Disclaimers: I do not claim to own any of the Harry Potter characters or their magical universe created by J.K. Rowling. I'm writing this story purely for fun and not for profit.
At first, her vision showed her only blurred colors and hazy contours. Slowly, as her eyes focused, she could make out a richly furnished dining room, with luxurious furniture typical for a grand manor house. A sharp pain rushed through her body, and with considerable difficulty, she tried to re-assemble the puzzle pieces containing the recollection of her last lucid moments.
She recalled that she had woken up early that morning, so early that the night's heavy mist still enveloped the house, not yet agreeable to making place for the fresh, light air of the morning. She knew she had walked past the Anti-Apparation wards that surrounded her parents' house, a residence she still shared with them, so that she could Apparate to London, and have her umpteenth job interview in the last months.
After she had been fired from the bookshop where she had worked for some time, "due to staff redundancy, nothing to do with her origins, of course", she immediately started to search for a new job, willing to accept inconvenient work hours and long travels, but, as a matter of fact, nobody wanted to hire a Muggleborn these days, when disappearances and kidnappings of both Muggleborns, and their sympathizers were on a daily order.
These were difficult days - it was rumored that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was after the Potters, and the Dark Mark was, with growing frequency, appearing above the houses of his opponents in a sort of macabre hunt. Many wizards and witches, realizing that this was an open war, thought it wiser to leave the city, or even the country. A large number of them closed their shops, and terminated their businesses, hiding at safe houses of their relatives. Who could blame the few remaining for refusing to employ her in order to protect themselves and their families, refuting a potential threat to their own inviolacy?
The Potters... it was rumored that they were under Dumbledore's protection. It was also rumored that they were hiding under a powerful warding spell, so powerful that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named would not be able to find and target them. But apart from the notoriety they had recently gained, Emily remembered James and Lily well, as only two years had passed since she finished school, and they had been in the same year as her. They had not been in the same house, though, as Emily had been a quiet and withdrawn Ravenclaw, compared to the famous, and at times insufferably arrogant Gryffindor Quidditch Captain, or the battlesome Lily, who never hesitated to come to the defense of the weaker. More than once, Lily Evans had tried to involve Emily in study groups she led, or in free-time activities, noticing that she was always alone, but she was rarely successful.
Once, though, Lily succeeded, involving her in a small study-group for Potions, a subject Emily loathed just as much as cooking. Her work bench was always untidy, as she somehow managed to mix up the ingredients upon it even before they were added to the cauldron, and more often than not, her dosages were also inaccurate. So, when Lily discovered Emily's poor attitude toward the subject, she proposed her to join her and her Slytherin friend, Severus Snape, both excellent in Potions, in their study sessions. Emily agreed out of desperate need rather than a desire for company. To be perfectly honest, that Slytherin boy made her feel uncomfortable. She got the impression that he was rather unfriendly, and neither was he famous for his good-looks.
During their meetings, her fears were confirmed. Snape was unpleasant and rude. Most of the time, thankfully, he quietly worked on his potions, ignoring her, and talking only to Lily. But there were also other times, those she dreaded, when he was hissing insults at her, dissatisfied with her incompetency and her complete inability to brew even the simplest of the potions right. With Lily, however, he always talked nicely, never giving her a bad word, never showing her a rude gesture or uttering an unpleasant comment.
It wasn't difficult to see that he had a severe crush on Lily. A light could be seen in the depths of his eyes whenever they were set on the beautiful girl with the fire-red hair.
One day Lily couldn't come to their study session because she had to finish an essay which was due the following day, so it was only the two of them, Emily and Severus, completely alone.
While in the previous meetings Lily's idle chatter had lightened those long hours of slow torture, this time, the uncomfortable silence, interrupted only by the noise of the blades on the chopping board, and by the boiling of the cauldrons, wafted heavily between them. Emily could hardly have passed as a merry chatterbox. She had few friends, in part because she didn't like to be surrounded by many people, in part because she preferred a good book to the noise and music of a party, never having been part of such a busy social live. But the silence in the room was truly oppressive, and having decided that she'd had enough of it, she turned towards the boy next to her.
