Even from just stepping onto the castle grounds, Beth could already hear the clamor of noise that seemed to come from the direction of the Quidditch Pitch. It had been too long since she’d last seen a match played, and after all the crazy stuff that had happened to her so far in the year, she was ready for a bit of normalcy. Arms full with red-and-gold painted bed sheets, she and Lily hurried down to the pitch, eager not to miss the beginning.
Beth couldn’t help but speculate, though, on her friend’s odd treatment of Severus earlier in the entrance hall. Despicable as some people, like Sirius, may have thought him to be, going so far as to ignore him completely – going so far as to turn her nose up in the air – seemed like a bit much. Whatever had happened in Lily and Severus’s past, Beth suspected it must have affected Lily quite severely.
One half of the pitch was almost solid red and gold; the other, yellow and black. Midway up, Beth caught sight of Sirius waving frantically, trying to attract the girls’ attentions, and she waved back to let him know she saw. “Come on,” she said to Lily, but a shout from behind distracted them for a moment.
James was jogging toward them from the players’ entrance to the pitch, grinning. “Aren’t you supposed to be in the locker rooms?” Lily said, laughing. “They’re going to start the game without you.”
James’s smile widened. “Nah. Glad I caught you, though,” he added, smiling down at her, and she beamed back up at him. “You promised me a kiss for luck.” Leaning down, he and Lily embraced.
It was, Beth speculated, one of the oddest things in the world to have to watch two of your friends kiss. She nearly wished she had a watch so she could have timed them; it seemed to last forever. Finally they broke apart, and Lily, blushing light pink, gathered up the bed sheets she’d dropped and hastened off to find her seat.
Beth raised a sarcastic eyebrow at James, but said nothing. “Oh, shut up,” he grinned, rolling his eyes good-naturedly. His eyes suddenly darted to the ground, as though trying to remember something, and the smile disappeared as quickly as it had come. His lips twisted, and for a minute he didn’t look happy to remember she was there – in fact, quite the opposite.
“Well, good luck, then,” she said, keeping the confusion from her voice. James lifted a hand and turned to go back into the locker rooms, his eyes still concentrated on the grass. Frowning slightly, but assuming he’d just had a late case of pre-game nerves, Beth followed Lily up to where Sirius, Remus, Peter, Mary, and Marlene were waiting for the pair of them. A banner was now stretched between two people each, with Sirius holding the limp end of the last one. She climbed up on the seat and grabbed hold of it.
“Who were you talking to?” he asked, the wind nearly carrying away his words as it whipped around their heads; Sirius had chosen a place that was very high up. Beth looked at him in mild surprise, half-wondering why he was so curious.
“James came out of the locker rooms,” she said. “Why do you ask?” But Sirius merely shrugged and turned back to the pitch, where Madam Hooch had just strolled out onto the field, crate under her thin, wiry arm. Beth frowned for the second time in five minutes, knowing that Sirius was not satisfied with that answer – or, at the very least, it hadn’t been the one he’d been expecting – but she soon put it out of her mind. Her thinking was a bit skewed lately; in her view, it seemed everyone was hiding something, and that wasn’t a way to think – first accusing James of hiding something, and now this. She was going to wind up in a ward at St. Mungo’s at this rate.
Seven yellow blurs shot out onto the field then, followed on the other side by seven flashes of scarlet; Beth cheered as hard as the others as she caught sight of James’s messy hair, black against the blue sky, as he flew a lap around the pitch. Madam Hooch gave a sharp blast on her whistle, and the teams huddled around her.
“Looks like the Slytherins are supporting Hufflepuff,” piped up Sirius in a voice of feigned nonchalance, nodding towards the other side of the stadium, where some green specks mingled with the yellow and black. Beth turned to give him another odd look.
“Yes,” she said, not being able to think of anything else. “Looks like it.” Sirius studied her face, and she self-consciously raised a hand to her nose. He appeared to be searching for something, some giveaway of expression, and she had no idea why, nor what it was he was looking for.
