First time

History repeats itself ... well, almost

Chapter 26

History repeats itself ... well, almost

November’s foggy and murky weather slowly gave way to an extremely chilly December, but while Snape had, despite Elizabeth’s antics, effortlessly managed to sustain his greasy git reputation, Elizabeth herself still wasn’t any closer to finding a definite way of controlling her Slytherin students than she had been to begin with. Unsurprisingly, it was none other than Mr Kensington who continually remained at the top of Elizabeth’s ‘Most Bothersome Individuals’ list, no matter how many detentions he thus earned himself, but the rest of Snape’s house were usually not too far behind. The only exception was probably Mr Avesbury, who, once freed from Mr Kensington’s undeniable bad influence and made to sit at the back of the classroom, not only kept quiet just like he was supposed to, but also began to finally concentrate on his potions rather than on playing Naughts and Crosses on the corner of his notes, and as such managed to, for the first time in his life, actually hand in something that was worthy of marking. Which, of course, was something of a compensation for the appaling behaviour of the other Slytherins, even if it was still a long way from what Elizabeth had been hoping to achieve. So long, in fact, that the Ravenclaw was slowly beginning to doubt that she would ever cover it.

As if things weren’t bad enough already, Elizabeth’s relationship with Snape wasn’t exactly blooming, either. Enlightened by the conversation they had shared right after her first lesson, Elizabeth didn’t really expect the Head of Slytherin to further risk his image by somehow intervening in her constant battle against his house (not to mention waging a little talk with those brats of his on her behalf), but she did count, if nothing else, on his co-operation in other areas, especially where displaying affection was concerned. So far, though, it was always she who somehow ended up making the first move (whether it was a kiss, or a hug, or just a mere caress), never Snape. True, he was usually more than happy to join in afterwards, but after a while Elizabeth found that this simply didn’t suffice. It seemed almost as if he were afraid to start anything without her consent, although Elizabeth was completely and utterly baffled as to why that might possibly be. She even went as far as hinting to Snape that he most certainly didn’t need her written permission to touch her whenever and wherever he felt like it, but either her hints were too subtle, or Snape simply refused to acknowledge them. Frustrated, Elizabeth eventually turned to Hermione.

“I think he just needs more time to get used to the fact that he’s involved in a relationship,” said the Gryffindor pensively, throwing an adoring look at Neville, who was hovering nearby but well out of earshot. “Neville was the same – thought I would mind if he touched me without warning.”

“But I told him I wouldn’t,” said Elizabeth desperately.

“Yes, but that obviously isn’t enough. He needs to get used to it, too. I’d say that, just like Neville when we first got together, he hasn’t yet quite managed to come to terms with the fact that, after all the things he’d done, someone can still actually love him and not cringe when he comes within an arm’s length of them.”

“I see,” sighed Elizabeth. “So how long do you think it’ll take him to finally get used to it?”

Hermione shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine, Elizabeth. Although ... it does sort of depend on you a bit, now, doesn’t it?”

“I suppose,” said Elizabeth dully, somewhat disappointed by Hermione’s unexpected lack of advice. Then again, perhaps the Gryffindor might prove to be a bit more helpful at least on the subject of Snape’s supposed pretence of being upset, something Elizabeth hadn’t had the opportunity to get round to asking as yet. Not that it really mattered in the end, anyway, because the little Hermione had to say on the matter was probably even more insufficient than her last comment had been.

“Well, it is, of course, possible,” she conceded thoughtfully, “and I’m quite sure that by the end of your conversation he was definitely faking it, but at the beginning he really might have been angry with you... I don’t know, Elizabeth, I would have to have seen him to be entirely sure.”

Elizabeth only nodded glumly, suddenly feeling no particular desire to continue her questioning any further. Why should she? It seemed only too clear to her that her relationship with Snape had now reached such a point that nobody, not even Hermione, could possibly help her with it any more, and that from now on she would simply have to sort all her problems out alone. Even if she had no idea how to, as well as practically no time to come up with any at least slightly decent solutions. She had, after all, at least a million other things to worry about as well: apart from being kept occupied by her teaching duties, she had also decided to resume her Apparition training, allowed Jane to bully her into continuing Quidditch practice (for, as Snape had rightly remarked, until she received her graduation certificate, she was technically still a student, and therefore also a perfectly legitimate member of the Ravenclaw Quidditch team) and, last but not least, agreed to take over and redecorate to suit her taste Snape’s dungeon office, while Snape himself moved to the Defence Against the Dark Arts department several floors above. She had, however, firmly refused to oust him from his living quarters as well, claiming that she was perfectly happy to continue sharing a dormitory with Jane for the rest of the year; at least she would still have somebody to talk to before bedtime. Which was, of course, quite true, though Elizabeth’s main reason for letting Snape keep his chambers was a tiny bit different. She knew she was probably thinking too far ahead, but what she was really hoping for was to, after the revelation of their relationship to the whole school at the end of the year, try and convince Snape to allow her to share his rooms with her. Although, on second thoughts, maybe he would become so fed up with her by then that she wouldn’t even have to bother.

But maybe she was just being way too pessimistic: with the Christmas holidays lurking just around the corner, everything suddenly became a lot more cheerful. Dumbledore had made use of Snape’s convenient retirement from the dungeons and assigned the house-elves to diversify both the classroom and the office with a great variety of Christmas decorations, the Slytherins seemed to have finally calmed down a little (if only due to Elizabeth’s continuous threats of assigning them detention every single evening of the Christmas holidays, Christmas Eve included), and even Snape, with the prospect of a student-free two weeks ahead of him (and also, according to some, with the Order of Merlin, First Class, in sight) was suddenly a trifle easier to get along with. That’s probably why Elizabeth, who, after last year’s experience, would’ve normally never even dreamed of suggesting such a thing, somewhow found the courage to seek him out one evening while he was depriving his former office of the last remains of his possessions, seat herself on the same chair she had used on the night they had got together, and, after several seconds of silence, casually remark: “Did you hear that Dumbledore’s planning another dance this year?”

Snape, who had meanwhile opened one of the desk drawers and started taking its contents out, looked as though somebody had just dropped a Dungbomb under his nose. “I certainly did,” he said dryly. “It seems that my students hardly talk about anything else these days, and I must say it shows rather badly in their test results.” He suddenly threw Elizabeth an uncomfortably searching look, then added: “But I am warning you, Elizabeth, if you are in any way thinking of repeating your mistake from last year and considering asking me for a dance, I advise you to think again.”

“Why, didn’t you like the dance?” asked Elizabeth, pretending to look crestfallen.

“That is irrelevant,” said Snape, after a moment of hesitation. Elizabeth would have given anything to know exactly what had gone through his mind just then, but she knew better than to ask. “The important point is that the two of us dancing for the second time in a row would look highly suspicious. We might as well announce our relationship in front of the whole school, not to mention the Ministry of Magic itself, seeing as Dumbledore will presumably ask the Minister to stay for the entire evening. And I absolutely refuse to-”

“But if the Great Hall is going to be packed with people,” Elizabeth cut in before she could find out exactly what Snape had been about to refuse doing, “then we might not stand out as much as we did last year, don’t you think? We’ll get lost in the crowd, plus I suspect that by the end of the evening quite a lot of people will be too drunk to notice us anyway.”

