Author's Note: A while back, someone left a review on one of my stories complaining that I was "glorifying the Nazi incel," meaning Snape. I needed to write Snape's reaction to this particularly horrible insult. (Obviously, I'm taking the liberty of transferring the term "incel" with all its current implications into 1990s Britain.)

The Glorification of the Nazi Incel

It was rare that Severus Snape ventured outside of his home.

He knew the Daily Prophet and Witch Weekly and all the other worthless rags that passed for wizarding journalism these days had published a variety of theories on the subject. Perhaps he was ashamed to show his murderous face after his heartless slaughter of Britain's most beloved old wizard. Perhaps he was dying of a broken heart because of his unrequited love for the Boy Who Lived's dead mother. Perhaps he was busy plotting the return of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named with a group of escaped Death Eaters. Or perhaps (and this one seemed to be the most widely accepted) he was so abominably hideous after Nagini's attack (which was rumored to have removed half of his already very ugly face) that he couldn't bear to be seen in public.

It was true that Nagini's attack had played a role in his general retreat from society. Even with the antivenin he had been ingesting on a regular basis and the involuntary magic that had kept him clinging to life long after Potter and his friends had abandoned him on the floor of the Shrieking Shack, Severus's recovery had been long and painful, and even now he could barely manage more than a whisper, a fact that both infuriated and, on a deep, almost impossible to acknowledge level, frightened him.

Aside from his wand, his voice had always been his greatest weapon. Then again, it was his voice that had destroyed his friendship with Lily. It was his voice that had betrayed her to Voldemort. He did not doubt that his near-mutism was justice. It was, indeed, much better than he deserved. Yet it was a vulnerability he could not tolerate in the presence of others, particularly within the Wizarding world.

Between that, the shame of killing Dumbledore, the humiliation of his love for Lily becoming common knowledge, and the general suspicion that he was still secretly a Death Eater, Severus found many reasons to stay within four very well hidden walls.

Perhaps the Prophet wasn't so wrong, after all.

Yet there were some unfortunate occasions when Severus was forced to emerge from his self-imposed exile, and this morning was one of those occasions. In general, he relied only on potions ingredients he could obtain either himself or through mail-order from the apothecary. Indeed, it had become something of a challenge: devising potions that only required easily accessible ingredients. But his current project, a mind-altering draught that could possibly improve the condition of certain victims of the Cruciatus Curse, refused to cooperate with his needs. He needed at least four ingredients that could not be acquired either by foraging, gardening, or mail-ordering, and though the prospect of traveling to the most isolated peaks of Nepal, the hottest dunes of the Moroccan deserts, and a rather well-visited glow worm cave in New Zealand was far more appealing than a trip to Diagon Alley, he had to admit that the fourth ingredient, which could only be found in the second stomach of a cow after it had been devoured by the third head of a hydra, was probably not practical to attempt to acquire on his own.

And if he had to go to Diagon Alley for one of the four, he might as well acquire them all there, and spend the time he would have wasted traveling on researching the potion, which was, after all, showing great signs of promise.

Still, as he strode through the Leaky Cauldron with his head bent beneath a heavy hood, he couldn't help feeling that a few rounds with a hydra would have done more for his health than squeezing through the happily chattering masses that crowded the alley beyond.

Diagon Alley, in the wake of the war, had transformed itself into a shrine to Harry Potter. Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes was largely to blame; George Weasley had begun selling Harry Potter glasses, wigs, and lightning scars in the aftermath of the final battle, and Severus had been told by Minerva in one of her rare letters that Potter hadn't had the heart to discourage him. Severus had been half-inclined to believe Potter was enjoying the attention until Minerva had explained that Potter had accepted the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, and that roughly a third of his students had, at some point or other, attended lessons in full Harry Potter costume.

Even Severus had never had to endure that level of mockery. He had advised Minerva to advise Potter to be liberal with point deductions, particularly from the Gryffindors, who were undoubtedly the worst offenders.

Minerva hadn't written to him since.

Yet Potter was not the only inspiration for merchandise in Diagon Alley. Madam Malkin had released a tasteless series of Dumbledorian robes which seemed to have become very fashionable, judging by the barrage of richly embroidered, unfortunately colored clothes Severus could see in every direction. Hermione Hair was available alongside the Potter Peruke, although neither seemed to be quite as popular as Weasley Wigs, which dotted the sea of heads in Severus's line of vision. There were Voldevain Mirrors, which showed customers a Voldemortization of their own faces; Longbottom Swords, complete with Beheadable Snakes; and even a Lovegood Linguist, which evidently translated anything said to it into some incomprehensible but supposedly wise gibberish.

Severus cringed from the glaring monstrosity of it all and tried to duck through the crowd with bowed head. He was halfway to the apothecary when he caught sight of an enormous poster boasting a tall, dark, brooding wizard in flowing black robes that were unbuttoned halfway down his dramatically muscled chest.

Yet it was not the image that had caught Severus's eye. It was the words beneath it:

The Prince's Tale

The Secret Passions, Betrayals, and Undying Love of the War's Most Mysterious Hero

Severus stopped dead, unwilling to reconcile what he was seeing with what he knew, on some visceral level, it must mean.

