Chapter 1 : Near and Far
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Beth picked around the shelves, humming in a way that sounded like sighing, feeling like she’d rather do anything than read another heavy tome with too-small print and a dusty jacket bandaged together with Spellotape. Options were thin on the ground, however, since it was now January and she still had not managed to make any friends.
There had been that Ravenclaw boy, who’d seemed like promising friendship material for a week or two until Beth learned that he only stuck to her side during flying practice because she’d unknowingly been using his favorite broom out of the entire school broom selection, and was waiting for an opportunity to get it back.
Then there’d been Valentine Vane, a Hufflepuff girl she’d bonded with over their mutual annoyance at having thick, curly black hair – but that hadn’t panned out well because it turned out that their hair was the only thing they had in common. In truth, Beth Bridger had never gotten on very well with other girls. She wasn’t entirely sure why this was.
Even when she was three years old, tottering around with other little kids in the elitist playgroup her parents’ friends cooked up, she preferred to sit in the front garden and make mud pies with boys rather than bounce dolls around, making them talk to each other in high-pitched voices. She’d watched girls playing with them, and witnessed what kind of drama those dolls frequently got themselves into. No thanks.
But despite the fact that she preferred the company of immature, obnoxious, smelly, stained boys to that of immaculate, stoic, nose-in-the-air girls thrust upon her by her parents when growing up, Beth was still a girl. Being a girl, she of course succumbed to the most girly problem of all immediately upon entering Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry: the other side of boys.
The pounding-heart, nervous sweat, is-it-hot-in-here-or-is-it-just-me side of boys.
Namely, Severus Snape.
Oh, Severus Snape. Beth chose one of the library books at random, hugging it to her chest as she leaned against the shelf and sighed loudly. She had it pretty bad for Severus Snape. She knew she wasn’t old enough to be heartsick, to be in love, to fixate on a person for a reason less shallow than ‘Oh my goodness, he has the best hair I have ever seen’. Unnaturally self-aware and reasonable for her young age, Beth respected the knowledge that what she felt now was only a shadow of what she would probably feel five or six years from now, when she was positive that Severus would be her boyfriend.
As far as she could tell, he wasn’t yet aware that he was going to be her future boyfriend. Like a lot of the Muggle-borns and the half-bloods, he was even more curious about the magical world than most kids who’d known magic their whole lives. Beth fancied it would be a couple of days before she could perform every spell in her textbooks, since she had the advantage of a magical upbringing. It didn’t take long to realize that, if anything, she was at a severe disadvantage because her overconfidence and subsequent failure in Wingardium Leviosa that rendered her too speechless to utter any incantations at all.
Severus was already leagues ahead of her, academically speaking. He never stopped practicing anything. She saw him at it in the Great Hall at breakfast, up to the elbows in books propped up against jugs of pumpkin juice. He busied himself between classes waving his wand at anything that got in his way, slicing at the air in what he assured everyone was proper Kung-Fu for wizards.
Fascinated in everything and brimming with questions, he’d made himself a quick target of ridicule; other students delighted in mimicking him, raising their hands high in the air during class, practically jumping out of their seats to answer whatever question had been asked. He’d stopped doing that, first because of embarrassment that he was being mocked and then because he genuinely didn’t want anyone else to hear his magnificent answers so that he could use them in his homework instead.
Beth watched it all eagerly, quietly. She stood up for him by glaring at the bullies and let him know she was staunchly on his side by gazing fondly at him out of the corner of her eye until the bell rang.
Beth crossed the library and dragged a chair away from a table, a trio of floating candles overhead burning low. Sparkling bloody sunlight filtered in through the stained glass windows, spattering her tabletop with spots of ruby. She traced the shape of one with one finger, absently thinking about how nice it would be if Severus were lonely like her, if he also desperately craved friendship and decided to pull up a chair across from her at the little library table.
But Severus wasn’t lonely. He already had a best friend: She was a Gryffindor, like Beth, chosen to be his confidant, the friend he came to when something angered him, when something amused him, when he just wanted to sit next to someone he liked. She was nice and smart and lovely to everyone, this special girl, the only Gryffindor he approved of.
Crucio! Severus bellowed inside his head, but of course nothing happened. Not a hair on the other boy’s head twitched. It was worth a try, though.
