this unexpected gift, he gathered his courage to ask the question that festered deep in his mind. 'Are my eyes destroyed?'

'Yes,' Pye said, 'they were so damaged by the venom that I had to remove them.'

He had known the answer, but still, a tiny spark of hope died at the words. The chair beside the bed creaked faintly as Pye sat down. 'However, I've an idea. Do you remember that old Auror Moody?'

Snape gritted his teeth. 'No. I refuse.'

Pye simply laughed. 'We gave him the prototype and after he got used to it, he declined an upgrade. You'll never guess who's walking around with a magical eye nowadays, they look perfectly natural.' Pye leaned closer to whisper 'and you don't need to worry about the cost, your young friend Mr Potter says he'll cover everything. He's a good lad, isn't he?'

If that was how Potter wished to spend his legacy, who was Snape to stand in his way?

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The first eye was troublesome; it kept whizzing around in its socket, making the room whirl until he vomited. Eventually, Flitwick himself came to London to adjust the charms; a visit which included one of those embarrassing conversations containing apologies and forgiveness and other uncomfortable topics that Snape would rather have avoided forever.

'I should have trusted you, and trusted Albus's planning,' Flitwick said.

'Not a good policy,' Snape whispered, 'look where it got me.'

'I'm sorry you're in this state,' Flitwick told him, then with a hint of his former conviviality, added 'although it does mean you can't escape our attempts to apologise! Merlin, Severus, you fooled the lot of us!'

'I didn't,' Snape sighed.

'Really? Did Minerva realise?'

'You did. I had to Obliviate you twice. I'm sorry.'

There was a pause, and then Flitwick burst out laughing. 'My dear boy! That does please me, we Ravenclaws aren't so daft, are we? Let's have another go with this eye, then!'

Snape was able to exaggerate his weakness and inability to speak, cutting the visit short once Flitwick had got the worst of it off his chest, but it left him with an unfamiliar warm glow somewhere inside his ribs. It was probably indigestion after the unaccustomed solid food.

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Snape could hear the gasping and sniffling of a woman crying alone, who didn't want anyone to know. In the far corner of the attics, someone was having muffled, illicit sex, and there was a private conversation happening in one of the bedrooms. If he ever needed to spy, he'd be invincible. Simply concentrating on the voices, he identified the secret lovers as the youngest Weasley boy and Miss Granger, who ought to have more sense. The conversation was between Draco and Miss Lovegood, concerning the rental of a property where her father could set up his printing press. That was interesting. Lucius would not have approved; he had considered Xenophilius Lovegood far too much of a loose cannon. The daughter was a friend of Potter's and seemed to have forgiven Draco for his part in her imprisonment. Perhaps that was a bridge worth building.

As for the weeping woman, he really did not want to know; except that of course he did. Narcissa Malfoy wept for her husband, sentenced to fifty years in Azkaban. He could be out in thirty-five for good behaviour, but when had Lucius Malfoy ever behaved himself? The Dementors were gone, Azkaban had become a place of rehabilitation rather than punishment, and Snape could easily picture Lucius Malfoy building himself a little empire of influence within its walls. Family visits might be allowed, but for Narcissa, that would hardly made up for the loss of her luxurious lifestyle and status.

He distracted himself by opening his eye and working with the magic that regulated its movement and focus. Healer Pye had promised that once he had it under reasonable control, he would be allowed the second eye. He wondered if he looked as mad as Moody. Every time he lost concentration, the eye rolled back in his head, giving him an unnerving close-up view of his pillow. As far as his magical eye was concerned, solid objects like his own head were simply mist. Flitwick had charmed his eyelid to be opaque, at least he did not need his eyeball removed so he could sleep.

'But all you need to do, is to actively imagine anything to be transparent, and it will be,' Flitwick had remarked. 'That eye can see through almost anything, and in darkness, too! We had the chance to improve on the original design, so why not? That's what magic's for! No peering through the ladies' robes, now, young Severus!' He wagged his finger jovially. 'Who knows what Alastor Moody got up to in secret?'

Snape had resisted rolling his eye; there was a chance he'd have been unable to stop it revolving until he was sick.

When Narcissa came in to give him his evening potions, her face appeared as smooth and untroubled as ever, but by concentrating, he detected the delicate charm that disguised her puffy eyelids.

'Have you been doing your exercises?' she asked, as she measured out the potion that reduced the internal scar-tissue in his throat.

'Yes, mother.'

She gazed reproachfully at him. He stared back and she gave a tiny shudder. 'Am I that bad?' he asked, more deeply hurt by her reaction than he had anticipated.

'No!' she exclaimed, 'no, Severus, you look… well, far better than anyone could have hoped, really. No, I felt as if you were looking right through me; as if your new eye saw things about me that I didn't want anyone to see. Oh, I'm being silly, I'm sorry. Here.'

She handed him the potion. He took the cup, lifted it carefully to his mouth and swallowed the contents, relieved that he could now do so without spilling it.

'You're never silly, Narcissa,' he murmured. He had begun to regain his voice, a thin thread of sound, deeper and raspier than before, but a voice, nevertheless. 'You're understandably distressed.'

She shrugged and sat down on the edge of the bed. She stared down at her hands, turning her wedding ring round and round on her finger.

'Well, I'm as good as widowed,' she responded, 'and neither rich nor merry.'

'Draco won't allow you to starve.'

'People look at me with scorn,' she said, 'or pity, which is worse. People pity weak things; I always dreaded being weak. Helpless.'

'Because that was how you felt as a child,' he said.

'Bella took power wherever she could find it; Andromeda rebelled and left the family completely; I capitulated. I thought I could gain what I wanted through marriage.' She shook her head, as if disappointed in her younger self. Her long, blond hair rippled with the movement, gleaming like spun silk, but now, he could see the faint sheen of the charms that supported its perfection. 'I'm a witch,' she said, 'I should be able to stand on my own two feet.'

'You're also a lovely woman.'

She gave a wry little smile. 'I sometimes wondered if you even noticed.'

'Why wouldn't I?'

'You never gave any indication.'

'You were Lucius's wife; I wouldn't dream of it.'

Now her smile was more than wry; it was a twisted, self-deprecating thing.

'Oh yes, I was Lucius's good little wife, wasn't I? Always willing to turn a blind eye.'

He saw no reason to hide his surprise. 'So you did know.'

'That Lucius was unfaithful? Of course I knew, I'm not daft. We both got what we wanted out of our marriage; I got a lovely home and money and status, he got his heir, and a well-trained hostess and housekeeper and of course, he got an alibi.'

'Alibi?' he said, but there was a cold little shiver running down his spine.

'Severus,' she said, 'I assumed from the start that he used you as well. You were in no position to refuse him, were you?'

'Too poor to turn him down, or too ugly?' he whispered, stung by the truth in her accusation.

'Too bitter and too ambitious,' she retorted, 'yes, and too poor, I suppose.'

'Are you suggesting that I bent over for Lucius Malfoy's money?'

'For social recognition, for status and for his help to advance in society. I was the one who went to his bed for the money, wasn't I?' She stood up, gazing at him with an expression that he was unable to decipher, despite the magical eye. 'I'll never forgive him for endangering Draco. I can forgive the rest, but not that.'

'It will do Draco good to be away from his influence,' Snape said carefully.

'Yes. It might come as a relief to us all. Good night, Severus, sleep well.'

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He discovered how to interrupt the charms on his hearing aids and magical eyes, cutting himself off from the exhausting over-stimulation of his senses, and then he weaved tiny, subtle wards to switch them on again whenever anyone approached him. He regained control of his limbs, doggedly working through the exercises that Healer Pye recommended. He felt like a child learning to walk, except that he already knew how everything was supposed to work. He desperately wanted to regain his independence, to make the most of the freedom that tantalised just beyond his reach, even though he was aware that it might come at a cost.

