by Christina Teresa
Author's note: When I discovered that the wonderful and talented Alan Rickman was chosen to portray Potions professor, Severus Snape in the upcoming Harry Potter film, I just had to write this little story. "Late Bloomers" is just for fun and is not intended to infringe upon any copyright owned by J. K. Rowling, Scholastic Press, or Warner Brothers Pictures. Original story and characters © Christina Teresa, 2001. This tale of teenage (and adult) angst takes place during Harry Potter's fifth year at Hogwarts, in which the head of Slytherin House finds himself the object of a Gryffindor girl's affections. Rated PG for language. Comments are encouraged and appreciated: email@example.com
"Oooo," Peeves the Poltergeist leered as he floated around fifth year Gryffindor, Tara Ross, "look at the delicious piece of witchly pulchritude we have here. How about a snog, girlie?"
"Go away, you pervert." Tara tried to get away herself, but Peeves wouldn't let her pass.
During her first four years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Tara Ross had done a remarkably good job of remaining anonymous. She was a good student, but no so good as to draw attention to herself. She never caused trouble or brought an ounce of shame on Gryffindor House. And if anyone bothered to look at her long enough to describe her, they would have called her plain to the point of being invisible-- the shy girl liked it that way. But something happened prior to her fifth year at the famous school of magic that made continued anonymity impossible: the heartbreak of late puberty.
Over the hot, California summer spent with her Wizard father and Muggle mother (who ran a successful coffee house/magic shop in Berkeley), Tara's bean-pole figure blossomed into that of a voluptuous young woman. Her pale, thin face filled out and developed a healthy rosy glow. Even her previously stringy blonde hair had a luster it never had before. How she hated it.
"Peeves the Pervert," the poltergeist mused, "has a nice ring to it, don't you think?"
She tried every which way to get around him, but was forced to walked right through him instead.
"That was fantastic!" Peeves' eyes rolled back in his head in ecstasy. "Was it good for you?"
Tara ran the rest of the way to her first class, Transfiguration. Being tucked safely away in a classroom may have solved the Peeves problem, but presented another. Girls who didn't even know her name last year were giving her dirty looks and clutching their boyfriends' arms tightly. The boys just stared.
By her last class Tara had just about had it. Peeves appeared for the fifth time that day as she made her way to the dungeon for Potions class. She tearfully dug in her book bag for her wand, but before she could find it, she heard a voice behind her boom, "Vaporous Obnoxicus!"
"Bugger!" Peeves cackled petulantly and disappeared.
She spun around and found herself face to face with her Potions teacher, Professor Snape, who was tucking his wand back into the sleeve of his robe. Tara involuntarily shrank from him-- a reflex reaction shared by most Hogwarts students.
Snape narrowed his eyes and studied her with a look of suspicion. "Do I know you, Miss--?"
She nodded. "Ross, Tara Ross. Gryffindor. I'm in the same class as Harry Potter."
At the mention of Potter's name, Snape's expression became positively poisonous. "Well, don't be late." He turned on his heels and marched down the hall, black robes waving behind him.
"I-I won't." I never am. She had never told a soul, for obvious reasons, but Potions was her very favorite class. More than any other form of spellwork, brewing magical concoctions made her feel like a real witch. She knew everybody else hated Professor Snape-- after all, he was a pretty miserable excuse for a human being-- but Tara found him sort of… interesting-looking.
Since Tara's first year at Hogwarts, Gryffindor was forced to take Potions with the nasty Slytherins. Next to Peeves, the Slytherins were the cruelest of all. She hadn't even settled into her seat before they started in on her.
"You should be brought up on charges, Ross, for unauthorized magic." Despite his voiced disapproval, Draco Malfoy stared at Tara with a particularly lecherous look in his eye.
"It's not a spell, Malfoy," Hermione Granger piped in, "just puberty-- not that you would know anything about that."
Ron Weasley and Harry Potter snickered.
"I think she's a veela," said pug-faced Slytherin, Pansy Parkinson, "pretending to be human all this time just so she can sneak up and steal our boyfriends." She gave her beloved Draco a whomping kick in the shin when she caught him still staring at the Gryffindor girl.
Snape entered the classroom at that moment. He scanned the room and glared at the Gryffindors for a few seconds, giving Harry Potter a particularly nasty sneer. "Can any of you tell me the secret properties of veela blood?"
