Disclaimer: I'm not muscling in on JK's turf - just gambolling on it, like a spring lamb, having fun working out the literary and psychological puzzles which she is having fun setting us
"IgotanowlIgotanowl - they're going to publish!" He waved the letter wildly in the air and made a vague gesture as if he was going to hug Snape, who ducked.
"Curb your enthusiasm, Longbottom!" Having someone hold him when he was feeling fragile and distraught was one thing; but sudden outbreaks of manly fervour were altogether too continental. "I'm pleased for you, seriously, but there's no call to get carried away. May I see?"
Neville handed the parchment over and then perched on the edge of the couch next to him, bouncing up and down slightly on the spot. "I have to decide now whether to publish under my own name, or a quill-name."
"And what pseudonym would you use, I wonder? The Detonator? Mr Toad, perhaps?"
"Well - to be honest, most people usually just call me Shortarse."
"Albus, I wish you would let me do it. Twice already you've only survived by the skin of your teeth and my bloody skill, and even if you and Golden Wonder-boy do manage to retrieve Helga's cup without a fatality, trying to neutralize it is going to be third-time-unlucky, believe me."
"It's by no means certain that the cup will be very heavily protected: the diary after all was not."
"But the ring and the locket and the godamn snake were - are. And thanks to me he knows what happened to the ring, and that he needs to increase security. Anyone who tries to denature that cup is going to be cursed to a bloody smoking cinder."
"But that is precisely where you are wrong, dear boy. Horace is brewing the Felix felicis for Harry and myself even as we speak. It should be ready by the summer, and we can keep the cup under a stasis spell meantime."
"I'm amazed that he hasn't already roped me in to help make it - I shall expect him at my door imminently. But - yes, that might work. It's certain you're going to need all the bloody help you can get, because He will know that you are looking. Thanks to my bloody - weakness."
"You know what I think about the matter, and I am not going to let you martyr yourself to destroy a Horcrux. That is my final word on the matter - you've already been martyred more than sufficiently."
Rolanda Hooch's strange eyes, yellow as a hawk's beneath her feather-like cap of short grey hair, observed him dispassionately as he struggled for balance. Adrian always insisted that he was getting better at it, and he supposed that being assigned to a physical fitness instructor instead of a healer was a sign of progress; but progress in the sense of forward motion was still somewhat lacking, and it was embarrassing to have Rolanda have to seize him by the elbow and hold him up bodily to prevent him from measuring his length on the stone floor. It was even more embarrassing to realize that the bloody woman could do it one-handed. Still, she was someone else for whose kindness and patience he had unexpected cause to be grateful.
Almost ten days now since he and Albus had looked into the Pensieve - and despite the fragile, infinitely repeatable wonder of kissing Hermione, the memory of the decanted memory of himself split open like a rotten plum, brutalized and shamed in every way possible and utterly helpless at the mercy of those who had no mercy at all, had eaten into his brain until he felt infested with it, contaminated; until it ran through his head like a fracture of broken glass, stirring up jagged shards of horror.
Yet, in an odd way, it was almost a pleasure to think about that queasy horror and know that it had brought him, less than two days later, into kindness and care and unexpected friendship; Adrian bringing him wine and choosing, for whatever strange reasons of his own, to continue to take an interest in him even after it was no longer strictly necessary; Albus metamorphosing from stern commander to concerned mentor; Longbottom - of all people - bringing him a spun handful of coloured light and music to hang over his bed; Poppy wiping his clammy skin with something which smelled of fresh air and lavender; Lovegood reading to him by firelight; Hermione talking quietly to him and brushing his hair....
As if it had happened in a dream, past the confused tangle of overstretched senses and the heavy fog of absolute exhaustion which had clouded his perceptions at the time, he remembered careful hands lifting him up and sliding a soft fleece under him, under the clean linen sheets, to ease his sore bones; and the comfort and warmth that that had brought him went all the way through to the soul.
Adrian had his own problems, at present. Snape found, somewhat to his surprise, that he rather wished he could have gone to the young surgeon's wedding; and since that was still clearly impossible, Pomona had obliged him by visiting Hogsmeade and bringing back a huge box of Chocoballs, filled with clotted cream and strawberry mousse, and another of whisky-filled Chocolate Cauldrons: both sweets which Adrian's guests would never have encountered before, but which did not involve any alarming magical special effects. To the depths of his soul, he envied the younger man the life he would lead - a useful, prestigious, morally unambiguous career, a stable, loving family, and somebody who cared for him, to come home to at night.
But he certainly didn't envy him the preparatory stage. Adrian still made the effort to come through at least once a week - a fact which gave Snape a thrill of embarrassed pleasure and surprise every time he thought about it - but his nerves were on a short fuse, and he was starting to go a nasty greyish colour, under the black.
"It's not," he said, "that I'm not ecstatic about getting married, leik. But I have eleven aunts and uncles none of whom are speaking to the others, hardly, and half the buggers are lactose-intolerant and I have to sit them so none of them takes precedence over any of the others or they'll all fight, and Immie's only got two aunts but one is a bloody Vegan and the other one's a drunk who has to be kept away from the punch at all costs. And Immie 'phoned me this morning to say that the caterers have cancelled. Damn," he added, looking down to see that he had clenched the plastic carry-out knife in his left hand so hard that it had just snapped, and had driven a spike of itself into the palm of his hand.
"Show me," Snape said commandingly, as thick blood well up in the hollow of his friend's hand, though the sight and the iron smell of it brought a cold wash of nausea to clutch at his throat and prickle across his skin. Adrian held his hand out, wordlessly, and Snape swallowed hard and passed the end of his wand across it, singing under his breath a humming, buzzing, lilting little tune, and the cut flesh healed itself again.
"Damn," Adrian said again. "I wish - "
"I know. But that's one of the reasons we - why we keep ourselves apart. There are less than ten thousand wizards in Britain, of whom perhaps one in thirty has much useful healing ability, and of those, perhaps a quarter can heal to professional standard."
"That's… about eighty, right?"
"Or less. And most of those are already working at St Mungo's. What would you do with let's say twenty wizarding healers, spread out over every Muggle hospital in Britain?"
"Work them to death, maybe literally - and there'd be riots, nearly, when people found out their relatives could have been saved, and weren't, because there weren't enough wizards to go round. Yeah, I do see."
"Also, in some ways magic is the - the lazy solution. You proved it yourself, on me, that for some purposes Muggle medicine is actually better, and if you had that, that lazy way out, you might not work so hard to find treatments which could be available for all."
