Elizabeth didn’t know what had made her change her opinion of Hermione so suddenly, whether it was the fact that the girl had shown that she actually had a mind of her own and didn’t just repeat what Harry, Ron, or a book of some kind had said, or whether it was her discovery that she wasn’t the only one in the school who longed for Snape to come back that had made all the difference. One way or another, what mattered now was that they had become friends, and Elizabeth was amused to see that during the last couple of weeks before Christmas, Hermione had spent more time in the library with her and Jane than she’d done hanging around with her two Gryffindor friends. And when the time to leave school for the Christmas holidays had finally arrived, Elizabeth realized she’d miss her company more than she’d ever have thought possible.
The journey home passed uneventfully, and earlier than she would’ve liked, Elizabeth found herself walking through the magical barrier, back into the ordinary world of Muggles. Nervously, she scanned the crowded platform, searching for any sign of her parents. Finally, she spotted her mother’s long blond hair near the exit, so she took a deep breath, mentally prepared herself for the inevitable ... and set off.
When she’d finally pushed her way through the ever-present crowd, however, the reaction she got from her mother wasn’t quite what she’d expected. She thought her mother would still be angry with her because of the escape, so she prepared herself either for a cold welcome or perhaps a loud scene, but never did she expect to be greeted with a warm smile.
“Welcome home!” her mother cried, giving her a tight hug, and immediately continued with a cannonade of questions: “How was your trip? Are you tired? How is school? Do you-”
“Mum, I can’t talk when you’re nearly strangling me!” Elizabeth interrupted, trying to wriggle free from her mother’s embrace.
“What, you want to deny your old Mummy a hug?” her mother asked, pretending to look hurt, but let her go.
Elizabeth decided she’d probably never understand the way her mother’s mind worked. She was supposed to have been yelled at right now ... and instead, here she was, making sure her mother didn’t squash her with love.
“The trip was O.K.,” she said, once she was free again. “I had a little nap on the train, so I’m not too tired. And ... where’s Dad?” she changed the subject, suddenly realizing his absence.
“Oh, he’s out by the car. You know how afraid he always is of someone stealing it... Well, let’s not keep him waiting, you can tell me all about school as we go.”
So Elizabeth grabbed her backpack and obediently followed her mother outside, showering her with complaints about their new Potions teacher along the way. She had just started telling her how much she wanted Snape to come back, when they finally reached their car, so her rambling was cut short for the moment.
Her father also seemed pleased to see her, and yet again, the subject of her escape was not discussed. Elizabeth, however, was still not fully convinced that her parents had simply forgotten about it. Maybe they were just leaving it until they got home?
Her question was answered a few seconds later – and the answer was no. Simply because her parents had started to talk about it even earlier – as soon as they all got into the car.
“So, my dear, I daresay it is time for you to explain yourself,” her mother went straight to the point, giving Elizabeth a stern look from the front seat. “Do you think it’s normal, running away like that?”
“Mum, there’s nothing to discuss!” Elizabeth whined. “I had no other choice! You both knew how much I’d wanted to go back to school, and still you didn’t let me leave. And now that you know I really wasn’t putting myself in any danger by going back, because that was just a story grandmother had made up, you’re still making a fuss about it! I’m O.K., and I think that’s all that matters, doesn’t it?” And she shot her mother a challenging look, as if daring her to disagree.
“Elizabeth, calm down,” her mother said firmly. “You’ve made yourself clear enough. But you have to look at it from our point of view. We were worried sick!”
Elizabeth only grunted in agreement, and remained silent for the rest of the journey.
It was nearly evening when the family had finally arrived at their villa, which now looked cold and deserted, and the fact that it had started to rain didn’t help to make the house appear any more cheerful. It didn’t improve Elizabeth’s sulky mood, either.
