One sunny morning at the end of September, Elizabeth was suddenly awoken by somebody pulling the covers off her bed, while persistently continuing to whisper her name.
After successfully managing to slowly open one eye, she saw that the somebody was none other than Jane: already fully dressed and evidently absolutely bursting to talk to her.
“What’s the time?” she asked sleepily.
“A quarter past seven,” said Jane, looking somewhat guilty. “Anyway, I have something-”
“A quarter past seven?” exclaimed Elizabeth. “But Jane, it’s Saturday morning! What reason could you possibly have for waking me up at such an unearthly hour?”
Jane didn’t say anything; instead she shoved a piece of paper under her nose and motioned for her to read it. Elizabeth, rubbing her eyes while inwardly saying goodbye to all chances of getting any more sleep that morning, reluctantly obeyed.
Attention all Quidditch fans! (the paper said)
Due to the departure of the Wright siblings at the end of last year, the Ravenclaw Quidditch team is now short of both Beaters. For those of you who would like to have a go at filling the two empty spots: the tryouts will be held this Friday at five p.m. on the Quidditch pitch.
Hope to see you all there!
“Yeah, well, what about it?” Elizabeth asked, handing the paper back to Jane.
“I thought we could give it a try,” the tall witch replied uncertainly.
Elizabeth gave her a suspicious look. “Since when have you become interested in Quidditch?”
Jane grinned. “Since I’ve realized that we actually have a very good chance of getting into the team. The seventh-years are largely busy studying for their NEWTs, so I don’t think they’ll be all that eager to sacrifice endless hours of their precious time for Quidditch practice when they could just as well be learning how to transfigure a chipmunk into a bowling ball. The fifth-years have the OWLs to get ready for. I’ve noticed that most of our fellow sixth-years don’t really care about Quidditch all that much. So ... that more or less leaves us with just the little kids to compete against, and if we could only get down to some practice straight away, keep going until Friday for say ... three hours a d-”
“Jane!” cried Elizabeth. “Just because you don’t know what to do with your time doesn’t mean everybody else can afford to waste three hours a day playing around on the Quidditch pitch! Besides, neither of us can possibly learn how to play the game in a week when we’ve never even tried it before!”
But Jane seemed to have an answer for everything. “I’m quite sure that one week without your Potions books will do you nothing but good,” she said confidently. “Not that Snape’s going to notice, anyway. And as for us not being able to learn how to play Quidditch in such a short time ... well, you’re pretty good on a broomstick, aren’t you? I’ve seen your skills in our Flying lessons, after all, so there would be absolutely no point in denying it. And to be honest, I don’t think I’m exactly a lost case, either.”
“Well, O.K., let’s say you’re right there,” Elizabeth admitted reluctantly. “But what about the batting part? I don’t know about you, but for me it will definitely be a new experience.”
“You’re a decent tennis player, though, aren’t you? It’s not the same, I know, but close enough. And as for me – I’ve played softball at basic school, so batting shouldn’t be that much of a problem for me, either.”
Elizabeth, however, was still far from convinced. “Right, right, fine,” she said impatiently. “But now tell me – what is the point of all this? Can you give me one good reason why I should actually go and give all this nonsense a try?”
“Weeell,” drawled Jane, “apart from all the usual stuff, like getting to experience that undescribable feeling after a successful match, helping Ravenclaw increase its chances of winning the Quidditch Cup and earning the respect of your fellow students, you will also have a wonderful opportunity to show off in front of Snape. What more could you possibly want?”
Elizabeth had to admit that Jane sure knew how to use the right arguments at the right time, and even though she was convinced that Snape would be more likely to take points from Slytherin than to notice her Quidditch performance, she decided that she could at least have some fun pretending to believe it.
“All right,” she said finally. “I’ll give it a go. But don’t kill me if we don’t make it into the team, O.K.?”
“Don’t worry,” Jane assured her, a huge smile lighting up her face. “So ... can we go and practise now?”
Elizabeth sighed. “Do I have a choice?”
Twenty minutes later, both girls could already be seen soaring through the air by the lake shore, maniacally hitting a Bludger back and forth in an attempt to knock each other off the broom, and by the time the three hours set by Jane had passed, Elizabeth was actually slowly beginning to believe that their chances of getting into the team maybe really weren’t as low as she had thought them to be only a short while earlier. Because as Jane had previously pointed out, her riding skills were indeed not bad at all, and even though the Bludger had caused her some nasty bruises before she had finally worked out how to make the number of hits and misses at least equal, she still thought that for a beginner, her overall performance was definitely more than satisfactory. As was Jane’s, for that matter, whose undeniable softball experience easily helped her to compensate for her unfortunate lack of flying talent.
