The Black Unicorn

Part 6

By Hephastus


She commandeered Minerva from her syllabus re-write that afternoon and made her accompany her to Diagon Alley, ostensibly to make a couple of purchases but in the back of her mind, Esmeralda was weighing whether or not to discuss the dream with the other witch.

They entered Almanzo Abelard’s Accessories for Witches and Wizards, the sibilant chime of the door ringing with a tactful low pitch. Esmeralda headed for the canes and Minerva, humming, walked over to the woolen goods and began thumbing through the winter scarves.

The shopkeeper, Mr. Abelard, came out of the back and approached her as she was going through the canes. Rustic, knobby wood wasn’t his style; neither was the smooth black plastic of the newer things. She turned to the store-owner.

“Madam. And I hope you are well this clear September day.” Was it September already? He was dressed in maroon robes, going bald around the temples. He had a nicely trimmed beard, all salt and pepper, and a sincere smile. She smiled back. She gestured towards his collection.

“Good afternoon, Mr…..Abelard?” He nodded, still smiling helpfully. “I was just admiring your walking canes. The….gentleman I’m making the purchase for is particular, if you understand my meaning. Is this the extent of your collection?”

“Well….” His brow furrowed a bit, thinking. “This is my primary collection but I have two in the back that are, erm, more expensive and a bit more idiosyncratic. I’ll be right back.” As he left, she kept combing through the canes. Some had rough pewter animal heads; others were just polished knobs. Nothing really stood out.

He came back into the room, carrying two canes. One was a weird stainless steel rod, but the other one was a burnished, streaked wood and needed closer inspection. She gestured towards that one and he brought it over. He held it out for her on two palms. The wood of the cane was a rich dark brown with a black grain, and she inspected the knob. It was a simple design, with nothing to poke the hand; a silver cast of the head of a raven. She felt the weight of the cane. It was nice; heavy, sturdy. “African black-wood. Highly water-resistant. Very dense. This wood will blacken with age. And look here…” He took the cane from her and unscrewed the raven’s head. “It’s got a stiletto at the base of the raven’s neck. Just in case.” She raised her eyebrows at that, but decided that it was perfect, regardless of the hidden weapon.

The two witches left the accessory shop, and during their walk, Esmeralda came to the conclusion that perhaps it would not be prudent to discuss the dream with Minerva; the implications of the dream were too disturbing, and she finally decided that Albus might be able to provide a better framework from which to discuss the dream. It was 3:30 pm; she had time to go for a walk around the lake before her shift with Snape began at 6:00 pm that evening. They apparated back to Hogwart’s without incident, Minerva chatting amicably, and Esmeralda headed back to the lake and her walk.


The shopkeeper had placed Severus’ cane tastefully in a simple but sturdy white gift box. She was quite thankful, suddenly, as she drew near his room, that there were no ribbons on the thing. She rapped a few times on the door. She heard his muffled “come,” and she opened the door a bit.

“All right?” she asked.

“Yes, yes. All right.” He was irritable and scowling, but he looked a little better. The dark circles had started to retreat. The book that he had been reading he snapped shut and placed on the other side of the bed, away from her.

“I suspect you’re not having a good day.” She raised her eyebrow at him as she arranged her robes around herself, sitting down in the guest chair. She was suddenly self-conscious about the box in her lap, but still she studied him. “How are you feeling?” His hands were crossed over his chest. He looked very petulant.

“Overall, slightly better. But I’m getting monstrously bored from sitting in this sterile sarcophagus of a room. At least *you* can escape in 6 hours. I cannot wait to be done with this ridiculous healing process.” He muttered, casting his eyes down. He did not seem to want to look at her. She wondered briefly if he was vexed for being ill in front of her. Men were like that sometimes. She soldiered on.

“Well. I’m sorry for your confinement, but…..I brought you something that might help.” His brow unknit, but his scowl remained permanently fixed. She placed the box carefully in his lap as he slowly uncrossed his arms.

“What is this.” He was guardedly skeptical and he watched her, his countenance still.

“Open it and see.” He stared at it; he swept his long fingers over the container slowly. “For heaven’s sake, Snape, It’s not a snake. Do take a look at it.” He hesitated, still watching her, then he turned his attention to the box. He opened it and undid the tissue paper around the cane, lifting it gingerly into the light. She watched his fingers run, almost reverently, over the raven’s head. He had grown suddenly still. He looked as though he was trying to control something, some voice in his head. He turned his profile slightly away from her.