As soon as she crossed the threshold, however, and took in all the Christmas decorations, as well as the wonderful aroma of freshly baked cookies which had immediately hit her nostrils, all her unpleasant thoughts suddenly remained forgotten in the car as Elizabeth found herself completely swallowed by the Christmas spirit. In an attempt not to miss anything, she quickly dumped her luggage into her room, and then rushed down to the kitchen to join her mother and father who were both busy preparing the Christmas dinner.
“Can I help?” she asked cheerfully.
Her mother took a look around the kitchen, then finally pointed to a can of stewed pineapple. “Yes, you can serve the pineapple into bowls. And please don’t spill the pineapple juice all over the counter like last time, I’ve got other things to do than to get the kitchen rid of your sticky mess.”
Elizabeth made a face. “Mum, I’m not a baby any more. I think I was about seven when I spilled that juice, and if you haven’t noticed, I am now sixteen. I repeat – sixteen!”
“Sometimes it doesn’t look like it,” her mother muttered, and Elizabeth was sure she was yet again referring to her escape. However, she was smart enough to ignore the remark, because she knew that there were times, and this was one of them, when arguing with her mother was downright pointless, so she ceremoniously turned her back on her, and started to busy herself with the pineapple can instead. But she hadn’t even started filling the second bowl, when the doorbell rang, surprising Elizabeth so much she’d almost knocked the bowl off the counter.
“That’s Grandma,” her father said. “Elizabeth, go open the door, help Grandma with her coat and umbrella, and then chat with her for a while, at least until your mother and I are finished in here.”
“But what about the pineapple?” Elizabeth protested, the vision of having to chat with her nearly deaf grandmother for god-knows-how-long not really being her idea of a pleasantly spent Christmas Eve.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,” her father assured her. “Now go, don’t let Grandma stand out there in the rain!”
Elizabeth reluctantly left the kitchen and slowly made her way into the hall, deliberately taking her time before finally opening the door.
“Hello Elizabeth!” her grandmother yelled (‘Why is it that deaf people always yell?’ Elizabeth thought, doing her best not to cover her ears) as soon as she walked in.
“Hi,” answered Elizabeth coldly and quickly seized Grandma’s umbrella, since Grandma was successfully managing to get water all over the carpet.
“You look thin,” the old woman observed. “Has anything happened to the house-elves, that they don’t even feed you properly?”
“No,” Elizabeth said through clenched teeth, and motioned for her grandmother to follow her into the living room.
“I knew we shouldn’t have let you go this year,” Grandma went on, seating herself comfortably on the sofa. “There’s danger out there. But young people never listen to older – and wiser – people’s advice, they always do what they think is best. Like you. Instead of staying in the safety of your home, what do you do? Fly away on a broomstick. You’re lucky to be alive, you know. You may think Voldemort’s just a joke; well, I assure you he isn’t. Every second there’s a chance that he might attack Hogwarts. It’s suicide going there right now!”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Really, Grandma, you’re exaggerating! Have you seen the letter Dumbledore had sent to my parents? He clearly states there that so far the school is absolutely safe, and that if there’s ever even the slightest chance of students being in danger, he’ll send them straight home. What more do you want?”
But Grandma had either not heard her, or, and Elizabeth was sure this was the case, since she had been talking very loudly, pretended not to hear her, for she continued in her monologue as if her granddaughter hadn’t said a thing.
“Voldemort’s a great wizard. I was Head of Slytherin at the time he was at school, and I watched him improve, day after day. Soon he excelled in all the subjects, although the Dark Arts have always remained his specialty. Nobody’s even come close to his results for the rest of my teaching career, well, maybe with the exception of Severus Snape.”
Elizabeth’s head snapped up at the mention of her former Potions master.
‘Maybe this conversation isn’t going to be so bad after all,’ she thought with a smile, but aloud she said: “Grandma, can you tell me something about Snape? What he was like at school, did he have any friends ... and so on?”
Unfortunately, in her eagerness, Elizabeth forgot to speak up, so the only response she got from her grandmother was a “Mhm”, meaning the old lady hadn’t heard her, but was unsuccessfully pretending that she had. And although Elizabeth wasn’t fooled, it still drove her crazy.
