Chapter 9 : Concession
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Severus hadn’t shown up in the hall that morning, either, and Beth was sure he was just as clueless as she was on how to proceed from here. It was unquestionable that she and James had saved his life last night – if he’d been allowed to progress further into the Shrieking Shack, it was almost certain that Remus would have killed him in his lycanthropic state of mind. But Severus loathed James, and had for as long as either could remember; even Beth he only seemed to tolerate.
What were you supposed to do when your sworn enemies were the ones who had saved your life? There was nothing in any book on etiquette about this, Beth was certain.
“So, James,” Sirius was saying pointedly as Beth leaned her head on her hand, toying disinterestedly with her omelet, “I was thinking that we should do something today.” James ignored him, rifling the copy of the Daily Prophet he held in front of his nose and giving a small cough. Sirius shot Beth a swift glance, and she scooted backwards on the bench slightly, as if to say, Leave me out of this. Sirius tried again.
“We could plant Dungbombs in all the girls’ bathrooms – reckon they’d think it was us? We might get away with it -”
At this point James slammed the paper down on the table, startling everyone and upsetting a pitcher of milk. Beth unobtrusively waved it back, not wanting to risk pushing James’s obviously thin temper to the edge. “I should think you’ve done enough playing tricks on people for a while,” he said coldly, raising his eyebrows. The guilty expression returned to Sirius’s face, and he sat there, gaping like a fish for a few moments, mouth opening and closing but no words coming out. Finally he was able to splutter a sentence into existence.
“All right, then – how about –?”
“I think I fancy taking a walk,” James said, rising from the table and swinging his legs neatly over the bench. “Anyone coming? Beth?” He said this last with a look in her direction so full of meaning that she knew there was no way she could have turned him down. Giving Sirius a brief, apologetic look, she followed James out of the hall and through the doors to the grounds.
It was a bitterly cold November morning; the ground underneath their feet was thickly coated in frost, and their breath hung before them like tiny clouds. She wasn’t dressed for this kind of weather, not wearing either cloak or gloves, but she knew better than to say something. Beth watched him apprehensively as he began making his way towards the Quidditch Pitch, where she could see the Ravenclaw team already practicing for their upcoming match against Slytherin the coming weekend.
He didn’t appear to make any entrances into conversation, and so she finally took matters into hand, hoping she wasn’t throwing herself under the carriage for doing so. “You really should go a bit easier on Sirius,” she said tentatively, biting her lip and crossing her fingers surreptitiously. “He is your best mate, after all. You two have never fought like this before.”
James’s jaw worked silently, giving his face a set and determined look, but he said nothing. “You know he never would have done that had he actually thought Severus might have – well, been hurt,” she continued, unable to say the action Sirius’s prank might have led to. It still turned her stomach. “And he wouldn’t be doing this to you if the tables were turned.
“I know,” said James brusquely. “And under different circumstances, I might have gone along with his stupid prank. I might have thought it was a great idea.” Beth frowned – that sentence confused her, and she couldn’t work out its exact meaning – but he didn’t elaborate. They fell into quiet companionship again, broken only by the crunching of their feet through the frosty grass. Finally, James spoke again.
“So, what do you reckon happened last night? I mean…” He trailed off, apparently searching for the right words. “With you not being able to transform, and everything?” He didn’t look at her, but kept looking straight ahead, apparently on the pretense of watching the dark-blue clad players zooming about on broomsticks above their heads.
“I don’t know,” Beth said, remembering anew the sense of helplessness that had overcome her when she had found she couldn’t fly. “It’s never happened before, and I don’t think I did anything differently than normal. Has something like that ever happened to you?”
James shook his head. “But I’ve heard –“ He stopped, and for some reason looked a little embarrassed. He ruffled up his hair on instinct, and started again. “I think it can sometimes happen when – when the Animagus is too emotionally unstable, for whatever reason – nerves, or personal attachment…” A redness that had nothing to do with the coldness of the weather seeped up into his cheeks.
Beth’s inside felt as though they’d been Vanished – surely he couldn’t have guessed, he couldn’t be talking about what she thought he was talking about. “Huh. Weird,” she said, and now it was her turn to deliberately direct her attention to the Ravenclaws. She could feel James looking at her, waiting for her to say something more, but she would rather have kissed a salamander at that point. And they breathed fire.
