Beth woke as late as possible the next morning, not necessarily dreading beginning her classes, but mourning the lack of sleep that went along with that. During the course of the night, she had attempted to get herself to believe that she'd successfully reached the conclusion that it was much too risky to prolong her crush on Severus Snape any longer. He was probing, and that was never good, especially given the situation he was probing into; besides, seven years was, she had to admit, a bit pathetic.
She entered the Great Hall for breakfast, still rubbing sleep from her eyes, and sat down heavily at her place at the Gryffindor table. Looking up, she overheard Sirius telling James about his newest plans for pranks that year, including one which sounded suspiciously like turning Filch’s hair lime green. James had evidently forgotten that he was Head Boy for the moment, rolling laughter as he was as he tried to drink his orange juice. Peter was avidly following the conversation while Remus read the paper with his lips pursed, the perfect picture of disapproval.
Sirius glanced over as Beth reached for the plate of kippers, and then did a double take. He stopped talking midsentence and turned to face her head-on, nearly jumping up and down in obvious anticipation.
“What?” she asked thickly, putting down the kippers and reaching for the flagon of pumpkin juice nearest to her. As though the dam had been released, a torrent of words suddenly poured from his mouth; he had obviously been waiting for her a long time.
“Okay – out with it. Why were you talking to Snivelly last night? Was he asking you anything? And if you’re thinking, even remotely, about anything to do with him, Bethy –“
“Sirius!” she cried, a bit louder than perhaps she might have hoped, but only concentrating on shutting him up right now. “Please,” she added, lowering her voice but increasing the annoyance in it. “All he was asking about was what we’d been talking about before the sorting. And you know me, I’m not about to blab it. He doesn’t know a thing.”
“The little sneak,” Sirius laughed after a pause, leaning back and relaxing his shoulders. “I knew he’s been skulking around, trying to see what we’re up to.” His face suddenly changed into a more pensive and mischievous expression. “Gives me an idea, actually.”
“Whatever you’re thinking about, it’s probably against every school rule in the book,” said Remus warningly without looking up from The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 7. “So you can forget it right now, none of us are going to go along with you.” He said this last especially to James, who scowled; he’d momentarily forgotten his duties as Head Boy, it seemed, and had looked eager at the prospect of anything involving Sirius’s ideas about Severus.
“Besides, why are you so suspicious all the time?” Beth blurted out, quite forgetting to stop to consider the wisdom of her words. “Maybe he was just curious.” Four incredulous faces turned in her direction, Remus even looking up from his textbook to raise an eyebrow at her. She ducked her head and concentrated on pouring sugar on her porridge.
So much for the morning’s resolution about not prolonging anything.
“Severus Snape,” said Sirius, matter-of-factly, “is one step away from being a literal ball of slime. He wants something.” He said this as though it solved the matter, and turned back to Peter, apparently continuing a discussion they’d been having about Sarah Wright, a Hufflepuff seventh year whom Sirius had always liked to verbally admire whenever he had the chance. He and Peter were now arguing on exactly the best strategy to go about winning a date from her – all in fun, as neither had ever so much as made a move in the direction, although it was one of their favorite topics.
Beth took the opportunity to glance surreptitiously across the hall for a sign of Severus at the Slytherin table, but he was nowhere to be seen; she suspected he’d finished breakfast long before she’d found her way downstairs. Maybe he’d even done it on purpose, to avoid talking to her… But why would he avoid conversation now when he’d been the one to start it last night?
She knew that she was, as usual, over-thinking things. Heaving a frustrated but silent sigh, she turned back around.
Quite suddenly, she noticed that James was still looking at her rather curiously, as though trying to work something out in his head. Please tell me he doesn’t suspect anything, Beth thought silently, ducking her head further and pulling an abandoned copy of the Daily Prophet towards her. She didn’t need her friends’ influences to complicate her mixed emotions further; she was good enough at doing that herself.
Beth, James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter had, in general, passed all of the same O.W.L.s and so were taking the same classes to prepare for the N.E.W.T. level. The Gryffindor seventh years who were taking the Care of Magical Creatures N.E.W.T. classes walked together out onto the grounds and down to the edge of the forest first thing that morning. They clustered by the usual paddock, waiting for Professor Kettleburn. This group, to James’s delight, included Lily Evans. Upon seeing her, his hand immediately went to his hair, ruffling it to make it look messy. When she saw this, Lily rolled her eyes, as usual, but it didn’t escape Beth’s notice that this gesture was accompanied by a totally new and unexpected smile.
Sirius, apparently, also saw this new addition, because his jaw nearly hit the grass. Beth quickly nudged him in the ribs and leaned over to mutter in his ear before anyone else – namely Lily – noticed the rather dramatic reaction. “Shut up,” she hissed, smirking as James looked around at them and pretending like she hadn’t seen a thing.
