First time

Hogwarts in danger

Chapter 22

Hogwarts in danger

Elizabeth walked back to Ravenclaw Tower with only one thing on her mind: she had to tell somebody about Snape’s strange behaviour as soon as possible, or she’d definitely go mad. Try as she might, she couldn’t think of any plausible reason that could’ve possibly made him act the way he had, the explanation that his dislike for her had reached such a level that he now couldn’t even stand to be near her not really sounding all that probable. It wasn’t hate that she saw in his eyes just before she left the classroom, after all; it was something else, and Elizabeth was certain that if she figured out exactly what, all her questions would suddenly no longer remain unanswered.

“Password?” asked Violet as Elizabeth reached the familiar portrait that hid the entrance to the Ravenclaw common room.

“Purple,” the blond witch muttered and, not even waiting for Violet and her portrait to fully uncover the hole underneath, climbed into the common room.

“What? Back already?” Jane, who was reading a book (yet another Agatha Christie, to Elizabeth’s huge ‘surprise’) in one of the armchairs by the fire, but looked up as her friend dropped down onto the couch on her right, asked disbelievingly. “Don’t tell me Snape let you off early!”

“Believe it or not, he did,” stated Elizabeth, and proceeded to give Jane a detailed account of her detention, including its strange end.

“I always knew he was weird,” Jane declared when her friend had finished. “But to kick you out like that, when you were still a long way from finishing all the tasks he’d set you ... that’s totally beyond my reach.”

Elizabeth sighed: Jane probably wasn’t the right person to ask for an explanation. Had she given it some thought, she could’ve guessed what her friend’s reaction would be even before it left her mouth, actually. Well, she still had Hermione.

The Gryffindor, however, didn’t prove to be as much help as Elizabeth had originally hoped, because although she had come up with at least three theories explaining why Snape had decided to end Elizabeth’s detention early, each sounded even more improbable than the next. Surely it was crazy to think that she had finally managed to talk some sense into the Potions master, and that the only reason why he threw her out was because he wanted to be alone so he could think her words over. Little did she know that in reality, the truth was even crazier.

The couple of days left until the beginning of the summer holidays were over before Elizabeth knew it, and still she wasn’t any closer to solving ‘The Case of Snape’s Mysterious Behaviour’, as she had come to call it. The Potions master didn’t even look at her as she quietly brewed her Invisibility Potion as part of the NEWT class’ end-of-year exam, nor did he say a word when she came up to his desk to hand in the finished version of her work (in the end he still gave her ‘Outstanding’, though, causing Elizabeth to become even more confused about the state of his mind than she already was). Her last hope of finding something out was now compressed into the fact that Snape still had to return her camera, but eventually even that possibility became nothing more than a fantasy when the Professor, instead of giving it to her personally, sent her the camera via his unfriendly black owl. And so, just like last summer, Elizabeth was once more forced to go home in a state of unsufferable uncertainty, because only after returning to school after the holidays would she finally get to find out what was the matter with Snape this time ... or so she hoped.

Upon her arrival at her family’s villa, Elizabeth was greeted not only by her grandmother, who had dropped in for an unexpected visit, but also by the sight of a small pile of presents lying on the living room table, waiting for none other than her to open them. With her mind constantly on Snape, she had completely forgotten about her somewhat delayed Christmas, but now that she realized just what was in store for her, she simply couldn’t help but temporarily put her troubles aside, and dig into the packages with unfeigned enthusiasm. She had never been one to take her time with the process of unwrapping, and since this time she didn’t even have to wait for the other members of the family to pass their presents around, she was finished in record time.

“Thank you, Santa!” she called as soon as she threw the last bit of wrapping aside, not really daring to break the family tradition despite the rather unusual time of the year. “Especially for the MP3 player!” she added, looking fondly at one of the exposed gifts lying on the floor in front of her.

Dinner followed, but although it was undoubtedly excellent, Elizabeth wasn’t really paying her plate much attention, as she was impatiently waiting for an opportunity to lead her grandmother away from the table so that she could talk to her in private. To her immense delight, she got her chance right after dinner, and so while her mother disappeared into the kitchen to wash the dishes and her father retired into the living room to watch TV, Elizabeth wasted no time and virtually dragged her grandmother up to her room. Once there, she quietly shut the door, motioned for the old lady to seat herself on the bed, and, dropping down on her knees, started rummaging through her Hogwarts trunk.

Her grandmother, however, soon lost her patience. “All right, so what is all this secrecy about?” she asked, craning her neck so as to see what Elizabeth was doing.

Luckily, the girl had just found what she was looking for – a large stack of photographs taken by her new camera, as well as the camera itself. “I just wanted to thank you once more for your early Christmas present,” she said, climbing onto her bed while holding the camera up for her grandmother to see.

“Ah, the camera, yes. I trust you put it to good use?”

“Sure,” beamed Elizabeth. “Want to take a look?” And settling herself comfortably next to the old lady, she began to work her way through the stack of photos, commenting each one as she handed it over. “This is my friend Jane sleeping ... hmm, this is quite obvious – the Hogwarts castle ... hehe, there’s Dumbledore on St. Valentine’s Day ... Professor Flitwick ... oh, that’s my friend Hermione and her boyfriend ... and here’s...”

