“Where did you learn Occlumency?” Arelia couldn’t hide her surprise.
“Kenneth taught me, last year,” Carine muttered.
“How does he know it?”
“From his father, I think. Why does that matter? The point is, Snape keeps trying to pry and I’m not that good at blocking him.”
“Why would he want to use Legilimency on you?”
“He’s short of amusements this year? Look, it doesn’t matter. I just need you to ask Kenneth if he’d give me a refresher. I can meet him over the Christmas holidays. Will you ask him?”
“Yes, don’t worry.” Arelia sighed and linked her arm in Carine’s as they walked back up to the castle. “Would you tell me one thing?”
“Why does Professor Falchion keep asking our friends about your cousin?”
“Maybe she’s just trying to sort out what happened to him – Auror crap.”
“I don’t like it. She acts like she suspects you in some cover-up. Severus wouldn’t be helping her, would he – by spying on you?”
“Uh, no. Have you noticed they hate each other’s pink steaming guts? He wouldn’t piss on her if she was on fire. Look, you aren’t from a pure-blood family – I am and she is. Sometimes the old families don’t get along; ours never have. She could be trying to drum up scandal to hurt my parents’ chances of advancing in the Ministry. Wizards aren’t above petty shit like that. You and I, a Ravenclaw and a Slytherin being friends, we’re a novelty. Most of the time it’s frame or be framed in that combo.”
~ ~ ~
Arelia thought about Carine’s words a lot after she went home for the Christmas holidays. She had already spotted a fellow Hogwarts student in Bristol, and after having her owl Rhiannon follow him to his home, she made a plan to encounter Decker Marcus and see if she could strike up an enlightening conversation.
In the meantime, she kept Rhiannon busy flying letters to and from London. Carine insisted that she was doing well, but she wouldn’t comment on whether or not she had met with Kenneth yet for extensive Occlumency lessons.
Her last letter had been more to the point, expressing her hope that Carine was finding time to do more than take lessons with the handsome Seeker, but it had been the wrong thing to say, apparently. Carine’s replies had become shorter and less personal ever since. It left Arelia feeling helpless and angry at once.
She was just refolding the most recent chilly one-paragraph note while out shopping in town, when she spotted the black-haired Marcus across the street. Handing Rhiannon a treat, she sent her friend off to relax and headed over to the fancy sidewalk café.
The Slytherin prefect was lounging alone at a table, dressed in warm and very rich clothing that was ostentatious for the Muggle and Wizarding Worlds alike. The cloak clasp being employed as a decoration on the silver silk tie at his pale throat sported a massive yellow diamond, held between the mouths of two silver snakes. His suit was clearly bespoke yet it had probably not been touched by Muggle hands. The array of greens, white, and silver in the ensemble both enhanced and framed his handsome features and tall athletic form. His long black hair was loose around his face and passers-by all stared – with either envy or admiration.
Yet Arelia could match him easily in a regal midnight blue velvet dress and white mink coat. She met his amber eyes with an equally haughty stare. Inwardly, she couldn’t help a chuckle. We both look like we escaped from some Dickens Christmas play. Game face on, though – this is social Wizard’s Chess and he’s a master at it.
“Miss Galen.” He rose and bowed slightly, keeping his eyes on her at all times. “Would you join me for coffee – or a glass of mulled wine?”
“Thank you, Mr. Marcus.” She let him hold her chair for her, hiding her surprise at his grasp of manners. “I heard you were here. How was your Christmas?”
“It was brilliant, fraught with material goods – and yours?” he asked, as he reclaimed his chair. He sat up straighter now than his earlier indolent lounge and she wondered if that was due to interest in and curiosity about her company or a calculated move on the metaphorical board between them.
“Fine, thank you, and coffee would be lovely.”
When the waiter appeared, he gave the man her order – politely, she noticed. Her grandmother, a queen of etiquette, had always told her that the mark of a true gentleman – or an utter cad – was how he treats the waiter.
You can’t seriously categorize Decker Marcus as a gentleman, she chastised herself. You’ve seen how he acts at school. It’s likely just another chess move.
“I appreciate the company – it’s been a rather dull morning,” he told her, his tone dipping into that bored priviledge register she was accustomed to.