“This is…..for me?” His voice seemed odd. Did the man not receive gifts? She prayed for more patience than she had.

“Snape. It’s for you; it’s a present; I thought it would help you regain the use of your legs faster. I know I would be driven insane cooped up in this little room, and….I thought you might feel the same.” She paused. She knew he was ill, but she was worried about him suddenly, nonetheless.

“Are you all right?” She had seen the look of recognition, something about the cane had caused him to become sad. Snape didn’t reply right away. He was struggling with something.

“My mother. She had a nickname for me. The cane just….reminded me of that.”

“Oh. Is your mother still…..?” Her voice faded, realizing that his mother had probably passed away. Perhaps the wound was still fresh.

“Oh. My mother died when I was quite young, seven years old.” His voice changed, suddenly aloof. “Well.” He changed the subject brusquely, and placed the cane in his lap, his eyes hidden. “Thank you. That was quite considerate of you.” He became very formal. She wanted to touch him, but she could feel the separation, the wall that hid the old grief. She decided not to linger there too long.

“So….do you want to try it out? Are your legs any better today?” She leaned over her knees, peering at him. “I can stand by in case it’s too much.” She finished helpfully. He thought a minute, glancing over at her and weighing the circumstances, and acquiesced. He swung his legs over the edge of the narrow bed and she went and stood beside him. He cautiously placed one foot onto the ground, and got the cane up and under himself for support. He shifted his weight over his left leg, and stood up slowly, swaying. She took his left elbow to steady him.

“At last. They aren’t just completely giving away.” He growled.

“How does it feel? How is the pain?”

“Better. But my lower back and hips still feel as if they are on fire if I move around too much. It’s not pleasant, Admantia.” He moved for the door. “I want to try walking down the hall. I am completely done with laying up in that ridiculous excuse for a bed.” She moved with him through the door and stayed close. He didn’t smell so ill any longer. She remained with her hand on his left forearm, just in case. They walked slowly down the hall, Snape cursing softly under his breath and Esmeralda trying to walk more slowly. They fell into a pace of sorts with Snape grousing quietly and Esmeralda trying to judge if and when he might fall. Snape turned and started back down from whence they’d come.

“Why are you here, Admantia. Why did you come back to Hogwarts.” He kept his eyes straight ahead of him as he asked this question; he was panting a bit from the pain of standing upright.

“Didn’t Dumbledore tell you?” She was surprised. Surely Dumbledore told his staff about new professors; McGonagall had known. Perhaps Albus had forgotten to tell Snape in the fracas of the last days’ events. He shook his head silently. He had begun to perspire again. She was glad they were almost back to the room. “He offered me the Defense Against the Dark Arts position this summer. And….I took it.”

“I see.” His voice was quiet. “’Congratulations. That position has been difficult to fill over the last several years. I know you will do an admirable job.” But Esmeralda heard the hollowness in his voice. Should she tell him the truth? How could she possibly? She decided on the abridged version. The halls were quiet and cavernous without the sounds of the students and extra staff that the Fall semester would bring.

“There were other, more personal reasons. Fafnaulda for one.” Her voice trailed off; she did not want to imply that she didn’t want to get into it with him, particularly. Her jaw set, and she did not look at him, but she could feel him glancing sideways at her. How could she tell him what had happened? That a week before she had received the letter from Dumbledore, she had woken up in the middle of the night, wakened abruptly by a dream too real; someone was calling her, the cry had been full of desperation and intense sorrow. She knew only that it came from her old school, from Hogwart’s, and that when she had received Dumbledore’s letter a week later, she had not been surprised in the least to see it. Nor could she tell him about the change; it was her turning point. She was close to the time of making her choice. By coming to Hogwart’s, she had chosen her humanity. No. She could not tell him any of these things. Snape continued chatting, but there was an unnatural quality to his voice.

“Other, personal reasons for coming. I see. I suppose you missed your old school stomping grounds.” She did not reply. She lowered her eyes. She could feel him assessing her. “Well, whatever the reason, Admantia, I am glad, for one, that you are here. This fine cane has gotten me out of that dismal room, and with a modicum of luck, I will be out of the sepulcher permanently in several days. Soon you will not have to waste your time any longer with an invalid or worry about him falling down on your watch.” His voice was brittle.

“There’s no need to be nasty, Snape.” Her voice was low. “I enjoy spending time with you. When you’re not being so damned caustic.” He changed the subject.

