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"I tell you, Headmistress, I have Seen what she's up to!" Sibyll Trelawney's voice had lost its usual misty, dreamy tone and was, in fact, climbing toward shrill. "I have told you time and again, but you refuse to take my warnings seriously!" As the Divination professor leaned forward her necklaces jangled. Her eyes were wide and, magnified by her glasses, dominated her face. "Professor Sinistra is deliberately undermining my curriculum in order to push me out and take over my place at Hogwarts." She sat back, straightening her shawls and necklaces.

Minerva McGonagall wondered if Sibyll had been at the cooking sherry again. "Sibyll, I assure you, as Head of this school, no one can replace you as the professor of Divination except me." No one had any desire to replace the witch anyway.

"Are you implying that My Inner Eye is mistaken?" Her eyebrows and her voice rose together.

Minerva knew for a fact that Trelawney's so-called 'Inner Eye' was wrong nearly all the time. The headmistress could not recall any accurate predictions in the five years since the war. But she had also discovered during her tenure as Hogwarts' Headmistress that she had to employ much greater discretion when dealing with all the professors, no matter how she felt about them personally.

Sometimes, she longed for the days before Dumbledore died when she could just let loose and slice the old fraud to ribbons with sarcasm. She sighed inwardly.

"No, but perhaps there has been a misinterpretation of the signs?"

Trelawney rose and patiently sorted out her necklaces and shawls. When she had them arranged to her satisfaction, she replied doubtfully. "I will double-check. I suppose it may be possible that the raven wasn't meant to bring bad fortune to me, personally…" She turned in a clatter of beads and drifted out the door, still muttering to herself.

Minerva wondered if it was too early for a scotch. Trelawney's visit had been the culmination of a lousy day. It had begun with the weekly diatribe from Madam Pince about the state of the Hogwarts library since the war. Minerva had learned early on that nothing she might say would convince the Hogwarts librarian that anything else in the castle was more important than repairing or replacing the books that had been destroyed.

Shortly after Madam Pince had left, Argus Filch paid a visit. His complaints were much the same as they ever were—students breaking the rules and suggestions for creative punishments for the rule-breakers. Mostly, Minerva thought, Filch missed Mrs. Norris, who had died of old age two years ago.

She leaned back in her chair with a sigh. If she was honest with herself, there had only been a handful of good days at Hogwarts since the end of the war. The survival and return of Severus Snape was one. And the addition of Hermione Granger to the staff was another, although both events had brought their share of difficulty, as well.

Hermione was originally coaxed back to Hogwarts to teach Ancient Runes. After the war, Professor Babbling had informed Minerva of her intention to retire. Minerva remembered Hermione's love of the subject and had invited her to join the staff. Unfortunately, Professor Babbling had forgotten about retiring by the time September rolled around again which left Minerva scrambling to find a place for her young protégé.

That was how Hermione had been made the Muggle Studies teacher. At first, the young witch balked, and wondered aloud in a suspicious manner if she was being stereotyped because she was Muggle-born. Minerva had been shocked at the accusation and had disabused her of that notion, reminding her in the strongest terms that the position had not been staffed since Professor Burbage had been killed.

Just when Hermione was on the brink of signing the contract, she found out that Lucius Malfoy would also be teaching at Hogwarts. At that point, she had refused the job outright.

Minerva sighed. It had taken a promise (bribe was a more accurate term, she thought) in writing of minimal contact with him, the Ancient Runes position as soon as it was available, and a rise in pay to convince the young witch to agree to stay.

Since then, Minerva had fielded so many complaints from Hermione about Lucius, she wondered if it had been worth it.

Minerva was also cheesed off at the Ministry, not to mention Severus Snape, for fobbing Malfoy off on Hogwarts as part of the reparations the blond wizard was required to make. Snape had lobbied hard for leniency for his friend, reminding the Wizengamot that Malfoy had lost his wife, his son, his wand and most of his money as a result of his association with Voldemort during the war. Snape had even dragged Harry Potter before the Wizengamot to testify to Malfoy's reformation at the end of the war. As a result, against her strong objection, Lucius Malfoy had been installed as Hogwarts' Defense Against Dark Arts teacher.

For the first year, Malfoy had not attempted to socialize with anyone except for Severus. Many of the staff had lost friends and family during the war and were openly hostile to him. But Malfoy was either very sensitive, or (more likely to Minerva's way of thinking) very clever. He had taken his meals with Snape for the first year of his tenure and had only joined the rest of the professors at staff meetings. Severus had stood staunchly by his friend. Eventually, the grumbling amongst the staff (excepting Hermione) had finally subsided enough that, midway through his second year, the two Slytherin wizards had begun to take their meals in the Great Hall with everyone else.

