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In Retrospect. by Magical Maeve

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Several days went by without even a hint that a new student had arrived. She had melted into the cauldron that was Hogwarts and disappeared from his view.
Severus returned to earnest studying, and a little skilful revenge on his enemies here and there. In many ways he was grateful, glad that he did not have to deal with a complication, and yet he felt he had lost a new-found pleasure. His nostrils still contained something of her; his brain struggled to reconstruct the thrill of a new scent.

It was five days after their first exchange that he saw her again. She was standing by the fountain in the main forecourt, sitting on its stone wall and talking to a Ravenclaw seventh-year; a male Ravenclaw seventh-year. Severus had no idea that the sudden bitter taste on his tongue was jealousy. He had never had need of the feeling before, never having coveted anything for himself in this way. Her back was to him, that oddly familiar flare of red the only real slash of colour in the white and grey landscape.

He hurried across the icy stone, careful not to slip and bring attention to himself. His head bowed, avoiding her, avoiding anyone, he didn’t notice her rapid dismissal of the boy. The ice muffled her gentle steps as she slithered to catch up with him. Her voice, when it came, rang clear against the chill of the afternoon.

–Severus! I was beginning to think you were avoiding me.”

He tried to come to a dignified halt, but his foot, treacherous thing that it was, slipped and he stumbled. Her hand was instantly at his arm, steadying him against a fall.

–The ice is unkind,” she said with a smile. –I hate this time of year. I think I will always hate this time of year.” There was a now missing from the end of that sentence, Severus felt. A now that concerned her mother. But he did not know how to broach the subject, how to ask her about the missing information.

–I prefer autumn,” he replied, not knowing why the admission had fallen from his lips.

–Oh, me too!” The look of delight on her face at a pleasure shared was a puzzlement to him. Why should she be so delighted that they liked the same season? What did trifles like that matter?

–I have work to do,” he said, apropos of nothing.

–Do you?” Why did her eyes constantly have to smile like that? And Severus had a flash of insight that was so rare to him that he felt paralysed by it. She was burying whatever it was she had carried with her from Ireland. She was burying her feelings, along with her mother, beneath a smile and beneath distractions.

–Perhaps you would like to… –

The air cracked around them, in much the same way as the ice cracked beneath their feet.

–… to what?” She raised her face to meet his suggestion

–Walk. Perhaps you would like to walk?”

–Do you do much walking, Severus?”

–I try.”

–I like to walk too, or ride. I don’t think you ride, do you?”

He bridled for a moment under the implied slight, and then realised she hadn’t intended it as a barb. –No. I don’t ride. Not unless it’s absolutely necessary. Broomsticks are extremely uncivilised.”

–I meant horses,” she grinned. –I’m sorry. I forget not everyone spends all their time mucking out and generally being a bit horse mad.”

–I don’t ride horses either,” he admitted, feeling more uncomfortable by the second.

–But I find walking is best,” she said. –Definitely walking.”

And so they walked. They headed for the lake and their feet met with less hazardous ground as they reached the gravel track that led around it. Neither spoke for a while, content to breathe out clouds of air that met the cold in a flurry of white. Winter had dulled her smell, but it was still there, still apparent, and he breathed deeply of it.

–Your mother,” he began, unsure of the right words, unsure of his own reaction to grief.

–Has died.” She turned to him, her keen eyes marred by the fresh pain. –And I have been sent here to save my father having to deal with more than one thing at once. It is probably for the best. Thanks for asking though. I think everyone is else is scared of my sadness so avoids it, and me. It’s quite lonely really. The only people that talk to me are boys and they’re usually only after a trip to Hogsmeade for a quick snog.”

Severus processed this information slowly. –But I’m a boy.”

–Yes, you are.” She was smiling again, the grief chased away. –You are quite different, though.”

He didn’t know how to respond to that so changed the subject, falling back on the small talk his mother had been so fond of. –Do you miss your home?”

–Of course I do.” She shrugged her shoulders. –There’s little point dwelling on it though, is there. I won’t be going home in the near future. So, this is my home and I must make friends. Do you miss your home?”

–No.” He answered the question far too quickly. –Nothing to miss.”

–Everyone misses something.”

–Not everyone,” he insisted.

Maeve turned her face out to the lake and breathed deeply. –I should probably confess that you’re not exactly a stranger to me.”

–In what way?” Severus watched her profile, a sick feeling in his stomach. Everything was about to revert back to normal. He sensed his mother’s hand in this; she was forever trying to find him a suitable young lady, not that she ever had because any suitable young lady would have run a mile. An image flashed through his mind of his mother bent over her writing desk, commiserating with Maeve’s father and at the same time using the man’s vulnerability to catch his now motherless daughter for her unmarriageable son.

Maeve turned back to him and laughed at the serious face he wore. As his face fell further she realised that she had done the wrong thing by laughing and reached for his hand to reassure him.

–You look so severe,” she said, giving his hand a squeeze. –What do you think I’m going to say, that our parents have been plotting to marry us off!”

He was startled by this, wondering if mind reading was another one of her talents. His hand was warm in hers and he didn’t immediately pull away.

–I don’t know what to think.” Sheepishness didn’t come naturally to him; it crept up and pounced.

–Our butler spent some time working for your father before he came to us. Darkacre, isn’t it? He learned a lot there, I think. My father liked the idea that he had been working for an English wizarding family. When Father was getting ready to pack me off here, Liam said I should look out for you. He said, and I’m pretty much quoting, that you were a fierce intelligent boy who could do with a woman’s touch. He said don’t let the exterior put you off because there was something special on the interior.” She stopped abruptly, wondering if she had been too candid. –He said that he had liked you and that he thought I would too.”

Severus removed his hand from hers and walked on a little. She let him go. His dark cloak fluttered in the breeze as he moved, turning him into a giant disgruntled bat. He made it as far as the water’s edge, where he stopped and watched the shifting shadows for a moment. Liam had been right, there was something extraordinary about this young man, and she had seen that from the moment she had come across him in the library. There was a hum of powerful magic beneath the surface that she couldn’t wait to see manifest itself. She was sure he genuinely didn’t care that his hair needed attention or his manner could be a bit brusque, and the more she thought about it, neither did she.

–And do you?” he asked eventually. His voice was quite the iceberg, concealing most of what he meant to say beneath a sharp point.

–Like you?” she replied. –I don’t know you well enough to say for certain, but I am intrigued by you. Perhaps I should ask you the same thing. Do you like me?”

–Too soon to say.”

She was stung a little by the lack of playfulness in his words: he actually seemed to mean them.

–Okay. I can accept too soon. It’s not a no, at least.” Her voice was unusually small. –Shall we go back inside? It’s getting quite cold now.”

–You go ahead. I have some potions ingredients to collect from the edge of the forest.”

It was a dismissal. With no argument she told him simply not to get too cold and left him standing there, as lonely a figure as he had ever been in his life. He didn’t feel lonely at that moment though; he didn’t actually know how he felt because he was a welter of confusion. What he thought he felt was glad, but never having really felt gladness before, he couldn’t quite be sure. With a sigh, Severus walked towards the forest; having painted himself into an excuse he knew he needed to make it look real. When he thought he was far enough away he risked turning his head around. He managed to do it at exactly the same time Maeve did, so despite their abrupt departure from each other and the distance between them, they were both left with a slightly warm feeling that carried them on their way.