"I do see. But even so, I can't help wishing…."
Snape looked at him for a moment and then shut his eyes, unwilling to witness the younger man's resignation and regret. "When I can walk again, if you really need me, I will come. If you think that my - my intervention really would make the difference between life and death for a patient, if it's something that I can cure, I will come. I owe you that."
"I didn't do it so you'd owe me, ya tube."
"Even so. But it must be done in a way that can be concealed from the Muggle authorities and the wizarding ones. It would not have been a kindness to save me for Azkaban, believe me."
Going behind the Ministry's back was one thing - nearly a duty, and certainly a pleasure. Deceiving Albus was quite another matter, and he wondered uneasily if he should tell him about this - thing - between himself and Hermione. If he had still been teaching, or if there had even been any chance that he would be teaching again before she finished school… except that in that case he would never have allowed the thing to go so far in the first place. Strictly, he was a civilian at present, and the… thing was none of Albus's business, at least professionally.
Even so, not telling the old man felt vaguely dishonest, in a way that lying through his teeth to the Dark Lord never had. Albus would certainly be interested on a personal level, and might be concerned about the appearance of the matter; even if he and Hermione were no longer teacher and student, and would never be so again.
But Albus himself had never for a moment been honest with him, or with anyone, if it suited Albus's purposes not to be; and he was reluctant to discuss something which was still so fragile, and so private - private to Hermione, not just to himself. He himself might have no privacy left, in the face of someone who had nursed him and cleaned him when he had been reduced to a mindless, cringing, incontinent near-corpse - but he had no desire to see Hermione accused of taking advantage of her position as his carer, and if - as he more than half expected - she came to her senses and decided she would prefer someone younger and more prepossessing, it would be better for her never to have been tainted by association.
Even if he was coming to suspect that she was a great deal less innocent than she appeared… the reverse of himself as a teenager, who had always somehow looked and sounded guilty even when he was absolutely sincere.
"Well, a 'tube' is a Scots expression for a fool or a useless person. I don't know whether that's because a tube is something which looks solid but is really hollow, or whether it's an, um, male genital reference." He had started to regret offering to teach Hermione how to swear, almost as soon as she had insisted on taking him up on it. It was astonishing, really, how many British swearwords were really embarrassingly sexual, when you started to examine them, and every time he blushed she grinned at him, which made him go even pinker.
And it was difficult not to flinch at the ones which were homosexual references. They would not have bothered him, before, despite his history with Lucius; but now it was hard not to think of them in relation to himself, in a context which had been very definitely neither consensual nor pleasurable….
Hermione's bright voice cut across him and derailed his train of thought, for which he was more than grateful. "So that must mean that 'tube' means pretty-much the same as 'wanker', then?"
"Well, ah - in its application, broadly, yes, but in its actual etymology…." He took a sip of tea to help cover his discomfiture.
"Yes, understood - it's all right, you don't have to spell it out. Again." She grinned at him. "And 'mince' is Scots for anything which is no good like, um, a really bad Quidditch team - so what's a minge-er?"
Snape swallowed his tea the wrong way. When he had stopped coughing, he looked away from her, blushing, and muttered "A 'minge' is a girl's - furry - down there." He forced himself to make eye-contact, though Hermione's eyes were dancingly amused. "I suspect you mean 'minger', rhyming with 'singer' rather than 'singe'. A minger is a person of either sex, or sometimes an object, which is thoroughly unattractive and unappetizing. Like - "
He looked away again and shut his eyes, gesturing rather helplessly at himself. After a moment, he felt her feather-light kiss brush against the corner of his eye.
Hagrid knelt by the shallows, staring at an oddly-shaped eye bigger than a human head: alien, and yet weirdly intelligible and expressive. The thick tentacle, like a boneless pink arm, fumbled at his wrist before the suckers latched onto the proffered steak, and drew it down under the water.
After a squelchy, blood-stained interlude, the squid raised its tentacles again, and a wave of colour flickered over them and chased across its back, like lightning strobing across a dark sky. "Boat," Hagrid said, "in th' autumn - na' one o' they shoal that swims after me. A lone swimmer - with an injured man on board?"
Colours, patterns, even textures formed and re-formed across the creature's skin as Hagrid questioned it, using its own flesh as a living canvas, and the arm-tentacles gestured insistently. Once, one of the long, serpent-like main tentacles snaked above the water and then slapped down hard, striking its paddle-shaped end against the surface in emphatic - what?
"Sir," Ron whispered to the Headmaster, "how come Hagrid talks to the squid as if it was sensible, and to his own brother as if he was a - you know. A moron, or a little kid."
"Believe it or not," Dumbledore murmured back, "Grawp is a 'little kid'. You may have noticed that Hagrid himself is - emotionally somewhat younger than his chronological age, and true giants age very slowly. I understand that Grawp is in his twenties - but in terms of development he is the equivalent of a child of five or six."
The squid flared abruptly into violent zigzags of black and white, rearing up and spreading its tentacles to show the sharp beak at the centre.
Hagrid nodded. "Yeh're right," he said soberly. "'S terrible to think - our own students…."
"What did he say?" Hermione asked sharply. "Hagrid, what did he say?"
"Th' two girls - vicious little bitches - they were under current wards. An' tha' means - "
"It means that they are still here," Dumbledore said grimly. "Somewhere in this castle."
The too-vivid recollection of agony and terror rose up like nausea, choking him and sending successive waves of fever and chill shivering over his skin. Severus clung to her, trying not to whimper or vomit as the jolting shudders gradually grew further apart and the remembered horrors receded. There was no meticulously detailed tormentor here to take him apart one shrieking nerve at a time: only Hermione's slim, firm arms to hold him; a steadying presence which showed no sign of dissolving away into one of the Dark Lord's jeering phantasms.
When his heart had slowed to something which felt less like hail hammering on a tin roof, he let go of her and turned his face towards the mattress with a muttered profanity. The confirmation that two of his tormentors were somewhere nearby - girls who had watched him being abased and had enjoyed seeing it - had shaken him more than he wanted to admit and left him dizzy with fear and shame, lost somewhere in a maze of darkness. When Hermione placed the palm of her hand against his chest, anchoring him, it felt like a buoyancy ring thrown to a drowning man. He put his own much larger hand over hers and gave it a little squeeze, running his thumb across the fine skin and pressing her palm flat above his racing heart. After a few deep, shuddering breaths, he uncurled enough to look at her again.
"I... wish this weren't necessary," he said painfully. "Not that I don't wish you were here, but... that I could do without it, that I weren't so pitifully fucking needy and needing someone to be with me and hold me at every bloody moment."