“Grandma, I know you haven’t heard me!” she shouted desperately. “So once again – CAN YOU TELL ME SOMETHING ABOUT SNAPE? Did he have any friends, did he...”
Here, Elizabeth stopped for a few seconds, her lips suddenly curling into a nasty smile.
“...have a girlfriend?” she finished, her smile growing even wider.
“He still teaches, does he?” her Grandma said, absolutely ignoring Elizabeth’s impatient questions. “Funny, I’m sure I’ve never heard you talk about him before.”
“Grandma!” Elizabeth wailed. “I told you about all my teachers the very moment I came home for Christmas in my first year! But I suppose you either forgot ... or didn’t hear me – yet again! Anyway, Snape doesn’t teach anymore, or at least temporarily. But I doubt he’ll ever return...” And with a sigh, she added: “Although I’d give anything to get him back, he was the best teacher I’ve ever had...”
“If he wasn’t twice your age, I’d say you have a thing for him,” the old lady said, giving Elizabeth’s face a thorough inspection. “But then again, love is known for not really caring about age differences...”
“Grandma, really!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “I just like him as a teacher, that’s all!”
“Well, that would be a first. I’m sure I’ve never heard a student talk nicely about his teaching methods before. Quite on the contrary, actually. Sooo ... if you just like him as a teacher, then tell me – exactly why would you like to know if he had a girlfriend?”
“That’s because he’s such a private person,” Elizabeth explained. “He never says anything not related to Potions ... unlike Flitwick, for example, who spends most of his lessons talking about what he did on the weekend, or, when he’s in a good mood, what it was like when he was young. But Snape – we don’t know anything about him. We don’t even know how old he is! And since I always like to know as much as I possibly can about all my teachers, and since, until now, Snape has managed to remain a complete mystery, I thought this would be a good chance to find something out – and the juicier the details, the better.”
“O.K., fair enough. But don’t expect miracles from me, I don’t know that much about him, either. Well ... where shall I begin? Ah yes ... I’m almost sure he had started school a year early, and that might have been in ... 1970, yes, that’s right. So that’d make him...”
“Thirty-nine,” said Elizabeth after some quick calculations.
“Yes, thirty-nine. Anyway, right from the start, he was the best in his year. And where Dark Arts and Potions were concerned, I think he knew even more than most of the seventh-years put together. The only subject where he wasn’t the best was Flying – there he constantly remained in the shadow of his enemy, James Potter.”
“Harry’s father?” Elizabeth asked.
“Yes, Harry’s father,” her grandmother confirmed.
“But why were they enemies?”
“The usual Gryffindor x Slytherin rivalry, I suppose. And since Potter belonged to a Gryffindor group called the Marauders, who were more Gryffindor than anyone before or after them, it was only natural for all the Slytherins to hate them. But I think Severus had a reason to hate them more than anybody else.”
“And that was...?”
“I believe they had played some sort of joke on him ... which nearly got him killed.”
“That’s awful!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “Did they at least get expelled?”
“No, for some reason, Albus had hushed it all up. I never got to know why.”
“But that was really unfair to Snape!”
“Yes, poor Severus. He had never been the type to show off his emotions, but I could see how much it was bothering him. He withdrew even more into that little world of his, and plunged headfirst into schoolwork. He started spending every minute of his free time in the library ... so it didn’t really surprise me when on one of my nightly patrols, I found him curled up in the very far corner of the Restricted Section, fast asleep. I didn’t have the heart to wake him up.
And then ... then he started hanging out with the Avery gang. They were a bad lot, those boys. Awfully into the Dark Arts. Most of them had probably turned into Death Eaters later on.”
“What’s a Death Eater?”
“The worst thing a wizard can turn into – a follower of Voldemort.”
“Oh.” Elizabeth looked thoughtful. Finally, she asked: “Did Snape become one?”