He could think of no justifiable reason for refusing to see Minerva McGonagall; that was part of the price. He braced himself for the confrontation.

'Good morning, Severus,' she said, seating herself primly on the visitor's chair beside his bed. He was glad that he had found the energy to struggle into his robes, he would have felt horribly vulnerable in borrowed pyjamas.

'Minerva.'

'Shall we skip the mutual apologies?' This was the brisk and business-like deputy head, to his relief. They had once been friends; he had dreaded her tears even more than her anger. 'After all, I believed what I was intended to believe and you did what you were told to do.' He inclined his head and she sighed. 'Ye daft bugger, couldn't you trust anyone?'

'Not to keep my secrets from the Dark Lord's legilimancy, no.'

'Good point.'

She appeared tired, her eyes shadowed. He flicked his wand, transforming the upright seat into an upholstered armchair beneath her, bringing a hint of a smile to her careworn face. 'How is Hogwarts?' he asked, and listened as she told him about the losses and the damage, and the slow grind of rebuilding.

'The wards were destroyed,' she said, 'the Ministry put in Muggle-repelling charms but we'll need to rebuild all the protections from the ground up. We must reopen, Severus, and get life back to normal as soon as we can.'

Snape heard soft footsteps on the stair, so was unsurprised when Narcissa tapped on the door and put her head around it.

'Would you like tea?' she enquired, nodding coolly to McGonagall, who nodded back.

'Yes, thank you,' he said in his rasping whisper.

'I'll send the elf up.'

When she had gone, McGonagall eyed him shrewdly. 'She was checking up on us.'

'You might have hexed me in my helpless state.'

She gazed at him, the old, imperturbable McGonagall stare that had subdued generations of young witches and wizards, then she snorted. 'Severus Snape, I believe that you're no more helpless than you ever were.'

'I'm exhausted, Minerva.'

'Of course you are; we all are, but at least we have hope for the future. What do you intend to do, when you're recovered?'

'Find a job, I suppose.'

'But you have a job!' He opened his mouth to argue and she sat forward, reaching to grasp his hand. 'You do! And we need you, desperately! How better to convince the Slytherins that it's safe to return? Or convince the Gryffindors that Slytherins can be heroes too? Severus, be the Headmaster you should have been!'

He was stunned; he had expected her to offer him Potions or the Dark Arts position. She sensed his hesitation and went for the kill. 'Very little teaching involved; you don't even have to be head of Slytherin, Aurora says she's happy to take over permanently. You can put in place all the ideas you had – yes, I found your list of suggestions and jolly good ones they are, too! We think your ideas for integrating Muggle-borns are excellent, and the syllabuses for Muggle studies and history of magic are desperately in need of an overhaul. Come back and prove to everyone that Slytherins can be a force for good.'

'Damn you, McGonagall,' he whispered, and she, sensing that she had won, sank back into the armchair with a proud smile. So he was to be tethered to Hogwarts once again. When he remembered how Dumbledore had done exactly as he pleased, he realised that this time as headmaster, he would have a free licence to do anything he wanted. He could even resign and walk away. Best of all, Lucius Malfoy no longer ruled the board of governors.

---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]---


'Of course they want you at Hogwarts,' Narcissa assured him, as she helped him to his feet. 'Why wouldn't they? You're the Headmaster.' Her slight form was warm and steady under his arm; her proximity and the subtle hint of her perfume made his senses hyper-alert.

'You're wearing Mitsouko,' he remarked, 'that touch of peaches…'

'My little act of rebellion. How naughty of me; to wear a Muggle perfume under my pure-blood husband's nose.'

'A perfume bought for you by another man,' he said. He felt that he was stepping out into deep water, testing his footing as he went. Flirting with this witch was both foolhardy and exhilarating.

'Ah, but it was bought by you,' she breathed, 'and you're family, aren't you?'

He caught the edge of her cool, grey gaze as she glanced around at him.

'Nearly a brother,' he agreed.

'Hardly,' she said, with a little lilt of amusement in her voice, 'I'm more closely related to Lucius than I am to you. There, can you walk the last few steps?'

She stood ready to levitate him as he tottered across the landing to the bathroom door. Pye had at last given him permission to take a bath unaided. What with the solid meals, the removal of the dressings on his wounds and gaining control of his second magical eye, he was beginning to feel fully human again. Being so close to a beautiful witch even prompted an encouraging stirring in his nether regions; he must be recovering for that to occur. He had been so stressed and exhausted for the last couple of years that he might as well have been magically castrated. He closed himself inside the bathroom and found that Narcissa had instructed the old elf to draw the bath, and leave soap, shaving kit, towels and clean clothes ready for him. Things were looking up; if he wasn't careful, he might even start feeling cheerful.

---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]---


'Professor Snape?'

He paused, then carefully turned around to face the girl. 'Miss Weasley.'

She reminded him a little of Lily Evans; plucky and vivacious with auburn hair and an attractive face. She was probably as indulged and generally fawned over as Lily had been. He had a petty urge to point out to her that Potter was a damaged and dangerous young man, watch her throw herself at the boy in a fit of defiance, and stand back as their teenaged dream imploded. He resisted. Being petty never used to bother him but he seemed to have lost his taste for it.

'Dad says you're going back to Hogwarts,' she said, 'as headmaster.'

'That is correct.'

'You were a right bastard the last time.'

He loosened his hold on his magic, just enough that his magical gaze skimmed the very surface level of her thoughts. She was in a state of jittery excitement, provoking him in the hope that he would display his infamous temper. She knew that her parents, Potter and various members of the old Order of the Phoenix had just arrived in the kitchen, and she assumed that he was still too deaf to be aware of their proximity.

'I was, wasn't I?' he agreed, to her palpable surprise. 'But you were a distinctly annoying student, Miss Weasley. Let us determine to display our better sides in future, shall we?' He inclined his head and left her looking disappointed.

---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]---


His next encounter was with Draco Malfoy, who was lurking around outside his bedroom door.

'Father wants me to get married,' he grumbled, following Snape inside and flopping down in the armchair. 'Just because he and Mother married straight after she left Hogwarts, he thinks I should. He wants me to marry Pansy, for Merlin's sake, because her father's businesses complement ours!'

'What does your mother say?'

'She refuses to say anything! How helpful is that?'

Snape snorted. 'Do you wish to marry Parkinson?'

'Of course I bloody don't; she's a vapid cow!'

'Don't, then. Why ask me?'

'I don't know!' Draco swung his foot, kicking against the side of the bedframe. 'I don't know why he told me to marry straight away, what difference does it make if I marry now or in ten years' time?'

'He's testing the limits of his control.'

Draco went utterly still, then he seemed to slump, relaxing completely into the chair. 'But he has nothing to control,' he said, 'everything has either gone to the Ministry for reparations, or to me.'

'Correct.'

'I don't want to get it wrong,' Draco said, 'when he does come back, I want him to be proud of what I've done.'

'Then you'll be a fool,' Snape replied. Draco's grey eyes flashed with hurt, and Snape sighed. 'You'll fail. He'll pick holes in everything because that's what he does; he builds himself up by pushing you down. Play Quidditch and he'll sneer because you haven't beaten Potter in every game. Make yourself miserable in the marriage that he demands and he'll be disappointed because you haven't produced exactly the heir that he needs, or created a business empire to rival that of your great-grandfather.'

'You're saying I should do whatever I want?'

'I'm not the world's greatest role model,' Snape muttered. He Summoned the pain potion for his throat and took a sip. 'Do whatever you need to do, so that when he is finally released, you can hold your head high and look him in the eye and tell him that no matter what he says, you're proud of what you have achieved.'