Black turned back around in his seat to face the chalkboard, smirking. What was he even smirking about? What a self-righteous idiot. He thought he was so clever, acting for all the world like his chair was a throne and he was master of the universe. His mannerisms, his haughty voice, the way he flicked his eyes at the teacher every now and then before uttering something that was supposed to be funny out of the side of his mouth – it made Severus’s blood boil. He even went out of his way to avoid the same circulation of air that Black breathed, just because he didn’t want to risk inhaling any of Black’s exhales on accident.
His eyes narrowed as Black chuckled gleefully to himself. Just wait until I get the hang of nonverbal spells. You’ll be so sorry.
Black leaned across the aisle, whispering something to Potter. Severus rolled his eyes. What he’d done to deserve sitting behind two absolute pigs for forty-five agonizing minutes of History of Magic, he would never understand.
Potter swiveled around to steal a peek at Severus, who ignored him. Potter grinned. “Hey, Snivellus,” he whispered loudly. “Snivellus!”
Severus bent over his parchment, straining to listen to Binns. Black and Potter were the worst kind of scum, waiting until an inept professor was in charge before trying to rile him up. They wouldn’t dare behave like this in Transfiguration, under McGonagall’s nose.
He was determined to listen to Binns’s drone. Don’t stoop to their level, he thought forcibly. Don’t respond. That’s what they want.
“Snivellus,” Black joined in, quill clamped between his teeth. Black was always doing stupid things with his quill, thinking it looked cool when it was sticking out of his hair and nostrils and engulfed in enchanted flames, being dropped down his throat. The git was very easily impressed with himself.
Lupin, another friend of theirs, kept glancing from Potter to Black to Severus, clearly worried. He was usually hesitant to contribute to his friends’ antics once they got going, choosing instead to sit there like a brainless dolt and watch, eyes wide and mouth hanging open, occasionally poking one of them to whisper, “You’re going to get into trouble!”
Only one word sprang to mind whenever Severus regarded Lupin.
“I think I saw your mother earlier,” Black whispered. In the seat directly behind him, Pettigrew was hanging on his every word, grinning stupidly. “Did you hear that, Snivellus?”
“She was huge,” Potter chimed in brightly. “And hairy.” He wriggled his fingers at Severus in a taunt. “She even had a beard.”
“Naw, you’re getting her confused with Hagrid. Easy mistake, laddie.” Black smiled maliciously, eyes glittering. He tucked his quill behind one ear, coolly adding, “You know how I knew it was her, though? Snivellus?” He leaned closer, eyes earnest. “It’s not nice to ignore people, you know. When you’re being spoken to, it’s common courtesy to lift your eyes off your parchment.”
His tone was so authoritative that Severus thought his brain had started to bleed from sheer annoyance. It was with all the willpower he could muster that Severus kept his gaze locked on his parchment, although the words he’d written all blurred together in one massive string of nonsense.
Not here. Not now. He could not afford to let them see his eyes well up with the hot angry tears he always got when his patience was being severely tested.
“Coward,” Pettigrew sniggered.
A muscle in Severus’s cheek jumped.
“I knew it was her because she dripped grease everywhere she went. Her hair was so oily that you could see rainbows in it.” Black ripped a length of parchment off his roll and tapped it with his wand. The paper began to fold itself, then zoomed in an arc over four desks before pecking Severus squarely on the nose. He seized it, crumpling it up in his fist, while Potter and Black doubled over in hysterical fits of laughter.
“Funny that you like to insult my hair,” Severus replied coldly. Black snapped to attention, gray eyes perking up with excitement. He loved it when Severus retaliated. His retaliation justified further meanness. “Potter’s hair looks like he got hit in the back of the head with a Beater’s bat, and he does that intentionally.”
As if on cue, Potter grazed a hand through the back of his hair. “Yeah, but at least I wash mine.”
“Yeah, and at least James could get girls!” Pettigrew piped up, smiling triumphantly.
Black rolled his eyes. “No, he couldn’t.”
“If I recall correctly,” Severus said with a twisted, self-satisfied smile, “the only girl Potter fancies is the very same one who wants nothing to do with him. I have it on good authority that he makes her nauseous.”
“Wonder if that’s true,” Black mused. In a louder voice, he called, “Evans! Does James make you nauseous?”
