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The Fire Inside by FiendFyre
Chapter 4 : Ch. 4
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 3

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The first week of the new term flew by at Hogwarts, but Gwen was relieved to wake up and realize it was Saturday. She opened her eyes slowly. Her room was dark, save for a thread of weak sunlight filtering through a gap in the heavy curtains on one of her windows. She stretched out in her big bed, savoring the softness of her pillows and blankets around her. She smiled slightly, closing her eyes again. She had no work to do today, which is more than she could say for the students. She had dished out the homework in ample amounts the past week, as had most of the other professors. This gave all the teachers a relaxing weekend empty of grading assignments, papers, and such; however, next weekend would be an entirely different story, so the professors truly relished the free time. Gwen rolled over and looked at the clock hanging on the wall by her bookcase. It was already eleven.
Smiling again, she snuggled deeper into her comforter, hugging a particularly fluffy pillow to her. She breathed in the familiar smell of the pillowcase, feeling quite content. Then her smile slowly slid off her face, and the contentment in her heart was replaced with a twinge of sadness. Her dark eyebrows pulled together and she squeezed her eyes shut. This time last week, it was Sirius, not a pillow, that she held in her arms. She opened her eyes and looked over at the nightstand by her bed. Her necklace lay where she had put it before going to bed last night. The diamonds glinted ever so slightly in the dark. She propped herself up on her elbows and reached out to touch the pendant. It still felt cool on her fingertips. She gently lifted it from the table and clasped it around her neck. The familiar weight was comforting. She sat up, staring across the room, not really looking at anything. Her separation from Sirius had been hard, as expected. There wasn’t a moment when he didn’t occupy a space at the back of her mind. Even during the busiest time of her day he was still there. She did have classes to teach, forcing her to focus on something other than the piece of herself she was missing. Nighttime was definitely the most difficult. It was then that she was most susceptible to melancholy, and tears could flow without fear of someone noticing. Her heart ached again and she shut her eyes tight at the feeling. “It’s just another day,” she told herself, “another day closer to seeing him again.”

She took a deep breath and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. A soft, plush rug met her feet as she stood and walked toward the closest window. She threw the curtains open and squinted against the temporarily blinding light. Her eyes slowly adjusted and she looked out across the grounds. Only odd patches of snow were dotted here and there, the last remnants of a blizzard. The sun was high in the pale, cloudless blue sky, but Gwen wasn’t fooled. It was cold out there. She opened the curtains to her other window, flooding her dim room with sunlight. The sun’s rays slowly warmed her skin as she stood close to the glass, fighting the cold air also trying to creep in. Eyes closed, her thoughts wandered, only to come to a rest on Sirius. His face seemed burned onto the inside of her eyelids. She smiled as she remembered the exact shade of his gray eyes, the shape of his lips, and the smooth planes of his cheekbones. She blushed as she thought of his hands on her, and bit her bottom lip to keep from smiling as she remembered the burning trail his kisses left on her skin.

“Soon,” she sighed. She would be with him again soon. This comforting thought stayed at the forefront of her mind as she walked slowly to the bathroom to get ready for the day.

The streets of Hogsmeade were pretty much deserted, but the Three Broomsticks was relatively crowded. The temperature had gotten warmer as the afternoon progressed, and the last of the snow was finally melting away. Only a few barstools were vacant and almost all of the tables were taken, but there was actually space to maneuver oneself, which was not the case on weekends when the students were allowed to visit. There were no underage wizards out and about today.
Gwen sat down gratefully at the bar and set her shopping bags on an empty barstool next to her. She had been unable to resist a pair of black boots she had seen at a local boutique, and the midnight blue robes she found for a bargain at Gladrags Wizardwear refused to be left behind. Like a responsible professor, she had also picked up some new quills, parchment, and had stumbled across a fascinating book in the bookshop on the founders of Hogwarts. Well, she was a history nerd (fitting for the History of Magic professor), and she was bent on learning as much as she could about Hogwarts and how it was founded. In America, she had attended The Salem Witches Institute, one of the few magical schools in the States. They had always made fun of Hogwarts at her school, mostly because of its name. Come on, what kind of a mental image does a name like ‘Hogwarts’ inspire? But upon experiencing it firsthand, she found it to be an intriguing place. It was much older than even the oldest buildings in the United States, and had so many secrets still waiting to be unraveled.
She pulled the book from one of her bags, unable to wait until she got back to her room. She ordered a butterbeer from Madam Rosmerta and began reading. Her nose was about six inches from the book as she perused each page, soaking up all the information she could. She had been reading for a little while, absently sipping her drink, when someone tried to get her attention by calling her name. She didn’t even look up. When that didn’t work, they tried clearing their throat. Then clearing it more obnoxiously, and saying her name again. But she was so immersed in her book she wouldn’t have noticed the walls caving in. A light touch on her arm finally broke through her concentration, causing her to jump as she looked up in surprise.

