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"I really don't want to do it, Severus."

Hermione slumped into her chair, and twiddled the end of her sash. Twisted twice around her waist, its bright blue-and-red stripes seemed to move in waves, and merely served to offset her severe black robe. Severus Snape squinted at the brightness, and then looked away.

"Have you tried my suggestion yet?"

"No. But I'm concerned..." Hermione's voice trailed off, and she waved her hand at the report that lay on her desk, open on a page where the names "Harry" and "Draco" were repeated frequently. "If we're reading this wrong, the two could end up with an undeserved black mark against them for the rest of their lives. But if we're right, then the dear little brats will have, between them, destroyed half the Quiddich pitch, the edge of the Forbidden Forest and a large chunk of the road to Hogsmeade, and I cannot overlook it." She sighed, and rested her head in her hands. "The tests have shown without question that it was their wands that were used. They refuse to admit what they were doing Sunday afternoon. And just because Draco is my grandson, I will not be easy on him. Or the grandson of my best friend."

"You always were soft-hearted." Severus sat in his own chair, sipping his tea and observing the witch in front of him with a look halfway between care and contempt, until Hermione glanced up and caught him at it.

"And you're a cruel taskmaster." Her accusation would have been far more effective if she hadn't been half-smiling herself when she said it, and his own expression slipped into the smile that she loved the best.

"I am, but only to you, my love." She loved it when he called her that. He didn't do it nearly often enough. It had been ten long years, and he had probably only used it every six months or so, when he could tell she was down and stressed and in need of a boost.

"Severus, why am I avoiding this?"

"Because you're afraid of what the results will be. You're terrified that by feeding the Veritaserum to those two, you'll find out more than you want to know, and you'll have to admit that the bloodlines of Weasley and Malfoy have produced the most terrifying child since Merope Gaunt last used a love potion, while the bloodline of the Potters has diluted to the point where one of Harry's grandchildren can be led into anything and made to take the blame.

He paused, then stated "But consider two things."

The distraught woman looked at him, tears attempting to steal from the corners of her eyes. "Two things? One is the truth. And you know me. No matter what, I need the truth." She bowed her head at the innate honesty in her personality. "So... what is the other?"

"Your curiosity. Even if it's the worst, you always have to know, don't you?" Severus's smirk was almost a being by itself, so prominent was it upon his lined visage. "Even if you never told anyone else, you would have to know for your own peace of mind."

Hermione let out a loud, relieved laugh at this, and headed for the potions cabinet. "And as always, my dear, you are right," she chuckled. "I'll tell the Ministry it's for the investigation, but not who we're testing, and I bet you those boys had a very good reason behind their actions."

Less than an hour later, Hermione had the approval back from the Ministry, and the two boys in question sitting in chairs in her office, flanked by the incredibly-elderly Argus Filch and a rather stern-looking, bandaged, large Artemis Hagrid, teacher of Care of Magical Creatures. Hermione had her robes on straight, and her most forbidding expression. Severus watched her and nodded in approval at her ramrod-straight back and the stern attitude that had the two boys shrinking in their chairs as she stood in front of them and swung her gaze from one to the other.

"This is your last chance," she stated baldly. "I have Ministry permission to use Veritaserum to find out exactly what happened three days ago. So either you each tell me, separately, honestly, what it was caused all that damage, or I administer the potion and find out anyway. Draco, you may wait outside." The dark-haired lad, quite similar in looks to his grandfather in his youth, stood and walked out with his head held high. Hermione sighed silently, sure that he was the ringleader and would not budge, then she motioned Artemis to accompany the lad while she concentrated on young Harry.

The lad was nervous to the point of being nearly unable to talk. His red hair was slightly over-long and kept falling into his eyes, as he was trying to grow it out in emulation of his favourite uncle Albus, and he ended up tipping his head right back to keep the hair in place and look straight into Hermione's eyes.

"P... p... please, Professor, it wasn't Draco's fault." Young Harry was almost in tears by this point, and Hermione decided to lower the pressure a fraction by turning and walking back to her desk, then observing him from behind it."

"What wasn't Draco's fault?" Her voice was not quite as cold as it had been, although it still hovered only slightly above absolute zero.

Harry gulped, and heartily wished he was anywhere than this. "Draco didn't do it. He was just watching."

"Watching what?"

The next words were whispered incredibly quietly. "We were looking for treasure."

Hermione considered the possibilities, and decided to let silence work for her. She shot a quick glance at Filch, who was looking rather uncomfortable and edging towards the door, to stay quiet and let the lad continue.

