Despite the slightly uncomfortable scene that had just occurred outside, Beth’s spirits could not help but lift at the sound of the incoherent chatter already issuing from the Great Hall. Just being back at Hogwarts again – even if it was her last year – brought joy such as she had never experienced anywhere else. She followed Sirius and Peter into the hall, sitting across from them at the Gryffindor table. James and Remus entered a little later, the former still looking thrilled about who had been paired with him as Head Girl.

“You are going to need to wipe that smirk off your face, mate,” said Sirius as James sat down. As one, the five of them looked down the table to where Lily Evans was sitting with her friend Mary Macdonald. She glanced up, apparently sensing the eyes on her, and smiled at James. Beth’s eyes nearly popped out of her head; ever since she had known her, Lily had hated James’s guts with an unrestrained passion. In fact, if memory served, she was fond of calling him a toerag.

Well, this was certainly an interesting development.

“Hey, so I’ve been doing some thinking,” said Peter suddenly, leaning forward conspiratorially; everyone else mirrored him. “This year, during Remus’s transformations –“

The reaction was violent and simultaneous. Remus, who was next to him, clapped a hand over his friend’s mouth. Sirius swore loudly, and Beth knocked her elbow hard into the golden plate set in front of her.

“Do you want Beth to eat you?” James said, his words humorous but a dark look appearing in his eyes. “I swear I will let her do it, falcons aren’t going to turn up their noses at rats.” He leaned forward a little more to offset the strange looks now being given to them. “You know you can’t go shouting about that.”

“I wasn’t shouting,” said Peter stubbornly, his nose and cheeks bright red from embarrassment despite his protestations. “You guys are the ones who made it a big deal.” Nevertheless, he lowered his voice. “But I was thinking – this year, we don’t all need to go together, do we?”

“What do you mean?” said Beth skeptically, craning her head around to see if the first years had arrived yet; the sooner they moved off this topic, the better, in her opinion. All four of them went with Remus to the Shrieking Shack together, as James had said it would be safer that way, in case something went wrong.

“Well, think about it,” he urged. “Last year, we never really needed all of us there, did we? There’s really only two of us needed, and the other two could catch up on homework, or something –“

“Wormy,” said Sirius, cautiously slipping into his nickname for Peter lest anyone else should hear, “let us think. When was the last time anyone besides Beth and Remus really cared about their schoolwork?”

“Well, he has a point,” Beth pointed out. “Using all four of our Animagus forms is a little bit… conspicuous. We could try it.” She turned to James, who seemed to be considering the idea carefully in his mind. As he was the person under discussion, Remus didn’t offer his opinion, but merely looked mildly interested in the thing as a whole.

“It does make sense,” said James finally, with tentative placement in each word. His gaze flickered around the table once more to see if anyone was eavesdropping, and then added, “But we’ll discuss it later – it’s too risky right now.” By silent agreement, the matter was immediately dropped.

Glancing back toward the doors again, Beth saw that a line of students had just entered, single-file, with Professor McGonagall at the front. She was glad for the distraction, because the last thing they needed was attention drawn to the matter. But her eyes shifted to the right, towards the Slytherin table, which was situated closest to the door. And quite without meaning to, she caught the gaze of Severus Snape; he was staring intently in the direction of the Gryffindor table with an expression she couldn’t read.

She turned around quickly, heart racing. It looked as though Severus had seen the entire conversation about Remus and the others’ Animagi forms – although that was utterly impossible. But it was possible that he'd realized they were talking, and what's more, realized they were talking secretly. He was all the way across the hall, and no one could eavesdrop from that far away. But he definitely looked like he wanted to know what they’d been talking about so secretly, and would have paid dearly to have heard it. The blood thudded in Beth’s ears, and she did not dare to turn around again.

The first of the new students stumbled forward suddenly to place the Sorting Hat on her head; she had managed to miss the whole sorting song while she had been lost in her thoughts. Facing forward with a slightly more resolute expression on her face, she doggedly watched the rest of the ceremony, finally clapping for the last time as a boy called Archibald Young was sorted into Ravenclaw.

Dumbledore rose from his chair to give a few start-of-term announcements, and Beth finally chanced to sneak another glance at the Slytherin table behind her. Severus was no longer looking in the direction of the Gryffindors; he was talking to a rather slimy-looking boy Beth thought was called Wilkes. Maybe she’d imagined the whole thing, muddling it up with her own foolish crush. That had to be the explanation.

Dinner had been finished, and the dishes cleared for pudding, when Sirius leaned forward suddenly, as though about to impart more news that was for their ears only. “I’ve only just remembered,” he said excitedly. “I overheard Mum and Dad talking about something right before we left. It’s got something to do with… You-Know-Who.”

A collective shiver seemed to run through the group. Beth didn’t know a lot about You-Know-Who, as it was understandably not printed a lot in the papers, but she knew he was an extremely powerful and dark wizard, a strong proponent of blood purity among the magical world. Sirius’s family ran along the edges of this crowd as well, and supported the idea of eliminating Muggle-borns from wizarding society.