'I want a happier marriage than my parents',' Draco said immediately. Snape's startled snort triggered a coughing fit; Draco Summoned a tumbler, filled it with water and waited while he regained control of his larynx. 'I know Father played around, and Mother's always been quietly lonely and unhappy,' Draco commented. He Banished the drinking glass to the kitchen. 'They believed that because I was a kid, I didn't notice the arguments. It was as if everything was done for show,' he said thoughtfully, 'it didn't matter if we felt miserable as long as we looked fabulous and made enough money.'

'Sometimes, I'm proud of you,' Snape whispered, his voice almost inaudible.

'I'll work with that,' Draco replied, 'if you and Mother are pleased with me, I'll live with Father's displeasure.'

'It's a good start,' Snape told him.

---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]---


His first trip out alone took him into Muggle London. Wearing dark glasses to hide his intimidating stare, he felt anonymous yet vulnerable. He withdrew money from his bank account, visited a couple of shops and returned to Grimmauld Place feeling both exhilarated and worn-out.

'What's that?' Potter asked, as Snape placed his purchases on the kitchen table.

'A few Muggle luxuries to thank you for your hospitality,' Snape said stiffly, hiding his sudden loss of confidence behind formality. Potter peered into the carrier bags then whooped like a child.

'Wow, Thornton's chocolates! Aunt Petunia used to get them at Christmas; I was never allowed near them!'

'Chocolates?' Ron Weasley enquired, summoned as if by portkey at the mention of food. Potter slapped his hand away.

'Expensive Muggle ones, and you can get your paws off, they're to share. And look, cheese and pâté and a gateau! Thanks, Snape! Kreacher, put these in the larder in the chilled bit and we'll have them when everyone else gets here.'

'Don't see why we can't try them now,' Weasley grumbled.

Snape made his way slowly up the staircase, determined to conceal his exhaustion. He paused, staring up at Narcissa as she came out of her doorway. He got the impression that she had been waiting for him. She smiled, cool and aloof, and he wondered what it would take, to ruffle her perfect demeanour. Had Lucius ever loved her, or was she simply one of his acquisitions, an elegant witch to hang on his arm and show off like a jewel? He recalled Lucius remarking that his father had instructed him to marry one of the Black sisters. Andromeda had been too unconventional, Bellatrix too unpredictable, so Lucius had been smugly pleased that the least rebellious one had been the most beautiful of the three.

'How did you get on?' she asked, talking his arm. She acted as if she was the one needing support, while she actually steadied him the rest of the way up the narrow stairs to his room.

He sat down on the bed and fumbled in the pocket of his Muggle jacket, then handed her a little box. She used her wand to delicately sever the cellophane wrapper. 'Shalimar,' she murmured, extracting the small, ornate bottle. 'Another Muggle perfume? How mischievous of you.'

'It's one of the first great oriental fragrances,' he said. When she gave him an enquiring little glance, he shrugged. 'My mother owned tiny bottles of classic Guerlain perfumes; she called them her 'little scented treasures'. My father bought them for her, when they first met and he was prepared to make the effort.'

Narcissa sniffed delicately at the neck of the bottle, then applied it to the inside of her wrist. 'Oh,' she said, 'it's lovely, isn't it? Thank you, Severus.'

'I thought you needed a reminder that there are still things in life that you can enjoy,' he told her. She stared into his face, and he had to force himself to withhold his magic, to not read her thoughts as they swam close behind her grey-blue eyes.

'I'm sure that there are,' she said, 'in fact, I'm starting to wonder if I've been missing out on a huge range of experiences.' She adjusted her robes as she took a seat on the corner of the bed. 'I sent an owl this morning, to my sister.' She gave her cool little smile. 'Lucius would be horrified if he knew.'

'Andromeda may not be receptive to any attempt at reconciliation,' he cautioned her.

'I know, but the offer is there, if she wants to meet me.' Narcissa raised her arm, breathing in deeply. 'This is delightful, I keep getting delicious wafts of it. Here.' She thrust out her hand, so that her slim, blue-veined wrist was beneath his nose. The fragrance had a tantalising floral-spicy overlay on a base of vanilla. 'Do I remind you of your mother?' she added, opening her eyes wide in faux innocence.

'Hardly,' he muttered. 'She never wore them anyway.'

'Really? Why not?'

He shifted awkwardly. 'I don't think she wanted the reminder.'

'Oh,' she said, allowing her hand to drop to her lap. 'I understand that, if things had gone wrong in her marriage.'

'Were you ever happy?' he asked, then flushed as he realised that he had allowed his discomfort to override his good manners. Narcissa did not seem concerned; she frowned thoughtfully.

'Yes, in the beginning, I suppose I was. I was filled with girlish pride, because I was getting married, I was grown up, a desirable bride, and I had caught a wizard who was richer, more powerful and better looking than any of the men courting my sisters or cousins.' She grimaced. 'I knew it was all arranged between our parents, but I believed that I was lucky enough to be betrothed to a wizard who adored me. I was hopelessly naïve, I thought his pretty speeches and little gifts and loving looks were all indicative of an enormous infatuation.'

'Rather than an enormous ego?' Snape could not help but add.

'Not to mention how we girls all speculated about his enormous cock!' Narcissa actually giggled at his shocked expression. 'Oh come on, Severus, you work in a school, you must know what schoolgirls are like!'

'I try not to,' he muttered, 'silly little chits.'

'And I was a silly little chit, to think that I would live happily ever after with a wizard who lusted after wiry young men and vulgar women, and who desired power and money far more than he desired me.' She tipped back her head, regarding him with a smirk. 'I'm going to divorce him, you know.'

'For what he tried to do to Draco?'

'Exactly.'

'Your loyalty is admirable.'

'My loyalty?'

'You put up with a lot; most witches would have divorced him for what he did to you.'

'Yes, I suppose they would. I really didn't enjoy having that monstrous snake lurking in my house.'

'Or Nagini either,' he said, and she laughed again. She had a soft, secretive, wicked laugh; he realised that he had never really noticed it before.

'I underestimated you terribly at school, Severus.'

'Really?' he said wryly. She actually blushed, a delicate pink flush across her high cheekbones.

'You never tried to make the best of yourself,' she said defensively, then shook her head. 'I'm sorry, that was rude of me.'

'What can I say? I was a northern teenage lout and you were a young lady.'

'I was a "lady" if by "lady" you mean a woman who's had good manners beaten into her from the age of two. It never worked on Bella so they tried even harder with me.' She clicked her tongue at herself in annoyance. 'Oh dear, I'm getting maudlin, perhaps I'd better go.'

'Please stay.'

'You don't want to listen to me complain about my upbringing and my marriage, surely?'

He realised that he did, and he also wanted to hear her laugh again.

'I want to hear your hopes and plans for the future,' he told her, and was ridiculously pleased by the way her face brightened.

'Draco and I have been discussing the Malfoy investments.'

'I thought the Ministry seized those?'

'The Manor and the bank accounts, yes, but they could hardly throw all the tenants out of their homes and businesses. Minister Shacklebolt pointed out that someone needed to manage the estates, and it was Mr Potter who said that taking everything away from Draco, who had committed no crime, would turn him into an intelligent, enraged and resentful focus for all the alienated Slytherins, who'd have nothing to lose and everything to gain by following him as the next Dark Lord.'

'Draco is too squeamish for Dark Lording,' Snape mused.

'Oh, so is Lucius really, but perfectly happy to tell other people to get on with the messy bits!'

'Other people like me.'

'But your utter ruthlessness is tempered by your conscience.'

'It took me too long to find it.'

'But you did,' Narcissa murmured, 'and I admire you enormously for having the courage to admit that you were wrong, and to change.'

'Even if I was manipulated, blackmailed and bullied into it?'

