Severus looked up sharply, and saw that it was Professor McGonagall.
She wasn’t smiling.
‘Indoors, at once,’ she said, shortly.
Nervous, Severus slid off the fountain edge and followed her into the school.
McGonagall led Severus into a disused classroom, where he saw, with a sinking feeling in his stomach, Sirius Black and James Potter, looking smug.
Professor McGonagall seated herself behind the desk, and Severus drew nearer, watching Black with narrowed eyes.
Professor McGonagall raised her wand and Summoned an old broomstick from across the room.
Grasping it, she thumped it hard on the floor two times.
Evidently this was a cue, because Peeves zoomed up through the floor.
Severus’ heart plummeted as he looked from Peeves to Potter and Black.
‘Mr. Black here tells me, and Mr. Potter supports his story-’
‘All the Gryffindor boys do, Professor,’ Potter added.
‘Be quiet, Potter.’ McGonagall said, sharply.
Potter fell silent and McGonagall spoke again to Severus.
‘They say that you were responsible for a ruckus in the Gryffindor dormitory last night. Is this true?’
Severus opened his mouth to say, truthfully, that he hadn’t been anywhere near Gryffindor tower last night, because he’d been in bed.
Peeves, however, got there first.
‘It was not true, Professor Minnie!’ Peeves squawked, indignantly, ‘I caused the ruckus all by myself! Like THIS!’
He whooshed around the classroom, scattering sheets of parchment.
Chalk, quills, and Gobstones bounced off the walls.
‘You did it because Mr. Snape asked you to, Peeves!’ McGonagall shouted, not taking her furious eyes off Severus’ face.
Severus looked, fearfully, up at Peeves who halted at once.
Peeves grinned, evilly, down at Severus.
‘Yes, he did,’ he said, crushingly, ‘A grudge he’s got, little Severus Snape!’
He laughed in Severus’ face and pelted him with chalk before whisking out.
The door slammed and Severus looked at Professor McGonagall whose nostrils were flared.
‘Explain,’ she commanded.
Severus launched into the story about the journey on the Hogwarts Express, where Potter and the others had insulted his family.
But he could not bring himself to tell her what happened at dinnertime, it was too humiliating.
‘Why didn’t you tell a teacher before? Why leave it ‘til now?’ McGonagall asked.
‘Foolish pride, I presume?’
Severus opened his mouth to argue, but looking at the circumstances, he saw she had a point.
‘I thought that school rules only applied once term started,’ he mumbled, embarrassed.
‘Be that as it may, but I’m surprised in you, Snape,’ McGonagall said, ‘particularly in the light of what special treatment Professor Dumbledore’s given you,’
Severus hung his head.
After all Professor Dumbledore had done for him, aiding him to Hogwarts through the Ministry, given him privileged access to the private potion stores.
He hadn’t even started on a single cauldron!
Why hadn’t it occurred to him that Peeves wouldn’t be loyal to him?
He had been given a rare treat, and he had gambled it for revenge about a stupid prank!
Professor McGonagall turned to Potter and Black.
‘I must add that I am also disappointed in you two,’ she said, abruptly.
All this time, Potter and Black had been smirking at Severus, their arms folded.
Now they looked affronted.
‘What did we do?’ Black cried.
‘You encouraged each others’ bad behaviour is what. You will all get a detention, and you’ll be doing them together,’
And then there were three, Severus thought, bitterly, as his and Potter’s eyes met in hatred.
When Severus went back to join Lily at the fountain, he could barely look at her.
‘How did you go from ‘never better’ to detention in five minutes?’ Lily asked after he told her everything.
He shook his head, miserably, but Lily didn’t start telling him off.
She rubbed his back with one hand, and praised him for how many points he had earned in Potions.
This reminded Severus about Slughorn allowing him unlimited potion-making.
He shared this with Lily.
‘Wow!’ she said, looking awestruck. ‘You must have been really, really good for him to trust you like that! I mean, in Gryffindor, I’ve been hearing sixth years complaining about the Potions they’re set! Very difficult, and some are downright scary!’
Her eyes were so wide Severus expected them to fall out her head.
He grinned, his detention with Potter and Black forgotten.
