Thine Own Self
Thanks to Kiki and Diane for the excellent beta-reading and constant reassurance that it didn't suck; Lizbet, for restarting RTDS and inadvertently setting Katherine loose; Cath, in the hopes she won't mind her name being maligned, since I'm fairly certain someone was trying to reach her with this one, not me; Bruce for arm-wrestling his Muse while I was arm-wrestling mine -- we writers gotta stick together; the members of The Sugar Quill, for feeding my habit with the good stuff; and the rest of the Horsechicks, for all the usual things.
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Thine Own Self
by Perri Smith
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"Ladies and gentlemen -- here's exhibit A
didn't I try again? And did the effort pay?
Wouldn't a smarter man simply walk away?
"But nothing is good enough for people like you
who have to have someone take the fall
and something to sabotage --
determined to lose it all..."
Aimee Mann, "Nothing Is Good Enough
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The explosion brought everyone awake.
Professor Binns' voice had been droning through the classroom for almost an hour, echoing quietly off the stone walls in time with the deep breaths of his seventh-year students. The room was dim and slightly damp, chilly enough to cut even through their robes. The wide windows contributed only a draft, the clouds too thick for the sun even to peep through, and offer anyone hope for brightness ahead.
On the Gryffindor side of the classroom, Lily Evans' quill scratched furiously, keeping up with every word, for which her year-mates would be grateful come the N.E.W.T.s -- if, of course, the N.E.W.T.s came. All four of the other girls were soundly asleep, faces against the desk or heads slumped to the side. The boys were still awake, but would need the notes just as badly. Black and Potter's heads were bent together in furious, occasionally violent whispers; Lupin and Pettigrew looked worried, but resigned to whatever their reckless cohort decided to expend their energy on next.
The Slytherin side of the room was more awake, but only two were even attempting to pay attention to the lecture. Malfoy watched Potter with narrowed eyes, a tiny, cruel smile playing around his mouth. His robes were crisply ironed and expensive; his seatmate's robes were less expensive, and rumpled, his notes impeccable, but Snape's intelligent black eyes gleamed with the same malice that glinted from Malfoy's, as he stared at the back of Evans' red hair. Istan's chin kept drifting downwards; as it hit his chest, he would jerk awake, and return to scribbling notes that would be legible only to himself, until his chin began to droop again. The other two boys -- Goyle and MacNair -- had given up all pretense; Goyle's snores nearly drowned out the lecture, his girlfriend Morgan's nasal wheezes adding a delicate, whining counterpoint. Two more Slytherin girls giggled and whispered and tittered and were ignored by the boys they were trying so desperately to impress.
The last Slytherin, seated by the window, with empty desks separating her from the class, ignored them all. Every one, Gryffindor and Slytherin alike. Her concentration was on the Goblin Wars, and keeping her notes legible, and trying desperately to stay awake. If she were very lucky, there would be a nap between Arithmancy and Potions, curled in Myrtle's bathroom where only people who didn't want to be found would go. A short nap, while the others were in sixth-hour lessons, but it might be enough to see her through until evening meal. Under no circumstances would she sleep here, surrounded by her housemates. No weakness allowed in Slytherin House -- the price was too high.
Binns' voice paused for a long moment, signaling a change of topics, and Malfoy, wonder of wonders, decided to divert his attention from Potter and his gang long enough to actually take an note or two. He lifted his thick, sweeping quill, dipped it in the ink well, and touched it to parchment.
That was when thunder rocked the room, everyone and everything obscured for a moment in a flash of light and smoke. Most of the room cursed in shock or simply screamed; McNair reached a pitch rarely achieved after adolescence, and flushed deep red. On their feet, wands out and ready in the reflex too many of them had already learned, 11 pairs of eyes searched for the attack, and found only Malfoy, sprawled on the floor, his robes and face stained with soot and his face contorted with rage.
"Black!" His furious shout echoed back from the walls, ringing through the room in search of something to kill. Literally. Two Gryffindor girls and four Slytherins cowered; all of the Slytherins but Snape looked for cover.
Black and his gang contrived to look innocent. With the exception of Lupin, they failed.
"Problem, Lucius?" Potter asked, turning in his chair to look imperturbably at the furious figure across the room.
"Yes, Mr. Malfoy," Binns asked, for once jolted from his interminable lectures, as he floated over to inspect the scene. "What happened?"
Lucius made his way back to his feet. "Professor, I have been assaulted!" He leveled his wand at Black in what could have been a simple indicator; Lupin's hands fell to his wand regardless, Pettigrew's following after only a moment's hesitation.
Binns looked befuddled, as only an ancient Hufflepuff could. "With your own quill, Mr. Malfoy? That is your own quill, isn't it?"
"One of mine," Malfoy gritted through his teeth, "but obviously tampered with. I demand--"
Binns' eyebrows almost disappeared into his hair. "No one demands in my classroom but me, Mr. Malfoy. Take your seat."
