Elizabeth cheerfully burst into her dormitory, feeling extremely pleased with herself. And no wonder; she had, after all, succeeded in making Professor Snape speechless for the second time in a row now, and which student could take pride in having done a thing like that even once? She hoped it would, if nothing else, at least set him wondering, and she could easily imagine what his thoughts would look like:
‘What’s wrong with me? How could I, Severus Snape, have let a student get the better of me? Why isn’t she afraid of me like all the others? Why doesn’t she hate me? What’s more, she even told me to have a nice summer! Is she trying to make fun of me? Or is it possible that she had actually meant it ... no, no, that’s ridiculous...’
Getting this far, Elizabeth almost broke down in tears. Could he really be thinking just that? Does he really believe everybody hates him (not that he doesn’t try to make people feel that way, but still)? That it’s impossible for somebody to wish him a nice day without ulterior motives? Maybe she should’ve just kept silent then, because however much it pleased her to have him thinking about her, she’d much rather have him ponder over a potion of some sort than to think of her as an enemy.
Slowly, she started packing her things into her trunk, still turning it over in her mind. Perhaps she was just imagining things. How could she know what was going on in his head? Maybe he really did appreciate her being nice to him, just like any other normal person would. Well, she’d probably never find out.
But she had never been more wrong in her entire life, for as soon as she was done with her packing, and left Ravenclaw Tower to go outside in search of her two friends, she ran into Snape once more. It almost seemed as if he’d been waiting for her, which, upon further reflection, Elizabeth decided he most probably had.
“Come with me,” he ordered, and when Elizabeth had finally succeeded in getting her feet to move, he led her into the nearest empty classroom and, closing the door behind them, seated himself on the edge of one of the desks. Elizabeth, feeling her knees buckle, did the same.
“Now, Miss Woodhouse,” he started, his coal-like eyes boring into hers, “tell me: what exactly are you getting at?”
“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked quietly, stalling for time.
‘I was right!’ her mind screamed. ‘He really does think I’m trying to make fun of him, and now he wants to know why. Isn’t this the perfect opportunity to prove him wrong? What can I possibly say to make him believe I really meant it when I wished him a nice summer? Without telling him it was because I love him? Think, girl, think!’
“Don’t play stupid, Miss Woodhouse, I am sure you know perfectly well what I mean. All those smiles, all the ‘Have a nice day, have a nice summer, Professor’ rubbish; what are you trying to achieve?”
‘Uh-oh, here goes.’
“I’m just being polite, sir.”
Snape leaned forward, his eyes narrowed. “Do you really think I am going to believe that, Miss Woodhouse?” he asked with a sneer.
‘I’ve had it. It’s either now or never.’
“Yes, as a matter of fact I do. I mean, I smile at all the other Professors, I even tell them to have a nice day every so often, so why should I treat you any different?”
‘Because you are different. I love you. But you’ll probably never know that.’
Snape let out an exasperated sigh. “Oh, come on, Miss Woodhouse. Have you ever seen any other student smile at me? And even you; I most certainly don’t remember you acting this way until three weeks ago. So why the sudden change?”
‘I think you’d most likely faint if I told you. The problem is, I now haven’t got the slightest idea of what to say. Perhaps turning defence into attack might help...’
“Well, I somehow wanted to let you know how glad I am to have you back. I thought it’d make you happy.” She sighed. “Obviously I was wrong. Because for some reason, you seem to think that whenever something nice is said to you, it has to have some kind of hidden meaning. Hasn’t it ever occurred to you that sometimes the person might actually mean it?”
Snape slid off the desk and stood up to his full height, his thin lips pressed tightly together.
“I will not be spoken to like that, Miss Woodhouse,” he snarled. “As far as I know, I am still your teacher, and you will treat me as such ... otherwise I shall be forced to put you in detention. Now, since this conversation seems to only be wasting my time, you will have to excuse me – I have some work to do.”
“But nothing. I’ve given you your chance to tell me the truth – you’ve thrown it away. Very well. I shall have to find out myself. And believe me, Miss Woodhouse, it won’t take long.”
And with a curt nod, he started off for the door.
Elizabeth had to stop him. She had to make him believe her.
Snape whirled around, his eyes filled with anger. “Don’t even consider it,” he said in a quiet, dangerous voice. “Try to wish me a pleasant summer once more and you’ll be sorry for ever being born.”
Why does he have to be like that? Why won’t he allow anyone to treat him like a normal person, and not the bastard he’s striving so hard to make everyone believe he is? He needs somebody to talk to, he needs a friend, so why does he go around destroying all attempts to befriend him before they get too far?