“Quite a lot, perhaps, but not nearly enough,” said Snape firmly. “Have you taken into consideration all the underage students, who, as you should well know, are not allowed to drink alcohol? Or Dumbledore – do you honestly believe that the man, however inebriated he might be, will not put two and two together?”

Elizabeth shot him a sly smile. “Well, yes, but he was also the one who convinced you to dance with me in the first place, wasn’t he?”

“Merely because he could not miss the chance of having a good laugh at my expense,” remarked Snape bitterly. “He obviously never meant for us to find a ... romantic interest in each other,” he finished, rather awkwardly.

“I wouldn’t put it past him,” said Elizabeth thoughtfully, remembering the smile Dumbledore had given her just after Snape had led her to her seat. “Still, why not use his little joke to our advantage?” She leaned across the desk until she was as close to Snape as she could possibly get, then dropped her voice to a conspirational half-whisper, as if afraid of being overheard. “Look, it will be a piece of cake. All you have to do, after I come and ask you for a dance, is throw one of your famous death glares in Dumbledore’s direction, mutter something about not even bothering to refuse the proposal when he’s going to make you go out there anyway, no matter what you say, and then – extremely reluctantly, of course – lead me out onto the dance floor. Naturally, if Dumbledore decides to repeat what he did last year and actually give you a little push of his own accord, he will only be playing into our hands.”

Snape, however, didn’t seem to share her enthusiasm. “Dumbledore is not as foolish as he tries to make himself look sometimes, Elizabeth,” he said grimly. “He will detect our true intentions with absurd ease.”

“Oh, do stop being so paranoid, Severus,” said Elizabeth airily. “Just because you know what we’re up to doesn’t mean everybody else has to see it the same way. Try looking at it from Dumbledore’s point of view: can you think of any reason why he shouldn’t consider us as just another harmless student/teacher pair? Not to mention the fact that I’m virtually a fully-fledged member of the staff? He was OK with us dancing last year, so why should this year be any different? If anything, he’ll come to the conclusion that I’ve probably got a bit of a crush on you, but there’s absolutely no way of him finding out that we’ve already reached quite a different level than that.”

“You do not know him, Elizabeth,” muttered Snape, opening another drawer and throwing some of its contents on the desk. “There are not many things you can keep from Albus Dumbledore.”

Elizabeth, however, was no longer listening; she was too attracted by a certain letter protruding from the pile Snape had just placed in front of her. Surely it couldn’t be...

She reached out for the familiar envelope, intending to take a closer look, but Snape snatched it from under her fingers and quickly hid it in the pocket of his robes.

Unfortunately, though, this act only confirmed Elizabeth’s suspicions.

“Severus,” she drawled, her lips spreading into a wicked smile, “that letter you’ve got in your pocket ... it’s not by any chance my Valentine, is it?”

Snape straightened up, his expression suddenly intimidating. “And even if it were?” he asked quietly, obviously hoping to bully Elizabeth into dropping the subject.

Which, of course, Elizabeth did not do. “I never knew you were so sentimental, Severus,” she cooed, completely ignoring Snape’s discouraging tone. “Keeping the Valentine for all this time...”

“I believed it to be one of Potter’s pranks,” said Snape tensely. “I retained it as evidence, in case I ever acquired sufficient proof to-”

“Even after I told you it was from me?” queried Elizabeth, trying to look both surprised and incredulous at the same time.

“No, of course not,” said Snape irritably, bending down and focusing his attention back on the drawer. “I intended to dispose of it, along with all the other useless things contained in this drawer, only, until now, I simply have not found the time.”

Elizabeth, however, was not fooled. “Useless things, you say?” she stated with a smirk, picking up a piece of parchment from the top of the pile where she had found the Valentine and taking a brief look at it. “You were actually going to throw out your Potions master’s degree?” She picked up another parchment. “Or your Hogwarts graduation certificate?”

Snape threw her a murderous look, but said nothing. Elizabeth strongly suspected him of finally running out of arguments.

“You know, Severus, I really don’t see why you should consider keeping a simple Valentine card so shameful,” she ploughed on, taking no notice of Snape’s forbidding expression. “If – strictly theoretically, of course – you ever happened to send me a Valentine, I would keep it as well. I would put it on my bedside table and read it every time I felt lonely or miserable or god-knows-what-else. It’s the natural thing to do.”

“For a teenage girl, perhaps,” said Snape dully, “but I would already consider myself to be well past such sentiments.”

“And yet you still kept it,” Elizabeth pointed out, “which just goes to show that it’s the natural thing to do for everyone, not just teenage girls.”

Snape had nothing to say to that, but rather than forbidding he now looked thoughtful. Elizabeth plucked up her courage.

“Can I see the Valentine?” she asked timidly. “I don’t really remember what I wrote in it any more, and after all the time that had passed since I had sent it, it would be quite interesting to read it again.”

Snape sighed, then reached inside his robes and reluctantly handed her the familiar pink envelope. Elizabeth opened it, unfolded the letter it contained, and immersed herself in reading.

It was almost as if she had gone back in time; all the emotions she had put into the Valentine suddenly came back to her with surprising clearness. The despair, sequent upon the fact that it was quite obvious that her love would never be returned, and yet, at the same time, the persisting hope that maybe, one day, something would happen... And then, of course, there was the love itself, seeping from every single inch of the parchment and not much different from the love that she still felt today. Somehow, she could no longer believe that even somebody like Snape had ever considered the Valentine to be nothing but a cruel joke.

She raised her eyes from the heart-covered parchment and cast the Potions master, who had meanwhile gone back to emptying out his desk, a curious look. Then, at last, she asked: “Severus, you didn’t really think it was Potter who had sent you the Valentine, did you?”

Snape set the stack of papers he was holding down on the desk with a ‘thud’. “Potter is quite capable of performing such an imbecilic prank,” he said darkly. “He is the first that comes to mind when dealing with something of this nature.”

“Maybe, but I still think you didn’t really suspect him this time,” mused Elizabeth. “You would never have been so agitated if you did, even though you did your best to hide it. But afterwards you forgot to take points from me for not paying attention, and that gave you away.”

“I am not used to receiving Valentines,” said Snape testily. “Naturally I was somewhat ... surprised.”

Surprised is not the right word,” said Elizabeth resolutely. “You looked-” she quickly searched her memory for an image of Snape’s facial expression on that day “-well, disconcerted, to say the least. Almost as if you were afraid of the Valentine being genuine, but at the same time wished it were just that.”

Now, where on earth did that come from? As far as she knew, it had never before occurred to her to describe Snape’s unusual behaviour on St Valentine’s Day the way she just had, and yet, somehow, she suddenly knew she was right.

Snape, however, seemed to be of a different opinion. “That is preposterous,” he snarled, conjuring several cardboard boxes into which he promptly started sorting the mess now littering Elizabeth’s desk.

“No, it’s not, and you know it,” retorted Elizabeth, for once determined to evince a more satisfying reaction than the one she had just received. “Why are you always denying that you had ever felt anything more that just indifference? Would it kill you to occasionally let me in on your true feelings? I know you’re not used to it, and I also know you have always considered it a sign of weakness, but I’m not asking you to confide to me every single thought that goes through your mind, I just want you to try and give me a straight answer whenever I ask you a direct question. I would love to share your feelings with you, I really would, but it’s kind of hard when most of the time I can only guess what you think and feel.” She paused, then quickly added: “And I’m not going to laugh at you, if that’s what you’re afraid of. I daresay you’ve probably had enough of that to last you a lifetime.”