Severus. Her relationship with him still had not recovered. Driving him out of the castle he could forgive. But she had called him 'coward' in front of everyone and that was not so easily forgotten. She was mortified when Harry had explained everything Snape had done for their side during the war. Minerva was still ashamed of herself for not having trusted him as Albus had insisted. If she was brutally honest, she had done her best to kill Snape in the corridor on that awful night; it was his expert dueling skill had enabled him to parry every spell. Only when the other teachers joined her had he been forced to flee the castle.

The fact that Snape HAD fled—had left the relative safety of the castle to return to Voldemort—and what he had to know was almost certain death was the kind of bravery that inspired poets. The fact that Snape hadn't died was a miracle. If Hermione hadn't rushed back to the Shrieking Shack armed with Essence of Dittany and Blood replenishing potions…Minerva shuddered. A very near thing, indeed.

Five years later, Minerva's relationship with Severus was very polite. Very professional. Very dissatisfying. She cursed Dumbledore for the thousandth time for keeping Severus' role as a double agent secret from her.

Merlin's sainted bollocks, but she had tried to mend her fences. She had visited Severus in the hospital several times during his long convalescence. She had assured him that he could return to Hogwarts in any capacity, including Headmaster, whenever he wished.

Snape had thanked her and asked to return to his original position of Potions Master and Head of Slytherin house. He wanted to ensure that his students were not tormented because of the politics of their parents.

Minerva was glad to have him in that role. Slytherin house had a bona fide hero as their Head, and that fact had helped those students heal and feel a part of Hogwarts again.

However, their friendship seemed to be a thing of the past. And she missed him. His advice. His snarky asides during meetings. His trouncing her at chess.

Minerva couldn't help noticing how close Snape and Hermione had become over the last few years. She learned through the Hogwarts grapevine that Hermione was not only a frequent visitor during Snape's hospital stay; she had been instrumental in convincing him to return to teaching. Minerva was happy that he had finally moved on from Lily. But the sea was not completely tranquil for the good ship Snape and Granger.

The last stumbling block to their happily ever after seemed to be Severus' friendship with Lucius.

Since Malfoy Manor and everything in it was almost the only possession Lucius had managed to hold onto, the two men often met there. Hermione had told Minerva that the guys (as she called them) had asked her to join them, but she just couldn't get past the torture she had experienced there.

Minerva smiled. Lucius. She would never have believed that he would not only become quite an effective DADA professor, but after a few years, a friend.

More than a friend, if she was honest. They met in secret whenever Snape and Hermione went out. Minerva could not say she was sorry to have the attention of a handsome wizard again. But, the way they sneeked around the castle felt vulgar. She was not ashamed, and she was very tired of all the secrets and the accompanying tension among the people she cared most about.

"Headmistress, you appear to be a witch in some distress."

Minerva jumped, astounded, and whirled to face the shelf on which the Sorting Hat was kept.

The hat continued as if it hadn't frightened five years of her life out of her a moment ago.


" As you know, five years ago, my job was dispossessed.
And all in all, I do believe my retirement a success.
It was my idea after all, and I was, of course, correct!
It was past time to stop the Sorting, my dear Headmistress.
My mind's made up, I tell you now, I shall not be deterred.
Ever since, I've sat upon this shelf and I've observed
All and sundry dropping in to fret, complain and squawk.
I came to the conclusion that it is time for me to talk.
Even though I know it comes as something of a shock.

There's a very old saying, as you may know,
Among the Muggle kind, that is:
To err is human; and to forgive, divine.
Almost every problem that you have among your staff
Begins with the first and must end with the last.
Even you (as you well know) have not been bypassed
Hogwarts' Potions Master still feels himself outcast.
Even though you've done your best to try to beg his pardon.
He allows his pride rule his mind and his heart to stay hardened.
His injured dignity is the only reason he holds himself asunder.
If you would mend your friendship, you must look past all the bluster.