“I don’t know,” her grandmother admitted. “He graduated soon after, at the top of his year, of course, and I had lost sight of him afterwards. But about eight years later, he suddenly appeared in Albus’s office – and got the position of a Potions teacher, replacing dear old Professor Anderson, who’d been ready to retire for quite a long time, and was only only waiting for Albus to find a suitable replacement.”
Here, the old lady sighed, and her eyes got a faraway look. When she finally spoke again, it was in a voice filled with emotion.
“Ah, Edna Anderson,” she said. “She was such a darling ... and a wonderful friend, too. The fun we had together... I remember once, shortly after she-”
“Grandma, you’re straying from the subject,” Elizabeth reminded softly. “I believe we were discussing Snape before?”
“Oh yes, I got a bit carried away, didn’t I? O.K., Severus ... well, there’s not much left to say, just that students hated him right from the start of his teaching career, which is why I was always wondering what had actually forced him to follow this particular path, because it was obvious that he felt the same way about his students as they did about him. And now you’re saying he’s still there, or at least has been until the end of last year... Well, I can’t help but think that there’s something we don’t know about him, something that had kept him at Hogwarts for all this time...”
“Maybe it’s got something to do with Voldemort,” suggested Elizabeth. “It can’t be just pure coincidence, that the moment Voldemort gets his power back, Snape suddenly decides to leave – not when he’s had nearly fifteen years to do it, anyway. Grandma, honestly, do you think he could be a Death Eater?”
“I really don’t know. On one hand, I’m convinced he was much too smart to join the ranks of such a ... madman, but on the other, the Marauders’ joke had changed him terribly, and in the state he was afterwards, he could’ve done anything, joining the Death Eaters included.”
“I truly hope he didn’t,” Elizabeth said sadly. “But let’s change the subject, shall we? You still didn’t tell me if he had a girlfriend or not.”
Her grandmother chuckled. “I’m sorry to disappoint you,” she said, “but I must say I haven’t got a clue. I’m sure I’ve never seen him in the company of a girl, if you don’t count the times he was forced to work with one during class. But then again, if he had been involved in a relationship of some sort, I don’t think many people’d have known about it, he was much too secretive to let it become common knowledge.”
“What about later?” Elizabeth asked hopefully. “During his teaching days?”
“Nothing there, either. He treated all of his female colleagues the same – with cold respect.”
Elizabeth looked so disappointed her grandmother had to feel sorry for her, so she quickly added: “But you know what? I’ve just remembered something. It’s not quite what you wanted, but it will have to do... You see, still as a student, I think Severus might have had a crush on me. I’m not sure, of course, it could’ve been just my imagination playing tricks on me, but the way he looked at me sometimes, when he thought I wasn’t watching...”
The old lady trailed off, but had she continued, Elizabeth wouldn’t have heard her anyway, since she was too busy laughing herself silly. She couldn’t help herself, the idea of Snape, Snape of all people, having a crush on somebody was just too ... too ... she wasn’t really sure what, but it was definitely funny.
At that moment, though, there was a noise at the door, and Elizabeth’s father came in.
“Hello Grandma,” he said and, seeing Elizabeth shaking with laughter, added: “What’s so funny, Eli?”
“N ... nothing,” she choked out, clutching her stomach.
Her father gave her an incredulous look, but when he saw he wasn’t about to get a decent answer any time soon, he decided to change the subject. “Dinner’s ready,” he announced, and motioned for the two females to follow him out of the living room.
Dinner was fantastic, although Elizabeth couldn’t appreciate the food half as much as the others, since her mind kept on wandering off to the conversation she’d had earlier that evening. Unfortunately, the part that continued to come back the most had to be the one concerning Snape’s crush, and no matter how hard Elizabeth tried, it still made her mouth twitch, forcing her to constantly hide her face in her hands, because the last thing she wanted was for her family to think she’d finally lost it. Her mother, however, who was unbeatable at sensing anything out of the ordinary, soon discovered that her daughter’s behaviour was a little strange.