“Do you live here or is your family visiting?” She kept her tone light, impersonal – but she knew he realized she wanted something. They had been destined to be enemies by their choice of friends, years ago.
“We live here – the whole Marcus clan, in fact.” The coffee arrived and he sipped his mulled wine as he watched her add cream. “Heard from Miss Lachlan over the holidays?”
“Yes, she’s doing well.” How can I get this viper to tell me Slytherin secrets? Carine is hiding something … and it’s hurting her. Marcus is a prefect and one of Snape’s favorites, so anything worth knowing, he could tell – but he won’t trust me. “She’ll be home in a few days, after a trip to Ireland with her parents.”
“Visiting the Shaw family, I expect; they live in Dublin – and Mr. Shaw is rich, too.”
“That has something to do with the visit?”
“It does, but you’re new to all the politicking in the Wizarding World, so I’m not surprised you don’t know.”
“Educate me, then,” she invited, raising her chin slightly. She had been told it gave her an unattainable air, intended to lure him in. Marcus smiled, flashing perfect teeth. He knew how to use his looks as a weapon, too. Carine had told her it was an art form for a handsome Slytherin. He’s still taking the bait.
“Lachlan’s parents are in a position to sway the vote on a law Mr. Shaw wants passed. They are also pure-bloods out to find a rich suitor for their little girl. Rumor has it, the young Carine is already friends with the son of Ireland’s richest wizard. Perhaps an agreement is being struck even as we speak.”
“She hasn’t mentioned it to me.” It took all of her chess skill to maintain an expression of mild cool annoyance. Inside, her sense of how close she and her friend used to be was tilting – sliding – downward.
“Of course not. It’s not her place to talk about things like that. Me, I think you deserve to know the truth – since you care for her so much.”
The fingers of his right hand tapped the table as he studied her. Abruptly, she couldn’t care if it was a tell or a lure. He knew what she needed to understand, about this arranged marriage nonsense and maybe a lot more.
Arelia reached across the space between them and covered his fingers with hers. “There’s a lot I’d like to know, that she won’t tell me – about many things … but you could.” Her smile hinted at promises … and possibilities.
“Still out to break Beldon’s bet? I don’t need the prize money.”
She had expected his mannered veneer to crack and didn’t react to it. His move to attempt to startle her by crassly bringing up the old bet barely registered at all. She knew how to talk to Slytherins by now. “I’d rather break Beldon. He doesn’t deserve to win, and if I graduate a virgin, he will. Care to lend – a hand?” She ran her thumb over his fingers before releasing them.
“And you want secrets in return? I don’t care about Lachlan’s, but I won’t betray my house.”
“I’d never ask you to. I just want to know about Carine. Anything else you could teach me would be … appreciated. We could meet this evening, at the Brigstow on the riverside.”
He shook his head briefly but a small smile of satisfaction remained. “I don’t go in there unless I’ve lost a bet. It’s a Muggle place. Meet me at the Thistle, on Broad Street, in the lobby at seven.”
Arelia met and held his gaze. “I’ll be there.”
With a curt nod, he relaxed and gave her a charming and inviting smile instead. “Alas, I must cut this enlightening chance meeting short – I’m due to meet my mother and escort her to the shops. If you will pardon me?” He pointedly set enough money on the table to cover a feast, much less two drinks.
“Yes, certainly. Thank you for the coffee.”
Now that she had propositioned him, she watched appraisingly as he finished off his wine and rose to his feet. He almost preened under her attention and she couldn’t help letting out a small wicked smile at this game they were playing.
Marcus leaned down slightly, fingers poised on the table as he looked down at her. “Lachlan won’t like it – her best friend and her worst enemy. You should know that.”
“She’s been trying to push me into doing something since fourth year. She shouldn’t be picky about whom I choose to be with – and anyway, we needn’t tell her.”
His eyes narrowed. “If you want Beldon taken down, the whole school will know.”
Arelia hesitated. “Of course,” she said, sipping coffee to buy time. “I’ll just have to listen to her lecture about how horrid you are … later.”
