Chapter 1 - Beginning Afresh

~ Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire, I hold with those who favour fire,
But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice is also great and would suffice. ~
-Robert Frost

August the 18th could not have been a nicer day. The sun was shining brightly, as fluffy white clouds sailed across the blue sky. It was a shame that the good weather couldn't last throughout the year, but in London it would be a miracle if it lasted through the next day. Tamara Edgecombe smiled at the irony of the thought, as she twirled her spoon in the empty ice-cream dish. A trip to Florean Fortesque's ice-cream parlour had been on her list of things 'to do' as she waited for her best friend Jez to arrive, so that they could go shopping in Diagon Alley. After all, the new school year would begin in less than two weeks time, and they needed to be ready.

Her thoughts wandered, as the summer sun warmed her shoulders. She had endured five years of study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the last of which had been more painful than she cared to remember. But despite her best efforts, memories resurfaced anyway. A childhood of confusion and loneliness passed before her eyes. Her father's affair, the school play her parents hadn't come to watch her perform in, the achievements that hadn't been recognised, and the years of constant bullying at the hands of the devious Juliet Malone and her band of intrepid Slytherin followers…

Finally, in her fifth year, she had decided to make them all see exactly what she could do, and what she could accomplish. She had thrown herself, incessantly, into her school work. So much so that she had spent the better part of the year on the brink of physical exhaustion. Jez, terrified for Tamara's wellbeing, had watched her spiral into depression, and had given her constant efforts to trying to make her friend slow down. Efforts which had, of course, been fruitless. Tamara had managed to survive all but two of her exams. Having collapsed at the culmination of the predecessor, she had been rushed to St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. After a few days of recuperation, her therapist had set her on a course of antidepressant medication which was really just a modified form of the Draught of Peace. As soon as she had been released, however, she had secretly refused to take the medication. If she was going to get better, she was going to do it properly, and not with the aid of a drug doled out by the hospital to everyone who displayed the appropriate symptoms. Shuddering, slightly, she willed herself back into reality. She did not want to experience another year like the one that had just passed, nor did she want to bring back the pain by dwelling on it, endlessly.

All of a sudden, a pair of arms threw themselves over her shoulders and about her neck, in a playful hug. Her heart rate rising dramatically at the surprise, she turned to find her best friend Jez McKenzie grinning back at her. Tamara smiled weakly in return, allowing her friend to urge her to her feet.

"Come on, darl. Let's go shopping!" Jez prompted, enthusiastically.

"Ready when you are." Tamara replied. At once, Tamara produced a piece of parchment from her jeans pocket, and consulted it. "First on the list are the N.E.W.T level text books. Shall we get those first?"

"Oh, do we have to do that now? Can't we do the fun shopping first?" Jez pouted.

"The sooner we get the important things done, the more time we'll have to do the fun stuff." Tamara told her, adamantly. Reluctantly, Jez nodded, following Tamara back into Diagon Alley.

An hour or so later, Tamara consulted her list again.

"I just need to visit the apothecary to replenish some of my supplies, and then we're done."

Wandering past the various shelves of jars in the Apothecary a few minutes later, lost in thought, Tamara found herself colliding with a tall, strong, someone. As she turned to apologise, she realised that the someone was, in fact, Professor Severus Snape, the Hogwarts Potions Master. Her voice failed her as her eyes locked with his inscrutable stare. She could almost feel the crimson red creep across her cheeks at his refusal to look away from her, or move out of her way. She hated the embarrassment that burned through her body. The last time she remembered seeing him was at the end of the Potions exam. Upon finishing, she had stood to leave. All she remembered about what happened next was her legs giving way beneath her, the impact of her body against the floor, and the scream of one of the students who had inevitably thought she had died. She remembered a blur of faces swimming in front of her eyes, as she had struggled to focus. Professor Snape's had been the only one she could make out. She remembered only the intense worry in his eyes, and then darkness had consumed her senses. She hated the embarrassment she felt at facing him for the first time since what had happened. She bowed her head in humiliation, but even as she did so his fingers reached out to lift her chin so that their eyes met once more. The significance of this one simple action burned through her entire being. She felt the words he wanted to tell her, even if he did not say them. He directed to her comfort, understanding, and even admiration at her strength. His sentiments shot through her, shaking her to her very core. But before she had collected herself once more, he was stepping past her, after no more than a moment had passed, leaving her with the strange burning sensation that had accrued from the moment and her proximity to him. She had never felt such a sensation before. It commanded the beat of her heart, and the pump of the blood in her veins. It was strange, indeed, but oddly delicious in its all encompassing snare. Once more, Jez shocked her back into reality.