Severus felt his skin heat up. Lily, who sat on the opposite end of the classroom, looked up from where she had been scribbling down notes, applying Black with a withering glower. “Definitely.”
Potter chucked a wad of paper at Black, who laughed.
“What d’you think, Bridger?” Potter lazily inquired of the girl seated behind him. She had been poring over her notes, much like Severus, for the sole purpose of not wanting to be caught unoccupied. Being unoccupied in History of Magic meant almost guaranteed unwanted attention from arrogant berks like Black, who lived to torment. “Am I really that bad?”
The girl shrugged. Severus recognized her unruly black hair right away, as that’s usually all he ever saw of her. Every time he walked into a room, those black curls were scurrying out. On the brief occasion that he did get a glimpse of her face, it was usually pink for some reason, and bowed over, and preparing to hurry away.
Oddly, Severus had felt the urge to befriend her last year when he saw her wandering around the hallways by herself, stumbling into people as if sidetracked and daydreaming. There was potential in her, he thought, to be a friend. She was a Gryffindor, which he didn’t particularly like, but Lily Evans was also a Gryffindor and Lily was the most perfect person in the world.
“You’re all right,” she said casually, and Severus felt disappointment stir in the pit of his stomach. Disapproving mightily of her now, he resolved to shun her existence. Anyone who believed that Potter was anything less than a despicable, pompous, self-obsessed –
“Hey, Bridger,” Black said, and Severus felt his disappointment flare into something else entirely. If Black was about to insult this girl, then he would spring to her aid.
“Hey, Black,” Bridger returned dryly, making a face.
Black’s mouth broke into a wide, genuine smile. “Do you play Exploding Snap?”
“Playing is for children,” she responded evenly, filing her notes into a neat order and placing her quill over top. “When it comes to Exploding Snap, I annihilate.”
Black’s smile broadened; he looked sideways at Potter, who also seemed impressed. “That sounds like a challenge.”
“I’ve an idea,” Pettigrew said, determined to remain relevant in their conversation. “Loser of the game has to kiss Snape.”
Black guffawed, but even in Severus’s quiet fury he observed just how red in the face Bridger had gotten.
“Don’t worry,” Potter told her. “We’d never make you do something that revolting.”
She recovered herself well enough to sniff, “You assume that I’d be the one to lose.”
Black paled, aghast. “I certainly wouldn’t get near him.”
Severus was now blushing so fiercely that he felt like all the blood in his body had pooled in his face, heart beating in his throat. The boys continued to tease each other, accusing one another of secretly wanting to kiss Snape, and deciding which of them it would be the most horrifying punishment imaginable to have to endure.
Bridger, throughout it all, remained silent.
“And a little bit out of his depth, if you ask me,” James tacked on, craning his neck to affix Lily Evans with a smarmy wink.
“Ugh,” she said, plainly disgusted. Next to her, Severus didn’t appear to be listening to anything Sirius and James were saying, although he must have heard it. He seemed only to care that he was sitting with Lily, as though being stationed at her side was some sort of medal of honor.
“Don’t know where he gets off, sitting with the Gryffindors,” Sirius went on loudly, pausing to wolf-whistle at one of the female Ravenclaw Chasers as she swept by. The sky was gray and dank, a dreary drizzle beading everyone’s hair with tiny pearls. Lily, who was in the throes of a head cold, sneezed.
“Here you are,” Severus said quietly, offering her a handkerchief.
“Here you are,” James mimicked in a high, feminine voice. Severus, who was very much above it all at that moment, glared disdainfully at him for only a second before turning his nose up to focus his concern on Lily.
“Thanks, Sev,” she told him.
“Thanks, Sev,” Sirius promptly repeated in the same high voice James used.
“Grow up,” Lily snapped, but it wasn’t nearly menacing enough because her nose was so congested.
“Grow up,” Peter said, but James elbowed him.
“Cut it out.”
Peter let his chin fall into his hands, staring glumly across the pitch where Hufflepuff was engaging Ravenclaw in a Quidditch match. “You were doing the same thing,” he grumbled. Remus offered him a small smile.
“What is that ungodly stench?” Sirius asked out of nowhere.
Beth, who sat between Sirius and James, exhaled through her nose. “Please don’t start.”