“Apparently there’s some group,” he continued, “that’s setting about getting together to put an end to You-Know-Who. It’s supposed to be led by Dumbledore himself.” All eyes turned to Dumbledore, seated at the top table; Beth thought that this might be false information, as he looked too old to be leading much of anything except Hogwarts.

“Well, what does this group… do?” said Remus, sounding a bit confused. Beth did not blame him; the whole thing sounded a bit vague and half-real, as though it was all speculation and rumor at the moment. Sirius gave a sort of half-shrug and, as the pudding appeared before them, speared a caramel apple on the tines of his fork.

“Go after all of You-Know-Who’s followers, I assume,” he said, and the frown on James’s forehead deepened.

“What do you mean, followers? Doesn’t he only have like a group of select friends, or something?” he asked. Sirius shook his head, mouth full of sticky apple, and swallowed.

“No, he’s been collecting more. The Ministry won’t say it, but Mum and Dad both say that the Minister and all them are a bit frightened of him. They don’t know what he wants or why he’s collecting followers, but it definitely can’t be good.” He said this last with a note of finality, and took another monstrous bite.

Everyone else, however, didn’t seem so nonchalant about the subject; if anything, Peter looked a little scared, which Beth secretly thought was a little silly. “So, who’s in this group?” she asked, mainly to distract from the topic of whatever it was You-Know-Who was up to. Again Sirius shrugged; apparently the question hadn’t really occurred to him, overshadowed as it had been by the grand picture of a resistance movement.

“People who are loyal to Dumbledore, I guess? Look,” he said, switching subjects, “the real thing is, this is something we could actually do. You know, to – to fight back, or whatever.” He looked around at his friends, gauging their reactions. The idea seemed to be growing on them, and Beth couldn’t help but feel a bud of growing excitement, as well. If what Sirius was talking about was actually real – and judging from his enthusiasm, he certainly believed it was – then this really could be something they could do to help in the fight against the recent emergence of dark magic.

Pudding cleared suddenly, and the chattering that had still run rampant and echoing around the hall’s stone walls died in magnitude as Dumbledore rose once more from his chair. He beamed genially upon those gathered before him. Beth felt a swell of liking for the man; she had always admired Dumbledore. Idly she wondered if he really could be leading a secret rally behind closed doors.

The headmaster bid them all to sleep well and rest up for their lessons tomorrow, and both Sirius and James looked slightly more gloomy after being reminded of the resurgence of schoolwork. Beth took the opportunity to sneak another glance back at the Slytherin table. With a jolt, she saw that Severus was once more looking in their direction, eyes narrowed in concentration.

“What does he want?” she murmured, quite forgetting that she was speaking aloud instead of just to herself. Absentmindedly she rubbed her nose again, wondering. Remus turned in her direction at the sound, distracted from the moans from James and Sirius.

“Sorry?” he said curiously, quirking an eyebrow. Beth felt her face get hot, and she shook her head, muttering that it was nothing. Remus studied her for a fraction of a second longer, and then turned back to James, who had begun to head back to the common room with Sirius and Peter.

“James, you have to help get the first-years to their dormitory,” he said, sounding every bit the authority figure. James halted, heaving a great sigh and running his hand through his hair. “Look,” Remus continued, “you didn’t have to accept the job, you know –“

A voice called over the rather scared-looking group of young students, effectively cutting Remus off. “First years, if you’ll step this way, please!” Lily Evans, wearing her badge prominently on the left side of her robes, was herding the younger ones into some semblance of a formation. With a mischievous grin at his friends, James turned in her direction with a loud, “Hey, Evans!”

“The git,” said Sirius fondly, laughing. “Come on, I’m dead tired. I just want to get into bed.” He began plodding toward the entrance, and Beth followed closely behind him, sudden weariness overcoming her as well.

As she reached the entrance hall, she felt someone tap her on the shoulder. She turned, puzzled, brushing her hair out of her face – and thought that the floor beneath her shoes might have dropped from beneath her.

Why on earth was Severus Snape standing there, wearing that same look of intense concentration he’d worn earlier? And why, moreover, did he seem to want to talk to her? She gulped, hoping he didn’t notice, and half-wishing she could think of an excuse to be anywhere but here. This was not good for her; this would only feed that pathetic attraction she’d felt for seven years, and she knew it, but she also knew it was really no good wishing it away.

“What’s going on with you and Remus?” he said abruptly, looking not quite at her but at a point just above her head. Beth’s brows knitted; of all the questions she might have guessed he would ask her, that one was certainly not one of them.

“What?” she said dumbly, not being able to think of any other sort of coherent response. His gaze didn’t shift from above her head, and she found herself wanting to yank his face down and force him to look at her. What was she going to do – hex him?

Focus, she willed herself, steeling her nerves. He’s never going to talk to you again if you act like a blibbering idiot now.