“Severus, isn’t it?” smiled her grandmother, examining the moving photo in which Snape suddenly turned around to stare straight into the camera with a look of disbelief. “He still looks the same. But how on earth did you manage to take his picture? Knowing him, he probably wasn’t too happy about it, was he?”

Elizabeth sighed. “No, he gave me detention.”

“I thought as much,” chuckled the old lady. “What did he have you do? His all time favourite – scrubbing out the bedpans in the hospital wing?”

“Actually, no. I was supposed to serve my detention with Filch, but then...” Elizabeth trailed off, struck by a sudden idea. Maybe her grandmother would know why Snape had virtually begged her to leave him alone that day! She knew him quite well, after all, so it was definitely worth a try. And so, without further ado, she once more began to recount the events of her latest detention (and not only that, she also gave her grandmother a quick description of everything else concerning Snape that had happened in the course of the past year at Hogwarts), hoping against hope that she’d finally get a reasonable explanation of what had happened.

When she had finished her narrative, however, and asked her grandmother for an opinion, the woman remained suspiciously silent, causing Elizabeth to strongly suspect her of either not hearing a large part of what she had said (the infamous deafness simply had to come in sooner or later, after all; the fact that it hadn’t so far probably being just a coincidence), or, even worse, of actually falling asleep.

“Grandma?” she tried quietly. “Are you awake?”

“Of course I am, why wouldn’t I be?” snapped the old lady, turning to face her and pretending to look hurt. Elizabeth, however, wasn’t fooled; her Grandma was always looking hurt when she accused her of falling asleep, even if her accusation turned out to be correct.

“It’s just that you didn’t answer me,” she pointed out, mentally already preparing herself to repeat her question, possibly even the whole story.

“I was thinking,” her grandmother stated. “You said you came up to his desk just before he asked you to leave?”

“Yes,” confirmed Elizabeth, absolutely unsure of where this was going. At least she didn’t have to repeat anything, though.

“Hmm ... you know what, Elizabeth? I think our dear Severus might have finally fallen in love with you.”

Elizabeth stared at her grandmother in complete shock. What did she just say? Snape ... in love with her? No, surely she had heard wrong; Snape would never...

“B ... but that’s impossible,” she whispered finally. “He hates me! What other reason could he possibly have for treating me so badly?”

“That’s just it,” her grandmother declared triumphantly. “What’s the simplest way to disguise love?”

“Pretend ... he was only pretending to hate me?” breathed Elizabeth.

“Exactly. Or maybe not... I have a feeling that he wasn’t only pretending to dislike you, most likely he was trying to convince himself of it, too. Probably thought that if he treated you in the worst way possible, his feelings for you would eventually disappear. It’s all so simple; I can easily imagine what was going through his mind when he first discovered that he was beginning to like you a little more than he should: that you’re his student, that he’s so much older than you are, that you would never return his feelings anyway ... do I need to continue?”

Elizabeth, however, still didn’t want to believe what her Grandma was telling her. It all made sense, yes, but then again... “What about the detention, then?” she asked doubtfully. “Why did he throw me out so suddenly? If he were to successfully pretend that he hates me, wouldn’t his keeping me there right until the end come out much more convincing?”

“Definitely,” the old lady agreed, “only I suspect that he couldn’t. When you came up to him the way you did, I believe it was simply too much for him to bear, since he knew that unless he sent you away as quickly as possible, his self-control would most likely give way.” She shook her head and smiled. “Ah, who would’ve thought? The ever-so-composed Severus Snape, disconcerted by the mere presence of one of his students. What is this world coming to?”

Elizabeth, however, was no longer paying her any attention. Her heart was beating like mad, her hands were shaking ... while her brain was feverishly trying to analyze what she’d just heard. If she hadn’t left like Snape had asked her to, would he have... No, that was completely ridiculous. Her grandmother had to be wrong; there was simply no other explanation.

“Grandma, I think what you’re saying is totally crazy,” she declared. “It would, of course, be unbelievably wonderful if it were all true, but you haven’t seen the way Snape looks at me most of the time ... nobody could ever fake hate like that.”

Sighing, her grandmother rose from the bed. “Whatever you say, Elizabeth. I’ll just leave you to your thoughts, then. Good night!”

“Night, Grandma,” the girl replied absently, her mind already on other things.

And not even waiting for the old lady to make her way out of the room, she fell back on her pillows, shakily running her fingers through her short hair.

Great. Just what she needed – another factor to add to her already huge confusion and uncertainty. Snape finally falling in love with her ... how wonderful that sounded! But also how improbable... Aargh, why didn’t she just keep quiet instead of asking her Grandma for an opinion? She was an old lady, after all, and therefore her judgment might already be a little foggy, to say the least. And as such not completely reliable. What supported her theory, anyway? Nothing but assumptions. On the other hand, the fact that Snape hated her was being proven to her time and again all throughout the last semester ... ever since that fateful dance. Well, not that he had been too fond of her even before that (there was the matter with the Bludger, and also her suspicious politeness towards him, after all), but after the dance his dislike for her had undeniably reached new levels. What if Grandma was right, though? Would that mean that Snape’s supposed ... feelings for her had started blossoming at that time as well? That Hermione had a point about the dance causing Snape to eventually start thinking about how strangely good it had felt to have her so close to him? That the look in his eyes just before she left the classroom on the day of her detention, the one she couldn’t place, was ... was one of love? If only...

