At first Elizabeth thought it was just another hallucination, because when she looked again, the doorway was empty, but when she dazedly entered the classroom and glanced towards the blackboard, she knew at once that this time, her eyes hadn’t deceived her. For it was indeed Snape who was standing next to the teacher’s desk, drumming his fingers impatiently on its wooden surface and wearing his usual scowl.
Elizabeth was sure she’d never make it to her seat considering the way she was feeling: her heart was beating so fast it looked as though it was trying to set a world record, her breathing had become ragged, her stomach was doing flip-flops, her hands were shaking ... and above all this, the wonderful realization was slowly beginning to sink in; that what she had been wishing for for nearly half a year now had finally come true ... that Snape had returned.
Eventually, Jane had to nudge her friend in the ribs to get her to move, and several more nudges and kicks later, Elizabeth had finally managed to sink down into her seat.
Now she could finally stare at Snape undisturbed. He looked just the same as she had remembered him: a man with a hooked nose, sallow skin, black, shoulder-length hair (O.K., it did look greasy ... so what?), wearing his usual midnight robes and also a thoroughly annoyed expression. But what attracted Elizabeth the most were his eyes: so dark, so beautiful, and yet ... so cold.
“Settle down,” Snape finally said, snapping Elizabeth back to reality and causing the whole class to fall silent immediately. “Now, I’m quite sure you dunderheads haven’t learnt practically anything during the time of my absence, although I most certainly don’t find that a sufficient reason for you to fail your Potions OWL. And let me also inform you that I still won’t accept anything less than an ‘Outstanding’ from those of you who wish to attend my NEWT class. Therefore, I have decided to make this lesson a revision one; I will use the first half of it to ask you the questions that are known to have frequently appeared at the OWLs in the past, while the second half shall then be wasted by your miserable attempts to create the Draught of Peace – also, very probable to come up at your OWLs.
Now, as for the questions, we shall start at the back of the class with Miss Abbott. If she doesn’t give me the correct answer, she loses her house one point and we move on to the next person, still with the same question. And it will continue until one of you gets it right ... then there’ll be a new question. If none of you manage to give me a satisfactory answer, it becomes homework. And one last thing: if you think you know an answer to a question and it’s not your turn to speak, you may, of course, raise your hand. Now-”
“Um, Professor?” Ernie Macmillan asked tentatively. “If we get an answer right, don’t we receive any points?”
Snape looked at him as if he’d just asked if one and one is two.
“No, of course not,” he said testily. “With a week to go until the OWLs, it is expected of you to provide me with the correct answer, and by now you could’ve realized I most certainly do not give points for every silly little bit of information you happen to throw at me. Now – first question. Which ingredients would you use to create a potion to cure boils?”
“Dried nettles, crushed snake fangs and porcupine quills,” Hannah blurted out.
“One point from Hufflepuff. What did she forget, Mr. Macmillan?”
Since Elizabeth was sitting at the front of the classroom, and therefore was a long way away from being called out, she allowed herself to study Snape once more. Not that she hadn’t been staring at him all lesson, but then she also had to pay attention to what he was saying, unlike now, when she could fully concentrate on other things – things that didn’t have much to do with the lesson at all. Like the way he moved about the classroom – so silently and gracefully, almost like a cat advancing on its prey; or that beautiful, beautiful voice of his ... she had almost forgotten how heavenly it could be; or his handsome face (well, handsome probably wasn’t exactly the right word to call it ... but it was certainly intriguing, and definitely not ugly, despite popular opinion), now devoid of any expression except utter indifference; but when Elizabeth surveyed the black depths of his eyes more closely, she was suddenly sure it was nothing more than a carefully guarded mask. Because what she saw in those eyes was as close to indifference as fire is to water; it was a huge palette of emotions ranging from anger mixed with frustration when a student failed to give the correct answer to immense satisfaction when somebody finally succeeded in getting something right. Simply speaking – it was obvious that despite pretending the exact opposite, Snape cared about his students, cared whether he’d managed to teach them something, and blamed himself for their mistakes because he thought he’d failed. But why did he try so hard to hide it? It was nothing to be ashamed of, after all ... no, far from it. So why did he pretend to be cold and indifferent (or worse – to find pleasure in pointing out what they did wrong ... yet again) when he wasn’t? Why did he always disguise his emotions so well? Elizabeth, being the open person that she was, couldn’t understand it; she never missed an opportunity to share everything that was on her mind with someone, and was convinced that Snape must suffer terribly by not being able to do the same. If only she could go up to him now, tell him how much she loved him and cared for him (how could she ever have thought she would be able to get him out of her head was beyond her), how she would always be there to listen to his worries... Getting this far, it took all of Elizabeth’s strength to stop herself from just going out there and putting her arms around him for a long, tight hug; all the while whispering kind, reassuring words, caressing his cheek, running her hands through his black hair (grease or no grease) ... and then, finally, kissing him – kissing him with all her might ... deeply, passionately...
