'Arrogant… devious… disrespectful… impudent…!' Snape cried out, punching his desk with disgust.
'Yes?' A young woman's voice floated across him like a calming breeze. 'I don't know about arrogant, but I am devious at times… and I don't think I'm particularly disrespectful – at least, not usually.'
'Elizabeth!' Snape jumped to see a young woman standing in his office doorway eyeing the fallen cockroaches with a wary repugnance. 'What are you doing here?' he barked, rubbing his fist where it had made contact with solid mahogany.
'Well, I was walking by to check on Harry's Occlumency lesson, and I heard you cursing, so I figured I'd come and check on you, make sure you weren't about to kill or curse him.' Her lips slid into a slight, amused smile.
'There is nothing to be smiling about, Elizabeth, I very nearly did – and I don't doubt what he saw scarred him for life.'
'What did he see? Your first time?' She swished her wand as she spoke, repairing the jars and returning the repulsive roaches to their cases.
'Don't be absurd,' Snape replied awkwardly, leaning on his cluttered desk and placing his head in his hands. 'He saw… he saw his father. And Black.'
'Ah,' she said, sitting down in front of him.
'Indeed,' he muttered. Lifting his head out of his hands, he stood abruptly and paced the small confines of his office, his black robes billowing behind him.
'Do you want to know what I think, Severus?' She was watching him casually, her head moving slowly as he paced around her.
'Not particularly, but I'm sure I'm going to hear either way.'
She smiled amusedly at him, and said, 'I think that you should chill.'
He started blankly at her, and after a moment, repeated skeptically, 'Chill?'
'Yes, Severus, chill. I mean, you're always so tense. I guarantee, in all my years of knowing you, you've never been completely relaxed.'
'Of course I have,' he replied shortly, stopping briefly to lean forward over his desk to look at her, and then continuing his pacing. 'I am capable of relaxation.'
'No, you're not. Okay, so you've done things other than teach, and spy, and what have you; more than what's involved in your contract with Hogwarts and Dumbledore. But you're never relaxed. You're always so… so… well, stressed.'
'I'm sure you have a solution to this alleged problem?' Snape asked flatly, watching her face split into another smile. Elizabeth had always had too big a mouth on her. Not that he minded. She was enjoyable to talk with, and she was one of the few people with whom he would actually consider spending time with recreationally. Usually, people were scared of him, mistrusted him, or just plain disliked him. She, however, spoke to him as an equal. She had long ago earned his respect, and he hers.
'Of course I do. I always do, don't I? I say we go for a walk.'
He looked at her skeptically, and replied, 'A walk. That's your solution to all of my problems?' His voice started growing stronger, louder. 'Potter walks in here, sneaks a look into my Pensive, sees my worst memories of his sainted father, I almost curse him into oblivion, I lose control–!' he stopped abruptly, took a deep breath, and continued coolly, 'and you suggest a walk.'
He sighed inwardly, and said, 'Alright, Miss Elizabeth, I'll walk with you. But please do not expect anything; you'll only end up being disappointed.'
She simply smiled in reply, and held out her arm for him to take.
He did, and led her out of the castle and to the shore of the lake.
It was dark, and the sky was crystal clear except for a few owls hunting overhead. The moon was reflected off the glass-like surface of the lake, as were millions of stars.
They walked in silence, arm in arm, Severus seething inwardly with anger whenever he thought of Potter. This time, though, it was to James his mind was drifting. Outwardly, he thought, he hid his anger quite well. He did not want to burden Elizabeth with his problems, both for his and her sake. But, of course, as it always was, she surprised him with her intuition. Because that was all it could be. She may have been a good Legilimens, but he had taught her. If he could seal his mind from the Dark Lord, he could seal it from anyone.
'I'm going to fly around the lake,' she told him, slipping her arm out of his, 'and by the time I get back, you will be ready to talk to me.' With that, she transformed into an owl and began her flight, her bright plumage reflecting the moonlight, and mirrored on the crystalline lake.
Snape continued walking, not harshly, but slowly this time; he had nowhere he had to be, no one who was looking for him. Except for her.