Her thoughts getting more and more confusing by the minute, Elizabeth eventually fell into a restless sleep; the fact that she hadn’t even changed into her pyjamas being probably the last thing in the world to bother her.

If the time Elizabeth had to spend at home last summer had seemed endless, it was still nothing compared to the madness she was undergoing now. She had told herself countless times not to keep dissecting what Snape might (or might not) be feeling towards her, since she knew only too well that there was absolutely no chance of her coming to a decent conclusion while still at home (and not at Hogwarts, where she’d make sure to watch Snape’s every move in order to decide whether her grandmother had been right about him or not), where her continuous presumptions and suppositions meant only putting more salt into the wound. Needless to say, all her attempts to transfer her mind to other things had consequently ended up with quite the opposite result, eventually leaving Elizabeth with only one option: to stick to her Animagus form as much as possible, for only in her furry body did she finally feel truly relieved of all her worries.

That solution, however, had turned out to be a bit of a problem, since her mother soon made it quite clear that “as far as she knew, she had given birth to a daughter, and not a cat, so unless Elizabeth wanted to switch to cat food and milk, she should quickly resume her human form and start behaving like the seventeen-year-old girl that she was ... or, apart from eating tuna, she’d be forced to use the cat tray as well”. At first, Elizabeth was actually rather tempted to accept the cat food (and even the cat tray, come to think of it) than be stripped of her only chance to escape her gloomy thoughts, but then she decided that maybe a little agreement with her mother would turn out to be a slightly better idea. If she offered to help her in the kitchen all morning, perhaps she’d let her get away with being a cat in the afternoon in return. Which is exactly how it had worked out in the end, even though it took almost one whole morning of continuous puppy-eyed begging and endless arguing to achieve. What Elizabeth had failed to mention, however, was that her help in the kitchen would naturally involve magic (she wasn’t underage any more, after all), causing her mother to experience quite a nasty shock when the potatoes in the sink had suddenly started peeling themselves without Elizabeth even coming near them. But after a long tirade about how she could’ve easily ended up with a heart attack, the lady in question eventually calmed down, and, muttering something about “probably never getting used to having a witch for a daughter”, simply let Elizabeth continue with her “sometimes quite useful” wand-waving without further fuss.

But despite her afternoonly escapes from the cruel world of reality, and even despite her hard-earned photo of Snape currently taking up a privileged position on her bedside table, time still went by agonizingly slowly for Elizabeth, making her wish she could at least go to visit Hermione or Jane like she did last year, just to give her a break from the horribly uneventful daily routine she had at home (all right, and also to discuss with them her Grandma’s suggestion about Snape – something she didn’t really feel like doing via letters). But since both girls now had their boyfriends to attend to, Elizabeth knew only too well that her wish would most likely remain nothing but a wish, and she suddenly felt unusually alone, almost as if she now had no friends at all. She knew she was being stupid, of course, because even though Hermione and Jane had found themselves boyfriends, they were still her friends (and hopefully would remain just that forever), even if they didn’t spend all their free time with her any more, but she simply couldn’t help herself. Hermione hadn’t written to her for almost five days now, after all...

Speaking of the devil, a tawny owl suddenly flew in through the open window of her room, landing on her shoulder and extending its leg so that Elizabeth could remove the letter that was tied to it. Which she promptly did, momentarily even forgetting to give Hermione’s owl some kind of treat in her eagerness to read what the girl had written her, but quickly rectifying her mistake when the said owl gave her a reproachful look, followed by a rather painful peck. Two chocolate biscuits later, the bird was finally satisfied, happily taking off again and leaving Elizabeth to read the letter in peace. Its contents, she soon discovered, were frightfully similar to what Hermione had been writing her all summer (not that Elizabeth minded, of course; in her state she was easily pleased by practically any letter): that Neville had taught her a really great new spell, that she and Neville had had another wonderful, long-lasting wizards’ duel, that Neville was soon leaving for Hogwarts to do some more training with Snape, which meant Elizabeth could come over...

Hang on! Now, this was definitely not something Hermione wrote every time; this was excellent! And whoever said that wishes don’t come true was, most fortunately, wrong. Deciding to compose a quick reply straight away, Elizabeth found herself a quill, some ink, and a piece of parchment, sat down at her desk, and swiftly started writing:

Dear Hermione,

Thank you very much for your letter; I’m glad you and Neville (say hi to him for me, will you?) are both alive and well. As for your invitation – I’d love to come, but I believe it’s your turn to visit me this year, so if it’s all right with you, please let me know when I should come to wait for you at the railway station as soon as possible.



A couple of minutes later, Wilma was already on her way, while Elizabeth could do nothing more but impatiently await her friend’s reply. Which, fortunately, didn’t take nearly as long to arrive as she had expected it to, and since Hermione had readily agreed with her suggestion (and, to the Ravenclaw’s undefinable delight, even offered to stay with her right until the end of the holidays), Elizabeth could happily rush off to the railway station to meet her only three dreary days later.

“Hermione!” she yelled as soon as she saw the bushy-haired witch getting off the train not far away from her, frantically searching the platform but obviously not seeing her. “Over here!”

“Oh, there you are!” exclaimed Hermione, immediately beginning to make her way in Elizabeth’s direction. “Hello!”

“Hi, Hermione,” beamed Elizabeth. “Great to see you again! But ... don’t you have any luggage?”

