First time

The traitor

Chapter 15

The traitor

Elizabeth’s happiness didn’t last long, however, for as soon as she got over the initial ecstatic feelings caused by her success in Potions, there was nothing to prevent her from returning back to the same lethargic state she had been in before the arrival of her OWL results. Or maybe an even worse one, for now that she had no doubt about her further presence in Snape’s Potions class, her stay at home had turned into pure torture. Sometimes she even went as far as considering whether she wouldn’t have been better off with an ‘Exceeds Expectations’ grade, after all, because then she would’ve had absolutely no chance of getting into the NEWT class ... giving her nothing to look forward to and thus making her summer holiday much more bearable. But usually she quickly scolded herself for even daring to come up with such horrible thoughts, because how else would she be able to do something about Snape if not in class?

Yes, Snape. Not for a moment could she get him off her mind, and it didn’t take long for her mother to sense it, and come to the conclusion that something with her daughter definitely wasn’t quite right. Elizabeth didn’t feel like telling her about the man she had fallen in love with, but after eventually deciding to share her little secret with her grandmother (and receiving a reaction very similar to “Didn’t I say so in December?”), it was only a matter of time before even her parents found out about Severus Snape. But their response didn’t please her at all, for there was absolutely no chance of her just “getting over it – eventually”, as they had so bluntly put it. How could anyone possibly think that her love for Snape would ever die?

So the summer dragged on, and despite the time she’d spent with each of her two friends (why wasn’t she surprised when Hermione told her she’d received an ‘Outstanding’ in every single one of her OWLs?), it still seemed like the longest one of her life.

But eventually the end of it did arrive, as did the day to leave for Hogwarts, bringing Elizabeth’s nervousness and anxiety to new levels. Somehow, though, she had managed to pack her things, bid farewell to her family, survive the seemingly endless train ride (during which she couldn’t bring herself to do anything except stare out of the window while impatiently drumming her fingers on the table underneath) as well as the short trip in the horseless carriage that followed ... and now she was finally sitting at the Ravenclaw table, feeling both nervous and excited as she awaited the arrival of her beloved, who, along with Professor McGonagall, Hagrid and Dumbledore, was the only one still absent from the High table.

It seemed like ages before he finally made his grand appearance, gracefully gliding towards his seat at the front of the Hall with his black robes billowing behind him, throwing hateful glares in all directions and attracting Elizabeth’s eyes like a magnet. From then on, she was only vaguely aware of what was happening around her: Dumbledore making his usual welcoming speech, the Sorting Hat singing yet another silly song, the new students being sorted ... Snape talking to Mrs. Figg (the only Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher who’s lasted for more than a year since the time Elizabeth had started at Hogwarts), Snape eating, Snape...


She reluctantly tore her eyes from the dark Potions master to see who was calling her, only to find Jane waving a piece of parchment in front of her face and looking very excited.

“Our timetables,” she announced happily. “This year’s going to be a walk through a rose garden for me: I’ve only got nineteen lessons – that’s seven less than last year – and if I hadn’t succeeded in making it to the Transfiguration NEWT class, it would’ve been fourteen.”

Elizabeth carefully started studying her timetable, and soon came to the conclusion that her year, unlike Jane’s, was going to be far from easy, as her lesson total equaled twenty-nine – three more than the previous year. But she simply didn’t care; the main thing (which she had noticed as soon as she set her eyes on the timetable) was that she’d have not two, but five lessons of Potions a week this year, and that the first of two weekly double lessons was awaiting her as soon as tomorrow. And so that night she went to bed with the wonderful knowledge that before long, she’d know exactly what she’d have to deal with from Snape this year: whether he had given her words some thought over the holidays, and therefore would finally be able to accept at least a simple wish of a good day, or whether he’d still remain sceptical towards anything of the sort.

Elizabeth’s first lesson the next morning was a NEWT class of Transfiguration. It seemed like almost all of the sixth-years had chosen to take on this very subject, and so Professor McGonagall, at first eyeing the huge class with an air of uncertainty, as if not quite sure whether to be happy about it or not, decided to quickly make it perfectly clear that if anyone had joined the class assuming they would be able to just fool around, then they’d better think it over and leave before she chose to kick them out herself. Elizabeth thought she needn’t have bothered to tell them such an obvious thing, as she was convinced that no one in their right mind could ever believe they’d be able to get away with anything but their best in the Head of Gryffindor’s class, but after looking around and spotting Malfoy, who had spent the last five years of Transfiguration mostly absorbed in a game of Naughts and Crosses with Crabbe and Goyle, she decided that Professor McGonagall most probably knew what she was doing. Not wasting any more time than was necessary, the lady in question then went straight down to business, which meant showing them a very difficult transfiguration of a cactus into a chihuahua and then asking them to try and do the same. Elizabeth and Hermione were among the first ones to succeed, but Jane wasn’t nearly as lucky, since her chihuahua kept on looking more like a hedgehog than a dog before she finally managed to get it right towards the end of the lesson.

