First time

Losses and gains

Chapter 24

Losses and gains

When Elizabeth eventually regained consciousness, at first she had absolutely no idea of where she was (and even who she was, come to think of it); her initial guess being that she had, in fact, died and gone to heaven.

‘So ... why am I lying in bed, then?’ her mind reasoned. ‘Why does my whole body hurt like somebody had run over it with a steam roller at least a dozen times? Surely people who go to heaven don’t feel any pain?’

But pain was exactly what she did feel, mostly just the numb sort of one, but at times it became so intense that it felt as if a million knives were slowly being driven into her skin, making her want to scream and scream until she’d eventually lose herself in the wonderful world of unconsciousness where nothing would hurt her any longer.

‘All right, so I’m probably not in heaven,’ she decided, getting this far. ‘I’m somewhere else. But where?’

She carefully looked around, doing her best not to move her aching body more than was necessary, but all she could see was whiteness. And beds ... lots of beds with people in them. And Jane, Hermione and Neville, sitting by her bedside and talking quietly.

Jane, Hermione and Neville? How come she knew their names when she couldn’t even remember her own? How come-

And then, all of a sudden, everything came back to her.

The war.

Draco’s quarrel with his father.

Snape fighting with Voldemort.

Snape. How could she ever, even for a moment, forget about him? Was he all right? Had he survived? Had Voldemort been defeated?

Whatever happened, Elizabeth had to know – now.

‘First things first, though,’ she told herself firmly, which, in this case, meant a very slow and careful shift to a more appropriate position for a conversation. She had barely raised her head from the pillow, however, when she caught sight of something black resting on her covers ... and screamed.

“Elizabeth!” exclaimed Hermione, immediately rushing to her friend’s side, closely followed by Jane and Neville. “You’re awake! Thank goodness; we were beginning to get worried!”

Elizabeth, however, completely ignored the Gryffindor’s excited words. “My ... my hand’s all black!” she stuttered, staring at the exposed limb in shock. “And ... and...”

“And a part of your chest, neck and cheek as well, I know,” said Hermione calmly, evidently feeling the need to inform her friend about her exact state before she’d find out herself and freak out again. “It’s going to be all right, though, so don’t worry. And be glad that Madam Pomfrey had managed to stop the blackness from spreading before it reached your heart. When Snape-”

“Snape!” exclaimed Elizabeth, suddenly remembering all the questions she was going to ask before getting all worked up about her injuries. “Where is he? Is he all right? And what about Voldemort?”

“Ssh, Elizabeth, calm down,” said Hermione quietly, pulling her chair right up to the bed and sitting down again. “You don’t want Madam Pomfrey to swoop down upon us, do you?”

“No, I just-”

“Yes, I know, you just want to find out everything at once,” smiled Hermione, who had obviously been chosen as the one to tell her. “Well, firstly, I can assure you that Snape is just fine; he wasn’t seriously injured, and he was actually the one to carry you up here. He even came back to check on you once, I believe.”

Elizabeth, although relieved to discover that her beloved was OK, thought she was hearing things. “C-carry me up?” she asked, bewildered. “He didn’t use magic?”

“No, he was too drained out, just like the rest of us. Killing Voldemort takes quite a bit out of you, you know.”

This was all too good to be true, and Elizabeth found herself wondering whether the bad news, which, as she knew only too well, were bound to come sooner or later, would be bad enough to compensate for all the wonderful things she’d heard so far. “So he’s ... he’s finally dead?” she asked, just to make sure. “For good?”

Hermione flashed her an enormous smile. “Yes, Elizabeth, he is. And I suppose that now that it’s all over there’d be no harm in finally telling you exactly how we finished him off, as I remember just how upset you were when I didn’t tell you last time.” She paused to take a breath, put her hand on top of Neville’s, as if to seek reassurance, and then continued: “Well, it was all quite simple, really. As I’m sure you know, the more people use the same spell at the same time, the stronger it becomes. So, all we had to do was to get a group of people to form a circle around Voldemort and send the ‘Fulgur Albus’ at him – a spell which, as Dumbledore had told the chosen few who were to perform it, was originally created with the intention to help the good wizards and witches get rid of some truly frightful ancient monsters of the Dark who had until then resisted every known spell, even if it were sent by many people at once. But the ‘Fulgur Albus’ was different. It was designed to be used only by those who were on the same side – the side of the Light, wishing to deprive the world of some sort of evil, and uniting to fight as one. If these conditions were met, and a number of people joined to produce the spell at the same time, it became powerful enough to destroy practically anything. Obviously, though, the Dark wizards didn’t give up so easily, and soon came up with the ‘Fulgur Ater’, naively hoping that it would work in much the same way as its opposite. Well, I think I hardly need to say how horribly wrong they were in their calculations, for soon it was clear that it made absolutely no difference whether the dark lightning was used by one person or more; it’s strength was always the same. Surely you can guess why?”

Elizabeth didn’t even have to think about the answer; it was so obvious she almost laughed. “Because Dark wizards can’t unite,” she said simply. “They only think about themselves, and the profit they can make out of whatever they do. The word loyalty doesn’t exist in their dictionary; they’d betray their own mother if they knew there’d be something good in it for them. Isn’t that right?”

“I wouldn’t have said it better myself,” said the Gryffindor with a smile.

“What I don’t understand, though,” continued Elizabeth thoughtfully, “is how come Voldemort never managed to figure out how you were planning to kill him. I’m sure he must’ve found out about Dumbledore teaching us the ‘Fulgur Albus’, despite all the safety precautions, so why didn’t he simply look up its effects in some book or other if he didn’t know them? He’d realize his fate straight away, wouldn’t he?”

“Good point, Elizabeth, but the problem with that suggestion is that a book like that simply doesn’t exist. And since, until now, the white lightning hadn’t been used for centuries, there aren’t too many wizards who know about it these days. Dumbledore seemed to trust the few who do not to share their knowledge with anyone, which, fortunately for us, left Voldemort with absolutely no chance of finding anything out.”

“I see,” said Elizabeth. “So ... who exactly was in that secret group of yours, the one that eventually destroyed him?”

“Well, only those who had Dumbledore’s complete trust, I’d say,” replied Hermione cautiously, evidently afraid that her friend would start complaining again about the unfairness of having been left out. “All the teachers, including Professors Lupin and Moody; Harry, Ron, Neville and I; the whole of Ron’s family with the exception of one of his brothers, who works for the Ministry; Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black; and, of course, Dumbledore himself. But I think that the key person was probably Snape, who had the most demanding task of us all. You see, he was to keep Voldemort occupied and make sure he wouldn’t disappear anywhere right until the end, when, hopefully, the rest of us would surround him and finally get rid of him once for all.”

“But ... wouldn’t it have been better if you had Dumbledore doing that, rather than Snape?” asked Elizabeth. “I mean, I know Snape’s a great wizard, but to keep resisting Voldemort for god-knows-how-long could’ve proven too much even for him, couldn’t it?”

“Well, yes, but we thought that Voldemort wouldn’t really fancy a duel with Dumbledore right from the start, because he knew it’d cost him most of the strength he was hoping to save for later, to finish us off. Which means he’d probably make a hasty retreat at the mere sight of the Headmaster, and only come back if he knew his army was close to winning. Snape, on the other hand, was absolutely perfect for the task, since Voldemort was not only willing to do practically anything to make him pay for his betrayal, but also, like you pointed out, didn’t think him strong enough to put up much resistance.”

“So ... you used Snape as some sort of bait,” said Elizabeth incredulously, feeling her temper rise. “You would’ve let him-”

“It was the only option, Elizabeth,” said Hermione firmly. “And, as you can see, it was successful.”

“Pity you haven’t been there to see the giants, Elizabeth,” stated Neville, obviously deciding that it was about time to change the subject. “I think Voldemort was just about to start congratulating himself on how well he was doing when Hagrid suddenly led them out of the Forbidden Forest, and you should’ve seen the way they dealt with the remains of the Dark army. Completely crushed them, that’s what they did.”

“Or take the house-elves,” Jane chimed in. “I would never have imagined just how powerful they can be if they want to; it’s a shame you didn’t get to see them. The Death Eaters didn’t know what had hit them when they suddenly appeared on the battle field.”

Hermione muttered something about house-elf rights Elizabeth didn’t quite understand, but she chose to ignore it and skipped instead to the one question that had been at the back of her mind right from the start, only she didn’t have the heart to bring it up earlier: “Um ... I’m not sure if I really want to ask this, but since I’d probably find out sooner or later anyway, I think it’d be best if you just told me now...” She paused, took a deep breath, and then, looking straight at her three friends, asked: “Were our losses too bad? Could you tell me who ... who...” she trailed off, hoping to get an answer even without having to finish the sentence.

Her words, however, were followed by nothing but silence. Hermione gave her a long, sad look, and then dropped her gaze to the floor, her eyes suddenly filled with tears. Neville immediately put his arms around her, whispering several undefinable words of comfort in her ear, but otherwise saying nothing. Jane opened her mouth, glanced at Hermione, and quickly closed it again. But even this was enough for Elizabeth to figure out what had probably happened ... Hermione had lost one of her closest friends. But which one? Harry? Ron? Or, even worse, both of them?

“I ... I’m sorry,” she began. “If you don’t want to talk about it, I’m not-”

“No,” said Neville quietly, still holding his girlfriend in his arms and gently stroking her hair. “Like you said, it’d be best if we got it over and done with.” He sighed. “It’s ... it’s Ron. He was killed by one of the Death Eaters. And his ... his sister Ginny ... she’s dead too.”

Hermione glanced up at Neville’s words, her cheeks streaked with tears, and Elizabeth turned to her with a look of deepest sympathy. “Oh, Hermione,” she said softly. “I’m so sorry. I-”

“It’s ... it’s OK,” the bushy-haired witch choked out. “He ... he wouldn’t have liked me to grieve for him like this. He would’ve told me to move on. He...” Burying her face in her hands, she suddenly broke into a fresh set of tears, leaving the sentence unfinished.

Elizabeth almost felt like crying herself at the sight of her, but eventually pulled herself together and, turning towards Neville, whispered: “What about Harry? Is he all right, at least?”

“Yes, he should be fine,” replied Neville, shifting his chair even closer to Hermione’s so that she could lean against him. “A few days here, in the infirmary, and he’ll be as good as new.”

Elizabeth let out a sigh of relief. Losing one friend is definitely bad, but losing two...

“And the others?” she asked anxiously. “Who else didn’t survive?”

“Well, we’ve lost quite a lot of the teachers,” said Neville thoughtfully. “Professor Trelawney was killed right at the beginning by a vampire; Professor-”

“Funny, isn’t it?” Jane cut in with a snigger. “She predicted everyone’s death at least once a month, but in the end she couldn’t even predict her own. It might’ve saved her life if she did.”

“I’m not really sure if that would’ve helped, actually,” said Elizabeth. “You can’t change a prophecy once it’s made; she told us herself several times. But enough about that; go on, Neville.”

“-Professor Vector was torn apart by a bunch of hell hounds; Professors Sinistra and Sprout were both hit by the ‘Fulgur Ater’, and were dead long before we could get them up to the hospital wing; Professor Fletcher was no match for one of the skeletons; Madam Hooch was overpowered by an army of zombies; Professor Lupin-” Jane sighed deeply at the mention of her former crush’s name, whose death had evidently afflicted her more than she was willing to admit “-was killed by the ‘Avada Kedavra’; Mrs Figg, despite her ability to turn invisible, was knocked unconscious by a stray curse which immediately caused the invisibility to lift, making her an easy target for one of the Death Eaters; Hagrid-”

Hermione let out a heart-breaking sob and looked up. “Hagrid was ... was given the Dementor’s kiss,” she sniffed. “Nobody knows what to do with him now ... he just sits there, in his little hut, staring into space with unseeing eyes... It’s not fair, Elizabeth! He was the last person in the world to deserve such a fate! He was always so ... so...” She trailed off, now sobbing uncontrollably.

“Sssh, Hermione,” said Neville soothingly, allowing her to cry into his shoulder. “I know he didn’t deserve it. None of them did, even if it wasn’t a Dementor’s kiss that had ended their life. But even though they’re physically gone, at least we can still keep them alive in our memories, where they’ll remain unchanged even as we grow old and ill.” And then, as if to emphasize his words, he started naming all the victims of the battle he hadn’t mentioned so far, ticking them off on his fingers as he did so: “Sirius, who had fought bravely until the very last minute; Joshua and Jamie, who had never managed to beat me at the amount of melted cauldrons; Lavender Brown, who was only ever worried about her looks; Hannah Abbott, who had never put a toe out of line; Draco Malfoy-”

Elizabeth looked up so sharply she thought she’d die from the incredible pain that suddenly shot from her neck into the rest of her body. “Draco ... Draco’s dead?” she managed to choke out, closing her eyes in relief as the pain slowly faded away.

Neville gave her an inquiring look. “Yes, why?”

That’s right, why? Why did his death upset her so much more than the others? True, even as Crabbe and Goyle were carrying him off to the hospital wing she found herself thinking about how sad it’d be were he to die, but now that it had actually happened, she felt positively shattered, almost as if she had lost a good friend. Could those few words she had shared with him after the incident with his father have created some kind of invisible bond between them? Or was it just the simple fact that she had suddenly found somebody who was going through the same thing as she was?

“I’m not sure,” she answered truthfully. “It’s just ... did you know he was on our side?”

“Yes, we did. One of the few Slytherins who had remained loyal to Dumbledore he was, too. Most of his friends had run off to Voldemort’s side as soon as they left the castle, the bastards. But we couldn’t really have expected anything else, could we?”

“No, I suppose not,” said Elizabeth absently, her mind already on other things.