My only job has been, from the day I was created,
To look into the student's heads and Sort them unabated.
I've been at it for a thousand years, excepting just a few,
You know that I am qualified to devise a solution or two.
And through five years of thinking, I've come to a conclusion.
This is the season of Forgiveness, as I'm sure you know.
In the spirit of "Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men",
I ask you to let go. You have my solemn vow, you will not be misled.
Come closer, dear Headmistress, and put me on your head.
I have a plan, a cunning plan, and we must be surreptitious.
After all, we're in your office, it's best if we're judicious.

~~~~~~******~~~~~~

Minerva arrived in the staff room shortly before the meeting was scheduled to begin. She set the Sorting Hat on a table, moved a straight-backed chair next to it and then seated herself on the other side.

The expressions on the faces of the staff members as they arrived and noticed the Hat were so amusing, she found it difficult to keep from laughing out loud. Lucius met her gaze with a delicately raised eyebrow. She had to look away and clear her throat as an excuse for covering her smile.

Once everyone had arrived, she stood and addressed her colleagues and avoided eye contact with Lucius.

"This year, only those of us in this room will be remaining at Hogwarts over the holiday, so our staff party will necessarily be smaller." She smiled. "I've asked the House Elves to prepare a small buffet-type supper in this room. We will have the usual libations, thanks to the addition of several bottles of wine Professor Malfoy discovered in a hidden wine cellar that mysteriously escaped the Ministry's notice." She cleared her throat. "Thank you, Professor Malfoy. We will also have the traditional gift exchange with a bit of a twist this year. Since we are so few, rather than me choosing random names from my hat, the Sorting Hat has offered to assist. Only you will hear what the Hat has to say. We will proceed in alphabetical order. Argus, you're first."

Filch's eyes widened. As a squib, he had never had the experience of being Sorted. He rose and smoothed his unruly hair before he seated himself in the chair next to her. Minerva set the Hat on his head.

"Caretaker Filch, I have never met your head. If I'd had the pleasure you would have been Sorted into the house of Slytherin. Your giftee this year is a woman you hold dear. Madame Pince, the librarian. Oh, young man, you're nervous, but be of good cheer. I see inside your head the question you most fear. If you ask her, perhaps you won't be so lonesome next year."

Minerva noticed that when Filch removed the Hat and set it back onto the table, his hands were trembling. The old caretaker's face was thoughtful as he returned to his seat.

"Professor Granger."

Hermione cast a questioning glance at Minerva, who pretended not to notice as she set the Hat on the young witch's head.

"Miss Granger, it is lovely to meet you again. You're Occluding I see, but it means nothing to me, I can see right through your drape. And who should it be, that you're trying to hide, the one to whom you've lost your heart? Ah, it's none other than Severus Snape. Well, I'm sad to say that I have bad news to impart, and all your hopes I may destroy. No band of gold will be to you given, unless your giftee is forgiven. Professor Snape's dearest friend, yes, it's Lucius Malfoy."

Hermione was pale as she removed the Hat and took her place next to Severus once again. Minerva reminded herself that what she was doing was in everyone's best interest and called the next name.

"Professor Malfoy."

Lucius was grace itself as he rose and made his way to the chair by the Hat. His grey eyes held hers and the half smile she found so charming was firmly in place as he approached. Before he turned to sit, he winked. Devil take him, her cheeks were hot and she knew he'd done it on purpose. She plopped the Hat onto his head.

"Lucius Malfoy, at the start I had two things I wished to say. But now I see that of one I need not speak. I should not be surprised to see her affection requited. Minerva is not so unwise as to give in to attraction unenlightened. Moving on to your giftee, it is Hermione Granger. The stakes I am playing are very high and very fraught with danger. Friendship, love and happiness; yes, you begin to see. My goals are high I have considered all the possibilities. A few words more, then I'll be through: Choose your gift with subtlety. And now I'm done with you."

Lucius was thoughtful as he removed the Hat and returned to his seat.

Minerva smiled. "My turn." She sat down and plunked the hat onto her head.

"Minerva McGonagall, you must know—there is only one choice for you. It is Severus Snape, we've discussed the reason but please, you must tread cautiously. You've tried some words; those haven't worked, through no fault of yours. It's words, of course, that have been used to wound him so many times before. You must find a combination that will show him your contrition. My advice to you is to use your intuition."

Minerva removed the Hat and cleared her throat before she called the next name.

"Madame Pince."

The librarian pinched her lips together in disapproval as she seated herself beside the table. Minerva lowered the hat onto her head.

"Irma Pince, I want to say, I'm sorry for your loss. All those books gone up in smoke have made you very cross. Heed my words because I know a thing or two, you see. Before too long, you'll have many new friends in the library. Until then, remember someone else who's lost a friend. Your giftee is Argus Filch, as you may comprehend."

Minerva thought that Irma seemed a bit chastened after she removed the Hat and went back to her chair.

"Professor Sinistra."

"Aurora Sinistra it is a delight, to be atop your head. The stars are there inside, and such a treat for me to see. I know that you will not at first be pleased with your giftee. Yes, as you fear it is Sibyll Trelawney—wait, I beg, don't tear me off your head! I ask that you listen closely to me. I know she is a nuisance and may be slightly mad, but there's one thing I know for certain that she's never, ever had. It is something that you, my dear, have had in abundance. Yes, now, you see. And thank you for not pitching me to the floor in annoyance."

"Professor Snape."

Severus approached the chair with the air of a man going to the gallows. He glared at Minerva who met his gaze and indicated the chair, brooking no nonsense. He sat down and held himself stiffly as she placed the hat on his head.

"Severus Snape, you have been Headmaster so you know. You cannot keep your thoughts from me, so stop Occluding so! I knew all along you were destined to be Hogwarts' hero, don't you see? Yet, there's something more that you must do, before you can live ever after happily. And to that end, in this season of forgiveness and good will. Your giftee will be Minerva McGonagall."

Minerva watched as Snape removed the Hat, rose and, without a glance at her, strode across the room to take his seat next to Hermione.

"Professor Trelawney."

Sibyll rose in a clatter of beads, rearranged her shawls, and floated over to the seat by the Hat.

"Sibyll Trelawney, as your Inner Eye must see, Aurora Sinistra will be your giftee. My task is to remind you of what you already know. But there's one thing I must recount that the founders told me long ago. It is just this: 'Together we will build and teach'. We are not strong if we're divided! I was told that while the battle raged, dear Sibyll, you fought beside the rest. Yet five years later you've gone right back to hiding in your nest. When you go back to your tower rooms, you must use all of your tools. There you'll find the answer that you seek and with it a greater gift than jewels."

Minerva thought that Sibyll seemed a bit shocked, and was clearly subdued as she removed the Hat and walked back to her seat.

"So, everyone has the name of their giftee. This year, unlike the past, our gifts will be exchanged during the next week-before the staff party. If the Sorting Hat spoke to you the way it did to me—I think in this case—discretion is the better part of valor."

Everyone in the room murmured their agreement.

"All right, it's settled. This meeting is adjourned. Our party will be a week from today. I'll see you all then, if not before."