'Oh, Dumbledore,' she said dismissively, 'there's a man who never admitted to his mistakes.'

'He made some bloody big ones, I can tell you!'

'Was he really prepared to sacrifice Harry Potter?'

'Potter and I were sacrifices to the greater good, apparently.'

'I have a feeling that you and Potter are the only ones who know the entire truth of what happened,' she said. 'Potter assures everyone that the Dark Lord can't possibly come back, is that correct?'

'Yes.'

'Then perhaps we ought to celebrate our freedom.'

'Hasn't that been going on for months?'

'The funerals came first,' she said and the careful steadiness of her voice reminded him of her loss.

'Bella?' he asked. He was getting hoarse with talking; she occupied herself by Summoning him a glass of water.

'We held a small, private burial,' she said, handing him his throat potion. 'Draco and I, and a few of the Black second cousins, and the big three.'

'Three?'

'Potter and his two shadows. He made a point of attending all the funerals unless the families objected; he said that he hadn't wanted anyone to die. It was just as well, someone had revealed the time and place and a crowd turned up to jeer and throw things.'

'Was there trouble?'

'Of course not,' she said, with a rather watery little smile, 'not when they realised Potter was there. I think that's part of Draco's problem; he hates feeling like a helpless victim being rescued by the big brave hero!'

'He's always been jealous of the attention paid to Potter,' Snape agreed, and her wistful smile immediately became ironic.

'Fortunately Potter is too fixated on his Weasley girlfriend to keep up the feud.'

'That's a disaster waiting to happen.'

'Oh yes, she's a wilful child, and Potter must have had a difficult upbringing.'

'Didn't we all?'

He did not need Legilimency to know that her memories were filled with Bellatrix as a playful child, as a teen with a wicked sense of humour, and as a young woman, before her obsession with Voldemort corrupted her soul. It seemed that his newly regenerated nervous system was not quite under his control yet, because his hand reached out and grasped hers and squeezed it. She gave a little gulp, moved across the bed and turned in against his shoulder. He held her as she wept for her sister, and it did not feel awkward at all.

---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]---


His time at Grimmauld Place was nearing its end. He sensed an atmosphere of anticipation, as Potter and Weasley negotiated their way into the Auror training programme, Granger retrieved her parents from wherever she had secreted them, the Lovegoods left to resume their journalistic endeavours and Molly Weasley swung back into her role as matriarch.

Narcissa had reorganised a spare bedroom into a parlour, where she, Draco and Snape formed their own little enclave of Slytherins, away from the boisterous Gryffindor masses.

'I've a meeting with a builder in half an hour,' Draco remarked, taking out his pocket watch.

'A builder, darling?' Narcissa looked up from her newspaper. 'Really?'

'I don't know why Father let the shops on Knockturn Alley get so dilapidated, it doesn't reflect well on the Malfoy family.'

'Surely that's up to the tenants?' she asked.

'I've been going through the rent books,' he said, 'and their income and expenditure, and there's no way they can afford to maintain the buildings with the level of rent they're paying!'

'Are you decreasing their rent?' Snape asked.

'Of course not!' Draco scowled. 'I'm helping them to bring in more income. If I rebuild and raise the tone of the area, that'll generate far more than squeezing the poor fools for every knut and driving them into penury. I'm looking at the long term, here. I'll see you later.'

'Well,' Narcissa said, after her son had swirled his cloak around his shoulders and left the room with a jaunty stride, 'I think I ought to ask him to invest my little nest-egg.'

'I hope he isn't taking out expensive loans,' Snape said.

'I doubt it, he's getting financial advice from Grabbitz and Canny. It isn't in their interest for him to go bankrupt, they'd lose his business.' She leaned over the arm of her chair to whisper, 'They have special rates for Slytherins. I recommend them if you have money to invest, don't simply let it lie around in Gringotts!'

'Narcissa, my savings are hardly worth the effort; I was a teacher!'

'Of course,' she said, 'Headmaster!'

He sighed. 'I'm going back to Hogwarts next week.'

'That won't be easy,' she said softly. He shrugged. Narcissa folded the newspaper on her lap, staring down at a photograph of Potter attempting to shield his face from the camera. 'I don't know what I'm going to do,' she admitted, 'I can't stay here forever. Draco says he wants to renovate and move into a Malfoy property on Diagon Alley; next to the haberdashery that was damaged in the war. The tenants have disappeared.'

'They died,' Snape said. She did not need to ask how he knew. It was rather relaxing to be with someone who knew who he was and what he had done, and did not blame him for it. The Gryffindors said that he was a hero and that he was forgiven, but the children had not yet learned to hide their accusing glances when he told the truth.

'Do you want a part-time job?' he blurted, and winced when she gave him a puzzled look.

'I suppose I ought to think that way; I can't rely on Draco forever. What do you think I could do?'

'Teach Muggleborns about Pureblood culture.'

His embarrassment vanished at the gradual dawning of comprehension in her face.

'Do you think I could do it? Really?'

'I'm sure you could.'

'Severus,' she said, sitting upright and folding her hands demurely in her lap, 'do you wish me to come to Hogwarts?'

'Yes.'

'When?'

'As soon as possible. We intend to reopen before Christmas. Minerva wants a huge, celebratory, Pureblood and Muggle mish-mash of a Christmas complete with parties and a Yule Ball and Merlin knows what else, the daft bat.'

'I think that sounds like an excellent idea,' Narcissa declared. 'Don't be a curmudgeon, Severus!'

'I'm the bloody Headmaster, I'll have to be there for the entire mistletoe-infested drunken debacle!'

'I should sincerely hope it isn't drunken, they're under-age!'

'Not the students, woman, the staff!' He scowled. 'You've never attended a Hogwarts staff party. They're infamous.'

'Really? Didn't I say that I've missed out on experiences? That sounds like one that I should attempt at least once.' She leaned closer in a conspiratorial manner, so that he could smell Shalimar drifting up from the warmth of her body. 'Is there Firewhisky?'

'By the cauldron.'

'Elf-made wine?'

'By the bathtub.'

'Naughty illicit potions?'

'More than likely.'

'Are they any good? Who brews them?'

'They are excellent, and I do.'

'Severus, you don't really hate it at all, do you? This is all part of your grouchy Potions-master spy persona!'

He shrugged. 'What can I say? You've exposed me.'

Her chuckle held genuine mirth.

'I will, if you want me to!'

They were both abruptly serious, a change of mood so unexpected that Snape almost got whiplash in his neck.

'Narcissa…' he was out of his depth again. She stood up, twitching her wand to close the curtains at the windows, again to light the fire against the autumnal chill. Then she walked to stand before him, her expression softened by something eager and affectionate. He stood up to face her.

Narcissa reached to stroke his face then run her fingers back through his hair. He was so glad that he now had the time and inclination to bathe, shave and wash his hair on a regular basis.

'You're gorgeous.' It was obviously the right thing to say, she made a contented little sound in her throat and laced her hands behind his head, guiding it so that their mouths met.

Snape gave a deep groan of approval and she broke away for a moment to respond with a little burst of excited laughter; simply in the pleasure of the moment. He ran his hands lightly up her sides to her breasts. 'Oh yes,' she exclaimed, 'please! Just like that!'

Which was when the door burst open and a woman screeched 'Stop it at once or I'll tell – oh!'

Molly Weasley stood with a hand clamped over her mouth, her eyes wide in shock. Narcissa did not move from Snape's arms; she turned her head and gazed thoughtfully at the flustered witch.

'I neglected to lock the door,' she remarked, 'my oversight; I'm too accustomed to living with Slytherins.'

'You're setting a very poor example for the children!' Molly rallied somewhat tardily. Snape made a point of looking around.