‘I wish somebody would tell me what to do,’ she thought desperately. ‘Should I tell Hermione about Draco’s feelings for her? Wouldn’t I betray him somehow if I did? For I’m sure he would never have told her while he was alive, but then again, that’s not really the case any more, is it? It’s not as if it’s going to make that much of a difference now, anyway, and at least it’ll cause Hermione to start thinking about something else than her dead friends. Not to mention the fact that I’d really love to get it off my mind...’

“Um, Hermione?” she began uncertainly. “I ... I think you should know something. You see, unbelievable as it may seem, Draco ... he ... he loved you.”

Hermione slowly raised her tear-stained face from Neville’s shoulder, her expression somewhere between surprise and disbelief. “He did?” she asked softly. “Poor soul ... and to think I never really believed you when you suggested it that time we met him before our first Animagi lesson... But ... wait a minute ... do you mean to say that he actually told you?”

Elizabeth nodded, and proceeded to give her three friends a quick account of Draco’s duel with his father, concentrating especially on what the boy had told her afterwards.

“Well, it seems like there was some good in him, after all,” declared Jane when the blond witch had finished. “Who would’ve thought?”

“He must have had quite an unhappy life,” said Hermione thoughtfully. “His parents didn’t seem exactly the loving kind to me, and, not counting Crabbe and Goyle, I don’t think he had any real friends, either. Maybe that was why he kept on treating everyone the way he did ... because he was jealous of them. Perhaps if I had looked past all the insults, and tried to get to know him better, I could’ve done something for him. I might’ve even-”

“Now, Hermione, don’t you dare start blaming yourself for his death,” interrupted Elizabeth, easily anticipating what her friend was about to say. “You know as well as I do that nobody could’ve really done anything to prevent what had happened between him and his father, so please keep that in mind whenever you feel like thinking otherwise, OK?”

Hermione gave a reluctant nod, and Elizabeth, obviously satisfied with her reaction, hastily turned her attention towards her other best friend, suddenly realizing the suspicious absence of her boyfriend. “Jane?” she began tentatively. “It had just occurred to me ... why isn’t Justin here? He’s not ... you know...” she trailed off, watching the tall Ravenclaw with worry in her eyes and silently praying for her answer to be anything but positive.

“Dead?” finished Jane airily. “No, fortunately not. He’s here, in the hospital wing, having suffered some light injuries thanks to one particularly nasty hell hound, but Madam Pomfrey said he should be all right in... Elizabeth!?” she exclaimed anxiously, noticing her friend suddenly dig her nails into her covers and double up in pain. “Are ... are you OK?”

Elizabeth, however, didn’t answer. She felt as if her whole body was on fire, black and red spots were flashing before her eyes and her head was spinning. Only vaguely did she hear some shouts and the sound of running footsteps coming from somewhere close by, because all she could register was the incredible pain that was seemingly invading every single part of her body. But just when she thought she wouldn’t be able to stand it any longer, the pain suddenly died away, leaving as unexpectedly as it had come.

Slowly, Elizabeth’s surroundings came back into focus. She could see Hermione and Neville, huddling together at the foot of her bed, she could see Jane, standing by her chair and looking amusingly uncertain, and, to her relief, she could also see Madam Pomfrey, sitting on the edge of her bed and pushing a goblet with some insipid-looking liquid into her hand.

“Drink this,” she ordered and, seeing Elizabeth’s questioning look, added: “It’s something to make the pain a little more bearable, and it’ll also make you sleep. I daresay you’ve talked more than enough for today.” And she shot a meaningful glance in the direction of her three friends, who, after whispering a quick goodbye, immediately took their leave and soon disappeared out of view.

Elizabeth cast a longing look after them, but quickly turned her attention back to the goblet in her hand as Madam Pomfrey cleared her throat a little more loudly than was necessary and got to her feet. Downing the medicine in several huge gulps (and almost spitting the yellowish liquid back out again after discovering that it tasted even worse than it looked), Elizabeth handed the goblet back to the impatient-looking mediwitch and, seeing the woman was about to leave her for the time being, quickly seized the opportunity and asked: “Madam Pomfrey, how long am I going to be here?”

Madam Pomfrey threw her a look of something between irritation (for holding her up, no doubt) and pity, letting several long seconds pass before she answered.

“About six weeks, I’m afraid.”

Elizabeth felt as if she’d just been told that she was to go to Azkaban. “Six weeks?” she repeated weakly. “But ... why so long? Surely the injuries aren’t that bad?”

The older witch sighed. “Miss Woodhouse, I assure you that you really couldn’t have ended up much worse. You’re lucky to be alive, to tell you the truth. And since the only cure for injuries caused by the ‘Fulgur Ater’, the Tear of Life, can only be applied once, after which there’s nothing to be done except wait for it to slowly spread to all the parts of the body that have been affected, all you can do is be patient and simply let the Tear of Life heal you at its own pace.”

Elizabeth’s heart sank. It seemed there was indeed no getting out of it – she’d have to spend six enormously long and boring weeks in the hospital wing. What had she done to deserve something like that?

“Can’t you at least put some bandages on all the black areas?” she asked desperately. “It’s a terrible sight.”

“No, Miss Woodhouse, I’m afraid I can’t. The skin needs to breathe in order to heal properly. Now, if you’ll excuse me – I’d like to get back to my other patients.” And with a look that clearly said that any further questions would most likely be left unanswered, Madam Pomfrey gracefully departed, leaving Elizabeth on her own with nothing more than her gloomy thoughts to keep her company.

‘Six weeks!’ she thought dejectedly. ‘I’ll probably bore myself to death by the time they finally consider me healed enough to let me out of here. Not to mention the fact that unless Snape came to visit me, which is highly unlikely, since he had already fulfilled his duty by coming back to make sure whether I was all right while I was still unconscious, there’s almost no chance of my seeing him...’

But Elizabeth never got any further with her musings, for at that moment, the potion she had drunk earlier finally took the desired effect, causing her to fall into a deep, relaxing slumber where nothing, not even Snape, mattered any longer.

When, after what seemed like an eternity, Elizabeth finally woke up again, with almost no pain to speak of and feeling extremely refreshed (although a little dizzy), the infirmary was unusually peaceful. Madam Pomfrey wasn’t bustling about for once, most of the patients were either sleeping or staring at the ceiling with a look of apathy, and, strangely enough, there were none of the usual chattering visitors crowding around the beds, either, with the only sound (apart from the snoring coming from the bed next to her) Elizabeth was able to register being a quiet murmur of voices coming from somewhere near the door.

‘Great,’ she thought unhappily. ‘Just great. It seems that all I’m supposed to do now is to simply lie back in my little hospital bed, worry about nothing, keep quiet, and busy myself with either staring at the ceiling or attempting to fall asleep again. Well, that’s just not good enough! I want something to read, if nothing else! Hermione, where are you when I need you the most?’

Here, Elizabeth’s train of thoughts was suddenly broken by the sound of approaching footsteps, with any remaining bits of boredom immediately leaving her mind when she discovered just who the incoming person was.

‘Maybe I am in heaven, after all,’ she mused, watching none other than Severus Snape making his way towards (she refused to believe her eyes) her bed.

Yet, it seemed that it was indeed she whom he had come to see, having come to a standstill by her bedside, giving her a nod of acknowledgement, and even, although somewhat reluctantly, accepting the chair that she had offered him.

With the formalities over and done with, however, a rather uncomfortable silence set in, during which Elizabeth, very much aware of how monstrous all the injuries must make her look in his eyes (‘But then again, he had already seen me like this before anyway, so there’s really no point in trying to cover myself up’), regarded Snape both anxiously and expectantly, while the Potions master, his eyes set firmly on the glass of water standing on the bedside table, seemed to be deciding on how to begin.

“You might be wondering why I am here, Miss Woodhouse,” he said finally, his gaze now meeting Elizabeth’s. The girl held her breath in quiet anticipation. “Well ... strange as it may seem, I have come to thank you...” (it seemed to take an enormous amount of effort for him to finish the sentence) “...for saving my life.”

Elizabeth looked at him in disbelief, slowly letting his words sink in. Did she just hear what she thought she did? Was he really ... thanking her? For saving his life, no less? But...

“How ... how do you know about that?” she asked as soon as she found her voice again. “I thought you didn’t see-”

“The Headmaster told me,” said Snape curtly, making it sound almost as though he wished Dumbledore had kept his sightings to himself. “He was the one who saw it all happen.”

“Oh,” said Elizabeth, and then, not really knowing what had possessed her to even think of such a question, let alone ask it, added: “And I suppose he also told you to come and thank me, didn’t he?”

Needless to say, she instantly regretted her rash words, and the poisonous (but, unless Elizabeth’s eyes had deceived her, also slightly hurt) look Snape sent her way only caused the enormous wave of self-loathing that had immediately filled her mind to gain in intensity.

She opened her mouth in an attempt to produce some sort of awkward apology, but Snape spoke first.

“Would it make any difference if he did?” he asked testily.

“No, I suppose not,” would’ve surely been the appropriate answer in this situation, but, for reasons unknown, the words that left Elizabeth’s mouth in the end sounded suspiciously like: “All the difference.” She really felt like slapping herself. Did she always have to be so damn sincere? She wasn’t under Veritaserum, after all, which meant she could theoretically come up with some plausible half-lie if the moment really asked for it, but no, she had to-

“And what exactly do you mean by that, Miss Woodhouse?” inquired Snape, now sounding mildly interested.

Elizabeth looked at her hands. “Nothing. Please forget it, Professor.” There. That was certainly better.

Snape eyed her thoughtfully for a few moments, but, to Elizabeth’s relief, didn’t press the subject any further. Instead he said: “Tell me, Miss Woodhouse, why did you throw yourself so unwisely into the path of the curse that was aimed at me? Surely you must have realized that you could never produce the charm to protect you from its effects in time?”

“Well, seems like I haven’t realized it,” retorted Elizabeth, seriously considering whether it wouldn’t have been better if he had stuck to the previous subject after all. Why was he asking her such a question, anyway? What was he getting at? “I thought I’d manage.”

Snape, however, didn’t seem to believe a word of what she was saying. “Oh, come now, Miss Woodhouse,” he said softly. “I had the chance to examine your combat skills on more than one occasion, and I daresay your judgement seemed perfectly fine to me.”

“Well, maybe I wasn’t thinking clearly, then,” suggested Elizabeth, trying and failing to determine whether Snape had meant his last words as a compliment or not. “All I knew was that I had to prevent that curse from hitting you no matter what. I would’ve done the same for anybody had they been in your place,” she added hastily, hoping she hadn’t given up too much as it was.

“Yes, but you shouldn’t have done it for me,” said Snape stiffly. “My life isn’t worth you risking yours.”

Elizabeth couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Did he really think so little of himself? “That’s a horrible thing to say, sir,” she said reprovingly. “Your life is as good as anybody else’s.”

Snape shook his head. “That is exactly where you are wrong, Miss Woodhouse, seeing as you know nothing of my past. Which is just as well,” he added, as an afterthought.

“I know more than you think, sir,” smiled Elizabeth, “and still I stand by what I said.”

Snape sat up a little straighter in his chair, his eyes narrowing. “And what exactly is it that you know, Miss Woodhouse?” he asked quietly.

‘That sounded almost as though he were expecting me to start blackmailing him,’ thought Elizabeth amusedly, taking a moment to decide whether to tell him pretty much everything she had come to learn of his life, or whether she’d better leave some of the more touchy subjects out; in the end she settled for the former.

“Well,” she began slowly, relishing the feeling of having the upper-hand for once, “for one thing, I know just how badly you were treated while still a student here, especially by the Marauders. I mean, they almost killed you, didn’t they?” She paused, perceiving Snape’s eyes flash menacingly at the mere memory. Obviously, even after all these years, he still hadn’t managed to get over it. She pretended not to have noticed, however, and quickly went on: “Secondly, I know you have joined the Death Eaters at one stage, but I also know that you have eventually come to realize your mistake, and, at great personal risk, became a spy for the side of the Light. You have also accepted Dumbledore’s offer to teach Potions here at Hogwarts, even though it was really the Defence Against the Dark Arts position you were after. And ... that’s about it, I’d say.”

She cast a sheepish glance in Snape’s direction in order to determine whether her words had affected him in any way, but the Potions master seemed lost in thought, his expression as unreadable as ever. It was only some time later that he finally spoke.

“You are no doubt well informed, Miss Woodhouse,” he said coolly and, with the air of someone who already knows the answer beforehand, added: “Miss Granger’s doing, I presume?”

Elizabeth chuckled. “Partly, yes. But I also learned a lot from my grandmother.” She threw Snape a knowing look. “You used to know my grandmother, didn’t you, sir?”

Now, was it just her imagination or did Snape really look a little uncomfortable when he answered in the affirmative? Elizabeth, eager to confirm her theory no matter what, felt like beating herself into a pulp after realizing just how very inappropriate her next question must have seemed. Unfortunately, though, it was too late to take her words back, and so...

“And did you know that she suspects you of having had a crush on her back in your schooldays? I was always wondering whether she was right...”

Unsurprisingly, the look Snape sent her was truly murderous. “I believe that is hardly any concern of yours, Miss Woodhouse,” he said coldly, getting to his feet. “Now, if you will excuse me – I believe you have another visit.” And without another word, he swiftly set off towards the door, his black robes billowing behind him.

Elizabeth closed her eyes in exasperation. Now she’d done it! There weren’t many chances of him coming back to talk to her after getting asked stupid questions like that, were there? Then again, she still couldn’t believe that he had actually come to visit her (and what’s more – to thank her) in the first place, and then even stayed on for a short chat, during which he had, for the first time in her life, treated her not as a student, but as the human being that she really was. Shouldn’t that be enough to keep her happy? Why did she always have to wish for more than she could get?