~~~~~~******~~~~~~

Two days after the meeting, Argus trudged through the snow toward Dumbledore's marble tomb, a bouquet of winter roses in his hand. He circled around the marble behemoth and made his way to the small, stone Celtic cross that marked Mrs. Norris' grave. He bent, ignoring the ache in his back, and brushed some of the snow away. He arranged the flowers he'd brought and then straightened, his arthritic bones screaming. It was worth it to visit his long-lost companion. He'd never realized how much he would miss her until she died. And he had her buried right here—she was as important as Dumbledore, anyway.

He heaved a sigh.

"Cor, but I've missed you, my dear." He pressed the heels of his gloved hands against his eyes in a vain attempt to stop their leaking. "I've never felt so alone as I have the last two years." After a few moments, he fished a handkerchief out of his pocket, wiped his eyes and blew his nose.

"You know that I've fancied Madam Pince for ages, now. Well, I was given to understand that she might fancy me too. So, I'm takin' the chance and askin' her to marry me." He didn't try to stop the tears that streamed anew down his craggy face. "I figgered I oughta tell you first, seein' as how you and me've been—er, were so close all those years." He mopped his face again. "I've just come back from Gringotts. Fetched me mum's ring. Don't worry. You'll always hold a place in my heart, Mrs. Norris."

He shoved the handkerchief back into his pocket and trudged back to the castle.

Even with the encouragement he'd received from the Sorting Hat, Argus was nervous as he stood outside the library several hours later. He had cleaned himself up, donned his best clothes and was now staring at the door. He growled at himself for being a coward, opened the door and stepped inside.

The only light came from the lamp on the librarian's desk. Argus paused to gaze at the object of his affection who was haloed in the golden light of the lamp. He nearly lost his nerve when she looked up and smiled.

"Argus!" She gestured for him to come closer. "Do come in. I was going to look for you as soon as I'd finished this…but it can wait." She blotted the parchment she'd been working on and set it aside.

Filch made his way through the library and Pince came around her desk and held out her hands. He took them and raised them to his lips.

"Argus, you are so gallant. Come. Let's go to my personal rooms which are more comfortable." She lit her wand with a non-verbal Lumos and led the way.

Once they arrived in her chamber, Irma hung her hat and outer robes on the coat rack in a corner and seated herself on the sofa in front of the fireplace. A quick Incendio had the fire crackling brightly. She Summoned a decanter and two glasses, poured and handed one to him.

Argus took the glass and sipped gratefully. The whiskey was excellent and he felt the warmth spread though him as it went down.

"Irma, how is it that you manage to have the best whiskey in the castle?"

The witch blushed with pleasure at the compliment. "The professors are not exempt from library fines, Argus." She said. "And their payment is often in trade."

The caretaker chuckled. "Irma, I—"

"Oh, Argus, let me—"

The had spoken at the same time and stopped.

"You go first," the witch said.

"No, please, after you."

Irma's smile lit her face and she set down her drink, rose and hurried into the other room.