Ignoring her, he announced, “It smells like Slytherin! It’s like something just crawled up my nose and died. Peter, quick – fetch me your perfume.”
“I thought it was men’s cologne!” Peter started to defend, mortified. No one was paying him any mind. He looked around, desperate for someone to believe him. “How long are you lot going to keep teasing me about that?”
“Forever,” Remus answered, just as James leaned across Beth to speak conspiratorially at Sirius’s ear. Beth pulled back, hating it when they did that.
“Speaking of noses…” James’s eyes flashed mischievously. “You should…you know.” He tapped the tip of his wand against his nose, smirking.
“Oooh, good idea!” Sirius cackled. “Genius.”
“Get a room, why don’t you,” Lily couldn't resist saying.
James quickly pulled away from Sirius, then puffed out his chest and slicked his hand through the back of his hair. Behind him, Severus snorted.
Beth watched Sirius suspiciously. He had his wand behind his back, screwing up his face in concentration. She knew that expression well: it was the one he wore when he was attempting nonverbal spells. He’d been the first of their year to grasp them, and had busied himself ever since in trying to perfect them. There wasn’t a single magical task he wouldn’t try to perform nonverbally, no matter how much longer it took.
With a sickening feeling, she turned just in time to see Severus’s nose swelling to three times its normal size. He hadn’t noticed it yet, turned away from Lily to scan the stands happily. There was such contentment in his eyes, his face so softened with the glow of being with his friend… She couldn’t understand why, since Beth should have been jealous of Lily at that moment, but Beth felt the telltale pricking of warmth around her eyelashes warning that she was about to cry.
She had a habit of crying when the occasion didn’t call for it – when she was frustrated, when she was irate, when she was worried. Now, she knew it was because she didn’t want to see that happiness fade from Severus’s face and was keenly aware that it soon would.
And then –
“Severus, what happened to your –?” Lily took Severus’s face in her hands, alarmed. Severus flushed, at first because she was touching him, and then because he realized…
He touched his oversized nose, panicking, while Sirius and James burst into raucous laughter. While Lily worked hard to reverse the spell, muttering incantations under her breath, Severus’s pallor had washed out to a sickly white sheen. His hands were clenched around his wand, shaking. Beth was so upset herself that there was a buzzing noise filling her ears.
“Shut up,” Lily said to Beth’s friends. Beth rarely felt embarrassed at the behavior of James and Sirius, but whenever Severus was concerned, there was a definite exception.
“Ow!” Sirius roared, standing to his feet so fast that the girl sitting on his other side toppled over. “Hey!” He stared at Severus, enraged, as a huge unicorn horn started to spiral out of his forehead. James, Remus, and Peter tried to control their amusement. Severus did not.
“Much more fitting,” Severus declared. “I think it really suits you.”
Sirius threw himself at Severus, punching every spare bit of him he could reach. Lily shrieked, diving out of the way. Remus and James lunged at Sirius, wrenching him back; Severus had aimed a punch at his eye so well that the eyelid was already swelling, blushing a livid purple. Severus had not gone unscathed, however. Sirius’s new unicorn horn had torn a massive hole in his robes, revealing his thin, pasty stomach. Beth jerked away, but not before counting three of his ribs.
“How about you?” Severus shouted at James, eyes glinting madly. He whipped out his wand. "You want to have a go at me, too, while we're at it?"
“Sev, no!” Lily cried.
“You want to duel?” James countered, producing his own wand. "I'd gladly peel that ugly smile right off your face."
“James!” Beth yelled, ripping the wand out of his hand. “Sit down, you idiot! You’re going to get all of us into trouble!”
“Come on,” Lily ordered, taking Severus by the hand.
“Ooooh, look at the cute couple,” James called bitterly after them. “You’re lucky Lily saves your skin all the time, Snivellus!”
“Yeah!” Sirius roared, pinching the sleeve of his robes over his nose to quell a steady flow of blood. “Keep running, coward."
“Do – not – call me a coward! You’re the one who’s bleeding –” Severus started to shout, grinding to a jarring halt. He was on the topmost bench of the stands, silhouetted against a cluster of wet black clouds. The wind was so strong that he shook, black hair lashing his pallid face. For a quick, fearful moment, Beth thought he was going to fall off.