Instantly, Hermione raised her hand.
"Anyone but Granger?" Snape sighed when no other student raised their hand. "Oh, very well." Reluctantly, he gestured for Hermione to speak.
"Veela blood is a deadly poison to most life forms except goblins which is why it's the goblin poison of choice."
"Since we have a suspected veela in our midst, let's do a little experiment." Snape pulled out a thin dagger from his sleeve. "Ross, stand up."
The poor, beleaguered girl complied, but protested, "I'm not a veela, I swear."
"Well," Snape said with the hint of an evil grin, "we'll know for certain in a moment. Hold out your right index finger."
He pricked the tip of her finger with the dagger and allowed one drop of blood to fall into a glass of water. Then he shoved the glass in Harry's face. "Drink it."
"Don't worry, Potter," Snape said, smiling unpleasantly, "I have the antidote right here. Just in case."
"But, Professor," Hermione said, "there isn't-"
Snape shot her a dangerous look and she fell silent.
Harry glanced at Ross, who attempted a look of encouragement.
Draco Malfoy rubbed his hands together in anticipation.
Harry didn't die. The Gryffindors heaved a sigh of relief. The Slytherins made no attempt to hide their disappointment.
"I suppose Miss Ross isn't a veela after all." Snape glared once again at Harry. "Pity."
During class, Hermione was teamed up with Tara for a Potions experiment. Hermione liked the quiet, shy girl, especially the way the California-born witch talked-- when she talked. She sounded like one of those girls on her favorite Muggle TV show, Beverly Hills, 90210 (even brilliant students needed a little mindless entertainment every once in a while). Now she sort of looked like one of them too. Hermione would have been jealous except for the fact that Tara didn't seem very pleased with her transformation.
"I see Snape's looking as slimy as ever," Harry said. He and Ron were having trouble with their experiment. The potion was a disgusting green instead of the bright purple it was supposed to be and the gigantic lumps in it growled at them every time the boys tried to squish them with the stirring spoon.
"Yeah," Ron agreed. "I hear he washes his hair every Guy Fawkes Day whether it needs it or not." Both he and Harry snickered. Hermione looked mildly disapproving, trying not to laugh herself.
"You know," Tara began conversationally, "where I come from it's considered a style. Sort of a combination of Goth and Grunge. Marilyn Manson with a little Trent Reznor thrown in."
That was the most Ron had ever heard her say at one time and he didn't understand a word of it. His father did say that Americans were a strange lot, especially the ones from California. "What?"
"Muggle musicians," Hermione explained.
Without thinking Tara blurted out, "I think it's kinda cool-- his style I mean."
"You think Snape's cool?!" Harry, Ron and Hermione hissed in unison.
Tara lowered her head as she felt her cheeks burn with embarrassment. She was saved an awkward reply when they found the subject of their conversation looming over them. "If the four of you don't have enough to occupy yourselves perhaps double the amount of homework is in order."
Harry, Ron and Hermione didn't seem to hear Snape. They just continued to stare at Tara in horrified amazement.
"I-I'm sorry, Professor," said Tara, "It won't happen again."
"See that it doesn't."
As soon as Snape was safely across the room, Ron dug in his pocket and handed Tara a Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Bean. Any Hogwarts student past their first year knew exactly what a vomit-flavored bean looked like. "I figured I shouldn't be the only one who feels like puking right now."
"Don't worry, Tara," Hermione said, "we won't tell anybody."
"Nobody'd believe it anyway," Harry added.
As was wont to happen with teenage girls, her classmates' disapproval had the exact opposite effect on Tara. By the end of their first Potions class of the year, her harmless fascination with Snape had turned into a full-blown crush.
On the way out of class, Tara approached him.
"Well, what is it?"
"I wanted to thank you for sending Peeves away. And for proving I'm not a veela."
Snape started to explain to her that he had done the veela blood experiment solely to frighten Harry Potter but she looked so grateful that the words stuck in his throat. There was something else very odd, but strangely familiar about the look in her eyes, but for the life of him he couldn't put his finger on what it was.
He grunted acknowledgment of her thanks and waved the girl away.
It was an entire week before Snape remembered why that look on Tara Ross' face seemed so familiar. It was the same look Lily used to give James Potter when they were all Hogwarts students together. It was just one of many painful memories of his own adolescence.