Surely not.


"Oh," a passing woman sighed to her friend. "Isn't it just so romantic? I can't wait to read it. We'll get the whole love story..."

"Rita always tells everything, you know," her friend says. "And I mean everything. What do you think she's found out about Snape?"

Severus felt bile rise in his throat, which threatened to turn into actual vomit when the women both giggled.

"Great," another woman, passing by, sneered. "Another glorification of the Nazi incel. Exactly what we need."

The two giggling women stopped to scowl, but the other woman was already gone, disappearing into the crowd. Severus stared after her, feeling both relieved that the giggling had stopped and insulted by the other woman's tone.

Nazi incel? What was a Nazi incel?

Of course, Severus knew well enough what a Nazi was; he even understood why she might have called him that, though he resented the comparison deeply. But incel? What in Merlin's name was an incel?

Had he been out of society for so long that they had invented new insults in his absence?

That hardly seemed fair.

Scowling, and pulling his hood down over his face as he passed the once-more giggling woman, who were ogling the absurdly attractive artistic rendering of himself as if hoping he would unbutton a few more buttons, Severus hurried to the apothecary.

It was blissfully cool, and nearly empty, although a witch sporting a particularly ill-tended crop of Hermione Hair was perusing the pre-made potions in the corner. Severus ignored her and went straight to the counter. He had already written ahead, to save time and the effort of rasping out his request. He had hoped the order would be ready when he arrived, but he had not been anticipating the lazy, resentful youth (a former student, Mr. Luck), who carelessly dropped Severus's package on the counter and watched in complete indifference as something blue and slimy began oozing out.

"Looks like it broke," the youth said, sneering at him.

Severus knew perfectly well that Mr. Luck had been tortured by the Carrows during Severus's year as headmaster, and fully understood that the boy would not be inclined to forgive him. Yet he could barely contain his rage as he hissed out, "The ingredient currently oozing onto your counter is worth twelve hundred Galleons, you imbecile. I wonder how many months you will have to work without pay to compensate your employer for the loss?"

Mr. Luck paled, but had the audacity to say, "Once it's on the counter it's yours… Snape."

The woman with the Hermione Hair appeared suddenly at his side. "Article 71, Section 324, Chapter 3 of the 274th Amendment to the Safe Potions Act of 1752 clearly states that it is the responsibility of the merchant to ensure safe handling of all potions ingredients until the customer has left the store, and that all liability for the mishandling of ingredients within the store, including monetary compensation, physical, mental, or magical injury, and death, falls solely on the merchant, unless the merchant can prove it was the customer's deliberate and informed intent to mishandle the ingredient."

Severus eyed the witch beside him with severe horror, both because he recognized her voice (how could he not, after six years of listening to her babble precisely in this manner) and because he could not imagine anyone taking the time to actually memorize two hundred and seventy-four amendments to the Safe Potions Act of 1752, not even if that someone was Hermione Granger.

The youth behind the counter stared at her blankly. Miss Granger tutted impatiently.

"Well?" she prompted. "Are you going to clean that up and replace it or do I need to contact the Aurors?"

"Aurors don't care about potions," Mr. Luck said. "Anyway, what do you care? Just because he wouldn't have minded slipping a few love potions to your friend's mum -"

"I think the Aurors will care," Miss Granger said. "I think they'll be very interested to hear about your blatant neglect of your customers' safety… especially when those customers are war heroes. You could be deliberately endangering us. You could be a Death Eater sympathizer. Now that all the actual Death Eaters have been locked up, I think hunting down Death Eater sympathizers is the top priority for Aurors, don't you, Professor Snape?"

Severus was no longer a professor, but he was amused enough by the expression on Mr. Luck's face to let it slide. "Indeed, I think that you and your friends have ensured they have nothing better to do."

The blue slime, which had covered half the counter by this point, began dripping onto the floor. Miss Granger looked down at the little puddle by her feet. "A potentially toxic substance is spreading toward your customers and you've taken no action to prevent it. I think it's high time I sent a Patronus to -"

"All right, all right," Mr. Luck said, scowling. "I'll get it replaced."

"I think all of Professor Snape's ingredients should be replaced, to avoid the risk of contamination."

Mr. Luck looked like he would have liked to rip the hair off her head, even if it wasn't a wig. "Fine, Hermione."

It took only ten seconds of watching Mr. Luck slowly, slowly wiping up the blue slime to determine that it would probably be an hour before Severus's replacement package was ready.

"Why don't we get a drink?" Miss Granger said.

The boy's head shot up. "You want a drink with him? The Death Eater?"

Miss Granger winced, perhaps realizing that her request would grace the cover of every rag with the exception of the Quibbler by tomorrow morning.

"Well?" she said, bracing herself.

Severus had no particular desire to have a drink, or to be in her presence, or to be in London at all, but as the latter was a necessity, he supposed he might as well tolerate the second, for which he would most certainly need the first.

"Very well," he rasped.

He regretted it almost immediately when she began leading him toward the Leaky Cauldron. He was just about to voice his objection when she stopped just outside the pub and held out her arm.