“You’re horrible, you know that?” Lily hollered at James, her hand so tight around Severus’s wrist that it cut off the blood circulation. “It’s a miracle you have any friends at all.”
“What’d I do?” James asked angrily, arms outspread. “I didn’t punch anyone.”
“No.” Her voice was cutting. “You do worse than that with words.”
Severus waited at the tapestry of Terpsichore the Terrible for thirty-six minutes before giving up. He stalked the corridors, searching for a flash of red hair, listening for a ‘Sev!’, but heard none. He felt his heart swoop low into his stomach, a piercing sensation of pain so awful that he bumped into the cold stone wall, eyes wide and clouded.
His worst fears had begun to materialize.
Lily Evans was popular. She loved surrounding herself with friends and responsibilities – so much so that Severus had found himself increasingly more shut out of her life. There was so little room for him nowadays. Where did he rank on the priority list?
She claimed he was doing the same thing, but that wasn’t true at all. Severus only bothered with fellow Slytherins out of necessity. All of his classes were with Slytherins. He ate with Slytherins. He shared a dormitory with Slytherins. They crowded him in hallways, in the common room, in his disoriented thoughts. His only reprieve from the stress of everyday life, slogging through what looked to be an eternal nightmare of not fitting in, of not being ‘good’ enough or ‘dark’ enough – it was Lily. It was always Lily.
The problem was, Lily didn’t need a reprieve. Lily’s whole life was lightness.
It took several minutes for Severus to comprehend which direction his feet were taking him. He tilted his head back to see the library’s welcoming archway, and breathed a sigh of relief. The library was infinitely more reliable than friends. He could get lost amongst the shelves, filling his head with new magic the professors wouldn’t teach, devouring new spells and unorthodox ingredients. It was mindless work, soothing to the senses to repeat spells, collecting information.
Didn’t Lily see what was happening between them? Couldn’t she feel the rift?
Or was it all in his head, and in reality everything was perfect?
He shook his head to clear it, self-consciously patting a damp lock of hair. His overactive oil glands were a constant source of grief, fueling taunts and nicknames. He rigorously washed it each night and each morning with soap that was supposed to dry out the skin, but by the time dinner rolled around his hair was always slick again.
“You’re not vain,” he reminded himself in a mutter, wiping his palm off on his robes. “You’re not like Potter.”
Potter with his I-just-got-off-a-broomstick hair and his snarky little smile and his –
Severus stopped short.
Every day, in the break between Herbology and Potions, Severus sat at the table nearest the third stained glass window on a stretch of wall separating two sections of books: Magical Mayhem and Magical Monsters. It was his spot.
Someone was in his spot.
He was all the more irritated to see exactly who had stolen his spot: It was that friend of Potter’s – the girl. Bridger, he thought her name was.
She wasn’t even reading. She was just sitting there, looking strangely eager, hands flat against the table’s surface. Her books were closed, no homework spread out before her. Severus’s nostrils flared. If there was anything he held in contempt, it was the waste of a perfectly good work space. She wasn’t doing anything at all! She was just sitting there like a big, useless lump!
Severus had come to an impasse, torn between the desire to yell at her to move and his antisocial tendencies, which made it difficult to converse with people unfamiliar to him – or more so – people who made him uncomfortable. This Bridger girl was friends with Potter. Potter made his life miserable. By association, this colored Bridger a very ugly shade of avoid at all costs.
But outwardly, from a distance, she appeared harmless. He watched with critical eyes as she traced the outline of something on the table. It took him a minute to recognize those patterns: It was the reflected designs from the stained glass window, the illustration of a falcon taking flight.
His intense hatred blinked for a moment, softening. He did the same thing whenever he sat there, tracing those same designs with the blade of his quill, or the edge of his parchment. And for the space of a heartbeat, he and Bridger were just a little bit alike.
He turned around, antisocial tendencies winning out, and skulked away to study elsewhere.
“Mary MacDonald, Richard Peterson.”
“Dorcas Meadowes, Montgomery Eubanks.”
“Marlene Reeve, Anthony McKinnon.”
Marlene and Anthony looked mutually delighted, but tried not to show it.
“Beth Bridger and Severus Snape.”
