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Chapter 5: Unsuspected, Unexpected
It took a long moment for the full meaning of those words to make a connection inside Beth’s brain. She merely looked at him for a long second, and finally her heart began to pound – for an entirely different reason. It had only been a day, she reasoned. He couldn’t have discovered so fast.
She was so going to Azkaban.
“What are you talking about?” she said, playing for time. Maybe if she acted dumb, Severus would think he was mistaken and would leave her alone to get over him in peace. He was making it rather difficult at the moment, to be sure.
Severus raised his eyebrows but apparently chose not to answer the question. “You know what I’m talking about,” he said smoothly. Beth was very tempted to blurt out that no, she didn’t, because she didn’t know how much he knew. Thankfully, she was still sane enough to withhold the comment. She just studied him, gauging his knowledge – or trying to; he was a very hard person to read, even at the best of times.
“So,” Beth said finally, pulling at words from thin air, “what are you going to do about it?” She hoped that this would provide her with more information, and Severus with no more than he already had. He shrugged, although she could immediately tell that it was only for her sake.
“Well, you could tell me,” he said. “I mean, just… tell me why…” And then it hit her quite suddenly – he knew nothing at all. It was all a very poorly-concealed bluff.
“Oh, please,” she snapped, relief making her words a lot brusquer than they would have otherwise been. “If you think you’re going to be able to get me to tell this way, you might as well leave right now before you waste breath.”
Severus looked steadily at her, his lip curling ever so slightly. And then, quite suddenly, he turned on his heel, moving quickly in the direction of the door that led to the dungeons. Beth’s mouth was still open, preparing to deliver another reprimand. His footsteps echoed on the stone, fading with distance, and then all was silent save for the continued chatter from the dining hall.
Two emotions – satisfaction and confusion – fought for prevalence in Beth’s head, and she pressed her fingers to her temples, willing herself to think while trying to fight off unwanted feelings. Her secret, and the secrets of her friends, were safe, she felt sure – for now. But that had been much too close a call for comfort.
The pressing question of why he was so interested in the first place swam again to the top of her long list of problems that needed to be addressed. For some reason it was very hard to believe that his interest was solely for curiosity’s sake, and no more. It was true that he had a very noted vendetta against James and Sirius – was this about revenge on them for seven years’ worth of intense loathing? But still, what did he actually stand to gain?
She sighed heavily; her head was beginning to hurt. She was tired of thinking so much about this, and it was only the second day back at Hogwarts. But it was nearly the only thought that had consumed her mind the entire time there. Drawing herself up and pushing it firmly from her mind, Beth mounted the stairs and headed back to Gryffindor Tower.
Sirius and Remus, upon hearing about this exchange later that evening after they came back from dinner, were confident that Severus had found out all he could with the resources available to him. “It’s really not a huge deal,” Remus said reassuringly, once again having to play the go-between in Beth’s frazzled state and Sirius’s annoyance to this. “We know he’s not going to tell anyone, even if he –“
“No, we don’t,” Beth snapped. “And I don’t want to be the one responsible for a mass riot when people find out they’ve been going to school with a werewolf for seven years.”
“Beth, you don’t even know what he suspects,” Peter pointed out, annoyance evident in his voice – that was quite an accomplishment, as it took a lot to get him fairly passionate about pretty much everything.
She knew that she had argued this to death, and that they were only going in circles now. Truth be told, the more she advocated caution, the weaker her protests sounded to her own ears. But a stubborn streak made her keep going even though she knew she needed to just shut up and move on as though nothing had happened.
“And besides –“ she began to say, but Sirius, who had been leafing through his Potions textbook without taking in anything, suddenly slammed his head onto the table. Everyone jumped and looked at him apprehensively.
“Bethy,” he said, almost begging with her now, “I am begging you. Give it a rest. You are beating a dead hippogriff, and it is extremely annoying to listen to. So please, please – shut up.” He said this all to the pages of his book, face-down; Beth knew he was speaking from annoyance at having to do homework again, but decided to listen to him anyway, if only to prevent further quarreling. She got out her own Potions book and began working on her essay (“A Brief History of Prominent Tenth-Century Potions”) in silence.
As the weeks inched by, and the seventh years became more and more buried in their homework and extracurricular activities, Beth began to think that maybe her friends really were right, after all. Certainly Severus hadn’t done anything to further his investigations – if that was indeed what they were – and he hadn’t approached her to say anything else, either. She figured that he had stopped caring or was waiting for a better time to approach her for information again. Both solutions were acceptable to her.