"I know a nice Muggle place," she said, with something of a challenge in her eyes.

There was no challenge in accepting. When Severus did leave his home these days, it was almost always to stay in the Muggle world. Wordlessly, he gripped her wrist. He might have been nervous about Apparating to an unknown location with her, but her recitation of the most boring of boring laws had convinced him she was indeed Hermione Granger, and therefore likely not a threat, even if she had once left him to die.

She Apparated him to a fairly tolerable-looking cafe. He waited until they were both seated with cups of coffee to ask, "What do you want, Miss Granger?"

She seemed annoyingly unfazed by his tone, probably because it was conveyed in a mere whisper.

"To know how you're doing," she said with a shrug. "I haven't seen you in a few years."

"Did it not occur to you that perhaps I prefer it that way?"

She smiled. "Of course. But I think an hour every few years won't kill you."

He resisted the urge to point out that the last hour he had spent in her presence nearly had. He could hardly have expected her to attempt to save him. He was still not certain why the entire Golden Trio hadn't buried the truth about his loyalties and seen him sentenced to the Dementor's Kiss.

"Rita Skeeter's writing a book about you, you know."

Severus leveled her with his best glare.

"I wasn't sure if you knew," she added. "I thought you ought to have some warning."

"Consider me warned," he rasped.

Yet her comment brought to mind the sneering woman's earlier comment. Though he had no particular desire to humiliate himself in front of Miss Granger, he couldn't help wondering if she would understand the term. Aside from her inability to go anywhere without a book (he could see at least two poking out of her pocket now), there was the fact that she was Muggleborn - and he suspected, judging by the comparison to Nazis, that the second insult had also been Muggle in origin.

"Are you familiar with the word incel?" he asked, wishing his whisper didn't make it sound as though he had purposefully lowered his voice.

Miss Granger looked surprised. "Yes, of course. Why?"

Severus scowled. Miss Granger arched her brows. "Did someone call you that?"

His scowl deepened. "It is a Muggle term, I assume?"

"Yes," she said, still looking curious.

He rolled his eyes. "I heard Miss Skeeter's book referred to as a 'glorification of the Nazi incel.'"

Miss Granger looked surprised, but her brow quickly furrowed. "I wouldn't count on it being a glorification for long," she said. "I'm sure there will be a second book detailing your descent into depravity."

"I would have assumed that would be covered in this volume."

Miss Granger shook her head. "Rita wants to capitalize on all her romantic fans. Once she's given them what they want - a portrayal of you as the perfect dark hero - she'll write a more damning book for the bloodthirsty fans."

"You seem to be well-informed about her plans."

Miss Granger snorted. "Rita's not complicated. Once you know what she wants, it's easy to understand her."

"And what does she want?"

Miss Granger fixed him with the sort of condescending stare she usually reserved for Potter and Weasley. "Money, obviously. She can make twice as much if she sells a romance novel and a character assassination."

"I would consider a romance novel a character assassination of the most disgusting sort."

Miss Granger grinned. "Well, yes." She sipped her coffee, which seemed to sober her. "You know what a Nazi is, I assume?"

"Yes," he said, scowling. "Although I object to the comparison."

"You object?" she said, evidently surprised. "On what grounds?"

Severus narrowed his eyes. "The Nazis targeted innocent peoples that had never harmed them. The Death Eaters targeted Muggles… who, if I recall my history correctly, attempted to wipe us off the face of the earth."

"That was hundreds of years ago!"

"And if the Muggles were to learn of our existence now?"

Miss Granger bit her lip. Severus sneered in triumph, which seemed to goad her into arguing.

"They wouldn't all want to wipe us out."

"How comforting."

"It should be! At the very least, it should prevent you from committing genocide! The Death Eaters killed children! They wanted to enslave the world!"

Severus scowled. "Obviously, I am not defending their… our… actions. I am merely pointing out that the comparison is a weak one."

Miss Granger snorted. "It's not that weak. Morally corrupt soldiers following the orders of a genocidal maniac…"

"Then you think I am a Nazi?" he asked, the rasp in his voice making him sound, at the very least, like a monster.

"No," she said, giving him a more piercing look than he was used to receiving from the little Gryffindor know-it-all. "But you were a morally corrupt soldier following the orders of a genocidal maniac."

"You have just indicated that there is no difference between the two."

"I indicated it was an accurate comparison," she countered. "But in any case, neither description is accurate now, not for you."

"You think I am no longer morally corrupt?"

"You're no longer following the orders of a genocidal maniac. I can't speak to your moral corruption."

"I suppose you shall have to wait for Rita Skeeter's second installment of my life's story for that."

Miss Granger grinned. He frowned at her. "Your teeth have shrunk."

She gave him an incredulous look. "Well spotted, sir."

"I am no longer your professor."

"I imagine that's a source of relief for both of us." She gave him an oddly calculating look. "I shrunk my teeth back in my fourth year, after what you said about them."

It was odd, that after all her talk of moral corruption and genocidal maniacs, this was what caused his stomach to lurch. "Why?"

"Because I valued your opinion." Her mouth twisted. "Even your opinion on my appearance, evidently."