It looked as though Snape couldn’t quite decide whether to feel upset or moved by her little speech; in the end he simply settled for throwing a stack of papers into one of the cardboard boxes and looking as though he hadn’t heard Elizabeth at all.

Elizabeth watched him work for a while, unable to shake off the feeling that maybe she was trying to take things too fast. She didn’t regret saying what she had (well, all right, she could have been a little less blunt), but it was more than obvious that her words wouldn’t have the desired effect immediately. Perhaps she should clarify her request a little, then, just to let Snape know that she didn’t mean to rush him.

And so, after taking a moment or two to think up the most appropriate thing to say, she got up from her chair, walked around the table and gently placed her hand on Snape’s shoulder, at which he tensed a little but otherwise did nothing to acknowledge the sudden contact.

Elizabeth ignored this evidently fake display of disinterest, however, and bravely went ahead with what she wanted to say.

“I’m sorry, Severus,” she breathed. “I can’t force you to share with me something you obviously don’t want to. But ... at least think about it, OK? I’ll always be there to hear you out, and maybe a time will come, just when I’ll be least expecting it, when you will decide to make use of it. The fact that you do actually have feelings and emotions, just like everybody else, is nothing to be ashamed of, you know,” she added as she slowly let go of Snape’s shoulder and went to sit back down again, all the while wondering whether her words had had at least some kind of effect. It was impossible to tell: Snape still looked as though he had gone temporarily deaf, and so in the end Elizabeth simply gave up on her musings and proceeded to change the subject.

“Now, what about the dance?” she asked innocently. “You still didn’t tell me whether I could count on you or not.”

“I would have thought I had made that quite clear,” said Snape primly, scrunching a filthy-looking parchment into a ball and throwing it into a bin under Elizabeth’s desk. The bin swallowed it without chewing and presently let out a contented burp.

Elizabeth threw it a disgusted look, before turning her attention back to Snape. “Well, I guess you thought wrong,” she said calmly. “Come on, Severus, just one dance. A nice slow one ... like last year.”

Whatever Snape might have said, it was clear right from the start that he couldn’t help but find the idea of dancing with Elizabeth somewhat more than just mildly tempting, and so it didn’t take long before he grudgingly (how else?) agreed to go ahead with Elizabeth’s daring plan. Elizabeth all but skipped from her office afterwards, making a mental note to write a letter to her grandmother at the earliest possible opportunity, asking the lady to send her some selected objects from the Muggle world as presents for a certain someone. Snape had been a relatively good boy this year, after all.


The few days remaining until the dance flew by mercifully quickly (mainly because all the teachers were kept busy in the Great Hall during their spare time, doing their best to make it look as representative as possible for the arrival of the Minister on Christmas Eve), and so it happened that even the eagerly awaited evening arrived much faster than Elizabeth had anticipated. Yes, it was true that she had wasted a good part of the afternoon in front of her mirror, charming and re-charming her hair, correcting her make-up and trying on various shades of lipstick, but by the point Jane had announced that it was high time to go and practically dragged her from the dormitory towards the stairs leading down to the Entrance Hall, she was still feeling as though her appearance could use a little more improvement.

“You look fine, Elizabeth,” declared Jane irritably, after her friend had expressed her concern for about the tenth time since they had left their dormitory. “Now stop fretting.”

Elizabeth let out a nervous sigh. “Sorry, it’s just that since I had virtually compelled Severus to risk a dance with me, I want to at least make it worthwhile for him. I couldn’t bear it if he were to regret his decision in any way.”

“I see, but I somehow feel that putting on excessive amounts of make-up is not really something somebody like him would appreciate. Why, I wouldn’t even be surprised if he didn’t notice what you’re wearing!”

“You know, Jane, I think you’re wrong there,” said Elizabeth thoughtfully. “The other day I asked him whether he wouldn’t mind if I wore the same dress I had on last year, and he, to my great surprise, said something like: ‘Certainly not. Black is an optimal colour when you wish to avoid attracting undesirable attention.’ Which means he obviously must have noticed what I had been wearing, and remembered it for a whole year.”

Jane, however, was no longer listening to her, for they had just reached the Entrance Hall where the first person they saw was none other than Justin Finch-Fletchley, who immediately captured all of Jane’s attention. Elizabeth only sighed and continued into the Great Hall on her own, leaving the chattering couple behind.

Upon walking through the double doors, she was immediately struck by a pleasant wave of Christmas spirit, issuing from every corner of the Hall and creating a nicely relaxed atmosphere. Elizabeth soon felt considerably more light-hearted, and as such didn’t even fall out of step when she noticed Snape inconspicuously surveying her from the teachers’ table. Instead she briskly walked up to him and took the usual empty seat next to his own, giving him a nod and a bright smile as she did so. Unsurprisingly, Snape’s only reply was his traditional scowl.

Deciding that this was about as much contact as she coud risk with the surly Potions master, Elizabeth proceeded to turn her attention to the rest of the Hogwarts staff, and soon became absorbed in a conversation with Professor McGonagall, who was sitting on her left. However, they had barely finished discussing Elizabeth’s attire and started wondering what was taking Dumbledore, who had set off to fetch the Minister, so long when the double doors suddenly burst open and both aforementioned men entered the Hall in a swirl of bright-coloured robes. Dumbledore was beaming like a Christmas tree as he swiftly ushered the Minister to a specially added seat at the High table, his scarlet robes and hat combined with his silvery beard giving him a positively Santa Claus-ish look. The only things missing were the sleigh and the reindeer.

“It is truly delightful to see you all here on this highly special occasion,” he began as soon as the Minister was comfortably seated and the Great Hall quietened down to a muffled whisper. Elizabeth couldn’t shake off the feeling that any minute the Headmaster would suddenly start handing out presents. “But since I am sure it would be rather unpleasant to commence any festivities with an empty stomach, I suggest we all follow our basic instinct and begin the evening by indulging ourselves in a nice meal. Tuck in!”

Dumbledore had barely said the last word when the tables suddenly covered themselves with copious amounts of food, and it didn’t take long for Elizabeth to realize that she was starving. Wasting no time, she quickly filled her plate with everything within her grasp, but even as she started shovelling food into her mouth she still couldn’t resist stealing frequent glances at the dark-haired man sitting beside her. She wasn’t really sure why, but she simply loved watching him eat, perhaps because he – unlike most other people she knew, including herself, who would have been quite at home sharing their meals with a bunch of pigs – went about it pretty much the same way that he did everything else: with elegance and efficiency.

After everybody had finished their dinner, Dumbledore gave another little speech, this time concerning mostly the defeat of the Dark Lord and the bravery of those who had participated in the final battle, followed by an even shorter speech by the Minister, who simply expressed his wish that those who had laid down their lives in the fight should not remain forgotten. He looked close to tears by the time he had finished speaking, which, Elizabeth thought, was quite understandable owing to the fact that two of the people who had perished in the battle had been his children. This pathetic display of emotion didn’t last long, however, and Mr Weasley soon proceeded straight to the main event of the evening: awarding the Orders of Merlin. As if on cue, the Hall went almost completely quiet for this, and so it was to a room full of expectant faces that Mr Weasley, after summoning a long piece of parchment and a large, shiny box from under the table, read out the name of the first person to receive one of the Second Class Orders: Hannah Abbott.