The Gryffindor looked at her empty hands and laughed. “Of course I do; it’s just that I shrank my trunk to fit into my pocket. We are seventeen now, remember? Don’t tell me you didn’t try any magic at home yet, because I simply wouldn’t believe you!”

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of missing the opportunity to do that! I was just so taken by surprise when I saw you without your usual enormous trunk filled with books that for a short moment I forgot all about it. Anyway, how are you? And how come you can stay with me right until the beginning of September? Is Neville spending the rest of the holidays at Hogwarts?”

Hermione sadly nodded. “Yes. I think there’s something’s going on, even though Neville refused to tell me anything when I asked him about it. Said he didn’t want to scare me while he’s still not sure whether his predictions are correct or not. But enough about that; how have you been? Terribly lonely, I’d say ... if one’s to go by your letters.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean for the letters to sound that way,” sighed Elizabeth, “but you’re right. I’ll tell you all about it when we get to my house, O.K.? Hope you don’t mind a short walk; I would’ve got my Dad to pick us up, but since he’s at work, I decided we’d just have to manage without him ... even if you turned out to bring your full-sized trunk with you, and not just a pocket version of it.”

And since Hermione immediately stated that a walk would be just fine, the two girls eventually left the by-now-empty railway station, and slowly set off towards the Woodhouse villa, with Elizabeth giving her friend a guided tour of the small village – her home – as they went.

“It’s so quiet here,” commented Hermione, looking at the neat gardens of the houses they passed in amazement. “Can’t help but love the place straight away.”

“I’m glad you like it,” smiled Elizabeth, “but I’d be thankful for your flat in London if I were you. It gets rather boring here after a while, you know. No theatres, no cinemas ... nothing. Can’t wait to learn how to Apparate this year; then I’ll be able to visit London practically anytime!”

“Well, I’d gladly change with you. I’ve been dreaming of moving to the country for years, but I’m sure my parents would never agree to that. Who needs two dentists in some tiny little village, after all?”

Elizabeth only shrugged, and the two girls continued walking in silence, except for Hermione’s occasional comments concerning the beauties of the village. A few minutes later, they finally reached their destination, and after Hermione had brushed off the necessary greetings with Elizabeth’s mother, both girls disappeared upstairs to give the Gryffindor time to unpack.

“That’s my room,” Elizabeth pointed as they walked past a closed door, “but you’ll be sleeping here – in the guest bedroom.” And she pushed open another door, standing aside to let the bushy-haired witch in.

“Wow, excellent!” exclaimed Hermione, taking a step inside and giving the room a quick survey. Then she turned towards her friend, who was still standing in the doorway, and, motioning for her to come in, said: “All right, but now you’re going to tell me what’s bothering you.”

Reluctantly, Elizabeth entered the room and seated herself on the bed. Maybe she shouldn’t tell Hermione, after all. It was all so terribly silly, anyway; she’d probably just get laughed at. Snape in love – could anyone possibly think of anything even more absurd than that?

“Don’t you need to unpack first?” she asked hopefully.

“I can easily listen to you even while unpacking,” replied Hermione, fixing her with an expectant look. “Come on, you can tell me,” she added when her friend remained silent. “It’s about Snape, isn’t it?”

Nodding, Elizabeth finally launched into her narrative, including what her Grandma had told her, and even what she herself thought about it all ... which, unsurprisingly, came down to only three words: ‘I don’t know’.

Several minutes later, Elizabeth had finished talking, and was now doing her best to determine what Hermione’s reaction would most likely be. Curiously enough, the Gryffindor didn’t look like she was about to laugh at all: her expression could only be described as thoughtful.

“You know, Elizabeth,” she said finally, her brows furrowed in concentration, “I think there’s a chance that your grandmother might be right. It is definitely an option, and I must admit that it had crossed my mind as well when you asked me about the detention just before we left Hogwarts for the holidays, only I didn’t want to give you any false hopes, so I decided that maybe it’d be better if I kept it to myself. Hope you’re not angry at me for that.”

Elizabeth gave her a weak smile and gently shook her head. “No, of course not. Just look what finding that fact out has done to me – I can’t stop thinking about it, it’s poisoning my mind ... and what’s the use of it all? I’m only coming up with more and more stupid assumptions each day, that’s what. But seriously, Hermione – do you really believe he could love me?”

The Gryffindor looked up from her unpacking and shrugged. “I don’t think I know the answer to that, Elizabeth; I’m not a seer. All I can say is this: it’s not impossible. But if I were you, I’d just try to forget about it for now, because until you get back to Hogwarts, there’s simply no chance of you finding out for sure.”

“All right,” said Elizabeth determinedly. “I’ll do my best not to mention the subject for the rest of your time here, OK?”

Strange as it may seem, Elizabeth really did manage to keep her promise; the only time when Snape’s name was brought up being when Hermione couldn’t help but comment the photo on Elizabeth’s bedside table. She still couldn’t stop herself from turning the matter over in her mind whenever she had the chance, however, and so as the end of the holidays slowly drew nearer, Elizabeth, just like last year, grew more and more fidgety. Therefore it was really no wonder that by the time she and Hermione (who had, as expected, been made Head Girl this year) went to do their annual shopping at Diagon Alley, the all too familiar butterfly population in her stomach had returned with full force (and probably decided to bring all their relatives along as well), and as she eventually ended up walking through the double doors into the Great Hall, she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Her first look was naturally directed at a certain seat at the High table, where Snape was currently immersed in a quiet conversation with both Dumbledore and Mrs. Figg, her heart almost stopping at the sight of the man who had unconsciously made her summer holiday turn into living hell. Fortunately, Jane (who had by then also found out about Elizabeth’s little problem, predictably dismissing any speculations about Snape’s supposed feelings towards her friend as complete nonsense) had enough sense for the both of them, as without her help Elizabeth would’ve probably never made it to her seat at the Ravenclaw table without attracting everyone’s attention by her suspicious wobbliness.