"It's all right... no, it really is." She propped herself up on one elbow, looking down at him affectionately. "It's comforting for me too, you know, to have someone to hold. For all of us, I think. It's... not easy, to admit you need a cuddle, sometimes, when the world is scary and overwhelming. Especially, say, for Professor McGonagall or Professor Dumbledore. Or the resident Gryffindor Brain who has to hold things together lest The Boy Who Lived on His Fraying Nerves just snaps and goes off like a frog in a sock. Again."
"He does tend to, doesn't he?" He frowned up at her, dourly amused. "Out of all the career-options which I may at some point have considered, I have to say that 'Live Teddy-Bear' or 'Sentient Comfort-Blanket' weren't included - though I do know that many women think that the main purpose of a man is to have something to warm their feet on." He sighed and rolled over onto his back with his arm behind his head and lay staring up at the ceiling, the line of his nose like a hard blade against the backdrop of the tapestried room. "I suppose it's true, actually.... 'Live Teddy-Bear' was part of my job-description as House Master - you wouldn't think Slytherins would go in for cuddles but they're a nervy bunch - and it's nice to know that I can still be of service." Had it been one of his own - a child he had tried to comfort when she cried for home - who had laughed to see McLaggen kicking him in his helpless agony? "And - thank you for trying to make me feel less like a... a client. It's nearly almost working."
Hermione leaned down and kissed him, very briefly, before pulling away and blushing a bit. Her heart was doing gymnastics, and she sternly tried to squelch it. "Believe me, I'm grateful for any moment I can spend with you," she said softly. "And although I'm fairly sure the others aren't glad for the same reason, I know they find it comforting too. We didn't have to make a schedule because we lacked volunteers to stay with you... we made it so Professor McGonagall wouldn't continue keeping you all to herself, and depriving herself of sleep and meals in the meantime... she wouldn't have left you, if she had a choice, except to actually teach classes. And that time, Professor Dumbledore wanted to keep for himself."
"If I were being cynical I would say that Albus and Minerva are just assuaging their own guilty consciences - but oddly enough it doesn't feel like that. Minerva in particular behaves as if she really.... And, um, it almost sounds as though the rest of you - I mean, not just you yourself but Longbottom, Lovegood, all of you - actively wanted to spend time with me, not just to prevent poor Minerva from exhausting herself...? Improbable as that may be."
"Professor McGonagall loves you," she said seriously. "You didn't see her, when you were first brought in... she looked as if her heart had been ripped out and stepped on. And when you finally said her name, and recognized her... she cried for hours, she was so happy, and we practically had to pry her arms off you to make her go and eat something." She settled on her back beside him, resting her head lightly against his shoulder, and looked up at the dark ceiling. "There's no knowing why Luna does things, most of the time, but she does seem to like you. And Neville... he worried so much about you, Trevor had to run away twice as much as usual just to get his attention."
"He brings the blasted thing to bed with him, did you know? A frog in a sock is nothing, believe me, compared with a toad in a nightshirt. And Lovegood - mostly I think she just likes having a captive audience. Not that I'm complaining, especially when I think where I - "
He turned his head to look at her, huffing gently to get the strands of brown hair out of his face. "Albus, Minerva - the odd thing is, when I was a child and it was their job to care for me, neither of them lifted a finger to help me, that I remember. Black's attempt to murder me wasn't even a crime to them; Minerva I will say was at least very angry, but even she seemed to be angry because of the, the irresponsibility of it, rather than out of any interest in my pathetic life. Yet now that I am a grown man, injured in the course of my duties, they act as if.... Well, as I imagine parents would act. If they cared about one."
"Didn't yours, then?" she asked softly.
He snorted. "My father's main interaction with me consisted in hitting me - with his fists or with an implement - and telling me how worthless I was. My mother - she wasn't a bad woman, precisely, but she just wasn't equipped by nature to care for anything more demanding than a geranium. And even then she'd probably over-water it." His childhood had been, both in retrospect and at the time, deeply unsatisfactory and depressing; but it occurred to him that this slow, piecemeal recovery from total helplessness was rather like reliving early childhood - only this time, with a family who wouldn't hit him if he cried or wet himself.
He smiled at her, fleetingly. "This whole situation is all so - odd. I feel myself to be - ruined, broken, a tower fallen, and I would have expected my life to follow suit: but now that I have time on my hands - on my hand - somehow and against all probability I seem to have acquired a social life. Suddenly Albus and Minerva seem to have appointed themselves as my surrogate parents, which is deeply unnerving, and Longbottom has decided he wants to be my son which is even more so. And an attractive and dazzlingly intelligent young woman half my age wants to be my lover." He gave her what he hoped was a winning smile, although he was aware that he probably wasn't very good at it. "Kiss me again?"
She did so, pushing back her hair as it fell around her face and his, kissing him slowly and gently until her heart pounded and her breathing was decidedly unsteady, as he turned into her embrace and slipped his hand behind her shoulders to draw her closer. "I can't even imagine, really, what that would be like," she said softly. "My parents... they've always loved me, and done the best they could for me. They're perfectionists, mind you, and sometimes that made things difficult... but once I learned to be one too, we got along perfectly."
She thought about it, kissing him again as she did so. "As for Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall... I really don't know them well enough to explain that. But they've been seeming... tired, lately. And they're showing things more than they used to... temper, and being unhappy, and that sort of thing. Maybe this was just too much for them to face."
She gave in to a long-cherished daydream, then, and gently kissed the bridge of his hooked nose. For all he'd lost, she was deeply grateful that his nose had been spared. "And I do love you," she whispered. "I want... to be with you, in any way I can. It's... a humbling feeling. If you were mobile, I have a horrible feeling that I'd be following you around like a puppy, just in case you tried to vanish again, which would look terribly silly."
"In your school robes? We would look like Batman and Robin - or a pair of very peculiar nuns - but this is another 'habit' I could easily get into," and he pulled her against him and rolled over to kiss her more deeply and with some force. As her lips parted under his, he felt the tip of her tongue flick against his lips. His heart thumped for an instant in fright before he mastered himself and tentatively pressed back. As his tongue slid against hers, he felt an answering pulse of desire rather further south, a sudden intense awareness of his own gender, and considered being afraid again; but the moment was slow and golden like honey and it was possible, held in Hermione's peaceful affection, to enjoy the sensation and even court it, instead of shying away from it.