“Severus!” she breathed, putting a hand over her racing heart.

“If the Dark Lord knew the way to catch you unawares was to put a history book in your hands, we’d be in trouble,” Snape said quietly, smirking, but his eyes betrayed his amusement.

“Well, I guess it’s up to you to make sure my weaknesses are kept in the dark, isn’t it?” she teased back as her heart rate slowed to its usual tempo.

“May I?” he asked, gesturing to the stool drowning in her shopping bags.

“Oh yes, by all means,” she smiled, moving her purchases to the floor by her feet.

“Enjoying your weekend, I see,” he said, eyeing her bags of merchandise once more.

“Oh you know, a little bit of shopping can drive the blues away anytime,” she joked, returning her book to one of the bags.

“What has you so down on a day such as this?” Snape asked motioning to the warm sunlight streaming in through a window.

Gwen opened her mouth to speak, but quickly shut it. She felt her cheeks growing hot, and she looked way in embarrassment.

“Ah,” Snape said, also looking away.

Why was she so embarrassed to talk about Sirius in front of him? Snape cleared his throat and called Rosmerta over to order a butterbeer. Gwen tried to shrug off the icky awkwardness and come up with a new subject, but her mind just wouldn’t cooperate. She fiddled absently with her glass, hoping he would say something.

“So how was your first week back?” he finally asked as he carefully avoided eye contact with her.

Gwen breathed a mental sigh of relief and forced a smile.

“Great. I really have some fun stuff planned this term. It’s time to show these kids how interesting history is.”

The look on Snape’s face told her that he had his doubts about that, but Gwen ignored it. No way was she going to let him piss on her subject.

“How did yours go? Make anyone cry yet?” she asked, only half joking.

He merely shrugged and took a gulp of his butterbeer.

“I really don’t understand how you get them to be so afraid of you,” she teased. “You’re really not that scary.”

He smiled in spite of himself, but it quickly turned into his usual smirk. “See, your problem, Miss Bradley, is that you care too much what the students think about you. You want to be the good guy. I, on the other hand, couldn’t care less what they think about me.” With that, he took a nice long victory sip of butterbeer and put on his best ‘I am superior’ face.

For some reason, his attitude really made her temper flare. Probably because she knew he was just perturbed by the thought of Sirius.

"That would be an interesting point, if it wasn’t complete bullshit," she said too sweetly, with a smile to match. He seemed taken aback, and opened his mouth to respond but Gwen talked over him.
"I will admit that I do care what they think about me. And yes, okay, yes, I DO want them to like me, but don’t for one second tell me you don’t care what they think about you.” She held up her hand as he opened his mouth to protest. “You are so desperate for them to be terrified of you, that you continue to be the most malicious, unpleasant teacher any of them have ever and will ever have. The very name ‘Professor Snape’ evokes feelings of horror, and visions of torture in the minds of students here. Don’t tell me you would be okay with horror and torture being replaced with sunshine and apple pie, because we both know that is far from the truth. So, don’t you dare, for one second, think that you are superior to me in any way.”

She put some money on the table, grabbed her bags, and walked victoriously out of the bar, a smug smile plastered on her face.

Wednesday morning she was sitting at breakfast in the Great Hall, in between Professor Sinistra and Sprout. Aurora had soon run out of good gossip, so Gwen was forced to look elsewhere for entertainment. The newspaper in her hands held nothing of real interest, but she scanned the pages anyway, taking a bite of bacon or eggs here and there. If she had been paying attention, she would have noticed Snape’s eyes flitting over to her every few minutes from where he sat farther down the table. They hadn’t spoken much since Hogsmeade on Saturday.

Gwen finally folded her newspaper, giving up on finding any useful news, and took a swig of her orange juice. She scanned the hall, her eyes resting on Harry and his friends at the Gryffindor table. She had been meaning to ask Snape how the Occlumency lessons were coming along, and at the thought she turned to look down the staff table. If she had looked a moment sooner, she would have found his eyes locked on hers, but as it was, she saw Snape merely reading from his own newspaper. She smiled a little to herself and began to turn her attention back to her own plate. As she did, Dumbledore’s twinkling blue eyes caught hers. She widened her eyes in surprise. He had been absent from breakfast, and for all she knew, the school, for the past few days. But there he sat in his chair, smiling warmly at her. Her smile widened in return.
He had been a dear friend to her family as long as she could remember. His mother had been Native American, from the same region as Gwen’s family’s tribe, which was a pretty tight knit community. He had been that quirky grandfather-figure she had always loved to have around, and he had also given the eulogy at her father’s funeral. Sadness suddenly washed over her at the thought of her father. She looked down at her half-empty plate, frowning. It was less than a year since he had passed, and her heart was still sore from the loss. Her sadness was soon joined by a twinge of guilt as she thought of the unanswered letter from her mother lying on her desk in her room. She could only imagine the loneliness her mom was experiencing. “I’ll write back tonight,” she told herself, a determined crease in her forehead. She looked back down the table to find Dumbledore gone, but Snape looking right at her. His eyes were narrowed, and his brow furrowed ever so slightly. He almost looked concerned. Gwen rearranged her features into a smile in the blink of an eye, as if nothing was wrong, and got up to leave the table.
As she stood, a swarm of owls flew into the Great Hall. Gwen’s eyes brightened and she looked up hopefully. Her heart beat excitedly as she saw an unfamiliar brown barn owl flying straight towards her. The bird landed right on her plate, a white envelope clutched in its beak. Gwen recognized the writing at once. Her smile grew as she took the letter and hurried out of the Great Hall. All sadness was forgotten. She finally reached the privacy of her office on the 2nd floor and ripped open the envelope.