As soon as she was seated, however, her eyes immediately wandered back to the dark Potions master, and only left him when it was time to start taking care of the full plates which had meanwhile filled up the tables. But even then Elizabeth couldn’t help looking up to the teachers’ table every so often; Snape’s expression, however, gave nothing away. Well, according to her timetable, Elizabeth was to have a double lesson of Potions the very next day, so maybe she’d have better luck with reading the Professor’s mind then.

Then again, maybe not: all throughout the lesson Snape had stuck to being his usual unpleasant self, giving Elizabeth absolutely nothing to go by in her attempt to either confirm or reject her grandmother’s disturbing suggestion. Well, perhaps there actually was one little thing – maybe it was just her imagination, but it certainly seemed that the Potions master had finally decided to stop picking on her, and was now treating her the same as everybody else. But while it was undeniably a pleasant change, it still didn’t prove anything.

Despite all hopes for a sudden twist, things remained exactly the same as the time went by, and Elizabeth was slowly beginning to believe that all the speculations about Snape in love were probably just a product of her grandmother’s vivid imagination. Yes, there were times when she could’ve sworn that while she was evidently occupied with her potion, Snape’s black eyes were slowly burning a hole into her head, but whenever she tried to catch him in the act and quickly glanced up, the Professor was already looking elsewhere, or at least giving off an impression of complete indifference. Elizabeth, however, still wasn’t put off, and even went as far as asking Hermione to keep an eye on him for one lesson, but, to her endless disappointment, the result of her little experiment didn’t come out nearly as promising as she had hoped it to, as the Gryffindor later announced that while Snape had indeed been watching Elizabeth a little more than was necessary, his expression could, at the very most, be described as thoughtful, but definitely not as one of love. Then again, it was kind of silly to expect him to show even a hint of his true feelings during class ... which, sadly enough, brought Elizabeth back to where she had been before – nowhere.

‘What now?’ she thought to herself later that afternoon, angrily throwing herself onto one of the comfortable couches in the Ravenclaw common room. ‘Should I just give up on all further attempts to determine whether Snape loves me or not, and simply pretend that Grandma’s stupid theory never existed? Then again, what if he really does have some feelings for me? Would he just let me leave the school (as I’m sure he doesn’t know that I’m hoping to stay on even after graduation) without telling me? Stupid question ... of course he would! Maybe I should go and tell him how I feel, then, and just see how he reacts. And maybe not ... knowing him, he’d probably just kick me out with detention. Oh god, these thoughts are killing me!’

Frustrated, Elizabeth eventually decided to leave the common room in her Animagus form, hoping that a little stroll through the dark hallways of the castle would finally help her clear her somewhat confused mind. She didn’t really care where her four feet would carry her, as long as she could relish the feeling of absolute freedom and unconcernedness that only her furry body could possibly give her, and therefore only discovered that she had somehow ended up down in the dungeons and in front of Snape’s office when her sensitive ears caught the sound of footsteps somewhere in the distance, steadily heading her way. Curious as to who it might be (Snape?), Elizabeth swiftly squeezed herself behind the nearest suit of armour and waited, her emerald eyes shining with anticipation. It didn’t take long for the person to come near enough for Elizabeth to recognize him, and her interest was quickly aroused when she saw that it was none other than Draco Malfoy. What could he possibly want here? Is Snape giving him extra Potions lessons? Has he come for Quidditch advice? Or perhaps just to lick Snape’s shoes? Whatever it was, Elizabeth wanted to know (despite the annoying saying ‘curiosity killed the cat’ which had picked that very moment to invade her mind, and was evidently not prepared to leave it any time soon), and so as Draco knocked and entered the office, she quickly slipped in behind him just before he closed the door, immediately proceeding to retreat under Snape’s desk and out of sight.

“You wanted to see me, sir?” she heard him ask.

“Yes, Draco,” came Snape’s silky voice. “Please sit down.”

Judging by the sound of a scraping chair, Draco obeyed, and for a while both males remained silent, with Snape seemingly deciding how to begin.

“I believe your father has already acquainted you with my – shall we say – unloyalty to the Dark Lord, am I right?” he asked finally.

“Yes, sir. Said he would’ve never thought it of you, sir.”

“I see. What else did he say?”

“Oh, lots of things, sir. That he’d love to personally make sure that you are appropriately punished for your betrayal, that you – no offence, sir – are a disgrace to the House of Slytherin, that I didn’t have to respect anything you said any more, as long as it didn’t get me expelled ... something along those lines, sir.”

“I see,” repeated Snape, letting several seconds pass before he spoke again. “But you don’t agree with him.” It was a statement, not a question.

“No, sir, I don’t,” said Draco solemnly.