Severus inwardly sighed; Beth had nearly fallen out of her chair, although he did not notice this, since he sat at the front of the class and she at the very back. Beth couldn’t hear the rest of the pairings Slughorn was reciting, her whole head filled with Beth Bridger and Severus Snape, two names she'd never heard out loud together in the same sentence before. She felt to be on the verge of having a seizure.
“What’s your problem?” Remus inquired, forehead crinkling in concern.
“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Sirius answered for her, not bothering to lower his volume. “She’s stuck with Snivellus. Anyone would be suffering a nasty shock from that sort of atrocious news.” He clapped her on the back. “I advise you to plug your nose, Bethy, or you’re in for a really unpleasant afternoon.”
Severus shot a cold look at him, which only made him snigger, and Beth quickly moved to join Severus at his table. “Hi,” she greeted nervously.
He grunted by way of acknowledging her. To himself, he said in a low, sleek voice, “Swelling Solution. Substandard for my talents by now, but nevertheless…”
Beth cleared her throat, ready to ask him if he’d already brewed this potion before, but became aware of a very icy tension rolling off of him in waves. The sleeve of his arm had fallen down while he fussed about the interior of his cauldron, rubbing some kind of salve along its pewter scales like it was second nature, and she saw that his pale arm was consumed with goose bumps.
“Get the dried nettles,” he ordered.
She just stood there, not sure if he was talking to her or still to himself.
“Please,” he added forcibly. His facial muscles were so taut, he was starting to resemble a corpse in rigor mortis.
Beth wordlessly flew over to the storage cupboard and retrieved the nettles, thrusting them at him.
“Puffer-fish eyes. Three of them.”
Slightly resentful, Beth returned to the cupboard and found three puffer-fish eyes. James was over there, too, still hunting for nettles. “That’s rotten luck,” he told her, eyes trained on Snape, who was busy grinding his nettles in an expertly fashion.
Beth shrugged. “Rotten luck for you, too.”
James’s face acquired a peevish look; he glanced at Remus, who had been paired with Lily. Remus’s eyes kept darting to James’s narrowed ones every ten seconds, offering guilty smiles.
Beth pretended to be useful whenever Slughorn passed, making his rounds from table to table to inspect progress. “Fantastic!” he declared before he even looked into Severus’s cauldron, table void of powder or excess ingredients. “Well done, Snape. Very well done. And – er – you, too, Bridger!” He smiled brightly at Beth, who tried not to look too idle, and immediately started stirring the cauldron, which was rippling with a matte olive liquid.
As soon as Slughorn left, Severus roughly lowered Beth’s wand. “That’s enough, or you’ll ruin it.”
“Is he giving you trouble?” James called out, fishing for an excuse to jinx Snape. She waved him off, frowning, which temporarily made Severus lose focus. So far, Bridger was turning out to be a lot less trouble than her fellows. He hadn’t expected such lack of animosity.
But still, brewing was a business and he wasn’t prepared to relinquish all of his prejudice, so he turned to her (she averted her eyes, as she had been watching him, and stared at the potion), saying flatly, “Bat spleens.”
Beth gave him a blank look. “What about them?”
“We need them, obviously.”
She angled her head higher, arms crossed. “Then go get them.”
He raised an eyebrow, but didn’t argue. With the tiniest of smiles creeping over his face, Snape disappeared and then reemerged with bat spleens. He went about his business with little help from Beth, who got the keen feeling that she would only be in the way when it came to Severus and his potions.
Behind them, she could feel Sirius mocking Severus’s movements, his attention to detail. Sirius found Severus’s interest in potion-making extremely amusing. He could make anything Severus did seem ridiculous – something Beth found grating on the nerves. It was lucky for Sirius that he was otherwise so adorable, or Beth might have whacked him over the head. His one ‘stupid spot’, as Remus put it, was anything and everything to do with Slytherins. In all other areas he was someone she admired, valued, respected.
Severus was working hard to eavesdrop on whatever conversation Lily and Lupin were having, wondering over and over where that little group went to when they sneaked out of the castle. Whatever illicit activities they were up to, Lupin clearly wasn’t on their level. Whereas Pettigrew, Black, Bridger, and Potter seemed as indomitable as ever, their shenanigans obviously beat the stuffing out of Lupin, from the looks of it. As Severus observed, Lupin labored over his potion with tired movements. Lily had to come to his aid with her own wand, helping him stir.