When he was Ross' age, Snape had a tremendous crush on Lily, but she only had eyes for Potter. It was the one and only time in his life that he had succumbed to the idiocy called love. He had toyed with the idea of casting a love spell on Lily to force her to care for him, but love magic tended to backfire, even on the most experienced wizards. So he worshipped Lily from afar and hated James Potter with every fiber of his being.
Now this girl-- this very attractive girl was giving him that same look. It just didn't make sense. Paranoia washed over him. It had to be a spell of some kind. Obviously, the girl wouldn't have cast a spell on herself; someone must have done it to her in order to make him look foolish. Well, tomorrow he'd find the culprit and make them pay dearly for their little practical joke.
That night he prepared a Discovery Potion. He would surreptitiously let a few drops fall on the top of Miss Ross' head. If her hair turned blue, a boy had cast the spell, if pink-- a girl. That would narrow the suspects down by half. He'd think of some way to blame the color change on Potter and Weasley.
The next day in class, while Miss Ross was concentrating intently on a particularly difficult assignment, he strolled past her and dropped a few drops of the Discovery Potion on her head. By the time he walked the length of the dungeon classroom the potion should have taken affect, but when he turned around the girl was still a blonde. He passed her again, letting a few more drops fall. This time she turned and smiled sweetly at him. Still nothing happened!
It couldn't be the formula. He had used it a dozen times before with complete success. It could mean only one thing. Snape was overcome with a vague sense of terror. That look in her eyes was for real!
That evening at dinner...
"Minerva," Snape began slowly, "I'm having a problem with one of yours."
Professor McGonagall sighed and rolled her eyes, "What's Potter done this time?"
"It's not Potter."
"No." He hesitated. "It's (cough) Ross."
McGonagall had to think a moment before she could recall the Gryffindor girl. "Oh, yes, Ross. The one that, uh…" she made an expansive gesture with her hands. "Blossomed over the summer."
Snape started to perspire. "That's the one."
"You know," McGonagall said as she espied the girl at the Gryffindor table, "Miss Ross reminds me a little of that famous Muggle actress from some years back-- what was her name..?
"Marilyn Monroe," Dumbledore supplied in a slightly wistful tone.
"Yes, that's it. Well, what about her?"
"I believe she," Snape lowered his voice to a barely audible whisper, "has a… crush on me."
Unfortunately, Headmaster Dumbledore had chosen that moment to take a sip of hot cocoa, which went down the wrong pipe at Snape's declaration. He coughed and sputtered for several minutes while Madam Pomfrey and Professor McGonagall patted him on the back. McGonagall tried, unsuccessfully, not to burst out laughing.
Snape stormed from the teachers' table and never mentioned it again.
Maybe it was his imagination. No one else seemed to notice the adoring glances Miss Ross gave him during class. Snape tried to ignore her, but the more he tried the more he was drawn to the look in her eyes. A voice in the back of his mind told him there was something definitely inappropriate about his own growing fascination, but he had no idea what to do about it.
One day, Snape noticed Tara making a particularly successful Wart-reducing Potion. As he stood looking over her shoulder, she turned and gazed up at him. The sincerity and affection in the girl's bright blue eyes had an almost mesmerizing affect on him. "Very impressive, Miss Ross, ten points to Gryffindor."
The whole class stopped dead. "Did you just say 'ten points to Gryffindor'?" Ron Weasley asked in shock and amazement.
Snape instantly recovered from his momentary haze. "No-- no, I-I said ten points from Gryffindor." His black eyes narrowed as he pointed an accusing finger at Tara. "That's for showing off! I swear you're getting as bad as Granger."
As the students filed out of the dungeon after class, Snape told Ross he wanted to see her in his office.
Usually he had no trouble 'counseling' students, but he was out of his depth in this situation. "Miss Ross," he began as he started to pace nervously.
He opened his mouth to speak, but his mind was a complete blank. "Miss Ross," he repeated.
She just sat there patiently, that same incomprehensible look in her eyes.
Snape couldn't do it; he couldn't ask her to explain it. What if he was wrong? He'd be absolutely humiliated. He sighed, then rubbed his eyes as if in pain. "Just-- go."
She picked up her book bag and slung it over her shoulder. As she made her way to the door, she turned to him and said quietly, "It's not your imagination."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," he lied. "What isn't my imagination?"
Tara blushed. "I.. like you. A lot."
He ordered her to sit once again. He took a few steps back, arms folded across his chest in a defensive, almost protective, gesture. "Why??"
