Chapter 40 : Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been...
| ||Rating: 15+||Chapter Reviews: 23|
Change Background: Change Font color:
Just shine, shine, shine...shine a little light
Shine a light on my life, and warm me up again
-Hamburg Song, Keane
Chapter Forty: Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been…
Severus was late to class, which was to say that he wasn’t early, and thus had to thread his way through the other students of varying ages as they chattered, giggled, and shoved their way down the many hallways and into their classrooms. Being merely on time for Ancient Runes wouldn’t have been as big a problem last year, before Professor Vector had discovered his rather clever shortcut that took him through the Staff wing instead of the heavily populated hallway leading to the Charms, History of Magic, and Ancient Runes classrooms. The fact that he’d detected a strong dose of pity in her mannerisms as she instructed him to keep to the student corridors hadn’t endeared her to him in the slightest.
It helped that he’d managed to catch the moving staircase right as it shifted, transitioning to a floor he knew most of his fellow Seventh years were also headed to. The after-breakfast crowd was there in full force as well, but fewer of the students his age felt it necessary to participate in the childish social games that the younger ones did. He was further comforted when he caught sight of a few recognizable faces; a few Slytherin Prefects were standing in an alcove along the hall, as well as some students from other houses. The closer Snape got to them, however, the more determined he became to research charms that made one imperceptible or possibly even invisible for short periods of time. A detention marking Arithmancy papers would be worth it to avoid this sort of thing.
It was Cassia Crawley, of course. The dominating blonde was complaining in a loud tone about something regarding Prefects, though why she felt the need to broadcast her rant to most of the Seventh year students was beyond him. Meaning to push his way past the knot of students around his fellow housemate, his steps faltered as he noticed Hermia James standing along the outskirts of the circle. The look on her face was drawn, almost wounded, and he groaned inwardly. The sentimental fool was almost certainly going to throw herself in the middle of things with no thought of whether or not it was a bad idea to be on the wrong end of Cassia Crawley’s wrath.
Then again, if she’d survived being in Slytherin for as long as she had without any discernible dent to her naïveté…
“—don’t see why just because there’s a Gryffindor Head Girl and a Gryffindor Headmaster, one of the Gryffindor Prefects gets to skip out!” Miss Crawley seemed to be warming to her subject; Severus recognized the look in her eyes, having been on the receiving end of her particular brand of cruelty when were both eleven years old and he’d chosen the seat she’d wanted in Transfiguration class. Snape told himself to ignore Hermia, ignore Cassia, and continue his struggle to the end of the hallway and the relative peace of Ancient Runes. Just as he’d passed through most of the throng surrounding the vitriolic Slytherin prefect, however, the thing he didn’t know he had been dreading happened.
“Wouldn’t you want to be given the same courtesy if you were too sick to leave your bed?” Hermia James demanded in a slightly shrill voice. As expected, the sounds of muttering and agreement that had accompanied Cassia’s tirade immediately ceased.
Severus Snape tried to keep walking, he really did—but his legs wouldn’t cooperate. After a full minute of that chilly silence, Miss Crawley finally spoke.
“How quickly you Gryffindors change allegiances,” she said, her tone dripping condescension.
“How Slytherin of you,” Hermia shot back to Snape’s surprise. “I wonder if that’s why so many from your house have chosen… bad career paths—are people from your House not allowed to change their minds?” Her shrill tone had hardened to a brittle sarcasm, and whether or not she would have appreciated the fact, Severus felt as though at least some of that was prompted by his influence on her. His view of the two girls was blocked, and by the time he’d stared down a few of his classmates in order to get a better vantage point, Cassia had recovered enough from her shock to formulate a reply.
“That’s cute,” she said in the falsely sweet voice that the less perceptive teachers took as warmth. “I know you like the boy, but why don’t you stick to snogging his friend and leave the important stuff to the big kids?”
“It’s just like a Slytherin to think accusing someone of being happy is an insult,” someone behind him said in a low voice. He didn’t take it personally—what most of these soft-hearted Gryffindors didn’t understand was that for Slytherins, it wasn’t about not having any emotional attachments, it had to do with being careful about how and when they allowed their weaknesses to show. By being open about one’s relationships, whether they were beneficial or antagonistic, the persons involved would be essentially giving out free information about themselves. Severus didn’t think even Cassia fully understood the subtlety of that concept either, or she wouldn’t be airing her grievances in such a public fashion.
The professors who were used to having their classrooms full of students had begun to pop their heads out into the hall in order to see why they weren’t, and many of the accumulated Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws had started moving away from the developing fracas. However, the Gryffindors and Slytherins present looked as though wild hippogryphs couldn’t drag them off; they had drifted into a definite polarization of sides, each of the green-clad students glaring at a corresponding red one, and vice versa.
