True to his word, Snape had indeed returned the following week, with his arm still covered in bandages and his behaviour more unpleasant than ever before. No mistake escaped his watchful gaze, not even the slightest diversion remained uncriticized, and even Neville often complained that their private lessons weren’t nearly as peaceful as they used to be. His fearfully awaited meeting with Voldemort had turned out well, however (the usual Cruciatus curse that had been cast on him not really counting as a sign of something to get too worried about any longer), as did the meetings that followed. And by the middle of December, there was already quite a number of people, wizards and Muggles alike, who owed him and his spying activities their life, since Neville had been quick enough to warn them against the danger of a potential attack in time. The result was, that even his grandmother had eventually forgiven him for his stupid mistake, and actually allowed him to stay at Hogwarts over the holidays so he could be with Hermione, who had also succeeded in getting her parents to survive this year’s Christmas without her.
Elizabeth, who could only enviously watch as he added his name to the short list of students staying over the holidays, would’ve given anything to be able to do the same, but, unfortunately, she knew only too well that her parents had other plans in store for her. Because, just like every year (with the exception of the year of the Yule Ball), she was expected to spend her Christmas in the family circle, and she was sure that her mother would turn her life into living hell if she as much as thought about doing something to change that fact.
But when even Jane had eventually announced that, for once, she would also be staying, since her parents had decided to go on a skiing holiday without her, leaving her to choose between Hogwarts and the company of her grandmother (and she, of course, immediately pounced on the first option), Elizabeth’s resigned attitude quickly gave way to determination to follow her example no matter what. Mother or no mother, she decided to write a letter home, in which she begged her parents to kindly make an exception this year ... and let her stay.
It took about a week before Wilma with the answer had finally arrived, and although Elizabeth had already decided to stay no matter what her mother would say, she still pounced on it the same way an underfed animal would pounce on a piece of meat.
The letter turned out to be short, and not exactly encouraging, but Elizabeth was satisfied.
Well, Eli, (it said)I don’t think I need to tell you that we were not at all pleased by your request, but since it seems that your crush on a certain Professor still hasn’t left you, I won’t even attempt to persuade you to change your mind, as I know it would be useless. So you can stay where you are for all I care, if that’s what you really want, but you will have to take into account that you won’t be getting any Christmas presents this year. They will be waiting for you until you come back home in summer.
And so Elizabeth happily rushed off to also put her name down on the list hanging in the Entrance Hall, getting there right on time, too, as Professor McGonagall was just about to take it off.
“Are there only seven students staying this year?” she asked incredulously as she added her signature to six others.
“It seems so, Miss Woodhouse,” replied the elderly witch and, as soon as Elizabeth finished putting down her name, replaced the list by a new piece of parchment with some sort of announcement on it. Then she swiftly left the Hall, leaving the blond girl to read it in peace.
A couple of minutes later, Elizabeth burst into her dormitory, her cheeks flushed with excitement.
“Jane!” she yelled, causing all of the other girls currently occupying the dormitory, most of whom were in the middle of packing, to throw a curious glance in her direction. “Dumbledore’s decided to hold a dance on Christmas Eve, even though there are only seven of us staying over the holidays! Isn’t that nice of him?”
Jane, who was taking up a comfortable position on her bed, raised her eyes from the book she was reading (another Agatha Christie; Elizabeth noticed) and leisurely said: “Cool. Maybe it’d be a good idea to find myself a partner then, wouldn’t it? Do you know which guys are staying?”
Elizabeth thought for a while, but eventually said: “Well, there’s Neville, who I’m sure is going to attend the dance with Hermione, then Harry, but I’m afraid that he might be going with Cho, who’s also staying, and lastly ... lastly there’s Justin, I think.”
“Justin Finch-Fletchley? All right, I’ll ask him.”
Elizabeth threw her friend a disbelieveing look. “Um ... I don’t want to sound old-fashioned or anything, but aren’t the guys supposed to ask the girls to the dance, and not the other way round?”
“Nonsense,” said Jane firmly. “Justin’d never find the courage to ask me; haven’t you noticed how shy he is? And I’m determined to find somebody to go with this year, because I definitely don’t want to end up sitting down the whole time like I did at the Yule Ball two years ago. Come to think of it, who are you going with?”
“No one,” admitted Elizabeth. “But I don’t even want to go with anyone, I think I’ll be happy just watching you.”
“No, you won’t,” said Jane, the tone of her voice clearly indicating that any arguments would be entirely useless. “I could never enjoy the dance if I knew that you didn’t find a partner. Even if we had to share Justin-”
“No way, Jane,” Elizabeth cut in, finding the idea absolutely horrendous. “That’s completely out of the question. I don’t even like him!”