When they had both got their breath back a little, he laid his long hand against the side of her face and smiled wryly. "At this point I really ought to be - propped up on one elbow, looming over you and smouldering suitably - but with only one hand available I feel I should use it for something more... active" he murmured, running his thumb lightly along her lips. "I wish Filius would get a move on with adjusting the prosthetics so I can really feel with them - it really can't come soon enough."
"Mnuh," Hermione said vaguely, her brain having shut down more or less completely during that prolonged, intense kiss. She cupped his face between her hands, allowing herself a moment of blissful appreciation before her mind started working again to process what he'd actually said. "It is... entirely unfair to kiss me like that and then expect me to be able to talk," she said, blushing a bit. "And perhaps you should tell him you need legs in order to properly get your leg over, that might hurry him up." She kissed him again. "And... I can't believe you even know Batman and Robin exist. How on earth did you find out about them?"
"Promise you won't tell...?" he began, and then pulled a wry face. "I suppose it hardly matters now - it's not as if I have any - public dignity left in any case. My dark secret. One of my dark secrets. I'm three-parts Muggle. I grew up in this - grim little mill-town a bit south of Manchester. We didn't have a telly ourselves - we were far too poor - but my auntie was comfortably-off by local standards and she had one. She even had an indoor lavatory!"
"I won't breathe a word," she promised, snuggling up to him. "Although it does explain why... well." She made a wry face. "Why you never acted as if I were a... contaminant, I suppose. I know the whole Mudblood thing is foolish, but... it still hurt. Especially when it was little first years actually fleeing from me, not just Draco being a prat. I was used to him, but to see the... the revulsion on the face of some little eleven-year-old who thought I was one step up from a troll...."
"It's because they're afraid of us - we're afraid of them - shit, I don't know which way I'm facing any more. The history books make a joke out of the witch-persecutions, they make it sound as if it was a big joke and no true witch or wizard ever really suffered but it wasn't like that. It's all very well to let off a few hexes but against people with crossbows, or guns - and once he's lost his wand, a wizard is nearly as helpless as the next man. Thousands were tortured and then burned alive or garrotted and every wizarding child knows it, they whisper about it behind the broom-shed - and there are so many of them. Us. The wizarding world is so tiny, so fragile - we swank about with our wands and boast about how powerful we are but Muggles don't need to be individually powerful when they outnumber us more than six thousand to one.
"The old pure-blood families, the ones who talk about Mudbloods and mean it, they're terrified that allowing Muggle-borns into wizarding society means that the Muggles will find out about us and either destroy us or put us in cages and use us as slave-weapons, because that's what they'd do. Except for Arthur Weasley, who thinks the Muggles would pat us on the head and study us and find us quaint, because that's what he'd do." He drew a deep breath; it was painful to think about his godson, not knowing where he was or what might be happening to him. "As for Draco, if you ever see him don't ever tell him I said this, but I suspect he rather fancies you and it unnerves him. If the pair of you were much younger, he'd pull your pigtails and run away."
Hermione nodded. "I've always thought... most non-Slytherins seem content to write Slytherin off as a simple bigot, who didn't think Muggle-borns were good enough," she said slowly. "But... I assume you went to a Muggle school, and actually got taught a little history, instead of the over-simplified, wizards-are-the-coolest drivel we get from Binns. I did, and I know a lot more about history than most of the students here. In Slytherin's time.... There may have been an element of bigotry, but I think he did have a point. When there are so very many of The Other, and so very few of you, and you know they want to kill you... welcoming in the children of The Other and sharing all your secrets is beyond stupid. Some of them are going to be spies, it's a given, and he decided that rescuing the magical children of Muggles was less important than preserving the safety of the wizards they already had.
"I'm not sure he was entirely right, given the basic inadequacy of the pure-blood breeding population, but I can see his point. Which doesn't make me any happier about making a first-year cry just by trying to help her up." She made an impatient noise. "It's one of the really frustrating things about wizards. They hate change so much, that even when there's no longer any real reason to fear Muggle-borns - who would we spy for? Who could we TELL, who would believe us? - I'm still about as welcome as Norbert." She paused. "Er... Hagrid tried to raise a baby dragon in his hut once. He named it Norbert. Draco probably told you about it - it was the only time, I think, where he actually got into not-completely-deserved trouble for something WE did, instead of the other way around."
"I don't think there was much going on in the way of witch-hunts in Salazar's time - this was during the reign of Amlaib mac Iduilb, remember, in the nine-seventies - but it was certainly a time of great religious and political turmoil. The risk, as I understand it, was not so much of being burnt at the stake as of being forced to take sides in the Danish wars of succession - and finding oneself on the losing side. Plus there was, and indeed still is, some debate about whether it is - moral to take Muggle children out of their natural environment, when that might not really be what they or their parents want. This was far more of an issue at a time when Apparition was still in its infancy and there were no fast Muggle means of transport: Salazar felt that it was moot whether Hogwarts was rescuing Muggle-born wizards, or kidnapping them." He pulled a wry face. "And you don't think that the - the CEA, or My6, would take an interest in wizard powers, if they found out about us? I know for a fact that North Korea already does."
"I don't think they'd believe in wizard powers. Certainly not if some eleven or twelve year old came running up to them and said 'Hey, guess what, I can do magic!'. Muggles are so thoroughly trained to believe that magic doesn't exist that many of them actually can't see it even when it's done right in front of them. They just don't let themselves." She paused, as something rather belatedly sank in. "Uhm. Did you just say earlier that you thought Draco might fancy me a bit?"
"I'd put money on it. After all, all Malfoys are expected to have excellent taste...."
Hermione turned that over in her mind. "Good heavens," she said slowly. "I had no idea... I mean, I always thought he loathed me. If I'd known that, I probably would have been nicer to him... or possibly punched him a bit harder, since he really was an utter arsehole to me most of the time. He never hit me back, though, or hexed me directly.... I always thought that was some sort of old-fashioned not-hitting-girls thing."
"Oh, yes - but that sort of 'putting girls on a pedestal' idealization just makes it easier to lust after them from afar. Trust me."
"Wow." She smiled a little. "I... am very flattered, actually. I never thought I'd be anything-ed from afar. It would probably have gotten us both lynched by our respective houses if we'd ever actually got involved, but it's still nice to know that someone might think of me that way." She paused. "Of course, you aren't necessarily an improvement in the 'being lynched' stakes. But you're worth it."
"Thank you" he said gravely. "You think that the sainted House of Gryffindor would still disapprove of your doing this" - and he pulled her close and kissed her open-mouthed and at deep, slow leisure, until the blood pounded in his ears, and elsewhere - "with the Greasy Git," he finished triumphantly and rather breathlessly, "even now that I'm officially a bona fide martyred hero?"