“Oi! Cassie!” one of the Gryffindors called out from the thickest part of the crowd. “Didn’t you miss a whole week last year because a potion blew up in your face?”
Severus had been there for that—what’s more, he’d caught a glimpse of what Cassia’s face had looked like after the botched Pepperup Potion had practically exploded from her cauldron. He chose not to look at his housemate, deciding instead to glance in Hermia’s direction, half hoping she would realize she was late for class, or something. She seemed to be on the verge of speaking again, her distress evident to him even as he was mostly turned away from her. He supposed that she probably felt responsible for the whole thing, more than likely having completely forgotten that the estimable Miss Crawley had been the one holding court before her. The time had come to leave, he determined. Gryffindors always wanted to fight their own battles anyway, and he wasn’t about to allow any of his fellow classmates to see that he was interested in what happened to someone as vulnerable as Hermia.
At the edge of his vision, two figures suddenly came hurtling around the corner of the long stone hallway, both screeching to a halt upon seeing the impromptu assembly of students. It was Sirius Black and Potter. The two boys quickly started toward the group.
Just what this blaze needs—more fuel, Snape thought to himself. I don’t want to be one of the ones caught gawping when those two idiots turn this into a detention party.
“There’s a difference between having my potion sabotaged and shirking responsibility!” Cassia’s voice rose over the hum of the crowd by virtue of sheer volume.
“You mean like being in class on time?” Sirius Black shot back, sounding a little out of breath. “Shall we?” he continued, patting the shoulder of the Gryffindor nearest him with a disgustingly wide grin. Snape had to admit some grudging respect. Black had cut the tension expertly, drawing ridicule and amusement to himself with the idea that someone as chronically tardy as he was would be worried about being late.
“You let your sickly little Prefect know I’m going to the Headmaster,” Cassia sniped, clearly unable to accept that her gripe-fest was over. Snape logged her behavior in his mental black book as he and the other students began to walk away, a reminder to himself that Miss Crawley was definitely not someone to count on in a crisis.
“Don’t you think Remus has a good reason to be sick all the time?” Hermia cried out, angrily. Three male students’ steps faltered at the words.
In the seconds after she spoke, Severus Snape’s blood turned to ice and back again as, by pure chance, he and James Potter made eye contact. The usual enmity, jealousy, and general viciousness between them were superceded by a common, secret knowledge—because they both knew that reason. Both of them also knew that a carefully constructed deception could be completely toppled due to her statement, made in an attempt to defend, not strike down. In that brief moment, Snape saw a flicker of something in Potter’s face. Not respect, nor any sort of apology, perhaps simply the recognition of a shared event, something that placed a tear in the absolute of their difference from each other.
Severus didn’t allow himself any time to process this oddity as, carefully expressionless, he turned swiftly and strode through the emptying hallway to his class.
“I thought you ought to know,” James said, his voice, body language, and scent all telegraphing his worry and discomfort. Remus wanted to reach out and squeeze his hand, do something physical to comfort him, but he was so tired and the woolen hat he was wearing to cover his ears was scratchy and hot and it didn’t block sounds worth a damn and he wished he wasn’t so grouchy on those days, because it didn’t feel like him at all. It was bad enough for his body to go about proving that he wasn’t himself, but it affronted the sensitive young man that his whole personality had to undergo a change too, however strongly he might attempt to control it.
“Remus?” James really looked worried, now. Damn, I did it again. I’m sorry I’m like this, James, I really am—I wish I wasn’t…
“I—thank you, James. I’m sure it won’t turn into anything serious,” he said, wanting to believe it. His friend didn’t seem to believe it either, but thankfully participated in Lupin’s self-deception.
“I wasn’t there for the whole thing, of course, but Steffie says that Mia gave that bint Cassia hell,” Potter said with a twisted smile. He flopped down on his bed without any regard for the parchment he’d tossed there when he’d come in earlier, his grin growing wider. “Apparently it was a regular old catfight!”
“It was sweet of her to stick up for me,” Remus said quietly. James sat up.
“Do you think you ought to tell her? I mean… not as though she’s going about mucking up your secret identity or anything—“ Prongs had started backpedaling even before he’d had a chance to respond.
“Actually, I handed her a book on werewolves in the library the other day,” Lupin dropped casually. James, who’d rested his feet up above his head precariously against his bed pole, nearly fell off in surprise.
“You don’t think she knows, and said that because of—“
“She’s a smart girl, I would be surprised if that hadn’t been enough for her to figure it out,” Potter pointed out. Remus shook his head.