“Hannah’s Order of Merlin shall be sent to her grieving parents via owl post,” announced Dumbledore gravely, and most seventh-years unconsciously glanced towards the unfortunate girl’s empty seat at the Hufflepuff table.

Susan Bones’s name came next, but this time a subtle girl did rise from the mass of Hufflepuff students, and shyly walked up to Mr Weasley to claim her badge from the glittering box.

Elizabeth watched the whole ceremony with interest, but even so she soon found her mind straying to the upcoming dance and the act she and Snape would have to put up, and she involuntarily started imagining various misfortunes thanks to which their plan could fail. Absorbed in her worries, she only turned her attention back to the Minister when she heard Jane’s name being called out, which meant that she was the next one up on the list. She gave Jane a thumbs up as the tall witch went to collect her badge accompanied by a round of polite applause, and then nervously waited for Mr Weasley to call her out. She nearly tripped over her dress when he finally did, such was her haste to get up from her chair, but in the end she made it to the Minister and back to her seat without any serious mishaps. Snape didn’t even look at her as she shakily reclaimed her chair, clutching her new shiny badge tightly in her hand, but he did give her thigh a momentary squeeze under the table, which somehow pleased her more than the whole Order of Merlin business ever could.

She was still thinking about it by the time the Minister had announced that he would now be awarding the First Class versions of the Orders, after which he summoned a different box from under the table, even shinier than the first one, and proceeded to call out the name of the deceased Sirius Black.

This time, Elizabeth willed herself to pay extra attention to what was going on, dutifully making sure to give all the recipients of the First Class Orders, both dead and alive, the applause they deserved. Hermione gave her a bright smile as she walked past her on her way to the Minister, as did Neville, but Elizabeth was saving her greatest applause for quite a different person, a person who – besides Draco Malfoy, whose name she was thoroughly disappointed to have missed – she believed to deserve the Order of Merlin more than any other wizard or witch alive.

Finally, after what seemed like ages, the Minister read out Snape’s name, and Elizabeth affectionately watched her beloved sweep over to claim his award. The clapping echoing throughout the Hall as the unpopular Professor shook Mr Weasley’s hand was unsurprisingly a little less hearty than usual, but Elizabeth was sure that if the students knew even half as much about his services for the wizarding world as she did, they would have appreciated him a lot more, and perhaps even clapped at least half as enthusiastically as she had. As it was, however, all she could do now to make it up to him was mutter a quiet “Congratulations, Professor,” as he took his seat again, never taking his eyes off the golden badge in his hand, and then, taking advantage of the noise coming from the Hufflepuff table when Professor Sprout’s name was called, add in a barely audible undertone: “If anyone ever deserved this award, it was definitely you.”

Snape said nothing, but his expression was the most content Elizabeth had ever seen him wear. She could only guess what was going through his mind just then, but she presumed it was bound to have something in common with the appreciation his father and his school mates had never given him ... the appreciation he had to wait for until now. Elizabeth couldn’t help but feel immensely happy for him.

Her happiness somewhat dissipated, however, when Mr Weasley reached the very bottom of his list, and read out the names of Ron and Ginny. His voice was definitely trembling by now, and his eyes were glistening with unshed tears. Elizabeth, having escaped death only by a narrow margin, knew only too well how easily she (or anyone else she cared about, for that matter, including Snape) could have shared the two kids’ fate, and she pitied the Minister greatly.

Mr Weasley pulled himself together admirably fast, however, and went on to call out one last name, a name Elizabeth had been sure to have overheard earlier.

Draco Malfoy.

“It is true that Mr Malfoy had not directly participated in Voldemort’s downfall,” Dumbledore stated solemnly, promptly cutting off the flood of ‘Why?’ questions that had filled Elizabeth’s mind immediately after Mr Weasley’s strange announcement. “He had, however, managed to singlehandedly eliminate one of the most dangerous servants Voldemort has ever had ... his own father. An act which, as I am sure you will all agree, required not only courage and skill, but also a great amount of determination and self-denial. The Order of Merlin, First Class, is therefore the least we can give the deceased Mr Malfoy for laying his life down in such an admirable manner.”

Dumbledore finished, and the Great Hall remained silent for a second or two before erupting in the hugest round of applause yet. Needless to say, the Slytherin table made the most noise of all, but what did come as a surprise was the fact that even the other houses put their hands together for the boy who had spent a great part of his life taunting everyone who was unfortunate enough to cross his path. Elizabeth chanced a glance to her right, and noticed that Snape was also clapping a little more avidly than was usual for him, and looking strangely moved. She made a mental note to broach the subject of Draco at the earliest possible opportunity.

Which, it appeared, would most likely turn out to be the very much awaited dance, which seemed to be approaching rather rapidly now that all the Orders of Merlin had been given out. Soon all the students attending third year and lower were – although not without much discontented grumbling – sent up to bed, and the house tables were levitated towards the walls to create a spacious dance floor. The quivering tones of a violin orchestra filled the Hall not long after, and within seconds the first couples started rising from their tables and trickling out to dance.

Elizabeth shot Snape a questioning look, but the Potions master only shook his head and poured himself some pumpkin juice from the jug standing on the table in front of him. Quite a surprising act, in Elizabeth’s opinion, considering there was an assortment of various bottles with alcoholic contents (which had miraculously appeared immediately after the younger students’ departure) standing right next to the juice jug.

“You don’t drink, Professor?” she asked eventually, after first making sure that McGonagall had other things to do than to eavesdrop on their conversation.

Following her example, Snape discreetly checked the seat on his right, where Professor Flitwick usually resided, but it seemed that the tiny man had already scuttled off to dance. Apparently satisfied, the Potions master turned his attention back to Elizabeth.

“Not unless I can help it,” he replied quietly. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” shrugged Elizabeth. “Somehow I just didn’t imagine you to be the abstainer type.”

“I am not,” said Snape. “I merely prefer to be in control at all times.”

Elizabeth quickly pushed all the inappropriate thoughts this statement evoked to the back of her mind. Instead she raised her eyebrows and said: “Oh? Some bad experience?”

“More than one,” said Snape grimly, the memory of his alcohol induced antics obviously still fresh in his mind.

“With the Death Eaters?” inquired Elizabeth, lowering her voice.

“Precisely.”

“Oh.” Elizabeth remained silent for a while, playing with her own goblet of pumpkin juice, and then said: “I suppose you don’t want to tell me about it, do you?”

Snape smirked. “You suppose correctly.”

“Not even after we get out of here, somewhere where we can talk freely?” demanded Elizabeth.

“Not even then,” Snape assured her, and, in an obvious attempt to steer the conversation out of dangerous waters, quickly added: “Now, since you seem to be so deeply interested in my drinking habits, would you care to enlighten me as to why you have not touched any alcohol yourself?”

“I don’t like it,” said Elizabeth simply. “Anyway, do you think it’s safe to go and dance now?”

Snape let his gaze sweep over the now crowded dance floor, then, at last, gave a reluctant nod.

Elizabeth hastily suppressed the urge to smile; instead she rose from her chair with as much dignity as she could possibly muster and, with a completely stony face, said: “May I have this dance, Professor Snape?”

Professor McGonagall turned around and gave her an amused look at these words, while Dumbledore remained completely absorbed in his conversation with the Minister and paid her no attention whatsoever.