She had no time to dissect her feelings any further, however, for, as Snape had forewarned her, there were more people who had come to pay her a visit. They were, of course, none other than Hermione and Neville, while Jane seemed to have got stuck at one of the beds near the door, which, Elizabeth presumed, was where her boyfriend, Justin Finch-Fletchley, lay.

“Hi, Elizabeth,” said Hermione, tiredly sinking down into the seat Snape had vacated only a few moments earlier. Neville claimed the empty chair next to her. “Feeling better? I must say we were somewhat reluctant to leave you the last time we came to visit you; you didn’t look well at all.”

“Well, I think I’m all right now,” Elizabeth assured her. “Madam Pomfrey gave me some sort of potion, I fell asleep, and when I woke up again, the pain was gone.”

“Thank god,” sighed Hermione, clearly relieved. “Anyway, what did Snape want with you? I didn’t like his expression at all when he brushed past us on his way towards the door. He looked ... kind of upset, I suppose. Or maybe angry. Or disappointed. Or perhaps all of those ... I don’t know; it was really hard to tell.”

“Well, I suppose he had every reason to feel that way,” muttered Elizabeth, proceeding to give her friends a quick summary of her recent conversation with the Potions master, including its awkward end.

When she had finished, Hermione, her face acquiring its old, know-it-all look, only nodded understandingly and said: “Yes, well, I don’t think I need to tell you that asking him about the crush thing wasn’t a particularly bright idea, but otherwise it didn’t seem to go too bad, did it? I mean, he actually spoke to you; he even thanked you, which, in my opinion, must have been terribly difficult for him, seeing he’s used to taking care of himself and not having others there to protect him ... and then, of course, there was that supposed hurt look he gave you after you’d asked him whether it was Dumbledore who had sent him to thank you ... that especially might be something to go by in our attempt to determine what his feelings towards you most likely are.”

Elizabeth frowned. “I don’t see how. To me it was just another moment where I got carried away and said something I shouldn’t have.”

“Maybe, and maybe not. Personally I think it proved that he’s not as indifferent when it comes to your opinion of him as he’d like us all to believe. And what’s more, I have a feeling that even if Dumbledore had told him to go and thank you, it was only saying something he had already decided to do anyway.”

Elizabeth looked doubtful. “You really think so?”

“Yes,” said Hermione positively, “as a matter of fact I do. And he chose a very good time to do it, too ... stealing away from the Great Hall while everybody was celebrating Voldemort’s defeat to ensure that there’d be no visitors around ... very clever. Speaking of which, I almost forgot to tell you about the whole ceremony thing Dumbledore’s decided to organize today...”

But Elizabeth soon found that nor the description of Dumbledore’s tribute to the dead, nor the incredible party that had broken out afterwards were of any particular interest to her, and she slowly let her own thoughts take over.

Was Hermione right about Snape? Did he really care about her opinion of him? Would he have come to thank her even if Dumbledore hadn’t told him to? Would he come to visit her again?

‘Maybe to the first three, definitely not to the last one,’ she thought sadly. ‘But that’s what I get for not keeping my big mouth shut. I really should think more about what I say or don’t say next time. But since there won’t be a next time, it doesn’t really matter that much any more, does it?’

Choosing to abandon her depressive thoughts before she’d get too far, Elizabeth willed herself to at least try to listen to Hermione’s excited account of the evening’s events, simply to keep her mind occupied.

“...and you know what?” the Gryffindor was saying. “Dumbledore said that they’re going to move Hagrid to St Mungo’s for the time being. There’s currently a research going on concentrating on the victims of a Dementor’s kiss, so maybe there’s still some hope left for him, after all.”

“That’s great, Hermione,” said Elizabeth, trying to sound enthusiastic despite the fact that Hagrid was the last thing on her mind at that moment. “Anyway, did Dumbledore also say anything about classes resuming any time soon?”

Hermione shook her head. “No. I think it’ll probably take quite some time before he manages to find suitable replacements for all the teachers who’ve perished during the battle, and I suppose he’s also waiting for all the excitement to die down a little before he lets the younger students return from their homes. There are reporters all over the place, you see, which would probably make it somewhat difficult to run the classes without interruption.”

“Reporters?” asked Elizabeth, puzzled. “I haven’t seen any yet.”

“Well, that’s because Madam Pomfrey’s put heavy charms on the infirmary door to prevent them from getting in. She thinks it would disturb the patients, and I really can’t help but agree with her.”

But Elizabeth never got the chance to express her opinion on the matter, for at that moment, said Madam Pomfrey suddenly appeared at her bedside and uncompromisingly shooed both of her friends away, claiming that it was, once again, bedtime.

Hermione, however, had one more statement to make before leaving Elizabeth solely in the company of the elderly mediwitch. “Err, about the crush-on-your-grandmother matter – something tells me that most likely he did actually have a thing for her. He could’ve just as well answered ‘no’ to your question instead of ‘it’s none of your business’, couldn’t he?” She gave her a barely recognizable wink. “Think about it.”

Following Hermione’s suggestion to the fullest extent, ‘thinking about it’ was exactly what Elizabeth did do, soon coming to the conclusion that the Gryffindor had, in all probability, been right. She would never know for sure though, seeing as she wasn’t suicidal enough to bring the subject up again in Snape’s presence – something she craved for more than anything in the world right now, with not even her friends’ frequent visits and the enormous pile of books, including The Book of Expert Potions for Expert Brewers, Hermione had brought her being able to change that fact. But as almost four days had passed since the Potions master’s last appearance, she was slowly giving up even the last remains of hope on his ever coming to visit her again, and consequently doing her best, although with little success, to find some pleasure in reading. Therefore imagine her surprise (and shock) when, later that day, she happened to raise her eyes from the book she was reading only to see the very man she had been thinking about so intensely lately standing by her bedside, holding a small stack of books in his arms and eyeing her thoughtfully.

“Good day, Professor,” she said as soon as she’d regained her composure, quickly snapping her book shut and placing it on the bedside table. “Please sit down.”

Snape obeyed, proceeding, as always, straight to the point. “As you might have heard, Miss Woodhouse, the Headmaster is in desperate need of replacements for some of our deceased colleagues. Therefore, he has sent me to ask you whether you would be willing to accept the position of a Potions teacher ... after you are released from the hospital wing, of course. You’d get all the necessary tuition until then, and therefore would no longer need to spend the usual two years as a teacher’s aide. There’d be no use in continuing your classes, either, seeing as the Headmaster’s chosen to cancel all exams, including the NEWTs, this year.” Needless to say, Snape looked disgusted at the very thought. “You have two days to decide, unless, of course, you can give me an answer straight away.”

Elizabeth felt like her brain was about to explode from an information overload. She’d have to take this slowly, one thing after another. Firstly, Snape had not come of his own accord. That was not exactly positive, but then again, what did she expect? Secondly, judging by his cold tone, he was probably still slightly angry with her for her impertinent question concerning his crush on her grandmother. Therefore, she’d have to sort that out before she’d say or do anything else.

“I will do my best to give you my answer today, Professor,” she said calmly, “but first of all I’d like to apologize; it was not my place to ask you such a personal question last time, and I promise it won’t happen again.” Snape looked a little surprised by her statement, but didn’t say anything, which, seeing it was probably the closest to forgiveness she would ever get from him, Elizabeth took as a cue to continue. “Then I would like to ask – how come Dumbledore’s asking me to teach Potions, of all things?” Her voice nearly failed her when she added: “Does ... does it mean that you’re leaving?”

She stopped herself just in time from letting out a huge sigh of relief when Snape shook his head. “No, Miss Woodhouse. I was merely given another position.”

Elizabeth took a pretty safe guess. “Defence Against the Dark Arts?”


“Oh, that’s great, sir,” said Elizabeth cordially. “I mean, it was about time for you to get the job, wasn’t it? You’ve been asking for it for ages, after all. Although I must say I don’t really see why; Potions is definitely the more interesting subject out of the two.”

“You think so, Miss Woodhouse?” asked Snape with a smirk. “Well, I suppose that for you it might be. I, however, have always believed that, after spending so many years in the company of Dark wizards, and therefore learning to predict their every move quite accurately, my experience would be of better use in the Defence Against the Dark Arts area. For, despite what some of my former colleagues might have thought, Defence Against the Dark Arts is most certainly not something that can be mastered only with the help of a textbook; it is an extremely complex subject which requires a wide variety of skills, with at least a basic understanding of the way a Dark wizard’s mind works definitely being one of them.”

“That’s what Mrs Figg told us too,” said Elizabeth thoughtfully. “And she also didn’t use textbooks if she could help it.”

A shadow passed over Snape’s pale face. “Mrs Figg,” he said slowly, “was an exceptional teacher. Her death had been a great loss for all of us.”

He fell silent, and Elizabeth was suddenly sure that apart from Dumbledore, Mrs Figg was probably the only person at Hogwarts Snape had considered a friend. No wonder her death had been such a blow for him. Feeling the need to change the subject as soon as possible, she asked: “Sir, if it’s not too personal, why did Dumbledore wait until now to give you the job? I mean, he must have had a pretty good reason for it if he preferred even somebody like Lockhart to you.”

Snape pursed his lips together at the mere mention of Lockhart’s name; obviously Dumbledore’s choice to give the job to such a poor excuse for a wizard had hurt the Potions master’s pride more than anything. For a while, Elizabeth was convinced he wouldn’t even react to the question she had given him, and therefore was more than happy to be eventually proved wrong.

“The answer to that is very simple, Miss Woodhouse,” he said dryly. “He didn’t trust me ... at least not enough to let me hold such a responsible position. I believe he felt that if I returned to the Dark Arts too soon, I would fall victim to them once again.”

“That makes the Dark Arts comparable to alcohol or drugs, doesn’t it?” mused Elizabeth. “Still, what had made Dumbledore decide that your probation is finally over?”

Snape gave her a challenging look. “Surely it is not so hard to figure out, Miss Woodhouse?” he asked. “I trust Miss Granger has already acquainted you with all the important features of the ‘Fulgur Albus’?”

“Yes,” confirmed Elizabeth, “but I don’t see... Oh, I know! The fact that you have been able to perform the white lightning along with the others was the last bit of proof Dumbledore needed to be entirely sure that there was indeed no more darkness left in you. Otherwise, the spell wouldn’t have worked and Voldemort-” (Elizabeth noticed that even now, when the Dark Lord had been killed, Snape couldn’t help but flinch at the mention of his name) “-would still be alive. Is that right, sir?”

Snape looked satisfied. “Yes, Miss Woodhouse. Now, if you don’t mind, I think it is time we returned to the original purpose of my visit, which is the Headmaster’s offer to give you a job. So if you’ve got any further questions concerning that...”

Elizabeth didn’t have to think long. “Yes, sir. Why did Dumbledore pick me? Surely there must be a whole bunch of people who are more qualified for the job than I am, so I don’t really see why...” She trailed off, giving Snape an expectant look.

The Potions master sighed. “You might be surprised, Miss Woodhouse, but there are really only a few individuals who would fulfill the requirements for the job, none of whom have agreed to accept the offer, unfortunately.”

“Oh, I see. Have you tried asking Hermione?”

“Yes, Miss Woodhouse. She declined.”

“Did she?” asked Elizabeth absently. “Well, I suppose she thought it better to pursue the originally planned Healer career, after all.” She paused to think. Was there any reason for her to mull over the offer any further? Hadn’t she already decided on becoming a teacher as it was? She looked at Snape, who was once again watching her thoughtfully, and came to an immediate conclusion. “I ... I think I’ll do it, sir. I presume you are going to be the one tutoring me?”

“Yes,” confirmed Snape impassively, but Elizabeth couldn’t help but feel that there was something in his voice ... something... Could he really think that she’d change her mind after that particular answer? That the vision of him teaching her would put her off? Well, if that were the case, then maybe it would be a good idea to prove him wrong...

“All right,” she said cheerfully. “When do we begin?”

Snape looked at her as if she had finally lost it (thus definitely confirming her previous suspicion and making her, not without a certain degree of frustration, wonder whether he’d ever realize that while others might hate him, she most certainly didn’t), but eventually said: “Tomorrow. I will be here shortly after dinner. Until then-” he put the stack of books he had brought with him on the already overflowing bedside table “-I want you to read these.” He tapped the pile with his index finger, then rose from his chair. “Needless to say, it would help considerably if you could also reproduce what you have read. Now, unless you have any more questions-”

Elizabeth, her brain feverishly processing what was being asked of her, quickly glanced up. “Yes, there’s actually still something I’d like to know,” she said firmly, slightly hurt by the cold impersonal tone Snape had suddenly resorted to. “How often will you be coming to teach me?”

Snape was beginning to look irritated. “Every day,” he said testily.

Elizabeth couldn’t believe her ears. Would she really get to see him so often? “Even on the weekends?” she asked timidly.

“Miss Woodhouse,” sighed Snape, evidently resigning on getting away with another short answer, “contrary to what you may think, you cannot turn into a teacher in a matter of hours. It is something that takes time – days and days of endless studies and tutoring by another teacher, and even then you will be only partly prepared for what will come to meet you in the classroom. Therefore the answer to your question is yes – even on the weekends.”

Elizabeth simply nodded and smiled – a sad but grateful smile that closely reflected the impact that his words had had upon her. “Thank you, sir,” she said quietly.

Snape looked at her uncomprehendingly. “I beg your pardon?”

“I said thank you,” repeated Elizabeth solemnly. “For giving up your weekends, for being such a wonderful teacher, for managing to teach me so much already, for ... for everything.”