The one week left until the tryouts was over in a flash, and Elizabeth felt that had Jane forced her to endure even a minute more of practice, she would’ve definitely dropped dead from exhaustion. Thanks to the endless hours of batting, she experienced a stab of pain every time she tried to move her right arm, and judging by the wince that accompanied her every attempt to sit down, her backside wasn’t doing much better, either.
When she and Jane arrived at the Quidditch stadium, however, all her pain suddenly remained forgotten somewhere in Ravenclaw Tower as she nervously took in the scene in front of her. It seemed as if the whole of Hogwarts had come to watch the tryouts, although upon closer inspection Elizabeth discovered that it was really mostly just the Ravenclaws filling up the stands, with only a small percentage of students from other houses scattered here and there to spy out who the new Beaters would turn out to be. Elizabeth, clutching her Nimbus 2001 tightly in both hands, stole a quick glance at the tall witch by her side as they slowly approached a small group of people gathered in the middle of the stadium, immediately feeling a little better when she discovered Jane to appear even more nervous than she was. She chuckled: it always helped to know that somebody else was feeling just as bad as her, or, preferably, even worse.
Elizabeth soon saw that the little group standing on the Quidditch pitch counted only about fifteen students, five of which made up the current Ravenclaw Quidditch team including its pretty black-haired captain, Cho Chang. The others were apparently the ones she and Jane had come to compete against – people who, like them, had come to try and claim the empty Beater positions.
“Well, it seems like nobody else is going to join us today,” Cho said after glancing at her watch, having already allowed a good ten minutes for potential latecomers, “so we might just as well begin. If you would all please form a line ... that’s right ... thank you...”
Elizabeth and Jane, having come last, both took places at the end of the line, all the while nervously anticipating what was to follow.
“Now...” Cho continued, “the task will be the same for all of you: there’ll be two Bludgers on the loose; you will have five minutes to hit them as many times as you can ... preferably into one of those targets over there.” And she pointed to three imitations of a person on a broomstick slowly floating through the air somewhere high above their heads.
Elizabeth froze. She had barely learnt how to stop hitting the air instead of the Bludger, for god’s sake, and already they were asking her to hit a flying target? Sure, Jane had also been a flying target during their practice sessions, but having done everything to get in the Bludger’s way instead of floating in a random direction, she was kind of difficult to miss. Looking around, however, Elizabeth noticed that the other students didn’t look too comfortable, either, so she decided to just wait and see how they do before drawing any premature conclusions, or perhaps even giving up.
“And one last thing!” Cho called over the nervous murmur of voices. “If one of the two Bludgers happens to knock any of you off your broomstick, all your chances of getting into the team are definitely lost. Right ... now – who’s first?”
A tall seventh-year boy stepped forward, nervously darting his eyes from Cho, who was now getting ready to release the Bludgers, to the three floating figurines above. One of the other members of the Ravenclaw Quidditch team handed him a bat and the boy slowly mounted his broomstick, now absolutely ready to take on the upcoming challenge. Finally the two black balls shot up into the sky, with the boy taking off soon after.
Elizabeth watched him with interest, and was happy to see that for a seventh-year, he wasn’t half as good as she would’ve expected him to be. He certainly didn’t seem too sure on his broomstick, that much she had noticed almost immediately, and it soon became clear that even his batting skills weren’t exactly exemplary, as he had only managed to hit the targets twice, being too preoccupied with dodging the Bludgers and clinging onto his broomstick in a desperate attempt not to fall off for the rest of the time.
When the five minutes were finally up, Cho blew a small whistle (producing a sound so loud Elizabeth thought she’d undoubtedly go deaf as a result) and the boy slowly began to descend, at last landing only a few feet away from Elizabeth and looking absolutely exhausted.
After a brief consultation with the rest of the team, Cho picked up a clipboard, quickly jotted something down, and then called for the next person to come forward – a freckled fourth-year girl called Samantha Richards.