Argus had heard her described as an 'underfed vulture' more than once, but he just couldn't see it. She seemed lovely, in a spindly way, to him. And he vowed to find a way to punish the next student who said such slanderous things in his hearing. His attention returned to her as she reappeared, carrying a basket with a red bow tied to the handle. She sat down next to him once again and placed the basket between them.

"For you."

Argus looked into the basket and gasped. There was a Kneazle kitten curled up on a blanket in the bottom, sound asleep. He looked up at the witch beside him, his eyes wet with tears. The kitten was grey, white and brown with black stripes and long-haired. Very similar to Mrs. Norris. He reached into the basket and stroked the kitten's soft fur with one finger. The kitten stretched, yawned and opened its eyes, blinking at him sleepily. It rose, stretched and then turned in place, laid down and promptly went to sleep once again.

Argus looked up at the witch sitting next to him. "Irma, you couldn't have found a more perfect gift." He reached into his pocket, got slowly and carefully down on one knee, and opened the ring box. "Will you make me the happiest of men and agree to be my wife?"

"Oh, Argus, I thought you'd never ask! Yes! Now, I beg you, get up off the floor before you do yourself an injury you foolish man!"

~~~~~~******~~~~~~

Three days after the meeting with the Sorting Hat, Aurora Sinistra welcomed Sibyll to the balcony of the Astronomy tower with a smile.

"Sibyll, thank you for coming. I've set up a telescope just there, behind the table. I thought we'd have tea first then look at the constellations. It's a lovely night for it. Crisp and clear."

Trelawney's smile was half-hearted and wary, as if she couldn't quite believe what was happening. "Thank you, Aurora. Yes, I have Seen that tonight will be a clear night for the festivities." She pushed her glasses up on her nose and looked around. "It's quite warm here. Heating charms?"

"Of course! Come. Sit. We'll have our tea while we wait for midnight." Aurora ushered the other witch to the table, gestured her to one seat and took the other. She poured the tea and gestured to Sibyll to help herself to the little sandwiches, cakes and biscuits the House Elves had prepared.

"This is lovely, Aurora." Sibyll said after filling her plate. "And I have brought something for you, too."

Aurora thought the other witch seemed shy as she handed over a thin box decorated with what appeared to be one of Trelawney's strings of beads. Aurora slid the beads from around the box and slipped them over her head. Then she opened the box to find several sheets of parchment stacked there.

As she rifled through the pages, Aurora realized that Sibyll had created an astrology chart for her. It was detailed, and appeared to be very accurate.

Not to mention beautiful. The chart was decorated with images of the astrological signs in watercolor and ink, and intricate scrollwork framed each page. The script was lovely as well. Aurora was touched.

"Sibyll, this is wonderful! I've never seen such a beautiful chart." She looked at the Divination professor who was blushing furiously. "I'm not sure if you are aware…many of my friends were killed during the war. I've been…lonely these last few years." She cleared her throat. " I am really looking forward to sharing the night sky with you."

Aurora was pleased to see a slight smile on the other witch's face.

"Me too."

~~~~~~******~~~~~~

The following day, Hermione Granger was seated at the vanity in her bedroom, contemplating the items she had gathered there.

A quill and ink. Parchment. A small, round, delicate glass bottle and its cork stopper. Her wand. Everything was in readiness, the question was…was she?

Hermione wasn't sure if she was truly ready to give up her memory of that horrific day at Malfoy Manor, much less forgive Lucius Malfoy, no matter what the Sorting Hat suggested. That memory was partly responsible for her determination to finish the fight against Voldemort.

But, she reminded herself, that fight had been over for five years now. And, of everything that had happened, it was that memory that still haunted her. She had been toying with the idea of destroying it almost from the day the war ended. For her own peace of mind.

But now—the decision had taken on even more importance.

She was pretty sure she was in love with Severus Snape. Whose best friend was Lucius Malfoy.

Hermione sighed.

Severus had told her that he was willing to work around her dislike of Malfoy, and so far, he had.

But what would happen if they took their relationship to the next level? How could she justify telling her husband that his best friend was not welcome in their home and still invite hers?

It was a conundrum.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a 'pop' in the sitting room followed by a voice. "Professor Granger, is you at home?"

Hermione rose from her seat and walked into the sitting room. A tea-towel clad House Elf stood in front of the fireplace. "Hello, Daisy. How can I help you?"

Daisy bobbed a curtsy. "The Headmistress is asking if you will hurry down to the entryway as soon as possible."

Hermione Accioed her outer robes and wand. "Of course. Do you know why? Is something wrong?"

"Daisy was told only to bring the message, Professor." Having discharged her duty, Daisy disappeared.

Curious, Hermione donned her robes, pocketed her wand and made her way down the stairs to the entryway. When she arrived, he eyes widened in surprise.