'Really? I see no children. I may have encountered your youngest son earlier, I do hope that you have been equally vigilant in chastising him for what he gets up to with his self-righteous girlfriend?'

Molly folded her arms.

'Ron and Hermione are getting engaged!'

'Are you asking them, or telling them?' Narcissa enquired sweetly. Molly was going an interesting shade of puce; Snape decided that it was time to end the encounter.

'Are you really telling me what I can and cannot do in my private life?' he enquired. 'Because if you are, I take grave exception to your interference, Molly Weasley.'

'Don't you threaten me, young man! Remember who defeated Bellatrix LeStrange!' Molly exclaimed, at which Snape felt Narcissa go rigid in his arms. Did the woman not even remember that Narcissa was Bella's sister, or did she believe that Slytherins were immune to grief and pain?

As he was about to remind her exactly who had killed her sainted Dumbledore, Narcissa said in a bored voice, 'Oh go away, you stupid witch; I have a wizard to seduce!' Snape saw Narcissa's wand twist in her hand as she breathed 'Obliviate!'

Molly muttered something vague then slammed the door as she retreated.

'Rude, uncouth woman,' Narcissa remarked, slowly relaxing her grip on him. 'You're so right; the next generation is in dire need of educating in good manners if that is the kind of witch who reared them.'

'Perhaps I'd better add additional sex education to the syllabus, as well,' he said.

'Mm. We'd better have a run-through, in that case. Get in training. You can't teach anything if you can't do it.'

'I have no intention of telling them about my private life…'

She pushed him firmly backwards onto the sofa, then she ran her wand down her robe and it peeled away, leaving her pale, slender body clad in stockings and lacy underwear. Snape gulped. She gave a triumphant little smirk, pointed her wand at the door and locked it.

As she reached to unfasten his robes, she obviously sensed his embarrassment because she paused, gazing curiously into his face.

'I'm badly scarred,' he muttered.

'Of course you are, I know that.' She made a little moue of impatience. 'Severus, I've had a physically unblemished man and I'm divorcing him; I'm far more interested in a man who actually wants me, and who cares about my enjoyment as well as about his own.'

'You don't know that about me.'

She chuckled, a low and sensual sound. 'A selfish man would have taken what he wanted, not worried about whether I'd be offended by his scars!'

He reached out to run a finger lightly around the silken skin at the top of one of her stockings, and felt her quiver in anticipation.

'Contraceptive charm?' he asked her and she nodded. 'I may not last long,' he felt compelled to add.

'I shall take it as a complement if you don't,' she murmured, and returned to unbuttoning the front of his robe. 'Besides, you've been so terribly ill, perhaps I should do the hard work this time, if you agree?'

'Definitely,' he gasped, as she eased the robe back over his shoulders and arms, and her quick fingers skittered across his ribs to the belt of his trousers. By the time she had him undressed, he was so hard that he ached, and he had forgotten all about appearing sallow and skinny and damaged. She hummed happily as she Banished her underwear, straddled him on the sofa and seized his cock, guiding it to exactly where it wanted to be.

It was both more wonderful than he had imagined, and less so, since he came very quickly, but at least he had warned her what would happen. He apologised by laying her down and using his tongue to bring her to orgasm. She seemed so surprised and gratified, that he realised that Lucius's reputation as a stud was either braggadocio, or the bastard hadn't bothered to apply his skills to his own wife. It was a boost to his confidence to know that Narcissa didn't need a slick, accomplished lover, simply one who cared about her.


---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]---

Ever since Snape suggested that Narcissa could teach pure-blood studies, she had been writing out her ideas for the syllabus. He had his own school work to do now; McGonagall was sending regular owls about Hogwarts' finances, staffing and the arrangements for reopening. With Draco immersed in his new role as manager of the Malfoy holdings, all three used their sitting room as a study. Draco had purloined a disused dining table and they were seated around it, Potter's household owl waiting patiently in the middle for its next assignment, when someone tapped on the door. The sound was tentative; neither Potter's hearty whack nor Molly's perfunctory knock before barging in. Apart from the old elf, no-one else bothered the Slytherins in their lair.

'Come in,' Narcissa called, and the door creaked open to reveal Hermione Granger.

'Do you need the owl?' Draco asked, turning in his chair.

'I want to speak to Professor Snape,' she said. Her wild hair was all over the place and she was wearing rather bedraggled Muggle jeans and a sweater. He checked her face, but his enhanced sight did not pick up any sign of puffy eyes; rather he caught the edge of tightly restrained anger. If this was an issue of teenage drama, at least it did not appear to involve comforting a weeping girl. Not that Granger was daft enough to expect any form of pastoral care from him.

Draco got to his feet, and Snape noticed how tautly he held himself. He faced the girl, gave her a short, formal bow, and said 'Granger, I apologise.'

She gaped at him in astonishment. 'What for?'

'For how you were treated in our home and for not trying to prevent it.'

Her eyes narrowed. 'If you had tried to prevent it, you'd have been punished.'

'Still, I regret that anyone should have suffered under our roof,' he told her.

'Have you apologised to the others?' she asked, 'Mr Ollivander, Luna Lovegood and Griphook?'

'I have.'

She nodded in acknowledgement, took in a deep breath and said, 'I'm afraid that I'm not yet able to forgive your father or your aunt for what they did. However, I'm sorry for your losses; no-one should have to lose their family due to war.'

'That's kind of you, Miss Granger,' Narcissa said quietly.

'The library, Miss Granger?' Snape said, before anyone thought to involve him in what felt like the height of awkwardness. Granger smiled in relief and backed out of the room.

As he followed her towards the dingy Black library, she asked 'Wouldn't it be easier for you to apparate around the house, Professor?'

'Easier, but I wish to build up my physical strength.'

'That sounds almost like Muggle therapy.'

'My Healer is a half-blood.'

He sat at the table in the centre of the room as she waved her wand to light the lamps. She faced him, shook back her insane mass of hair, and declared 'I want to come back to Hogwarts to complete my education.'

'Surely you've been asked to join the Ministry?'

She snorted. 'Like Harry and Ron, you mean? I want to get my NEWTs on my own merits, thank you very much, not have the press accuse me of getting a free pass.'

'Will Hogwarts need to brace itself for regular visits by Weasleys and other heroes?'

'You'll only have Ginny, coming back to finish her education,' Granger said darkly, 'and she isn't speaking to me.'

'Ah. So you want to return to Hogwarts to hide and lick your wounds?'

She glared. 'Yes, Ron and I have spilt up. Satisfied?'

He shrugged. 'Did Molly try to insist that you got married immediately? And was Ronald foolish enough to side with his mother when you objected?'

'Get out of my head!'

'I've no need to go near it; I know Molly and Ronald Weasley.'

She subsided, sitting cautiously at the opposite side of the table.

'Well, can I come back?'

'Yes,' he said, leaning back in his chair as an idea crawled up from the depths of his Slytherin soul and demanded his attention. 'Yes, you can. In fact, I can offer you a part-time apprenticeship.'

Her face lit up for a moment, until she remembered who she was dealing with. To do her justice, the girl was no fool. 'In what subject,' she asked, 'in Quidditch?'

'There's no need to be sarcastic, Miss Granger. I'm employing a pure-blood witch to instruct Muggle-born students in Wizarding culture. I should like you to assist her by teaching pure-blood students about the Muggle world. This will amount to two days a week; the rest of your time, you will study for your NEWTs.'

'There has to be a catch,' Granger said, 'it sounds almost like fun.'

'The pure-blood witch is Narcissa Malfoy.'

'You want me to teach with Mrs Malfoy,' Granger said in a hollow voice. 'We're barely civil to one another!'

'She has lost almost all her money and much of her status, she needs the job. You wish to study at Hogwarts to escape the Weasleys and obtain your NEWTs. You both have an incentive to make it work.'