He stared at her.

"I take full responsibility for it, of course," she said, leaning back and crossing her arms. "But it was a nasty thing to say, and completely inappropriate."

It had been inappropriate. Severus had said a variety of nasty and inappropriate things over the course of his miserable sentence as teacher, of which his comment about her teeth was probably one of the least damaging.

"I am surprised you bothered to threaten Mr. Luck with an Auror visit," he said. "It would have been entirely reasonable to join him in harassing me. Although perhaps," he sneered, "you were merely searching for an opportunity to recite an obscure chapter of Wizarding law."

"Don't be absurd," she snapped. "I didn't memorize the Safe Potions Act. I have no idea which chapter applies to merchants mishandling ingredients, if there even is one."

He blinked. Hermione Granger, distributing false information?

"Are you an imposter?" he asked.

She snorted. "Honestly, do you really think I have nothing better to do than read obscure potions laws?"

He shrugged. "It is an activity I would find preferable to any social gathering involving Potter or Weasley."

Miss Granger looked not angry, but exasperated. "I'm lobbying for elf rights, serving as the head of the Board of School Governors, reforming Muggle Studies educational standards, substituting for Professor Vector while she has her baby, drafting legislation to restrict the use of Memory Charms on Muggles except in absolute emergencies, assisting the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts staff with plausible cover stories, and trying to develop a contraceptive potion for Ginny that won't cause her to break out in hives. How could I possibly read the entirety of that boring, ridiculous, horribly written law, let alone memorize it? Honestly, you sound just like Ron."

Between being compared to mass-murdering scum and to her idiot friend, Severus was beginning to severely regret agreeing to this little meeting.

"Very well," he hissed. "You have managed to use my question as an opportunity to brag about your own accomplishments, berate me for past wrongs, and insult me, all without ever even attempting to offer an answer. I begin to suspect your knowledge in this field is less complete than you suggested."

Miss Granger huffed impatiently. "The term 'incel' is a shortened form of 'involuntary celibate.' As a general term, 'involuntary celibate' refers to anyone who wants to have a sexual relationship but can't find anyone who feels the same way about them -"

Severus's mouth twisted, understanding immediately - or assuming he did - why the woman would have called him such a thing, but Miss Granger was not finished.

"- but 'incel,' as far as most people are concerned, has come to refer to a particular community of boys and men who hate women because women won't have sex with them. Of course, it's more complex than that, and there are a variety of different philosophies and social factors -"

"I do not hate women," Severus spat, furious and appalled.

Miss Granger gave him an offensively appraising look. "You were angry with Lily because she didn't want you."

Several seconds passed before Severus was able to contain his rage enough to speak. "I was angry that Lily wanted Potter, who tormented me," he snarled. "Or did your precious Boy Who Lived neglect to inform you of that?"

Miss Granger looked doubtful enough that Severus assumed the younger Potter had, in fact, kept his father's sins to himself. Then again, perhaps he had not regarded them as sins. Whatever the case, Severus could not keep himself from hissing, "The noble, heroic, perfect James Potter and his equally heroic friends hunted me while I was in school. Not a day passed when I was not subject to some violence or humiliation -"

He cut off suddenly, remembering who he was speaking to and that his memories, these memories at least, were a private affair and none of the interfering girl's business.

"I wondered," she said.

"Did you?" he snarled.

"Yes," she said simply. "After what Sirius and Remus said that night in the Shrieking Shack…"

Severus bared his teeth. "And yet you still idolized them -"

"Don't be ridiculous," she said. "Harry idolized them. They were the first father figures he ever had."

"And almost as worthless as his own father would have been."

"Then why did Lily like him?"

"How should I know?"

"You never asked?"

He gritted his teeth. "She insisted she despised him… I knew she was lying. Even when he…" He broke off again, seething.

"And if she had liked someone else?"

"What of it?"

"Would you still have been angry that it wasn't you?"

"I suppose that depends on whether it was Black or Lupin."

Miss Granger raised a brow. "So you think she would have picked other boys who bullied you?"

"How should I know?" he snapped again. She was picking at a festering wound, and yet he couldn't seem to make her stop.

"How would you have felt if she had liked someone you had never met? Someone who had never done anything to you?"

Severus glared at her. "What is the point of this exercise?"

"To determine whether you're an incel."

"I asked you for the definition, not your personal analysis."

"You interrupted me in the middle of my definition."

"Your definitions are notoriously long-winded."

"So you think women should be silent?"

"I assure you, Miss Granger, I would find your explanations equally tedious were you a man."

"You didn't answer the question."

He narrowed his eyes. "Silence is generally my preference from anyone I do not like. It has nothing to do with gender. The very notion is absurd."

"Do you resent women for finding you unattractive?"

Her bluntness should have offended him, but instead it startled him into a laugh. His laugh was a hideous sound these days, and typically ended in a hacking cough as he tried to dispel the itch of his scars. "Do you honestly believe I blame them?"

She shrugged. "Incels do."