“Don’t forget to mention how talented – in case she wants to find out for herself someday – as a Lachlan or a Shaw.” He winked, gave her a gracious bow that was only slightly mocking, and left.
~ ~ ~
Arelia had spent most of her school grounds awareness of Decker Marcus disgusted at his swaggering attitude and hot-headed temper, though most of it had been rumor and Carine’s stories. That afternoon, the thrill of sparring with him had been peppered by odd glimpses into an utterly different person than he was at school.
By the time the snow had stopped falling outside the frosted window of the lavish hotel suite and her bedmate slipped away from her to lie at her side, she had changed her mind about him again.
In the lobby of the Thistle, he had made her feel like royalty. If it had been merely an act, she couldn’t care. He had taken her gloved hand and bowed low to kiss it in greeting, all while pressing an ornate brass key into her palm. He had wished her well and walked away and for a moment, confusion had stunned her. The key, as solid and exquisitely carved as the young man who had given it, had drawn her back to firm ground. The number 303 was etched onto it. Smiling, she had gone upstairs. The moment she entered the suite, he had aparated inside it with a florish of his coat as he’d sweep it off his shoulders. Then he had offered to take her coat – before he had slowly taken everything else she wore.
He lacks the skill of years, but I think I’ve found a natural talent. She was still replaying it all in her mind as they slowly got their breathing back under control. When he took her hand and kissed it again, rolling to his side to caress her body, she shivered with honest lust, tempered by regret. “I can’t stay, Decker. My parents will expect me home tonight.”
“Do they know you’re not a good little girl?” He lifted his head and met her gaze. Arelia tried to look confused but he wasn’t buying it – any more than Xander had. “Drop it, okay?” His smile was slow and possibly genuine instead of merely mocking. “So who did win the bet? It’s not supposed to be a secret. I got money on it myself.”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“Was it Silas?”
“No. You’d never guess.”
He lifted himself on one elbow and met her eyes. “Snape.”
He collapsed onto his back, laughing. “I should have known. That’s why you couldn’t announce it. Lachlan decided to share, huh?”
“Share what? She helped me with advice, yes.” Arelia frowned at him. “You can’t tell anyone. He’d turn us both into something hideous.”
“I’m a Slytherin, Arelia; I’m practiced at not telling on our sagacious Potions master. So – did you gang up on him? The old boy did seem a bit cheerier after last month’s Hogsmeade weekend. That must have been it.” She slapped his chest but he grabbed her and pulled her over him. “You did, didn’t you? Delicious. Though I’m grateful the pair of you didn’t kill the man – most of my friends would never pass Potions with a replacement professor.”
“I said nothing of the sort. What do you mean by share?”
He sighed, the amusement leaving him. “You wanted to know about her. Well, I wouldn’t have told you this, but since I’ve got something on you now, it should be safe enough. Snape took Lachlan off the market at the start of the year – ruined my plan to change her mind about me, too.”
Anger kindled. “What are you talking about?”
“She’s the Slytherin Tutor.”
“I know that. Professor Snape said so himself, it’s not a secret. She helps teach some of the struggling students.”
Marcus grinned at her. “He’s good – and you bought it.” He touched the frown on her lips. “The Slytherin Tutor is also called Teacher’s Pet. One girl is chosen every year for the dubious honor. Although,” he added thoughtfully, “I’ve heard enough of them claim he was worth putting up with. Erin even said he was better than me. Imagine!”
“They’ve been together from the start of the year?”
“‘Together’ isn’t the best way to describe it, from what I heard. Erin said he was as moody in bed as he is behind a podium. The Slytherin Tutor isn’t a girlfriend. She’s more like a concubine. If the girl is nasty-tempered, a real Slytherin, like Erin was, he’s nicer to them. I suspect because they don’t give a damn about anything he does. I heard Rowan was a real fawn last year, though, and fell in love with the bastard.” He shook his head. “Snape probably didn’t care for that much. He seems to like it impersonal – and he’s no gentleman.”
Arelia felt abruptly cold in the warm room. She avoided his attempts to resume their earlier play, got up, and quickly dressed. “Thank you for the enlightenment,” she spoke primly as she slipped into her boots and drew on the mink coat and white leather gloves. “I’ll see you at school.”