'I'll try,' Granger said dubiously, 'if she will.'

'I shall inform Professor McGonagall that you will be returning, I've no doubt she'll be delighted to welcome you.'

'How many of the Slytherins are coming back?' she asked. He allowed his senses to skim the surface of her mind, but there was nothing duplicitous in her question; she was genuinely concerned. Another idea emerged from his subconscious.

'I anticipate that my return as headmaster will reassure them.'

'The Muggles learned the folly of totally subjugating the losers of a war,' she said, 'that's how Hitler came to power.'

'I am a half-blood, Miss Granger.'

'Yes, Professor,' she said, although she did not sound at all chastened; if anything his mild annoyance pleased her. This girl was not particularly cunning but she never gave up.

'Do you know who brought me back from the Shrieking Shack?' he asked.

'Yes.' She was unfazed by the abrupt question. He raised an eyebrow and when that failed to have any effect, applied the full force of his professorial glare. Her lips twitched. 'Harry and I went to fetch your body before anyone did anything disrespectful to it. You were still breathing. We found the antivenin and blood-replenishing potions in your robe pocket, spelled them into your bloodstream as carefully as we could and rushed you to Madam Pomfrey.'

'I suppose I should thank you,' he grumbled and she actually smirked at him.

'Harry's so glad that at least one of his parents' generation survived; he needs a father figure.'

'I'm tempted to make you Head Girl,' he warned her, 'and Draco Malfoy Head Boy.'

'I dare you!' she exclaimed.

'Get out, Miss Granger!'

She obeyed, and he could hear her chuckling all the way down to the kitchen. The best of it was that she actually thought that she had gained more from the encounter than he had.

---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]---


'Do you want to be Head Boy?' he asked Draco.

'Have you offered Granger Head Girl?' Draco asked without looking up from his account books.

'Of course.'

'I suppose I'd better do it, then, and try to keep the school from veering back to red and gold. So garish.'

'I've also offered her a part-time apprenticeship.'

'Really? That's a little sycophantic, isn't it? What has she done to deserve that – apart from the obvious?'

'You haven't asked who she'll be apprenticed to.'

Both Narcissa and Draco turned from their work to face him.

'I can't imagine a professor who'd turn down precious Potter's precious friend,' Draco sneered. Both Snape and his mother frowned and he clearly rethought his response. 'Well I can't… oh. Well!' He smirked. 'Which is it, you or Mother?'

'Me, I suppose,' Narcissa said, sounding rather put-upon, 'since your reputation doesn't need the boost, does it, Headmaster Snape?'

'The association will hardly do you any harm,' he pointed out, 'and the girl may be tiresome but she has mellowed and she's almost frighteningly bright. She's promised to give it her best shot and at the very least, you won't find her boring.'

'It's feasible, I suppose,' Draco said, 'and worth the effort. She can do no wrong in the eyes of the public.'

'Don't bank on it; she dumped Weasley.'

'Really? How sensible of her.'

Narcissa tutted. 'She's a Muggle-born, she won't understand the implications of leading on and then turning down the scion of a pure-blood house, even if he is the youngest son and the house is somewhat,' she made a balancing gesture, 'ancient but vulgar.'

'She's escaped an unhappy marriage,' Snape said. 'He's no match for her in intellect.'

'He's an oaf,' Draco agreed.

Narcissa flushed slightly. 'Old habits die hard,' she said, 'and I admit that I'm jealous of her freedom to choose. Miss Granger has so many opportunities stretching out in front of her.'

'But so have you,' Snape told her, and her eyes softened as she smiled at him.

'Yes, so I have,' she murmured. Snape heard Draco's sharp intake of breath but when he looked around, the younger wizard simply smirked blandly.

'You never know, Mother, you might even want to marry again,' he said, 'if you meet the right wizard.' He paused dramatically. 'Or witch, of course, or even a Muggle. We need to be broad-minded about these things, under the new regime.'

'Very amusing. What about you, dear, any thoughts in that direction?'

'Definitely not, I intend to enjoy my freedom for a while.'

'Good for you,' she told him, 'just don't get anyone pregnant unintentionally.'

'Mother!'

'Don't look so scandalised! I don't suppose Lucius ever took you aside for a little father-son chat about the facts of life, did he?'

'I'd have been mortified if he had,' Draco muttered, 'it was bad enough getting that from Madam Pomfrey at the age of twelve.'

'Well at least she'll have got the basics right,' she sighed.

'As for the rest, our head of house was terse but to the point.'

Narcissa raised an eyebrow at Snape, who shrugged. 'I tell them to never put anything anywhere without permission, to consider the consequences and to come to me or the prefects for the protective charms or potions before they start, with a promise of complete confidentiality. I also tell them what I'll do to them if they fail to either use protection or gain consent.'

'It seemed to work,' Draco pointed out in the face of his mother's clear scepticism, 'not a single one of our girls got pregnant while Professor Snape was head of Slytherin.'

'What about the squabbles, teenage angst and inevitable broken hearts?'

'That's what prefects and Poppy Pomfrey are for,' Snape said. 'If it's serious, I'll step in, but they know better than to expect tea and sympathy from me.'

'But he always stood up for us against the rest,' Draco said, 'always.'

'You can't be so partisan now that you're headmaster,' Narcissa told him.

'Of course,' he said wryly, 'just like Dumbledore wasn't?'

'He got away with it, Severus, I don't think you can.'

'I concede the point, alas. Not until we've made enough allies in the Gryffindor camp anyway.'

'Back to Granger, then,' Draco said cheerfully, 'we'll educate her between us, Mother.'

'Perhaps we should learn something about Muggleness from her,' Narcissa said, then she winced. 'Merlin, I forget that you're a half-blood, Severus, I'm sorry. You're so thoroughly Magical.'

'I haven't advertised the fact in the Prophet.'

'More Muggle perfumes, Mother?' Draco muttered under his breath, then pouted innocently when Narcissa glared.

'You're not too old to spank, Draco!'

'You love me really.'

And this, Snape realised, was what families should be like. Lucius would not have tolerated this cosy teasing. Draco had never been at ease around his dominant, demanding father nor had Narcissa been allowed to display her affection for her son or her playful side. He wondered if he would ever father a child, and if their relationship would be this relaxed, before squashing the notion. He had an entire school full of children to look after, what the hell was he thinking of? He turned his attention back to the latest roll of parchment from McGonagall; the list of returning seventh year students and their subject allocations.

---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]---


'Staff Christmas bash,' McGonagall said with relish, 'the planning of. The last item on the agenda.'

'Oh codswallop,' Snape said, because that was what they all expected, and he received the inevitable tut-tutting and scolding in return. 'All right, calm down,' he growled and watched as the staff seized their quills and parchment and sat forward in their seats, faces bright with interest. Merlin, he'd missed this; he'd missed them, the quirky, squabbling, petty, affectionate, funny and familiar lot of them. How he had hated that last year, forced to become their enemy. Things were not the same and never would be, but they seemed willing to make the effort to include him again and he appreciated it. They had even complemented him on his new hair-cut, the sarcastic buggers.

'Right,' his deputy said, 'we've got the place and the date, the prefects are aware that they will be supervising the school – what should we do for them in return? A prefects' party?'

'Why not?' Snape sighed, 'let's all start the New Year hungover and wishing we'd remembered our contraceptive charms.'

'Severus!' she snapped, 'that's inappropriate!'

'But sadly, true,' Pomfrey said. 'Sorry, dear.'

'Back to the staff party. Pomona, can you provide seasonal floral arrangements and the herbs and spices for the food and drinks?'

'I'm on it, Minerva,' the Herbology professor said happily.

'Hagrid, Christmas trees and fairies for the lights?'