"We thought there was a buried treasure," the boy continued, his voice stronger and surer, "so I made a treasure detector machine, and I set it off to run through the tunnel Great Uncle George used to talk about that went to Hogsmeade, but it wasn't supposed to explode." The small child continued to look at Hermione in tears and terror. "And Draco kept telling me it would be a bad idea, but I wanted to show him so much... " At this the voice trailed off, uncertain, scared.

"And what sort of machine was it?"

"A robot. With a metal-detector in the front. I made it last holidays in the old shed at Grandpa Ron's out of things I found there."

Severus noted that Filch was sweating visibly at this point, and was pleased to see Hermione had picked it up as well. She didn't let up on the boy, though, and pressed him further. "And how did this machine work?"

The technician in the young boy took over, and he ignored his earlier fear to lean forward and continue the tale. "It's got a servo-motor and it's got little bumpers at the side that only have to touch something to turn away from it, and we let it run around like a little rat and it would take pictures of what it found and send them back to us, then we could go in ourselves and decide what we should investigate. Only this time it sent us some pictures and then …" And then the lad remembered why he was there.

"And then … boom?" Hermione gently pushed.

Very miserably, "Yes".

"Do you have those pictures?"

He stood, and dived into a pocket. "I saved them on my computer and printed them off. Here." Harry held them out, but Filch jumped on them before Hermione could take them herself, and he secreted them in a deep inside pocket and stood, arms crossed in front of his chest and a look of pure defiance on his face. Hermione suddenly worked out the facts, and nodded to Harry.

"You may wait outside now, Harry. Tell Draco to wait there too – I'll call you both in in a moment."

The door was barely closed behind the lad when Severus and Hermione both snapped "FILCH!"

The elderly man jumped, an action Hermione would have sworn he was incapable of when he first hobbled in. "You can't prove nothing."

"Rubbish we can't," Hermione countered. "Accio photographs!" The small slips of paper flew from the caretaker's pocket, straight to Hermione's waiting hands, and Severus unashamedly peered over her shoulder to take in their contents. Their complete absorption in the pictures almost gave Filch the chance to sneak out, until Snape coughed, and Hermione recalled her duty and waved her wand once more with an Incarcerous to hold the squib in place.

Hermione and Severus gave each other a satisfied look, Snape's tinged just a little with I-Told-You-So. Hermione looked back at Filch,wriggling in his bonds and stared at him as one would a small grub one has found in the salad.

"Argus. You let them. You were willing to let those two small boys take the blame for the destruction caused by your illicit still, and you have the nerve to stand there silently while that poor child took all the responsibility on himself. You ought to be ashamed of yourself." The Headmistress steepled her fingers on the desk in front of her.

"And you could have killed someone with that setup too", Snape continued. "It's no wonder it blew up at the slightest touch. What surprises me is that you hadn't blown yourself and anyone else up years before. How many gallons and how long had it taken you?"

The caretaker slumped in his bonds, and looked to the floor. "Aberforth and I started that still not long after the battle. Reckon we had about twenty gallons a year until he died, and then I managed another ten a year since. That'd be …"

"Four hundred gallons of highly-explosive highly-flammable home-brewed firewater, all stacked in one little tunnel." Hermione's mathematical brain almost exploded itself, not in the complexity but in the realisation of how close the entire school had come to disaster. "Just think what would have happened if that had gone off in the middle of a Quiddich match."

"THAT WERE MY RETIREMENT FUND YOU SELF-OPINIONATED COW!" The energy in the old man's invective surprised both of them, but Snape merely stared back at Filch while Hermione made up her mind.

"I will consider that your resignation, Argus. Be off the school property by sun-down, or you will be facing the Board and the Ministry." Hermione rose at this, and pointed at the door, releasing the man from his bonds at the same time. He slouched out, what little dignity he had had gone completely by now. Hermione sat back down again, once more burying her face in her hands.

"That was rather well done, if I may say so myself," Severus commented. "In fact, my dear, I don't think I've ever seen you so magnificent as you were just then. Your anger, your passion..."

"Don't," Hermione replied, almost crying. "Oh, this is too hard."

"But you do it so well." He looked her up and down, and wished he could do more. "Today is your tenth anniversary of becoming Headmistress, and I really think that this will be remembered as your best moment. Just think how unsure you were when you first started. You would never have done so well then as you did just now."

"Only with your help, my love. I just wish..." She turned and walked up to him, putting her hand out to his. "I just wish, just once, that we could …"

"Touch." His hand came down to where hers rested against the canvas, the closest the portrait of the former Headmaster and the fingers of the current Headmistress could get. They stood there, hands touching-but-not-really, for a minute, then Hermione recalled her duty.

"Thank you, Severus, my love." She took a deep breath, then turned back, ready to call the boys in and explain what had really happened.

Severus straightened up, and resumed his seat in the portrait, looking down on the woman whose love he only learned to appreciate far too late.