They had Charms next, along with Transfiguration and Defence Against the Dark Arts one of the few subjects that had remained compulsory. Professor Flitwick was his usual cheerful self, immediately launching into a detailed account of his summer holidays. His narrative went on right until the end of the lesson, with the bell giving him quite a shock when he realized they hadn’t done a single thing concerning Charms that day, causing them to be frightfully behind before the school year had even started. Elizabeth figured that was probably the main reason why he had given them so much homework afterwards, even though it was only their first day back.

After lunch it was finally time for the moment of truth: while Jane had gone outside to read a book, Elizabeth and Hermione slowly set off for Snape’s dungeon.

“Have I already told you about the potion I’ve managed to create over the holidays as part of my little project?” Hermione asked as they descended one of the many staircases leading down to the Potions classroom.

“No, I don’t think so,” Elizabeth replied absent-mindedly, her thoughts clearly elsewhere.

“Oh ... well, it’s a potion intended to boost the memory. Some people are simply terrible at memorizing things; they can read a sentence several times and still not remember it ... but my potion should be able to help them. See, what it does is that it strengthens the one part of the brain that is responsible for all this, causing the person’s memory to undergo a vast improvement.”

“That’s amazing!” exclaimed Elizabeth, Hermione’s invention slowly gaining her interest.

“Isn’t it?” beamed the Gryffindor. “Just a couple more final touches, and I’ll be ready to give it to Neville to try out. He was actually the one who had inspired me to do this project in the first place; when I saw just how much trouble the OWLs were giving him, I simply couldn’t ignore it ... I had to do something!”

Hermione had Elizabeth’s full attention by now. “Are you sure it’s safe?” the blond witch asked with concern.

“Oh, yes,” Hermione assured her. “I’ve tested it on myself several times. And while normally I’m able to memorize about twenty pages in an hour, with the potion I’ve managed fifty. Now I just need to work on the duration a bit more. Because at the moment, I can only get the effects of the potion to last a mere day, but if I could somehow work out how to make them become permanent...” she trailed off, suddenly lost in thought, causing the two girls to continue walking in silence.

When at last they reached the Potions classroom, Elizabeth was surprised to see only two people waiting outside the door. True, it was still early, but most students were so afraid of being late to Snape’s class that they usually made sure to arrive well in advance.

But only two other kids had joined them by the time Snape let them inside, leading Elizabeth to believe that there would most probably be just the six of them, either because all the others hated Snape too much to put up with him for another two years, or simply because nobody else had done well enough in the OWLs to fulfill the Potions master’s requirements for the class.

Elizabeth took her usual seat at the front of the classroom and looked around: first at Snape, who was already standing by the blackboard and glaring down at them as if they were nothing more than a bunch of annoying insects, and then at the rest of the class, which, apart from her and Hermione, consisted only of – unsurprisingly – Malfoy, Pansy Parkinson (undoubtedly helped to cheat her way in by the blond Slytherin next to her), Hannah Abbott and Ernie Macmillan, both of whom had most likely been accepted only due to Dumbledore’s generous decree.

“Before we get on with the lesson,” said Snape finally, his black eyes glittering, “I’d like to take a few seconds to remind some of you that if it hadn’t been for the Headmaster’s kind decision to raise your grades, you’d never have been here to begin with.” He paused, his gaze landing shortly on Elizabeth before eventually shifting to Ernie and Hannah. “To make it perfectly clear: if your work doesn’t reach the standard of the rest of the class, you will be asked to leave ... and I’ll personally make sure you do so at the first possible opportunity.” He paused again, his eyes boring into Elizabeth’s as if trying to persuade her to leave straight away. “Now, as for today: we will start the whole course with a very simple potion, a potion some of you will surely find below your abilities – The Polyjuice Potion.” For some reason, Snape sent a quick glance in Hermione’s direction as he said this, causing the Gryffindor to suddenly become very interested in her hands. “The ingredients and the preparation method are on the board. You may begin.”

“Hermione, why did Snape look at you like that when he mentioned The Polyjuice Potion?” Elizabeth asked as she ‘Accioed’ the ingredients from the store cupboard.

