"You're up late," Hermione says, leaning against the doorjamb with a mug in her hand.
"The Draught of Peace isn't working for Yaxley as well as it might. Poppy asked me to do something about that. His . . . sciotheism with regard to St Rita is beginning to alarm her."
"It's not a belief that spirits will help one when one is Catholic, Severus, it's hierolatry," Hermione says, moving forward to offer him a sip from her cup. "Yaxley's praying."
Severus wraps his hands around hers and drinks, thinking about the pink crystal dragonfly hair slide in his pocket. "Since when have pureblood wizards ever been Catholic?"
"Yaxley was raised by her Muggle cousins because her father's in Azkaban and her mother didn't want her."
"You're using a feminine pronoun to refer to the boy?"
"The 'boy' identifies as someone of the female gender—and Hogwarts allowed her into the Slytherin girls' dormitory—so yes, I am. What will you do about her attackers?"
Hermione's last word reverberates in Severus' mind, ugly and harsh. "It's done. I've expelled them. Their parents will arrive tomorrow to take the three of them away."
"And what," Hermione says gently, "will you do about the rest of the students?"
Severus looks at Hermione; there's no judgment in her eyes. "I don't know."
"Have you talked to Yaxley?"
Severus shakes his head and picks up his stirring rod. "I don't know what to say to . . . Yaxley."
"Well, in this case, perhaps actions would speak louder than words," Hermione says. "A decisive act might even work better than a potion."
Yaxley is back in the Great Hall for breakfast, head held high, fringe falling into his face. Severus stands at the entrance admiring his courage for a long moment, and then he's moving before he knows what he'll do.
A hush falls over the hall.
When he reaches Yaxley, he pulls the glittering hair slide from his pocket and hands it to him. "I believe that this is yours."
Yaxley takes it and slides his hair back into place. "Thank you, sir."
With a nod, Severus continues to the High Table, his heart beating hard, and takes the podium before the table. All eyes are upon him.
"Earlier this morning, Andrew Flint, Edgar Carstairs, and Marcus Smythe were removed from this school by their parents. They will not be returning. Going forward, any student caught bullying will also be expelled. Do I make myself clear?"
No one speaks.
"Do. I. Make. Myself. Clear?"
"Yes, sir!" the students respond.
"Excellent," says Severus, taking his place next to Hermione as conversation gradually resumes.
Hermione reaches for his hand under the table. "That was well done."
"It wasn't nearly enough."
"It was a good place to start. It's important for Yaxley to know that she has an ally in you."
"Of course she does," Severus says. "I'm her Headmaster."
He's surprised when Hermione leans over to kiss him.
It's only later that he realises the kiss had to do with his pronoun usage.