Elizabeth continued to watch every new student with bated breath, inwardly assessing their performance and comparing it with an estimation of her own. In compliance with Jane’s prediction, only a minimum of older students had shown up, and even though some of the fourth-years had turned out to be surprisingly good, Elizabeth never stopped believing that there was still a chance, however small, that in the end, she and Jane would actually make it. As the line got smaller and smaller, however, she began to get more and more nervous, and even went as far as becoming involved in a little quarrel with Jane about who’d get to go first, since both of them wanted nothing more than to finally have it over and done with. After Elizabeth’s reluctant resignation and an irritated wave of the hand, it was Jane who got to have her way in the end, and Elizabeth could only watch (with a rather envious expression, too; she just couldn’t help it) as she slowly mounted her broomstick and eventually got ready to take off. And her envy grew even more when she saw just how good Jane’s performance was turning out to be, because although it wasn’t too long ago when it had been all the same to her whether she’d get into the team or not, now it had become one of her main goals, and she was sure she’d rather leave Hogwarts than live with the fact that Jane had made it and she had not.
Losing herself in thought, she didn’t even notice Jane land, and almost jumped out of her skin when Cho had eventually called her name. Very very uncertainly she made a few steps forward, shakily mounted her Nimbus 2001, and then waited for Cho to blow her terrible whistle, only briefly turning to look at Jane, who immediately smiled while cheerfully giving her a thumbs up.
‘It’s easy for you to smile now,’ Elizabeth thought bitterly as she clutched her broomstick in one trembling hand and the Beater’s bat in the other.
Finally the deafening sound of the whistle filled the air, and Elizabeth, blocking everything not concerning the task ahead from her mind, shot up into the sky. Immediately the two Bludgers set off towards her, one aiming for her head, the other for her stomach. But Elizabeth was ready for them: she dodged the first one (although only barely, as she could actually feel a cold rush of air brush against her cheek as it zoomed past her ear) and, with a huge swing of the bat, sent the other one flying right towards one of the targets at rocket speed. There was no time to waste, though, as the first Bludger was already returning, emitting a high whistling noise as it sped towards her left shoulder. Another hit, and one of the other targets was thrown off its track, before eventually coming back a couple of seconds later.
‘Jane was right,’ Elizabeth thought with a satisfied smile. ‘It really is a bit like tennis.’
Her successful performance continued, and even though she was far from hitting one of the targets every single time she’d made contact with a Bludger, she was still convinced that her efforts would surely make her overall assessment almost as good as Jane’s.
As her time limit started nearing its end, however, the bat had become so heavy she could barely lift it, making it more and more difficult for her to keep resisting the cannonade of black balls that was falling upon her. Finally, when both Bludgers had decided to attack her at the same time, she just didn’t have the energy to face them any more, and while with the last remnant of strength she warded off the first one, the second Bludger hit her left hand at full speed, producing a very disturbing snapping sound and causing a wave of incredible pain to flood her body. Elizabeth didn’t know what she would’ve done had the whistle not sounded at that exact moment, but, as it was, she simply set off towards the ground at neck-breaking speed, determined to get to the hospital wing as fast as possible.
Her feet hadn’t even touched the grass and Jane was already standing by her side, frantically trying to find out what was wrong, but Elizabeth simply waved her away, assigning her to find out the results of the tryouts before even thinking of following her. Then she swiftly left the Qudditch pitch and headed off towards the castle, clutching her left hand and wincing with pain.
When she finally reached the hospital wing, Madam Pomfrey didn’t waste any time and immediately gave her hand a thorough examination, quickly coming to the conclusion that Elizabeth’s injury was nothing more than a broken thumb and a few bruised fingers. A couple of minutes later, Elizabeth was already on her way back to the stadium, glumly eyeing her throbbing bandaged hand and wondering how on earth she’d manage to hold her broomstick during practice; had she been lucky enough to make it into the team, that is.
About halfway down the stairs she had almost suffered another injury as she ran into an ecstatic-looking Jane, who seemed to be paying absolutely no attention to her surroundings.
“We made it! We’re both in!” the tall witch yelled as soon as she saw who it was that she had collided with.
“Really?” Elizabeth exclaimed happily, but her cheerful expression soon changed into a grimace as her thumb gave another painful throb.
“Yeah. It was close, Samantha Richards’s performance was almost as good as yours, but in the end they picked you. Anyway, how’s your hand?”
Elizabeth made a face and showed Jane her bandages. “It still hurts. I’ve got a broken thumb, and I don’t think I’ll be able to practice for quite some time, but Madam Pomfrey said I should be all right in about three weeks.”