My dearest Gwen,
Please forgive me for not writing sooner. I didn’t want to seem so pathetic that I couldn’t get through a single week without you. The truth is, I have felt your absence more acutely than I would have thought possible. You occupy every thought in my head every minute of every day. It’s like my body is starving, but nothing can satisfy the craving I’m experiencing. I hope I’m not going mad, and that you feel the same way. Then again, I wouldn’t wish this feeling, this constant ache, on anyone. But even so, I hope you miss me just as much as I miss you. I am glad that you have distractions, so that your mind is occupied with other things throughout the day. As for me, there isn’t much to divert my attentions. Wallowing in self-pity has become my favorite pastime recently, followed closely by staring listlessly at the ceiling for a few hours at a time. Maybe I should find a hobby? I’ve always thought knitting would be enjoyable. Paint by numbers has also become a very real possibility. It must be nice to have social interaction with people other than yourself. Conversation just isn’t as fun when you know what the other person is going to say. I just admitted to talking to myself. I guess the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem right? But enough about me. How are your classes going? How many students have fallen in love with you so far this term? I would hate to have to come up there and harm any children. But I hope you are well, and that you’ve actually managed to find a way to make history interesting. Hopefully one day soon I’ll find a way to escape this prison that is my own house and visit. Before you get angry and tell me not to you should know that I can’t be talked out of it. I miss you too much to endure another four months without you. Well love, that is all I have to say for now. Know that you are forever in my thoughts, and my heart always resides with you. I love you, Gwen.
P.S. Please keep an eye on Harry. I’m afraid Snape is actually inflicting brain damage instead of teaching him Occlumency.

Gwen had barely finished reading the letter when students started filing in for class. She hastily shoved the letter into a drawer in her desk and made a conscious effort to keep a frown off her face. Sirius had written in a joking manner, but Gwen sensed real bitterness behind his words, and it worried her. But she couldn’t think about that then. She stood and walked out from behind her desk, leaning against the edge of it as her students took their seats. She tried her best to push thoughts of Sirius from her mind as she clapped her hands together once, her fingers intertwined.

“So. Giant Wars…” she started, smiling at her class, and beginning her lecture.

It was almost midnight before Gwen finally finished a letter to her mother. She had been sitting at her desk all evening, grading assignments, as darkness slowly enveloped the outside world. She signed the letter and sat back with a sigh of accomplishment. She yawned, stretching her arms over her head. It had been a long day. Her feet dragged as she made her way over to the sofa by the fireplace. She plopped down, smiling as the heat from the fire brushed against her skin. She wanted to answer Sirius’ letter as well, but decided to just rest her eyes for a spell before attempting it so she could form coherent sentences instead of exhausted ramblings. Her eyes closed, and before a minute had gone by, she was fast asleep.

Five minutes later, there was a soft knock on her door. She didn’t even stir at the sound. Again, someone knocked, gaining volume, but to no avail. She was dead to the world. Slowly, the doorknob turned and Severus Snape gently opened the door. His face was grave as he whispered her name, looking around the room. He took a step inside the threshold, noting the candle still burning on her desk, and the flickering fire in the fireplace. He said her name again, walking towards the center of the room. He stopped short when he saw Gwen lying on the couch, breathing the slow, even, breaths of sleep.

His face softened as he silently approached her sleeping form. He blew out the candle on her desk and returned to stand by the sofa. Her peaceful face made him temporarily forget what he came to tell her. He couldn’t wake her with such news. Not when she looked so beautiful and serene. He took a blanket from the armchair by the fireplace and gently covered her. He watched as the wavering firelight sharpened the angles of her cheekbones. Her skin glowed brilliantly in its light. His hand unconsciously reached towards her face, and he caught himself, surprised, before he made contact. But almost against his will, the back of his hand tenderly brushed against her cheek.

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