The first full moon passed without incident, and everything went just as smoothly as normal despite that fact that Beth and Peter stayed behind in the common room. They were decidedly anxious, and talked several times about going down there to make sure that everything was going all right, but morning came with a clean report from Remus, Sirius, and James all. Using two, instead of four, seemed like a plan that would most definitely work. It was decided that Peter and James would go and keep watch next month. James would go again in November, this time accompanied by Beth, and Peter and Sirius would sit watch in December.
All in all, if things had continued along as they had been doing, it would have been a rather uneventful year. But just as October was breaking and the leaves on the trees had begun to don their fall colors, James apparently decided all of their lives needed a little shaking up.
He and Sirius had gone down to the Quidditch Pitch after dinner one evening in early October; their tryouts were the upcoming weekend, and they wanted as much practice as possible. Peter had gone down to watch, and so Beth and Remus were left in the common room to tackle a rather nasty assignment for History of Magic. It was one of the few quiet times that the Gryffindor common room had known that year; a fire crackling in the grate and the scratching of quills on parchment were the only sounds to be heard.
The portrait swung open suddenly, just as Beth had started the last essay question, and Sirius stumbled through loudly, tracking mud everywhere. He seemed not to notice the quiet atmosphere, walking heavily across the room to flop down between the two on the sofa, accidentally knocking Remus in the head with his broomstick.
“Sirius, when did you get here? I didn’t hear you come in,” Beth said sarcastically, scooting her homework away from him so he wouldn’t drip mud on it. He rolled his eyes and flashed her what he apparently thought was a winning smile.
“Sorry about that, mate,” he added, noticing Remus rubbing the top of his head and glowering in his direction. Peter came through the entrance then, too, and joined them, making considerably less noise than the former had done.
“Where’s James?” he asked, sitting down on the hearth and holding his hands up to the blaze. Surprised, Sirius looked about him.
“Dunno,” he said. “He left before I did – thought he’d be back by now.” Apparently unbothered by the thought, he stretched out his legs and glanced around the rest of the common room. Mary Macdonald, Lily’s friend, was sitting in a corner reading a thick book; she looked up as Sirius turned his head in her direction, and instantly ducked behind the book. The still-visible tips of her ears turned bright pink.
Remus and Beth both saw this, and nudged Sirius at the same time. “Looks like someone’s got eyes for you,” said Remus, slightly sing-song, but quietly enough to spare the girl her feelings. “Or, rather, eyes behind the book.” He and Sirius snickered under their breath, shooting glances at Mary’s corner.
Beth rolled her eyes. “Leave her alone,” she said. “Girls hate being teased about that sort of thing.” She forced down a rather guilty sort of twist, trying not to attribute those words to her own life – not that it mattered anymore, of course, as she wasn’t interested in a boy at the moment – and bent with a new resolve over the History of Magic assignment.
But James didn’t show up for a very long time – not once Remus had finished his question set, nor once Beth had finished hers, nor once both of them had denied letting Sirius copy them. The only person to come through the portrait hole at all was Lily Evans, who had not stopped to chat but had gone straight up to her dormitory, pulling Mary from the chair and dragging her along.
Peter forced back a large yawn and, glancing at the watch on his wrist, helpfully informed everyone that it was a quarter to eleven. The schoolwork had long since been packed away, and Remus had pulled out a pack of Exploding Snap cards, persuading them all into a game. And finally, twenty minutes later and just as Sirius was about to explode the pile, the portrait hole finally creaked open, and James Potter crept inside, still wearing his Quidditch things. Upon seeing his friends clustered before the fire, he froze.
“And where have you been? I’m sure we’d all like to hear this,” said Sirius, instantly tossing up his cards; Peter reached out wildly to snatch them from the air before they landed too hard, as they’d already blown up several hearth tiles in their time at Hogwarts while playing the game.
James just grinned and feigned a yawn, stretching his arms a little too widely over his head. “Blimey, I’m tired,” he said, yawning again for effect. He made to move in the direction of the boys’ dormitories, but four cries of protestation stopped him.
“Well, what are you so up in arms about?” he said, pretending to be cross, but the self-satisfied smile he’d entered wearing was apparently was stuck in place. “I had some things to do after practice.”
Peter snorted in a rather undignified manner. “Must have been a lot, it’s past eleven now.” But suddenly Beth jumped up from the couch, halting any further attempts that may have been made towards conversation. Something had suddenly clicked into place in her mind – James’s lateness, Lily’s strange behavior upon returning to the common room earlier.
“You didn’t,” she said incredulously, yet with not a doubt in her mind that her theory was correct. “James!” She burst out into a fit of laughter, and his smile was now about to split his face in two.
“What? What’d he do?” Sirius said, still lost. He hopped up on his knees and leaned his arms on the back of the sofa, anticipation written all over his arrogantly handsome face.
“He’s asked Lily Evans out, and she’s said yes!” she accused, still laughing and pointing her finger at him. There was a moment of silence save for Beth’s giggles, and then all five of them exploded into noise.