She giggled nervously and shrugged. "Well, partly because of the way you look."
"The way I look?" he laughed derisively, "Miss Ross, I look the way I do in order to repel people not attract them."
"I know!" Tara said brightly, "That's why it's so cool!"
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Is there a history of insanity in your family?"
"I don't think so," she answered matter-of-factly.
He motioned for her to continue. "You said that was only part of the reason."
She hesitated slightly. "The rest is a little hard to explain."
"I can well imagine."
"I guess it's kind of like when I was a little girl and my parents said I could have a dog."
Whether the girl knew it or not, Snape was sure there had to be a crazy Aunt tucked away in the Ross Family closet somewhere. "What?"
"Well, when we went to the pound, there were dozens of cute, cuddly, adorable puppies to choose from..."
"...but this one scrawny, little, mangy runt caught my eye. I just knew that if I didn't take him home, nobody else would." She smiled sadly. "His name was Buster. We had to put him to sleep after he got into a fight with the neighbor's lawnmower, but before that he was like, the best dog in the whole world-- even if he was half bald. All he needed was a little love and affection." Tara paused, trying to read his reaction. "Do you understand?"
"Oh yes, I understand perfectly," he replied, "That was a truly heartwarming story, Miss Ross, particularly the part about the lawnmower."
She breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks."
He suddenly exploded with anger. "I WAS BEING SARCASTIC!!"
She sunk down in the chair. "Oh."
He got one of those particularly nasty looks in his eye as he loomed over her. "How dare you!" he sputtered. "How dare you compare me to your dead, defective mutt! Fifty-- no, one hundred points from Gryffindor! And in the future, Miss Ross, I suggest you keep your," if possible his expression became even more disdainful, "love and affection to yourself if you don't want to find yourself back in California doing whatever it is you people do there!"
Tara sobbed, "I'm sorry," and ran out of his office.
Usually, Snape took a certain perverse pleasure in making students cry, though the kind-hearted Dumbledore frowned upon it. This time he just felt-- well, bad. He thought that perhaps there might have been some other way he could have handled it, but dismissed his concerns. "She'll get over it."
Tara barreled into the hallway, practically running over Pansy Parkinson.
Far from being angry, the Slytherin girl grinned wickedly. "Loved the story about your dog, Ross. Truly heartwarming."
If it was possible for Tara's heart to sink further, it did. She ran from Pansy, convinced that her life was ruined.
Snape sat at the teachers' table, not much interested in his dinner, still experiencing that pesky twinge of guilt over yelling at Miss Ross. When he glanced at the Gryffindor table, the girl wasn't in her usual place. Guilt turned into another unfamiliar emotion-- concern. What if the silly creature had done something rash because he'd rejected her? He smiled. Concern was replaced with a peculiar swell of vanity. Imagine a pretty girl like that doing herself in over him? Perhaps I'm not as repulsive as I thought. Guilt quickly returned with concern close on its heels. He was just about to say something to Professor McGonagall when the chatter of the students reached his ears:
"Can you believe Ross actually told him she liked him?"
"Do you mind, I'm trying to eat!"
And from his own Slytherins he heard cries of, "Snape, the wonder dog!"
All of Snape's strange, noble emotions evaporated. He sincerely hoped that Miss Ross was indeed dead, because it would save him the trouble of killing her himself.
Tara was still quite alive. She had spent the rest of the day sitting in the out-of-order girls' bathroom crying so hard that Moaning Myrtle flushed herself down the toilet just to escape the noise. By the time she entered the Great Hall, dinner was half over. She found the eyes of the entire school on her. The students at the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables pointed and whispered. The Slytherins laughed openly. The Gryffindors glared at her then turned away.
When Tara tried to take her usual place, Parvati Patil said, "Why don't you just go and join the Slytherins, everybody knows you want to." A few other Gryffindors muttered "traitor" under their breath.
"Oh, yes Ross," Pansy said from the Slytherin table, enjoying every minute of Tara's torment, "why don't you join us. There's always room for one more." She patted the seat next to her. "Don't be shy." The other Slytherins grinned evilly looking a little like a bunch of salivating vultures getting ready to swoop down on a piece of raw meat.
Hermione was the only Gryffindor to come to her defense. "Tara, why don't you sit next to me?" But Lavender Brown, who was sitting next to her made no attempt to move.