Another screech of the whistle, and cheers once more erupted from the stands as the players rose to the sky, and the game began. To Beth’s right, Lily was clutching the corner of her banner tightly in her hands, excitement written quite clearly on her face. Her eyes darted from player to player, always coming back to rest on James.
The commentator, an overly enthusiastic boy from Ravenclaw, was already talking excitedly into the microphone from up in the commentator’s box. “And Finch of Gryffindor has the Quaffle, closely tailed by Rainier from Hufflepuff. He’s darting up the field – passes to Potter – back to Finch – near miss with that Bludger there, Finch – back to Potter – POTTER SCORES!”
The red and gold section screamed their approval as, once more, James flew a lap around the field, one arm raised high in a gesture of victory. “Has Quidditch always been this exciting?” Lily joked, her fingers now intertwined in the old bed sheet. Beth couldn’t help laughing at her.
“You’ve got it bad,” she said, not forgetting that she had said the same thing to James about Lily previously. “Yes, I’d imagine Quidditch would suddenly get more exciting once your boyfriend’s the one making the scores.” Lily stuck her tongue out at Beth, but laughed along with her.
James was on fire during that day’s match – hardly a single Hufflepuff Chaser could even come close to matching him, and the few that did never stayed at that pace for long. He scored goal after goal, making moves no one expected – least of all the Keeper, to the delight of the Gryffindors. When the Seeker for Gryffindor, Warren Tennison, finally caught the Snitch about half an hour into the game, the winning margin was nearly a record, and Beth’s voice was hoarse from all the cheering.
“Fantastic game!” Remus said excitedly, grinning broadly from ear to ear and tucking the banner under his arm. The group began heading back down to the area around the pitch to meet James, Lily leading the group and chattering away to Marlene. Mary was lurking in the back, eyes fixed firmly on Sirius, which didn’t escape Beth’s notice.
“Those Slytherins are going to be disappointed tonight,” Sirius said loudly as a group of them shouldered past. A second year with long, curly blonde hair glared at him over her shoulder, and he waved exaggeratedly and shot her a winning smile. Beth rolled her eyes.
“Knock it off,” she said, “no need to rub their faces in it.”
This seemed to be the reaction that he was hoping for, however, and she immediately regretted saying anything at all.
“What’s the matter, Bethy?” he said, smirking slightly; she was struck by just how arrogant he could twist his features sometimes. “Going to go and comfort them now?” he continued.
“No,” she said, both perplexed and annoyed. “And if you would stop being a git for five seconds and tell me why you keep bothering me about stuff like that, I’d really appreciate it.” Her scowl deepened as they threaded their way through the throng to the doors leading into the locker room.
“Come on,” Sirius said, grinning easily and moving a little away from the crowd so that the only ones in earshot were Beth, Remus, Peter, and himself. “We know you like Snivellus.”
She stopped still, her heart suddenly skipping several beats, a dull rush sounding in her ears and increasing to a roar with every second. Her eyes swiveled to Sirius’s laughing, taunting ones, and then found Remus and Peter, who were both desperately trying to pretend as though they had no part in the conversation. She tried to speak, to deny the claim, but found her mouth had gone very dry. And to that effect, her silence confirmed their accusation more than words ever could have.
“I can’t… how did you…” She couldn’t find enough words in her current befuddled vocabulary for all the questions that begged to be asked. Remus began to fiddle with the collar of his shirt nervously, still intentionally avoiding her probing look.
“Personally, I don’t see it,” said Sirius loftily, stretching his hands high above his head and yawning. “He’s foul, really. We could find you someone better –“
“Sirius, for the love of Merlin, shut up,” Beth snarled, quite past putting up with him. He looked surprised, but she was glaring at him so ferociously that he apparently thought it better not to pursue that train of thought.
And then at that moment, James suddenly appeared among them, freshly changed out of his Quidditch robes, his hair still damp from the shower. He saw Lily first, and threw his arm around her shoulder, oblivious to the others for the time being.