“I think she was too distracted to put it together,” he said, somewhat enigmatically. He’d only shared his theory about a possible werewolf in Hermione’s family with Sirius so far, and though it was just a theory, he felt a bit like he was telling secrets about her. It was too late to back out now, however—James was wearing that look—the one that meant he wouldn’t give up until he was sure he’d gotten everything you had to keep from him out of you. As if to confirm all of these inner conclusions, his friend spoke up, his face adorned with curiosity.
“Well?” The single word spoke volumes. Remus sat up.
“I think she’s got a family member who’s been bitten,” he said, wincing as a female voice outside hollered for someone named Prynne. Immediately, James got up and headed for the window. “It’s already closed, mate.” Lupin made a face and pulled his wretched hat farther down on his head. “Anyway, everything seems to fit—it would explain why she is suddenly allowed to come to school after years of living as a Muggle, and it would explain why her first reaction when I handed it to her was ‘I haven’t read this one yet.’”
“Handed wha—oh, right. The book. You might be onto something there,” James said, nodding. “It would also explain why she knows so much about magic in her first year here. No one would willingly read all of those old dusty things for ‘personal enrichment.’” The other boy shook his head in disbelief. Personally, Remus wasn’t so sure, but he didn’t feel like debating the point, especially not now, as he heard the first indications that someone was heading up the tower dormitory’s stairs.
“Would you go and thank Sirius for sending me something actually edible this time, James?” Remus asked in a low voice, knowing his friend couldn’t hear that someone was approaching.
“Of course.” The black-haired boy impishly squeezed Lupin’s foot as he made his way to the door. About a minute later, the werewolf heard him mutter, “You’re not clever, Moony,” and knew James must have passed Hermione on the stairs.
Ever since the horrible scene with that yellow-haired witch (Hermione felt a wonderful sort of satisfaction about the fact that the pureblood girl had no idea what an insult ‘witch’ could be in Muggle culture) she’d felt horrible, but it wasn’t until halfway through Transfiguration that she realized the full implications of the last thing she’d said. The class was incredibly subdued, thanks to a severe warning by Professor McGonagall about disturbances in the corridors. She was fairly certain that this was the reason why Sirius hadn’t been up to his usual tricks of trying to get her attention in class, but she’d seen both he and James among the students as they dispersed that morning. Hermione was sure they hadn’t three hours’ worth of classes to understand why what she’d impulsively blurted out was dangerous, but what could they say to her? She wasn’t even supposed to know.
She’d skipped lunch.
Don’t you think Remus has a good reason to be sick all the time? …sick all the time? The words echoed in her head like a heartbeat, pounding away at her conscience. To make herself feel better, Hermione had tried to think of other times when she’d had to keep a secret, and whether she’d done all right. This had distracted her throughout lunch and most of Arithmancy—the Polyjuice potion, her Time Turner, helping Harry against the rules of the Tri-Wizard Tournament (though, she decided that didn’t count because nearly everyone including the fake Moody had been helping the champions), and then there was the DA. She’d nearly managed to cheer herself up until she remembered one of the most important secrets she’d ever had to keep—Sirius’ existence at Grimmauld Place.
It was then that she decided she had to talk to Remus. Maybe it wasn’t the most judicious decision for this time period, but her friend and future professor would have enough on his future’s plate without having to wonder about whether or not she’d deliberately tried to out him in his final year at Hogwarts.
The door was open when she reached the top of the stairs, but she knocked anyway—or, rather, brushed her fingertips against the door. She’d tried out an Amplifying Aural charm before, and imagined that werewolf senses were likely to cause the same amount of pain to even such limited stimuli as a fist on wood.
“Good evening,” he said, startling her a bit. He’d sounded very much like his adult self just then.
“Hello,” she said, awkwardly. What now? she thought to herself desperately. ‘Hello, and I am ever so sorry that I just about told the entire school you’re a werewolf… and by the way, you make an excellent DADA professor!’ There was a long silence, during which her mind concocted stranger and wilder things to say to him as she simply stood there and said nothing. Finally, Remus broke the strained hush.
“You look almost as miserable as I feel, are you all right?” his voice was incredibly gentle, and at that moment, she felt he was probably right. She was miserable. How to explain why, though? Hermione moved closer to his bed, wishing she could cry but knowing there couldn’t be a way to explain the tears to his satisfaction.
“Oh, Remus,” she said with a catch in her voice. At that moment she wanted nothing more than to tell him everything, to pour out all of the horrible details and to hell with the consequences, but she wouldn’t let herself. Besides, this revelation was enough… “That book you gave me, in the library…” Hermione deliberately let her voice trail off, hoping he’d pick up where she left off.