Now, where on earth did that come from? It was all true, of course, but would Snape interpret her words the way he was meant to? Apparently not, judging from the odd, somewhat surprised look he had given her, but he quickly recovered and, with a curt “Good day, Miss Woodhouse,” gracefully spun around and set off for the exit, leaving Elizabeth to ponder over how seemingly impossible it was to tear down that unbelievably solid wall he had managed to put up around him. He had all but fled the hospital wing, after all.

As promised, he was back the next day, however, with a whole lot of tricky questions for her to answer, a lecture on what to expect from the students and how to handle whatever it is they might come up with, and, inevitably, also another dose of books for her to read – something she was hoping to leave out this time, having had enough trouble stuffing her brain with the enormous amount of information contained in the volumes he had left with her the day before. Her memory had never been exactly great, after all (as the OWLs had proved more than sufficiently), and she knew it only too well. Fortunately, though, she was still perfectly capable of coming up with a good idea or two, and as such had managed to think of asking Hermione for some of the memory boosting potion which, while originally developed for Neville’s incredible forgetfulness, was now used widely all over the school whenever the exam period threatened to get too close. And although the Gryffindor had never succeeded in making its effects permanent, the one month duration she had eventually ended up with was, in everyone’s opinion, still better than nothing. Elizabeth’s memory had indeed improved quite drastically, causing the girl to answer all of Snape’s questions concerning her daily reading with relative ease, and that was all that mattered to her.

Days passed, each new one frightfully similar to the last. Apart from sleeping, eating and other such necessities, Elizabeth seldom resorted to activities that didn’t include the words ‘reading or being questioned on Potions books’ in them, which meant she would often allow herself a short break only once a day – during her friends’ visits. And so it was only thanks to them she had learnt that, after being proved wrong once and for all in the matter of Voldemort’s comeback, Cornelius Fudge had finally decided to hand in his resignation, with the position of the Minister for Magic eventually passing on to Ron’s father, Mr Weasley, who had immediately made use of his newly gained power and awarded Order of Merlin, First Class, to all those who had participated in the defeat of the Dark Lord directly, while everybody else involved in the battle received its Second Class version. The ceremony, where the Minister would actually give out the shiny badges connected with the award, was planned for Christmas. But apart from the fact that Dumbledore had finally allowed the younger students to come back and resume their classes (with Snape being assigned to teach both Defence Against the Dark Arts and Potions for the time being), and also the not-too-surprising news of Jane becoming the new captain of the Ravenclaw Quidditch team, this was about the only interesting piece of information her friends had managed to supply her with since their first two visits, making her feel somewhat excluded from all the usual bustle that dominated the Hogwarts castle. She was by now practically the only one left in the hospital wing, after all.

Strange as it may seem, however, she still considered her stay there to be one of the most wonderful things that had managed to take place in her life so far, and it was all thanks to Snape. There were no words to describe just how much she was looking forward to seeing him every day, and how sad she was to see him go whenever he decided that their little lesson was over. Foolish really, how she used to think that her love for him had already reached its limit, that it couldn’t possibly grow any stronger, for it was only a matter of time before she came to discover just how wrong she was. Love did hurt, she knew that now, seeing that even the simple fact of having him sitting so close to her and not being able to reach out and touch him was enough to make her heart bleed.

Try as she might, however, Elizabeth could still see no definite proof of him feeling the same, no matter what her grandmother might have said, but at least he had gradually lost some of his determination to keep strictly to the subject of Potions, mainly because, thanks to Hermione’s miraculous memory booster, she was proving to be a much faster learner than either of them had initially hoped, and therefore could afford to broach even something more personal every now and then without the danger of falling behind with her studies. It was usually she who was doing most of the talking in such cases, however, and so while Snape soon knew the details of her life inside out, she still knew almost nothing about him, being too afraid to ask him directly in case he’d consider it a violation of the promise she had made at the beginning of his second visit. But since he had turned out to be an exceptional listener, who actually seemed genuinely interested in what she was saying, Elizabeth was quite happy to leave things as they were for the time being, and simply continue being the one who gave out all the personal information rather than the one who received it. It was only later that her curiosity finally got the better of her, and so, having just finished recounting one particularly unpleasant episode from her own pre-Hogwarts days, she took a deep breath and asked: “Sir, what was your childhood like?”

Snape threw her a suspicious look. “Why do you want to know, Miss Woodhouse?”

Elizabeth shrugged. “I just thought it would be interesting to learn something about the home life of a wizarding family,” she said innocently. “And since all my friends are Muggle-born, I thought I’d ask you. You are pure-blooded, aren’t you, sir?”

“Yes, Miss Woodhouse,” replied Snape with a smirk. “I am indeed pure-blooded. As is Mr Longbottom, I believe. Or do you not count him as your friend?”

Elizabeth sighed. Gods, that man was insufferable! But it was her fault, she should have thought of Neville before attempting that little lie of hers. Now she’d better quickly think of something nice and witty to help her clean up the mess she had so foolishly managed to get herself into...

“I do count ‘Mr Longbottom’ as a friend,” she said finally, “only, as far as I know, he doesn’t come from a typical family, having been raised by his grandmother instead of his parents. Besides, he had only discovered that he wasn’t a Squib shortly before he came to Hogwarts.” She smiled. “You, on the other hand, could probably do magic even before you learned how to walk.”

For a short moment, Snape looked as though he would smile too, but he caught himself just in time. “I cannot deny that, Miss Woodhouse,” he said, still looking somewhat amused. “But what makes you think that my family, unlike Mr Longbottom’s, had indeed been a complete one I simply cannot imagine.”

“I just assumed...”

“I see. And I suppose you also expected my life at home to be a picture of happiness, didn’t you?”

Elizabeth didn’t see the trap hidden in that question until it was far too late. “No, Professor,” she said firmly. “I’d say your childhood must have been far from ideal.”

“Which brings us back to my original question,” said Snape smugly. “Why are you so keen on my telling you something about it?”

Elizabeth had had enough. “Because I’ve told you so much about myself already, and would therefore think it’d be only fair if I got to hear something about you for a change.”

“You do not know what you are asking for, Miss Woodhouse,” said Snape stiffly. “I assure you that nothing concerning my life is pleasant to listen to.”

Elizabeth let out a sigh of exasperation, not really sure how much more of this she could take. “Professor,” she said in a voice of forced calm, letting several seconds pass before she continued, “I am not a child any more, so please stop treating me like one. I am also not as weak as I might look. I promise I won’t faint whenever the details of your narrative get a little more ... delicate, let’s say. And I most certainly won’t pity you, if that’s what you’re afraid of. I will simply listen, that is all.”

Snape still didn’t look entirely convinced, but eventually gave in and, with a quiet “Very well, then,” began to tell his tale. And so, with the help of a few encouraging questions, Elizabeth finally got to learn a little more about the man she had come to love so much in the course of the past couple of years, and was now slowly beginning to see exactly why he had turned into the cold and bitter person that he was today.

He, as she had expected, was an only child, born to a certain Mrs Priscilla Snape in the year 1960. Her husband, a very rich and powerful man from an old wizarding family, was a thoroughly unpleasant man with a propensity to despotism, who didn’t care for his wife at all and saw his son merely as an heir to his enormous fortune. He tended to treat him as an adult from a very early age, expecting him to meet his excessively high demands at all times, and was therefore severely disappointed whenever Snape failed to fulfill his wishes to his satisfaction. He didn’t hesitate to even beat him up every now and then, and whenever his wife tried to put an end to it, she received her fair share of the beating as well. She never gave up on her attempts to protect her son, however, even if they mostly ended up in a fierce but pointless argument with her husband, after which she would usually lock herself in her room and cry for several hours. Gradually developing a phobia of some sort, she slowly ceased leaving her room altogether as the time went by, sneaking out only to steal herself something to eat, or to check on her son whenever she was certain that her husband had gone away. World-weary and ill, it was only a matter of time before she eventually passed away.

Snape was only seven at the time of his mother’s death, but he grieved for her all the same, realizing only too well what he had lost in her. He was now all alone ... all alone with his somewhat unbalanced father who was by now satisfied with almost nothing Snape did, which consequently led to beatings even more severe and frequent than before. All in all, Snape’s life had turned into pure hell. That’s why his father’s decision to send him to Hogwarts a year early (clearly only to finally get rid of him) had come as something of a rescue for him, and he immediately started looking forward to whatever was awaiting him at his new home, seeing he was sure it could never be even half as bad as the life he was leading now. Determined to finally get the recognition his father had never given him, he plunged headfirst into the schoolbooks he had bought himself at Diagon Alley, and by the time the day to leave for Hogwarts had finally arrived, he knew them all by heart.

His enthusiasm didn’t last long, however, for the one person he had managed to run into as soon as he boarded the Hogwarts Express for the first time was none other than his future greatest enemy: a tousled, bespectacled boy called James Potter. For reasons unknown, they took a dislike against each other almost immediately, and their relationship had been like that of a cat and a mouse ever since. But while Snape usually tried to avoid his enemy (as well as the small gang he had eventually managed to surround himself with) as best he could, preferring to concentrate on his studies instead, Potter seemed to pick fights with him whenever he had the chance, thus earning both of them a record amount of detentions every week.

Snape, however, wasn’t put off, and continued studying harder than ever. His exam results were virtually unbeatable, making him by far one of the best students Hogwarts has ever had. But while he continued achieving top grades in pretty much everything he chose to study, his favourite subjects had always been Potions and Defence Against the Dark Arts. There was not much he didn’t know when it came to those two particular areas, especially the latter where he had read not only everything concerning defence, but a huge amount of books dealing with the Dark Arts themselves as well. He soon became completely obsessed with them, and his determination to learn as much about them as he possibly could only grew when his father, having once caught him snooping around in the Dark Arts section of the private library they had at home, strictly forbid him to ever touch those books again, claiming they would bring him anything but good. The infamous Whomping Willow incident, during which Snape had nearly lost his life thanks to a foolish joke played on him by the Marauders, followed soon after, and when even Dumbledore, whom he had until then considered as one of the few people who were on his side, failed to stand up for him at that time, Snape, at first completely devastated, eventually decided to try his luck elsewhere.

Ever since he had first started school the Slytherin House had been full of gossip about some Dark wizard who was determined to take over the world and eventually clear it of all Muggles, but he had never paid it much attention. Now, however, it was quite a different story. He listened eagerly to any mention of the man whose name not even the bravest dared to speak, and it didn’t take long before he found a group of Slytherins who were not only just as crazy about the Dark Arts as he was, but they were also hoping to join the Dark wizard’s ranks shortly after their graduation from Hogwarts. Amazed by his incredible knowledge and skills, they soon accepted him into their midst, and so, for the first time in his life, Snape finally felt like he actually belonged somewhere. That’s why he didn’t hesitate at all when his so-called friends asked him to follow the same path they had chosen, having already decided to join the Dark Lord quite some time ago anyway, and he gladly endured the many gruesome tests that all the would-be Death Eaters had to undergo at the same time they did.

No matter how much Elizabeth implored, however, Snape refused to tell her anything whatsoever about the exact nature of those tests, and he was also absolutely uncompromising when it came to giving her any details of the tasks he was made to fulfill during his Death Eater days. Defeated, the Ravenclaw was eventually forced to change the subject to something a little bit less touchy.

“So ... what about your father?” she tried, determined to get some answers at least here. “Did he ever find out what you’ve done?”

For some reason, Snape took a little longer than usual to reply, but eventually said: “I suppose he might have had a suspicion ... but nothing more, I believe. And before you ask, Miss Woodhouse – yes, he is already dead,” he added with a smirk.

Elizabeth couldn’t help but smile; Snape had really guessed the question that was on the tip of her tongue quite correctly. She didn’t let it disconcert her, however, managing to come up with a new question almost instantly. “All right, so ... what had happened to him?”

“The Dark Lord ordered to have him killed,” said Snape coolly, sounding as though he were talking about the weather. Elizabeth, however, couldn’t help but notice just the tiniest hint of emotion in his voice, almost as though his father’s death hadn’t affected him nearly as little as he was trying to make her believe. “Allegedly, he started meddling in his affairs more than he could allow.”

“Oh,” was the only reaction Elizabeth managed to come up with, unable to think of anything else to say. Maybe it was time to change the subject again, seeing that Snape was apparently unwilling to discuss the current one any further. And to tell the truth, she didn’t really blame him, because although he might have wished his father nothing but the worst for all that he’s had to endure from him, a death that was somehow connected with Voldemort was too cruel for anybody to experience, least of all one’s father. For however unpleasant the man might have been, Snape was, after all, still his son. “Was that the reason for your eventual transition to the side of the Light?” she asked finally, immediately giving herself a mental slap when she realized that she hadn’t really changed the subject much at all.

Snape, however, seemed quite happy to answer, albeit only after another momentary hesitation. Was there perhaps something he wasn’t telling her?

“It was one of the reasons, yes. There were, of course, countless others – some more significant and some less – but all of them have somehow contributed to my eventual decision to leave the Dark Lord’s services and confess everything to Dumbledore, who, as I’m sure you already know, gave me a choice similar to that of Mr Longbottom.”

“And you chose the spying.”