Marcus sat up against the padded headboard, displaying his perfect body. The white silk sheet barely covered his hips. “Don’t go away mad, Arelia. Is it my fault your friend lied to you?”
She turned, keeping her hand on the doorknob. “Do me a favor – claim the bet. I’ll vouch for you.”
He frowned. “No problem. Could be fun – but don’t blame me if I have to use my fists to convince your Hufflepuff it was your idea.”
Arelia’s expression and tone turned frosty. “Xander has no claim on my affections.”
The Slytherin’s smug face melted without warning into a mask of cunning. “Who are you hoping to upset then? Lachlan – or Snape?” His smile wasn’t nice. “Don’t waste your time on him, Arelia. Snape won’t care what you do or with whom. And I’d advise you to keep his secrets. He used to be a Death Eater – everyone knows that. Watch your step.” As she opened the door, he added, “You get him pissed at me, you’ll regret that too. Trust me.”
Arelia didn’t look at him as she left. She felt like she couldn’t breathe until the frigid night air surrounded her. A taxi pulled up to the curb and waited. Trying to calm her thoughts with her breathing, she opened the car door.
When she got home, her mother had waited up for her, asking about her date. Her responses were brief and distracted, and she excused herself as soon as she could. Upstairs, her bedroom seemed small – confining.
In the moonlight on the second pillow, she could almost see the memory of Carine sleeping there. Hadn’t she asked her what she thought of Snape then? Not the old teasing, but her honest opinion?
I didn’t want to talk about him then, but what if I had? Would things be different?
In the middle of shopping for their final year on Diagon Alley, Carine had led her off into Knockturn Alley, to meet with Snape. Her behavior in that bar had been outrageous. ‘My pleasure’, Snape had said, the low voice steeped with lust.
The image of Carine’s face in bed at the Hog’s Head haunted her. She’d looked confused, her eyes full of tears. At the time, Arelia had assumed being with Snape had merely overwhelmed her. Had there been an uglier reason for her tears?
“If you’ve hurt her,” she whispered to Snape’s memory, her fists clenching. She sank onto her bed. “Carine… Why didn’t you tell me?”
Her fingers wrapped around Kenneth’s as he held her on the balcony of his family’s library. Watching the white landscape as it darkened, she let out a longing sigh.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” he asked, his voice at her ear. “The whole world in the grip of winter, white and clean…”
Carine turned and looked up into his light green eyes. He held her hands and kissed her chilled fingers. “We should get back to the lessons. I have to know this stuff – really be able to use it.”
He released her and followed her back inside to the pile of books on the long table between the rows of shelves. “You know what they’re talking about downstairs.”
“Yeah, I know. My parents have been eagerly awaiting the day when they could sell their political standards for the glory of the bloodline. I’m sure they steered the topic to trading my ‘marriage portion’ for a vote they don’t want in record time.” She sighed and then tried to smile. “Arranged marriages are so last century.”
“Seems a little archaic, I guess.” He sat and opened another book, avoiding her gaze.
“Pure-blood families always are.” She sat next to him and stared at his wand lying on the table. The wood was from a rowan tree, a regal thing, and inside it was the heartstring of a dragon. Tears rose in her eyes. “You shouldn’t agree.”
“What’s wrong?” He turned to her immediately, his strong hands firm on her shoulders.
“You could have better – you deserve better…” Her breath caught and the tears spilled.
Kenneth drew her into his arms. “Carine, no … I love you. If you’re worried about that silly virgin bride tradition – I don’t care about that.”
You will, she thought numbly, and the more we go on with these Occlumency lessons, the more you’ll find out. Why is it so hard for me to block Legilimency? I have got to master this! If I don’t, I might not live to see Azkaban – if Snape finds out before that bitch Falchion.
She let him hold her and brush her tears away. He was so handsome and kind – and she loved him, too, though she had never told him. If her parents managed to seal their deal the way they hoped, she’d be affianced to him, with a wedding set for some distant fairytale day.
Would she be his wife before she had the courage to tell him the truth? That she’d let herself become another man’s whore? Even worse – she’d committed a sin that made that seem trifling.