“All right, all right,” agreed Jane, throwing her hands up in defence. “But who can you ... I know! Why don’t you ask Snape? Don’t tell me you don’t like him, because I wouldn’t believe you.”
But Elizabeth looked horrified by the mere thought. “Jane!” she exclaimed. “I can’t do that, however much I’d want to; he’d kill me!”
“You’re exaggerating. The least he can do is refuse, which I think he most probably will, but you can still give it a try. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, my mother always told me.”
Elizabeth considered her friend’s words for a while, slowly letting the idea sink in.
“All right,” she said finally. “But I’ll only ask him for one dance, definitely not to be my partner for the whole thing.” And when Jane didn’t say anything, she couldn’t help but add: “Well? Are you happy now?”
“I suppose. One dance better than nothing, after all.”
The two nights left until Christmas Eve had turned out to be very restless for Elizabeth, as she’d spent most of them imagining Snape’s potential reaction to her little request, but finally the both eagerly and nervously awaited day did arrive, and with it the time to get prepared for the dance. Before she knew it, Elizabeth found herself sitting in front her little mirror, attempting to achieve her make-up to look at least as good as it had done a year ago when she had tried it at home, and shaking all over. Eventually Jane, who at first could do nothing but laugh at her friend’s desperate attempts to apply the black eye-liner, had to go over and help her, as the time to leave for the Great Hall was slowly drawing near and Elizabeth still hadn’t put on her dress or done her hair.
Finally, though, both girls were ready, with Elizabeth, according to the opinion of her friend, looking like she was about to compete for the title of Miss Universe. Justin joined them as soon as they left the common room (for Jane had indeed succeeded in convincing him to be her partner), and together they set off down the many stairs leading to the Entrance Hall.
Elizabeth was getting more and more nervous with each step, with her stomach slowly beginning to feel like a whole bunch of butterflies had decided to reside inside it, but she bravely continued to make her way down the stairs ... until she, as well as her two companions, eventually reached the double doors of the Great Hall and shakily stepped inside.
For a short moment, she forgot all about Snape and her intention to ask him for a dance, as the only thing she could do was to dazedly take in the new look that the Hall had gained since lunch. The usual Christmas decorations remained, but the four house tables had been removed and replaced instead by a much smaller table on the right side of the room, decorated with candles and set for seven people. The many candles that usually lit the Hall were gone, however, the only source of light now being little red lamps floating high above their heads, causing the room to gain a rather eerie appearance. To top the effect, a violin orchestra was quietly playing in the background, making Elizabeth feel like she had suddenly been thrown into a Hitchcock horror movie.
When she glanced towards the High table, however, and saw Snape wearing his usual unpleasant expression, all these thoughts immediately disappeared and were quickly replaced by her old worries.
‘There is still time to back out,’ the cowardly part of her mind whispered suggestively, but Elizabeth ignored it. Jane would never speak to her again if she did that, not to mention the fact that if Snape really agreed to dance with her ... no, she’d better not keep any false hopes, since she was sure that the potential disappointment would then be even larger. Instead she uncertainly set off for the students’ table, gave Hermione and Neville, who were already there, a weak smile, and then quickly sat down, feeling her head begin to spin.
Eventually even Harry and Cho arrived, with Cho looking especially beautiful that night, and the empty plates on the table filled themselves with dinner soon after. Elizabeth, however, wasn’t paying much attention to what she was eating, shoving what was on her plate into her mouth somewhat mechanically as she continued to throw endless looks in Snape’s direction. Therefore she didn’t even notice when the leftover food had disappeared, and only came back to reality when she realized that the music had changed and was now louder.
Hermione and Neville were the first to get out onto the dance floor, the witch giving her a small wink as she left her seat, with Harry and Cho not taking long to follow.
Elizabeth nervously watched Jane talking to Justin, before finally not being able to stand it any longer and asking: “Well? Aren’t you two going to dance?”
Jane gave her a wicked grin. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? But no, I’m not going to leave this seat until I see how you go with Snape. What are you waiting for, anyway?”
Elizabeth sighed. “Just give me a moment to calm down a little, OK? I promise I’ll go out there when the next song starts.”
That moment, unfortunately, didn’t take very long to arrive, and before she’d had a chance to put up any sort of protest, Elizabeth found herself being pulled up from her chair and gently shoved in the direction of the teachers’ table.
“Good luck!” she vaguely heard Jane call after her as she uncertainly tried to set her feet in motion. “And the song’s quite slow, too...”