Snape, on the other hand, stood up and threw her one of his most evil glares. “Miss Woodhouse, have you decided to make a habit of asking me for a dance every year?” he spat. “Is it really so difficult to find a student to go with? I daresay there are more than enough to choose from,” he waved his hand vaguely in the direction of the dance floor, “so I suggest you turn your attention to your own age group and stop wasting your time here.”

Elizabeth remained completely frozen after this unexpected effusion; Snape sure sounded as though he meant every single word. But even if he didn’t, how should she retaliate?

Fortunately, her dilemma was quickly solved by Professor McGonagall, who gave Snape an extremely disapproving look and said: “Really, Severus, must you be so hard on the poor girl? I’m sure it wouldn’t kill you to sacrifice a few minutes of your precious time to her, so I really don’t see why you are making such a fuss about it.”

“You sound exactly like Dumbledore,” muttered Snape, the tone of his voice clearly indicating that he meant his comment more as an insult than something to be proud of.

“Who sounds like me?” inquired Dumbledore, who had meanwhile turned away from the Minister in order to join the debate.

Snape looked sulkily away and said nothing.

“Severus once again refuses to accept Elizabeth’s proposal for a dance,” said McGonagall accusingly.

“Indeed?” said Dumbledore, raising his eyebrows and giving Snape an inquiring look.

Snape glared back at him for a second or two, before finally admitting defeat. “Very well, then,” he said testily. “I shall give Miss Woodhouse her dance if she so ardently desires it, seeing as a negative answer does not seem to be an option in this case. Come, Miss Woodhouse.” And, with one last poisonous look at both the Headmaster and Professor McGonagall, he led Elizabeth out onto the dance floor.

“Why, Severus, you should have become an actor!” exclaimed Elizabeth as soon as they got swallowed by the crowd of dancing couples, where the teachers at the High table could no longer hear them.

“Ssh! Don’t call me that!” hissed Snape, dragging her even further away from Dumbledore and company, as if afraid of them getting up and following him.

“Why? No one’s listening to us anyway.”

“I would think that highly dubious,” muttered Snape, glancing suspiciously around. “Most people do not even intend to listen, but the moment they overhear something out of the ordinary, such as you calling me by my first name, they inadvertently prick up their ears in an attempt to find out more.”

“Yes, but I still can’t see why you insisted on my calling you ‘sir’ or ‘Professor’ in the first place while in public. All of the other teachers address you by your first name, so why can’t I?”

“The other teachers, if you have not noticed, are all considerably older than I am,” said Snape poignantly. “Were I to have a younger colleague, other than yourself, I would most certainly not allow him or her to call me by my first name for quite some time to come.”

“All right, Professor, I think I get your point,” said Elizabeth mockingly, deciding to let the subject of Snape’s title be for the time being in order to move on. “What I wanted to ask in the first place, actually, before you launched into your little tirade, was whether you didn’t somewhat overdo the acting. I mean, if McGonagall hadn’t come to my rescue, I would’ve had absolutely no idea how to defend myself against that scary outburst you put up. It just looked so genuine, and, for a moment there, I really thought you meant it!”

“A good sign,” remarked Snape. “Now we can only hope that it was convincing enough to fool even Dumbledore.”

“You bet it was,” said Elizabeth grimly. “Now, will you finally tell me what you would have done if McGonagall hadn’t stepped in?”

“Predicting a certain individual’s actions, primarily of those in Gryffindor, is obviously something you still have to learn, Miss Woodhouse,” said Snape amusedly.

“You mean you knew she was going to stand up for me?” asked Elizabeth, astounded.

“Naturally,” confirmed Snape matter-of-factly. “McGonagall is a Gryffindor to the core; I would have been highly surprised had she acted differently.”

Elizabeth, however, couldn’t help but feel deeply impressed by Snape’s useful prediction, no matter how elementary he tried to make it sound, and, without even realizing it, she soon found herself staring in the direction the teachers’ table, as if expecting McGonagall to turn into the Gryffindor lion any minute. Which, of course, she didn’t, although, just as Elizabeth was about to turn her attention back to Snape, something strange really did happen: Dumbledore winked at her.

Deeply disconcerted, Elizabeth decided to share this unexpected sighting with Snape.

“Sev- sir,” she began uncertainly, “do you have any idea why Dumbledore would possibly want to wink at me?”

“He did that?” asked Snape sharply, throwing Dumbledore a sideways glance; Dumbledore, however, appeared to be once again engrossed in an earnest debate with the Minister.

“Yes,” nodded Elizabeth, panic creeping into her voice as she added: “Do you think it could possibly mean that ... that he knows?”

Snape seemed to consider this option for a while, then said: “It certainly could. But perhaps, and we can both only hope that it was nothing more, he was merely trying to indicate that you would definitely have his full support were I to cause you any further difficulties.”

“Maybe I should go and ask him, then,” suggested Elizabeth, “just to make sure.”

“You will do no such thing,” hissed Snape, looking unnerved by the mere idea. “If he does not know already, after that he certainly would.”

“Yes, but wouldn’t that still be better than this excruciating uncertainty?” urged Elizabeth. “How can you possibly be so calm? Weren’t you the one who was completely obsessed with hiding our relationship in the first place? Or don’t you care about that any more?”

“Of course I care,” snapped Snape. “This, however, is no time for rash actions. We can only wait, which, I believe, is something you may also want to consider learning. If Dumbledore has indeed managed to see through our pretences, I daresay we will be hearing about it soon enough.”

As much as Elizabeth hated to admit it, she couldn’t help but feel that what Snape had just said definitely made quite a lot of sense, and so she simply gave an understanding nod and settled for continuing the dance without further arguing. In fact, she might as well make the best of it while it lasted, seeing as it might easily be the last dance she and Snape ever shared. If Dumbledore really knew, he would probably fire Snape-

No, she wouldn’t think about that. She would enjoy the rest of the dance as much as she possibly could, she would ... hang on! Now that she came to think about it, how come Snape was, once again, holding her as if any unnecessary body contact with her would give him an electric shock? It wasn’t as bad as last year, that was true, but it just wouldn’t do. And so, just like the year before, Elizabeth decided to take the matter into her own hands, meaning that within seconds her head could already be found resting on Snape’s chest, while the rest of her snuggled up to the warmth of the Professor’s body as if it were the last source of heat left in the entire world.

Snape – as usual – tensed at the unexpected contact, and – not as usual – looked as though he wasn’t enjoying it at all. “That was not a very smart move, Miss Woodhouse,” he whispered into her ear, doing his best to gently push her away.

Elizabeth, however, wouldn’t budge. “Why?” she asked, aggrieved. “We danced the same way last year and nobody got suspicious, so why should it be a problem now?”

“I believe you will work that out soon enough,” said Snape, in an odd voice.

“You think so?” asked Elizabeth sceptically. “Because at the moment, I haven’t got the slightest ... oh... I see...” Suddenly not quite as comfortable as she had been only a moment before, she hastily untangled herself from Snape and adopted the original distance. “I’m sorry ... it just didn’t occur to me that even a dance would ... you know...” She trailed off, feeling somewhat awkward.

Snape only threw her a suffering look, but said nothing, and so they finished the dance in silence.

However, the moment they started winding their way back to their seats (and, of course, Dumbledore), Elizabeth’s earlier fears returned with full force, and she simply couldn’t keep quiet any longer.

“What are we going to do if he asks?” she inquired shakily.