“You mentioned that Fafnaulda was one of the reasons. Might I ask how she was a reason? Was it too painful to remain among the dragons after what happened?” She felt her throat tighten. She did not want to discuss Fafnaulda here, right now, when she couldn’t be honest with the man. Her insides had started to roil again. Thankfully they had reached the door of his room. She helped him inside and over to the bed. He continued watching her, and she smelled him, smelled the raw bitterness on him, but his face was expressionless, an alabaster statue wherein only his eyes glittered like obsidian. Her insides were churning.

“Snape, I apologize, but I very much do not want to discuss Fafnaulda right at the moment. It’s just…still too upsetting.” He watched her, his eyes growing harder and colder. His face was frozen.

“Yes. Too upsetting. I can understand that. Well, I am very tired; the incredibly long walk has left me unexpectedly fatigued. If you don’t mind I’m going to attempt to take a nap.” He got back into the bed and did not look at her any longer. He rolled over onto his other side facing the opposite wall, his back to her. She extinguished the lamp for him with her wand. She leaned back into the chair and tried to get her stomach to settle down. She was horrifically upset. How could she possibly tell him that she had come back for him; that she knew about the letter; that she suspected it was his voice that had echoed so full of desperation that night in her skull? And to discuss Fafnaulda, now, when his own sadness was so strong in the room, would simply destroy her. She pinched her nose between two fingers and fought the overwhelming urge to weep.


She woke up abruptly; she must have dozed off sitting in the chair while keeping watch. She didn’t move at all, but looked over towards the bed with her eyes. Because of who she was, her night vision was acute. Severus was sitting upright, composed, watching her in the dark. His face was oddly relaxed for the first time since she’d seen him and his eyes, finally, seemed unthawed. He had become a handsome, brooding man. There were layers there she could not fathom; still waters she had yet to penetrate. There was no moon, and what little light there was in the room was coming from under the door. It dawned on her that he could not see that her eyes were open. One of the benefits of being what she was, she thought ruefully. She stretched purposefully to let him know she was awake.

She watched him turn away from her and lean back into the pillow.

‘Admantia. You’re awake.”

“Yes. How long have I been asleep.”

“For about 3 hours. Dumbledore came by, but we decided not to wake you. You were sound asleep.”

“I do apologize, Snape. I am obviously not much of a watchdog.” She massaged her temples. She felt even worse now than she did before she fell asleep.

“It’s of no consequence. Dumbledore gave me some decent news for once. He said that the ritual has taken effect, and the chances of Riddle’s making a nuisance of himself within Hogwart’s grounds have been greatly reduced.” His voice was quiet in the dark room. “There’s no reason for you to be here anymore. I am sure your own bed is far more comfortable than that ancient piece of furniture you’re sitting on.” He kept his head in profile to her. She felt her jaw set.

“Well, that’s for me to decide. What time is it.”

“It’s 3:20 am. Really, Admantia, you can leave. It’s not necessary for you to waste your time here any longer.” His voice was dismissive and far too casual.

“Thank you for your opinion, but I’m staying put. I’m not falling asleep again. And YOU should have woken me up.” She crossed her hands over her chest. Snape was silent. “And by the way, until you are well enough to go to your rooms, I am going to be in here every night, so you had best get used to the idea.” She shrugged her robes around herself, trying to get comfortable.

“There’s no need for you to do that.” His voice was low. “You won’t be able to sleep properly in that wretched chair…you’ll develop a permanent hunch or some such; do you think I want that on my conscience?” he hissed. But she heard the wryness in his voice.

“Well. It didn’t kill me for 3 hours. It won’t kill me for the 2-3 days you have left of your enforced bed rest.” She settled back into the chair. “Besides, you’ve got to get out of here. This place would drive a person looney. I’ll help you with walking.” She shifted in the chair, looking over towards him. “Right! We’ll go for a walk around the Lake tomorrow. It will be good for you.” He made an exasperated sound, but did not challenge her.

At 6:00 am, after Snape had been asleep for about an hour, Esmeralda got up stiffly and left as quietly as she could to go to sleep in her own quarters. Though no words had been exchanged about it, she had felt his sadness lift, and that was good enough for her.


At 4:00 pm she went back to his room; she felt better after some decent sleep and a hot shower. She had put on fresh robes, and had been nicely surprised to find that the house-elves’ services at Hogwart’s extended to laundry and house- cleaning when she found 2 of them outside her door, waiting nervously to be allowed to come inside to perform their duties.

His door was open when she got to his room; he was eating lunch, or rather, as she saw, picking through the food with little interest. The sandwiches looked hardly touched.