But Elizabeth was no longer listening. She had other things to worry about, like the fact that now it didn’t feel like there were only butterflies in her stomach, but the whole insect population of Great Britain as well. She tried to ignore it, however, and taking deep breaths along the way, she slowly set off for Snape’s seat at the farther end of the High table. For some reason, though, the table seemed closer than usual, because sooner than she would’ve liked, Elizabeth was standing in front of Snape.
“Excuse me, sir, I was just wondering if...” she started, but suddenly her throat felt as dry as cotton and she couldn’t bring herself to finish the sentence.
“Yes, Miss Woodhouse, what is it?” Snape asked irritably, but he also looked slightly amused by her uneasiness. Somehow, this gave Elizabeth the strength to continue.
“I was wondering if you’d like to dance with me?” she blurted out.
Snape looked at her as if she’d just grown a second head, and Elizabeth was sure a refusal, accompanied by a sarcastic remark was on the way. Suddenly, the idea of asking him to dance seemed like the most idiotic thing one could possibly think of. Surprisingly, though, it wasn’t Snape who spoke, but Dumbledore, who was sitting only one seat away and who had heard the whole of Elizabeth’s proposal.
“Well, Severus,” he said, his voice dead serious, but his eyes, twinkling merrily, giving him away, “you’re not going to refuse, are you?”
Snape cleared his throat. “Actually, Headmaster, I was just thinking of going outside, to see if-”
Elizabeth never got to hear exactly what Snape had wanted to go and see, because Dumbledore cut him off. “Now, now, the garden’s not going to run away, is it? I believe I haven’t seen you dance for quite a long time, and since Miss Woodhouse here has asked so nicely, I don’t think it would hurt if...”
“Thank you, Headmaster, I believe I get your point,” Snape interrupted, and, giving Dumbledore a hateful look, reluctantly rose from his seat. “Well, Miss Woodhouse, shall we?” he asked icily, extending his arm towards her.
Elizabeth, who seemed to have been caught in some kind of trance, only nodded and took the offered hand. Snape then led her into the middle of the Great Hall and slowly, they started dancing. Elizabeth was surprised to discover that he was actually a very good dancer, and she was about to tell him so, but he spoke first.
“Miss Woodhouse, why are you trying to make a fool out of me?” he hissed in her ear, sending shivers down her spine.
“I ... I...” Elizabeth stuttered, clearly not expecting Snape to speak at all, let alone ask questions.
“Well?” Snape demanded.
“I am not, “ she stated firmly when she’d regained her composure. “What makes you think the opposite?”
“I think you know that perfectly well. You know I never take part in such ... activities. Look at all the students, none of them are dancing now, they’re all staring at us. Tell me, Miss Woodhouse, are you just trying to drive me crazy or do you have another reason for not going to the dance with one of them and asking me instead?”
“I didn’t have anybody to go with,” Elizabeth confessed. “I was the one left over, but I didn’t want to just sit around and watch other people dance, so I asked you.”
Snape gave an impatient sigh. “Yes, but you could’ve just as well turned to any other Professor. I’m sure that Flitwick, for example, would’ve been more than happy to comply. So once again, Miss Woodhouse, why me?”
”Well, you are by far the youngest male member of the staff,“ Elizabeth knew that if her previous statement hadn’t been a lie, then this one most certainly was, however plausible it sounded, but she couldn’t exactly tell him the truth, could she? “The others are simply too old.”
Snape, although still looking somewhat suspicious, finally seemed satisfied with the answer, and they continued dancing in silence. Elizabeth had to hand it to him, he really could dance, but ... something was wrong. And suddenly, she knew ... the distance between them was too large. He was holding her as if being afraid of catching some sort of infection, for god’s sake! Elizabeth knew that this was probably the closest she’d get to him, ever, but if she could somehow make him hold her just a bit more tightly... And then, all of a sudden, she had an idea. It was a risky one, that was for sure, but she just had to try.
“Sir,” she said, putting on the most innocent look she was capable of, “you know how you said all the students are staring at us ... well, maybe they’d stop if we looked a bit more natural, you know, perhaps if you weren’t holding me an arm’s length away from yourself and stopped twisting my hand at that awful angle, then...” she trailed off, silently praying for her little trick to work.
Snape shot her a look of pure venom, but reluctantly pulled her a little closer ... and Elizabeth covered the rest of the distance.
“Miss Woodhouse, what do you think you’re doing?” Snape asked, his voice dangerously low.
“Nothing, just trying to look natural,” Elizabeth replied, the innocent look still plastered on her face.
Snape didn’t say anything, but he didn’t push her away, either.