He opened his mouth, about to say something, when the sound of footsteps padding through the grass from the front doors of the castle met their ears. As one, the Gryffindors turned to find the seventh year Slytherins approaching – each and every one of them wearing an identical expression of superiority.
Severus Snape stood among them. Beth felt her stomach drop once again, as though she had missed a step going down a flight of stairs; she clutched it before thinking about it, and Peter looked at her confusedly.
Evan Rosier, an arrogant-looking Slytherin with a thin face, was at the forefront of the arriving group. He gave the Gryffindors assembled by the paddock fence a rather cold and patronizing nod which contained no sentiments of friendship. “Care of Magical Creatures, then?” he asked in a slightly nasal voice, jerking his head in the direction of the fence; Beth thought it looked like a twitch, and she had to clap a hand to her mouth to stop herself giggling.
“Why else would we be here?” Sirius asked, in a voice dripping with sarcasm. Remus trod heavily on his foot to shut him up, disguising the movement as a sudden spastic cough, which fooled no one. Rosier raised a slim black eyebrow and smirked at Sirius, turning slightly in his direction.
“Black,” he said curtly. He cast a gaze over Sirius, from head to foot, and the sneer on his lips twisted even further. “You look more and more like a mangy dog every time I see you. Fleas treating you well?”
Sirius lunged forward, but four pairs of hands – James’s, Beth’s, Remus’s, and Peter’s – grabbed him and pushed him back just as Professor Kettleburn turned the corner of the paddock. He looked surprised, stopping in the middle of wiping his hands on a rag, but apparently couldn’t judge the situation well enough to issue punishment. With a little cough, he stepped back and motioned them all to follow him. Rosier gave a demeaning laugh, swept his gaze over the group once more, and shoved his way promptly to the front of the line, followed by the other Slytherins.
The five of them dwindled at the back of the group, letting everyone else move ahead. “What did he mean by that?” Peter asked in a whisper, eyes darting from his friends to the spot where Rosier had disappeared.
“Nothing,” said James vehemently. “He was just pushing buttons; it doesn’t mean anything. That was coincidence, and you’d better shut up before they start rethinking it, too.” Remus nodded confidently, but Beth and Sirius were both less than certain of this assertion. They shared a glance, and the words that Snape had spoken to her last night floated to the forefront of her mind.
“There’s something going on between the five of you. I’m going to find out what’s going on.”
Suddenly, as though thinking of him had caused him to materialize there, Beth realized that Severus hadn’t followed his friends through into the forest. He was still standing, fingers barely touching the wooden fence, almost as if he were waiting for them. His eyes were narrowed, darting between them, clicking pieces of a puzzle into place, a puzzle only his mind could see.
James looked at Beth, and then, seeing her slightly wide-eyed expression, followed her gaze to see Severus standing there as well. “What do you want, Snape?” he snapped. Severus’s glance moved over to James’s face, and an expression of hate Beth had never seen before appeared there. He didn’t answer the question, but just swept off in the direction everyone else had gone, robes flapping.
“What was that about?” said Remus, looking at Beth. She shook her head slowly, dazedly, and could offer no answer.
For the rest of the morning’s lessons, Beth had a hard time concentrating on what was actually being taught. She couldn’t stop wondering exactly how much they had accidentally revealed to Severus after the dog comment Rosier had made, if anything, and how much more he needed to know before he made the connection that Remus was a werewolf. At lunch that afternoon, she voiced her concerns to the others.
“Beth, the more you worry about it, the more he’s going to watch you,” Peter pointed out, waving his fork and causing peas to bounce and roll on the table. “Overreacting isn’t going to help anyone.”
James clapped Peter heartily on the back, sending more peas flying. “Wormy’s right,” he said. “Don’t give him any reason to be suspicious, Beth.”
“He’s already suspicious,” Beth said urgently, gripping the edge of the table and leaning in to speak more closely to them. “That’s the point. He thinks he knows something – Sirius saw, that’s what he was asking me about last night.” The others looked a bit surprised at this news; Sirius had been visibly up in arms about it all, that much had been obvious, but they hadn’t known the details of the conversation.
Then Remus gave a shrug, carefully cutting a piece of shepherd’s pie. “So he may or may not know. So what?” Beth gaped at him, not quite sure that he understood the implications of that statement. He delicately chewed the pie, swallowed, and then continued. “I mean, so he finds out I’m… that I’m a werewolf,” he said, lowering his voice. “What can he do?”
“He can spread it around the school!” Beth burst out. She didn’t want to believe that Severus would do that sort of thing, but it had to be taken into account. Remus shrugged again. “And then you might be forced to leave Hogwarts,” she added, still trying to make him see the severity of the situation. But he didn’t seem to get it.
“Why are you so concerned what he thinks, Bethy?” Sirius broke in. “He’s a walking grease rag. It doesn’t matter. He’d be too much of a coward to tell anybody, and if he finds out, we can just hex him until he doesn’t remember which way’s up.” James laughed, but Beth’s mouth twisted in disapproval.
