Chapter ~ Learning the Truth

After spending most of the train ride pretending to listen to her dorm mates' summer plans, Muriel finally found Severus sitting in the very last compartment of the train, alone. His things weren't even in the compartment, just him with his head leaning against the window, watching the world rush by backwards. He hadn't been there the last time she'd looked. "Sev, can I talk to you about something?" He pulled his head away from the glass and swiveled to look at her, as if he barely had the energy.

"I'd prefer not to discuss it," he replied shortly, turning his face away from her again. His eyes were very cold, and seemed to be reprimanding her for bringing it up. But she couldn't be SURE that's what his eyes were saying. That was why she had to talk to him.

"Not that," she said. "I'd just as soon forget that too. Look, Sev, we've been friends a long time and you've put up with a lot from me, especially with the Legilimens spell and all, but - " she trailed off, wondering how to say what she was thinking. She decided that the direct approach would be best. "But you've been closing your mind off from me, bit by bit, and I'm having trouble understanding why."

Now she had his full attention. She knew she sounded like a pleading girlfriend, and maybe that's what she was. It was certainly what their parents wanted, and up until this year, she'd thought she wanted it too. But the closeness that they had always shared was slipping away. He was hiding something from her, and he'd never done that before, as far as she knew. Whatever it was, it was big.

"What exactly were you hoping to find in my mind anyway?" he asked scathingly, standing and moving toward her. "WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE IN MY HEAD POKING AROUND?" He was shouting now, and Muriel could feel the tears coming, but she didn't back away.

"I haven't been poking around in your head, Sev, but even just the usual emotions that I've always been able to feel are gone. You are either blocking them from me, or -" she didn't want to say the 'or', but he said it for her.

"Or maybe they just aren't there anymore? Is that what you think?" He'd lowered his voice, and was passing a hand over his eyes as he sat back down. It was at this moment that the door was wrenched open, and Remus Lupin stuck his head inside. Severus shot him a furious glance. "What do you want, Lupin?" he asked in a dangerously low voice. Muriel kept her back to the door, wiping at the tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Just making sure there isn't any trouble. Awfully noisy in here." Remus said evenly. Muriel spun suddenly and pushed past Remus, nearly knocking him over. She slammed the compartment door behind her and locked it with three separate spells, a grim look of triumph on her tear streaked face. She noticed with satisfaction that Remus, leaning against the far wall, looked rather ruffled for once. She turned toward the front of the train, intending to find some friends from her own house, but collided with Sirius, who'd come to see what was taking Remus so long. He grabbed her shoulders to steady her and looked down with a smile.

"Are you okay?" he asked. His smile faltered when he saw that she'd been crying.

"I'm fine." Muriel wasn't sure exactly what she'd felt when their eyes met, but she looked away quickly. "Excuse me." She made to push past him, but he still had a grip on her arms. He pulled her gently back around.

"Why don't you join Remus and me? We're bored because James went to track down Lily." Sirius knew he'd said the right thing. Muriel nodded silently, but it seemed to him that she was grateful in spite of her body language. Remus caught his eye and raised an eyebrow, but Sirius just shrugged and headed back to their compartment.

"Where's Peter?" Muriel asked suddenly, as she sat down in the empty compartment. Sirius and Remus looked slyly at one another, but didn't answer. To their utter surprise, Muriel's eyes turned in the one direction no one expected: to the floor. She caught the chubby little rat neatly in one hand and held him up to her face. Raising her eyes to see the shocked look on the boys' faces, she laughed a bit, and whispered, "Ah, here he is!"

She placed the rat beside her on the bench, and it promptly became Peter. Muriel laughed even more to see that the new arrival had the same look on his face as both Sirius and Remus. "This explains everything!" she exclaimed, "Wormtail, Moony, and Padfoot. That means James must be Prongs!" The boys looked hopelessly at one another. Remus slipped quietly onto the bench.

"Severus must have told her." His eyes were on Sirius, who returned Remus' woeful expression.

Muriel turned to Peter. "Why don't you go hang out with Potter? I have something rather personal to explain to these two." Peter looked startled, but didn't move. "I'll send Remus along in a bit," she added encouragingly, forcing herself not to look at Sirius as she spoke. Why had she offered to send only Remus? Peter left, closing the door behind him, and Sirius took his place next to Muriel.

She waited until the sound of his footsteps receded. "First, Remus, you should know that Severus wouldn't have mentioned it if I hadn't already known." Remus took his head out of his hands and stared at her, shocked. "We sat in the same boat on our way to the castle our first year, do you remember?" He shook his head slightly, then changed his mind and nodded. "Well, we did, and you sat there the entire time thinking, 'Please don't let anyone find out.' The picture of yourself as a werewolf was so ingrained in your head that I probably could have done a drawing of it. Naturally I didn't tell anyone, especially not Severus. He's got an unnatural aversion to such things."

"How could you possibly have seen an image of me that I was thinking about." Remus sounded shocked, and Sirius looked it. She knew she'd better wrap it up. With her luck, James would be here any minute, and she'd have to go.

"You've heard of the Legilimens spell, haven't you?" They looked at her blankly for a moment, then something clicked behind Sirius' eyes.

"Let's you force entry into someone's mind."

"Right. So if you cast it on me right now, you'd be able to see images of certain events in my life."

"It's useful for interrogation, but you have to be in the room with someone to cast it." Sirius remembered now. He'd read about it in one of the dusty old books in his father's attic. "But it's considered a Dark Art these days. It isn't exactly an illegal curse, but the ministry tends to frown on that sort of thing."