Hermione was gasping a bit herself, and she retaliated with a long, lingering kiss of her own. "Mmm... no, of course not, that would require them to change their minds about you and all Gryffindors are prone to getting set in stone about things. I may have to fight for your honour a few times. You may have to give me a scarf or a ribbon in Slytherin colours to tie around my arm as a sign of your favour...."
"And so you're going to ride into the lists for me, wearing my favour? That would be - actually, seriously, that would be... almost overwhelming. Apart from Albus, nobody ever really.... God. Having someone to fight for me. A real ally. God." And she would do it, that was the amazing thing but he could see it in the determined set of her fine-boned jaw: she would defy her housemates for him, as Lily in the end had not, and he thought that he might declare his allegiance to the Muggle-born Gryffindor chit in front of all Slytherin and hang the consequences, as his schoolboy self, in the end, had not. "But you have to promise to let me do the same for you, when I am - if and when Filius manages to make me a set of prostheses I can reliably stand on without falling on my arse. And if you kiss me like that again, I am seriously going to need ten minutes on my own."
She giggled, and snuggled against him. "I like that idea too," she murmured, resting her forehead against his. "I'll go into battle against the Gryffindors for you, with green and silver ribbons in my hair, and you can fight the Slytherins for me.... I'll find a nice red scarf for you to wear. Or maybe a tasteful little red heart to pin to your sleeve. The Hufflepuffs will just be glad we're neither of us yelling so much, of course, and the Ravenclaws will understand the attraction of intellect, but Gryffindor and Slytherin...." She wrinkled her nose. "Still. I love you, and I will fight for you, be it against our enemies or merely against the stupid masses."
"I can think of two stupid masses you'll need to convince, straight away. Potter has been making a serious attempt to be polite since I was - injured, but I doubt that his new-found tolerance will extend as far as my becoming, um, involved with one of his best friends. And not a scarf - with my pallor, if I wear red next to my face it will reflect off my skin and make me look apoplectic. Wearing my heart on my sleeve might be a little - kitsch. But a cummerbund would be nice - a good dark red, not too tomato-ish - and we'll tie up your hair with a green bow."
"We could always put a bow in your hair too," she pointed out. "It's long enough to tie back, now, and a nice cherry red would go well with the black. But yes, a green bow in my hair would work well... Slytherin, taming the untameable. In more ways than one." She made a face. "Harry and Ron are going to have fits, aren't they? Don't worry, I'll set Neville to guard your door... they could no more attack him than they could eat a kitten. And besides, if they so much as speak sternly to you and upset you, Professor McGonagall will murder them." She paused, and grinned suddenly. "Of course, should you wish to, you could always let them burst in, throw a tantrum and call them all sorts of nasty names, then summon Professor McGonagall and tattle on them. I'm sure you'd enjoy seeing them whimper. And I would most decidedly side with you, if they did something so asinine, just so you know."
"That might be fun, actually. I haven't had a chance to shout at anybody much except Adrian and Poppy for - well, since - and they don't react properly. It's very frustrating. But would tying my hair back be a good idea? Surely it would just make my nose look even bigger."
"Oh, no... quite the opposite." She kissed the tip of said nose affectionately. "I'm very fond of your nose, by the way. Caesar himself would not have scorned such a nose. But having your hair hanging down flat like that just makes it look bigger... the straight lines make your face look flatter and thinner, which just emphasizes your nose. If you pulled it back, your cheekbones and jaw would balance it out better.... your face would be all angles, instead of just the nose sticking out all by itself."
"I suppose so - I've never really seen myself in profile. I try not to see myself at all, if truth be told. I'll feel - naked" he said, with a visible flinch, "if I don't have my hair to hide behind."
"Then you needn't tie it back, if you don't want to," she said softly, resting her forehead lightly against his. "But I'd like to see it that way sometime, even if it's just the two of us. You seem to be under the impression that you're some sort of gargoyle, Severus, and it isn't true.... you're no Gilderoy Lockhart, I admit, but you're very striking... and you have beautiful eyes, when you're not glaring." Perhaps she should have said this before, but they were both touchy about appearances, and rarely discussed them. "You make my knees go all wobbly when you smile, even with the scars, and they make your smouldering even more impressive. And while I'd like to keep the knee-wobbling all to myself, I think I could live with inspiring desperate envy in a large percentage of the school's female population."
"How very - Slytherin of you." He kissed her lightly, a mere touch. "If it would give you that much pleasure to show me off I suppose I should endeavour to be more - show-offable. If there is such a word. I shall certainly enjoy making all the boys equally envious."
She blushed. "I wish you could," she said wistfully. "I'm not... most boys don't... notice me, that way. Ginny says it's because I'm intimidating. Being kind of flat-chested doesn't help much, either, especially in those all-concealing school robes." The temptation to use magic to remedy that problem had been almost irresistible... but it was far too easy for it to go wrong, and she did NOT want to wind up a bigger joke than Eloise Midgeon.
"But yes, it would give me great pleasure to show you off, although I may well get lynched by a horde of jealous schoolgirls who don't see why it couldn't have been THEM who finally got you." She touched his cheek gently. "I am.... immensely proud of being with you," she told him, because the daft lump actually didn't seem to know. "God knows I'm no beauty, and I'm not exactly sought after... but nevertheless, I've managed to secure your affections. Once it's common knowledge, I'm going to inspire both shock and envy, and I am going to enjoy every minute of it."
"Promise me you won't slap me?"
"Erm - OK" she said warily, wondering what was coming.
"You have to say it."
"All right - I promise I won't slap you. Satisfied?"
"Moderately. You may not be exactly, er, classically beautiful, but you are exceedingly - cute." As he said it he ducked slightly, as if he thought she really might hit him. "And a lot of men find 'cute' a lot more appealing than - well, there's a difference between what you might want to see in an oil-painting on the wall and what you might want to see, um, lying next to you on the pillow after a long day. But boys - teenage boys are scared to approach a girl they feel may be - out of their league. If you weren't so - alarmingly competent and clever, I promise you you'd have half the adolescent males in Hogwarts salivating after you."
Hermione blushed furiously. "I... er... thank you..." she managed. If he was lying, she appreciated it, but it didn't sound like he was. "I... cute? Really?" She could not only live with cute, she would be more than grateful for it.