“Naturally?” queried Elizabeth, puzzled. “But ... if you had to pretend that you were still a Death Eater, not much had changed for you, had it? I mean, you couldn’t suddenly stop participating in all the Dark raids and stuff-”

“It is obvious that you have never been to Azkaban, Miss Woodhouse,” Snape cut in unexpectedly. “Because if you have, I am sure you would know that even serving under the Dark Lord can often prove much more pleasant than spending as short a time as a couple of days in one of its many cells. For that is exactly how long I have stayed in the wizard prison myself, before my trial, and I would certainly never like to repeat that ordeal again.” He paused for a moment, apparently to rid his mind of the memory, before continuing. “Furthermore, you probably have not realized that the Dark Lord’s fall had taken place not more than a couple of months after my confession, which means that I only had to keep up my pretence for that short period of time. For once the Dark Lord had been dispatched, many of the Death Eaters began to care mainly about saving their own skin, and as such took no particular interest in continuing their previous activities. Therefore I could easily stop participating in ‘all the Dark raids and stuff’, as you had so interestingly put it, simply because there were none to attend. Even if that had not been the case, however, I would have maintained my position none the less. For although you obviously think otherwise, Miss Woodhouse, one thing concerning my further activities as a Dark Lord’s servant most certainly had changed. In my mind, I no longer worked for the Dark Lord ... I worked against him. There was a slight chance that my efforts could eventually result in if not his direct downfall, then at least in some visible disruption of his plans. And that, Miss Woodhouse, was what had, albeit only seemingly, kept me in his ranks even after I had joined the side of the Light, despite the fact that I despised every minute of it.”

“And yet, when Voldemort had reappeared at the end of my fourth year, you agreed to do it again,” remarked Elizabeth admiringly and, seeing that besides a barely recognizable nod she didn’t receive any other reaction, added: “But ... wasn’t that way too risky? I heard that at your trial Dumbledore had stood up for you and told everyone that you were now on his side, so I can’t see any reason why Voldemort would trust you after that. Wasn’t it complete suicide going back to him?”

Snape shook his head. “Not necessarily. I had the trust of Lucius Malfoy, one of the Dark Lord’s most faithful servants, who had always believed that my supposed transition to Dumbledore’s side had been nothing more than an attempt to gain some information about Hogwarts for future use, and through him I had eventually won back the trust of even the Dark Lord himself.”

“Lucius Malfoy,” said Elizabeth thoughtfully. “Did he think of you as a friend?”

“Lucius Malfoy didn’t think of anyone as a friend,” said Snape darkly. “He did, however, take an immediate liking to me as soon as he first saw me ... perhaps he thought that later on I could be of use to him. And so, particularly in the beginning, he often helped me with my tasks, and even put in a word for me whenever the Dark Lord considered punishing me for an unsatisfactorily executed operation. He also, although for reasons we can only guess, went as far as coming to the parent/teacher evening last year and informing me that I no longer had his support, and that he would do everything in his power to make sure that my betrayal would not remain unpunished.”

Elizabeth frowned – Lucius Malfoy sure seemed like a very strange person. No wonder that Draco had been so unhappy with a father like that... Getting this far, Elizabeth almost didn’t resist the temptation to ask Snape about the boy as well, but since that would probably mean admitting that she had sneaked into his office in order to eavesdrop, she eventually decided to push Draco out of her mind and change the subject instead.

“Sir,” she said glibly, “it had just occurred to me – what had become of the Dark Mark after Voldemort had been killed? Did it disappear?”

Snape’s gaze momentarily strayed to his left forearm. “Yes,” he replied, sounding – if that were possible – almost happy. “There is merely a small scar left now.”

“Can I see?”

Snape sighed and reluctantly pulled up the sleeve of his robes, revealing an ugly grey spot on his skin, almost like a scorch mark.

Elizabeth regarded it with interest, then, after a while, glanced back up and asked: “How exactly was it used? Did it hurt when Voldemort was summoning you?”

“At first – no,” said Snape, seizing the opportunity to pull his sleeve back down. “It was only when a Death Eater did not respond to the Dark Lord’s call that the Mark began to burn more and more, until the person usually could not stand the pain any longer and, whether he wanted to or not, Apparated at the Dark Lord’s side.”

“But you didn’t,” Elizabeth pointed out. “There have been many Death Eater meetings after Neville had betrayed you, but you have managed to withstand the pain and not go to a single one. That’s ... admirable.”

“You are exaggerating, Miss Woodhouse,” said Snape dismissively. “For your information – the pain doesn’t last long ... only about an hour or so. In addition, at Hogwarts I could not have Dissaparated even if I had wanted to, so obviously that made it even easier to resist.”

“Maybe, but you still have my admiration,” stated Elizabeth firmly. “I, for example, would have most likely left the Hogwarts grounds and Disapparated straight away, despite the fact that a little pain usually causes me no trouble at all.”

Snape eyed her thoughtfully for a while, then said: “Well, I am sure that a short training would soon fix that, Miss Woodhouse.” He got to his feet. “Now, I believe that by this point we have already come to discuss much more than merely the details of my childhood, so I think it is time to end the conversation. Good day.”

And, with a swirl of his black robes, he swiftly departed, leaving Elizabeth to wonder whether she was just being stupid, or whether he had indeed meant the training comment as a compliment.

Elizabeth would never have thought that she would pray for her stay in the infirmary to somehow turn out to last forever, but she sure found herself harbouring that very wish now, having realized only too well that as soon as she’d leave her little hospital bed (a step that was, unfortunately, only three short days away now, no matter how much she tried to talk herself into thinking otherwise) and return to leading a normal life (however different from her previous one it might turn out to be), her current conversations with Snape would in all probability become history. It was almost certain that she would only get to see him during mealtimes and at staff meetings, after all, where even an exchange of a few words with him should be considered a great success.

‘What do I care if all my wounds have now been reduced to mere scars?’ she thought gloomily. ‘What do I care if even those scars will be gone in a couple of days? One scar will always remain, incurable by even the most complex of potions – the scar on my heart. Snape will never love me, I know that now. He might, at the most, consider me as something of a friend, which is, of course, more than I had ever hoped for, but if he could only... No, I won’t think about it. I just won’t. I will simply try to make the best of those last three days, and see what happens then.’

And with that resolution, Elizabeth reached for the MP3 player she had asked Jane to bring her from her dormitory several days ago (having nearly exhausted even Snape’s daily supply of books by then, and therefore needing something else to busy herself with), firmly stuffed the earphones into her ears, closed her eyes, and then simply let herself get lost in the music that her favourite CD, made up of a huge mixture of carefully selected songs, provided. It couldn’t, of course, ever fully compensate for the complete oblivion that only her Animagus form could possibly bring her, but since Madam Pomfrey had made it quite clear that any such folly would severely violate the healing process, she was left to settle for the next best thing.

She might have eventually drifted off to sleep, she wasn’t quite sure, but the fact was that when she opened her eyes again, Snape was sitting in his usual chair by her bed, watching her with amusement in his eyes.

“Awake at last, Miss Woodhouse?” he asked with a smirk.

“I ... yes, sir,” Elizabeth managed to blurt out, quickly pulling the earphones out of her ears and pressing the ‘pause’ button. “Good day, sir.”

Snape didn’t respond, but watched her actions with curiosity – something Elizabeth found rather odd, seeing he had, despite its prominent position on the bedside table, never spared her MP3 player as much as a second glance before.

“You probably don’t know what this is, do you, sir?” she asked tentatively, pointing to the device now lying on her covers.

Snape smirked again. “No, Miss Woodhouse, indeed I don’t. Something of Muggle origin, I presume?”

Elizabeth nodded. “That’s right. It’s called an MP3 player, and it’s used for listening to music. Something like a radio, let’s say, if you know what that is.”

“I have heard of the term, yes. However, I was under the impression that such devices do not work at Hogwarts.”

“That’s true,” smiled Elizabeth. “But my grandmother has put some kind of spell on it to eliminate that little inconvenience.” She smiled again, a rather wicked smile this time, as a sudden idea forced its way into her mind. “Would you like to have a listen, sir?” she asked, trying not to sound too eager.

Snape threw the MP3 player a disdainful look, then firmly shook his head. “No, Miss Woodhouse, I believe I will give it a miss, thank you.”

Elizabeth, however, wouldn’t have it. “Please, sir,” she begged. “How can you possibly say ‘no’ when you haven’t even tried it?”

With an ostentatious sigh and another, this time somewhat suspicious, look in the MP3 player’s direction, Snape finally resigned. “Well, if you insist...”

Elizabeth had to do her best not to burst out laughing, finding even the mere thought of what Snape had just agreed to do absolutely hilarious. Not to mention the song she was going to play him... As it was, however, she only gave the Potions master a small smile and cheerfully handed him the earphones, explaining what he should do with them as she did so. Then, at last, she pressed the ‘play’ button ... and almost didn’t manage to hold her laughter in this time as she imagined just what Snape was most likely to think of Marilyn Manson’s This Is the New Shit – the one song she had previously paused.

Unsurprisingly, the Potions master’s expression said it all: Elizabeth strongly doubted that even Joshua and Jamie’s potions had ever caused him to look more disgusted, and so it didn’t take long before the earphones eventually found their way back into her lap, accompanied by a rather cold “I believe I have heard enough, Miss Woodhouse.”

“What, don’t you like Marilyn Manson?” asked Elizabeth, pretending to look offended.

“I presume you mean the madman I have just been unfortunate enough to listen to?”

Elizabeth snickered. “The very one.”

“Well, in that case the answer is no, Miss Woodhouse, I most certainly do not like Marilyn Manson,” said Snape, once again succeeding in making a mere name sound like a piece of filth. “But each to their own.”

“All right, so what kind of music do you like, sir?” asked Elizabeth, the curiosity in her voice only too evident.

Snape’s answer, however, turned out to be deeply disappointing, albeit not exactly surprising. “None,” he said, sounding as though it was the most natural thing in the world.

“None?” repeated Elizabeth, just to make sure. It was indeed hard to picture Snape grading papers while listening to his favourite tunes, but then again, coming to terms with the fact that someone could actually live without any music at all was probably even harder. “Don’t you ever listen to anything?”

Snape looked rather amused by her incredulity. “Strange as it may seem to you, Miss Woodhouse – no, I do not. I find it a complete waste of time.”

‘You do, now, do you?’ thought Elizabeth with a smirk. ‘Well, then I suppose it’s really no wonder that you’re so uptight, Professor, because I’m sure that a bit of music would definitely help you loosen up a little. Which is why a bit of music is exactly what you’ll get right now.’

“Well, maybe you just haven’t come across anything worth listening to so far,” she said determinedly. “But if you give me one more chance, I might be able to change that. I think I’ve got just the song-”

“No, Miss Woodhouse, I believe I have become acquainted with your taste in music quite well already,” Snape cut in quickly, and would’ve most likely gone on to change the subject if Elizabeth hadn’t pushed the earphones back into his hands with a look of such pleading that even a rock would’ve probably found it difficult to stay firm, let alone an ordinary human being. And since, despite popular opinion, Snape was as human as anyone else, only he usually did his best not to show it as much, he reluctantly took the offered earphones and once again planted them into his ears, patiently waiting for the Ravenclaw to play him whatever song she had picked for him this time. And, judging by the somewhat curious look he gave her as soon as she pressed the ‘play’ button, Let It Be by The Beatles probably hadn’t been such a bad choice.

Elizabeth, however, wasn’t as pleased with her success as she might’ve been. She couldn’t help but feel that there was definitely something wrong with Snape today, seeing it usually required quite a bit more persuasion than a simple ‘please’ to convince him to do something he evidently didn’t want to, and she didn’t like it. It was all too easy, and she suddenly had the distinct impression that he was obeying her wishes only to hold something off ... something far from pleasant, no doubt.

Unfortunately for her, she didn’t have to wait long to find out exactly what that ‘something’ was, for at that moment Snape, having actually listened to the whole song this time, silently (although with a small nod of appreciation) handed her back the earphones and rose to leave.

“There will be no need to continue your lessons with me from now on, Miss Woodhouse,” he said, sounding as though nothing could please him more. “I have already told you everything you need to know as far as theory is concerned, the rest is up to you. There is only one more book I would advise you to read before you begin your career as a Potions teacher; I have left it on your bedside table. Now, if you will-”

“No, please wait, sir,” pleaded Elizabeth, doing her best to control her temper. Why was Snape suddenly treating her like some toy that he could simply throw away when he was done playing with it? Had she been completely mistaken when she believed that he thought of her as a friend? How come he seemed to be acting almost kindly one minute, but was back to his usual cold self the next? “Even though our lessons are over, you can still come for a short chat, can’t you?”

“I would hardly think that you would find my company desirable, Miss Woodhouse,” said Snape testily, his expression distinctly spelling a silent ‘and vice versa’. “Why don’t you ask your friends to pay you a visit instead?”

He didn’t say it, but the hidden message was once again only too clear.

‘So that I would finally stop wasting your precious time?’ Elizabeth finished inwardly, now controlling herself only with great difficulty. ‘Is that what you meant to say? That all I am for you is a waste of time?’

She eventually managed to pull herself together, however, and, pretending she had missed any hidden messages altogether, said: “Because I want to talk to you, sir.”

Snape raised an eyebrow. “Indeed? And why is that, Miss Woodhouse?”

Something in Elizabeth’s mind snapped. “Because ... because I love you,” she choked out, suddenly not caring whether Snape knew or not at all. Seeing that his dislike for her had apparently never completely disappeared, despite his confusingly decent behaviour for the last month or so, she might just as well tell him everything. “That was the reason why I was being so unnaturally polite ... that was why I asked you for a dance ... and the Valentine ... that was also from me.”

She met Snape’s gaze with defiance, determined to face whatever was to come. And that was when she saw it: hidden among a palette of other emotions (with surprise and disbelief being probably the most prominent) in the Potions master’s obsidian eyes was the same undescribable look she had noticed on the night of her detention ... only now, thanks to her grandmother, she finally had a name for it.


It was only there for a short moment, before Snape’s face quickly regained its usual air of coldness and indifference (and, in this case, also disgust), but Elizabeth was certain she hadn’t imagined it. Or had she?

“You are evidently still unwell, Miss Woodhouse,” said Snape impassively, looking as though her condition didn’t bother him one bit. “I shall make sure that Madam Pomfrey gives you a Sleeping Draught at once.” And before Elizabeth could put up any sort of protest, he was gone.