Beth swallowed, concentrating with all her might on the potion and not on the way Severus kept looking over at Lily. Beth’s own gaze kept flitting to Severus’s dark eyes. She’d never been this close to him for so long in her life, and it was making her stomach feel sick. If she’d been given more time to prepare for this, maybe she would have been fine… But she felt ill…
Her head in a haze, some time passed before Slughorn dismissed them, jovially commending her job well done on the Swelling Solution. Her heart fit to bursting with butterflies unpleasantly gnashing around, Beth tore out of the classroom faster than a speeding bullet.
The voice was dark, urgent, clipped. Peering around the frame of a heavy door, Beth could barely distinguish the hulking shadow that represented Severus Snape, his body hunched forward with both trembling hands flattened on a professor’s desk.
“– is a model student,” the professor was saying. Beth scanned the door for a name plate. This was the Arithmancy classroom, wasn’t it? She wasn’t familiar with this part of the castle, since she didn’t take Arithmancy herself.
“Model student?” Severus snarled. “He’s a cheat and a thief, and an arrogant bully. He thinks the world revolves around him, expects everyone to bend over and kiss his –”
“Now, Mr. Snape,” the professor interrupted in a warning tone. “I am sure that whatever his faults, Mr. Black did not intentionally take your – what did you say it was? Your essay? I’m sure I have no idea what Black would want with your essay when he doesn’t even take Arithmancy.”
“Sorry, Professor,” Severus replied quietly, but Beth could still detect enmity lurking in his breath, in his posture and still-trembling hands. “I’m afraid I must disagree. This is just the sort of thing that entertains Black, as he is at his happiest when he’s provoking me.” His long fingers vanished into the folds of his cloak, presumably around his wand. He added something in a voice too low for her to hear, then abruptly turned around and stormed out, robes floating behind him.
Beth ducked into a niche bearing a suit of armor, waiting for Peeves to zoom out of view before slipping around the corner and hurrying to Gryffindor Tower. Grim-faced and determined, she marched right up the stairs to the boys’ dormitory.
The place was a pigsty.
Sirius even slept sloppily. She saw that his pillow was at the foot of his bed, and his headboard was strangely bent from years of abuse by his feet kicking it.
Remus’s section of the room was by far the most organized, but still reeked of Dungbombs. Peter’s beheld a collage of photos overlooking his trunk, depicting himself, Remus, James, Sirius, and Beth. Beth was about to continue over to Sirius’s side of the room when she turned back to appraise the collage again. There was only one picture of Beth up there, her arm slung around Remus’s shoulder. She remembered that day – Gryffindor had just lost a match to Ravenclaw and it was raining hard but the sun was still oddly bright.
There was a notable lack of Sirius in this friendship shrine, too. Frowning, Beth stepped closer to discern the smiles of Peter and Remus and James. She suspected James was only in a majority of the photographs because he loved to jump in front of the camera just as someone was snapping a picture; on the whole, however, Peter’s story in pictures largely concerned himself and Remus.
She wasn’t sure what she thought about this.
Sirius’s wall contained a bunch of pictures, too. Beth counted herself and James to be in most of them. In fact, they appeared in more photographs than Sirius himself. Beth felt a vague shift in loyalty between her friends. James was undoubtedly the glue that held them all together. Personal connections were weaker in some areas than others. Looking back, Beth had fewer memories of one-on-one interactions with Peter than with her favorites, which she admitted were James and Sirius. She supposed it was this way in any family – there were bound to be stronger relationships and those that sometimes didn’t receive priority.
Resolving to spend more time with Remus and Peter this weekend, Beth flipped the lid of Sirius’s trunk open and dug through its contents, surprised at how orderly it was. And right there on top, in a two-foot scroll of miniscule, slanted script, was Severus’s Arithmancy essay.
Growling to herself, she rolled it up and tucked it into her robes. Then, just because she felt like it, she plucked a few things out of Sirius’s trunk and shoved them under various beds in the dormitory. “That’s what you get,” she announced to the silence before quietly closing the door behind her.
It was an hour before Severus’s brooding isolation was interrupted by the squeak of a small first year boy.
“What do you want?” Severus snapped, so intimidating that the boy dropped whatever he’d been holding and had to hastily stoop to pick it up.