He took a few gulps of coffee to soothe his aching throat. This was by far the longest conversation he had had since Nagini had ripped his neck apart, and it was taking its toll. "Though I make no pretensions to being anything other than celibate, I would neither classify my celibacy as involuntary nor consider it a source of resentment. I loved Lily. I have never wanted anyone else. Whether or not I could have found anyone else willing to have me is irrelevant."

"And if Lily had wanted someone else?" she asked again.

Merlin, but he had forgotten how pushy Gryffindors could be.

"I would have been devastated," he rasped out. "I would have mourned for the loss of everything I had hoped for. But why should I have been angry? Her friendship was an extraordinary gift. I may have allowed myself to dream of more, but I certainly never expected it. Her friendship was enough."

"Until she betrayed you," Miss Granger said bluntly. "By falling in love with your bully."

He scowled at her, half-despising her for speaking ill of Lily, fully despising himself for agreeing with her. "It made me question our entire friendship," he admitted finally, reluctantly.

"Yes," she said, "I felt that way about Ron, when he left us during the war."

Having his love for Lily compared to Miss Granger's short-lived infatuation with the stupidest of the Weasley boys was vaguely disgusting, but his throat was too tired to allow for an adequately cutting response. He settled for sipping his coffee and glaring at her.

"Why did you keep loving her?" she asked suddenly.

"You still love the Weasley boy, do you not?"

"Not like that," she said. "I mean, I tried to… but how could I? He wasn't who I thought he was."

Severus considered that, though it sat uncomfortably in his stomach. Was it true of Lily? Had she not been who he'd thought she was? He certainly had not expected her to fall in love with an arrogant toerag like James Potter… or had he?

He had been afraid, as soon as Potter began expressing an interest in her, that she would reciprocate his feelings. But why? When he knew what Potter was, why would he believe her capable of loving such a worthless bully?

Because he was handsome and popular and rich, no doubt.

But had he really believed Lily so shallow, even then?

Or had he simply believed that any woman would have been so shallow? That women, generally speaking, preferred that sort of thing?

He scowled, suspecting at once that this was the type of thought Miss Granger would have skewered him for. But was it really inaccurate? Had he not watched his female classmates throw themselves at Potter and Black, the handsome, wealthy, pureblood heirs?

Not all of them, he supposed. Perhaps not even most. Half, maybe.

Could he conclude that half of all women were disgustingly shallow, and that Lily fell into that half?

No, that couldn't be right.

He scowled. It would be simpler to just continue loathing everyone.

"So?" Miss Granger prompted. "Why did you love her?"

He scowled, thinking of her own brush with fame and fortune. "Why did you like Krum?"

She looked surprised, then thoughtful. "He was just the first boy who had ever noticed I was a girl."

Severus stared at her.

"What?" she exclaimed. "I was fifteen!"

"Surely Mr. Weasley noticed you were female."

She snorted. "Yes, after Viktor asked me. He was completely horrible about it, too."

"And Mr. Potter?"

She made a face. "Don't be ridiculous. Harry's like my little brother."

Severus arched an eyebrow, remembering the Witch Weekly article he had read about her love triangle, but remembering, as well, the author of that particular piece.

"Why did you love Lily?" she pressed.

"Do you torment your friends in this manner?"

"Only when they refuse to answer my questions. Usually they know better."

Severus considered getting up and leaving, but a sudden weariness kept him in place. Visions of Howlers screeching at him in Miss Granger's voice flashed through his head, and he decided to get it over with.

"Lily was the love of my life. I never considered not loving her."

"So she was an ideal?"

"I suppose," he said, shrugging. Then, catching the look on her face, he sneered, "I take it that is an incel tendency? Idealizing women?"

She huffed in dark amusement. "No. Quite the opposite." She considered for a moment. "Or perhaps it's the cause, in some cases. They idealize women only to be disappointed, and then they start hating them."

"I have already told you that I do not hate women."

"Idealizing women isn't very reasonable either, you know."

"Why is that?"

She gave him an incredulous look. "You understand why Rita's writing a romance novel about you, don't you? You understand why women will buy it? That they've idealized you?"

Severus flinched, disturbed and slightly horrified. "Are you suggesting that my feelings for Lily are comparable to what those - those - those creatures think about me?"

Miss Granger folded her arms with an obnoxiously superior air. "No one is ideal, sir."

"Perhaps not," he said. "But surely there is something to be said for loyalty to a loved one."

"Yes," she said, "if you actually love that person, and not just the idea of them."

"I loved Lily."


He threw his hands up, annoyed. "Because she was bright and charming and bold and the epitome of everything I was not."

"She also betrayed you," Miss Granger said mercilessly.

"She was sixteen!" he snapped.

"And you think, at sixteen, that you knew her well enough to know that she was the love of your life?"

"I knew when we were nine," he shot back.

She arched her eyebrows, and he despised her for making him feel ridiculous.

"You don't think that was a bit premature?"

He folded his arms stubbornly. "I do not."

"Are you the same person now that you were at nine?"

He glowered, remembering the helpless little creature he had been.

"You're not even the same person you were at twenty," Miss Granger pointed out, with irritating logic. "How could you know that you've met the love of your life until your personality is a bit more settled?"

"Lily married Potter at nineteen."

"And that worked out enormously well for her," Miss Granger said harshly.