"One would almost think you're attracted to him, the way you blushed just now." Jez whispered. Ignoring the playful jibe, Tamara pushed past her friend, as she began to gather what she needed, trying to empty her mind of what had just happened.

That evening, when Tamara arrived home, the first thing she did was shut herself safely in her room, and deposit the results of her shopping trip on the floor.

She hadn't been able to shake the scene in the Apothecary from her mind, no matter how much she had tried, even when she had allowed herself to descend into joining Jez in her jovial chatter. And now, alone in her room, there was nothing to stop her thoughts from taking charge.

She cast her memories back to the Apothecary. In her mind's eye, she could see him standing before her. She could almost feel the liquid motion with which he moved his hand and the warmth of his fingers against her skin as he lifted her head so that her gaze met his once more. And then there were the odd sensations she had felt charge through her body as he had gazed back at her, with his indecipherable expression.

Was it possible? Was she actually attracted to him, as Jez had suggested? Instantly she dismissed the idea. This was Severus Snape. The one teacher whom the student population uniformly despised. The teacher whose sour disposition and hateful attitude inspired fear and dread in all who crossed his path. It was impossible. There was no way anyone could be attracted to such a man… Except that she was.

Underneath the stone cold of his demeanour, and his less than perfect appearance, was something which he consistently refused to show anyone, and she had been fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of it twice now. Maybe she could give it a chance; see if she couldn't catch another glimpse of what she had seen in him when she had collapsed at the end of her Potions exam and again today.

Satisfied with the solution she had come up with, she selected one of her well-thumbed C.S. Lewis books and settled into the soft cushions on her bed, Puccini's beautiful melodies sailing towards her from the CD player. The atmosphere was perfect, lulling her into a sense of peace she had not felt for a long time.

Tamara dashed from her room, straightening her tie as she skidded into the dining room. She couldn't afford to be late.

"Tamara, if you don't hurry up, you're going to be late." Her Mother scolded. Tamara didn't say anything. She sat at the table, reaching for the toast. "Do you really think you should be wearing those boots? And you know that skirt is supposed to be for best." Her Mother went on. Tamara stifled a guilty grin. Instead of the ugly grey pleated skirt, she had chosen a smart black skirt that sat above the knee. With it, she wore her knee high boots, over a pair of black tights. Coupled with the blouse, Ravenclaw tie, and Hogwarts travel robe, she looked significantly smarter than her uniform usually allowed. Realising that her daughter wasn't going to respond, Allison tutted, as she reached for the teapot. As soon as Tamara had finished her toast, she rose from the table again, making her way to the bathroom.
"Is that all you're having for breakfast?" Allison called after her.

"I'll get something on the Hogwarts Express." Tamara called back from the bathroom, where she stood in front of the mirror fixing her long chestnut curls in a pony tail. "Is Dad driving us to London?" She asked, calling out again.

"No. He had to go to work early. I'm driving." Allison replied.

"But I won't get to see him before I go." Tamara complained.

"What do you want me to do about it Tamara? I can't just snap my fingers and get what I want." Allison snapped, getting annoyed.

"That's not fair." Tamara shot back, dropping her hands to her sides. Allison buried her face in her hands.

"I'm sorry." She whispered. "I wish I could make things different."

"I know." Tamara told her, wrapping her arms around her Mother. "I just wish he could be around more. Sometimes I feel like he doesn't care."

"I know it doesn't make up for him, but I care." Allison assured her.

"That means a lot to me." Tamara replied, fighting back the tears that threatened to ruin her eye make-up.

"We should get going, or you really will be late." Allison told her, patting her arm. Tamara nodded, heading back to her room to retrieve her Hogwarts trunk.