Muriel was quiet for a minute, trying to decide if she really wanted to tell them this. But if they were going to spend the rest of the train ride together, she figured she'd better. Otherwise they would all be very uncomfortable. "How useful would it be if you didn't have to cast the spell at all? What if you heard the conversations other people have with themselves behind their eyes? What if you saw the things that haunted your friends' minds? What if every emotion in a 20 mile radius hit you like it was your own?" She hadn't meant to sound so bitter, but she recognized the feeling for what it was.

"Worse yet: What if everything YOU feel is projected out from you like sunlight. Everyone in all directions knows when you're happy or sad and you can't hide it, no matter how hard you try." She was crying again now, and cursing herself for it. Sirius had put an arm around her and she leaned into him, not noticing that he was staring at Remus as if to beg for help.

"Sorry," she muttered. "I was supposed to be explaining how I found out about your animagus abilities." She kept her voice low so it wouldn't break. The tears were gone as suddenly as they'd begun, but she stared at the floor as she continued. "I knew you were trying when you asked me about the duck incident. Then yesterday you growled at me." She laughed a little. "It was Remus who gave you away. He sort of laughed and I concentrated on him. I couldn't help but hear what he was thinking." She looked up at Sirius, but didn't pull away. He was chuckling softly and shaking his head. "Once I figured that out, it wasn't hard to match you all up to your nicknames: Moony, Padfoot, Wormtail and Prongs. You've called each other by those names all year."

Remus crossed the compartment to sit on Muriel's other side and put his arm around her too. "You're one clever witch, you know that?" Even as he spoke she could feel his mind closing her off, like the slow lowering of a portcullis. She'd never met anyone who could shut her out so completely except Severus. Even Remus' emotions were swallowed up behind his eyes. She blinked at him and smiled a little before continuing.

"It isn't cleverness so much as luck. I was born with this 'gift' as Papa calls it. Trust me, I'd love to be able to block it out sometimes. Other times, though, I can't live without it." She was looking very sad again, and stood suddenly. "I should get going. I'm sure Severus is having a difficult time getting out of his compartment." They looked at her, and she could feel anger rising in Sirius again. Just the mention of Severus seemed to do that.

"Actually," Remus said quickly, "I've got to patrol the corridors again anyway. If you teach me the spell, I'll let him out." She taught him the spell, grateful not to have to face Severus again so soon, but nervous about sitting alone with Sirius. Remus left hurriedly to release Snape.

Sirius and Muriel sat quietly then. But she could hear the questions jumping around inside his head. 'I wonder which he'll ask first?' she thought to herself. 'He's still very angry.' The silence was just about stifling.

"That's what Snape was yelling at you about, then?" Sirius asked suddenly, surprising them both. Muriel wasn't surprised very often.

"Not exactly. Severus was defending himself. Growing up with me around has made him close off his mind. He's been doing it all year - making me guess what he thinks and feels about everything. We've been friends forever, and I know we always will be, but it doesn't make it any less hurtful for him to keep secrets like this. I called him on it. I should've left well enough alone."

The train pulled up to platform 9 ¾ at last and Sirius helped Muriel carry her trunk off the train before running back to get his own. He was feeling a bit hyper. He'd been able to talk with her without his wand in hand for the first time in their lives. They'd decided that it would be best if Muriel visited him this summer rather than him visiting her. He was already drafting a letter to her father in his head as he pulled his trunk out onto the platform.

Muriel stood by her trunk, looking anxiously for her father, but he was nowhere to be seen. "Muriel, dear!" Someone was calling to her. She dragged her trunk over to the waving figure of Mrs. Snape. She could hear another trunk behind her and thought it must be Severus, though she couldn't feel his presence at all.

"There you are, dear! Your father asked me to pick you up as well. He had urgent business elsewhere. Come on now, let's get your things into the car." They left the platform in silence, Severus leading the way.

Muriel cast a glance over her shoulder to see Sirius watching her, an unreadable expression on his face. But for once his thoughts were clear enough for her to read. He didn't want her going home with Severus. It occurred to her suddenly that maybe she hadn't misread him at the Halloween dance after all. She smiled a little and waved with her free hand. He nodded in return before joining the Potter family. He'd mentioned that he was spending the first half of the summer with them.

With a sigh, Muriel grasped her trunk handle tightly and ran to catch up with Severus. When they got to the car, he sat in the front with his mother, leaving her alone in the back. Mrs. Snape kept looking at her in the rear view mirror. Finally, as the passengers knew she would, Mrs. Snape asked the question.

"Is something bothering you two?" She was looking shrewdly into the mirror as she said this and Muriel caught her eye.

"That's just what I was asking Severus on the train. It seems that something is bothering him, but he doesn't care to share it with me."

"There's nothing bothering me!" Severus snapped. He was angry that Remus had interrupted them on the train and he was angry that Muriel apparently wanted to discuss it now in front of his mother. They rode in silence for a while. Mrs. Snape's thoughts were flittering back to Muriel, who caught enough to piece a few things together. Occlumency lessons. So he WAS blocking her on purpose.

"Severus," she began sharply, "I'll be over to your house this evening to pick up my things. You can just leave them in the car. Mrs. Snape, thank you for picking me up, but I'm going home now." With an ear-splitting CRACK she was gone. Severus swore under his breath. Mrs. Snape looked over at him but didn't bother to correct him.

FIN

A/N: Muriel's sixth and seventh years at Hogwarts have already been written! They will be posted as a new fic shortly! Please check back, and don't forget to review!