He had never had romantic feelings for Elizabeth, of course. She was almost twelve years his junior. She was like a daughter to him. He had watched her grow from a shy eight-year-old girl, lost in a world of evil and darkness, to a young woman, flourishing under the wings of the best the Hogwarts staff had to offer. Himself, Minerva McGonagall, Filius Flitwick, Aurora Sinistra, Pomona Sprout, and, of course, Dumbledore, just to name a few, had taken her under their wings, through the summers and holidays, and they had become her only family.
Observing her first classes when she was only nine years old, and then enrolling at ten (the Ministry had appointed Dumbledore as her guardian, and because of special circumstances, she was allowed to begin at Hogwarts one year early), she had loved all her classes: she was more brilliant than Granger. She had devoured the Hogwarts library, and picked the brain of every professor there. And because she lived at the castle full time, she knew each and every one of them inside and out.
In the beginning, he had been wary of this overzealous pupil, the girl who had seen the fall of the Dark Lord, but it didn't take long for her to win him over. Her sincerity, coupled with her intelligence and persistence, had endeared her to him. She told him once that she had had a long discussion with the Sorting Hat a month before she was set to be sorted. They had discussed all the pros and cons of each house. She had then been sorted into Gryffindor, but would often be found mingling with the other houses, and even more in the dungeons with Severus. For some reason, she had become closer to him than any of the other professors. Minerva was her surrogate mother, sure, but Elizabeth would spend hours learning Occlumency from him, watching him brew potions. Occasionally, as she grew older, he would allow her to help him, pouring in ingredients, stirring the cauldron, and even suggesting alternatives that could make a potion better. She was the best student he ever had.
As she integrated herself into the various houses, older students who had been there when she arrived, such as Bill Weasley, seemed to take a shine to the young girl. And when she started classes with the children a year older than her, Charlie Weasley could always be found within shouting distance of her.
The year she was to graduate was a sad one indeed for Severus. Every day in class, he would look up and spot her over whatever N.E.W.T. potion she was brewing, and he would think that that time next year, she would be off on her own. No more late night potion sessions. No more seeing her leaning against his office door, laughing at him.
But then, as always, she proved him wrong. When he told her he would miss her, she had looked at him, confused, and said, 'Leaving? I'm not leaving! Harry's coming to school next year. I'm going to be here. Besides, the Ministry says that this is the safest place for me still. So I've decided to learn to be a teacher. And what better way than to observe?'
He had been shocked into silence, and then had done something that made everyone in the vicinity turn to stare. He had pulled her into a hug.
'Ready to talk?' Pulling him out of his reverie, she had swooped down beside him and transformed, and was now linking her arm through his once more.
'When, in our – fourteen? – years of knowing each other, have you ever known me to talk?' he asked, not looking at her.
'I haven't. But a girl can still dream, can't she?' He snorted disbelievingly in response. 'Oh, come now, Severus. One does not need Legilimency when they know someone so well. Talk to me, Severus! Tell me how much you hate Harry right now. Tell me how you wish you could take your anger out on him! Tell me you wish you could shake him and shake him to make him pay for what his father did to you. Lose control, Severus!'
'No!' he barked, letting go of her arm and striding away. His voice echoed off the castle and mountains surrounding it.
'Yes!' she cried in response, jogging to catch up to his long stride. 'Yes! Loose control!' She stood in front of him and held onto his arms, trying to meet his eyes. 'Fine! Fine. Tell me I'm wrong. Tell me you're perfectly fine.' She was greeted with a stony silence. 'Well?'
'I will not – this is not…I refuse to burden you with this!'
'Burden me? Burden me? You've listened to me go on and on about Harry and Albus and the Ministry and my parents and even Voldemort – '
'– but you can't tell me that you're angry about something you have every right to be angry about?'
'No, I can't,' he replied sternly, struggling to keep his voice level.
'Why? Why can't you?'
'Do we have to go through this every time you think something is troubling me?'
'Yes! I will continue to badger you until you open up to me, damn it, and you will open up to me!'
'You think so?'
'Yes!' she cried, throwing her arms up, pacing away from him, and turning back to lock eyes with him. 'I think one day it will be too much and you will lose control and show me what you're really feeling!'
They stood measuring each other for a moment, until Severus told her flatly, 'Well, you will be disappointed. I think it's time we turned in; we both have classes tomorrow.'
She rolled her eyes heavenwards, sighed, and linked her arm through his. 'Fine. Be like that. But next time –''Next time, maybe, you will know better.'