“I thought so.” More silence, and even Elizabeth under the desk could feel the tension in the room building. “Let me ask you a question, then: if the Dark Lord were to attack Hogwarts, would you choose to fight on Dumbledore’s side, even if it meant standing up to your own father?”

Draco seemed to consider the answer for a while, but eventually decided on a clear: “Yes, sir, I would.”

“I am glad to hear that, Draco,” came Snape’s response, and Elizabeth could’ve sworn that she’d caught a hint of relief in his voice. “How about your friends – Mr. Crabbe and Mr. Goyle? Do you believe they would do the same?”

“I think they’d follow me anywhere, sir,” said Draco confidently.

Snape rose from his desk, obviously satisfied. “Thank you, Draco. You may go.”

The blond boy also stood up, but surprisingly made no attempt to leave. Instead he asked, his voice uncharacteristically small: “Sir? Is ... is the Dark Lord really planning to attack the school?”

For a short while, Elizabeth thought that Snape wouldn’t bother to answer, but she was soon proved wrong. “Yes,” he said quietly, sounding even more serious than usual.

“When?” breathed Draco.

Snape sighed. “That, unfortunately, is something nobody knows, Draco.”

Even though Elizabeth couldn’t see the boy’s face, she could easily imagine his crestfallen expression as he muttered: “Oh ... well ... goodbye, sir,” and slowly started making his way out of the office. At first making sure that Snape was looking elsewhere, Elizabeth quickly followed suit, managing to squeeze herself through the door only seconds before it snapped shut.

As soon as she was safely out of the dungeons, the witch quickly changed back to her human form, and covered the rest of the way to Ravenclaw Tower on two feet only. The cat brain, unlike the human one, wasn’t really tailored to complicated thinking, after all, which was exactly what she needed to do after what she’d just been enabled to hear.

‘Voldemort’s going to attack Hogwarts!’ her mind screamed. ‘The school’s in danger, the students are in danger, the teachers are in danger, especially Snape ... and Dumbledore doesn’t even tell us? What sort of a Headmaster is he? The school should be making preparations, getting everybody ready for battle, sending the students home if necessary, and instead... The worst thing about it all is that I can’t tell anyone, as I’m not really supposed to know. But – wait a minute! Why don’t I talk to Neville? I bet he’s the one who obtained this piece of information in the first place! Didn’t Hermione tell me something was going on when she came to visit me in summer? Something scary? All right, that’s it – I’m going to ask Neville tonight at dinner.’

In the end, however, it wasn’t really necessary, as Dumbledore had chosen that very evening to inform the school about the hell that was threatening to break loose anyway. All the students who weren’t of age were to leave by the Hogwarts Express the following day, the rest were to decide whether they wanted to join them or stay and defend the school, in which case Dumbledore himself was willing to owl all of their parents a letter explaining the situation. Instead of regular lessons, special Defence Against the Dark Arts classes were to be held each day for those students who’d end up staying. Quidditch was, naturally, cancelled, as were any trips to Hogsmeade. Students were strictly forbidden to leave the school grounds. Everything that was going to happen at Hogwarts from that moment onwards was to remain secret, which meant that every letter (as well as the owl carrying it) would have to undergo a thorough inspection before being allowed to leave the school.

‘End of announcement, beginning of havoc,’ thought Elizabeth dejectedly, the ferocious chatter which Dumbledore’s speech had invoked slowly beginning to make her ears hurt. One thing she was sure of, though: even if she were to pay with her life for it, she was determined to stay at Hogwarts.

Elizabeth, however, wasn’t by far the only one who had made that particular decision, judging by the amount of students who had turned up in the Great Hall (which had, just like in their second year when Lockhart had decided to start a Duelling Club, been turned into something closely resembling a battle field) for their first special Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson the following morning. Only a few of the seventh-years were missing, and it seemed that even some of the sixth-years had actually chosen to stay; Ron Weasley’s sister, Ginny, being one of them. Their teacher (whoever that would turn out to be), however, was still absent, and Elizabeth decided to use the opportunity to quickly clear something up. Wasting no time, she swiftly made her way over to where Hermione and Neville were standing with a group of other Gryffindors, and, after briefly apologizing for disturbing their conversation, managed to drag the two aside.

“What’s the matter, Elizabeth?” asked Hermione as soon as they were out of earshot, giving her friend a curious look.

The blond witch flashed her an apologetic smile. “Nothing, really. I was just wondering whether it was Neville who had brought in the news of Voldemort planning to invade the school, and if so, then how come he doesn’t know the exact time of the attack as well?”

“It was me,” Neville confirmed solemnly, and Elizabeth suddenly realized just how much the boy had matured over the last couple of months. “But while the Dark Lord had revealed his plan to attack Hogwarts, he is keeping the time of the whole event to himself. I think he already suspects one of his Death Eaters of being a traitor, what with all those raids on both Muggles and wizards that have gone wrong, and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before he figures out who it is. And then-”

“No, Neville, you mustn’t talk that way,” interrupted Hermione, gently taking her boyfriend’s hand in hers. “You’ll see that all will be well in the end: Hogwarts will be saved, Voldemort will be defeated, and you ... you will stay alive so that we can get married.” And as if to seal her words, she grabbed the boy around the neck and proceeded to kiss him senseless.

