A/N: I'm back to writing again, so expect more soon. If you read the old version, I hope you like the changes, if you're a new reader, then welcome!
Chapter 1 - Stick Figures
Severus Snape stepped into yet another carriage of the Hogwarts Express and finally found what he'd been looking for. A lone figure stood looking out of the window, swaying slightly with the gentle rocking of the train as it rounded a bend.
"I was wondering where you were."
The girl turned at his voice, her attention pulled away from the rushing scenery, and gave him a half smile.
Now there was a question. According to his roommate Robert Avery, Severus was clueless when it came to social pleasantries, but even so he was sure that 'I was so focused on work this summer that it never occurred to me to miss anyone', was not the right answer in the circumstances.
He wasn't even sure it was entirely honest. Whilst he'd only really begun to get to know Katherine Archer over the past year, she was already proving to be difficult to forget.
"You barely even said hello before you slipped out," he said, opting for a change of subject. "What are you doing down here?"
Katherine shrugged, pressing her nose up to the cold window so that her warm breath formed little pools of mist on the clear glass.
"Wanted a break."
"From us?" he asked, leaning against the wall of the nearest compartment. Katherine's usual penchant for irritatingly vague answers was something he had definitely not missed. The thought must have shown on his face, because she shot him a sidelong glance and grinned.
"I'm a solitary creature, Severus. Forgive me for not wanting to spend the entire journey shut up with a bunch of boys."
"Fiona is there," he countered. Their other two female classmates, Cassandra Rookwood and Nicola Meliflua had sent an owl to say they were being dropped off in Hogsmeade later that day.
They'd been on holiday together in Spain and Nicola's mother, never very good with practical matters at the best of times, had had one too many margaritas and ended up checking out of their hotel late. Happily for them, Mrs Meliflua's latest beau was high up in the Ministry and had arranged a car for the two, so at least they'd start their last year in style.
"Yeah, but Fiona's so wrapped up in Evan that she doesn't really count," sighed Katherine. Unable to adequately dispute this statement with the scene of loved up bliss he'd just left still clear in his mind, Severus changed track once again, trying for firmer ground.
"So you're going to spend the entire journey here?"
"Thought about it," said Katherine, drawing stick figures in the misted glass with one finger. "Downside - no comfy seats. Upside - no Evan."
"He's not that bad."
Katherine stopped her doodling to throw him a look that said clearer than words that he was completely insane.
"You just have to get to know him," Severus persisted. Granted, even he found Evan Rosier a little pompous at times, but he was one of the true purebloods and that tended to encourage a certain amount of pride. If Severus had been fortunate enough to have a proper witch for a mother instead of a lowly Prince, he'd be shouting about it too.
"I don't want to," said Katherine, cutting through his thoughts. "He hasn't had an original thought in years. What use is someone like that? But," she heaved a sigh "I suppose I can't avoid it much longer."
She wiped her hand over the window, erasing the stick figure scene with one quick movement, and smiled brightly at him. "Take me to your leader."
"Evan is not my leader."
She shrugged, muttering something that sounded suspiciously along the lines of 'if you say so', but followed him back down the corridor compliantly enough. Snippets of conversation floated out of half open doors around them - nervous first years, cocky third years and stressed fifth years, all excited for the start of term.
He ignored most of them until one very familiar voice made him halt.
"…we have very good reasons for jinxing him."
James Potter. Gryffindor, quidditch star, bully and, if Robert Avery's sources were correct, their new Head Boy. He paused, listening, and Katherine stopped behind him, peering through the narrow gap where the compartment door had not quite been shut properly.
"So you said. It was the fact that he exists, wasn't it?"
That was Lupin. Severus stole a quick look at Katherine, but her face was impassive.
"He deserves what he gets, Remus. He goes round acting like he's better than everyone else."
And Sirius Black. If Pettigrew was there, it was the whole gang. He was about to move on when Katherine reached out a hand and, before he could stop her, slid back the wood panelled door.
"And, of course, no one else we know does that at all, do they?" she asked sarcastically. "Nobody in the saintly house of Gryffindor would ever dream of doing such a thing, huh?"
From his position behind her, Severus saw Sirius' head snap round, glaring. In the far corner, James leapt to his feet, fumbling for his wand, while opposite him Peter shrank back, trying and failing to make himself invisible.
"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Sirius indignantly, glaring at Katherine but not rising from his seat.
"I would have thought it was obvious," retorted Katherine, and Severus saw Remus pointedly raise his copy of the Daily Prophet newspaper in front of his face. It was just like him not to get involved.
"Leave it, Padfoot," whined Peter quietly, eyes flickering between Sirius and Katherine nervously.
"Leave what? I'm not arguing. I'm just inquiring as to what was meant by that particular comment," said Sirius, but there was a definite strained note in his voice.
Severus had to hand it to her: if there was one thing Katherine was an expert at, it was knowing exactly what to say to get people to lose their temper. A useful skill if you wanted to claim you were only acting in self-defence. Which, he thought, rather the begged the question of why she was looking for a fight.