“Well, that’s not exactly great,” said Jane, thoughtfully inspecting her friend’s injured hand, “since Cho said we’re playing Gryffindor in about a month, but I’m sure you’ll manage. You’ve succeeded to learn the whole game in a week, after all, so a bit of last minute practice shouldn’t be a problem for you, I think.”
Elizabeth, however, looked doubtful. “I wouldn’t be so sure, Jane. Maybe you should get a substitute for the first match-”
“Nonsense,” said Jane in a tone that clearly indicated that she considered the subject closed. “You’ll do just fine. Anyway, let’s go down to dinner; I feel like I haven’t eaten anything for at least a week!”
Just as Madam Pomfrey had predicted, Elizabeth’s hand took almost three weeks to heal enough to allow her to use it normally, leaving her with only a couple of days to rediscover the secrets of Quidditch before the upcoming match against Gryffindor. And even though there were only two official practice sessions left until then, Jane had volunteered to devote all the other afternoons to an extra dose of training just for Elizabeth, apparently attempting to ensure that the poor girl would catch up on everything she had missed during the time she was forced to participate in the game only as a spectator.
“As if one mad captain wasn’t enough,” Elizabeth grumbled as she and Jane made their way to yet another exhausting private training session. “I think you’re becoming even more obsessed with this annoying game than she is!”
“Oh, come on, Elizabeth,” said Jane pleadingly. “What’s wrong with wanting to win? I’m sure you’re also not as indifferent to the result of our first match as you’re pretending to be, so I really don’t see any reason for you to complain.”
Elizabeth sighed; there was simply no talking to Jane, who evidently didn’t seem to understand that not everybody was as crazy about winning as she was. Sure, Elizabeth was also prepared to do her best to help the team beat the Gryffindors, but, unlike Jane or Cho, who were both making the rest of the team practise so hard they could hardly walk afterwards, she most certainly didn’t think it was something one couldn’t live without. But since Hermione had once told her that according to Harry, a captain who isn’t obsessed with winning has yet to be invented, she eventually came to the conclusion that the only thing that could be done about it was to accept it. And so, in the end, she had managed to survive not only Cho’s brutal drills, which were sometimes so demanding that she seriously began to consider breaking her thumb once more, but also Jane’s private coaching, which was often even worse.
On the morning of the match Elizabeth woke up relatively early, with just enough time to get herself ready for what was awaiting her, but obviously not as early as Jane, whose bed was already empty and who had probably run off to get some last minute practice before the time to go down to breakfast would arrive.
‘Well, looks like she hadn’t,’ Elizabeth quickly corrected herself as Jane came bursting through the door before the blond witch had even had a chance to get dressed.
“Elizabeth!” she yelled, instantly managing to wake up the rest of the dormitory. “Guess who’s refereeing the match!”
“Um ... Madam Hooch?” Elizabeth asked uncertainly, not quite ready to strain her mind so early in the morning.
“Well, she was supposed to,” drawled Jane, a wicked smile slowly spreading on her lips, “but she got called away. So now it’s Snape who’s-”
“Snape!?” Elizabeth cried, but quickly lowered her voice when she noticed the other girls eyeing her curiously. “Are you sure? You’re not kidding, are you?”
Jane chuckled. “No, it’s true, I swear. Cho told me.”
“B ... but Jane!” stuttered Elizabeth. “I didn’t expect him to be there today! It’s only my first match – what if I make a complete fool of myself? I’d never be able to face him after that!”
“Oh, don’t worry,” said Jane soothingly. “You’ll be just fine. Besides, even though you might not think so, it’s actually good for the team that it’s Snape and not Hooch who’s refereeing, because it’s very probable that he’s going to be on our side.”
“And exactly why should he want to be on our side?” Elizabeth asked doubtfully.
“Honestly, Elizabeth, are you always so thick when you wake up?” exclaimed Jane. “Because Gryffindor’s in the lead of the House Championship at the moment, but if they lose this match, Slytherin might eventually be able to overtake them, that’s why. Anyway, I’d hurry up if I were you; the match starts in less than an hour and as far as I can see, you haven’t even left your bed yet.”
Elizabeth glanced at her alarm clock and had to reluctantly admit that Jane was, for once, right. Quickly she threw on her robes, gave her hair a rough brush, and then hurriedly followed Jane out the door and down the stairs to the Great Hall for breakfast.