“The one about werewolves,” he said. If she hadn’t have known him as well as she did, she wouldn’t have caught the tiniest hint of amusement in his voice. Damn him and his heightened senses, she thought to herself crossly, which thought almost had her laughing, thinking about the many times their other friends must have grumbled about the very same thing. She decided that he wasn’t the only one allowed to be coy.
“James is right—you aren’t clever.” She narrowed her eyes at him.
“All right,” he acceded. “What do you want to know?”
“What will you tell me?” she parried.
“Should we be exchanging owls?” He was good at this.
“Maybe. Would it do me any good?”
She glared at him.
“All right—let me ask you a question: Who do you know that has been bitten?”
This was completely unexpected. Remus thought she knew someone (someone other than him, obviously) that had been turned? She looked at him, and saw that even with the seriousness of his last question, the mischievous twinkle in his eyes hadn’t faded. As she was observing this, the bag of books she had forgotten she’d been holding in her hand finally got too heavy for her, and dropped to the floor with a thud. Remus winced. This reminded her of her first thought upon entering the room, and then something dawned on her. He was asking her this deliberately, now, because he could sense her emotional responses to his questions. Well, she huffed inwardly, just because he can sense them didn’t mean he knows the context.
“Someone I care very much for,” she said slowly, hoping her body language or tone of voice wasn’t screaming ‘IT’S YOU!’
“Is that why you came to Hogwarts?” he asked now, completely baffling her. “No, clearly not,” Remus answered himself before she could reply. He looked at her pensively, and evening’s first shadows cast through the nearby window fell on his face in just the right combination to age it twenty years or so. Hermione couldn’t help a little gasp of recognition, and it didn’t escape notice. “You can’t tell me it took you that long,” he said, almost resignedly.
He was either giving her an ‘out,’ or had misinterpreted her reactions somehow. Either way, it was a graceful way out of an awkward situation, and Hermione took it—though she wasn’t going to let him insult her powers of perception.
“I’m sure every woman that comes up to visit you when you’re ill avoids knocking so she won’t hurt your ears,” she said playfully. Hermione was rewarded with a few seconds of genuine surprise before she heard someone else’s footsteps on the stairs.
“Every single one,” Remus recovered quickly.
“Especially the ones who shouldn’t be there,” added a voice from the doorway. It was Professor Dumbledore. Hermione blushed crimson, knowing that the headmaster wasn’t implying anything untoward, but she was embarrassed nonetheless. The great wizard wasn’t to be outdone by his own students, however. “That isn’t a very flattering shade for you, Hermia,” he nodded at her face, winking conspiratorially at Lupin.
“I…I’ll try to remember that, sir,” Hermione said, feeling completely out of her depth and more than a little impressed at how artfully the older man had dismissed her presence in the boy’s dormitory.
“Will you take a walk with me, Remus? Poppy is indisposed this evening,” Dumbledore said, moving to stand beside Lupin’s bed. It took every ounce of Hermione’s self-discipline to avoid even the thought of getting emotional at that moment, for she knew exactly what the headmaster was doing. It was incredibly touching to actually see something that the werewolf himself had described to her. The act of recounting those memories had changed his voice a little hoarse, at the time—she had remembered that, even with all that had been going on that night. She told herself she’d go and have a good cry sometime that evening; it would serve to distract her from the fact that her boyfriend, this brave young man, and two of her other friends were going to—
“Do either of you have any idea,” Dumbledore’s voice interrupted her swiftly escalating thoughts (which was probably a good thing, she realized), his mild tone hiding an undercurrent of amusement; “—why young Mr. Black might have been found sniffing about near Mr. Filch’s quarters around dinnertime tonight?” Hermione just shook her head, but Remus’ eyes grew very wide for a moment before he schooled his features to mere concern. It interested her even more to notice that the headmaster was studiously not looking in the young man’s direction.
“I have no idea,” Lupin lied, making Hermione even more curious.
“Well,” the older man said regretfully, “I don’t know either, but I hope for his sake that it was worth spending the night in the stables.” Remus coughed loudly, hanging on to the bedpost and leaning over as he did so, probably to hide his face. Hermione tried valiantly not to laugh, assuming that she would be giving too much away to Remus if she did so—but then she realized that the thought of Sirius having to spend a night in the stables as a detention was amusing enough, whether or not it was during the full moon.
She was still giggling as the three of them moved toward the staircase, and her amusement mixed with Lupin’s was so infectious that soon Albus himself had joined in. They laughed their way down the stairs and into the Gryffindor common room, their mirth only increased by the startled looks of the students who were studying there.