“Miss Woodhouse!” said a cold voice, abruptly bringing Elizabeth from her little fantasy land back to the cruel world of reality. Only to make her discover that the object of her dreams was now standing in front of her, a rather unpleasant expression deforming his gaunt face.
“I ... I’m sorry, sir,” she stammered when she’d pulled herself together enough to speak, trying and failing to do something about her burning red cheeks. “I ... got lost in thought.”
“Well, perhaps a deduction of five points from your house will teach you to ‘get lost in thought’ outside my classroom next time. Now, once more – can you tell me the uses of dragon blood in potion-making?”
Elizabeth furiously searched her memory, knowing she’d definitely tried to get the answer to this exact question into her head only two weeks ago, but the result was catastrophic – she couldn’t remember anything.
Finally, she gave up and shook her head, feeling herself blush again.
“You don’t know, Miss Woodhouse?” Snape asked, not able to hide the hint of surprise in his voice. “That’s another point you’ve lost your house, then. How about you, Miss Wells, do you happen to possess the answer to my question?”
Jane also shook her head, but Elizabeth didn’t pay it much attention. She was absolutely furious with herself, because for years she had succeeded in being perfect in front of Snape, only to ruin it all now ... now that it meant so much to her to make a good impression. For she was sure Snape could never love a dunderhead (and she definitely felt like one now); he needed someone to match his own intellect, his own brilliant mind; someone he could have a heated discussion with about a Potions article he’d just read, someone to argue with about the pros and cons of a newly discovered potion ... someone to make him happy. And at that moment, Elizabeth didn’t think she looked like that someone at all.
Things didn’t get much better as the lesson went on: Elizabeth was given another three questions, and to her utter disgust, she had barely managed to give a decent answer to one.
Finally, though, the second part of the lesson arrived, with no more questions to answer and with a potion to make instead – at least something Elizabeth was convinced she was good at. Maybe she could actually make it until the end of the lesson without embarrassing herself even more. However, there was something still bothering her – Snape had now moved to the back of the classroom to keep an eye on Joshua and Jamie ... which meant Elizabeth had to turn around if she wanted to at least catch a glimpse of him.
“Um, Elizabeth?” Jane whispered just as her friend was about to throw yet another look in Snape’s direction. “I know you wouldn’t take your eyes off him all lesson if you had the chance, but I really need your help with this potion. I don’t think I can finish it on my own ... unless you want me to stuff it up completely, that is.”
“Awww, Jane, don’t deny me my moment of happiness,” Elizabeth moaned. “I am still helping you, just not as much as you’re used to.”
“Besides,” Jane continued, completely ignoring Elizabeth’s protests, “I think you should control yourself a little more. If Snape sees you glancing at him every few seconds, what is he going to think? You might just as well have I love you, Professor written on your forehead; it’d have the same effect.”