The entryway was crowded with large crates. There was just enough room to move, however Hermione had a feeling of claustrophobia as she made her way through the boxes to the front door of the castle. When she stepped outside, she saw that Minerva was directing the delivery of still more of the mysterious crates.

"Headmistress, you summoned me? What on earth is going on?"

"That's what I'm hoping you can tell me, Professor Granger. It seems that all of these crates are addressed to you."

Hermione looked around in a daze. "Really? I haven't ordered anything…my Christmas shopping is finished."

Minerva dragged, none too gently, a delivery-wizard to stand in front of Hermione. "This 'gentleman' can tell me, but won't."

"Oy, watch it, or I'll have you up on assault charges, I will." The disgruntled wizard glared at Minerva who matched his glare and raised him a sneer. "I toldja, I am to hand the envelope to no one except Professor 'Ermione Granger." He snatched his cap off and looked Hermione over. Apparently satisfied, held out an envelope to her. "'Ere you are, luv. Straight into your own hand. Just as ordered." He clapped his hat back onto his head and resumed his job directing the unloading of the crates.

"Well?" Minerva asked impatiently. "What is the meaning of this?"

Hermione slid a finger under the flap and opened the envelope. She removed the parchment, unfolded it and began to read silently.

Professor Granger,

I have been searching for years for some way to make amends for all of the horror you were put through in my home during the war. It has always troubled me, the things I was forced to participate in once the Dark Lord returned. And things that were done to children…by my hand…and then to my own son…

I suppose it never occurred to me that the Dark Lord's return—would be so brutal to the innocent.

In the end, all I wanted was to save my family—which I managed to do with the help of you and your friends—and then I lost them anyway. I've heard the whispers about poetic justice and I suppose the whispers are justified.

So, making amends.

I know that you and Severus have become very close. I also know that your dislike of me has caused unhappiness for him. After the Sorting Hat assigned you as my giftee, I knew I had my chance to try to change your mind about me.

In these boxes, you will find most of the books from the library and storage rooms of Malfoy Manor. Please accept them as atonement for all the wrongs that were visited upon you and your friends because of my short-sightedness.

Severus Snape is very dear to me. Since you are dear to him, I have no wish to stand in the way of his future happiness. If you find that you cannot forgive me, I will understand and try to remove myself as much as possible from his life.

Yours etc,

Lucius Malfoy

Hermione looked up into the curious gaze of her Headmistress. "These are all full of books. Books from the Malfoy's private library. Professor Malfoy…he's given them to me."

"Good heavens."

Silently, Minerva thought, he doesn't do anything by half-measures, does he? Aloud, she said, "what are you going to do with them?"

"There's only one thing to be done with them, Minerva." Hermione said. "They must be used to replace the books that were destroyed during the Battle of Hogwarts. I want the Hogwarts library to house them."

Minerva closed the distance between them and hugged Hermione hard. "You have no idea what this means to me, the school and most importantly, to Irma Pince!"

Hermione laughed, then tears unexpectedly filled her eyes. "I think I do, Headmistress. Do you mind seeing that they are taken to the library right away? There's something I need to do—and it won't wait another minute."

~~~~~~******~~~~~~

When Lucius returned from his visit to Ollivander's to his chambers at the castle, there was a package sitting outside the door. His heart skipped a beat out of habit before he reminded himself for the thousandth time that nothing could hurt him here.

Well, nothing physical, anyway. Not anymore.

There was, however, a certain Scottish witch who had more power over him than the Dark Lord ever had.

Lucius wasn't sure how he felt about that, but it wasn't unpleasant. That, too, was surprising.

He looked again at the package, waved his new wand over it, checking for any traps for old time's sake. There was nothing of course, so Lucius pocketed his wand (Merlin, it was good to have a wand again!), picked up the package and carried it into his chambers.

He preferred staying at Hogwarts these days. The Manor was just too quiet. And, if he was very honest with himself, there were too many unpleasant memories associated with it. Perhaps, one day, if he was very lucky—he might be able to make enough good ones to overcome the bad.

But that was the future. The intriguing package was the present. And, if he didn't miss his guess, it was probably his Christmas present.

Lucius made himself comfortable in his favorite chair in front of the fire before he picked up the package again. He pulled the ribbon loose and the paper fell away revealing a delicate glass vial which held a silvery-blue substance. His eyes widened. He picked up the envelope that had dropped into his lap when he'd loosened the ribbon. He opened it and pulled out the parchment.

Professor Malfoy~

I am writing this before I remove the memory of my 'visit' to Malfoy Manor and everything that happened there in March 1998 into this bottle.

I am gifting you with this memory, to do with as you wish. I am removing it from my head mostly because I am in love with Severus, and you are his friend. I find that with this particular memory in my own head, I cannot get past what happened five years ago—and I must get past it in order to have any kind of normal life with Severus.

Of all the people I know, HE deserves some kind of normal life after all he has done for everyone in the Wizarding world, wouldn't you agree?

So, how can I ask him to make a life with me and refuse to allow his friend to visit? I can't. I love him too much to ask that of him. So, I won't.

I'm giving it to you. Feel free to keep it or destroy it as you see fit. Once it's out of my head, I won't have anything to say about it ever again and you and I can start fresh.

I look forward to a closer relationship with you (and Minerva—don't think Severus and I didn't know) in the coming years.