No. I’ll have to tell him. Or – let him see it. I’m barely able to keep him from those memories anyway. He should know, so that he can call off this nonsense and have a wife worthy of him, someone good, who had never…
“Carine, look at me.” When she did, the love in his eyes made her want to cry again. “You’ve never told me why you want to learn this but I think I know, and it’s okay – I meant what I said. I don’t care about what you’ve done in the past or anything that’s going on now. If you think you could want me, that’s all I want.”
“What do you think you know? Tell me.”
“You aren’t – a maiden, to borrow another archaic term. You weren’t when we became lovers. I knew it then and it didn’t matter. I don’t feel like our parents do – I think we have to enter the new century, for heaven’s sake. If you feel badly about it, I can only say I’ll help you to forget, but it won’t stop me from wanting you as my wife.”
Carine sniffed. “That’s not all of it.”
“Oh my God.” Her hands rose, her fingers covering her mouth. “How did you –?”
“Ketch told me in my second year. He was pretty proud of that gothic bastard, had a ball defending his rights to the girl who was the Tutor then. Do you remember her? Helena. We all had a crush on her; so did a lot of the upperclassmen. I watched one of the Gryffindors get beat by Ketch and four other Slytherins one afternoon. I was in Herbology and Professor Sprout kept telling me to hush when I tried to tell her about it. It was behind the greenhouses, in the exact spot that Hayden and the others cornered me.”
His hands fell from her shoulders. “What? Make trouble for him?” He frowned. “Someone should, and I’d love to.”
“Kenneth, no – I can’t do that. Please… Please let me handle it.”
“Is he cruel to you?” His stare searched her soul.
“No … no, it’s not like that.” When he looked away, she crumpled. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I wanted – I had to make the others leave me alone. I knew if I was his, they couldn’t touch me.”
“I could have stopped any of them from bothering you, if you’d only told me they were. Slytherin doesn’t have all the big bruisers. I don’t understand you. I’d have done anything to help you – to protect you. I thought we were fine, last year, all last summer, too. Then you just stopped talking. When I asked you what was wrong and you wouldn’t say, I thought I’d angered you somehow. Then Hayden cleared things up, without a word. Until I got your message about meeting over Christmas, I thought you hated me.”
Carine reached out to touch him but hesitated. Her hands dropped to her lap. “I was afraid. I didn’t know what I wanted, and when I did, it was too late.”
He met her eyes again and she held her breath. “It’s not. You can stop it. I’ll help you.”
“Damn it, Carine, why? What is it! Do you love him?”
She couldn’t speak. Kenneth rose from the table with clenched fists and paced in front of the fireplace. Carine hung her head.
The wind rose outside. When the heavy wooden doors leading out to the balcony were closed, she looked up.
Kenneth turned to face her. “Forget the rest and answer me. Do you want this match?”
“I – I want to be with you, but…”
“You want to solve your own problems. Slytherin business, right?” He came to her, took her hands and sat beside her. “I’ve never known a more aggravating person.” He took a deep breath. “I love you, more than sense, obviously – and if you’ll agree to marry me, you can have the rest of school to sort out whatever mess you refuse to tell me about, but if you need me, you have only to ask. Understand?”
Carine nodded, stunned.
“I hope you can learn to trust me. I don’t understand why you want to deal with this alone, but if I can help…”
“You are helping – by teaching me Occlumency.” She leaned close and melted into him when he held her again. “I wish I could tell you everything, but I’m afraid if I did, you wouldn’t want me.”
His chin rested on her head. “You’re a fool, you know that? I wouldn’t care if you told me you were a Death Eater, reformed or not.”
“If you see things, with the lessons –”
“I’m not digging for secrets. You’re pretty good at keeping ordinary memories at hand when I break through, and I’m a lot better at Occlumency than Legilimency. It’s a lot harder to learn.”
“When we get back to school…”
“You want to let them all think we’re still ex? I don’t like it, but if it’s what you want, okay.” He sighed and held her closer. “We can ask our parents not to announce anything yet … but you are going to be my wife, no backing out now.”
“As long as you want me, I will, yes.”
“I’m not changing my mind, Carine. I won’t promise not to imagine ways to murder Snape, but I’ll let you deal with it how you want. I’m going to prove to you what love can put up with. You might be surprised.”