Severus didn't flinch. The same thought had haunted him many times. "What is your point?"

Her expression softened slightly, though her words were anything but. "That you've spent your life clinging to something that doesn't exist."

"So my life is worthless, in your estimation?"

"No," she said, "I think it's worthless in yours. The only value you've ever seen in yourself is in your loyalty to an empty ideal."

"I did not consider the ideal empty."

"Or maybe its emptiness was easier for you than a real person."

"You think this has been easy for me?"

"I think it's been safe."

"Safe? To love a dead woman who never loved me in return?"

"Safe to love someone unattainable."

"How is that safe?"

"Because it's not as messy as loving someone who still has the opportunity to choose to love you back - and therefore, the opportunity to choose not to love you."

"I did not realize you were a practicing psychologist, Miss Granger."

"I've been interpreting boys' feelings for half my life."

"Poorly, I suspect."

"Then it doesn't terrify you to think of letting go of an ideal and actually living?"

"Do you equate love with living, Miss Granger? I have already told you that I am celibate by my own design. Do you believe my life is without meaning unless I can find a woman willing to provide that meaning?"

"No," she said. "But, if you'll forgive me for saying so, you don't even have any friends, sir."

"Why should you ask my forgiveness now? You have accused me of genocide, misogyny, and romantic delusions, but pointing out my lack of social companionship is a line too terrible to cross?"

"I didn't want to hurt your feelings."

He glared at her, wondering to what degree she was taking their conversation seriously, and to what degree she was simply tormenting him. Her expression was entirely serious, but he was beginning to have his doubts.

"Are you Rita Skeeter in disguise?" he asked suspiciously.

She looked shocked, then shot him a nasty grin. "How did you guess?"

He jerked backward, and she burst into laughter that was decidedly Miss Granger-ish. "Honestly!" she exclaimed. "How rude! Of course I'm not Rita. Don't you think I'd have been looking for something a little more scandalous than your romantic ideals?"

She had a point.

"Perhaps," he replied, "you merely wish to present me as a naive target for your slavering fans."

"An innocent young man just waiting to be deflowered?"

"I see I have discerned your scheme."

"Honestly," she said again, shaking her head with a smile. "I'm not trying to hurt your feelings."

"If you were, you would have failed utterly."

"Of course," she agreed. "I wouldn't have said any of this if I didn't think you were ready to hear it."

"And now you believe I should abandon all my ideals and allow your opinions to rule my life?"

"No," she said, "but I would suggest considering that other ideals might be more worthwhile."

"Such as brewing contraceptives that will not trigger Miss Weasley's allergies?"

"Well, yes, that, of course, but I was actually thinking you might consider that you yourself could be an ideal."

"Yes, you have made it horrifically clear that Miss Skeeter has constructed an idealized version of me."

"I meant to yourself, sir."

"Your psychology is beginning to fall apart at the seams."

She sighed, as if he were being particularly dense. "Has it not occurred to you that, in honor of this ideal you've been clinging to your whole life, you've accomplished more than most people ever accomplish?"

"Murder and destruction?" he asked bitterly.

She gave him a hard look. "Change. Not a fleeting change, not change motivated by the hope of any reward, but real, lasting, unselfish change."

"I would not call myself unselfish."

"No," she said, "and maybe it has been an outlet for your guilt and shame. But you didn't ever expect your guilt and shame to just vanish, did you? You expected to die, without reward, without redemption, certainly without forgiveness. You did all of that to honor this ideal you have, the ideal of something you lost, and I think that if you were to make yourself the ideal, you might realize that it's worth changing just to become the person you could be."

Severus sipped at his coffee. "That is the most ridiculous notion I have ever heard."

Miss Granger looked disappointed. "But don't you see?"

"I see that you are attempting to interfere in my life by forcing me to change even more than I already have."

She frowned at him. "I was going to tell you to change so you can be happy."

He rolled his eyes. "Unlikely."

"Of course it is, when Lily is your ideal."

"And what makes you think I deserve to be an ideal to myself? I am a murderer."

"You're living proof that fighting to do better is worth more than giving up or giving in."

That gave him pause. He had fought, long and hard, but that did not change what he had done. "As you said, I was not fighting for any reward."

"And you think seeing yourself as anything other than worthless is a reward?"

"It is something I have neither earned nor desired."

She hesitated, her dark eyes moving over his face as if in search of another vulnerability she could attack. "Have you considered that in clinging to this ideal you're clinging to the last vestige of what you were before you began to become a better person?"

"I am not a better person," he ground out. "I have never desired to be, nor have I ever attempted to be. I merely did what was necessary to win the war."

The girl had the audacity to roll her eyes again. But then, she was proving herself nothing if not audacious. "Have you considered," she began again, "that in refusing to desire or attempt to be a better person, you are in fact preserving the Severus Snape who made all those mistakes in the first place?"

He wasn't sure if he despised her or was fascinated by her. Likely both. In any case, he found himself staring at her in a mingling of outrage and contemplation.

Against his will, he considered the possibility that what she was saying was true.