"So...how's your day been?" Emily asked to break the ice. It wasn't that she particularly cared. She would have preferred to know the reason for using midofuco snout in the third stage, but maybe it was better to start the conversation with something more casual. She never asked questions directly, generally voicing her doubts out loud, and then Lily took care of clarifying them for her.
"It's none of your business," he answered dryly.
Pleasant as always, she thought. For a while, they fell back into the uncomfortable silence that Emily disliked so much.
"What essay does Lily have to complete?" she asked then, hoping to get his attention by talking about the girl she thought he liked.
"History of Magic," he answered with less rudeness, but still no less abruptly.
Sighing, Emily resigned, and turned her attention again to the potion she was brewing. It had turned a strange dark purple color, instead of the expected bright fuchsia, and on top of that it had become quite difficult to stir, as it was of a much thicker consistency than what it should have been.
"Oh, dam-it!" she swore quietly, running her index finger down the list of ingredients, cursing under her breath for not having asked about that damn snout immediately. Glancing at the boy's potion, she found it depressingly correct-looking, bright fuchsia and liquid as it should have been.
"Pathetic." She heard his flat voice mocking her, as he looked at her with a mixture of suppressed pride, and satisfaction at her failure.
She frowned at him, and, with a wave of her wand, vanished the content of her cauldron. With a heavy sigh, she pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and index finger. Why was she getting it wrong each time?
"If you had half a brain, and in this phrase the key word is "*if*, you wouldn't take all the ingredients out of their containers at the same time, but you'd retrieve them only for the step when they are needed. Are you sure you are a Ravenclaw? I was under the impression that the main requirement to belonging in that House was a keen mind – something which you are most certainly lacking," he said, his voice heavy with sarcasm.
Emily's eyes fixed him furiously. She crossed her arms in front of her chest, and gave him a defiant look.
"I am a Ravenclaw," she pronounced each word clearly. If there was something she really couldn't take, it was insinuations regarding her house affiliation.
"I don't' think you are presenting an example of great intelligence, mixing the ingredients already on the chopping board, and adding a whole midofuco snout when the recipe clearly states only a quarter is required," he continued, pointing at the recipe with his index finger.
Yet, Emily had to concede that the accusations he was throwing at her were correct. She was the typical nerd, a little introverted, who did well in all those subjects requiring memorization of information. But she was a disaster in Potions, which to her misfortune consisted mainly of manual labor.
What happened when she lighted the fire under her cauldron had become the joke of the school – explosions, improbable toxic reactions, dense colored fumes… a disaster, similar to what happened when her mother requested her help in the kitchen. She recalled with complete clarity the time when she had almost set the house on fire, and the small scar on her left arm bore testimony to how well she handled pans with hot oil. Because of her deep, almost instinctive dislike for the subject, she not able to concentrate sufficiently on following the instructions, nor was she able to wait for the required boiling time. Adding to that her clumsiness, it explained her continual failure at exams.
"Yeah, I'm hopeless...," she murmured with resignation, but not forgiving Snape for having insulted her in such a rude way, even though there was some truth to his words. She gathered her things together, put them into her bag, and turned to leave. But she couldn't stop herself from throwing a little salt on his open wounds in turn.
"Thank you, oh sublime Potions Master, for your precise, if nasty words of advice. I hope next time your beloved Lily is here..." She gave him a malicious grin, while he frowned, his pale cheeks turning a pinkish shade. "…So that I can escape your scathing sarcasm." And with these last words, she stepped out of the door.
"Hey!" she heard his deep voice shouting behind her.
"You won't say anything," he said, but it sounded more like a threat then a statement. His expression was rigid, and the features of his face tense.
"So we are human after all!" she mocked him. Seeing his deadly serious glare, she smiled a little. "Don't worry, your little secret is safe with me. I'm not a gossip, you know. And I'd never cause trouble for anyone, so... well, see you next time. Bye, Potions Prince!"