‘He’s afraid,’ Elizabeth decided. ‘He’s been betrayed, maybe more than once, and now he’s afraid it could happen again. But what can I do to convince him that he’s wrong about me?’
She could feel tears of frustration begin to fill her eyes, and it took all of her strength to prevent the emotion from showing in her voice.
“I didn’t want to wish you a pleasant summer, sir,” she said softly. “I only wanted to ask you to think about what I’ve said, because I meant all of it, I really did.”
“Goodbye, Miss Woodhouse. Enjoy your holiday,” Snape responded smoothly and strode out of the classroom, slamming the door behind him.
Elizabeth angrily brought her fist down onto the desk she was sitting on.
He still didn’t believe her, and those last words have only proved it. Yes, he had told her to enjoy her holiday, but he seemed to have been laughing at her at the same time, since there was no doubt it had only been an imitation of her own words to him.
If only he could give the matter some thought! Was it too much to ask? Evidently it was, and chances were, he had probably dismissed her request already, as if it were only an annoying insect that could simply be shooed away.
But what if he hadn’t? What if...
No, these thoughts weren’t going to get her anywhere ... except maybe St. Mungo’s. Wasn’t she originally on her way to meet Jane and Hermione? Yes, and that was probably the best thing she could do right now – talk to them about it and see what they have to say to it.
And so, after preventively making sure Snape wasn’t anywhere near, although she was quite certain that after what she’d said to him he’d be about as eager to see her as she was to see him, she quickly covered the rest of the way to the Entrance Hall, and then continued outside, immediately beginning to look in all directions for any sign of her two friends.
It didn’t take long for her to find them: they were sitting under a wide-branched oak tree by the lake, both immersed in books and oblivious to the world around them. But when she came closer, she saw that while Jane was reading an Agatha Christie, Hermione’s book was nothing more and nothing less than the all too familiar volume bound in dark green leather – Most Potente Potions. Despite her problems with Snape, Elizabeth couldn’t help but give a little laugh – her friend would probably never change.
“Tut, tut, Hermione,” she said reprovingly and snapped the book shut. “Look at you – you’re reading again! Whatever happened to your little project; you know, making studying easier for others and all that?”
“I’m working on it,” replied Hermione. “And this,” she tapped the thick book now lying on the ground beside her, “is helping me. Just a bit of research to start off with. Anyway, what took you so long?”
Elizabeth’s face clouded over. “I ran into Snape,” she said gravely. “Twice.”
“Really? What happened?”
Elizabeth told her, and by the time she had finished, she was feeling a lot better. Keeping things to herself had never been her cup of tea, and she knew it only too well.
“Bastard,” said Jane without glancing up from her book.
Hermione, however, remained silent, chewing her lip and looking thoughtful. After a while, Elizabeth couldn’t stand it any longer and asked: “Well? What do you think, Hermione? What am I supposed to do now?”
“It’s hard to say,” the bushy-haired witch replied slowly, “but I think the best thing to do would be to wait. Wait until after the holidays, see how he treats you, and then decide what to do next.”
“Wait!?” Elizabeth exclaimed. “For two months? Hermione, I’ll go crazy!”
“Maybe, but have you got a better plan? Besides, you won’t stand a chance with somebody like Snape if you can’t be patient. Very patient.”
“Yeah, I know,” sighed Elizabeth. “It’s just...” she trailed off, not quite sure how to express herself.
“Hard? Yes, I understand how you feel,” said Hermione comfortingly. “You have a long way ahead of you, and what awaits you at the end? Most likely nothing, but maybe, just maybe, everything. And now,” she picked up the copy of Most Potente Potions and got to her feet, “let’s go to the feast, during which I’d like you to forget all about Snape, or at least give it a try. O.K.?”
This was easier said than done, however, because as much as Elizabeth tried to keep any thoughts concerning the dark-haired Potions master from occupying her mind, all her attempts were immediately put to sleep when he had entered the Hall and then taken his usual seat only a few metres away from her. In fact, she couldn’t concentrate on anything else from then on, for all her attention was focused on him. She didn’t know what she was eating, she had no idea who had won the House Championship (Gryffindor – again?) ... all she cared about was whether she had managed to talk some sense into him or not. Probably not, judging by the death glare he had given her right at the end of the feast, but apart from this, his eyes were steadily avoiding her and his expression remained as unreadable as ever.
Elizabeth was convinced that after all that had happened that day, a restless night was simply bound to follow, but fortunately for her, the OWLs had finally taken their toll, and so after almost two weeks of very little sleep, she had once again discovered the beauty of peaceful slumber, making it quite difficult for Jane to wake her up the next morning. From then on, however, everything else was far from peaceful: starting with the hasty breakfast (her last opportunity to catch a glimpse of Snape) and ending with some stressful last minute packing and a frantic search of Ravenclaw Tower for a forgotten Transfiguration book.