He could freely acknowledge that he had not, as a young man, given any priority whatsoever to being a "better person," as she put it. In fact, at that point, he doubted whether he had even believed that good people existed - outside of Lily, of course, his so-called ideal. The world, as the Dark Lord had told him many times, was not divided into good and evil, but into those with power, and those too weak to seek it. He had been weak for as long as he had been alive - first with his abusive father and unloving mother, then with Potter and his friends, and even with Dumbledore and the other professors, who had diligently protected them. Naturally, as soon as he was able to seek power, he had done so.

But that was hardly his motivation now. He had dedicated all of his adult life to destroying everything the Dark Lord had wished to accomplish. Not because he had wanted to be "better," but because he wanted to honor Lily, and bring an end to everything and everyone that had contributed to her death - including himself, although that had not worked out as planned.

But now? What motivated him now? He had no idea. He had not examined the subject closely. He had a sense of purpose, and a number of goals he wished to accomplish, but he had never felt the need to examine why. He did not believe it was relevant.

He failed to see why Miss Granger thought it was.

He was not certain, even now, that he believed in good and evil in the sense that she so obviously did. He had met few people he really respected, and fewer still who were truly good. Goodness was often merely a kind way of describing naivete and innocence. No one who had any experience with the darkness in the world - or in themselves - could truly be described as good.

He frowned at Miss Granger, wondering if his definition of goodness could reasonably be applied to her. There was no doubt that she had experienced darkness. He knew she had been tortured in the war; he suspected she had killed. And yet the wide-eyed woman sitting across from him, adamantly trying to save his soul or whatever she was attempting to do, was not not good. Annoying, perhaps, but as far as goodness went… He supposed she was good.

Of course, her conviction that he, too, could be good was patently absurd.

"I am not a good man," he said.

"I'm not saying you are," she replied. "Only that you could try to be better."

"You believe I am in need of improvement?"

"I believe you don't believe you deserve to improve." She paused. "I think you think it would be presumptuous of you to even dare to try, because it would be impossible for someone like you to really be better - because of the things you've done, and the damage you've caused."

"And you disagree?"

"Yes, of course. I think you have to have hope for yourself. That's what I really meant by 'living' - hope, even more than love. Having hope for yourself is like loving yourself. We all need that."

"I have changed my mind. You are not Rita Skeeter. You are the ghost of Albus Dumbledore."

"Albus Dumbledore never told you to hope for better," she said sharply. "All of his plans relied on you never hoping for anything at all."

He felt like she had slapped him, not least of all because it was true, though there was no possible way she could have known for certain that Albus had never given him one of his inspiring lectures. No - all Albus had ever told him was that killing himself would be useless. A necessary lesson, but hardly a hopeful one.

"And you believe I should dedicate my life to hoping that I can become a better man?"

She shrugged. "Can you think of anything worthier?"

He considered that, and considered her. "I suppose your own ideals are all of self-improvement?"

"Self-improvement and improving the world," she affirmed. "They usually go hand in hand."

"I daresay you have carefully plotted out plans for achieving these ideals."

"Of course."

"And should I expect to receive such a plan for myself? I seem to recall hearing Potter and Weasley whining about the revision plans you made for them annually."

Miss Granger drew up her chin in what she probably believed was an expression of dignity. "I think you could benefit from drawing up your own plans. I only had to make them for Harry and Ron because they didn't have the discipline to do it themselves." She gave him a hard look. "I think you do."

"Flattery will not move me, Miss Granger."

"I assumed logic would. Maybe I was wrong."

"You were certainly wrong to believe you could manipulate me. Did McGonagall send you?"

"No." The girl hesitated, Gryffindor honor evidently forcing her to admit, "She did mention that she was worried."

"So you took it upon yourself to ambush me in the apothecary and abduct me to this isolated place so you could torment me into accepting your vision of my future."

"I didn't ambush you," she huffed. "I was completely surprised to see you. And I'm not tormenting you, we're having a conversation."

"In your case, the two are synonymous."

"You really are like Ron."

It was obvious from the way she said it that she had deduced comparing him to Weasley was the most effective insult. He wondered if he was twitching at every mention of the boy's name. He must be reacting in some way, for her to have noticed.

"I find your conversation a torment because you are nosy, interfering, and presumptuous. I suspect Mr. Weasley finds it a torment because he can only understand a third of what you are saying."

That got her to scowl. He was pleased that he still had the ability to induce such a look.

"May I ask," he ventured, "how long you have been rehearsing this conversation?"

Her scowl deepened. "About a year, I suppose."

He snorted. "And have I reacted as you expected?"

"Not at all. I assumed you wouldn't agree to speak with me at all. And if you did, I assumed you would hex me within about a minute." She tilted her head to the side, her wild hair catching the light. "You're much nicer than you used to be."

"I am not nice," he snarled.

"Patient, then."

"It is easier to be patient when you are not bobbing up and down in your seat, desperately seeking my attention."

She blushed. "Obviously I've changed, too."

"Not much. You are still seeking my attention."

"I thought I had it."

He clenched his jaw, forced to acknowledge that point.

"Anyway," she said, "this isn't about gaining your approval. I'd just like to see you happy."

"Why?" he asked, suspicious.