“I’m sorry.” She closed her eyes. “I don’t mean to be difficult.”
“‘Difficult’? What a way to put it.” He kissed her forehead before she drew away to look up at him. “You’re asking me to let you go back to that Slytherin ghoul and not interfere, but…” He tilted her head up before she could lower it. “You’re worth a lot more trouble than that.”
“Maybe we should get back to work.” She wiped her eyes and sniffed. “Before I forget everything you taught me already.”
“You’re a genius, you’ll get it. Relax. Stressing over what you’re trying to conceal doesn’t help.”
Carine smiled a little, hoping it was going to be okay after all. “Some days, that’s pretty hard to avoid.”
“I know. I’ve let my grades suffer worrying over you. Quidditch I can do in my sleep – but Arithmancy’s another story.”
The hour crept closer to midnight as he pressed further into the forest. The trees were too thick here to permit the moonlight to shine through, leaving the snow a gray-blue mass in the unrelenting shadows.
Severus turned and waited for his delinquents. The Slytherin members of the party were Falchion’s catch of the day, added to his when the former Auror had to make a meeting at the Ministry of Magic. Because most of them were members of his prize Quidditch team, the punishment detail had been changed. Unfortunately, it got Shaw and Silas out of the drudgery he had originally had in mind. Yet gathering potion ingredients was an eternal effort, and some of them available in this forest couldn’t be found in local Apothecaries.
Seven students of various ages emerged from the frigid mist, their burlap satchels full. Only two were females: a Hufflepuff who obviously worshipped Silas and a red-haired Slytherin in her sixth year. It was she who had hailed him.
“What is it, Miss Kistler?”
“Haurgaard got into the thorns, sir. We kept her blood off the bark harvest, but she’ll probably need Madam Pomfrey.”
Frowning, he watched as Silas approached with his scarf wrapped around his housemate’s forearm. He carried her satchel with his own. After inspecting the cuts, Severus nodded. “Take her in.”
Ferris Richter, the seventh year Slytherin Captain and Beater, acquired their satchels so the Hufflepuffs could return to the castle. He passed one of them to Garland, the intrepid Chaser, and the other to their slender third year Seeker, Brolin.
“Sir, should I go with them?” Shaw asked. “Make sure they’re safe out of here?”
“There’s an idea,” Richter drawled, “make it a Slytherin picnic.”
Severus almost didn’t allow it, but dark memories of this place changed his mind. “Go. Garland, take the bag.”
The four Slytherins remaining looked to him for further instructions, but he ignored them as he watched the other students head back.
Shaw had drawn his wand and his expression was grim, but Severus had the distinct impression that the forest wasn’t what had the boy on edge. Ever since the end of the holidays, he’d been quiet and sullen, barely containing a palpable hostility.
“Sir?” Richter spoke up. “Did you want us to continue?”
He looked around at them. “That will be enough for one night.” Severus turned to go back and they trailed after him. Kistler walked at his side only a pace or two behind. Her interest was obvious but he was too preoccupied to give it thought.
“Should we get a regular chop and wash operation going on our harvest tonight, sir?” Richter asked.
“No. I’m sure I can gather enough miscreants from other houses for that chore tomorrow. I want you and the rest of the team to get to sleep. You have a game coming up.”
They returned to the castle in silence as the moon climbed higher. Emerging from the forest, the snow surrounded them. No longer muted and dull, it shone in the moonlight, a glittering silver and white blanket. Yet it was not wholly unblemished. The tracks of three people crossed the open space up the hill. Two were close but the third was a few feet to the right, the boot prints turned often toward the forest before resuming the trek up to the entrance hall doors.
The descent to the dungeons didn’t warm any of them. Garland and Brolin spoke softly of hitting the kitchen and getting hot chocolate from the house-elves before bed.
Severus sat at his desk while they deposited their satchels on the worktable at the back of the office. He nodded briefly to the Seeker and the flat-nosed Chaser as they excused themselves. Richter hung back and Kistler was still setting down her bag.
“What is it?” Severus asked the boy.