The first person the two girls saw when they passed through the double doors was none other than Hermione, who immediately cut off her conversation with Harry, Ron and Neville so she could go over and greet them.
“Good morning!” she said cheerfully, seating herself next to Elizabeth at the Ravenclaw table. “How are you two feeling before your very first match? Nervous?”
“A little,” admitted Jane, taking a huge bite of toast.
“I think I’ll throw up soon,” Elizabeth announced glumly, her breakfast lying untouched on the table in front of her. “Have you heard about Snape being the referee?”
“Yes, very unfortunate, isn’t it? For Gryffindor, I mean, because for you it’s the best thing that could’ve happened, of course, what with all those penalties he’s going to give you... Anyway, it’s funny, isn’t it? Usually I always support you two in everything that you do, but today I’ll just have to forget that we’re friends and actually cheer when you stuff something up.”
But Elizabeth wasn’t really listening to Hermione’s cheerful babble, seizing the first possible opportunity to excuse herself from the table and head back up to her dormitory. Once there, she simply flung herself on her bed and closed her eyes, hoping to block all thoughts concerning the upcoming match (and especially Snape) from her mind. Her solitude didn’t last long, however, as only a couple of minutes later, the door to her dormitory burst open and in rushed Jane, badly out of breath and looking like her robes had been set on fire.
“Don’t just lie there, Elizabeth, hurry up!” she called, frantically searching the room for her Quidditch robes. “We don’t really have that much time to spare, you know, as Cho still wants to have a little talk to us before the start of the match.”
Elizabeth sighed, but eventually got up, flung her Quidditch robes over her shoulder, grabbed her broomstick and reluctantly joined a very impatient-looking Jane by the door.
“If I stuff up, will you please kill me?” she said gravely. “I’m too big a coward to commit suicide.”
Jane gave her friend an incredulous look, as if not quite sure whether to take her seriously or not, but since they couldn’t afford to waste any more time, she simply let the matter be, hastily setting off down the many stairs leading to the Entrance Hall and only once checking whether Elizabeth was actually following her.
The stands were already packed with people by the time the two witches reached the stadium, but to Elizabeth’s relief, Snape was yet nowhere to be seen. The girls also noticed that unlike the Ravenclaw team, which was probably still in the changing rooms, the Gryffindors were already out on the Quidditch pitch, and their captain, a seventh-year girl called Angelina Johnson, seemed to be having a heated discussion about something with the team’s Seeker, Harry Potter.
Jane quickened her step and proceeded to head straight for the changing room, with Elizabeth not very far behind.
“Gods, girls, where have you been?” was the only greeting they received from their team-mates when they finally burst in through the door. “Hurry up, get changed!”
Elizabeth quietly muttered something obscene, but eventually obeyed, slowly stripping off her black school uniform and replacing it with the Ravenclaw Qudditch robes.
“All right, people,” Cho said after a while of tense silence, completely ignoring the fact that Elizabeth and Jane still hadn’t finished putting on their gloves. “So far we have never beaten Gryffindor, and I’m convinced that the reason for that is their Seeker. When Harry Potter plays, it is usually he who ends up catching the Snitch, causing Gryffindor to win despite the fact that the other team’s Chasers might be better. So what I’d like our Beaters to do today is to concentrate on sending the Bludgers in Potter’s direction, and in his direction only. Don’t worry about anything else, just keep the boy occupied, and if you, by any chance, manage to knock him off his broomstick, I definitely won’t mind. So ... good luck to you all, we have a very good chance to win today, since our dear old Professor Snape’ll be-”
“Yes, Miss Chang?” came a cold voice from the door, causing Cho to fall silent in mid-sentence and spin around.
It was, of course, the Potions master himself who had spoken, having silently arrived while the Ravenclaw captain was busy giving her speech. He was now eyeing the girl with an expectant look on his face, carrying the Quaffle in one hand and his broomstick (the newest model, Elizabeth noticed enviously) in the other.
“N ... nothing, sir,” Cho managed to choke out. “Are ... are we supposed to go outside yet?”
Snape smirked. “No, Miss Chang, I’ve come to wish you good luck before the match. Of course you’re supposed to go outside; the game should’ve begun half a minute ago.”
And regaling them all with a cold glare, he turned on his heel and gracefully departed, with Cho and the rest of the team hastily following suit. Elizabeth, who was trembling like an aspen leaf by now, her face slowly gaining the colour of the grass outside, made sure to go last.