“Isn’t that what you were talking about earlier? You and your friends?” he continued doggedly, a slight sneer raising his mouth. It wasn’t a secret to anyone in the school that he couldn’t stand James and Sirius, and by association, pretty much anyone who hung out with them – another mark against her. Despite herself Beth felt heat creeping up and tingeing her cheeks. “Are you going to tell me what you’re up to, or am I going to have to find out myself?” Severus continued.

“I – what – no, I can’t tell you,” she spluttered, his frank and forthcoming questions breaking down all manners of resolve and firmness she might have had up. “Why are you asking me? And why were you spying?”

“I wasn’t spying,” Severus snapped, his eyes flicking briefly down to hers before jerking back up as though what he’d found there had scalded him. “If I was spying I could have found this out on my own. I am asking you a question. I’ve been watching you for years.”

“I know th – you’ve been watching us?” Beth said, mind switching tracks in the middle of her sentence. She was trying to maintain control over her emotions as she tried to think of what to say next. Was she supposed to be angry? Condescending? Should she try and be his friend through this, hoping that it would pay off in the future? She opted for the defensive route yet again. “I can’t tell you because it’s not my place to tell,” she said, turning her nose in the air. Severus sneered again.

“There’s something going on between the five of you,” he said, eyes flicking down once more before returning to the blank stretch of wall. “And if you’re not going to tell me, I guess I am going to have to spy. I’m going to find out what’s going on.”

Beth was in shock, completely unable to think of a response to that. She did the only thing she could think of doing, and turned on her heel, walking quickly away. Some small, stupid, flighty part of her hoped that he might stop her from leaving, but she walked away without him speaking another word to her.

Her mind was in turmoil the whole way back to the common room. Half of her was elated that Severus had, for the first time in recent memory, initiated a conversation with her at all, albeit a rather direct and less than friendly one. The other half was puzzling over why he was so curious about the discussion the five Gryffindors had been having before dinner. That had been when Peter had brought up the subject of using two Animagi to help Remus, instead of four.

What did Severus suspect? And why was he so desperate to know about what clearly did not concern him?

She stopped dead outside the stretch of wall where the Fat Lady’s portrait hung, concealing the entrance to the Gryffindor common room. With a horrific thrill, she realized that she had absolutely no idea what the password was. The woman in the painting looked at her expectantly.

“Oh, you know I’m a Gryffindor,” Beth said huffily, suddenly too tired to feel much like arguing with a piece of art. She crossed her arms over her chest. “Can’t you just let me in?”

“You must give me the password,” said the Fat Lady, peering regally down from her gilt frame at the girl. Beth rolled her eyes.

“I don’t know the password,” she said. “You know who I am. Please?” She sounded a little whiny right now, but was too mixed up with the conversation she’d just had to care at the current moment. The Fat Lady remained solid and unmoving, and Beth groaned, placing her head in her hands. She so did not need this right now.

“Deflating Draught,” said a voice behind her, and Beth turned gratefully to see Lily Evans walking up behind her, a grim smile on her face. Reluctantly, the Fat Lady swung forward to allow the two to pass, muttering something under her breath that Beth didn't quite catch, although it was sure to have been nasty.

“Thank you. I was set to sleep out here for the night,” said Beth, and Lily’s smile widened slightly.

“No worries. I’ve just had to run to Professor McGonagall – already caught some of the third years with Fanged Frisbees.” She shook her head slightly, and Beth shrugged as if to say, What’s new?

“I’m not going to hang around all night waiting for you girls to end the gossip,” said the portrait suddenly, sounding irritable despite her voice being muffled by the wall she now faced. The girls entered the common room together, and Beth was immediately set upon by Sirius.

“Spill, Bethy,” he said immediately, steering her to a seat on the couch in front of the fire. “Why were you talking to Snape, and how many scoops of frog spawn should find their way into his underwear drawer?”

“It’s nothing,” she said tiredly, waving away his pesky questions; she really was nearly dead on her feet by now. “He was just asking a question, that’s all.” She rose from where her friend had pushed her down and stretched, rubbing her nose idly. Sirius looked dumbstruck.

“I’ll tell you in the morning,” she muttered. “I’m sorry, I’m just exhausted. ‘Night, Sirius. Say good night to the others for me.” Not waiting to hear his protests, she turned and climbed the winding staircase up to the Gryffindor seventh year girls’ dormitory, not even stopping to take in the fact she was back at Hogwarts again, but solely concentrated on getting into bed as quickly as possible.

It was only once she’d changed into her pajamas, brushed her teeth, and slipped beneath the covers that she gave memories of her conversation with Severus full rein. Why did he insist on probing into the business of Beth and her friends – and how much about Remus and the rest of them did he already know?

A/N: So, we actually saw Severus talk in this chapter, and I'm sorry he's been virtually absent until now. I love him too much to do that without guilt, but the plot just worked better that way. So many apologies! Have a brownie, on me.

This chapter is dedicated in large part to Sarah, who is probably my biggest inspiration and is just a truly amazing person in general. And of course to the mafia of the raverpuffins, who I just couldn't do without - this is for you, too.

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