“Like the game?” he said, smiling fondly down at her. She nodded and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, and he subtly drew his arm more closely about her shoulders. Finally he looked up, and was met with Beth’s very insulted stare.
“Erm… hello,” he said, turning a bit pink in the cheeks. Suddenly his abnormal attitude from before the match made perfect sense in her mind. She said nothing but just looked at him, a strong emotion that as of now had no name rising within her.
“You told,” Beth said at last, embarrassed at the way her voice broke slightly on the last syllable; she didn’t want to seem like some maudlin damsel in distress, not now. She couldn’t help but take a savage pleasure at the wash of guilt that seemed to engulf James, though.
“Beth,” he began, but then stopped, sensing he was beginning to breach into troubled waters. Her chest rose and fell much more quickly than she would have liked, but humiliation and anger were scratching at her chest, begging to be set free.
“How could you? You – you promised you wouldn’t tell anyone,” Beth said, a lump rising in her throat. Her hands found her wand in her robe pocket, and she clenched it as though it was a lifeline, not intending to use it but liking knowing that it was there.
Sirius’s presence – the fact that he knew, moreover – weighed heavily on her, and she was painfully aware that he knew exactly what James had been sworn to secrecy about. Pink patches blazing on her cheeks, she shouldered past them, stomping up to the castle.
“Beth, I’m sorry!” she heard James shout over the people who were closing the distance between him and her. But she didn’t care, not at that moment. For the time being she thought she might have been happy to never see James or Sirius, and even Remus and Peter, ever again. Some friends all of them had turned out to be. Friends didn’t sneak about behind their friends’ backs, or tell their secrets.
Friends who would do that, in short, were no friends of hers.
James was looking after Beth, a knot twisting his stomach painfully. His arm was still around Lily, although he barely noticed, and she was giving him a questioning look. “What was all that about?” she asked, drawing a little away from him.
He said nothing, not sure he could even convey the whole situation to her – nor, indeed, even if he’d want to. He’d told Sirius about it, after all, and that had blown up rather spectacularly in his face. He felt awful now, and knew that spilling a secret that wasn’t his to spill had been wrong on more levels than he could count.
That Head Boy badge seemed to be giving him a conscience.
“I told you, you shouldn’t have told us,” Remus said quietly, rubbing salt in James’s already sore wounds without quite meaning to. “She was bound to take it this way.”
“She’ll come round. This is just one of those things girls do to get boys all messed up,” he said, sounding a lot more confident than his expression revealed. It was clear that he, too, regretted letting anything about Beth’s crush on Snape slip, no matter what he denied in front of Remus. Peter alone remained silent, although he looked worried, as he normally did whenever rifts, however minor, formed between the friends.
Lily still looked perplexed. “Is this about what you were telling me the other day, James? Your suspicions?” she asked. James nodded his head and smiled a bit sadly down at her; he’d halfway forgotten he’d even mentioned anything to Lily. Just how much had he run his mouth without realizing it?
Lily’s lips pursed in disapproval, and it was clear that the idea of Beth’s crush wasn’t any more pleasing to her than it was to Sirius. But she didn’t elaborate on her reasoning, and for this James was grateful. He didn’t really want to talk about it much anymore – he felt guilt enough as it was.
James heaved a sigh that sounded weary of the world, and glanced at Sirius. “I just hope you’re right, mate.”
Quite suddenly, as she had almost reached the doors leading into the castle, Beth became aware of the fact that someone had been calling her name. In her blind anger, she had barely registered it. She now thought it might have been one of the boys, trying to entice her into forgiveness again, but she’d need a bit of cooling off first.
The voice insistently repeated the call, and she groaned aloud, causing two Ravenclaws who were passing her to give her an odd look. Gritting her teeth, she turned around, a choice phrase hovering on the tip of her tongue.
But her tongue remained in check, for it was not James walking in her direction, or Sirius, or Remus. It wasn’t even Peter. It was Severus.