‘Is there any chance that he might actually be enjoying this?’ Elizabeth asked herself as she rested her head against his chest. For as far as she was concerned, this was undoubtedly the happiest moment of her life. She felt like she was in heaven, oblivious to the world around her, because all she had eyes for was Snape. Her head was spinning and her knees were feeling rather weak ... so she just closed her eyes and let Snape lead her for a while as she waited for her head to clear a little, breathing in his scent...
‘Now, hold on a minute!’ Elizabeth’s brain came back to life in an instant when she realized what she’d just discovered. Could it really be true that the evil Potions master, the man most people suspect of not even knowing what a bath is, smells like camomile? Elizabeth opened her eyes and sniffed again, but the smell didn’t go away.
‘Well, well, Professor, you seem to be full of surprises,’ Elizabeth thought to herself, a smile spreading on her lips. ‘Next thing I’ll find your hair isn’t greasy!’ And she quickly stole a look in that direction. ‘Well, I suppose one can’t have everything,’ she chuckled, picturing the oily jet-black locks she’d just had the chance to inspect at close range. ‘But maybe it’s not his fault. Maybe he just can’t do anything about it – if it gets greasy too quickly, maybe even a few hours after he washes it... I know I wouldn’t have the nerve to wash my hair every day, even if it did become greasy so fast.’
Getting this far, Elizabeth felt a sudden urge to ask him to confirm her theory, and while at it, ask him a million other questions as well, but after giving it some thought, she decided not to push her luck, for she was sure he’d end the dance sooner if she bombarded him with silly questions concerning his personal hygiene. So she closed her eyes again, and hoped to get at least some compensation by snuggling even closer to his warm, muscular body.
‘What? Muscular? Gosh, Professor, you’ll never cease to amaze me!’
All too soon, however, the dance was over, and she found herself being uncompromisingly led to her seat, with Snape either not noticing or not wanting to notice her pleading eyes, begging him for another dance. Finally realizing that there was absolutely no chance of him changing his mind, Elizabeth decided to ask at least one of the questions that have been pestering her for the last couple of minutes. Quickly she chose the most obvious one and asked in a tiny voice: “Sir, where did you learn to dance so well?”
“I don’t think that’s any of your business, Miss Woodhouse,” Snape replied darkly, giving her a look that clearly expressed his wish for her to shut up. Which wasn’t all that necessary, because at that moment, they had reached Elizabeth’s seat, and any other attemps at a conversation would’ve been cut off anyway.
“Well, thank you for the dance, sir,” Elizabeth said, smoothing out her dress before finally sinking down into her chair. And then, with a mischievous smile, she added: “It really didn’t hurt that much, after all, did it?”
If looks could kill, Elizabeth would’ve been dead on the spot. But since she was still very much alive, Snape only gave her a curt bow, and headed off towards the High table, his black robes billowing behind him. Elizabeth watched him sit down and give another death glare in the direction of the Headmaster, who immediately replied with a sweet smile. When, a few seconds later, the smiling Dumbledore had finally looked her way, she, too, gave him a smile, and mouthed a silent ‘Thank you’ before turning her attention to an excited-looking Hermione who had plopped down into the seat next to her.
“Well, Neville’s dancing skills have certainly improved since the last time I’ve seen him dance in our fourth year,” she declared. “Really, I didn’t expect him to be so good.”
“You didn’t expect Neville to be a lot of things,” Elizabeth muttered, earning an amused look from her friend. “Did you, by any chance, happen to ask him for the cause of his sudden improvement?”
Hermione’s expression turned serious. “Yes, I did. And, well ... he told me that it was thanks to Voldemort that he had learned how to dance. Because apart from having to attend the regular Dark meetings, he was also expected to go to various parties, usually held by some rich Death Eater ... such as Malfoy, for example. And one simply couldn’t get away without knowing how to dance at these sorts of events, so, eventually, even poor clumsy Neville had to learn.”
So that’s why Snape didn’t want to answer her question about his dancing abilities! And frankly speaking, Elizabeth didn’t blame him, as she could very well imagine just how uncomfortable it would’ve been for him to talk about something that he’d much rather forget. But she didn’t really want to drag that into the conversation, so instead she said: “I see. Where is he, anyway?”
“Oh, I think he’s gone off to ask Professor Sprout to dance,” Hermione answered matter-of-factly.
Elizabeth turned around, and sure enough, there was Neville, spinning around with the plump Herbology teacher. She also noticed another pair – Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall, who, despite being well past their teens, were producing the most extraordinary dance creations Elizabeth had ever seen, and from the look of it, they were enjoying themselves immensely.