Professor McGonagall and Headmaster Dumbledore saw what was going on, of course. The situation needed to be dealt with, but now was neither the time nor the place. "Miss Ross, please take your seat," McGonagall said gently but with a stern look at the Gryffindor table.
Tara risked a glance at the teachers' table and found Snape seething with a hatred he usually reserved for Harry Potter alone. Lavender had reluctantly made a space for her, but the heartbroken girl ran out instead.
Professor McGonagall eventually found Tara sitting outside the portrait hole to Gryffindor Tower, still in tears. Even the Fat Lady had snubbed her, deserting her portrait before Tara could give her the password.
McGonagall took the girl to the hospital wing and left her in Madam Pomfrey's capable hands. Then she made her way to Dumbledore's office where the Headmaster and Professor Snape were waiting.
McGonagall shook her head with disgust. "Why must children be so cruel?"
"Because, Minerva, that is what children do best," Snape replied. "Just as well Ross found that out now. That girl is far too naive for her own good."
"Oh, yes, Severus, she'd be much better off living a life full of bitterness and resentment," she snapped. "It's done wonders for you."
Dumbledore sighed heavily. "If only we'd listen to you when you first brought this to our attention, all of this could have been avoided."
Snape opened his mouth, but closed it again. He didn't feel much like gloating for some reason. The one time he was completely right and they were totally wrong, he couldn't even enjoy it. Damn that girl.
Tara asked to be excused from classes the next day, but Professor McGonagall insisted she go, knowing it would be that much harder for her if she avoided the inevitable.
It wasn't the teasing so much that bothered Tara-- the Slytherins were bound to tire of it eventually. She could even stand being ignored by her fellow Gryffindors. But the one thing she couldn't stand was the memory of the horrible way Snape had treated her. What a dope she'd been thinking there was anything worth liking inside that vile carcass of his.
If Tara found Potions class uncomfortable, Professor Snape found it doubly so. Though none of the students dared say anything to his face, he heard their snickering comments behind his back.
Even worse was the one time Tara met his eyes. She fixed Snape with such a palpable look of hurt and recrimination, he could have bottled it. Much to his annoyance, he found he missed the girl's devotion. It wasn't a great leap in logic to assume that Miss Ross would be the only beautiful teenage girl that would ever have a crush on him. He found he couldn't bear the thought of her hating him like everybody else did.
Once again, he asked the girl to stay after class, but this time obnoxious hoots and whistles accompanied his request. He angrily shooed the rest of the students out and slammed the heavy dungeon door. Then he took out his wand and bewitched the door so no sound could leak through. A side effect of which was that a few prying ears pressed against the other side of it were singed. Snape smiled when he heard the muffled cries of pain.
He turned to Miss Ross. She had her arms folded across her chest looking a little afraid, but defiant. "So, what? You want to yell at me again? Or maybe you'd just like to rip my heart right out of my chest and stomp on it a few times?"
"As tempting an offer as that is..." he motioned for her to sit. He paced for a few moments, even less sure of what to say than he was yesterday. So he said the first thing that popped into his head. "I see you've been ostracized by your peers."
"And you wanted to rub it in?"
"Actually, Miss Ross, I wanted to tell you that there are distinct advantages to being an outcast at Hogwarts. For instance, you never have to worry about what to say or how to act because no one ever talks to you. And the Yule Ball-- no worries there about not knowing how to dance, because no one would ever dance with you, even for all the Galleons in Gringotts." He sighed, suddenly depressed. "Who am I kidding? It's bloody miserable. Where in the hell were you when I was fifteen?"
"I don't think I was born yet."
He winced. "It was a rhetorical question."
"Oh." Tara was confused. "Professor, are you trying to apologize to me?"
He nodded, feeling slightly nauseous.
Her eyes welled up and she looked as if she were about to cry.
"Please, not the tears again!"
The adoring look in her eyes returned. "I was right about you-- you're not heartless, after all."
He scowled. "Tell anyone and I'll poison your porridge."
Tara giggled, but stopped when she realized he was serious. "Don't worry, your secret's safe with me." She got up and started for the door.
"And for gods' sake, Miss Ross," he said with irritation, "don't be bitter-- it doesn't suit you."
Suddenly, he felt something warm and moist on his cheek. Ross was out the door before he realized she had kissed him. Snape grinned in spite of himself. "Idiot girl."