“Shaw. He’s been glaring death at you all night, sir. I know you said we have to stop teaching them better respect, but he needs it.” He made a fist and cracked his knuckles with his other palm.
“Many students here are less than content in my company, especially in detention. Pay it no mind.”
The handsome brunet straightened his impressive six-foot frame and sighed. “Yes, sir – but he’d better watch for Bludgers in the next game. Vaughn and I have been practicing some of Ketch’s infamous moves. Flint has a few tricks ready, too.”
“Ensure that the Quidditch Cup remains in our keeping, and you’ll have done your duty to your house, Mr. Richter. I do not wish to give it back to Professors McGonagall or Flitwick at any point in the future.”
“That will be a pleasure, sir. But if Shaw just happens to need Skele-Gro by the end of the game, well – it’s a rough sport. Goodnight, Professor.”
Midnight had passed him by and another year was added to his age. Like all the rest, the day would be unmarked by most. The third decade of his life stretched out before him, as empty as the years behind.
A soft sound intruded on his thoughts and he realized that the redhead was still in the room. As she came into view, he met her gaze and frowned.
“Detention is over, Miss Kistler.”
“I wanted to speak to you privately, sir.”
“Meet me here after class tomorrow, then.”
She walked silently to the door but didn’t open it. “It’s disgraceful what she’s doing, sir.” Her fingers laced in front of her as she stood straight, no doubt a habit from her choral singing. “Lachlan enjoys the privileges but breaks the agreement. She insults you and all of us.”
Severus watched her, the frown deepening. “Explain yourself.”
“My mother is a friend of her family. There’s been an agreement between them and the Shaws, over the holidays. They aren’t announcing it officially until June – but Lachlan is affianced to Kenneth Shaw.”
“Yet she continues in her duty. I fail to see the problem – or the insult.”
“She’s supposed to be only –”
“Miss Kistler,” Severus interrupted, “I am quite aware of what Miss Lachlan is supposed to be.” She bowed her head, cowed by his whip-crack tone. After a moment of silence, he deliberately softened his tone. “Your offense in my honor is laudable but unnecessary. If Miss Lachlan is to marry Mr. Shaw, it will be after she graduates, and therefore none of my concern or interest. She is not indentured to my company for life.”
The girl looked up at him slowly, her emerald eyes bright. They were as expressive as Lachlan’s – and therefore equally disturbing. For the first time, he seriously assessed her as a person.
A fine mind, beauty and poise, and a strong respect for Slytherin honor make her a good candidate to take Lachlan’s place in the next year. It is a post she obviously covets, presenting a means to control her headstrong nature.
She also had another quality that intrigued him. Born to a poor family of pure-blood stock, far below Lachlan’s in social status, she had a hunger that shined from her eyes. Her desire for power and knowledge to enhance her prospects was a drive that eclipsed any sense of decency.
Dormitory rumor said she knew much about the Dark Arts from her Death Eater uncle, and that she had mastered a few disciplines not offered at Hogwarts. Perhaps he could endure another girl who reminded him of ghosts – if she could help him solve an old mystery.
Smiling to put her ease, he asked, “You are accomplished at Occlumency, I believe?”
“Yes, but not in your class, Professor.”
“Sufficient for a task I’d like you to undertake, I expect.”
“If I can do anything, sir –” Her body language communicated clearly the task she’d prefer to take on.
“For now, I need the services of your mind. Save the rest for next year.”
Her smile was a beguiling thing, full of wicked humor. “I will, sir.”
“I will instruct you further in Legilimency and in return, I want you to make friends with a few select students.” As she nodded, he waved her out. “After class tomorrow, Miss Kistler.”
“Yes, sir.” She opened the door and paused before closing it, turning back to him. “Happy Birthday, Professor.”
When the door closed, he sat back in his chair with a smile tugging at his lips. He might not need to teach her much after all.
Author’s Note: Here begins the diverging promised by the story title. Tighten your seatbelts, LOL. Snape’s birthday is January 9, 1960. Sorry for the delay, I signed up for the Dean/Castiel Big Bang over in the Supernatural fandom and it’s kept me busier than usual. October is also a crazy month for me. Thanks for reading! – AnonGrimm (@MET_Fic) (anongrimm.tumblr.com)