“Hullo.” She stuck her head through the entrance, and waited politely. He motioned for her to come in. “So, are you ready to go on your outing?” He made an annoyed sound.

“Just give me a moment. The house-elves brought my clothes up but I was delayed unexpectedly by the arrival of….this….” he poked at the food.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing. I’m just not that hungry.” He leaned back heavily into the pillow. She crossed her hands over her middle.

“You should attempt to eat, Snape.” She tried to keep the worry out of her voice.

“Don’t fret, Admantia. I won’t collapse on you out in the Forest.” His voice was sneering.

She didn’t reply. She ignored him. She recalled that she herself had not been eating much at all, the truth be known. She looked out of the window.

“The sun will be gone in an hour or so; we should go.” She moved over to his clothing and placed it on the bed for him. She continued looking out the window, thinking about her other family’s den; the younger dragons and how they were getting along without the queen. Especially the little one, Orlaunda. She had been having trouble flying, an earmark of psychological stress in Ridgebacks. They had all been stricken by the loss of Fafnaulda. She was ripped from her revery by Snape’s irritated voice.

“Well, do get out! I can’t very well get clothed with you lolling about, now can I?” He reached for the cane and glared at her. She simply did not feel like responding to the baiting. She walked over to the door without replying and waited outside. After a few minutes, she thought she heard cursing. She stuck her head inside the door. Snape was standing, dressed now, but he was having trouble fastening his robes with one hand. She strode over to him and stopped in front of him.

“May I?” She had forgotten how tall he was; they were nose to nose. He was imposing, and his eyes flashed at her.

“Yes, yes. Do be quick.” He leaned his head a bit back, rolling his eyes, and she clasped the fastening smoothly, tugging the robes around him.

“There. That should do it.” She was standing too close and for a split second, as he turned his head, she saw……was it anxiety, or fear? In his eyes, then the veil had dropped again and he was moving away from her and towards the door.

“We should be going. I don’t know how long I’m going to last.”


They arrived at the edge of the Lake; Snape surprised them both by making it handily down to the water’s edge without much complaining at all.

The wind teased her hair; she could smell the water, the clean, moulding scent of decay and moisture in the ground. The trees were just starting to turn; the birches and willows along the water’s edge were beginning to go that autumnal shade of brilliant, deep yellow. They glowed golden as the sun lowered in the sky, their bark a contrasting shade of bone-white. Summer was fading; already there was a mild crispness to the air. She breathed in appreciatively, thankful to be outside of the heavy stone walls. Snape was walking slowly but with much more confidence.

“How is the pain today?” She asked.

“The pain has changed somewhat. Not as burning a sensation. And it’s not as constant. The walking actually seems to help move it out a bit.” His voice held mild surprise. She steered them clear of slick muddy areas near the banks of the Lake and led him in the direction of the concealed and little used path she had found yesterday on her own solitary walk. It went entirely around the Lake; she thought they could walk partially down the path and then turn back when he became too tired. It had the advantage of being dry and relatively level. They walked quietly side by side. She could feel his mood shift and relax more, outside and away from the confinement of that small room.

“Damn it.” She said softly. She ran her hand through her bobbed auburn hair. Her hands itched for her riding crop. But….she couldn’t bear having it with her. Not after what had happened.

“What’s wrong, Admantia?” He looked at her sideways; he had forgotten how much he enjoyed the structure of her features, the graceful curve of her neck. In profile, her nose was strong and straight, as direct as she was. Her eyes were a distinct shade of green, they reminded him of the color of seawater struck by bright sunlight. Her chin and jaw were well-defined, and the edges of her mouth were always slightly curved upwards in a shadow of humor. She always had been a friendly, laughing presence at the school. But despite her joyful demeanor, she had always noticed still things. She had creases now, around her eyes, and a strong furrow of care set into her brow. He could see that the years had made their mark on her, just as they had on himself.

“Nothing. Just hang on for a second, would you.” She went off the path, looking about on the ground for a suitable branch. He took advantage of the delay and leaned against one of the older, gray-barked oak trees near the path’s edge.

“Whatever are you doing there?” He watched her, resting comfortably against the tree.

“Just hang on. I have to find something.” She found a clutch of broken branches where a much larger branch had fallen, and surveyed the mangled wood. “Ah….here’s one.” She found a nice oak stick, about the right size and shape. She hefted it, and it felt right. She joined him by the tree. “There. That’s done. Sorry for the delay.” He was watching her.

“When did you become so fond of tree branches?” He pushed off of the tree carefully and joined her on the path.