He’d been sitting at his favorite table in the library, staring at the patterns on the tabletop without really seeing them, feeling a hollow sort of shadow taking root in his mind. This was, without a doubt, the worst year he had yet experienced at Hogwarts. There was no Lily anymore, not after their argument last year. There was only the impenetrable gloom of a war settling upon their shoulders, the panic in his chest that accompanied knowing he was at a crossroads when it came to choosing which side he was on, and the same old prejudices, alive and well.
He thought he would have outgrown these prejudices by now.
Why wouldn’t they just leave him alone? Why couldn’t Severus stop himself from always, without fail, retaliating? He needed to learn to control his anger, his pride…
“I was told to give this to you,” the boy said, the soles of his shoes making squelching noises as they padded across the floor. The grounds must have been wet… He hadn’t even noticed the sheets of rain beating against the window next to him.
As Severus took the familiar parchment in his hands, eyebrows contracting, the boy said, “Sirius Black says to tell you that he’s very sorry. He says he has a stupid spot and your essay was nicely-written and he’s sure you’ll get top marks on it.”
He turned tail and ran out of the library, Severus’s surprised gaze still leveled on the essay. His ears suddenly opened, inviting in the pounding of the storm, the whispers over books, the turning of pages, and the quiet echoes of someone disappearing between two shelves behind him.
He couldn’t stop watching her.
A year ago, he barely acknowledged her existence, but today he wasn’t sure how he had ever overlooked it. He was starting to remember Beth in places he hadn’t remembered her being earlier, swimming to the forefront of memories when previously she’d been in the distant background of them. Every scene she invaded, she was the clearest, the most vibrant – and everything she did was loud and wonderful.
A breeze gushed past him, threading through Hogsmeade shops. Severus kept his eyes resolutely glued to the head of curly black hair, perpetually three steps ahead of him wherever he went. If he didn’t know any better, he’d suspect that she’d masterfully planned it to be this way.
“– and a pity Remus isn’t feeling well. It would’ve cheered him to have a last go in Hogsmeade before we leave.” Black turned on the spot, saluting the sunlit turrets and towers of Hogwarts Castle. “As buildings go, you were good while you lasted.”
“Don’t count your dragons before they hatch,” Severus could hear Beth replying. “You slept through half your classes and I wouldn’t be surprised if they made you retake the whole year.”
Severus was slinking along the brick exterior of the Three Broomsticks, hoping not to be seen. He was supposed to be meeting Evan Rosier soon, but he supposed he could wait just a few minutes longer…
“And James bailing on us,” Peter lamented, kicking a rock.
“He’s training like mad,” Sirius reminded him. “Last Quidditch match of the season coming up.”
“Let’s go into Honeydukes,” Beth suggested suddenly, pointing.
“Zonko’s!” Peter argued, lips pouting. “You promised.”
“Bethy wins!” Sirius declared, ruffling her hair. Beth swatted at him. Severus felt his lip curl, inexplicable jealousy twisting his expression into someone unrecognizable. He’d heard Potter call Beth ‘Talons’ on occasion, but for some reason Sirius’s nickname ‘Bethy’ pricked at his nerves even more than that. There was a familiarity, a friendly intimacy that bothered him. He knew that Beth’s relationship with Sirius was like brother and sister, but he couldn’t help clenching his hands into fists whenever he heard that echoing ‘Bethy!’ ringing off the walls of his brain.
“Beth?” Peter asked, staring uncertainly at her. Beth’s attention had snagged on a young man with shoulder-length black hair striding down High Street.
“What were you looking at?” Sirius squinted after the man, confused. “Do you know him?” The man had turned, revealing himself to be a middle-aged wizard in a chef apron.
“No, no.” Beth’s cheeks were pink. “I thought – I thought it was someone else.”
“Who?” Sirius pressed.
“No one!” She shoved past him, leading the way forward. “Zonko’s it is, then. It’s your lucky day, Wormy.”
All the way to Zonko’s, Sirius and Peter continuously glanced over their shoulders at the black-haired stranger, clearly at a loss. Severus smiled widely to himself, now hurrying in the opposite direction towards a waiting Rosier, his heart bursting with uncontainable joy.
She sees me, too, he thought happily. Even when I'm not there, she sees me.