'Yeah, will do.'

'Irma, your legendary fruitcake?'

'Already maturing nicely.'

'Filius, the decorations and the cocktails as usual?'

'Of course.'

'Horace, the punch and mulled wine?'

'Delighted, my dear, naturally! Thrilled to assist!'

'Sybil, your famous sherry trifle?'

'If the spirits permit on the day,' Trelawney murmured.

'Splendid,' McGonagall sighed, 'let's hope they cooperate, shall we? I'll liaise with the elves and plan the nibbles. Who can order the usual drinks from Rosmerta and Aberforth? Thank you, Aurora, see me after for the drinks list and the money. Party games, Septima? Wonderful. That leaves…'

'Hang-over relief and assorted entertaining brews!' Flitwick squeaked, 'isn't this just like old times?'

Not quite, Snape thought soberly, but then he glanced around the table, and a blond, beautiful witch caught his eye and gave a sympathetic smile.

'Yes,' he sighed, 'I'll do the brewing. Is that everything, Minerva?'

She made an emphatic tick on the parchment and allowed it to roll up.

'Yes, that's the lot. I'm delivering gifts to family today, so I'll get the money from petty cash, Aurora, and I'll be off.'

'Tea, Severus?' Sprout asked and he shook his head.

'Christmas shopping,' he said and she nodded and went to chat with the others over tea and biscuits. Narcissa quietly drifted out of the door and he followed shortly after. As the newest teacher in the staff room, and one of only four Slytherins, she had been keeping a low profile.

'They're polite enough,' she remarked, as they made their way down to the entrance hall, 'Horace and Aurora make the effort, but they all have worked together so long that it would take time, even if I wasn't an evil Slytherin.'

'What about McGonagall?'

'Polite but distant. However, Septima, Filius and Irma play bridge, and Horace usually makes up the four but is happy to relinquish his place to snooze by the fire.'

'Those interminable bridge parties,' he muttered, 'you and Lucius never gave up trying to teach me to play the blasted game. I didn't see the point.'

'A useful skill, which may give me a way into one of the established cliques. Wheeling and dealing in society is what I was trained for from birth.' She eyed him thoughtfully. 'What? You want to say something, so say it.'

'Lucius relied on bribery and bluster,' he said. She sniffed.

'Yes, and sometimes he made me cringe. He really isn't a subtle Slytherin, is he?'

'You could have been his greatest asset and he neglected you.'

'So sad, now he's lost me and has alienated Draco.'

'You don't sound sad at all.'

She slid her hand under his arm. 'I'm not. Where to now, Severus?'

They had reached the main gateway. He drew her aside, into the shelter of the wall.

'Can you please transfigure your outer robe into a coat and raise the hem a bit?'

She did so, looking curiously at him. 'Somewhere Muggle, then?'

'Christmas shopping, followed by a meal in a good restaurant to make up for it.'

'Really? Where?'

'York Christmas market and a meal in the Black Swan at Oldstead.'

'Your northern roots are showing,' she said happily. 'Let's go, then!'

---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]---


It was garish and noisy and heaving with Muggles. Narcissa was fascinated, but she was too well brought up to draw attention to herself and many of the Muggles were staring around and pointing anyway. They applied inconspicuous warming charms when it began to sleet, and drank mulled wine and ate roasted chestnuts and bought bizarre trinkets as gifts for people who would be bemused by them. They held hands like a couple of teenagers.

Snape could remember nothing like this, even when he and Lily had been young. They had run around Cokeworth together as kids, but as they became aware of each other as boy and girl, Lily had backed away from him. He had felt inadequate in comparison with her confident handsome Gryffindor friends. He had never had the experience of strolling arm in arm with an elegant woman, who was at ease with him as they chatted and laughed.

He had wrangled a table at the restaurant by finding some unfortunate sod with a booking, afflicting him with a temporarily upset stomach and taking his place. He had inherited his father's bank account along with the house on Spinner's End and the bank had issued him with a debit card; problem solved.

Narcissa ducked into the ladies' rest room and emerged in a wonderful red velvet dress; careful examination revealed the wide range of charms that had transfigured her plain robes. This woman had talent. He countered with charms of his own. In the gents, looking in the mirror at his fashionable haircut and sharp suit, he realised that Lily no longer owned him.

As they entered the restaurant, his augmented hearing caught comments from the diners at a nearby table.

'She's got to be a model,' one of the women muttered, 'with a figure like that. I covert that red dress.'

'D'you think he's in a band?'

'Looks a bit Bryan Ferry, doesn't he? With more nose.'

He walked to his seat with renewed vitality.

---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]---

First day back at Hogwarts and he could feel the unrest throughout the castle. He allowed himself to be drawn towards the epicentre. Ah yes, a familiar set-up; a small Slytherin trembling in the corner looking slightly singed, plus two larger, incensed Gryffindors and a worried Hufflepuff. Here was Granger, drawn to trouble like a wasp to jam; he Disillusioned himself and waited to see how she would handle the situation.

'Who started it?' she asked. The Slytherin cowered and the other three pointed at him, all speaking at once. Everyone playing to type. Approaching footsteps signalled the arrival of another prefect.

'Oh, really,' Malfoy sighed, 'do you have to? Ten points from Gryffindor and five points from Hufflepuff.'

Rather to Snape's amusement, Granger was the first to step outside her allotted role. Ignoring the loud indignation, she looked at Malfoy and raised her eyebrows. 'For falling for such an obvious set-up,' he explained. 'Simon, where are the others?'

The Slytherin shrugged. Snape allowed his range of hearing to expand and caught the sound of stifled amusement some distance behind him. Malfoy muttered something, spun his wand on his outspread palm and sent a flock of tiny stinging hexes buzzing along the corridor. One veered towards Snape; he fended it off with a flick of his finger. A series of yelps and rude words indicated the location of the rest of the conspirators.

'That'll be fifty points off each of you unless you get here right now!' Granger bellowed.

'Viola,' Malfoy said with mild disappointment as they slouched into view, 'Angus and Kieran. You're all old enough to know better. Five points from Slytherin each, for a stupid plot, clumsily executed.'

'Another five points each from you three Slytherins for putting a younger student in harm's way,' Granger added, 'and five each from you Gryffindors and Hufflepuff for retaliating. You're lucky I got here before one of those curses landed, I'd be calling the Headmaster if it had.'

'Call him, then,' sneered the Slytherin named Angus, 'go on, fetch the Headmaster!'

'She isn't bluffing,' Malfoy said, idly twirling his wand, 'I wouldn't annoy her, if I was you.'

'Thank you, Malfoy,' Granger said, 'I suggest that you lot all go back to your respective common rooms right now before we start assigning detentions.'

The Gryffindors and the Hufflepuff took the hint and disappeared. The Slytherins were not so easily dismissed.

'Whose side are you on, Malfoy?' Viola spat.

'His own, of course,' Granger said briskly, 'and in this case, that involves preventing children from playing silly pranks in the corridors.'

'You let her speak for you?' Angus demanded. Malfoy shrugged.

'If she wants to, why not save myself the effort?'

'You can't be friends with her!' the small Slytherin, Simon, exclaimed in horror, 'she's a fucking Gryffindor!'

'Five points off for bad language,' Malfoy snapped, 'and I was going to let you get away with planning the operation but now I've changed my mind! Ten points from Slytherin for deliberately inciting older students to appear to bully you in order to get them into trouble!'

'Ah,' said Granger, 'I did wonder who planned it.'

'Very badly,' Malfoy muttered.

'Unless it was a double bluff?'

'If it had been, I'd have given points for ingenuity. As it is, I'm taking them off for lack of style. Go on, get back to the common room before I really lose my temper with you. Slytherins are supposed to be subtle and cunning, this is simply clumsy and annoying.'