****

Later that day, Tamara walked the length of the Hogwarts Express in search of Jez. She found her best friend in an empty compartment, flicking idly through the pages of a muggle fashion magazine. When she noticed Tamara standing in the doorway, she looked up and grinned.

"Hi, Tamara. Why don't you sit down?" Jez told her friend, at which Tamara obliged, straightening her skirt as she did so. "You look nice." Jez commented, casually.

"Wasn't it you who taught me the value of having pride in my appearance?" Tamara told her friend, pointedly.

"True. Why now, though?"

"I think you can guess why."

"I know you too well, girlfriend. So what's the plan?"

"Gain his favour of course. Not an easy task though. And the question is; how?"

"Oh, that's easy. Excel at potions, and make it your favourite subject."

"You call that easy?"

"Sure. Potions is already your favourite subject, Tamara, and you got good enough grades to get into Snape's N.E.W.T level class. I'd say that half your task is already done." Jez told her, lightly. "Just make sure you don't overwork yourself. You really scared the hell out of everyone last year." She went on, serious now.

"I promise you, I'm never going back to that place." Tamara replied, the conviction in her voice outweighing any lingering doubts about what the coming year would bring.

Tamara's first reaction was that it was good to be back at Hogwarts again. But when she stepped into the Great Hall, an odd sensation overcame her. She had collapsed in this hall, and that had been the last she had seen of Hogwarts until now. She knew it was for the best that she face this sooner rather than later, though, if only to overcome any fear that she might still feel. And though it looked vastly different with the House tables and the long platters of food, it still felt strange. Deciding to bury the awkwardness she felt, at least for now, she followed Jez to the Ravenclaw table, idly scanning the High table for Snape as she took her seat. When she found him, the same odd sensation that she had felt in the Apothecary washed over her again. This time, she did nothing to move it or change it or suppress it. She simply let it exist, as her eyes drank him in.

"Might I suggest giving him your undivided attention in class, rather than at dinner? People are starting to stare." Jez whispered, with a nudge. More than a little sheepishly, Tamara turned her attention back to the table, noticing the gothic girl who sat across from them staring shamelessly. Tamara frowned, before allowing Jez to lull her into conversation. Mere minutes later, the doors flew open, and Professor McGonagall marched into the Hall, followed by a group of first year students.

"The Sorting is about to begin." Tamara pointed out, needlessly, as McGonagall took her place beside a stool which sat at the forefront of the Hall, as she held up an ugly, tattered hat, and called forth the first of the students to be sorted.

Tamara cheered with the rest of her House when the new students joined them, but one thing did not escape her notice. The gothic girl was staring at her again, immediately instigating Tamara's annoyance. She shook her head, trying to ignore the unsettling feeling that was beginning to grow in the pit of her stomach.

As soon as the Sorting was over, Professor Dumbledore stood to deliver the start of year notices.

"I would like to welcome you all back to Hogwarts for what I am sure will be another enlightening year. Welcome, also, to our new students. Firstly, I would like to remind you that the Dark Forest is strictly forbidden. Secondly, Mr Filch has asked me to tell you that anyone caught in the possession of Dung Bombs will receive immediate detention. For a full list of offending items, please see Mr Filch. Thirdly, I would like to ask you not to throw food into the lake. I daresay that the Giant Squid can feed itself! On a serious note; I am sure you do not need reminding of Lord Voldemort's current status. I would urge you all to remember it, not so that you live in the shadow of fear, but so that you remain strong. Nothing is more important at this moment than standing together; united."

With those words said, Dumbledore took his seat. The student body sat in unanimous stunned silence for a few moments, before the few reams of quiet chatter broke the ice. While everyone else dug into dinner, Tamara contemplated a thought that had crossed her mind.

"Jez, did you notice anything odd about Dumbledore's speech?" Tamara asked her friend, delicately.

"You mean, aside from the pointer about You-Know-Who?"

"Aside from that."

"Then, no."

"Don't you think it's strange that Dumbledore didn't mention anything about a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher? We know that Umbridge is gone and that the post is empty, so who's going to be taking the post now?"

"No idea. And I guess we'll just have to wait for class to start before we find out." Jez told her.

Resigned, Tamara sighed, and helped herself to the roast potatoes.

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