Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created by J. K. Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. The title and the song quoted in the beginning is from Nickel Creek's self-titled album.

A/N: This story, which has been sitting in my hard drive forever and which is now going up unedited, is an experiment on an often-explored theme. It contains no spoilers for OotP as of yet, but may do so in future chapters. Also, I have begun this story—as so many of my others—in medias res, because I've always found it difficult to begin a story from the beginning. I intend to give a background very soon. I apologise if this one is not as good as As Miles to Go Before I Sleep (which has turned out to be my favourite next to Learning to Breathe), or you find the thought of Snape ogling an eleven year-old disturbing; I do as well. And the chapter title (however grammatically surprising) is from e.e. cummings.

Dedicated to our very own Sabra Girl. May she find the heart to "Speak", and to finally kiss a certain someone next to a "Brand new sidewalk".

C h a p t e r o n e

Love is more thicker than regret

You got to leave me now, you got to go alone

You got to chase a dream, one that's all your own

Before it slips away

When you're flyin' high, take my heart along

I'll be the harmony to every lonely song

That you learn to play

When you're soarin' through the air

I'll be your solid ground

Take every chance you dare

I'll still be there

When you come back down.

The annual Sorting was not an activity that Severus Snape enjoyed. To him it merely signified the loss of his summer freedom, for which he was partly grateful, but mostly irritated—grateful because the noise and the activity that came with the school terms kept him from thinking too much, and irritated simply because he was Severus Snape.

This year's sorting seemed much like any other; it certainly was no different from the twenty-five or so Sortings that he had witnessed in his years as a teacher at Hogwarts. The first-years, in a state that Snape had long ago unconsciously labelled as 'liable-to-wet-their-pants', were rushed into the Hall, none of them in a great hurry to be first in line before facing the dingy glory of the Hat.

The ratty thing, having sung its song (to which Snape paid no attention; he almost twiddled his thumbs while looking at the dark ceiling), left Filius Flitwick to begin the ceremony as Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster still, looked on. As was his custom, Snape looked at all students in turn, sizing them up, filing their names and faces clinically in his mind, tracing lineages through surnames and judging which ones would be a credit to his House. "Abbot, Hans" looked nothing like his cousin Hannah and was sorted into Ravenclaw, while "Blackburn-Dwyer, Agatha", a small confection of blonde locks and ribbons, seemed to hide much behind her glassy blue eyes, as her sorting into Slytherin proved. As Flitwick's tiny voice announced each name, Snape's eyes roved down the line of knobbly-kneed wizards and witches, until he came upon a remarkable face.

For a brief, fleeting moment it was as though he was ages younger, and the room seemed to come out of focus and then come back swirling with the colours and memories of fifteen years ago, when eleven year old Harry Potter was to be sorted. As the present-day Snape, flabbergasted and unable to breathe, gazed hungrily at the tiny, brown-haired girl, a painfully familiar woman seemed to stare out of her eyes, which were—

—black.

Not brown, not the honeyed shade that he knew so well.

The illusion vanished, and he became aware that the girl had far too many freckles, and that her hair was straight and boring—not at all like the wild riot of tight curls that had haunted his dreams for the past decade or so. Sound rushed back into his ears, and he found that he could breathe again. The guilt—guilt for his inappropriate desires, for the trifling, silly pleasure that came with even just remembering her—that he had long ago begun to carry woke him up.

Had anyone noticed? The assembly's eyes were still turned to the diminutive figure of Professor Flitwick, and no one seemed to have seen Snape's brief fluctuation of sanity. He gave a small sigh of relief, but it was cut short when he turned and, just in time, saw a pair of blue eyes—blue seemed to have lost their twinkle—swivel away.

As the sorting ended and "Yale, Anika" was applauded by her new housemates ("HUFFLEPUFF!"), Dumbledore began to stand, and then stopped, remembering that he couldn't stand anymore. Snape cast a brief glance at the floating chair that supported Dumbledore's fragile frame, and fought the depression that clawed at him from the sight.

Sometimes, it simply wasn't fair.

He couldn't listen to Dumbledore's welcoming speech (although he was sure that it went something like 'Tuck in'), nor to the cacophonous riot that was the School Song. But when a deluge of scent attacked his nose, he knew that it was time to pick up his knife and fork, and to begin eating, and to keep up the illusion that he was alive. He wasn't sure that it actually worked; he didn't feel alive, and people looked at him as though he were a rotting corpse, anyway.

Later he would relive the whole scene in his mind, and he wouldn't know if it happened during the soup or during dessert, whether it took place before or after Adrian and Albert Weasley had released a flood of synthetic snakes upon the Slytherin table, or what he had been thinking about when the door to the Great Hall, all of a sudden, flew open.

He was reminded, ridiculously enough, of Mad-Eye Moody.

It is strange, the things that come into a person's mind at odd moments like this one. For as she stood in the enormous doorway, hair in damp disarray and rainwater dripping off the ends of her cloak, all he could think of was that her eyes were still brown—not black, not electric blue, but brown.

All eyes turned towards her, and for a moment, silence filled the Hall. Much of the Head Table stood up (with the exception of Dumbledore, who could not; Snape himself, who was too paralysed to do so; and the other teachers, who had no idea who she was), as did most of the seventh-years and some of the younger students. The young woman herself might have been wearing her Order of Merlin, first class, on her breast, for all of the attention that she got.

Fame did not sit very well with her; she didn't know how to handle it, having been, for most of her life, unnoticed, even looked upon with annoyance. In the midst of that awful silence, her eyes darted desperately around the hall, looking for a lifeline—until her gaze met his.

It seemed to go on forever, that moment, and in that forever, the feelings that Snape was convinced he had long buried rose quickly to the surface; a nearly physical pain, like a heavy stone, settled into his stomach, and once again, he was carrying the weight of a burden that he thought he had dropped long ago.

He came back to himself, and the world again contained everyone else, not just the two of them. He looked away towards Dumbledore, who opened his mouth to speak.

'Good evening, Miss Granger.'

(End chapter)

11 December 2003