“What about if he finds out… what we did?” she continued, not willing to let the subject drop. “You know it’s not technically legal, and I for one enjoy being able to fly too much to give it up because you four weren’t careful. What we’ve found out how to do – that’s way worse than breaking school rules, you know.” She gave them all a long look.
James rolled his eyes and sighed heavily. “You are making this into too big of a deal,” he said, stressing each word so the message would get into her head. “He will not find out, because it’s almost impossible – it is impossible – unless one of us tells. And no one here’s thick enough to do that.”
The matter was dropped, and nothing further was said about Severus or what he may or may not know about their situation during that lunch period. Still, for the rest of the meal, and the rest of the day as well, there was a tiny seed of doubt sown in the back of Beth’s mind that wouldn’t leave her alone. She knew he was up to something, and was going to do everything in her power to stop him from finding out too much about Remus, or about herself. It might potentially wreck whatever she wanted to happen as far as he was concerned, but if she was honest with herself, she knew that if he hadn’t made a move after seven years, the chances of reciprocated feelings were slim. It was best to put up defenses before one had to.
By the time evening fell and dinner was being served, it looked very much as though everyone’s protests about Beth worrying too much had yet again been right. Severus hadn’t so much as glanced in the direction of any of the five whenever they passed him in the halls, nor had he said anything further to Beth to try and obtain more information. Nevertheless, the five were very mindful about what they said, and would remain so until further notice.
But they couldn’t keep silent about it forever, and a full moon was approaching the next weekend; plans had to be made. They moved to their own section of the table and put their heads close together, sacrificing nonchalant attitudes for a guarantee of a totally private conversation.
“So who’s going to take it this weekend?” Beth was saying, glancing around. Remus, as always, looked a little uncomfortable; the fact that his friends treated his lycanthropy so casually, as though it were no big deal, always made him squirm a little. It was no big deal to them, helping out, but he was perpetually concerned he was inconveniencing them.
The question hung in the air for a minute, and then Sirius finally spoke up. “James and I will go,” he volunteered. “I haven’t barked at any owls all summer, I’m out of practice.” Remus rolled his eyes as James and Peter laughed, but no one had any protests as to the assignation, and the matter was settled. Beth determinedly did not chance a peek at the Slytherin table; that would only serve to attract Severus’s attention more. She was sure he had seen the huddle, and the cogs of his mind would no doubt be turning fiercely at that moment.
As though sensing Beth’s determination to avoid the subject, however, James spoke up suddenly. “Any more from Snape, Beth?” he asked, twirling his fork in his mashed potatoes. “He’s been rather quiet today - we haven’t had the opportunity to trip him once yet.”
Her insides contracted with guilt at that, but she ignored this; it was just a remnant of her long-standing affections, which, she was sure, were now over. “Not a word,” she said. “I’m sure he’s still got ideas about the whole thing, but I haven’t heard them.”
“Wonder why he chose you to ask about it, anyway,” Peter mused, half to himself. “Doesn’t he hate you as much as he hates us?” Beth shrugged, ignoring the very faint stirrings of hope that surged deep within her. Maybe he didn’t hate her – not that it mattered much anymore, of course.
“I guess not,” she said. “That would be nice.” She only realized how oddly the implications of that sentence could be taken once the words were out of her mouth; she sucked in a breath quickly as James gave her that same odd look, as though examining her. She hastily stood up to avoid any awkward questions.
“Better get back to the common room, tons to study,” she said quickly, and, ducking her head, started walking briskly from the hall. She hadn’t even been able to finish dinner, but an empty stomach was much, much better than having her friends discover that she was attracted to Severus.
Footsteps clattered behind her as she reached the base of the sweeping marble staircase. “Beth!” The raised voice made her freeze, one hand poised on the railing.
This was not happening; she was imagining it. Of all the possible outcomes of her flight from the hall, it had to be him that had followed her. She turned slowly, gritting her teeth, and Severus stepped forward to meet her halfway.
The small smile that played on his features sent her heart racing; he smiled so rarely that each one was liable to make her swoon. Get a grip, Beth, she urged herself, and attempted to rearrange her features into a more composed expression.
“Yes?” she said, her voice cracking slightly. He moved a bit closer towards her, and now there was only about a foot of space between them. The sheer proximity to him was intoxicating; small bubbles burst in front of her eyes from a sudden lack of oxygen.
Still smiling that tantalizing smile, Severus leaned down and said in a low voice, “I know.”
A/N: I admit it - I have a passion for moderately cruel cliffhangers. Even if they only seem cruel to me, I like leaving myself guessing when I write from chapter to chapter. How can I suck myself into coming back to write the next chapter if I don't make it exciting? Although, if I do say so myself, I'm rather proud of this one.
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