Istan scuttled forward to pick Malfoy's chair up off the ground, muttering a Reparo charm that almost worked, but Lucius stayed where he was, seething. "Your seat, Mr. Malfoy," Binns reiterated.
"Maybe he hasn't learned to sit yet," Black contributed, smirking. "Like he hasn't learned to use a quill. Perhaps if he'd spent more time listening in Charms instead of dreaming of world conquest, he wouldn't end up in these situations."
For a moment, it seemed Lucius would lunge straight through Binns to wrap his hands around Black's throat. Snape caught his arm before he could quite carry it off. "Later, Lucius," he advised quietly, his eyes throwing daggers at Black and Potter. "We'll deal with them later."
Lucius shook Snape off, but seated himself in the remains of his chair and his dignity, his glare never leaving Black. Black's smirk only widened, then bounced over Malfoy's head to the Slytherin girl at the window. She met his cocky grin expressionlessly, her pale eyes blank and unimpressed, until he rolled his eyes and ostentatiously looked away, seeking a more appreciative audience among the Gryffindors.
He found it in blonde, bubbly Levinson, who smiled at him with an awe usually reserved for conquering heroes, but it came too late; Malfoy and Snape had both followed Black's gaze to the window, and she felt their eyes on her, cold and assessing. The Gryffindors would tell this tale the length and breadth of Hogwarts; it could be dismissed as exaggeration if no Slytherin confirmed its truth. The others would keep their silence to honor their house, or simply out of fear of Malfoy. She cared little for the honor of her house any more, at least as Malfoy personified it, but fear.... Oh, yes, she was afraid.
She lifted her eyes to meet Malfoy's, and held his stare, kept her face as blank against his wrath as it had been against Black's 'charm'. She wanted to smirk as Black had, wanted to dismiss him with a roll of her eyes and a shrug as Evans had. Instead, her eyes dropped and her shoulders slumped, letting her brown hair fall heavily forward over her face. She returned her attention to her notes as Binns' voice picked back up in mid-drone. 'I saw nothing,' the submissive show stated. 'I will say nothing.'
But foolish, stubborn pride had made her hold his eyes too long, far longer than she should have. There would be a price to be paid, and she closed her eyes and tried to lose herself in the Battle of Ox and Deer, as if that would be enough to save them.
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Class ended and she heard Evans scolding Black as she made her escape, heard Pettigrew beginning to expound on the prank, felt Snape's eyes boring into her back as she escaped into the corridor. Muffled footsteps behind her made her quicken her step, and she went for her wand when the hand grabbed her shoulder.
But it was only Evans, and the other girl fell a step back when she saw the wand in the Slytherin's hand. "Sorry, Katherine," she apologized instantly. "I didn't mean to startle you."
She almost smiled -- as if Lily Evans was anything to fear -- and nodded her head once in cool acknowledgment. It wasn't every day a Gryffindor apologized to a Slytherin, after all. "What is it?" Her voice was low and calm and utterly detached.
Evans looked as concerned as if they were best friends. "I wanted to apologize. For what happened in there."
Katherine lifted one eyebrow. "It's your fault Sirius Black is an overgrown child? At last, someone to blame."
It was meant to be crushing, but Evans just smiled. "Of course it's not my fault. But he'll never apologize for himself so someone has to."
"I'm not the one who was thrown to the floor."
"No, you weren't." Evans gave a short laugh. "But it was awfully funny to see Malfoy there, I admit. How do you put up with him? Bad enough being in the same class, but the same House... I can't imagine."
There were so many ways to respond to that -- a laugh, a sob, a scream. in the end, she settled for simply saying tonelessly, "No. You can't."
Evans looked at her more closely. "Are you all right, Katherine? Because you look... I've been worried, you see, that you look so tired. As if something was dreadfully wrong. Is there... Can I help at all?"
Katherine stared at her blankly. Evens? Offering help?
But then, it was Evans after all, Head and Universally Beloved Girl, Quidditch Captain's girlfriend and purveyor of all things good and Gryffindor. Sincerity sparkled from her eyes, concern oozing from her very pores. Perhaps there was something she could do, some way.... But she was a Gryffindor, and only a student, and what could she and all of her good intentions really do except make things worse?
It would have been pointless, really, to do anything but what she did. "Everything's fine, thanks," Katherine replied calmly, before she turned and walked away.
"What was that about?" Potter's voice drifted down the hall after her.
"I don't.... Nothing," Evans replied quietly. "It was nothing."
"Glad to hear it." Black's footsteps joined the others, strong and confident and oh-so sure of himself. "Start hanging about with the Slytherin Ice Princess and we'd have to learn a few good spells to cure frostbite."
"And Heaven forbid you should have to spent time learning anything useful," Evans shot back, exasperation fighting for precedence with affection. Then Katherine was gone, away from the Gryffindors and their easy comradeship, and sickeningly grateful to be so.
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