“I secretly made some in my second year,” Hermione whispered. “I had to steal some stuff from his private stores to be able to brew it ... and I think he had somehow discovered it was me. He’d never had any proof, though.”

“Well, I do now, Miss Granger,” said an amused voice right behind them, sending both girls very close to a heart attack. “Your confession is all the proof I need, wouldn’t you say?” Snape (who else?) continued triumphantly, sweeping over to face them. “And since you seemed to have developed quite an obsession with Potions, I think that perhaps a detention with me might be just the right punishment for your foolish behaviour.”

“Yes, sir,” said Hermione quietly, but just as Snape was about to move away, she couldn’t help but ask: “So does ... does that mean you aren’t taking off any points?”

A shadow of disappointment passed over Snape’s thin face. “Unfortunately, Miss Granger, yes, it does. I’m surprised that a know-it-all such as yourself isn’t acquainted with the fact that the school rules actually forbid teachers to deduct points for something that has happened so long ago, otherwise I would’ve gladly done so. Now, if you’d kindly return to your work; we will arrange your detention at the end of the lesson.”

And with a satisfied smirk, Snape swept off towards his desk.

“Hermione, I’m so sorry!” Elizabeth exclaimed as soon as he was gone. “I shouldn’t have asked!”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s my fault – I ought to have taken a good look around before saying anything. Besides, it’s just a detention he’s given me, nothing more.”

Elizabeth didn’t for one moment believe that Hermione really cared as little as she was letting on, because as far as she knew, the Gryffindor had never had a single detention in her life, but she chose not to press the point, instead attempting to concentrate on her potion once more. She had barely started slicing her leeches, however, when a shadow suddenly fell over her work, causing her to stop in mid-slice and raise her eyes. Who she saw was, of course, none other than Snape, looming over her like an overgrown bat and eyeing her leeches with an air of disdain.

“You need to be more careful with those, Miss Woodhouse,” he said silkily. “One small slip could ruin the whole potion.”

Now what was this all about? Why would he suddenly care if she ruined her potion or not? Did he want her to get it right? Or was he, on the contrary, trying to make her nervous to increase the chances of her stuffing it up? She surveyed his face in an attempt to determine what he was thinking, but his expression was unreadable.

“Yes, sir, I know,” she said finally. “I assure you I’ll do my best not to slip.”

But Snape didn’t move. Instead he continued to watch her, throwing in a critical remark every time anything went even slightly wrong. Which was actually quite often, as Snape’s presence was making Elizabeth so nervous that her hands had started shaking, forcing her to use all of her strength to cut up her ingredients without injuring herself in the process.

Was this some sort of revenge for her behaviour last year? Was he deliberately trying to make her ruin the potion so he could kick her out of his class? Elizabeth almost laughed; she was beginning to think like him now: seeing malicious intents even when they weren’t there. This was a NEWT class, after all, with only six people in it, so it was only natural for him to spend more time with each student than was usual during a normal lesson; only his way of passing on knowledge was somewhat strange. Or maybe ... maybe he was just testing her – testing her to see if she was really worthy of being in the class. Well, if that was the case, then she’d do her best to show him that she most certainly was ... if only he left her alone for a while and stopped making her nervous.

No such luck: Snape remained where he was for most of the lesson, only occasionally moving off to check the work of other students as well, especially that of Ernie and Hannah, and Elizabeth soon came to the conclusion that her only choice would be to try and ignore him. Which didn’t turn out to be at all easy, not with how she felt about him, but to her indefinable delight, by the end of the lesson she had really managed to stop her hands from shaking almost completely. Still, her potion wasn’t nearly as perfect as it could’ve been (unlike Draco’s or Hermione’s), but she was at least able to console herself with the fact that Ernie’s, for example, had turned out even worse. For some reason, though, it wasn’t Ernie whom Snape had decided to hold back at the end of the lesson ... it was she.

“That is most certainly not the way the potion should look at this stage, Miss Woodhouse,” he sneered, gazing into her cauldron with an expression of deepest disgust.

Well, if what he had been doing all throughout the lesson wasn’t an attempt at revenge, then this most evidently was.

“It would’ve turned out a lot better if you hadn’t been there to distract me all the time,” said Elizabeth boldly.

Why should she make up lies when she could just as well tell him the truth? Unfortunately, though, it seemed as if that was exactly what he had been waiting to hear.

“A good potion-maker can brew a potion under any circumstances,” he said scornfully. “But if even a teacher can make you nervous, Miss Woodhouse, then I suggest you leave this class before it’s too late.”