“Admit it, of course,” replied Snape, who had obviously been mulling over exactly the same thing, seeing as he immediately knew who Elizabeth was referring to.

“Even if he’s got no proof?”

“Dumbledore’s suspicions are often even worse than proof,” said Snape, in a voice that clearly signalled that he considered the subject closed.

Which was just as well, for at that moment they had finally reached the High table, where all their conversation would have inevitably come to an end anyway. Elizabeth’s feeling of dread strengthened considerably, and by the time she had at last covered the seemingly never-ending route to her chair she was positively trembling. She had barely sat down, however, when she suddenly noticed Dumbledore break off his debate with the Minister, and turn his penetrating gaze her way. She immediately prepared herself for the worst, unsuccessfully trying to find some compensation in the fact that at least McGonagall had gone off to dance, and as such wouldn’t be there to hear what was to come. If only Dumbledore would make it quick, then maybe-

“Did you have a pleasant dance, Elizabeth?”

Elizabeth nearly fell off her chair. Did Dumbledore really mean that, or was he just teasing her, before dealing the final blow?

“I ... yes, it was nice, thank you for asking,” she choked out eventually, trying to add a smile but failing miserably.

“I am glad to hear that,” said Dumbledore, giving her a dazzling smile of his own. “You and Severus make such a nice couple, it would have been a great shame were he to refuse your proposal.”

And with that, he turned back to resume his discussion with the Minister, leaving Elizabeth rooted to the spot, her mind buzzing with questions.

What on earth should she make of all this? Did Dumbledore really know something, or was he just making small talk? If he did know, why didn’t he confront her and Snape straight away? Was he perhaps waiting for a more appropriate opportunity? Would he invite them both to his office sometime in the nearest future, and then deal with them accordingly? She shuddered at the mere thought...

But then again, why did he wink at her? Didn’t a wink generally express a person’s support? Was it possible that Dumbledore knew about their relationship, and didn’t mind? Why hadn’t she considered this possibility before? Had Snape rubbed off on her so much that she had become almost as paranoid as he was, and therefore unable to see anything but the worst? Why should Dumbledore mind, anyway? She was, after all, of age, she was not exactly a student any more ... why, perhaps Dumbledore was even happy for them!

Her brain occupied with such thoughts, Elizabeth didn’t even notice the evening slip inconspicuously by, and was therefore rather surprised (as well as disappointed) when a slightly tipsy Dumbledore eventually announced that it was high time for bed. True, just like last year, she didn’t really get down to much more dancing after her not exactly successful attempt with Snape, but the unique expression adorning the Potions master’s face (which, in her opinion, suspiciously resembled jealousy) all throughout her two sporadic dances with Neville and some Ravenclaw sixth-year made up for that paucity more than generously. And so it was with this on her mind that she wished all the teachers a very merry Christmas, and then reluctantly left Snape’s side as she joined Jane and Justin on their way out of the Great Hall.

The first thing she saw upon reaching her dormitory was her owl Wilma, who was sitting on her bed, a large parcel tied to her leg, and looking very much as though she wanted to say ‘It’s about time’.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Wilma,” said Elizabeth apologetically, quickly finding an owl treat and offering it to her grumpy-looking owl. “Have you waited long?”

Wilma hooted in agreement, but nevertheless snatched the owl treat from Elizabeth’s hand and started digging at it greedily. Elizabeth, meanwhile, seized the opportunity and quickly untied the package from the owl’s leg while she was still busy eating, seeing as afterwards there was a slight chance that the bird might try to take some sort of revenge for the long wait.

“Who’s that package from?” asked Jane curiously, sitting down on her bed and starting to undress.

“My Grandma,” said Elizabeth cheerfully, tearing off the parcel’s wrapping and relieving it of its contents with a mischievous smile. One of the contents turned out to be a letter, written in Grandma’s typical, rickety handwriting, which Elizabeth decided to attend to first of all.

Dear Elizabeth, (it said)

So the two of you have finally got together, have you? I must say it was about time, and I am, of course, very happy for you, but it wouldn’t have killed you to actually tell me instead of letting me work it out merely on the basis of the unusual presents you have asked me to buy for you this year.

However, I have managed to get you everything you wanted, and I sincerely hope that Severus will succeed in keeping his temper in check when he opens his Christmas presents and finds out just what you have given him.

Have a very merry Christmas, both of you!

Grandma

P.S. Don’t worry, your little secret is quite safe with me. I wouldn’t even dream of depriving you of the priviledge of telling your parents yourself. Speaking of which, do you think you could both find the time to come and visit us sometime during the Easter holidays?

Elizabeth finished reading and shook her head at her own naivity; she should have known Grandma would figure everything out with comical ease. She quickly dismissed it with another amused shake of her head, however, and returned instead to examining the remaining contents of the parcel, her lips once again spreading into a mischievous smile as she did so. Grandma was right – Snape was going to have a very merry Christmas indeed!


Elizabeth got up early the next morning; she had set her alarm clock to wake her some two hours before breakfast (seeing as Snape had thought it a good idea to take care of all their present unwrapping long before the whole school was up, and therefore less likely to come looking for either of them), but in the end she turned out to be so excited that she didn’t need its aid at all.

Twenty minutes later, a black and white cat could already be seen heading in the direction of the dungeons (taking into consideration the ungodly hour, it was, after all, much less risky than prowling the corridors in one’s human form), and five more minutes after that, Elizabeth stood knocking on Snape’s door. It opened by magic and Elizabeth quickly stepped in, noticing the door shut behind her with a loud ‘snap’.

She found herself, like so many times before, in Snape’s spacious lounge, with its snarky owner just rising from the sofa and coming over to greet her. They kissed, a long, sensual kiss that left Elizabeth burning with desire and barely standing. She had to admit, that while she would probably never forget the very first kiss they had shared, it was definitely nowhere near the standard they had reached now. Ah well, people are always improving.

After letting some time pass in order to recover from the dazing effects of the delight they had just endured, the two lovers eventually let go of each other, and Elizabeth graced Snape with a huge smile.

“Merry Christmas, Severus,” she said quietly.

“The same to you,” replied Snape, turning on his heel and briskly leading the way towards the sofa where two piles of presents were lying, one visibly larger than the other. Elizabeth was relieved to catch a glimpse of her own presents for Snape protruding from the larger pile, which meant that the house-elves, who were in charge of all the present deliveries at Hogwarts, had obviously done their job properly.

“Are these mine, then?” she asked excitedly, pointing at the other, somewhat smaller pile and immediately sitting down next to it.

Snape only nodded, looking almost ashamed at having to admit that he had bought anybody presents in the first place, and took a seat next to Elizabeth, who immediately snuggled up a little closer to him, beaming in a very Dumbledore-like manner.

“You first,” she announced eagerly.

Snape threw his present pile a brief look, before turning his attention back to Elizabeth. “Very well,” he sighed, looking as though he was doing the Ravenclaw a huge favour. “I presume you are the one responsible for the green and silver wrapping?”

“How on earth did you guess?” asked Elizabeth in fake disbelief.

“You may want to learn to be slightly less predictable,” smirked Snape, picking one of the Slytherin-coloured presents from the pile and beginning to unwrap it.

Elizabeth watched him for a while, but soon her curiosity got the better of her and she asked: “Severus, who are the other presents from? I never knew you had so many friends.”