‘Ignore Snape, concentrate on Harry, ignore Snape, concentrate on Harry,’ she told herself countless times, but it didn’t seem to be of much help.
Somehow, though, she had managed to make it outside without collapsing, and was now shakily standing next to Jane, dazedly awaiting what was to follow.
“I doubt you dunderheads will be able to make this game nice and fair, but you could at least give it a try,” Snape said as both teams gathered around him, looking as though he didn’t care one bit whether the game’d turn out to be fair or not. “Mount your brooms – now.”
A loud whistle followed, and the game began.
Surprisingly, Elizabeth forgot all about Snape as soon as her feet left the ground, as she quickly realized that if she wanted to stay alive, she couldn’t afford to concentrate on anything else than the Bludgers. They seemed to be behaving even more crazily than usual, and for the first couple of minutes, Elizabeth was having so much trouble fighting them off that she couldn’t even keep track of the score. Eventually they had calmed down, however, and Elizabeth could finally see that both teams had already managed to score two goals.
She looked around to find out what Harry was doing, and soon spotted him flying in small circles not too far off, keenly searching the air for any sign of the Golden Snitch. Deciding to also risk a quick glance in Snape’s direction, she amusedly noticed that the Potions master had just awarded her team a penalty for seemingly no reason at all. With a smile she watched her team-mates score, turning around just in time to prevent a collision with a Bludger, whose direction she quickly changed to Harry’s benefit. Missing him by about two feet, to her disappointment. But no matter; the other Bludger was now rapidly heading her way, and this time, she was ready for it. With a huge swing, she managed to send it flying right at Harry’s head, but the Gryffindor’s reflexes were just too good. In the very last moment he ducked, causing the Bludger to ruffle his hair as it missed his head by mere inches, and finally end up hitting the most inconvenient person of all – Snape, who had absolutely no idea of what had happened to him, since he was immediately knocked out.
“Oh my god, no!” cried Elizabeth and quickly shut her eyes, not quite prepared to watch as her beloved eventually let go of his broomstick and started falling ... slowly at first, but quickly gaining speed as he neared the distant ground below.
When at last Elizabeth dared to look down, Snape was already lying sprawled on the grass, a small trickle of blood emerging from a nasty wound at the back of his head. He wasn’t moving, and Elizabeth silently hoped that he was just unconscious.
“Please don’t let him be dead, please don’t let him be dead,” she chanted over and over as she sped towards the ground.
A small group of people had gathered around the motionless body by the time her feet had touched the grass, and she was ecstatic to see that Madam Pomfrey was one of them.
“He’s going to be all right,” Elizabeth heard her mutter to Dumbledore, who had meanwhile also arrived on the scene, and was now unsuccessfully trying to keep all the nosy students out of the way.
Elizabeth let out a sigh of relief, but seeing the man she loved so much in such a state still made her heart ache. And it was she who was to blame for what had happened to him! Why in the world did she have to hit that stupid Bludger? Why, why, why?
“Would everyone who is not a member of either team kindly head back to their seat?” Dumbledore called, slowly bringing Elizabeth from her unhappy thoughts back to reality. “Despite the unfortunate incident, there is still a match to be finished!”
“But we don’t have a referee!” protested Cho, jerking her head in the direction of Madam Pomfrey, who had meanwhile conjured up a stretcher and was now levitating Snape off the pitch.
“I will be the referee,” said Dumbledore, looking like nothing in the world could please him more. “Please mount your broomsticks.”
Elizabeth reluctantly obeyed, as did Cho and all the other players, for that matter, but from then on, the whole game was nothing more than a blur to her. She didn’t care whether she’d hit Harry or not any more, she simply dodged the Bludgers instead of striking them ... and when Gryffindor had eventually won, she felt like it was something that had happened in another world, for at that moment, her world consisted only of her concern for Snape.
Three days passed, and Snape still hadn’t come back from the hospital wing. Elizabeth was absolutely dying to find out how he was doing, and the fact that it was none other than Fletcher who had been assigned to fill in for him only added to her frustration. Finally, on the fourth day, she just couldn’t take it any more, and so as soon as her History of Magic class was over, she seized a chocolate-box (which she had originally intended to give Jane for her birthday ... and which now came in rather handy) and, too afraid to face Snape alone, set off in search of Hermione.