Elizabeth suppressed the urge to roll her eyes; this was even worse than some of the soap operas she’d been watching at home to pass the time, and that was definitely saying something. Luckily, at that moment the double doors of the Great Hall flew open, and in came, to everyone’s surprise, not one teacher, but three: Dumbledore, Mrs. Figg and Snape. All of them looking unusually grave, they stopped in the very middle of the Hall, and after the somewhat confused students had finally managed to form a circle around them, Dumbledore waved an arm for silence and took the floor.

“First of all,” he began, his eyes exceptionally devoid of their ever-present twinkle, “I’d like to thank every one of you for choosing to stay at Hogwarts, despite the fate that this decision may bring you. Rest assured that all help is greatly appreciated at this difficult time, and that the more defenders Hogwarts will have, the better our chances of defeating Voldemort once and for all are. There’s still a lot you have to learn, however, and therefore I think it would be best to begin straight away.” Dumbledore paused, looking around at them all as if trying to determine whether they were up to what he was going to make them do or not. Finally seeming to come to some sort of conclusion, he continued: “Your first task during these lessons will be to continue practising what you have been doing with Mrs. Figg,” he motioned towards the old lady on his left, “for the past two years, which means mainly working on your agility, improving the quickness of your reactions, learning in which cases it’s more appropriate to use a defensive spell, and when, on the contrary, you should simply dodge the enemy curse, revising what you’ve learnt about fighting without a wand ... and so on, and so forth. Professor Snape,” he jerked his head in the direction of his other colleague, who, for once, was missing his usual scowl, “on the other hand, is here to teach you a variety of new spells and incantations, both defensive and offensive, which might come in useful during battle, and also to revise with you the ones you already know.” Dumbledore paused again, giving Elizabeth the feeling that the most important thing was presumably still to come. And she was right. “The principal aim of these classes,” continued the Headmaster, “however, will be to teach you one final spell of vital importance – a spell that could very well determine the outcome of the whole battle. As I’m sure you’re all well aware, Voldemort and his Death Eaters will refrain from nothing that could possibly help them take over the school, using the Unforgivable Curses, mainly the ‘Avada Kedavra’, included. Which, of course, gives them something of an advantage. But while we are most certainly not going to use the killing curse, there is one spell – a very old and complicated one, I might add – which, though not an Unforgivable, has basically the same effect as the ‘Avada Kedavra’. It is the ‘Fulgur Albus’, or white lightning, which is very much the exact opposite of the ‘Fulgur Ater’ – dark lightning – sometimes used by the Death Eaters instead of the killing curse. Unlike its dark brother, however, which, unless well aimed, kills slowly and painfully, death caused by the ‘Fulgur Albus’ is instantaneous.”

Elizabeth slowly digested what the man had just said. Was he actually asking them to kill? She glanced around and noticed that most of her class mates were looking just as shocked as she was, whispering and throwing each other confused looks. Obviously Dumbledore had expected such a reaction, however, for he gave them all a knowing look and then said: “Yes, yes, I can see what you are thinking now. So, in answer to your silent question – yes, I am indeed going to teach you a spell which can bring death to your enemy. I was hoping it would never come to this, but, unfortunately, there is no other way. The Death Eaters will show no mercy, and won’t hesitate to kill when given the opportunity, so unless we do the same, there is no chance of defeating them. I will do my best to help you overcome your hesitance to bring death to another human being, but if any of you feel that you’re simply not up to the task, there’s still time to let everything be and go home. I assure you that it is nothing to be ashamed of, not everybody has it in them to actually say the fatal words when it comes down to it, so please, think it over carefully, and if you have any doubts, any at all, go and pack your trunks before it’s too late.”

Dumbledore fell silent and looked around. Most of the students had started talking in a quiet whisper, but nobody looked as though they were about to leave any time soon. Elizabeth was determinedly staring at the floor. If she had to kill, so be it, but nobody was making her go home and away from Snape.

“Well, if you’re all sure,” said Dumbledore when the chatter had died down and still no one had decided to leave, “then I suggest we finally get down to business!”

And without any further ado, the Headmaster divided the students into three groups, with each group having one teacher put in charge of it. To her great disappointment, Elizabeth ended up with Mrs. Figg, but her spirits slowly rose as the lesson went on, seeing she eventually discovered that all the groups would move on to another teacher after lunch, and yet another one halfway through the afternoon.

“Hermione, don’t you think Dumbledore forgot to tell us something?” she asked as she and the rest of her class mates made their way out of the Great Hall at the end of the day, feeling both exhausted and excited (she had spent the last part of the lesson with Snape, after all) at the same time.

The Gryffindor gave her a questioning look. “What do you mean?”

“Well, he mentioned defeating...” Elizabeth lowered her voice, “...Voldemort once and for all, but he didn’t tell us how we could possibly go about killing him. I thought he was nearly immortal, or am I wrong?”

Hermione sighed. “I’m sorry, Elizabeth,” she said apologetically, “but I can’t tell you. Dumbledore’s afraid that despite all the safety measures, somebody might still manage to inform Voldemort about everything that’s going on at Hogwarts, and since killing the Dark Lord is the most important thing of all, we need to keep at least the plan of his downfall a complete secret. So, only a few chosen people know about it.”

“And it seems I’m not one of them,” muttered Elizabeth. “I can’t believe Dumbledore doesn’t trust me!”

“He can’t afford to risk, Elizabeth,” said Hermione soothingly. “The fact that we’ve discovered a way to kill Voldemort is the only advantage we have, and if we lose it, we’ll most probably lose the whole battle as well. And I’m sure you don’t want that.”