They saw each again about a dozen times, sometimes without Lily, and continued to brew more and more advanced potions. Emily managed to scrape through her exams by a hair's breadth, but she never grew to like Potions. Sometimes she admired Severus's ability to accurately dose the ingredients, to not follow the recipe, and still get even better results; even his way of stirring showed passion, and an inborn technique. It certainly was a very different story from her own clumsy attempts to correctly follow the simple Potions exercises she had set herself.
Their acquaintance never went beyond those Potion sessions, however. After the exams came the summer, and when they returned for their fifth year, Snape associated himself more and more with a small circle of Pureblood boys. Lily told Emily she didn't like what he was becoming. Emily wasn't there when practically everybody saw Snape's underpants, and when he called Lily, who had come to his help, a Mudblood. But the story eventually reached her ears, after it had made innumerable rounds of the school, and Emily wondered how much of it was true, and how much was only speculation.
She had to think again when she happened to meet Snape on the third floor, in a half-deserted corridor. She always retreated there when she had a free moment, bringing her sketching book, full of drawings and sketches. She loved running a Muggle pencil across the white paper, tracing the surrounding landscape or situations. It was perhaps the only activity that kept her in touch with her Muggle origins, and she regretted that school commitments rarely allowed her to dedicate herself to this past-time, which always left her feeling good and at peace with herself.
Snape, however, was there for other motives. He sat on a window sill, staring out into the void with a defeated look.
"Hi," she said shyly, unable to turn back.
He didn't move a single muscle, nor did he turn his head, or do anything else to acknowledge her presence.
"How are you?"
Her question was stupid, maybe the most stupid one she could have asked. After all, she was a "Mudblood", too. One should have thought that he had insulted her, too, as well as any other Muggle born, simply for the nature of their blood.
She knew that Lily had refused to forgive him, despite the feelings the young Slytherin had for the Gryffindor redhead.
Instead of responding, Snape continued to stare into the empty space, immobile like a statue. Perhaps his heart, as well as his appearance, had turned to stone. Realizing that she couldn't draw with him there, and that Snape had no intention of talking to her, she wisely decided to leave. Giving him one last look of compassionate comprehension, which he could not see, as he stubbornly kept his back turned to her, she retreated. She could not have known about the cold tears that ran down the boy's face, about his broken heart at having lost his green-eyed princess, the one who had brightened the most beautiful moments of his existence, and who had now abandoned him, throwing him into the deepest abyss of darkness.
After that, they didn't talk to each other anymore, but this didn't stop Emily from following him with her eyes, seeing him abandon himself more and more to desperation and remorse, while the extent of Lily's obstinacy became more and more apparent. She didn't forgive him for the whole year, and, as if that was not enough, in their sixth year started to go out with James Potter, who had made Snape's life miserable all those years. Emily was greatly saddened when she heard of their engagement, not because she didn't wish Lily happiness, but because she knew what it meant to another person… Sometimes she saw Severus looking at the pair as they were hugging or kissing, his pain and rage hidden to the world, but visible to the one person who knew. And she noticed him coming ever closer to the supporters of blood pureness, who endorsed the ill-treatment of Muggle-borns, and who supported him whose name must not be pronounced.
When in their seventh year, she saw him wear long sleeves in the summer, she was certain he had chosen the darkest path he could have followed.
During the graduation ceremony, she saw him from afar, surrounded by his friends, in his hands the roll of parchment that attested a recognition of maturity. His eyes, bottomless black pools, were fixed with barely hidden grudge on James Potter, who took his diploma, and triumphantly walked down towards the grounds, hand in hand with Lily.
"You're still in love with her," she thought with bitterness, for that soul was afflicted by love for a girl who had refused him the chance of salvation. What would become of them all now?
All around her, in Hogwarts' grounds where the ceremony was being held, she could see students wearing long sleeves, young men and women who joined a war of false promises, twisted truths, and shedding of innocent blood on behalf of a racist ideal, represented by a black skull encircled by a snake, branded into their skin.