“I’m just used to….carrying a cane of sorts myself. I left mine back in my rooms.” She looked away from him. The wind was blowing softly off of the Lake and through the trees. It ruffled through her hair, and passed through his robes where he stood on her right side.

“Ah, yes. Fafnaulda.” He breathed. She did not say anything. She felt her jaw tighten. They walked in silence for a few minutes. She was wrestling with herself.

“Admantia. I fear that I am going to need to rest momentarily before we turn back. My legs have most assuredly gotten stronger, but they are still….weak.” His voice dripped disgust. She helped him sit down underneath a spreading willow tree. There was a break through the brush here along the path, and they could see clearly across the Lake. The wind brought a slight chill and she could see wavelets rippling across the black surface of the water. She sat down next to him, avoiding one of the thicker roots. They rested there quietly for a bit, not speaking. Snape moved his hands in his lap. He did not look at her as he spoke. “What happened that night, Esmeralda. To you and Fafnaulda.” He was looking away now, out over the Lake. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see his hands, elegant and fine, clasped over the top of the cane as it lay in his lap. She leaned her head against the tree. She looked up at the sky, so clear; the willow they were sitting under had started to lose some leaves. Its curving, thin branches drooped out over them protectively.

“She died.” She said simply. She closed her eyes. Her mind unwound to that night. It had not been a day like this. It had not been in a place like this. Her throat tightened. The man next to her said nothing. It was very still, the air was sweet and full of the odor of composting leaves and earth. She knew vaguely that in the wizarding world, some credited her with winning an important battle; that wizarding children knew her and her dragons’ names. They had stopped a faction of 20 Death-Eaters that night in the Highlands of Scotland, but for Esmeralda, it would always be the time that she had murdered Fafnaulda with her own carelessness. She heard the tentativeness in Snape’s voice, like a hand being held out, shyly. After refusing to talk about it so harshly with him last night, she could not refuse him now. She drew patterns in the loamy soil slowly with the oak stick. Suddenly the slight chill of autumn coming on made her shrink in on herself, remembering the cold of that awful night. She tried to think of the right place to start.

“We had been….on our way to a rendezvous point outside of muggle London, to meet with the Ministry’s head of defense, to get our orders, you know. We had all agreed to work towards stopping….Voldemort.” She looked at him sidelong. He stayed still, listening. “We left Norway for London about 2 days before she….was killed. We had apparated. We being seven dragons, Norwegian Ridgebacks of course, and five handlers, Charley Weasley’s recommendations; I’d never worked with any of them. Tamers, I think everyone else calls us. But…it takes a lot of energy to apparate that many large beasts and equipment. And so, we…..had planned to apparate to the northwest part of Scotland, from Norway, in the bleakest and most uninhabited section of the Highlands, hoping to avoid detection.” Snape interrupted; he spoke quietly.

“We all heard about the battle…the instructors of course, at Hogwarts. But none of us knew any of the particulars. I hadn’t heard from you in a long time. We just knew that there had been a battle, and that you had done a magnificent job of repelling the attack.” His voice was quiet and thankfully free of barbs.

“Yes. I wish it was actually that simple.” “She lowered her head and continued. “From there, we were planning on flying the rest of the way, under cover of dark.” She remembered the gut-squeezing cold; the bleakness of the black, unforgiving peaks of that dangerous land. It had been the dead center of winter, January. “Well, we had gotten camp set up, but they…the Death-Eaters, someone had tipped them off. They showed up suddenly.” She remembered the heat of the campfire, the silhouettes in the distance, the lookout screaming from an exposed peak in the dark of that cold night, the dread rippling down the skin of her back. The billowing, fast flames as the Common Welsh Greens of the Death-Eaters came in fast; the warning sound of the displacing air under the enemy dragons’ wings as they made their destructive first pass. Fafnaulda and the other Ridgebacks screaming their warnings.

“They had Welsh Greens…not as hardy as the Ridgebacks, not as used to the cold, but very aggressive, fast fliers, they….they destroyed the camp.” The flames had found her, they had raced up her robes on her right side, she had smelled her flesh burning but she had tugged off the flaming, tattering cloak and just kept running. She had felt nothing. “I found Fafnaulda; we kept their saddles on them for just such an emergency as had occurred; we mounted.” Her voice was starting to shake. She tried to compose herself. She could smell the fires, the hard cut of stone as she was pushed out of the way by a yelling handler running for his charge, she groped for her wand, her hand bleeding, pulling on her gloves, trying to find Fafnaulda, she had been screaming instructions to the other two leads. The flare of flames burst and crackled as the Death-Eaters made their second pass. A spell had exploded a rock above her head. The Ridgebacks were roaring in earnest now. She remembered that she had not been nervous at all, her mind had gone dead-quiet and she had known exactly what to do. It was only now that she was shaking.