~~~Hermione Granger

P.S.~~Thank you for the books. I've given them over to the Hogwarts Library for safekeeping. You do love a grandiose gesture, don't you? I was impressed.

Lucius picked up the little bottle and contemplated the substance inside as it whirled and swirled within its prison. After a few minutes he rose, carried the bottle over to the fireplace and set it down gently on the mantle.

~~~~~~******~~~~~~

Minerva stood outside of Severus' chambers. She had made the trip down several times during the week, but had never gathered the courage to knock. Now, it was Friday, and she knew, she had to act.

The problem was…she wasn't sure what to do.

The Hat had advised her to use her intuition. Which seemed to have fled. To her knowledge, Severus hadn't made any attempt to contact her, either. That made her believe he didn't really want to mend their fences. On the other hand, Severus wasn't the most demonstrative of wizards, due to the difficult life he had led until five years ago. Minerva figured that meant it was up to her to make the first move.

She never realized it might be so very hard. She had just made the decision to go back to her chamber and write a note when the door opened.

Severus stood, buttoned up as tight as he'd ever been during the war, literally and figuratively. Framed in the door, his face was in shadow. However, his voice was gentle when he spoke.

"Are you going to knock this time or continue to decorate the corridor?"

Minerva lifted her chin. "If you knew I was here, why didn't you come out before?"

Severus stood aside, gestured her in and then closed the door. "I couldn't face you, then." He moved into the sitting room and gestured. "Won't you have a seat? The tea will be ready in a moment."

Minerva took the chair he'd indicated beside a low table on which a tea service and a plate of her favorite chocolate biscuits were waiting. She watched Severus lower himself into the other chair and temple his fingers beneath his chin as he gazed at her.

"Severus, I—"

"Minerva…"

"You go first," he said. "I'll pour." He matched his action to his words, focusing his attention on preparing their tea.

"Severus, I don't know how to get past this…this invisible barrier that seems to exist between us. We used to be friends. I want you to be my friend again. I miss you."

She took the cup he handed her and sipped the tea in order to stop herself from babbling and nearly spit it out. It was very hot. She glanced up and found his amused gaze upon her.

"Minerva, I am not sure how to 'get past' whatever this is." He sighed. "There's been so much. I should have died in the Shrieking Shack, I was prepared to die." His smile was rueful. "Otherwise, I'd never have given Potter all those memories."

"It was those memories that ultimately proved that you were working for the Order all of those years."

"Yes, I know." He sipped his tea. "But I guess I didn't think that you should have needed that proof, Minerva."

Her heart clenched. It was the very thing she had been beating herself up over for five years. Why hadn't she trusted him?

"Severus—I understand how you feel. I've wracked my brain to try to find out when my mind was changed about you. I-I think it was when you killed Albus." It was her turn to be rueful. "You did too good of a job of protecting us, my dear. You fooled everyone."

Severus glanced at her. "That was my goal. My biggest fear was that the Dark Lord would see my duplicity and kill everyone I cared for. So, I had to keep everyone at arm's length." He sighed and put down his cup. "I swore Dumbledore to silence. That was my mistake, but also not—if you take my meaning? If I hadn't, he might have told you about my double-triple agent status, then you might have treated me differently…and might have inadvertently given me away." He heaved another sigh. "I know it's unreasonable…unrealistic…holding you to a different standard…but…"

His head dropped into his hands and the words seemed to be torn from him.

"You turned on me! Drove me from the castle…called me a-a coward!"

Minerva felt hot tears burn behind her eyes. "Severus--I didn't know! For Merlin's sake, you are being very unfair. I am not a Legilimens! I was frightened and trying to protect the students. There was war coming to Hogwarts and innocent lives were at stake. Can't you forgive me? It was one stupid remark said in fear and anger!"

Snape ran his hands through his hair. "I know." He looked up at her. "My feelings about it are not logical."

Minerva reached over and laid a hand on his arm. "Severus." He met her gaze. "You are the bravest man I know." She squeezed his arm. "And that's the truth. I trust you implicitly. Please feel free to check." She opened her mind to him.

She watched him struggle, trying to decide. After several minutes had passed in silence, he sighed.

He did not reach into her mind.

"No. I don't have to check. I understand. And…I believe you." His voice cracked on the last word. "Minerva…I-I apologize. You know…when you mentioned 'one stupid remark said in fear and anger' …suddenly I remembered…Lily. And how she allowed one mistake on my part—my calling her 'Mudblood' in anger—to destroy our friendship. A friendship that had begun when we were nine years old." His shoulders slumped and he looked into the fire. "She never forgave me. For something so trivial…and to think I was heading in the same direction…throwing away our friendship over nothing."

"Severus…it wasn't exactly 'nothing'..."

"Trivial then. Minerva, I have learned so much about life and love and simply existing without fear in the five years since I woke up in the hospital. Which was the first of many surprises." He cleared his throat. "Please understand. I'm still a work in progress. I-I'm very new to this trust/friendship thing, you know." He looked into her eyes and smiled wryly. "Forgive me?"

Minerva felt lightheaded as relief and joy flooded into her heart. "You know I do. When things get overwhelming, always remember, you have friends. Real friends. Me, Lucius, Hermione, the other professors—and Potter, if you'll let him. People admire you, you know. Why else would you be awarded the Order of Merlin, First Class? That wasn't just some trinket the Ministry tossed your way, you dunderhead." She picked up her tea and a biscuit, leaned back in her chair and indulged herself.

Snape had—and still did—make the best tea she'd ever tasted.

After they finished their tea and she made her way toward the door, Severus stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. She turned, a question in her eyes and found herself wrapped in his strong embrace. She hugged him back with enthusiasm.

"Thank you, Minerva."

"You're welcome."

"There's just one thing…"

Her heart clenched.

"I don't think I can ever really be friends with Potter."