Snape glanced up. “I don’t,” he said darkly. “Certain staff members, however, obviously feel the need to endow me with some imbecilic little present every single year, no matter how many times I have explicitly asked them not to. Surely they must have given you something as well?”

Elizabeth grinned. “Would you believe I haven’t noticed? I was so eager to get here this morning that I had barely spared my presents a second glance, to be honest.”

Snape gave her an amused look, before eventually returning back to his present and ridding it of the last bits of wrapping. What he found inside was a medium-sized black box, which was soon revealed to contain a long, black eagle quill and a bottle of black ink.

“For marking essays,” explained Elizabeth with a smile. “I noticed your old quill was getting a bit frayed, and you are also running out of ink.”

“Indeed,” nodded Snape, placing his present on the coffee table and reaching for another one. “How very thoughtful of you.”

The next present turned out to be a book by Agatha Christie called Ten Little Niggers, something which, to Elizabeth’s extreme amusement, caused Snape to look completely dumbfounded.

“Jane asked me to give you this,” she clarified promptly, still smiling broadly. “It’s a murder mystery, and she wants to know whether you can figure out who the murderer is before you reach the last ten pages or so.”

“Miss Wells would do better to concentrate on her studies rather than on solving fictional murder mysteries,” remarked Snape with a smirk. “Reading under the desk in class has become something of a hobby to her lately, and I daresay it is beginning to have a rather negative effect on her marks.”

“I’ll be sure to tell her that,” sniggered Elizabeth. “But ... you will read the book, won’t you? Please?”

“We shall see,” said Snape non-committally, grabbing another present from his present pile and eventually finding it to contain an MP3 player, not very unlike the one he had seen Elizabeth use in the hospital wing, and several Beatles CD’s. He raised an eyebrow and gave Elizabeth a quizzical look.

“I thought you might like it,” said the blond witch timidly. “Music helps you relax, you see, which is something I’ve never seen you do, even though you definitely should. Everybody needs to ease up sometimes ... even you.”

Snape fixed her with a withering stare. “I relax during the night, which, believe it or not, I find quite sufficient,” he said primly.

“Well, if you say so,” shrugged Elizabeth, who, although somewhat disappointed, wasn’t really in the mood for further arguing. “Maybe you’ll change your mind later on.”

“I highly doubt that,” muttered Snape, putting the MP3 player away and searching his pile for the last of Elizabeth’s presents. Elizabeth, meanwhile, prepared herself for the worst.

Which, unfortunately, was just as well, for the expression on Snape’s face when he had finally finished unwrapping his present would have most likely scared even a Hipogryff.

“And what, pray tell, is this supposed to be?” he asked in his deadliest voice, holding the offending present up for Elizabeth to see.

“Er ... a shampoo?” Elizabeth supplied innocently.

Snape threw her a contemptuous look. “So I’ve noticed.” He glanced at the label. “For greasy hair, even. How extremely thoughtful of you. And, of course, highly amusing.”

Elizabeth couldn’t help but notice that while he had used almost exactly the same words as when he had commented the quill and ink bottle, the tone of his voice had now changed rather dramatically. Although definitely not for the better.

Elizabeth decided it was time for an explanation.

“I didn’t mean it as a joke,” she stated firmly, engaging her best you’ve-got-to-believe-me voice. “I just thought you might find it useful. Didn’t you once say that you’re not willing to wash your hair more than once a week? Well, with this-” she pointed to the bottle of shampoo Snape was still holding in his hand, glaring at it as if it were poisoned “-you won’t have to, and still your hair will remain grease-free right until you next wash it.”

“And where, may I ask, did you get the idea that I might want my hair grease-free to begin with?” asked Snape maliciously.

Elizabeth let out a sigh of exasperation. “Severus, you’re being deliberately difficult. Can you give me any plausible reason why you would actually want your hair to remain the way it is? Doesn’t it bother you at all when people secretly laugh at you and call you a greasy git behind your back?”

“I have grown used to it,” said Snape placidly. “My hair has been greasy ever since I first started school, and, in case it still hasn’t occurred to you, it would look highly suspicious were I to suddenly alter it.”

“Oh, but I never said I wanted you to wash it now!” exclaimed Elizabeth. “I just thought that you might like to try it sometime when we’re alone, so that for once I could actually run my hands through your hair without it feeling a bit ... well ... you know...” She trailed off, suddenly wondering whether she hadn’t already said too much as it was.

Obviously she had.

“If you want to run your hands through somebody’s hair without feeling disgusted,” said Snape curtly, looking rather affronted, “you might as well find a more suitable object to practise it upon.”

Elizabeth straightened up and looked at him in disbelief. “Are you actually trying to say that you’d rather let me run off with another man than wash your hair?”

Snape’s lips curled into a sneer. “No, I am merely insinuating that if you believe hair to play such a vital role in a relationship, you have obviously chosen an inadequate partner.”

Elizabeth sighed; this conversation was evidently going nowhere, which meant that it was high time for a change of tactic.

“Now, I’m sure you didn’t mean that,” she said mildly, snuggling back to her original position with her head resting on Snape’s shoulder. “You know only too well that I never wanted anyone else but you, and that’s not about to change. I’m also sure you know that whether your hair is greasy or not is the last thing I care about; I just thought a little change wouldn’t hurt. But if you don’t want to, fine, I’m definitely not going to force you. Maybe you’ll choose to surprise me sometime, but for now let’s forget all about the shampoo, and concentrate instead on your presents for me.” And with that, she immediately turned towards the small present pile lying beside her and started inspecting it. “Let me see now ... which one do you suggest I open first?”

Snape, looking slightly taken aback by her unexpected change of attitude, eyed her suspiciously for a while, before eventually informing her that he would leave the choice up to her. Shrugging, Elizabeth seized the largest-looking parcel of the lot and began to tear off the wrapping.

“Why, thank you, Severus!” she exclaimed as soon as she saw what it was – a huge, dark red volume called Beaters, Bats and Bludgers.

Snape only nodded, obviously not used to such displays of gratitude aimed at his person.

“But you know you’re digging your own grave by giving me this, don’t you?” continued Elizabeth cheerfully, examining the book from all angles before finally flipping it open. “Then again, if Ravenclaw really does succeed in beating Slytherin when we next play, you can always blame it on the book, can’t you?”

“Yes, indeed,” smirked Snape, “although I strongly believe it will not be necessary. Ravenclaw have not defeated Slytherin for more than seventeen years; it would be extremely surprising were they to do so now.”

“I admire your confidence,” said Elizabeth with a smile. “Hopefully you’ll still have it after the match, because, believe me, Ravenclaw really does plan to win this year.”

Judging by the superior expression on Snape’s face, he didn’t believe her at all, but at least he had the decency to keep quiet. Elizabeth, meanwhile, put her Quidditch book on the table and reached out for another present, which, in the end, turned out to be of the same nature as the first one, only this time it bore the title Troublesome Students and How to Manage Them.

‘I wonder if it has Mr Kensington’s picture in it,’ mused Elizabeth as she fumbled with the wrapping of the next present, whose shape, much to her ‘surprise’, seemed to suspiciously resemble the first two.

The fourth (and last) present, however, was definitely different. Wondering what on earth it could possibly be, Elizabeth eagerly tore off the wrapping, opened the small black box that she found inside ... and gasped. Inside the box lay one of the most beautiful (and, as far she could tell, also most expensive) pendants she had ever seen: a silver snake with two emeralds in place of eyes and a tongue made out of rubies, coiled around the letters “E” and “W” which, though thickset with an ordinary-looking stone, emanated a bright white light.