“Haven’t I proved that I’m a good potion-maker over the four years you’ve taught me?” Elizabeth asked with an aggrieved expression.

“Certainly not. Even a five-year-old could deal with what we’ve been doing so far, as only now, in the NEWT class, do I let my students begin with something a little more complex.”

Elizabeth knew this wasn’t exactly true, as Hermione had once excitedly told her that the stuff they were doing with Snape was often far beyond the content of the textbook, but she decided to let it slide. Instead she said: “I’ll just have to show you that I’m up to it, then. Good day, sir.”

And she was about to turn around and walk away, but Snape didn’t allow her to have the last word this time.

“I very much doubt that, Miss Woodhouse,” he said coldly, “but since you evidently know better, I’ll just leave you to it. Good day to you too.”

And with an expression of somebody who’s about to clean out the sewer, he turned his attention to a shaking Hermione, who was quietly standing nearby, ready to hear out the details of her punishment.

Elizabeth turned on her heel and angrily stormed out of the classroom, only barely resisting the temptation to slam the door behind her.

Why did he have to be such an absolute bastard? Why did he never have a kind word for anyone, least of all her? Why did he seek revenge just because he couldn’t find out why she was being nice to him?

Well, she wouldn’t let him get to her. If he really believed her to be hopeless at Potions – fine. But he’d better prepare himself for a change of mind, because she was going to do everything in her power to prove him wrong, even if it was the last thing she ever did.

Her thoughts were disrupted by someone calling her name, and turning around, she saw a rather breathless Hermione running after her.

“Why didn’t you wait for me?” the Gryffindor asked, panting, when she had finally caught up with her friend.

“Sorry, I didn’t even realize I had started walking. It just somehow ... well, anyway, what is he making you do for your detention?”

“Oh, nothing much. Scrub the desks, clean the cauldrons, rinse out all the vials ... everything without magic, of course... But don’t worry about me; you are the one that should be complaining! All the stuff he had said to you ... I thought I was hearing things! Potions even a five-year-old could deal with indeed... Why didn’t you say something?”

“What difference would it have made? Besides, I don’t want him to hate me even more than he already does...” A tear rolled down Elizabeth’s cheek. “What have I done to him to deserve this, Hermione? I was only being nice and ... and...” she trailed off, her voice failing her.

“Oh, don’t cry,” said Hermione soothingly, putting her arm around Elizabeth’s shoulders. “Believe me, he’s not worth it. He might have some qualities, but he’s still just a cruel, nasty, ugly and unfair idiot who doesn’t deserve a single one of your tears.”

Elizabeth managed a weak smile. “Thanks, Hermione. I’ll bear that in mind if I ever feel like crying for him again.”

And so in this mood they reached their last class of the day – a double NEWT lesson of Defence Against the Dark Arts. Unsurprisingly, it turned out to be even more popular than Transfiguration, as with Voldemort still around, nobody wanted to risk remaining unprepaired should the time to face an unexpected attack ever arrive. Only the Slytherins were somewhat poorly represented; most of their fellow-students very likely using the time to practise not defensive spells against the Dark Arts, but the Dark Arts themselves.

Mrs. Figg didn’t waste any time and, promising to use the year to teach them various methods of resisting mind spells, immediately got down to explaining the basics. She even got as far as performing some simple spells on the students to see how well they’d cope with them before the lesson was over, and, along with Harry, Elizabeth was once more among the best. Which was just enough to make her come to the conclusion that maybe the day hadn’t been such a complete disaster, after all.

Three weeks passed, and Elizabeth could proudly announce that Snape was no longer spending the lessons towering over her table and criticising her work; simply because he had no reason to. She had managed to fix her Polyjuice Potion to make it absolutely perfect, forcing Snape to eventually give up on his revenge and move off to terrorize Ernie instead.

But however much Elizabeth tried, she could never even get close to being as good as Hermione, who was doing unbelievably well in every single one of her classes, all the while still being able to find the time to work on her project. Soon she had deprived the potion of all flaws, and one day during Defence Against the Dark Arts finally announced that she was ready to test it. Unfortunately, Elizabeth couldn’t be there to see it, as she still had a History of Magic class to go that afternoon, but Hermione had promised to definitely tell her all about it later on at dinner.

Things had turned out rather differently than planned, however, because even though Hermione had come bursting into the Great Hall shortly after Elizabeth and Jane had started eating, what she had to say was not quite what the Ravenclaw girls had expected.

“You won’t believe what I’m going to tell you!” the bushy-haired witch exclaimed as she plopped down into a seat next to them.