Beth and Peter were both rolling on the ground, finding the fact that Lily has finally agreed hysterical; Remus was shaking his head, looking as though he couldn’t believe it; and Sirius wouldn’t stop beating James with a pillow, yelling over and over, “You idiot! You idiot!”
“All right!” James finally yelled, holding up his hands to ward off yet another blow from Sirius. “Cut it out, or McGonagall’s going to be all over us in a minute.” He was still smug about the whole thing, though, and looked as though he didn’t quite believe it himself.
“But Lily came back here ages ago,” Peter said now, having pulled himself together.
“I was walking,” James said, shrugging. “Trying to – to take in the news.” His voice was still tinged with laughter; it was going to be a long time before any of them could take the subject seriously. Remus shook his head disbelievingly again.
“I still can’t figure out why anyone would ever agree to go out with you,” said Beth, grinning almost as widely as her friend. James responded to this by picking up the discarded pillow and giving her a firm but friendly whack round the head.
The next morning at breakfast, Lily and Mary joined them for breakfast. Beth found this to be a refreshing change of pace – even though she shared a dormitory with both of them, she spent most of her time with the boys, and a little female company was much appreciated. She was glad that Lily had finally given James a chance – he wasn’t really the git she’d always seemed to think him to be, no matter how much he acted like it sometimes.
Sirius was in the middle of telling them about how he had nearly failed his Potions exam last year by managing to melt his cauldron; Beth had heard the story several times, but listened so as not to make him feel bad. Mary Macdonald was so enthralled that she was completely oblivious to the fact that her hand was now resting in her bowl of porridge.
Suddenly, as he was reaching the climax of the story, a shadow fell over their table. As one, the eight turned to look at who was standing there. Beth, who had just taken a sip of pumpkin juice from her goblet, choked, and Remus whacked her helpfully on the back.
Severus Snape was, for some inexplicable reason, standing there, wearing the sourest expression Beth had ever seen cross his face. She idly wondered as she tried to save face why he had to keep popping up whenever she’d finally managed to convince herself she was completely over him.
He was making this rather difficult; even as angry as he clearly was, she couldn’t help but admire him from where she sat trying to regain her breath.
“What do you want?” Sirius said rudely, looking at Severus as though he was something to be found crawling in the dirt. Severus sneered.
“I’m not here to talk to you,” he said curtly. “I need to speak with Lily.” James casually but purposefully put an arm around Lily’s shoulders at those words, and Beth’s heart sank at them without her quite meaning for it to. She firmly pushed those stupid thoughts away – there was no reason why Severus shouldn’t have had a very good and innocent reason to speak to Lily.
Not that she cared. Because she didn’t.
Lily was looking coolly up at him, eyebrows slightly raised. “Yes?” she asked, sounding almost bored.
“Not here,” Severus amended hastily, eyes flicking around the group, coming to rest on Beth last. They lingered there for a fraction of a second longer than they had on the others, and then returned to Lily. She shrugged and speared a sausage on the end of her fork nonchalantly.
“I’m not really all that interested in whatever you have to say,” she said bluntly, and Beth looked at her in disbelief. This didn’t seem to be news to Severus, oddly enough; scowling darkly, he turned and walked away, not returning to the Slytherin table but instead leaving the hall altogether. Beth was still gaping dumbly at Lily, not sure she’d heard her correctly. No matter what she thought of him, no one deserved to be treated as Severus just had.
Sirius looked impressed. “Blimey, I like you even more now,” he said, and everyone laughed. “Severus has been sort of nosy lately, hasn’t he?” he continued. “Hard for him not to be, with a nose like his, come to think of it. But I think it’s high time someone taught him a lesson…”
“What are you going to do?” said Peter cautiously; Remus was trying to look as though the whole conversation wasn’t happening at all. Sirius just waggled his eyebrows and raised a glass of orange juice to his lips.
A sick sort of feeling welled in Beth’s stomach – whatever Sirius had up his sleeve, she knew that it probably didn’t bode well for Severus, knowing as she did the former's feelings about him. Nothing more was said about anything having to do with him the rest of breakfast, but Beth’s eyes kept wandering to the door to the Great Hall, hoping Severus might reappear there. He never did.
A/N: The first twenty thousand words of this story were written in one big rush during the first half of July, and it's fun getting to look back over them now and fall in love with my story all over again. I'm surprised I was even able to function then, much less type coherently, but posting the chapters here for you guys has been giving me a chance to revise my later work and tie in things I'd completely forgotten about. It's such a big storyline -- three books' worth -- and I want to make every bit of it count. And I hope I'm doing a good job! Please, don't forget to review, it's always very much appreciated. Thank you very much for making it this far into the story!