Hope and confusion joined the battle now raging full-fledged inside her, and she attempted to keep her face neutral. He didn’t smile as he closed the distance between them, but something that resembled amusement flickered in his dark eyes.
“Can I talk to you?” he said, speaking so quietly she had to lean in to hear him. She shoved down the happy feelings that suddenly swelled within her, trying to use her brain for more rational thought.
“You already are, but you can continue,” she said, as lightly as she could muster. Severus’s mouth twitched, and his eyes searched hers, trying to gauge if she was joking or serious. He apparently found something satisfactory there, for his expression became a bit more at ease. But for several moments, he said nothing. His lips might well have been glued together, so tightly were they pressed.
“Look… I just wanted to… say thanks,” he said at last, the words coming slowly as though stuck in his brain, where they’d been lodged for a bit. “I’ve been meaning to for a while, but I just… never got the chance.” He didn’t have to say specifics; both were acutely aware of the subject avoided. He looked as though he’d never been forced to say something more uncomfortable in his life.
A sort of awkward silence fell between them as both wondered where they were to go from here. As though by instinct, they each began walking, following the movement of the crowd back up toward the castle. Severus remained stolidly silent, and she cast about frantically in her mind for something – anything – to say to fill the void. But her tongue seemed frozen, unable to formulate a single word.
It had taken a lot of courage, she thought, for him to express gratitude, but it was also puzzling why he’d chosen that moment. Doing so in the middle of a large crowd after a Quidditch match didn’t make a lot of sense, at least in her mind. She looked at him from the corner of her eye, trying to gauge what might be going on inside his mind.
He suddenly glanced over at her, and she looked away quickly, trying to pretend she’d been doing nothing of the sort. Her breath caught a bit in her chest, tensing up from the embarrassment. Severus continued to remain noiseless, however.
Beth reached the middle of the entrance hall, and let the crowds throng past her on either side; Severus followed her example. They still said nothing, though, and the intensity and longevity of the silence was making her more uncomfortable by the second. Neither looked at each other; they chose instead to look at the floor, or the ceiling, or the passersby.
But it was in Beth’s nature to be rather blunt, and, drawing a deep breath, she finally raised her eyes to his. “For the record,” she said in a rush, hurrying to express her thoughts before the courage left her, “I’ve never – never hated you.” Heat crept up and singed the tips of her ears at the admission.
Severus’s eyes flicked upwards to hers, and that ghost of a smile darted around the corners of his mouth once more. Beth’s heart soared inexplicably, and she tried desperately to remember how to breathe. It had been the most encouraging sign to date, as far as Severus went, and her feverish emotions were taking it and running wild with it.
“I’ll see you around, Beth,” he said, and she realized it was the first time he’d spoken her name without the word being laced with malice or scorn; it was a nice sound, and only served to increase her heart rate. All his words spoke of promise, and things yet to come – at any rate, no finality and no ending. Or at least, this was how she imagined it, and even if she was deluding herself she saw no reason to end the fantasies quite yet.
“Talk to you later,” she said, managing to keep her voice from shaking. Severus nodded and turned, heading off towards the dark archway that opened on to the staircase down to the Slytherin dungeons. Beth stared after him for several moments, biting the inside of her cheek, and then moved off to her own dormitory as well.
Her heart felt feather-light, and her mind was absolutely reeling in the clouds. She almost forgot, in her buoyancy, that she was mad at her friends – giddiness was rapidly replacing any ill feelings she was harboring. She didn’t mind at all.
A/N: This story has been progressing at a MASSIVE rate of late - over 10,000 words just this week! Of course, I'm currently writing the twenty-second chapter, and I've got pretty high hopes for finishing book one totally before Christmas. I'll also let you in on the very slim details: At its current planning, 'In The Black' will have a little over thirty chapters, but I've added a new one this week alone, so don't quote me on that.
Honestly - I don't remember the last time I've had so much fun writing something, and it's a pleasure to do it. I really hope you're enjoying reading it as much as I am writing it. Don't forget to feed the hungry little box down there!