“Eli, are you all right?” she asked, giving the girl a suspicious look.
“Fine, just a bit tired,” Elizabeth lied and pretended to stifle a yawn, managing to cover another one of her half-smiles at the same time. “Would it be O.K. if I went to bed early?”
“We’ll survive,” her mother assured her. “Good night!”
“Night,” replied Elizabeth, and after blowing imaginary kisses to the whole family, she quickly left the dining room, hoping nobody had noticed her mouth twitch yet again.
Getting up to her room, Elizabeth finally had time to give her conversation with Grandma some proper thought. At first, the only thing her brain would recall was Snape’s supposed infatuation, but eventually she managed to remember almost everything that had been said. For some reason, though, two sentences stood out more than the rest.
‘If he wasn’t twice your age, I’d say you have a thing for him... But then again, love is known for not really caring about age differences...’
“Why does this keep on coming back?” Elizabeth asked the empty room. “It’s not even true!”
She had to admit she liked Snape, but liked him as a teacher, because he was the only one who had challenged her to give a subject more than her best, so while in other subjects her only goal was to get homework over and done with, in Potions she actually gave her essays some thought, and didn’t just blindly copy a bunch of facts out of a book. And not counting Fletcher, this was the main reason why she wanted him back.
‘And because you love him,’ said a nagging little voice at the back of her head.
‘I don’t!’ protested Elizabeth. ‘He’s old enough to be my father!’
‘So?’ asked the voice provokingly.
‘So nothing. Besides, even if I did love him, it wouldn’t lead anywhere. He’d never have a relationship with a student. Or any relationship, for that matter.’
‘But if he loved you...’
Elizabeth laughed. ‘Snape in love? I’m more likely to see a pink elephant!’
‘Well, he did have a crush on your grandmother...’
‘Yes, but remember – Grandma wasn’t sure about it. Maybe it was just her imagination.’
The voice didn’t seem to have any arguments left for the moment, so it decided to change the subject instead. ‘Let’s leave his feelings for a while,’ it said, ‘and concentrate on yours. So once again – do you love him?’
‘No,’ came the answer, although it didn’t sound as convincing as the first time.
‘Don’t you feel a funny tingling feeling in your stomach every time you even think of his name?’
‘Well ... yes, but that’s...’
‘Don’t you think about him at least once a day?’
‘Yes, but that’s just because I have to think about Fletcher all the time, so automatically, I also start imagining how nice it would be if Snape came back.’
But the voice still wasn’t satisfied. ‘Wouldn’t you want to hug him, to plant kisses all over his slender body, to ... and so on?’
Elizabeth obediently tried to picture an image of her and Snape kissing, and to her utter bewilderment, it turned out to be surprisingly easy. And for some reason, it also sent shivers down her spine.
‘Ah,’ the voice chuckled. ‘You see?’
Elizabeth suddenly felt an unresistable urge to beat the annoying voice out of her head.
‘Shut up!’ she yelled, not quite sure whether she was more angry at the voice or at herself. For until today, she had been considered a completely rationalistic person, not really approving of feelings or emotions of any sort, and yet, here she was now, arguing with the voice of a non-existent person at the back of her head. She was beginning to feel a short stay at St. Mungo’s would do her a world of good. Fortunately, at least the voice had decided to listen to her advice and finally fell silent, giving Elizabeth the chance to hopefully get some sleep.
But the silence didn’t last long, for as soon as the girl closed her eyes, the voice was back, if only with a short statement.
‘Good night!’ it whispered. ‘Sweet dreams!’Elizabeth opened her eyes. ‘I know what you’re thinking,’ she told the voice. ‘But I’m not going to dream of him ... and for your information, I’m not even going to think of him. What’s the point? He’s gone, so until he returns, I’m going to act as though he doesn’t exist.’ And with a sigh, she added: ‘If he returns.’