There was no time to ponder over what had happened, however, for, in compliance with Snape’s words, Madam Pomfrey had indeed arrived almost immediately, and was now persistently attempting to force the aforementioned Sleeping Draught down Elizabeth’s throat.

“But I’m perfectly all right, Madam Pomfrey!” protested the Ravenclaw, pushing the goblet away with disgust.

“Nonsense,” said the mediwitch sternly. “Professor Snape has made it clear that some sleep would do you nothing but good.”

“Well, Professor Snape is wrong!” yelled Elizabeth. “He just doesn’t want to hear what I have to say to him, that’s all. He didn’t even come back with you, did he? He ran-”

“That is quite enough, Miss Woodhouse,” said Madam Pomfrey uncompromisingly. “You are evidently distraught. Now, I suggest you take this potion-” she held it out in front of her “-without any further objections, or I shall have to consider keeping you here for an extra day or two.”

Elizabeth was suddenly a picture of calmness, obediently accepting the offered goblet and downing its contents without another word.

“That’s a good girl,” said Madam Pomfrey delightedly and, taking the empty container from Elizabeth’s hands, got up to leave.

Elizabeth, however, had decided to try one more thing. “Madam Pomfrey?” she asked timidly. “Do you think it would be possible to let me go a little earlier? I’m really feeling just fine, so I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt if-”

“We will see,” said Madam Pomfrey indefinitely. “For now, I would advise you to just enjoy a good night’s rest and not let anything worry you.” And with that, the mediwitch disappeared out of sight.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, fell back on her pillows, finally free to give her latest conversation with Snape some proper thought. She had no idea what to make of it, and she was slowly beginning to doubt that the supposed look of love in Snape’s eyes hadn’t been just a product of her vivid imagination. He had been so cold to her, after all, and she simply couldn’t believe that a man in love would ever act that way. Or was it possible that it had all been nothing but simple pretence, just like her grandmother had suggested? But if so, why? Why would he suddenly be trying to make her believe that she meant nothing more to him than a splinter stuck in his thumb when they had been having a civil conversation about music only a few moments before? Not to mention the several weeks of civil conversations that preceded; did he really think she would forget? No, that was absurd. Snape probably despised her, just like he always had, and the reaction that followed her confession of love for him only proved it. Why would he pretend to look so horribly uninterested if he loved her too? Why would he run? Why on earth did she allow to get her hopes up only to have all that she had come to believe destroyed in the course of not more than a few short minutes?

Getting this far, Elizabeth simply couldn’t keep her emotions bottled up any longer, and her eyes slowly filled with tears. She didn’t care, and so she let them fall, pretending that all her love for Snape was going with them.

She didn’t remember falling asleep, but she evidently must have, for the next thing she knew was that she had been jerked awake by the unmistakable sound of somebody’s rapidly approaching footsteps, and that it was already morning. For a moment she naively hoped that her unexpected visitor might be Snape, but she soon saw that it was only Hermione.

“Morning,” she mumbled sleepily as soon as her friend was within earshot, slowly lifting herself into a sitting position.

“Hi, Elizabeth,” said Hermione, plopping down into one of the chairs next to Elizabeth’s bed and breathing heavily. It was obvious that she had been running. “Sorry if I woke you, but we’ve just had Potions and I thought that since I have a free period now, I’d stop by and ask you...” She paused to take several deep breaths, then continued: “You see, Snape was absolutely horrible today ... worse than he’s been in months ... taking points for no reason at all ... and, well, I thought that maybe you’d know why. It’s just that I noticed his gaze wander over to your empty seat once or twice, so...” she trailed off, apparently out of breath again.

Elizabeth sighed, forcing back the tears that were threatening to fill her eyes once more. She wouldn’t cry. Tears wouldn’t solve anything. Hermione, on the other hand, was known for her ability to solve practically any kind of problem, and as such might provide some useful advice. She would tell her what had happened, and hope for the best.

Luckily for her, Hermione didn’t fail.

“But Elizabeth!” she exclaimed as soon as the blond witch finished her rather gloomy narrative. “It’s all so simple!”

“Please, Hermione, I’m in no mood for jokes.”

“Neither am I,” the Gryffindor assured her. “Can’t you see, Elizabeth? He loves you! Or do you really need more clues than you already have?”

“As far as I know, I don’t have any,” said Elizabeth grumpily.

“Well, that’s probably because you’re looking at it all from the wrong point of view. If you take the fact that Snape loves you as a starting point, everything else will suddenly make sense.”

“Oh, really? So why was he being nice to me for a whole month, and then suddenly started acting as though I had been nothing more than a waste of time for him all along?”

“I’d say that’s perfectly understandable, actually,” said Hermione, sounding more and more like her old know-it-all self. “After he had discovered that not even treating you like a piece of dirt would help him get rid of his feelings, he simply couldn’t stand hurting you any longer, and so when he was suddenly forced to spend so much time with you every day, he thought that he might just as well start treating you like a normal person for once. I suppose it worked for a while, but then it started getting out of hand. You were becoming too close, and he couldn’t allow that. That’s why he decided to do what he did in the end – to make you believe that he didn’t care for you at all so that you would leave him alone. Remember how you told me that he had even agreed to listen to your MP3 player before he finally got to saying what he had wanted to say all along? That’s how much effect you have on him, Elizabeth, and I’m sure he must’ve suffered terribly when he eventually told you what he had to. And it’s obvious that he’s still suffering now.”

For a short moment, Elizabeth was completely lost for words, her brain feverishly processing what Hermione had just said. True, now that everything had been properly explained to her, it really did make sense, and yet...

“But ... why did he turn me down even after he had learned that I feel the same for him as he does for me?” she peeped finally, unsuccessfully trying to do something about her violently shaking hands. “Wasn’t that the main obstacle? Or do you think there are more? That he feels he’s too old for me, for example?”

“Yes, Elizabeth, I’m afraid that’s exactly the case,” sighed Hermione. “Knowing him, he probably also thinks that he doesn’t deserve to be happy with someone like you, and I wouldn’t rule out even the possibility that he might still consider you as one of his students.”

“But I’m not!” cried Elizabeth. “I will become a teacher in only two days!”

I am aware of that,” smiled Hermione. “But he apparently isn’t, so maybe it would be a good idea to actually go and tell him.”

Elizabeth looked at her hands, which were now trembling even more than before. “Yes, I know I probably should,” she said quietly, more to herself than to her friend. “But do you think it’ll do any good? He’ll probably refuse to listen to me completely.”

Hermione gave her a challenging look. “Well, you won’t know until you try, will you?”

Elizabeth’s last two days in the hospital wing turned out to be possibly the worst two days of her entire life. On the one hand, she wanted her stay to come to an end as quickly as possible so that she could finally try and get the whole business with Snape over and done with, but on the other she was so afraid of his refusal that suddenly even the option of a lifelong confinement didn’t seem so completely unappealing any more. One way or another, however, the fact was that she was scared stiff, and the nearer the time of her release from the infirmary drew, the more terrified she became. That’s why she nearly suffered a nervous breakdown when Madam Pomfrey suddenly informed her that instead of the originally planned morning, she had, after giving her earlier request some thought, eventually decided to let her go some twelve hours earlier, having felt that maybe a free evening with her friends before her very first day of teaching was just what she needed to make her healing process complete. Needless to say, Elizabeth couldn’t concentrate on practically anything from then on, even though she knew it would probably be wise to at least flip through the book (Anticipating Explosions) Snape had left with her during his last visit, but since even looking at it was enough to remind her of the unpleasant task ahead, she eventually gave up on it and settled instead for the simple and soothing activity of playing around with her make-up set, all the while mentally preparing herself for what was to come.

Several hours later it was indeed time to go, although Elizabeth was still feeling far from ready. She got up all the same, however, thanked Madam Pomfrey for her infinite patience with her, and then slowly began to make her way up to Ravenclaw Tower to dispose of all the things she had managed to accumulate next to her hospital bed during the past six weeks. She would’ve given anything for a quick chat with Jane before her eventual calvary down to the dungeons, but when she finally reached their dormitory (which, seeing that all of their former roommates had perished in battle, only the two of them now shared), it was empty, as was, except for a few first-years playing chess by the fireplace, the Ravenclaw common room. Sighing, Elizabeth resignedly threw her stuff down on her bed, allowed herself a hasty look in the mirror, and then, at last, shakily set off to meet her fate.

When she eventually arrived in the coldness and darkness that made up the dungeons, all was quiet. She had no idea where Snape usually spent his evenings – he might even be patrolling the corridors, for all she knew – but she decided to try his office first, seeing it was probably the only place, apart from the classroom, where she could talk to him in private. Coming to a standstill in front of the heavy door, she raised a trembling hand and knocked, half-hoping that she’d get no answer.

No such luck: Snape’s surly “Enter” was as clear as ever, causing Elizabeth’s knees to almost give way and her already racing heart to speed up even more. She quickly recovered, however, and, with a deep breath, pushed open the door.

She didn’t have to look twice for the man she had come to see; he was sitting at his desk only a few feet away from her, grading papers. He glanced up upon her entrance, however, and his eyes revealed a momentary flicker of surprise and emotion before he quickly arranged his face into a mask of pure irritation.

“Yes?” he asked, his voice at its coldest.

Elizabeth, having expected something like this, pretended to ignore it. Instead she crossed over to Snape’s desk and, even though she most certainly hadn’t been offered a seat, made herself comfortable in the chair opposite his own, her gaze never leaving the Professor’s face as she did so.

“Sir, we need to talk,” she stated determinedly.

Snape’s eyes narrowed. “You and I have nothing to talk about, Miss Woodhouse,” he snapped. “I distinctly remember telling you that our private lessons have come to an end, and any other business of yours does not concern me. So if you would kindly remove yourself from my office and stop wasting my time, I would be most grateful.”

“And I would be most grateful if you kindly stopped calling me by my last name from now on,” retorted Elizabeth, willing herself to stay calm. She wouldn’t let him get to her so easily, she knew she’d lose everything if she did. Which, of course, was the last thing she wanted right now. “We’re almost colleagues, after all, so I think Elizabeth would do just fine.” Snape threw her a look full of contempt, but didn’t say anything, and so Elizabeth quickly went on: “Now, although you obviously think otherwise, I believe that there really is something we should discuss...” She took a shaky breath, then looked Snape right in the eye. “Our feelings for each other.”

Snape, however, seemed to be prepared for this. “Miss Woodhouse,” he sneered, “I have no idea what you are trying to achieve by this pathetic charade of yours, but rest assured that-”

“No, sir, please listen,” interrupted Elizabeth, raising her voice just a bit. “I’ve already told you what I feel for you, and, even though you might not have said it, I know you feel the same. You’re acting as though you hate me, but don’t you think you should stop now? Why torture yourself any longer? Why torture me? Why not stop all the pretences and let us be happy? I don’t care if you’re some twenty years older than me, I don’t care what you’ve done in the past. I love you as you are, however imperfect you might be, and I’m prepared to fight for my love, too. And if you’re the one who I have to fight against, so be it.”

This time, Snape didn’t react immediately. Instead he regarded her in a very unnerving fashion, almost like a snake deciding when to strike, making it absolutely impossible to tell what he was thinking. Did she manage to get her message across? Would it have the desired effect?

“You have no chance, Miss Woodhouse,” he said finally, his voice, unlike Elizabeth’s, not much more than a whisper now. “Whatever it is that you might feel-” (he practically spat the word) “-for me, and I very much doubt that it is what you claim it to be, I shall most certainly not encourage it. I do not know what had led you to believe that I might perhaps share those ... feelings of yours, nor do I care, but I can assure you that such a presumption is absolutely preposterous. You know nothing of my feelings, Miss Woodhouse, and I doubt you ever will. Now-”

But Elizabeth had heard enough; she knew she had to say something before it was far too late. “That is not true, sir, and you know it as well as I do,” she said firmly. “You said you don’t care how I came to the conclusion that you feel the same as I do – and, believe me, what I feel for you really is love, even though you obviously find it somewhat difficult to accept – but I’ll tell you anyway. For one thing, there was your strange behaviour at my detention just before the summer holidays. I won’t bore you with my assumptions about why exactly you had told me to leave so suddenly, as I’m sure you know what you had felt much better than I do; let’s just say that my presence was beginning to make you rather uncomfortable. Then, of course, there were our daily private lessons in the hospital wing. Why did you bother to lead all those subject-unrelated conversations with me, when in the end you all but told me that all along those visits had been nothing more than a waste of time for you? Weren’t you perhaps afraid that if you didn’t end it all the way you did, it would eventually get out of hand?” She paused, gathering strength for what she hoped to be the final blow. One never knew with Snape, after all. “But – even if none of this had happened, there was always the one thing that had caused me to suspect that something peculiar was going on in the first place ... your eyes. I couldn’t quite name the emotion that I had seen in them at first, but now I know only too well what it was. It was love, sir.”

She finished, and was now looking at Snape with unconcealed expectancy. Snape glared back at her, but his expression was, as usual, unfathomable.

“And has it never occurred to you, Miss Woodhouse, that perhaps your supposed observations had been nothing more than a product of your evidently wild imagination?” he asked at last, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “That you merely saw what you wished to see?”

Elizabeth sighed; she should’ve known that Snape wouldn’t give in so easily. She really didn’t want it to come to this, but it seemed that she had no choice. “No, as a matter of fact it hasn’t,” she said scathingly. “But maybe if I heard you say that you don’t love me directly, rather than cleverly avoiding it like you’ve been doing so far, I would actually begin to consider it a possibility. All you have to do is look into my eyes and tell me that I mean absolutely nothing to you. In that case I promise to go away and never bother you again.”