"It means you're an arse," said Katherine with a sigh. Then: "Can I have a word?"
Severus frowned in confusion, but Remus was already lowering his paper. Light brown eyes looked up at Katherine in concern, and then flickered over her shoulder, saw Severus and went blank.
The others must have noticed this, because Severus suddenly found himself the centre of three stares of unrepentant loathing. James, still standing, drew out his wand and Severus had to exert great self-control to prevent himself from rolling his eyes.
"Planning on using that, Potter?" he asked softly. "I don't think the headmaster would be very impressed, do you?"
"What? Is that your latest plan? Run to the headmaster every time you get into a fight?" asked Sirius disdainfully, getting to his feet to stand beside James. "Well, enjoy this year, Snivellus. There's no one to protect you once you're out in the big bad world."
Severus scowled but Katherine laughed, giving Sirius a sour look.
"Big bad world?" she mimicked acidly, leaning against the door jamb. "And exactly how much do you know about the real world, Black? That huge family fortune of yours must make things really difficult for you-"
"You leave his family out of this," snapped James, stepping forward slightly so that he was between Sirius, whose wand was suddenly drawn, and the two Slytherins.
"Why? Touched a nerve?" asked Katherine sweetly, gazing mockingly at him.
"I think you'd better go," said Remus softly, pulling Sirius back with a gentle, but nevertheless firm, hand. Severus hadn't even seen him stand, but there was nothing passive in those brown eyes when he turned his attention to Katherine. "Now."
Katherine arched an eyebrow, but Severus saw her slide her wand silently back into the sleeve of her robes all the same.
"You heard him," said James, hazel eyes hard. "Get lost."
"With pleasure," Severus sneered, dark eyes cold. "We have better things to do than hanging around here all day with the blood traitors. Come on, Katherine - Evan will be wondering where we are."
"You go – I'll be there in a minute," she said quietly. "Still need a word with Remus."
Severus hesitated a moment, casting a look of dislike at pale, scarred boy, but didn't press the point. Katherine and Remus had a friendship of sorts, but he didn't understand it and had no desire to.
On the one occasion he'd asked about it, she'd said something about knowing him when she was small, but had otherwise remained silent on the subject aside from an assurance that she would make Severus' life hell if ever breathed a word about Remus' 'condition' to anyone. From what he knew of her, it was not an empty threat.
All the same, he was curious about what could have made her stop midway through goading Sirius into the first fight of the term, so when he left he didn't go far. He let the door to the next carriage swing closed, but carefully halted it before it clicked shut.
Voices drifted through; she seemed to be asking about an essay, and then Sirius' tones cut through, speaking at an unnecessarily loud volume.
"Off you go then, run back to your little friends."
Severus didn't catch Katherine's softly spoken reply, but heard Sirius' derisive laugh.
"You'll be in trouble now if you don't leave."
The following exchange was muffled by the rumbling of the train as it navigated a curve, although he was sure his own name was mentioned. Very carefully, he risked opening the door a fraction further and heard Sirius' speaking once more.
"You can tell him he'd better watch his back, too, because one of these days-"
"One of these days what, exactly? You're going to teach him a lesson? Do you really think that's wise, what with all those dark curses he knows and everything?"
Katherine had finally raised her own voice, which was never a good sign. He could imagine the look she was giving him: he'd seen even Lucius Malfoy take a step back under Katherine's glare. A very small step, admittedly – barely noticeable if you hadn't been looking for it - but Severus had seen it.
"You don't think we're a match for him?"
"Three of you? Oh no, you're probably more than a match for him, I dare say. Hardly very gentlemanly though, is it? The odds are rather stacked in your favour. Still, if it's the only way you can win a fight-"
"At least we don't try and hex people when their backs are turned." James had clearly stepped in to back Sirius up.
"No." Katherine's voice was even. "You don't. I suppose you like to see the expression on their face-"
"Katherine, stop it." Remus to the rescue once again. Severus heard the door of the compartment slid shut and then Remus spoke again, his tone softer. "You're asking for trouble."
"Maybe that's what I want. What's life without a little turmoil, huh?" There was a slight pause, and then: "I really best be off or I'll miss Evan's pre-term briefing."
"Well that would be tragic," said Remus slowly. "But at the risk of delaying him further – is there anything I should know?"
Severus' ears strained to hear Katherine's reply, but when it did come, it brought no new disclosure.
"Remus, I skipped out on some homework, big deal – I'll catch up. You know your problem? You worry too much."
Severus let the door close softly as Katherine said goodbye and hurried down the corridor towards their compartment. He wondered if Remus had known she was lying. He'd clearly realised there was something wrong, or he wouldn't have asked.
Besides, from Severus knew, she never usually sought him out when he was with his friends. It was an unspoken rule, made somewhat necessary by the kind of scene that had just unfolded. Katherine was, if not incapable, then certainly unwilling to be civil towards the Marauders, and they in turn didn't trust her an inch.
Something was definitely different this year, but if she didn't want to talk about it, that was her prerogative. You didn't survive six years in Slytherin without learning not to ask questions: chances were, you wouldn't like what you found out.