It was only a matter of minutes before she found her, sitting in the far corner of the library (where else?) and bending over an enourmous, mouldy-looking book. Unsurprisingly, standing next to her was none other than Neville, who seemed to have made a habit of accompanying the bushy-haired witch almost everywhere for the last couple of weeks, but what did come as a surprise to Elizabeth was that the two were actually holding hands.
She cleared her throat to get their attention, and then asked: “Hermione, could I please speak to you for a sec?”
The Gryffindor looked somewhat surprised, but eventually nodded and allowed Elizabeth to take her aside.
“What’s the matter?” she inquired as soon as they were out of Neville’s earshot, carefully positioning herself against one of the bookshelves.
“Are ... are you and Neville dating?” Elizabeth couldn’t help but ask, even though she had originally come to discuss something quite different.
Hermione seemed to consider the question for a while, but eventually gave her a shy smile and said: “Well ... I suppose we are. We’ve been spending so much time together for the past month or so that it just somehow... I’m sorry for not telling you, Elizabeth, but I didn’t even realize it myself.”
“That’s quite all right,” the blond witch assured her. “As long as you’re both happy... Anyway, what I’ve really come to ask is whether you wouldn’t mind accompanying me to the hospital wing to visit Snape. I don’t think I could possibly let another day pass without knowing how he’s doing, but since I have no idea whether he had yet managed to find out that it was actually me who had hit him, I just thought it’d be better if you...” she trailed off, giving her friend a pleading look.
Hermione snickered. “I’ll come, don’t worry. What are friends for, after all? But would you mind too much if we also took Neville with us? I know you’ll probably find it a bit hard to believe, but he’s actually very concerned about Snape’s health, and if it hadn’t been for you, he would’ve surely gone to pay him a visit sooner or later anyway.”
“But that’s impossible!” exclaimed Elizabeth. “Neville hates him! Even you said so, and that was only a few weeks ago!”
“I know that, but it seems like Neville’s changed his mind since then.”
Elizabeth looked doubtful. “Why would he do that?”
“And why don’t you ask him?” Hermione suggested, slowly peeling herself from the bookshelf. “Let’s go, you can talk to him on the way to the hospital wing.”
Reluctantly, Elizabeth followed her friend back to her table, where they found Neville absent-mindedly flipping through the pages of Hermione’s huge, filthy book.
“Neville, we’re going to visit Snape,” Hermione announced. “Want to come?”
Neville’s round face immediately lit up. “Sure!” And shooting a sheepish glance in the Ravenclaw’s direction, he quickly added: “If Elizabeth here doesn’t mind, of course.”
“No, no, it’s O.K.” Elizabeth assured him, unable to hide an amused smile.
“Well? What are we waiting for? Let’s go!” said Hermione, and swiftly started making her way out of the library. Neville and Elizabeth followed.
“So ... how are your private lessons with Snape going?” Elizabeth asked the boy as soon as they were out the door. “I know you used to hate him, but Hermione said you don’t any more. Is that true?”
“Well, yes,” Neville admitted. “Of course, when I first heard that I’d have to spend most of my time with him, I thought it was the worst thing in the world that could’ve happened to me, but in the end it didn’t turn out to be so bad, after all. I’d never have thought it of him, but he can actually be quite civil if he wants to. He only gets bad when you stuff something up, but since it’s not Potions he’s teaching me this time, it doesn’t happen that often. But what I’m the most grateful for is that he seems to have forgiven me for betraying him. Maybe he understands the mistake I’ve made, since he’s probably been through the same thing, I really don’t know, but the thing is, he just doesn’t remind me of it at every possible opportunity as I thought he surely would, and I simply can’t express how much that means to me.”
Interesting. Very interesting. This certainly was a side of Snape Elizabeth had never seen before, since from what she’d had the chance to experience so far, he was the kind of person who was prepared to get revenge for absolutely everything, a simple wish of a good day included.
“Anyway, at the moment I just want him to be O.K.,” Neville continued. “I’m expecting Voldemort to summon me any day now, and there’s still a huge amount of things Snape and I haven’t been through yet.”
At this point, the students reached the hospital wing; the fear of waking any potentially sleeping patients (or maybe even the fear of Madam Pomfrey) causing Neville to fall silent almost immediately. Very quietly the three of them opened the door and slipped inside, the smell of various healing Potions so typical for the place instantly hitting their nostrils.
They hadn’t even taken three steps, however, when their path was suddenly blocked by the dreaded Madam Pomfrey, who was known for her unquestionable ability to seemingly materialize out of thin air.