"Oh yes. Really. Even the, um, the teeth, before you corrected them, just made you look even more like a little - like something all bright-eyed and fluffy that people like to stroke, like a squirrel or a pet rabbit." He refused point-blank to be caught saying the word "bunny."
"Pansy Parkinson used to call me a chipmunk. They are sort of cute, actually.... You don't look at all cute, of course...much more like an eagle than a rabbit. Much handsomer and more dignified."
"Then I'll try not to swoop down and carry you off in my claws - unless you want me to, of course."
"I kind of like it when you swoop, actually. And it would definitely add to the envy if I was getting my own personal swooping... not that I'm usually one for public displays, but a small and dignified one might be nice."
"In which case, I promise to pounce in public occasionally, wearing my most bat-like cape, and carry you off to my lair in front of all the twittering little fourth-years.... When I am well enough, of course, and you have finished school, or are decently close to doing so." He lifted his chin in a wry, self-mocking gesture. "I slightly hate to admit this, but when I think about it it was probably watching Batman and Robin when I was eight which gave me a lifelong tropism for dramatic cloaks."
Hermione laughed and kissed him. "Well, good. I like you in them... and I quite like the thought of being pounced on and carried off to your lair... not, you understand, that that's the only way to get me there. A discreet note passed in the halls would also do the trick... and I don't know about you, but I've always rather wanted to pass a few discreet notes. I've never had anyone to pass them with before."
"Oh, Lord, neither have I. At least - people used to pass notes to me, sometimes, but they were - well, threats. Insults." For a moment his eyes went blank and he shivered slightly, remembering years of cold, dragging isolation and unhappiness. "So you've never passed notes with the other two legs of the tripod? And - I do see what you mean, about being able to talk freely. Apart from Pomona, there's probably nobody in the staff room who wouldn't have balked at 'tropism'."
She gave him an amused look. "Given that they regard reading as something I do for them so they don't have to, what would the point be of passing them notes? They'd just ask me to read it to them and explain the long words." She leaned over to kiss him gently, wanting to make the unhappy expression go away, at least for now. "And I don't actually think I've ever passed a note in school. Whispered a fair bit, but no notes as such. Certainly nothing sentimental that it would embarrass me terribly for anyone but the recipient to read... and according to my research, it's absolutely essential to the overall schoolgirl experience to do so. Of course, technically it needn't be a note passed to a dangerously sexy teacher, but that's certainly a valid variant on the theme."
"Exactly how sentimental are you proposing to get, on a scale of one to ten? I warn you, I won't be held responsible for my own actions if you start addressing me as 'Bunnikins' or anything of that kind, like the regrettable Miss Brown. Although I suppose I've just given a hostage to fortune by telling you so, haven't I?"
"You mean you don't want to be referred to as 'my own snugglebear' or something equally nauseating?" Hermione assumed an unconvincing disappointed expression. "Oh, dear, and I was so hoping we'd express our affection with silly pet-names! I suppose I'll just have to stick to more adult sentiment. You know... suggestions for when to meet next, expressions of profound respect and regard, fragments of poetry... and don't you dare laugh, but yes, I have tried to write some. It's not terribly good, but at the time I was nurturing a hopeless passion."
"And might I enquire as to the object of that - hopeless passion?" he asked rather warily. Maybe he would be lucky and it would be Krum.... But no. He knew with rather a sinking feeling that it would be, had been him. Which was all very flattering, but if it turned out to be painfully bad he knew that he was no good at all at paying insincere compliments convincingly. Hell, he couldn't even pay sincere ones convincingly. It was too much to hope for that she would turn out to have real poetic ability.
Hermione blushed harder. "You, actually. I was terribly worried and unhappy at the time... I was desperately in love with you, and you were still suffering so much... believe me, I know it's at best an indifferent attempt at the sonnet form, but I've always liked it... my parents both adore Shakespeare, that's why they chose 'Hermione' for me."
"A sonnet" he said carefully. "I suppose that it was - predictable that you would elect to attempt something... academically formal." But it let him off the hook, to some extent: he should be able to comment intelligently on the form without causing offence, whether or not he found the content embarrassing. "Do you wish to read it to me?"
"Oh, er, I - couldn't possibly. Say it to you, I mean." She dropped her eyes. "I could write it down" she said very quietly, apparently addressing the floor.
"I generally find poetry is easier to absorb when one sees it - written down" he agreed, with an encouraging nod. He lay back and watched her as she slipped quietly off the bed and padded across the room to the desk, where she lit a candle and then sat absent-mindedly nibbling the end of a swan-feather quill as she consulted her own memory. "That's not a Sugarquill, you know," he said in some amusement, and she started and looked guilty.
When she had finished, and had brought him the completed parchment, she helped him up silently and he sat and blinked at the still slightly damp ink, realizing, not for the first time, that he was soon going to have to swallow whatever shreds of vanity he might have left and start wearing glasses.
"Hmm" he said noncommittally, checking the rhyming scheme to see whether it was a Shakespearean or a Petrarchan sonnet. "Modern writing in the Shakespearean mode is perhaps always in danger of appearing to be a little... flowery. But it - captures a particular emotion admirably" he added, clearing his throat. Indeed, on second reading the words "hurt upon hurt" made him clench his grip on the parchment until his knuckles whitened. "Would you really have been happy to have me be - horrible to you, if it meant that I was getting better?"
"Oh, yes," she said softly. "I probably would have annoyed you immensely by beaming delightedly at you whenever you said something nasty. It still would have hurt, all the more because I love you so much, but knowing that you were well enough to be able to be nasty would have made it more than worth it." She'd never showed one of her few attempts at poetry to anyone. He hadn't thought it was actually dreadful. From him, that was high praise.
"I suppose, if Albus was seriously injured I'd be pleased to find him well enough to twinkle knowingly at me - even though under ordinary circumstances it makes me want to punch him. And I suppose... truth to tell, I suppose I'm not well enough to be nasty to people yet. I still feel disgustingly grateful to everybody. But no doubt it will wear off, in time." Hermione gave an odd little snort at that, not sure whether to be saddened or amused. Snape looked at her, his face softening. "I never had anybody write poetry about me before," he said, in a bright, slightly mocking voice, trying not to show how sentimental he was feeling. "Well - not unless you count James Bloody Potter, and you can imagine what that was like."
Hermione smiled at him shyly. "I'll probably do it more often," she admitted. "If it's awful I won't show it to you, but there are times when if I don't get how I feel about you out somehow, I'll burst. And... thank you. For not laughing."