Completely transfixed, Elizabeth simply couldn’t stop staring at the beautiful jewel in her hand, and so it was really no wonder that a good thirty seconds had passed before she finally glanced up, and proceeded to pull a rather surprised-looking Snape into a tight hug.

“It’s beautiful,” she breathed into his ear. “Thank you so much!”

And with that, she somewhat released her hold on the Potions master and leaned in to give him a swift kiss ... or, at least, that was what she intended to do, only it somehow turned out to last quite a bit longer.

When, at last, the passionate couple did break away, however, it didn’t take long before Elizabeth’s attention strayed once again back to her pendant.

“It really is quite pretty, isn’t it?” she enthused, turning it over for a while before finally slipping it around her neck. “Then again, the motive could have been a little less predictable, in my opinion. Really, a snake...”

Snape wisely chose not to even comment that remark, and so it happened that the topic of conversation eventually shifted from pendants to something that Elizabeth had been meaning to ask about for quite some time already, only she never seemed to find the opportunity to do so. Yesterday’s events, however, had once again renewed her determination, and so while she had decided to let it slide during the dance, when she and Snape had had somewhat different things to worry about, now it seemed that the time to find out just what the Potions master’s opinion of Draco Malfoy was had finally come.

“I pitied him,” said Snape simply, after Elizabeth had finally voiced the question that had been nagging her for so long.

“Because of his father?”

“Because of his entire upbringing,” specified Snape. “His childhood had been very similar to my own – he was raised to become the family heir and his father therefore expected him to implicitly follow in his footsteps, which, in Mr Malfoy’s case, obviously meant obtaining the Dark Mark.” He paused, possibly to contemplate what to say next, then continued. “Clearly only to stage the family’s wealth and power, Mr Malfoy was given everything he asked for, but apart from that, his parents did not notice him at all. This, of course, had been a fatal mistake, for when Mr Malfoy eventually realized that he was merely being used, he reacted as any teenager in his place would have done – he turned against his family, namely his father. The result, I believe, is currently known to the entire wizarding community.”

“Yes, of course,” said Elizabeth thoughtfully. “I suspected his family of being the unloving kind right from the start, and I suppose his upbringing also accounted for his exceedingly arrogant behaviour, but what I don’t understand is why you of all people had to openly support it instead of trying to limit it. Why did you always treat him as though he was the king of the world, and never ever punished him even though he occasionally deserved it? It wasn’t just because he was a Slytherin, was it?”

Snape shook his head. “Indeed not, although I had, of course, taken every measure to make it appear that way. In reality, however, I had my own reasons for treating Mr Malfoy the way I had: at first it was merely not to give Lucius any reason to suspect that I had, indeed, switched sides, which I am sure would certainly have happened were Mr Malfoy to tell him that I had – in his eyes, at least – been unfair to him in any way, but later I realized that were I to enrich my already lenient treatment of the boy with a little more sympathy, I might eventually be able to convince him to join our cause.”

Elizabeth’s only reaction to these words was a slight nod, mainly because she was too busy staring guiltily at the floor while trying to decide whether to tell Snape about her spying activities in his office or whether to keep it to herself forever more. In the end it was her conscience who had the last say, and she settled for the former. After all, secrets and relationships didn’t really go together, and so, after taking a moment or two to pluck up her courage, she eventually raised her head and blurted out: “I ... I should probably tell you something.”

The suspicious look Snape gave her at these words wasn’t exactly encouraging, but she bravely ploughed on, and presently managed to spill the whole story. Needless to say, she immediately felt a lot better, albeit somewhat apprehensive, seeing as she wasn’t quite sure how Snape would react.

Surprisingly, though, Snape merely raised his eyebrows and said: “Indeed? And I had always believed that the worst rule-breaker at this school was Potter,” before finally announcing that it would probably be a good idea to start thinking about going to breakfast.


February arrived windy and cold, but Elizabeth had other things in mind than to worry about the weather. For one thing, she still hadn’t quite figured out what to make of Dumbledore, who, while never making even the slighest mention of her relationship with Snape so far, always graced her with a knowing smile whenever he saw her. Naturally, Elizabeth found this extremely unnerving, although inwardly she felt certain that were Dumbledore determined to take any measures against her and Snape, he would surely have done so before now.

The other thing that bothered Elizabeth was of a different nature altogether. St Valentine’s day was almost knocking on the door, and she still hadn’t really decided whether to try Snape’s patience by repeating her last year’s temerity and actually sending him another Valentine, or whether she should simply give the whole matter up and pretend that 14th February was a day like any other.

Imagine her surprise, then, when, after a restless night full of dreams about angry cupids dive-bombing her with Howler-like Valentines, the first thing she saw as soon as she opened her eyes that day was a solution to her problem, which, in this case, meant a winged house-elf carrying (much as she refused to believe it) a bouquet of red roses accompanied by a small card. It didn’t, of course, take a genius to figure out just who was responsible for the thoroughly unexpected (yet pleasant) surprise, but Elizabeth still snatched the card (which, it seemed, was charmed to open upon her touch only) as if her life depended on it and eagerly immersed herself in reading.

I believe you are well acquainted with my opinion of this infuriating and extremely tiresome day (the card said), which I can only hope someone will have the sense to abolish in the future, but since I can only deal with so much in a certain period of time, and your continuous reproachful looks were I to completely deny today’s existence would most likely extend far beyond that limit, I have decided to make an exception and send you something that will hopefully satisfy your Valentine desires to the full.

May you have more success teaching those lovesick dunderheads something worthwhile than I had,

Yours sincerely,

S. S.

Re-reading the message several times and smiling like a lunatic, Elizabeth eventually put the card on her bedside table, relieved the still lingering house-elf of the roses and, with many words of thanks, sent him away. Then she found a piece of the magical parchment she had been given for Christmas two years ago, a quill and an ink bottle, and slowly started forming an adequate reply.

Dear Severus, (she wrote)

Thank you ever so much for the roses and the ‘Valentine’; they definitely satisfied my ‘Valentine desires’, as you so amusingly put it, more than sufficiently. I will therefore do my best to refrain from giving you as much as a single reproachful look today, and I may even stop by during my free period to try and make your day just a little more bearable. Until then, I can do nothing but say that I love you, and always will.

Yours eternally,

Elizabeth

She finished, only to find Jane, who had until then been sleeping peacefully, wide awake and curiously eyeing the roses and card on her bedside table.

“Are they from Snape?” she asked disbelievingly, rubbing her eyes as if to make sure she wasn’t having visions. Then again, she could’ve just as well been ridding them of the last remains of sleep.

Elizabeth smiled and nodded.

“Wow,” said Jane quietly. “He really must love you, Elizabeth. Even though he’s such a greasy git,” she added, as an afterthought.

Elizabeth threw her a look of fake contempt, but inwardly she had to agree with what her friend had said, if only with the first part. Because even though Snape had naturally never said it, nor had he written it in his Valentine, it was as clear as daylight that he did, indeed, love her with all his heart, as she could easily convince herself every time she looked into his eyes.

Heaving a happy sigh, Elizabeth began to contemplate whether she could possibly risk spending the entire day teaching her lovesick dunderheads how to brew Love Potions.
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