“And where do you think you three are going?” she whispered menacingly, her eyes flashing.
“We’ve come to visit Professor Snape,” Elizabeth replied in a tiny voice.
Madam Pomfrey gave them all a very suspicious look (which, under the circumstances, none of them found too surprising, since, with his attitude, Snape was the last person in the world one would’ve expected to have a visit, and a student one at that), but eventually let them pass.
Elizabeth, although shaking all over, went first, nervously hiding the chocolate-box behind her back, with Hermione and Neville keeping close behind.
It didn’t take long before she caught sight of the one she was looking for, as Snape turned out to be the only current occupant of the infirmary. He was half-sitting, half-lying in one of the farther beds, wearing a white hospital shirt (which nearly matched the unhealthy colour of his face; Elizabeth noticed with concern) and reading a book, presumably one from the huge stack that took up the whole of his bedside table. His head was wrapped in bandages, as was his right hand, but otherwise, to Elizabeth’s great relief, he seemed to be all right.
He looked up when he heard them approach, and his up till then candid expression immediately turned into a scowl. Elizabeth, however, wasn’t in the least surprised by his obviously discouraging behaviour, as it was quite clear to her that for a man who had spent the last fifteen years perfecting his system of student intimidation, it was only natural to feel uncomfortable when he had to allow those same students to see him in such a state.
“Good day, sir,” she said quietly, hastily followed by Hermione and Neville.
Snape acknowledged them with a curt nod, but his expression of something between irritation and quiet suffering didn’t change.
“We’ve come to see how you’re doing, sir,” Elizabeth continued, trying to look unruffled by his evident lack of interest. “Have you already been told when you’ll be able to resume teaching?”
“I’ll return next week,” Snape replied coldly, and after a short pause said: “May I ask what would make you three so interested in my well-being?”
‘Oh no,’ Elizabeth thought sadly. ‘Here we go again. This man will probably never realize that some people might actually do certain things simply because they care about him. But since that’s definitely not what he’s waiting to hear...’
“Well, Hermione and I can’t wait to have you back for the simple reason that we’ve once again been given Professor Fletcher to teach us Potions during your absence, and even the one lesson we’ve had with him so far was enough to drive us all up the wall. As for Neville-”
“I am now convinced that there’s only one person in the world who can ever succeed in sufficiently preparing me for Voldemort – and that’s you,” the plump boy said solemnly.
Snape didn’t say anything, but there was a momentary flicker of surprise (and was it just Elizabeth’s imagination, or did she also see something very close to emotion?) in his eyes before his face quickly regained its original stony appearance.
“Anyway, we’ve also brought you this,” Elizabeth said after a short while of tense silence, producing the chocolate-box from behind her back and handing it to Snape. “Maybe it’ll make you feel better sooner.”
But Snape made no attempt to take it. Instead he glared at it as if it were poisoned, which, upon further reflection, Elizabeth decided might indeed have been the case, since with Voldemort’s determination to punish him, even a mere chocolate-box could turn out to be a deadly gift.
Elizabeth sighed, and went over to put her present on the bedside table. But she had barely done so when her arm was suddenly closed in a pincer-like grip, causing her to cry out in surprise as well as pain. And even though she knew exactly who it was that had startled her so much, she was still surprised to see just how dramatically Snape’s expression had changed in only a couple of seconds: from suspicious to one of suppressed triumph.
“Miss Woodhouse, was it you who had hit that cursed Bludger?” he hissed, looking her straight in the eye as if trying to hypnotize her to give him the answer. “Is that the reason why you’re giving me those ... chocolates?” And he disgustedly jerked his head in the direction of the offending box.
‘Uh-oh,’ Elizabeth thought dejectedly. ‘And I was just beginning to think that maybe he wouldn’t ask.’
“Yes, sir,” she said quietly. “And I would like to apologize, even though I know you’ll never forgive me. But it was an accident. I never meant to hit you-”
Snape held up his hand. “I’ve heard enough, Miss Woodhouse,” he snarled. “Now, get out of my sight, all three of you!”Hermione and Neville immediately set off for the door, but Elizabeth didn’t move. Instead she just stood there, her grievous expression heart-breaking enough to make a stone cry, but Snape’s heart was apparently made from an even harder material. And so eventually even she left the infirmary, her eyes once more filled with tears for the man whose love she’d probably never win.