“What?” asked Jane, her mouth full of potatoes. “Did anything happen to Neville? Didn’t the potion work?”

Hermione shook her head. “He didn’t even take it. He broke down in tears when he saw what it was ... said he didn’t deserve it; that if I knew what he had done I’d be more likely to kill him than to help him... And then ... then he told me – told me that he had joined Voldemort.”

“WHAT?” cried both Elizabeth and Jane together.

“Yes, you heard right. Of course, I didn’t believe him at first, but when he showed me the Dark Mark ... it was definitely not a pretty sight, that’s all I have to say to it.”

“Did he tell you why he did it?” asked Jane, whose dinner was now lying on the table completely unnoticed.

“Oh, yes. He said he was feeling left out; that while everybody had something to be proud of, he was still just that fat Longbottom kid, who had never done anything special except for being able to hold the record for the highest amount of melted cauldrons for five years in a row, managing to somehow beat even the clumsiness of Joshua and Jamie. The only subject he was at least slightly good at was Herbology, but when even Professor Sprout, who really seemed to care about him up till then, had been mean to him at the end of last year, he simply couldn’t take it any longer, and decided to seek his destiny elsewhere. With Malfoy’s help he contacted Voldemort and offered him his services, naively believing that with the Dark Lord, he would finally be able to win some recognition. And do you know how – apart from the usual, utterly horrid tests every would-be Death Eater has to pass – he gained Voldemort’s trust?”

Elizabeth and Jane both shook their heads.

“He told him about Snape being a spy,” Hermione informed them, throwing a quick look in Elizabeth’s direction before saying more. “He overheard us talking about it in the common room once, and since he had always hated Snape, it was only too easy to use the opportunity to finally get back at him for all the years of bullying he’s had to endure from him. That’s why Snape’s returned to Hogwarts – simply to escape the Dark Lord’s punishment. But he’s still far from safe; Neville said Voldemort has vowed to do everything in his power to make Snape pay for his betrayal, and I’m sure these were no empty threats.”

The look of horror on Elizabeth’s face was priceless. Poor Snape! No wonder he was being so mean; she would’ve been no different had she somehow come to discover that her life was in constant danger ... with nothing she could do against it.

“As for Neville,” continued Hermione, “well, he soon found out that serving under Voldemort was definitely not as idylic as he had thought. The Dark Lord treated him worse than a piece of dirt: he was subjected to the Cruciatus curse almost every time they met, he was forced to do things so disgusting that even thinking about them made him sick ... and on top of all that, there was his grandmother, whose constant questions concerning his whereabouts were slowly beginning to drive him crazy. And then, when he saw that I was trying to help him, even though he was the last person in the world to deserve it, he just couldn’t stand it any longer and he confessed ... confessed to what he had done, begging me to accompany him to Dumbledore so that he wouldn’t have to face him alone.”

Hermione paused, seemingly deciding what to say next.

“Well? Did you go?” asked Jane impatiently.

The Gryffindor looked at her as if to say ‘Why ask when the answer is so obvious?,’ but eventually replied: “Yes, of course I did. It was the least I could do for the poor boy, after all. Anyway, Neville was all prepared for the Headmaster to send him straight to Azkaban, but Dumbledore said there was no need to go that far ... if Neville agreed to take Snape’s place as a spy, that is. One option worse than the other, I’d say, but in the end Neville chose the spying. From now on, he’s going to spend all his free time being lectured by Snape-”

“Snape?” exclaimed Elizabeth. “But I thought the two hated each other!”

“Well, they do, but there’s no other way. Who else could teach him all the tricks if not the former spy? Besides, Snape’s really skilled in the mind spells area, and I think Neville will need to know a lot about that if he wants to successfully beguile a man like Voldemort – the master of mind reading himself.”

“But what does Neville think of it?” demanded Elizabeth. “Wouldn’t Azkaban be better for him than having to spend all his time with somebody he hates so much, and whom he has betrayed? Snape’s going to kill him!”

“He’ll have me to complain to if Snape gets too bad,” said Hermione confidently. “If he ever needs anything, I’ll be there. He has nobody else to turn to, after all.”

“Does that mean you actually trust him?” asked Jane in disbelief. “How do you know all those tears were real, and not just a show he’s put on to make you believe him? What if Voldemort’s sent him out to spy on us?”

“Dumbledore trusts him,” Hermione replied defiantly.

“I know, but what about you?” pressed on Jane.

Hermione glared at her, her lips pressed tightly together. “I trust him too,” she said finally.
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