But despite all this, even she had eventually found herself standing at the crowded platform in Hogsmeade, with most of her belongings resting safely in her trunk and a very pained expression clouding up her pretty face. How she wished she didn’t have to leave! She knew it was, of course, impossible, but the idea of not being able to see Snape for two whole months was simply unbearable. She didn’t have any more time to think about it, though, because at that moment, Hermione made her board the train and join the other prefects in the prefect carriage, leaving her no choice but to fully concentrate on her duties.
The journey was fast and, not counting the fact that both Jane and Hermione had offered her to spend some time during the holidays with them, uneventful. All too soon, Elizabeth was once more back at her family’s villa, with nothing to look forward to but a long, boring, miserable holiday and a maybe-fatal letter containing her OWL results. Still, there was a tiny chance that exactly this letter could become one of the few bright spots of the endless time she was forced to spend at home that summer, and so for that reason her favourite activity for the first couple of days (apart from changing into her Animagus form and playing chase with Mitzy) was to sit by the window in her room, eagerly surveying the cloudless sky for a sign of anything even slightly resembling a school owl. And just when she was about to give up, deciding they had most probably forgotten about her, she saw it: a huge tawny owl carrying a letter – a letter containing her fate.
By the time Elizabeth had finally managed to untie the envelope from the owl’s leg, since it was absolutely impossible for her to keep her hands steady, the bird was looking thoroughly irritated and ready to give her an impatient peck, but a large cookie seemed to immediately improve its sour mood, so much so that it even gave her a friendly hoot before it eventually departed, heading back in the direction of Elizabeth’s beloved school.
Elizabeth let out a sigh and then pounced on the envelope, not caring to open it properly and simply tearing it apart – just to get to read the letter more quickly. And when she was finally holding it in her hand, she didn’t even bother to read it from the beginning, instead she skipped straight to her Potions result, for at that moment, she really didn’t give a damn about anything else.
She read it once. Twice. And she would’ve read it once more, but by then her vision was so blurred she simply couldn’t.
She dropped down onto her bed, letting the letter fall to the floor. But the words, written in green ink, were still floating before her eyes, even long after she had closed them.
‘Potions: Exceeds Expectations.’
This wasn’t happening. This was a bad dream she’d wake up from to find that what she had really received was the ‘Outstanding’ she had longed for so much.
No such luck: when she had wiped the tears that had so quickly filled her eyes, and picked up the paper to have one more look, the result was still the same: ‘Exceeds Expectations.’ But then, just as she was about to angrily scrunch the letter up into a ball and throw it in the bin, she noticed something: a little red star next to the dreadful message ... and another one carrying the explanation further on.
Elizabeth frowned. What was this supposed to mean? Quickly she read the tiny red writing ... and let out a gasp of surprise.
‘By order of the Headmaster of Hogwarts, the results of all students in this subject will be raised by one grade.’
Elizabeth burst into tears again, but this time, they were tears of joy. She had an ‘Outstanding’ now, she would get accepted into Snape’s NEWT class ... what more could she wish for?
But what had made Dumbledore do it? What reason could he possibly have? Why ... oh, but of course! Suddenly it all made sense, and for the first time in her life, she began to see Fletcher in a positive light. For she was sure that he was the reason for Dumbledore’s decision – he and his ineffective teaching method which had probably caused most of the fifth-years to fail their Potions OWL ... something the Headmaster simply couldn’t allow to happen. Because not everybody had the motivation to succeed like her (not to mention the helpful visions), or Hermione’s ability to learn everything by heart and then be able to somehow perform it in practice, or the incredible Potions talent of Draco Malfoy; no, most students needed to actually make all the potions, not just read about them, and also a good teacher to watch over them in order to pass their exams ... and with Fletcher, they had neither.
After allowing herself about ten minutes to sufficiently relish the good news, Elizabeth decided to finally see how she had done in the other subjects. And even though there were no surprises in store for her this time, she didn’t really mind, as she found the results more than satisfying.
‘Charms: Exceeds Expectations.’
‘Defence Against the Dark Arts: Outstanding.’
‘Herbology: Dreadful.’ (Well, she didn’t really expect anything else.)
‘Care of Magical Creatures: Acceptable.’
‘Muggle Studies: Exceeds Expectations.’
‘Divination: Poor.’ (So what ... it could’ve been worse.)
‘History of Magic: Outstanding.’ (And – surprise, surprise – full marks, too!)And so for the first time since she had come home that summer, Elizabeth was as close to being happy as the circumstances would allow her, which was enough to actually make her smile once again as she swiftly made her way downstairs to show the OWL results to her parents.