The four Slytherins strolled away at a carefully judged pace, just slowly enough to show that they were not cowed.

'One of your hexes veered around someone in hiding,' Granger remarked softly, indicating Snape's position with a small tilt of her head, 'possibly a co-conspirator?'

'If it is, I'll have to give back the points for ingenuity,' Malfoy whispered. Snape allowed his Disillusionment charm to fall and glided out of the shadows.

'Two points to Gryffindor for observational skills.'

'House points seem so trivial now, don't they?' Granger remarked. 'Good evening, Headmaster.'

'One hopes you will take away a few useful pointers from the incident.'

'Slytherins can be tediously predictable and Gryffindors annoyingly gullible?' Malfoy said, making Granger grin.

'We can work together,' she said, 'and we need to be seen to do so.'

'And you are always watching, Headmaster Snape,' Malfoy added.

Snape caught the word 'Sycophant!' at the forefront of Granger's thoughts, but it was fond, rather than disparaging. Interesting.

'If I was you, I'd direct your patrol towards the Astronomy Tower,' he suggested, and they nodded and strode away, planning a simultaneous approach from two directions.

The school was his in truth, he felt like he was holding a jewel in his hand. He considered walking to the Headmaster's Tower but he had had more than enough exercise today, so he nudged at the wards and they gave way, parting like rubber to allow him to step through the walls, emerging outside the entrance to his quarters. There was someone inside.

He stood still for a moment, then he breathed in a trace of perfume, citrus and flowers overlaying notes of woods and musk and vanilla, the unmistakable hint of Shalimar. Softly he opened the door.

Narcissa was seated at his desk, teasing green ribbons into intricate spirals around a tiny arrangement of glitter-sprinkled pinecones and dried grasses on top of a silver-and-green parcel. It was clearly a book.

'A gift for Miss Granger,' she remarked, setting it aside. 'I do hope that she likes it.'

'What is it?' He toed off his boots and slid his feet into his slippers.

'A history of Yule traditions in the Wizarding World. I thought it appropriate for the season.'

'Knowing Granger, she'll love it.'

She stood up and walked to the fire, where she Levitated two mugs from the hearth.

'I ordered mulled wine and mince pies,' she remarked, 'I hope that is acceptable.'

'More than acceptable.' He took the mug, breathing in steam fragrant with spices, oranges and red wine. 'You spoil me,' he said. She reached up and began unbuttoning his robe at his throat.

'You deserve a little indulgence,' she murmured. 'Did you find any miscreants on your patrol?'

'A few, but they were ably dealt with by the formidable team of Granger and Malfoy.'

She paused, then her quick fingers resumed easing open his robe and shirt.

'I wonder…'

'So do I. The very idea sends chills up my spine. Can you imagine teaching the offspring from that liaison?'

She chuckled and smacked him lightly. 'You're talking about my grandchildren!'

Snape rolled his eyes. 'No doubt you'll be a horrendously indulgent grannie.'

'I'll hex you sideways if you ever dare call me that again! You make me sound like Molly Weasley.'

'Yes dear.' He smirked and took a sip from his mulled wine.

She pushed him down onto the sofa and began massaging his shoulders, avoiding the scars on his neck.

'Perhaps Draco will father a daughter,' she mused, 'I always hoped for a little girl.' What she did not say, but both understood, was that Lucius had lost interest in her once he had his heir.

'You're more than young enough to have one of your own.'

Narcissa froze. He sipped his wine. He could hear her heightened rate of breathing, and if he concentrated, her heartbeat.

'I'm too traditional to raise a child out of wedlock,' she said in a breathless whisper.

'I suppose I'd better consider my reputation too.' He raised a hand and beckoned towards the Christmas tree in the window. A silver-wrapped package zoomed across the room. He handed it to her.

Inside was a bottle of L'Heure Bleue perfume. Around the neck of the bottle was one of the few remaining small treasures that he had retrieved from the Prince vault at Gringotts; the Prince betrothal ring, of pale gold set with a square-cut emerald.

He found himself with a lapful of enthusiastic witch.

'I'll take that as a "yes" then,' he said, once she had stopped kissing him.

'Silly wizard,' she said affectionately, 'of course it is.'

'Good,' he said and Summoned the mince pies.

---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]--- ---[[[]]]---


'Of course the Head Boy was expected to dance with the Head Girl at the Yule Ball,' Sprout remarked, settling herself beside Slughorn on the sofa nearest the fire, 'but four dances? Do I sense something more than the setting of good examples there? Is this mere fraternisation?'

'Nothing wrong with fraternisation,' Slughorn rumbled. 'Do be a good sport and pass the mead before Hagrid drinks it all.'

'I'm stickin' to Aberforth's best dark ale,' Hagrid said happily. 'Wassat about our 'Ermione?'

'Dancing all evening with Draco Malfoy,' Sprout explained.

'She never!'

'She did.'

'She wouldn't,' Hagrid proclaimed, 'ee's a Slytherin!' Then he glanced guiltily at Snape and added, 'Not that there's anything wrong with that, o' course. There's some nice Slytherins.' He burped hugely and thumped himself on the chest. 'Sorry, must be them pickles with the cheese.'

Sprout and Slughorn exchanged glances and collapsed into giggles. Snape sighed and moved on, to where Flitwick stood on a chair in order to reach the bar.

'Severus!' he exclaimed, almost overbalancing backwards, 'cocktails! What'll you have?' He flicked his wand, sending ice cubes into a silver cocktail shaker. 'A Rusty Wand? A Swish and Flick? Salty Dragon? Espresso Broom-Ride? How about one of my latest recipes?'

'Not a Snake-Bite, I hope?'

'Ooh, I didn't think of that! No, there's Dark'N'Dangerous, Inferius Reviver, Green Goblin or Damn Rebel Witches.'

'I'd better have a Dark'N'Dangerous.'

Flitwick threw together dark rum, chocolate liqueur, ginger ale, lime slices and a generous splash of firewhisky, handing over the resulting smoking goblet with a grin. Snape sipped cautiously.

'It'll blow your head off,' McGonagall told him, waving her own goblet. 'I've got Damn Rebel Witches; it bites back. Dreadful thing to do to single malt, Filius, simply dreadful!'

'She's drunk,' Narcissa murmured in his ear.

'They're all drunk. It's traditional.'

'Are you?'

'Traditional?'

'Drunk.'

'More than likely.'

'I wondered why you hadn't noticed that.' She pointed upwards, to where one of Flitwick's charmed mistletoe sprigs hovered two feet above his head. He sighed.

'You can shift them using Bombarda but it makes a mess of the ceiling.'

'Or?' she asked.

'Or you have to kiss someone.'

'Oh dear,' she whispered, 'I'd hate to ruin that lovely old ceiling so that leaves me with no choice.'

She could be very forceful when she wished. There was no way he could escape that kiss, the tongue that curled sensually around his own, the warm lips against his, the curves of her body pressing against him or her delicious perfume. She hummed softly and he ignored everything around them, lost in the pleasure of kissing his witch.

'What in Merlin's name are they doing now?' she whispered, beneath the eruption of loud voices.

'Sorting out the sweepstake, I suspect.'

'They were betting on us?'

'I'd have been disappointed if they weren't; it means you're one of us.'

'Oh,' she said, 'in that case…'

He felt a subtle twitch in her magic, and smiled against her mouth as he sensed the charm flow away from her hand; revealing the ring on her finger. The Hogwarts staff cheered and whistled.

'And an 'appy Christmas to us all!' Hagrid bellowed, waving his bucket-sized tankard and drenching the nearest four people in beer. 'Oops, sorry about tha'.'

'Welcome to Hogwarts, Narcissa,' Snape said. 'I do believe that all will be well.'

The End.