"Maybe I think the world would be a better place."

He snorted. "If I were a better man."

"If you thought you could be a better man. I already think you are a better man."

"Forgive me if I do not take your opinion on the matter seriously."

"I know you don't. That's why I'm trying to change your opinion."

"And what makes you think you have that power?"

She shrugged. "When have I ever failed to accomplish a goal?"

Now that was a terrifying thought. Miss Granger, shaping the world for them all.

"Perhaps I will be your first failure. I imagine it would be good for you."

"Someday you'll have to stop thinking about what's good for other people, and start thinking about what's good for you."

"I see no reason to."

She was exasperated. He could tell, because her hair was getting wilder.

"Haven't you ever wondered what it would be like?" she asked in frustration.

"What what would be like?"


"I have observed happiness in others. As a general rule, it seems to distract them from accomplishing their goals. So much time wasted on laughter and frivolity…"

She stared at him. "Now you're tormenting me, aren't you?"

He arched a brow. "We are merely having a conversation. Does my unwillingness to comply with your every demand strike you as torment?"

"I don't want you to comply with my every demand!"

"No, you only wish me to restructure my life to suit your obsession with an improved world."

"It has nothing to do with my obsession with an improved world! I just want you to be happy!"

"And when I asked you why, you said it was because the world would be a better place."

"I said maybe," she said fiercely. "Maybe it was because the world would be a better place."

"And I was supposed to conclude that maybe indicated the beginning of a lie?"

She leaned back in her chair, arms folded, frowning. "Why do I need a reason to want you to be happy?"

"Because it is illogical."

"It's not illogical."

"I hurt your feelings so badly you shrunk your own teeth. Why would you wish for my happiness?"

"For heaven's sake, that was years ago. I forgave you within months."

That pulled him up short. "You forgave me?"

"Of course."


She blinked, as if she had never asked herself that question. "I suppose because I understood that you were miserable."

"And that is an excuse?"

"Not an excuse, no. But it's impossible for me not to feel compassion for you."

"I have never desired your compassion."

"Your desires don't really have any power over my feelings," she said, with an odd blush.

"Of course not. You are not concerned with anyone's desires but your own."

"That's not true," she said sharply. "I just worry that your desires aren't very healthy."

"Oh?" He arched an eyebrow at her. "And what unhealthy desires do you think I am harboring?" He sneered. "I would have expected such insinuations from Miss Skeeter, but from you, Miss Granger -"

"I'm not insinuating anything! I just think you don't have your own best interests at heart."

"And you do?"

"I should hope so."


"Because -" She looked so frustrated he thought she might start stamping her feet. "Oh, because - I don't know! It makes me unhappy that you're unhappy!"

"Why should your unhappiness motivate me?"

"Your own unhappiness should motivate you, but it doesn't, and it makes me sad!"

"Then you pity me."

"No! I don't pity you! I admire you! You're one of the strongest people I've ever known!"

People were beginning to stare, but Miss Granger was evidently oblivious, and, as they were all Muggles, Severus decided he didn't particularly care.

"You don't understand how rare you are!" she said, and she actually did bob in her seat, before gripping the arms of her chair and glaring at him. "People don't change! Not Ron! Not Sirius! Not Remus! Not Dumbledore! Not Harry! They make the same mistakes, over and over, hurt people in the same ways, over and over, have the same stupid ideas, over and over, and they're all just so hopeless! But you actually changed! And you don't think it matters! Why do they get to make horrible mistakes over and over again and still be happy and you make them, change completely, and have to be miserable forever?"

"Three of the five people you just listed are dead, one of them by my own hand. I wouldn't say they 'get to be happy.'"

"Well, no," she conceded. "But they did while they were alive, at least sometimes."

"Perhaps that is why they never changed."

"They didn't change because they weren't as strong as you," she said flatly. "Even Dumbledore - he changed some, but not enough, not in the ways we really needed him to. He still saw himself as being above us all. He said he didn't want to rule the world, but he still put it in the order he thought it should be in."

"Is that not what you are trying to do?"

"Yes," she admitted. "But I'm not trying to sacrifice you. I just don't want you to suffer."

"Like your house-elves."

"They're not my house-elves!" she flared up. "And you're not mine, or Dumbledore's, or Voldemort's." She took a deep breath. "Or Lily's."

"I know who I am."

She gave him a helpless look. "Then why can't you hope for more?"

"What more do you want me to hope for?"

She bit her lip. "A friend?"

"Are you offering?"

She didn't flinch, or shy away, though she sounded nervous. "Yes?"

He studied her, measuring her sincerity. "Very well. I accept."

She looked stunned. "You do?"

He was not as surprised with himself as she was, though he still felt as though he had tripped into something unexpected. She was absurd, and arrogant, and shockingly naive, but he could not remember the last time anyone had spoken to him so brazenly or so unpredictably. He might have hated her for it; he would have hated her, while she was his student. Yet now he felt a wild, strange feeling of freedom, a feeling of uncertainty, that was irrationally appealing.

Perhaps, he told himself, he had simply been bored.

"Yes," he confirmed, staring into her still-astonished face. "I do."