Elizabeth smiled. “You bet I don’t.” And with a “See ya tomorrow!”, she swiftly set off for Ravenclaw Tower.

During the weeks that followed, each new day very much resembled the last for Elizabeth. The huge improvement, however, which she, along with the majority of her fellow students, had made over the short period of time during which she had been taking the special Defence Against the Dark Arts classes was another thing altogether. The quickness of her reactions had reached yet another level thanks to Mrs. Figg, Dumbledore had eventually managed to teach her to use not just the ‘Fulgur Albus’ (if only on figurines dressed in Death Eater clothes so far), but also a charm to protect her from its opposite, the ‘Fulgur Ater’, and as for Snape ... well, Elizabeth simply couldn’t find a way to describe just how much she loved being tutored by him. True, his teaching methods weren’t much different from what she was used to in class, but what she definitely wasn’t used to was that it seemed almost as if he was enjoying himself, which pleased Elizabeth to no end. As long as Snape was happy, so was she. And so she eagerly took in every single word he told them – how to fight off vampires, zombies, skeletons, Dementors, and any other creatures Voldemort might convince to join the side of the Dark, how to react were they to somehow come face to face with the Dark Lord himself, and even how to heal minor injuries by themselves. The Potions master also used some of the time to take on one or more of his students in various situations which might come up during the real battle, but nor Elizabeth, nor anybody else had ever succeeded in causing him even the slightest bit of damage, making the blond witch realize just how powerful a wizard Snape really was.

Apart from preparing herself for Voldemort and his Death Eaters, Elizabeth and a few others had also chosen to continue their Apparition training in the evening, giving the girl practically no free time during the day and causing her to feel unbelievably tired when she finally got to bed at the end of her crammed daily schedule each night. Therefore it was almost impossible for her to continue answering all the angry letters her mother (who, it seemed, wasn’t about to accept that her daughter had chosen to stay at Hogwarts and put her life at risk so easily, despite Dumbledore’s explanation letter) – as well as her grandmother, for that matter – kept on sending her, and so one day Elizabeth decided to simply write both women for the very last time, thinking that if even that didn’t help, then bad luck. She put all the arguments she could possibly think of into that last letter – that if Voldemort gained control of Hogwarts, no place would be safe from him from then on ... not even their supposedly unheeded villa in the countryside, meaning she might just as well go into battle now instead of dying without a fight a only couple of weeks later; that she was going to be extremely careful not to get herself killed; that she was one of the best in Defence Against the Dark Arts, and therefore would be sorely missed if she suddenly decided to chicken out and go home; that she would never leave Snape-

Err, maybe it would be a good idea to cross that last bit out, actually, seeing all the letters had to go through an inspection before being allowed to leave the castle, but no matter – the other arguments were good enough. Well, at least Elizabeth thought so, but her mother obviously didn’t share her opinion, since her next letter didn’t turn out to be much different from her previous ones. But while she was still far from agreeing with her daughter’s course of action, at least she had given up on persuading her to actually change it, which, under the circumstances, was even more than Elizabeth had hoped for. Not that it mattered now, though, anyway, as there were other things on her mind these days – like who were all the strange people who kept coming and going through the Hogwarts gates at the most peculiar hours of the day, and why were they there to begin with. Had they come to help them fight against Voldemort? It certainly seemed so, for besides some very interesting individuals like a woman with pink hair or a wizard with a nose that looked like a cucumber, she also caught a glimpse of two of her former Defence Against the Dark Arts Professors, Lupin and Moody (the real one this time, she supposed), and even her ‘all time favourite’ teacher, Professor Fletcher. Surprisingly, though, she never saw any Aurors, whom she would have expected to come to protect the school in the first place, but according to Hermione, the main and very simple reason for that was that Dumbledore and the Ministry of Magic have not been on particularly good terms ever since the Dark Lord’s return, especially since the Minister for Magic, Cornelius Fudge, continually refused to believe that Voldemort was indeed something not to be taken lightly any longer.

And so, watching Hagrid training a group of giants out of her dormitory window one night sometime in October, Elizabeth slowly came to realize just how very real the whole threat of Voldemort attacking Hogwarts actually was, something she had never really bothered to think about before. Yes, she had always been aware of some dark shadow hovering over the wizarding world, but she had somehow convinced herself that while it might concern others, no harm would ever come to her or anybody else in her proximity. Not even when she had started her special Defence Against the Dark Arts classes did she fully realize why exactly it was that she was training so hard to be able to use all sorts of combat spells as effectively as possible, simply because she just took everything as it came and never found the time to give her actions a second thought. But now ... now, for the first time, she was truly scared. She should’ve been in bed hours ago, and she knew she’d probably be completely useless the following day (or was it today already?) due to the obvious lack of sleep, but somehow she just didn’t seem to care, and simply continued sitting on the window sill, thinking her gloomy thoughts and numbly gazing at the happening below.

She might have eventually fallen asleep, she wasn’t really sure, but the fact was that suddenly she was very much awake, brought back to reality by somebody’s horribly annoying voice yelling “You-Know-Who! You-Know-Who’s coming!” over and over again.

Elizabeth stiffened. ‘So it had happened at last,’ she thought with a shudder and slowly got off the window sill. ‘The final battle – the battle for Hogwarts – had begun.’
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