“Beth, you’ve been acting weird about Snape all year,” James said gently. Beth turned to him and gave him her fiercest glare, trying to tell him wordlessly that the subject was not open for discussion.
“I thought we came out here to talk about your problems,” she said in a clipped voice, crossing her arms in front of her to keep warm. James gave a slightly bitter laugh.
“Not this time, no.” He was silent again for a moment, and Beth hoped he’d finished with the interrogations, brief as they had been. If he kept going like this, she was almost sure to spill something incriminating, and she was going to avoid that at all costs. They both squinted into the steely sky, bright despite the grayness, and each waited for the other to ease into the silence.
James finally shattered it again, as he inevitably did – he hated not having noise. “Beth, do you – do you like him?” This was said in a rush, as though he couldn’t wait to get it out. She felt her insides drop completely and come to rest somewhere about her knees; how unfair was that that he couldn’t even give her any warning?
“I – that’s –“ Beth’s tongue couldn’t even seem to form a coherent word, and that was answer enough for James. He smiled mischievously, the first expression of that sort she had seen from him in a while. It was almost worth it to spill a seven-year secret in a matter of fifteen minutes for that.
“I knew it!” James crowed, looking rather pleased with himself. Beth buried her face in her hands so he wouldn’t have to see, feeling the heat plainly on her numb fingertips and racing down to settle in the pit of her stomach. She’d halfway suspected he knew more than he was letting on, but it was a lot different to hear him say so.
“You can’t tell any of the others,” she mumbled into her hands. “None of them – especially not Sirius. He’d never understand.”
“I promise,” he said solemnly. She looked up, and he looked so understanding and true to his word that she couldn’t help but smile a little bit. “After all,” James added, cracking a grin again, “I know what it feels like to be on the other end of that spectrum of taunts.”
Beth grinned, remembering a bit sheepishly how much she’d contributed to teasing James about Lily. “Sorry,” she said, giving him a slightly abashed look. James shook his head.
“Don’t worry about it.” He stamped his feet, which had apparently gone numb with standing in the frozen grass. “So… how long have you…?”
“You’ll laugh at me,” she said, laughing herself a bit – it was nice, she realized, to be able to share this secret with someone. James just looked at her sternly through his glasses, imploring her to tell. Beth mimed zipping up her lips, and laughed at the rather hurt expression on James’s face.
“Nope,” she said teasingly. “Now come on - it’s too cold to stand out here and scour your competition. Let’s get back inside, and you can make Sirius feel less guilty while you’re at it.”
James groaned; it seemed, for the time being, he’d forgotten he was supposed to be mad at his best friend. But he didn’t argue, and he and Beth turned to head back inside the castle.
They never tried to pretend what Sirius had done was all right, nor that it never happened – both were too dangerous to become left behind in memories. But it sure was nice to become more or less a unified group again, rather than to have some of its members going at each other’s throats.
Severus still hadn’t spoken to Beth since that night, though, and she was a bit sadder about this than she would have liked to admit. She didn’t know what she expected – repayment, thanks. Truthfully she didn’t expect either of those things, but anything was preferable to him passing her in the halls with his gaze going straight over her head, as though she simply wasn’t there. That had been worse than the well-placed and slightly condescending comments of earlier.
With all the dramatics that had happened in such a short time span, it was sort of hard to believe that life had gone on as normal in the castle. Lessons and homework certainly continued on in a tiresome and uninterrupted flow, and other activities as well. Hogsmeade weekend came and went, with Beth as always remaining behind to catch up on homework. Going to the village didn’t interest her nearly so much as not having to stay up until four in the morning, looking up facts about self-potting shrubbery.
Perhaps the biggest preparation being made – at least by her friends – was for the Quidditch season, which had started in full swing after Ravenclaw had suffered a tremendous loss to the Slytherin team in the middle of November. Beth, Lily, and Mary had started staying up nights in the common room, decorating old sheets with logos and slogans for the House to hoist at their first match, which would take place the coming weekend, the first in December. Lily was especially excited, it seemed – it would be the first time as James’s girlfriend that she would get to see him play.
“I’ve heard he’s great,” she was saying happily, the last night before the match. She and Beth were in the common room, painting flashy gold and red stripes on the last banner. Painting alongside, she could see that Lily was extremely happy – a good sign, as previous experience had taught her to be on her guard where James and Lily intermingled.