Snape looked at her sharply, and, even though his expression still gave nothing away, Elizabeth could virtually feel the alarm that her words had evoked. There was evidently a huge battle going on in his mind ... a battle that would decide everything. Was it possible that he would actually lie to her? She was, of course, convinced that he would not, but...

“And what difference would my doing such a thing make, Miss Woodhouse?” he asked suddenly, having evidently reached a conclusion of some kind at last. The irritated tone he used, however, clearly indicated that he definitely wasn’t too happy about it. “Do you not realize that a relationship between the two of us is strictly out of the question? Or have you decided to simply ignore all the potential consequences, naively hoping that I would do the same?”

Despite these harsh words, Elizabeth couldn’t help but smile. Snape hadn’t managed to tell her what she had asked him to, after all, which could only mean one thing – that it wasn’t true. She didn’t need any more proof than that to convince her once and for all that he did, in fact, love her, and while she knew that there was still a long way ahead of her, at least she had something definite to build on now, which immediately caused her mind to regain some of its lost optimism.

“What consequences?” she asked airily. “You mean like what would happen if somebody actually found out about us?”

Snape looked scandalized at the mere thought. “For instance, yes.”

“Well, then I suppose it would be a good idea to make sure that nobody does find out, wouldn’t it?” said Elizabeth sweetly. “You’ve already proved that you can pretend to hate me quite convincingly, so if you simply maintain that act in public, nobody will suspect a thing. I, of course, will keep up my own disguise as well.”

“I am not entirely certain that you would be able to, Miss Woodhouse,” said Snape doubtfully. “You are not trained to hide your emotions like I am. Sooner or later you would give yourself away, and-”

“Oh, you really think so?” asked Elizabeth fiercely. “Have you already forgotten that it was you who had slipped, and not me? If I hadn’t told you how I feel about you, you would never have found out! Speaking of which, why is it so important for you to keep the relationship a secret? Who cares if the whole school knows? Let me remind you that I am not your student any more, if that’s what’s bothering you, and, as far as I know, a relationship between two teachers is perfectly tolerable.”

“Until you receive your graduation certificate, you are still a student of this school, Miss Woodhouse,” said Snape tensely, “even if you do not attend your classes any longer.”

“Then we can just hide our relationship until graduation,” said Elizabeth confidently.

Snape threw her an almost pitying look. “It is not that simple, Miss Woodhouse,” he said wearily. “I assure you that there are more hindrances to this entire matter than you can possibly imagine.”

“Well, perhaps if you actually told me what these hindrances are, I might be able to come up with a way to eliminate them,” retorted Elizabeth.

Snape let out a sigh of exasperation, evidently reluctant to do as he was asked. Elizabeth’s unwavering stare, however, full of eagerness and expectation, eventually caused him to give in.

“The age difference,” he said curtly.

Elizabeth resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “I’ve already told you that I don’t care about that in the least,” she said firmly. “True, it might appear rather striking now, but what will it matter in some fifty years or so? I doubt anybody will give it as much as a second thought then.”

Judging by the momentary flicker of amusement in Snape’s eyes, her words had obviously had a positive effect. Maybe the man had even realized that there was actually a great deal of sense in what she was saying, it was hard to tell, mainly because his face had regained its usual serious expression almost immediately, causing Elizabeth to wonder whether it hadn’t, in fact, been there all along. Upon closer inspection, however, she discovered that ‘serious’ probably wasn’t the right word to describe Snape’s current appearance. To her great disconcertion, he suddenly looked almost ... haunted – something she didn’t like at all. And rightly so.

“There will be no ‘then’, Miss Woodhouse,” he said quietly. “I have done nothing to deserve a happy life. The mistakes I have made in the past are-”

Please, Professor, we’ve been over this already,” said Elizabeth hotly. “I know you have probably done some horrible things while in Voldemort’s services, even though you strictly refused to tell me about them, but I think you’ve done enough to atone for each and every one of them at least twice. You’ve continually put your life at risk by spying on Voldemort, you’ve managed to put up with a bunch of insufferable children for more than fifteen years, you’ve completely shut yourself off from the outside world, thus depriving your life of everything worth living for ... don’t you think the time has come for you to stop dwelling on what had been, and to actually start concentrating on what lies ahead of you once again? I would help you as best I can, of course, but you’d have to let me. If you would only co-operate a little more...”

“I do not want your help, Miss Woodhouse,” said Snape darkly. “And I am certain that were you to know the exact nature of all the atrocious deeds I have come to accomplish during my Death Eater days, you would never have made such an inane offer to begin with. You would have run away in fright and disgust, determined to carefully avoid all unnecessary contact with me in the future.”

A wave of pity rushed through Elizabeth’s mind at those words; she simply couldn’t believe how one person could possibly manage to harbour as much self-loathing as she had just seen Snape display. Well, there was only one thing left for her to do.

“How can you be so sure?” she asked incredulously. “I’ve already told you that I’m not as weak as you might think, so who knows – I might turn out to fail your expectations altogether, and actually succeed in doing the exact opposite of what you had just predicted. But since we won’t know unless we try, I suggest you stop being so secretive for once and actually – just this one time – tell me all about those ‘atrocious deeds’ of yours, leaving nothing out and concentrating on even the tiniest of details. Then we can continue our present conversation.”

Snape, however, determinedly shook his head. “No, Miss Woodhouse. I have no right to put you through something as direful as that, and, were you wise, you would not even ask me to.”

Elizabeth knew she couldn’t take much more of this. Convincing Snape to finally give in was something she wished for more than anything in the world, but she was slowly running out of arguments. What could she possibly say to make him talk?

“I may not be wise,” she said slowly, as though weighing every word, “but I do have some common sense. And my common sense is telling me that unless you agree to do what I’m asking of you, our little problem will most likely never be solved. And since the only reason why I have come here was to have that very problem taken care of, I will not leave this room until we do just that. So, unless you decide to change your mind, I suggest you prepare yourself for a long night, Professor.”

Snape reacted by throwing her one of his patented death glares, but Elizabeth could see that inwardly he was already giving her words a great amount of thought. She could only hope that he would reach some kind of conclusion soon, seeing the silence, as well as the incredible tension that ominously hung in the air, were slowly beginning to drive her mad. Just when she thought she wouldn’t be able to stand it all any longer, however, Snape stood up.

“Wait here,” he ordered and, leaving Elizabeth no time to ask what was going on, silently disappeared through the office door and into the corridor outside.

Fifteen minutes later, however, he was back, and although Elizabeth had nearly died of anxiety during the time of his absence, all her troubled thoughts were quickly overcome by curiosity as she closely examined the strange object that he had brought with him. It was a shallow stone basin, bearing some kind of inscriptions around the edge and containing an odd, translucent substance that kept swirling round and round while giving off a faint, silvery light.

“Do you know what this is, Miss Woodhouse?” Snape asked as he carefully placed the entrancing basin on his desk and sat down.

Elizabeth merely shook her head.

“It is called a Pensieve,” Snape enlightened her. “People generally use it for sorting out their thoughts and memories whenever they feel that their mind is too overloaded to manage on its own.” He smirked, obviously finding such an activity utterly contemptible. “I, however, have decided to employ the Pensieve for an entirely different reason. You have asked me to tell you about my Death Eater days, which I will not, but I am certain that you will find a journey through my memories just as satisfying.”

For once, Elizabeth was lost for words, and as such could only watch as Snape suddenly drew out his wand and placed its tip near his temple. When, a few seconds later, he finally took the wand away, a silver strand was clinging to it, which he quickly deposited into the Pensieve. This process was repeated several times, until Snape eventually shoved the Pensieve under Elizabeth’s nose and told her to look in. Wondering what on earth she was getting herself into, the Ravenclaw gingerly obeyed.

At first she could see nothing but the silvery substance, but then the vapour cleared and she was suddenly looking, as if from somewhere up in the sky, at some crepuscular forest clearing where a small group of people, generally dressed in Death Eater robes, stood gathered around a tall man clad all in black. He looked a little different than when Elizabeth had watched him fighting Snape during the battle for Hogwarts, but there was certainly no mistaking him for anyone else – it was none other than Lord Voldemort.

“I believe we have got some newcomers today,” he hissed, and the Death Eaters immediately parted to reveal four uncertain-looking young men, one of whom Elizabeth instantly recognized as Snape. He, as well as his three companions, was wearing only plain black robes, and Elizabeth was suddenly certain that what she was looking at was in all probability the gruesome entrance ceremony Snape had refused to tell her about earlier.

“So, you have decided to join me?” Voldemort asked, sounding both pleased and amused at the same time.

“Yes, my Lord,” said the four men together.

“Well,” drawled Voldemort, “then I’m sure you are all prepared for a little ... test.”

Elizabeth didn’t like the sound of that at all, and, judging by the worried looks the four would-be Death Eaters shared, it definitely looked as though she wasn’t the only one. Voldemort, however, took no notice of it; instead he turned to Snape and, with a nasty smile, asked him to state his name.

“Severus Snape, my Lord,” said Snape calmly, raising his eyes to meet the Dark Lord’s intense gaze without the slightest hint of hesitation.

“Severus, you say?” repeated Voldemort thoughtfully, his unpleasant smile growing even wider. And then, all of a sudden, a wand appeared in his hand, pointed straight at Snape’s chest, and a moment later, Snape collapsed to the ground, his body twitching with pain. Voldemort looked on in amusement, the echo of his Cruciatus curse still ringing through the air.

Elizabeth, who was suffering almost as much as Snape just by watching him, felt like shutting her eyes and never opening them again, but somehow she couldn’t. And so, despite her somewhat blurry vision, she simply continued staring at the horrible scene before her until, after what seemed like hours to her, Voldemort finally decided he’d had enough and, with a wave of his wand, lazily ended the curse. Curiously enough, Snape, albeit rather shakily, picked himself up from the ground almost immediately, looking very much as though he found the Cruciatus curse about as painful as a mosquito bite.

“Very good, Severus,” cooed Voldemort, eyeing his would-be recruit with obvious approval. “I see that you can withstand pain well.” And, turning towards the other three novices, he added: “Let us only hope that your friends will prove to be equally resistant. ‘Crucio’!”

This time it was the man on Snape’s left who found himself writhing with pain, but neither he, nor his two companions were able to control themselves even half as well as Snape had done, and as such could be heard screaming and begging for mercy only a couple of seconds after Voldemort had begun to torture them. Unsurprisingly, this only prolonged their suffering, leaving them all barely alive by the time it was finally over.

“I am disappointed,” declared Voldemort moodily, regarding the three bodies at his feet with distaste. “I shall, however, give you a second chance.” He smiled his nasty smile again, and Elizabeth could only guess what sort of horror he had in mind this time. “True, you might not have shown much worthiness when being tortured yourselves, but perhaps you will find torturing others more to your liking?” And with that, he turned to a small group of Death Eaters who stood somewhat separated from the rest of their comrades, evidently awaiting this particular moment all along. “Bring the Muggles,” he barked.

“Yes, master,” nodded one of the Death Eaters, and a moment later they all disappeared towards the edge of the clearing. They were back in a matter of seconds, however, each of them dragging the limp form of what appeared to be a member of the same Muggle family. The mother and father were both badly bruised, but their two children, a boy and a girl of about eight, seemed, apart from the fact that they were obviously under the effect of the ‘Petrificus Totalus’, quite unharmed.

The Death Eaters dropped their burdens in front of Snape and his friends (who had meanwhile managed, although with great difficulty, to will themselves to stand up) and then stepped back, quietly looking on as Voldemort took the floor once again.

“Your task is easy this time,” he drawled. “Torture these filthy Muggles-” he threw the four motionless people lying on the ground a disgusted look “-in any way you please, whether it is with or without magic depends on you. Of course, the longer you keep them alive, the better, but I don’t think I really need to tell you that, am I right?”

The four young men all nodded mutely, and Voldemort then assigned each of them the one member of the unfortunate family whom they’d have to torture. Snape ended up with the little girl, and Elizabeth suddenly found herself foolishly hoping that the sight of such a helpless creature might perhaps cause his conscience to finally make itself heard, forcing the man to stop this whole Death Eater nonsense before it was far too late.

He didn’t. In fact, he didn’t even bat an eyelash as the girl, now relieved of the ‘Petrificus Totalus’, started crying for her mother; instead he calmly exposed her to some truly horrific Dark spell and, with a frighteningly disinterested expression on his face, watched her suffer. Then, just when Elizabeth thought that the girl’s screams couldn’t possibly get any louder, he suddenly changed the spell into a different one, apparently causing some sort of imaginary itching, seeing the girl was now scratching herself so vehemently that in many places she had begun to bleed. Snape evidently didn’t care, however, continuing to vary his spells and curses with alarming frequency and not letting even the fact that the girl had eventually fainted put him off. He simply brought her to again, and then carried on as if nothing had happened.

Elizabeth was in a state of shock. She had no idea how the other three men were doing; her eyes were firmly fixed on Snape and the little girl and, no matter how much she tried, she simply couldn’t bring herself to look anywhere else. Was she really watching the same man she had fallen in love with? Could he really have changed so much? From this cruel, heartless being into the lonely, indrawn person whom she had come to know and admire? Could every one of his victims have contributed to that?

Apparently not, seeing that when his very first victim, the little girl, eventually passed away, Snape looked almost ... proud of himself, unconcernedly moving on to the next set of tests (mostly concerning the group’s combat skills this time) as if her death had meant about as much to him as the death of an annoying insect.

After he had accepted the Dark Mark, however, his memories in the Pensieve suddenly became nothing more than a bunch of blurry images, and that was when Elizabeth began to observe the first changes. True, he still killed, tortured, and even brewed a variety of highly dangerous potions, some of which could’ve easily blown up an entire house, but even though Elizabeth couldn’t see his face, since it was usually hidden behind his Death Eater mask, she could virtually feel the steadily growing reluctancy to accomplish what was being asked of him. Every time, the hesitation before the eventual killing was a little clearer ... every time, the unearthly screams of his tortured victims were cut off a little sooner ... every time...