~~~~~~******~~~~~~

Minerva's heart was beating in a staccato manner as she, escorted by Lucius, entered the meeting room. It was their first appearance together as a couple to any of the staff. They paused at the door and looked into the room.

The House Elves had out-done themselves.

The furniture had been re-arranged and the decorations were beautifully done. Lucius stopped her just inside the room and she turned to him questioningly. He pointed up. She looked and found that they were standing underneath mistletoe.

"Lucius, you can't be serious…here, now?" His grin was the only warning she had before he lowered his lips to hers. The kiss was short, but thorough.

The other people in the room applauded. Minerva knew that her face was very red. "You'll answer for that—later." She said out of the side of her mouth.

"I'll look forward to it." He replied with a smirk. "Be gracious, bow."

He swept his arm across his front as he made a sweeping bow. Minerva bobbed a curtsy. Everyone chuckled and went back to their conversations.

As she and Lucius moved into the room, she was pleased to see that everyone was grouped together in pairs--and she had a feeling those pairs were the Sorting Hat's doing.

Aurora and Sibyll were enjoying one of the bottles of wine from the Malfoy cellar and chatting animatedly.

Irma and Argus were seated next to each other on the loveseat. She couldn't stop glancing at the ring on the third finger of her left hand and smiling. On closer inspection, Minerva noticed a tiny, fuzzy head peering at her from Argus' coat pocket. She couldn't restrain a smile.

The Sorting Hat had been placed in the center of the food table and its brim decorated with holly and silver garland.

Lucius steered her toward Hermione and Severus who were on one side of Irma and Argus.

"Minerva. Professor Malfoy. Won't you join us?" Hermione smiled. "We claimed one of the bottles from your cellar, Lucius, before Sibyll and Aurora got them all."

"A sound strategy, Professor Granger." Lucius replied gravely, but his eyes shone with mirth.

"Please—call me 'Hermione'."

"I will be delighted, as long as you return the favor and call me Lucius." His smile was genuine and Minerva felt a flutter in her stomach.

"Yes, yes, and everyone can call me Severus…as long as there are no students around." Snape added with an epic eye roll. He poured the wine and handed glasses to Minerva and Lucius.

"May I have everyone's attention for a moment, please?" Minerva said.

Everyone quieted and turned to face her.

"I'd like to propose a toast."

She faced Aurora and Sibyll. "To new friendships." The two witches raised their glasses and smiled.

She turned to Irma and Argus. "To upcoming nuptials, and a new family member." Irma blushed and Argus stroked the kitten's head with a finger.

She addressed Lucius, Hermione and Severus. "To future possibilities."

"Hear, hear!" Everyone said together.

"And, before we continue with the festivities…one more toast…to the Sorting Hat, without its sound advice and wise counsel, we wouldn't be here tonight."

It was the first of many toasts to the Sorting Hat that night.

Later, after all the humans had made very merry and scattered to various rooms in the castle, the Hat smiled.

Everything was sorted. For now.