"If you had been writing sentimental poetry about the Red Moron I probably would have laughed" he said lightly, "but to laugh at sentimental poetry about oneself would be both hurtful and ungrateful, especially as it was... especially as the sentiments expressed do you such credit. But... is that what it was for, to express how you felt about me?"
"It was... painful," she admitted. "Seeing you in so much pain, and not being able to help, and loving you so much and being sure you could never want me... which still surprises me, sometimes, waking up and remembering that you, in fact, do, at least provisionally. Writing the sonnet helped - taking those formless, overwhelming feelings and forcing them into rhyme and metre, nailing them down with words and... and turning them into something I could at least partially control. It wasn't easy to write, and it made me cry when I read it over, but... it did help."
"I understand. Turn something into writing, or formal speech, and you to some extent gain control over it. I always.... It was painful, agonizingly painful, sometimes, having to report to Albus after a Death Eater meeting, telling what I had done, or had seen done, or had had done to me, but once I had put it into words and had - nailed it down like that, it didn't make me feel quite so - deranged. But a true writer, as I understand it, is more cold-blooded - a true writer is so in love with their art that they can look on the terrible event and even as it tears them part of them thinks 'I can use this.' And I do understand that too, because I can be a bit.... Not with words, but - "
He lay down flat on the bed again with his head back, and shut his eyes. "When I was - there, and they took a knife and hacked what was left of my left arm off at the elbow, and I was - shrieking, vomiting, mindless with pain and they forced me to open my eyes and watch while Fenrir Greyback devoured my own flesh - " He stopped, hearing her make a sick sound in the back of her throat, and opened his eyes again and looked at her. "I'm sorry," he said steadily. "But for me too, sometimes - nailing it down in words is - necessary. Essential, even."
She nodded wordlessly, looking rather pale and green about the gills, and he smiled dryly back. "Anyway, the point is - I watched my own flesh and bone going down that - that thing's throat and all I could think, insofar as I could still think at all, was 'Damn, what a waste - think of the potion I could make, with fresh human bone and an actual, genuine Dark Mark.' It would have been highly illegal but, God, I could have cursed Riddle from here to Pluto with it - especially with it being my own bone. The power in that...." he said wistfully. "What a bloody waste of opportunity."
Hermione nodded, reaching out to smooth his hair back gently. "It's... not pleasant to hear," she admitted. "But if you do need to talk about it, I will always listen. I don't want you to feel as though you have to keep on facing things alone, just because it might be... upsetting... to hear it. I'd rather know, and have it help you, than be happily ignorant and have you suffer. As I said... I would give my all, to have you well." She leaned over to kiss his forehead. "And at least they didn't let him bite it off himself. I'm fairly sure I'm up to Wolfsbane, I know the theory at least, but you've got enough to cope with as it is." It could always be worse... even now, when it was almost as much worse as worse could be.
"Fortunately - or perhaps unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint - even Pettigrew wasn't stupid enough to risk having me come right back up at them frothing and biting and sprouting fur. God - it would have added a whole new dimension to being made to - to - in my mouth, wouldn’t it?" He sounded genuinely, wryly amused, even if his amusement had an edge of hysteria to it. "One bite, and...."
"It certainly would have been tempting to let your teeth slip just a little, wouldn't it? Especially since, without you, I doubt they'd have access to anyone who could brew the Wolfsbane...."
"I could have had almost the whole bloody lot of them literally baying at the moon - from which you may gather that almost the whole bloody lot of them - " He shut his eyes and pressed the back of his wrist to his mouth, swallowing down nausea, then sighed gustily and lay looking up at her where she sat on the edge of the bed, watching him in gentle concern. "Wasted opportunities. That's one of the - one of the things that makes talking to you so - The others, if I mention the, the sexual aspects of what happened to me, they - well, I know enough to know now that they won't recoil or be disgusted by me, even though part of me still thinks they should be, but it makes them especially sympathetic and, and kind in that sort of - hushed way. Well, except for Lovegood," he added honestly, "but she's off in a little mental cul-de-sac all her own. Being treated as if I was made of glass, it's much better than being despised for it, but it still makes me feel - lessened. Whereas you - your concern is even-handed, you don't react any differently over me being mutilated or being made to - " He pressed his wrist against his teeth again, unable to make himself name the thing but knowing that she would understand.
Hermione nodded. "It's all... horrible, to think of you suffering either way, but I would never give you the spun-glass treatment," she promised. "I can't imagine doing it, actually. You know how I see you." The broken sword, shattered into pieces but still bright and sharp and shining. "And I'm a Muggle-born, of course, which I think makes more of a difference than the wizard-born realize. Things like that are more... acknowledged, among Muggles. It comes as less of a horrible shock, you know?"
He nodded and pulled a wry face. "We - or do I mean they? - are accustomed to being able to put everything right with a wave of a bloody wand, they - we - don't know how to cope with the sort of damage which takes years to put right, or which can never be, so we either sweep it away under the carpet - which is to say, into St Mungo's - or tiptoe around it. And I hate being tiptoed around - I'm spoiling for a good fight, by now, but nobody will bloody give me one. And it wouldn't be fair to shout at you just for the fun of it - not after - even if you would think it was a good sign. Which reminds me - "
Still lying flat on his back, he picked up Hermione's parchment from where it lay discarded on the bedspread and held it up above him. "I thought so," he said. "There seems to be a syllable short on that last line. Shouldn't that be 'if but thy heart' - or did you leave it short deliberately, for effect?"
She blushed. "Is there? I rewrote that line so many times that I think I lost count. It's not easy to count syllables on your fingers and weep brokenheartedly at the same time. Which I did. Crookshanks was most unhappy with how soggy I kept making him... we were all being very careful not to let anyone else see us get teary over you, especially not you, because it would upset you even more, but cats are different."
He looked at her curiously, half cocking an eyebrow. "All implying at least three - apart from yourself and Minerva, roughly how many people were actively in tears over my broken body, would you say?"
"Well, besides us.... Mrs Weasley was in floods, of course. I'm pretty certain Ginny did, but she hides, so I can't be absolutely sure. Professor Dumbledore did. Madam Pomfrey - floods again. Tonks did, according to Ginny. I wouldn't say Professor Flitwick was actually weeping, but I saw him tear up a few times. Madam Hooch got all raspy, the one time she was allowed to visit, so she might have later. And you'd have had whole battalions of Slytherins weeping over your shattered body if they'd had the knowledge or opportunity therefore. It's been all green scarves and red eyes with some of them ever since you've been gone."