Now even Elizabeth had to admit her friend had a point there. “Yeah, well, I suppose–” she started, but immediately fell silent when she noticed the aforementioned Professor standing right in front of her, his famous twisted smile curling up his thin lips.
A wave of dread, causing her to feel like someone had dropped an ice-pack down her back, swept over her. How much had he heard? If he had managed to catch Jane’s ‘I love you, Professor’ comment, she might just as well commit suicide on the spot.
It seemed like an eternity before he finally spoke.
“I don’t remember giving you two permission to speak,” he drawled, clearly enjoying the look of utter terror on Elizabeth’s face. “Ten points from Ravenclaw.”
And with that, he swiftly moved off to the back of the classroom again; just in time to prevent an imminent explosion, too, since Joshua and Jamie had managed to use his momentary inattention to add the wrong ingredient to their potion, causing it to turn a nasty shade of purple.
Normally, Elizabeth would’ve been angry at herself for losing her house points, and she would’ve also felt bad about not being perfect in front of Snape for once, but she just didn’t care about any of that now, because the only thing she could feel was immense relief ... relief that Snape most likely hadn’t heard what she feared he could have. Unless he was keeping it to himself ... no, no, that was improbable; knowing him, she was sure he wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to make some sarcastic comment about it.
In the end the lesson finished without any further incidents, and to Elizabeth’s utmost delight, she and Jane had even managed to produce a perfect sample of the required potion.
As they were cleaning away the ingredients and emptying the remaining contents of their cauldron, Elizabeth suddenly realized they were now the only ones left in the classroom, making it a wonderful opportunity to have a little chat with her beloved. She just couldn’t resist, even though she knew she might regret it later, so she told Jane to run ahead and slowly approached Snape’s desk, clutching the potion sample in her hand.
She was trembling all over by the time she had reached him, but not even that could make her give up on what she was about to do. When she looked at him, however, suddenly noticing how very tired and vulnerable he seemed just then, her fear disappeared almost immediately, and was replaced by concern.
“Sir, are you all right?” she asked softly, placing the vial with the Draught of Peace onto his desk. “You don’t look very well.”
“Of course I’m all right, Miss Woodhouse,” Snape answered irritably. “Although I’m not so sure about you; your behaviour has been rather ... strange today. For one thing – where has all your knowledge gone?”
Elizabeth blushed (damn that reaction, she hated it so much!), but quickly pulled herself together and said: “Well, yes, I must admit that for the past two weeks I really didn’t care one bit whether I knew anything about Potions or not, but that’s going to change now.” And then, without really being able to help it, she blurted out: “Oh, sir, I’m just so happy you’re back, you wouldn’t believe how much! Are ... are you staying or going away again?”
It was obvious that this was probably the very first time a student had told Snape something like that, for he looked quite taken aback, and even took slightly longer than usual to answer.
“Oh, sir, that’s great!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “Professor Fletcher was a nightmare, honestly!”
“Five points from Ravenclaw for insulting a member of the staff, Miss Woodhouse,” Snape said silkily. (‘He’s just so predictable,’ Elizabeth thought with a snicker. ‘Every time he feels uncomfortable, he simply starts taking points off.’) “Professor Fletcher was assigned to the job by the Headmaster, who knew perfectly well what he was doing when he hired him.”
“I’m sorry, sir, I just got a bit carried away,” Elizabeth declared, trying hard not to laugh, as it was evident Snape felt the same way about Fletcher as she did, only it would’ve been improper of him to say so. “I promise not to ever speak ill of Professor (but try as she might, it didn’t come out exactly as she had wanted it; it seemed Snape was the only one able to make the word sound like something filthy) Fletcher again. Well, anyway, I think I’ll be off now, there’s only five minutes left until my next lesson. Have a nice day, Professor.”And even though she would’ve loved to talk to Snape for much much longer, she felt that for today she’d said just enough. So with a small smile and a nod she turned around and departed, leaving behind one very puzzled teacher with just enough sense left in him to mutter a soft “You too, Miss Woodhouse” in reply.