And then, as unexpectedly as they had appeared, the images suddenly faded away and were replaced instead by another continuous scene, this time set in a dark, mouldy-looking cellar. In contrast to the previous Death Eater meeting, however, here only five people were present: one of them was, of course, none other than Snape, standing in the very centre of the room with his wand pointed at a black-haired wizard who, having evidently just received his fair share of torture, now lay face down on the cold stone floor, bleeding and gasping. Two more Death Eaters, both standing in the background and watching quietly, and an impatient-looking Lord Voldemort completed the scene.

Elizabeth, however, was absolutely perplexed. Of all the murders and tortures he’d accomplished, why on earth did Snape choose to show her this particular one in detail? Who was the man on the floor? Why was he so important?

Well, it didn’t take long for her to find out, for at that very moment, the man used his last remains of strength to raise his head from the floor so that he could face his attacker ... and Elizabeth almost died of shock when she suddenly found herself looking into the eyes of ... Snape?

No, it couldn’t be. Snape was, after all, standing right above this strange man, pointing his wand straight at his head and willing himself to say the fatal words. Besides, this man was definitely older than Snape. True, his eyes were of the same obsidian colour as Snape’s, and the hooked nose, despite the fact that it was evidently broken, also looked familiar, but other than that, there were no similarities to speak of. For one thing, the man’s hair, now matted with blood, was much longer than Snape’s, although just as greasy. Secondly, his features betrayed a strong, despotic personality, determined to-

Getting this far, Elizabeth suddenly knew exactly who she was looking at, and, truth be told, she was shocked beyond words. Yes, Snape had told her that his father – for that was indeed the mysterious man’s identity – had been killed at Voldemort’s bidding, but he somehow neglected to tell her that he himself was the one who had performed the deadly curse.

There was no time to dissect this appalling revelation any further, however, for at that moment, Voldemort, obviously tired of the unnecessary protraction, decided to leave his present place by the wall and personally take charge.

“Well? What is taking you so long?” he hissed, eyeing Snape with an air of suspicion as he crossed over to stand by his side. “Finish him off!”

“Of course, my Lord,” nodded Snape, his voice slightly muffled by his Death Eater mask but otherwise sounding very much the same as it always did. Elizabeth, however, was quite sure that it was all only simple pretence; Snape’s inner feelings were most likely the exact opposite of what he allowed Voldemort to see. Then again, what did it matter when he still did as he was told? It only took two simple words, after all...

Avada Kedavra!”

And that was the end. No more images, no more scenes. She was once again sitting in Snape’s office, her eyes were, for reasons unknown, filled with tears, and the man whom she had just seen murder his father was dolefully regarding her from across his desk, looking almost as though he was on the verge of tears himself.

“I hope you are satisfied now, Miss Woodhouse,” he said bitterly, getting hold of the Pensieve and placing his memories back inside his head.

Elizabeth didn’t reply, seeing as she was too busy sorting out her slightly confused thoughts. It was only natural after all the horrors she’d just seen, after all.

Snape, however, interpreted her silence somewhat differently. “Well?” he demanded. “What are you waiting for? Surely you don’t need my permission to leave?”

Wiping the tears from her eyes with a swift gesture, Elizabeth finally decided to grace him with her attention. “No, of course I don’t,” she confirmed, and then, after a brief pause, slowly added: “Mainly because I’m not leaving.”

Snape let out a sigh of exasperation. “Miss Woodhouse, there is no need to be considerate. If you want to leave, which, under the circumstances, would be the wisest thing you could possibly do, just do so. It would be nothing I had not expected.”

“I’m not being considerate, sir,” said Elizabeth resolutely. “It’s true that what I have seen in the Pensieve is definitely nothing to be proud of, but I assure you that I can deal with it. You have realized your mistake, after all, and that’s all that matters. In fact, I think you could even say that the experience, no matter how horrible it had been, had made you become a better person ... a person who deserves nothing but love and admiration. Both of which – and more – I’d still be delighted to give you.”

The intensity with which Snape was regarding her was truly unnerving. It seemed that while one part of him was craving to accept her offer straight away, another part, unfortunately the stronger one at the moment, was very much against it. That’s why the Potions master’s eventual reaction didn’t turn out to be nearly as surprising as it could’ve been.

“You say that now, Miss Woodhouse,” he said, sounding even more pessimistic than before, “and perhaps you even mean it, but with time you will come to realize just how foolish your words had been. Even if I were to become somehow ... involved with you, I am certain that it would not take long before you would come to regret it. You would suddenly realize that while you have buried yourself in a thriveless relationship with a man who could easily be your father, all your friends are meanwhile still enjoying their freedom, carelessly making use of all the possibilities that a teenage life has to offer.” He gave Elizabeth a deep, searching look, and then added: “I would hardly think that that is what you really want, Miss Woodhouse.”

Elizabeth met Snape’s gaze with defiance. “Believe it or not, Professor – it is,” she declared, making a short pause (mainly to prevent herself from saying anything rash) before continuing. “You seem to be suggesting that I’ll eventually get tired of you, but I sincerely doubt that. You may not know it, but I have loved you for almost two years now, and even though most of the time your behaviour towards me had been absolutely horrible, my feelings have never faltered. And, especially if you give me the chance to express them fully, I see no reason why they should do so in the future.”

Glancing over at Snape, she saw that he was somewhat stunned by her statement about the duration of her love; obviously he hadn’t imagined that he had been the object of her attraction for quite as long as that. She decided to use his silence to her advantage, however, and quickly resumed her monologue, hoping against hope that maybe she would actually manage to say something that would make him change his mind at last.

“You are afraid that I might eventually break up with you and leave you with a broken heart, aren’t you, sir?” she asked softly. “Well, I can understand that, but don’t you think you’re being a little selfish? If you send me away now, you are most likely going to suffer anyway, but in addition you’ll be dragging me down as well. Have you thought about that at all? Because, Professor, this is no longer about you alone, this is about us. I know you have spent your whole life rejecting everybody who as much as attempted to get close to you, and I know that so far it had worked, but I assure you that this time it’s different. Have you realized that this time, you’re not the only one who’s putting their feelings at risk? That there’s somebody else doing the same?”

Suddenly appearing somewhat tired, Snape looked at her and nodded. “Yes, Miss Woodhouse, I assure you that I have realized that fact only too well. Which is exactly why I am telling you to give the entire matter up ... for your own good. You are still young, you will recover soon enough. Go and find yourself a proper boyfriend, Miss Woodhouse, and forget about me. It will be better for the both of us.”

Elizabeth was close to tears by now; this wasn’t going well at all. But she wouldn’t give up ... not yet, anyway.

“Better?” she repeated mockingly. “Or simply more comfortable?” And since Snape didn’t look like he would even bother to comment that remark, she quickly went on: “Anyway, I’m not interested in finding myself a proper boyfriend, as you had so tensely put it. I’ve never cared about boys my age; I think they’re all a bunch of immature idiots. You, on the other hand, are everything a girl like me could possibly wish for.”

“Indeed?” said Snape sceptically. “And what, pray tell, is it that you would see in me, Miss Woodhouse?”

“You really don’t know?” asked Elizabeth, even though she could easily guess the answer beforehand.

“No, Miss Woodhouse, please enlighten me.”

Elizabeth paused on. “Well ... it’s kind of hard to put into words...” she said slowly, “but I’ll try.” She gave Snape a thoughtful look, as if searching for inspiration, before continuing. “Firstly, I admire your exceptional intelligence and logical mind; sometimes it’s almost scary how you can figure things out. Secondly, I think you have an incredible sense of honour and loyalty, examples of which you have definitely shown on more than one occasion. Thirdly, I’d say that you must be terribly brave, because otherwise you would never have dared to go back to Voldemort so that you could spy on him.” She sighed. Telling Snape that she loved him was one thing, but telling him why she loved him was a different matter altogether. But since he had asked for it... “I also love talking to you. True, most people probably wouldn’t consider you an entertaining companion, but to me you are like a best friend – I could talk to you for days and days and still not get tired of it. Your voice is absolutely heavenly, too, by the way, even though you probably don’t realize it. Well, and lastly ... lastly I find you immensely attractive. Not handsome, because you’re not, but there’s definitely something about you ... I don’t know how to say it... Perhaps it’s your slightly mysterious appearance, or the graceful way you move about, or your billowing black robes, or perhaps all of it, I really don’t know ... but the point is that I simply can’t stop looking at you. Especially your eyes, they’re so beautiful...” She gave Snape an apologetic smile. “I know I didn’t express it too well, and there are probably quite a lot of things I haven’t mentioned, too, but that’s all I can think of at the moment...”

Snape, however, apparently seemed to be of the opinion that she had said more than enough, judging by the look of utter disbelief that he was giving her. And not only disbelief, she noticed presently, there was also confusion, surprise, doubt...

And then, without a single word, he suddenly got up from his chair and, in one swift movement, turned away from her, folding his arms across his chest and seemingly abandoning all signs of life as he lost himself in thought. It would’ve been quite easy to mistake him for a statue at that moment, actually.

Elizabeth watched his rigid figure with hope. Was it possible that not everything had been lost yet? That she had finally managed to knock some sense into him? That, after he would finish sorting his thoughts out, he would actually say ‘yes’ at last? That he would-

She never got any further with her musings, however, for at that moment, Snape spun around so quickly that she almost fell off her chair in shock.

“This is absurd,” he spat, fixing her with an indignant gaze. “I see absolutely no reason why we should continue this conversation any farther; there is nothing more to be said. Once again I am asking you to leave my office, Miss Woodhouse, and this time I expect you to obey.”

Elizabeth felt as if somebody had slapped her. So much for her hopes, which Snape, as only he could, had managed to disperse with only a few short sentences. Now she could no longer hold back her tears, and she soon felt them burning her cheeks before they dropped down onto the cold dungeon floor. Cold as the man who lived there.

Shakily, she stood up, unable to think of anything more to say. Could that mean that Snape had been right? That there really was nothing left to be said? That it was all over?

‘No!’ something in her mind screamed. ‘You can’t give up now! You’re so close! Can’t you see that he’s ready to break? That the part of him that wants to give in is clearly taking over now? All you have to do is find a name for it and give it a little push!’

And so Elizabeth did. “Nothing more to be said?” she asked quietly, looking almost menacing as she moved over to stand right in front of Snape. “Says who? Says your mind? Well, that’s great, but don’t you think that sometimes, like now, it would be much better if you actually listened to your heart?”

“Miss Woodhouse, I believe I told you to leave,” said Snape, but he didn’t sound nearly as convincing as before.

“And I told you to use your heart,” snapped Elizabeth, her tears now long forgotten. “If you actually have one, that is,” she added bitterly.

Snape threw her one of the darkest glares he was capable of, obviously hoping to compel her to go away with the mere power of his gaze, but with no success: Elizabeth firmly stood her ground, glaring right back at him and looking like she wasn’t about to leave any time soon. Eventually, with an irritated sigh, Snape was forced to resign.

“If I had used my heart, Miss Woodhouse, I would have been dead long ago,” he said testily.

“Well, with the sort of life you’re leading, I don’t really think it would’ve made that much of a difference,” retorted Elizabeth, immediately giving herself a huge mental slap as she realized what exactly it was that she had said. She had never meant to be so cruel, of course, but since there was obviously no decent way (seeing as ‘Obliviate’ definitely did not count as an option) of taking her words back, she could do nothing but grit her teeth and simply hope for the best ... or, better said, for the worst. And perhaps it would also be a good idea to apologize...

Glancing up at Snape, however, all such thoughts quickly left her mind, as from the way he was looking at her it was quite clear that any attempts at an apology would be entirely useless. She had never seen so much reproach in anyone’s expression before, and she honestly didn’t care to endure the experience again.

To her great surprise, however, the longer she looked into Snape’s eyes, the more his gaze softened: slowly, reproach gave way to thoughtfulness, thoughtfulness gave way to ... well, Elizabeth didn’t exactly know what, but she was sure that if he continued looking at her that way just a little while longer, she would stop controlling herself and she would...

And then it happened. Without knowing how or why, Elizabeth’s arms suddenly found themselves wrapped around Snape’s neck and tangled in his hair, while Snape himself tentatively put his own arms around her waist. For a while, they just stood like that, gazing into each other’s eyes and simply enjoying the close contact that they had created, before, eventually, they leaned in and, ever so slowly, sought each other’s lips.

Elizabeth felt like the whole world had come to a standstill. She knew nothing of her surroundings, she knew nothing of anything; all she was aware of was that kissing Snape was the most wonderful thing she had experienced so far. True, she had already done it hundreds of times in her imagination, but now she knew that she had never even come close to the real thing. If she had to find a comparison, then she would probably say that the kiss was a bit like a wild roller coaster ride – it gave her a feeling of sensation, it caused her stomach to do flip-flops, it left her feeling dizzy at the end, and, of course, it was much too short.

Both slightly out of breath after the passionate frenzy they had just undergone, Elizabeth and Snape once again found themselves staring into each other’s – now somewhat glazy – eyes.

“Well, I certainly hope that your demand concerning the use of my heart has now been met, Elizabeth,” said Snape with a slight smile, absently brushing away a strand of hair that had fallen into his face during the kiss.

Elizabeth gave him a dazzling smile of her own. “Oh, definitely.” And then, with a fake pleading look, she added: “By the way, do you think I could also call you by your first name from now on?”

Snape merely nodded, before being uncompromisingly swept into yet another breathtaking kiss.
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