“Speaking of Professors...,” went on Hermione, “how on earth did you manage to get Snape in a position like that? I even told Neville to stop dancing for a while so I could watch you ... and I thought I was seeing things!”
“Even to me it now seems more like a dream,” sighed Elizabeth. “Oh, Hermione, I don’t think I’ll ever get him to love me! I’m actually beginning to think he’s not even capable of any such feeling! He remained so ... cold throughout the whole thing, even when we got so close to each other I could actually smell him...”
“No need to go into detail,” Hermione cut in, making a face.
“Actually, he smells like camomile,” Elizabeth muttered under her breath, hence receiving quite a shock when she realized that Hermione had, in fact, heard her.
“Really?” the Gryffindor exclaimed. “Who would’ve thought? Wait till we tell Jane ... or ... would you mind too much if I told Ron? I’d so love to see the look on his face when-”
“Don’t you dare!” snarled Elizabeth.
“Sorry, just kidding. But anyway, I think you did a wonderful job, getting him so close was the best thing you could’ve done! Because remember this: if all else fails, then a little physical contact is bound to do the trick with most men. And with a man like Snape, it just might work. He may be able to control his emotions, but I’m sure he can’t control the reactions of his body. And I bet he hasn’t been this close to anyone for quite a long time, let alone a beautiful girl like you, so it simply must have at least some kind of effect! You just have to give him a bit of time to think it over. Unless...” Hermione suddenly fell silent, her expression thoughtful.
“What?” asked Elizabeth suspiciously.
“Unless ... he’s not interested in women,” Hermione finished reluctantly.
“What?” exclaimed Elizabeth, not quite believing what she’d just heard. “Don’t even say that aloud! I hope you don’t expect me to believe such ... such...”
“Sssh, calm down,” said Hermione soothingly. “It was merely a suggestion, and I don’t believe it either. No, as I’ve said before, I think you should just give him more time. Meanwhile, talk to him as much as possible, get as close to him as you possibly can without his getting suspicious, just so that he remembers what it had felt like to hold you...”
“Stop, stop, enough!” cried Elizabeth. “My imagination’s running wild already! Tell me, Hermione, how do you know all this stuff, about men, I mean? Because as far as I know, you haven’t had much more experience with them than I have ... and you’ve only been with Neville for a couple of weeks.”
Hermione flashed her a devilish grin. “I don’t read just schoolbooks, you know. You may not believe me, but I really meant it when I once said that I’ve realized there’s a lot more to life than just studying and striving for top grades all the time. Like getting to know men better.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Well, if I didn’t believe you before, I sure believe you now. Any other interesting stuff you’ve read?”
But Hermione never got a chance to answer, for at that moment, they were joined by a rather exhausted-looking Jane and Justin, causing any further attempts to follow the subject to be put off until later.
“Congratulations, Elizabeth!” Jane exclaimed as she wearily took her seat. “I never really believed your little mission to be a success, but aren’t you now glad that you agreed to give it a try? Anyway, what in the world did you tell him to actually make him go out there and dance?”
Elizabeth was more than happy to answer Jane’s question, as it wasn’t often that the tall witch showed interest in her former least favourite Professor, and when she’d finished telling her (as well as Hermione and Justin, who were also listening attentively) about Dumbledore’s little intervention, she didn’t hesitate and went on to give a detailed description even of the dance itself. She immediately wished she hadn’t, however, for the roar of laughter that followed her relation of how she’d managed to convince Snape to pull her a little closer was so loud that it echoed all throughout the Hall, causing Elizabeth to pray to all gods, known and unknown, that Snape wouldn’t put two and two together and figure out that it was actually he who was the cause of their amusement. Fortunately, though, it looked as if the Potions master’s attention was focused more on the conversation he was having with Mrs. Figg than on the group of stupidly laughing teenagers, leaving Elizabeth to eventually desist from her prayers and return to chatting with her friends instead.And so the evening slowly passed; the end of it, along with the time to go to bed, arriving much sooner than all the dance-obsessed couples would’ve liked. Even Elizabeth, who’d only danced once (with Neville) since the time she’d asked Snape, didn’t feel like leaving the Hall yet, but since both Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall remained firm, she was left with no choice but to reluctantly obey. It was still a long time before she fell asleep, however (unlike Jane, who passed out almost as soon as her head hit the pillow), since she just couldn’t stop herself from replaying the beautiful moments with Snape in her mind over and over again, but when she finally did, with a huge, satisfied grin playing on her lips, it was one of the most peaceful slumbers she’d enjoyed in all her life.