“He is,” said Beth honestly, vanishing a spot of red paint she’d dripped on her skirt. A log shifted in the fire, sending a flurry of orange and yellow sparks up into the flue. “I think he’s really excited that you’re going to watch him, too.” Glancing sideways, Beth saw Lily flushing demurely, a small smile crossing her face as she concentrated on a thin gold line.
“What made you decide to finally give James a chance?” she blurted out, quite before she knew what she was saying. Lily looked at her in surprise. The girls had become much closer since the beginning of the year – partly by default – but they weren’t that close just yet. “Sorry,” Beth added quickly, pushing one of her tangled curls behind her shoulder and determinedly resuming painting.
To her surprise, though, Lily answered. “I don’t know,” she said thoughtfully, sitting back on her feet and plopping the brush back in the paint. “It was sort of gradual, I guess. He wasn’t totally annoying last year, after all.” Beth laughed, and Lily continued. “And then when I found out he’d made Head Boy this year, I figured Dumbledore knew what he was doing, giving someone like that that kind of responsibility.” She shrugged. “I think I just sort of went with it, actually.” A sudden, sort of luminescent expression lit up her face just then. “Do you like any of them? The boys, I mean?” she asked with an air of secrecy.
Beth wrinkled up her nose before she could stop herself. “No,” she said firmly. “Well – not that way, in any case. And this banner looks great, I’d say we’re done!” She’d quickly switched the subject before Lily could venture any further into those treacherous waters – judging from earlier this year, the subject of Severus didn’t sit any better with her than it did with Sirius, and she didn't want Lily to get the chance to go nosing around the subject of who she actually did fancy. That was someplace best kept private, at any rate.
The following morning, high tension radiated from both the Gryffindors and the Hufflepuffs, the two opponents in that day's Quidditch match. James was the picture of confidence at breakfast, and admittedly looked better than the rest of the team, who were in varying states of nerves. Sirius was talking loudly about how badly the Hufflepuffs would lose, and was earning several glares from the yellow-and-black-clad table.
“You’re antagonizing them,” Beth laughed ruefully as the Hufflepuff captain made to stalk out of the hall, nose in the air. “Lay off, Padfoot, at least until we’ve beaten them.” Looking pleased with the use of his nickname, Sirius did as she asked, and Beth resumed spreading marmalade on her toast, smiling. It was nice to have the normal Sirius back, as opposed to the secretive one, or the overly-nice Sirius they’d had to briefly endure after his little joke.
“Beth, we’d better get going, we’ve got to grab the banners for the match,” Lily called suddenly from down the table, where she had taken a seat next to James. Beth grabbed Peter’s wrist and checked his watch. Lily was right – there was only half an hour until the match began. People were already leaving breakfast to grab good seats at the pitch. The two girls stood up from the table and, having been promised seats by Remus and Sirius, left the hall to return to the common room.
As they were crossing the entrance hall, however, and speculating about the upcoming match, a band of Slytherins ascended from the dungeons, apparently late to breakfast. Slytherins never much cared about the Quidditch matches apart from their own, so this was no surprise to Beth. However, her heart sunk when she realized the group was led by none other than Evan Rosier.
And – yes, there was Severus at the back. Her stomach gave a funny sort of twist, as it always did. Rosier and the curly-haired boy, Wilkes, swept past without so much as acknowledging the girls. Severus’s eyes flicked to Lily, and then to Beth, and his mouth turned down slightly; Beth didn’t know who the gesture was directed at.
“Evans,” he said, giving her a curt nod. “Bridger.”
Lily turned her nose a fraction of an inch higher in the air and continued on her way, but Beth wasn’t going to be so rude – after all, he hadn’t done anything to her. “Severus,” she said placidly, returning the nod. He hesitated, and then, to her incredulity, a flicker of a smile darted across his face.
Her heart swelled, and the same small smile appeared fleetingly on her own mouth, as well. She ducked her head slightly and followed Lily up the marble staircase, not chancing to look back at Severus’s retreating back.
But that had been an encouraging gesture, to say the least. Maybe all hope was not lost as far as he was concerned. And maybe the other night's disastrous occurrence hadn't wrecked her in his eyes forever.
A/N: Poor Beth. Poor Severus. Such teenage angst! Back and forth all the time, it seems. I think the girl needs a break, don't you? But then that wouldn't make for very exciting reading. I've got to keep people coming back here somehow! So I think the tension and dramatics will keep building at this rate.
I do love a good angsty story.
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