"Good Lord." He felt slightly choked up himself at the thought, truth to tell. "I gather Albus allowed MacRichard and the rest to think that what they had found was my mouldering corpse, mutilated after death, and didn't tell my Slytherins or, or any other students outside of Potter's immediate circle that I was still alive and on school premises until you were sure I was going to live and be... well, at least sane enough to recognize my surroundings and not actually scream and go into convulsions if anybody came near me. That was - that was sensible. If I was going to die, and they couldn't even say goodbye to me without hurting me further, there was no point in putting my House through the, the grief of knowing that I had been mutilated while alive and was still suffering, and of hoping for me to live and losing me anyway. If they - if they really do feel like that about me."
"Oh, they do... and it would have been cruel to you and to them, if we'd told them right away. They'd been mourning for you for months - to give you back, dreadfully hurt, and then immediately take you away again would have been a horrible thing to do." Hermione sighed. "I never realized how much they depend on you. A lot of the teachers do have an anti-Slytherin bias, as much as I hate to admit it. And the ones who don't... like Madam Hooch and Professor Vector... really aren't very comforting."
"I do try to be comforting, but I fear it isn't my forté. But sometimes just knowing that you have an adult who's on your side and will listen to you is an enormous help, at that age. Even if it's a, a sour, stiff bastard who looks as if he's bitten a lemon, and can't think of anything more useful to do than to give you a peppermint and a clean hankie."
He looked down at his hand, frowning. "I know you all think I'm far too biased, and to an extent it's true. I've always been - immensely competitive: that's why I was Sorted into Slytherin in the first place. But when every man's hand is against my children, and only one man stands for them, I have to - to balance out all that hatred for them, and make them feel protected, and so by myself I have to be as much for them as the hundreds who make up the rest of the school are against them. I only wish I could have done more to warn them against - against Him. At least I will be able to, now, and I shouldn't - I shouldn't whinge about my own pain, when it may enable me to save some of my children's lives."
Hermione's eyes stung at the sheer bloody selflessness of that last statement. "You are a wonderful man, do you know that?" she murmured, kissing him lingeringly. "Really. And if I can help at all, to help them, I will. Including terrorizing as many Gryffindors as possible into behaving like human beings instead of undertrained monkeys." She kissed him again, and he felt a nerve twitch all the way down to his groin. "You sell yourself short, you know, when you say you're not comforting.... You protect them, you look out for them, you counter some of the unfairness of the world, you listen to them when they're upset and give them a peppermint instead of a lecture on how being Slytherins means they must deserve it. If that isn't comforting, I don't know what is."
"Thank you," he said seriously. "I'd like to think that I do comfort them, but it isn't easy when I have so little personal experience to base my behaviour on. But some of them have such appalling home-lives that just having an adult be steady and calm and not hit them or scream at them is a blessing. I just wish I could do more for them. It isn't only Slytherins who can have abusive or neglectful families, of course - poor little Longbottom is a case in point - but I do tend to get the worst of them. I'm sure the other Houses would say that that was because Slytherin children tend to have Slytherin parents, and all Slytherins are cruel bastards - but really it's because abused children tend to be so driven by the need to prove themselves, and the Sorting Hat interprets that as ambition. I suppose that's why we get the ugly ones, too - and I was both." He smiled at her teasingly. "And being Slytherin, of course, I have a slight ulterior motive for appearing to be selfless and without ulterior motive - since it gets me kisses like that!"
She laughed, and kissed him again. "You may have as many as you like. And I've never understood that... that blind spot, in wizarding society, about not removing children from a home where they're actively in danger. The Muggle system is far from perfect, of course, but at least they try. Even when everyone knows, here, they don't do anything. We should definitely do something about that."
She paused, and smiled at him. "And that sounds rather like a plan for When the War is Over," she said softly. "It's hard to imagine, isn't it? But I like having something to look forward to, and plan for. So the war... and Him... aren't so all-consuming. There's something beyond it."
"One of the few good things about being a - an invalid and a cripple is that The War is really not my problem, any more. I don’t doubt that if and when I recover sufficiently Albus will put me to work in some capacity, but for now he tells me that I'm not to worry about anything except resting and getting better, and I'm going to try to take him at his word and enjoy the respite. As for the rest - the pure-blood families are so obsessed with bloodlines and heirs that they tend to regard children as property, as living assets rather than as people. But you and I, perhaps... maybe we could change the system. We'll have to think about that before the summer - but not now, I think. I'm too sleepy. It's amazing how much energy you can burn up, just from kissing - if you do it properly. And you have a wedding to go to, in the morning."
"That I do... although I'll miss you terribly while I'm gone." She drew him to her, resting her cheek against his hair. "Mmm.... and I don't know how I'll ever get to sleep all alone. Without you or Crookshanks, a bed feels very empty these days."
"I'm not sure whether to feel flattered by that comparison or not. Poor Crookshanks - I feel I am depriving him horribly. Maybe you should bring him down here with you - Minerva will tell you, I quite like to have a cat on the bed."
One of our reviewers for the last chapter asked why Severus wasn't receiving formal treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The basic answer is that there is no treatment for it - or at least there wasn't in 1998. Now, in 2006, there are drugs starting to come on the market which supposedly reduce the incidence of flashbacks, but at the time we're writing about, there was nothing to do for PTSD except take anti-depressants for the worst crises - which Severus has available in the form of Dreamless Sleep potion and Calming Draughts - and other than that, to talk it through with somebody sympathetic and sensible, and wait it out. Which he is doing.
Golden Wonder is a famous British brand of crisp (potato chips, to our American readers).
Squids have pigmented cells and complex little muscles in their skin which can be expanded and contracted to produce rapid changes in colour and texture. They really do use their skins as a canvas on which to write messages, expressed in visual patterns. The reason I chose to make the Hogwarts giant squid a male was because male squids use these built-in signal-flags more than females do.
Squid have a central beak surrounded by eight short tentacles which strictly speaking are known as "arms", and two very long tentacles known as "tentacles": but by dictionary definition and common usage they are all tentacles, and I thought it would be too confusing to call the short ones arms. The arm-tentacles have a double row of suckers right along them on the inner side facing the beak. The tentacle-tentacles are smooth and round except for the ends, which are flattened, oval, and covered on one side with suckers rimmed with sharp teeth.
This chapter has been re-edited in accordance with the new backstory in Deathly Hallows, to comment on Snape's friendship with Lily and the harshness of his early relationship with Albus, and to reduce the amount of information which Albus had previously given him about the Horcruxes. In addition, Snape has been shown as feeling queasy when Adrian cuts himself: this was a detail which was simply forgotten about the first time round.
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