“We……mounted up. We got into a decent attack formation. The Ridgebacks were well-trained, the handlers were exceptional. We fought them off, everything was going quite well…..I…I….looked down; there was a Green underneath me, she had been so quiet, I didn’t notice her, Fafnaulda wheeled of her own accord, I had my wand pointed at the Green and had cast a disarming spell; the Death-Eater on her back had been in the middle of casting a hex. I didn’t see the other two…if I had seen the other two, I could have stopped her, I could have gotten us out of there….but no.” She looked up, up through the tree branches. “The two mounted Death-Eaters cast the killing spell, together. Fafnaulda heard them and turned to…..protect me. She took both Avada Kedavras in the chest.” Her eyes closed. “As she turned, she exhaled, but not in time to stop the spells. Her flames took out the two that had attacked her but…not in time. She was falling, she was dying underneath me…I could feel her…..fading…….she made it to a ledge, and I knew, I knew she was still trying to… protect me……..she got to an outcropping barely big enough to accommodate her. I dismounted, but she was already….she was almost….gone.” Her eyes had filled with tears. She had taken off her gloves. The older dragon’s eyes had suffused with light, watching her in the dark that night, Fafnaulda had covered her in a surge of love before she died, and then the light had faded slowly, slowly from her best friend’s eyes, and she was leaving, retreating to that other, too invisible place. Esmeralda had raged, had wailed mindlessly on the ledge, into the dead chill of the bleak night with Fafnaulda’s head still in her lap. “I took off….my gloves. I took her head in my hands. I could feel her saying goodbye. I….tried to tell her how much I loved her and then…her eyes closed, and she was…gone. Just gone.” Fafnaulda had protected her. She had raised Esmeralda as one of her own brood, had tolerated her early social breaches, taught her dragon-speech, welcomed her into her clan. Accepted her. Loved her. And Esmeralda blamed herself harshly for Fafnaulda’s death.

Neither of them said anything for a while. She struggled to regain some semblance of control over the anger that reared up inside of her, over her stupidity, but most of all it was the missing that was the worst. She missed her friend so much that she could not stop the hot tears that spilled down her cheeks. The intense heat of emotion that tried to break out of her chest burned her face, her neck, as she fought to restrain it.

“You know, you and Dumbledore have….that. He loves you very much, Severus. You shouldn’t….ignore it. Or treat it like it’s not important. It will be gone one day.” These words came out of her all too clearly before she could stop them. She stood up suddenly, wiping her cheeks with the edge of her palm, and walked over to the clearing. She looked out across the lake, hoping the wind would dry the wetness from her face.

She walked back over to him, not looking at him, and held her hand out to him to assist him off of the ground. His hand was warm, and then he was up and on his feet and the connection was lost. She could feel his eyes on her. They walked back to Hogwarts in silence, and she could sense him reaching out to her wordlessly, but she was too numb to respond.

As they approached the side entrance into the infirmary, he gestured over to a stone bench near a bed of fading marigolds. “I need to rest for a moment.” She sat down beside him and waited, still far away in her own thoughts.

“Esmeralda. I am very sorry about Fafnaulda. I had no idea.” His eyes were direct. She nodded her head perfunctorily. She felt drained, tired. She needed to eat something. She knew she should go down to the kitchens. She could get them both some dinner, but her appetite remained listless. He continued speaking; she was only half-listening to him. “Would you…be interested in going to Hogsmeade Friday night for dinner?” She raised her head slowly. “I thought,” he continued smoothly, “that we could discuss your syllabus. I am assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that you have no teaching experience and I might, perhaps, be able to offer you some assistance?” She looked over at him. Was he asking her out? She saw the slight flush along his cheekbones. She was suddenly vastly tired and in no mood for the veiled invitation.

“Snape. Are you asking me out to dinner, or are you asking me if I want to discuss teaching methodologies.” She ran her hand through her hair. She watched his face tighten. She saw that he had not counted on her directness, not at all. She watched him squirm without moving a muscle.

“I am asking you out.” The flush was now spreading across his cheek and down the side of his throat.

“Yes, I accept.” She got up and swept by him. “I would love to go out with you. Name your restaurant.” She got up from the bench and moved towards the door. She turned and waited for him.

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