Herbology that afternoon was taught by Professor Sprout, a squat, green-robed witch, with a sunny disposition.
‘Today’s lesson will be a practical one,’ she told the Slytherins, ‘but we won’t be having it in Greenhouse 1. If you’ll all follow me ... ’
She led them across the grounds to an area where the grass had been raked away to reveal moist, dark earth.
Professor Sprout raised a very curious looking, pale-green pod, about the size of a pine-cone. It was squirming gently.
‘Now, can anyone tell me what this is?’
Severus put his hand up. He was the only one who looked like he had a clue.
‘It’s a Whomping Willow seed, Professor,’ he replied.
‘Right first time! Ten points to Slytherin, and why is it so-called ‘Whomping’?’
Severus put his hand up again, faster than before.
‘It’s extremely defensive to anyone who goes near it, and defends itself by lashing its branches,’
‘Take another ten points,’ Professor Sprout said, ‘Keeps his nose in a book, that boy,’
They spent the lesson watching how Professor Sprout tended to the Whomping Willow pod as she buried it, asking more questions as she did so.
Severus and Bellatrix Lestrange earned Slytherin ten more points between them as the lesson progressed.
It was when they returned to Greenhouse 1 that Severus got to properly talk to her.
‘Bellatrix Lestrange,’ she said, shaking his hand, firmly.
Bellatrix had greyish skin that suited her, in an odd way, and long, purple fingernails.
Professor Sprout gave them work pruning the leaves of a Fanged Moonflower.
‘These Moonflowers are still quite young, but wear your protective gloves anyway as they can give a nasty nip,’ Professor Sprout said.
‘I overheard Potter, and those git pals of his, say you tried to hex him on the train, is that true?’ Bellatrix asked Severus, quietly.
Severus checked that Professor Sprout wasn’t watching and nodded.
‘Nice one!’ Bellatrix grinned.
The Fanged Moonflowers looked rather like oversized snap-dragons, except that they were rather sensitive to the pruning sheers.
Severus accidentally trimmed his a bit too close to the stem.
It bit him, hard, on the tip of his hooked nose and Professor Sprout hurried over to separate him from the vicious plant.
She tickled the Moonflower under what might be called its chin, and the flower released its hold.
Severus cupped his nose with both hands.
It was bleeding and, from what he could see, when he crossed his eyes, turning a worrying shade of blue.
The Slytherins looked like they were unsure whether to laugh or feel sorry for him, and Professor Sprout told Bellatrix to escort Severus to the hospital wing.
Madame Pomfrey, the school matron, was a firm but kindly witch and she didn’t laugh when Severus showed her his nose.
‘You’ve come off lucky,’ she told him, as she spoon-fed him a crimson liquid from a bottle labelled Soothe-U. ‘There are Hogwarts students who have suffered far worse bites than yours,’
A few lagging Hufflepuffs peeked at Severus round the hospital door, sniggering at his purpling nose.
He stuck his tongue out at them and they ran off, giggling.
‘Far worse bites than mine?’ Severus wondered, checking his nose in a hand-mirror, and watching it turn normal.
‘What do you mean, Madame Pomfrey?’
‘Well, I mean ... poor boy ...’
Her voice petered out, and she sighed sadly, gazing out of the window.
Severus followed her gaze, but all he could see was the patch where Professor Sprout had buried the Whomping Willow seed.
Madame Pomfrey gave herself a little shake.
‘There! You’re all fixed up now. You may go,’
Wondering what that was all about, Severus hopped off the bed and left the hospital wing.
Looking at his watch, he saw that he had ten minutes until Herbology ended.
By the time he’d reach Greenhouse 1, the lesson would be over, and it would be lunchtime.
But what with one thing and another, Severus had lost his appetite.
He would have liked to spend some time alone, but instead, made his reluctant way down to the Great Hall.
Lunch would have tasted far better had not the thought of detention with Potter and Black weighed on his mind.
Severus played with his cottage pie, and even the vulture-faced Head Boy told him to lighten up.
Professor McGonagall arrived at the Slytherin table, telling Severus that he, Potter, and Black, would have their detention at eight thirty, this evening, with Hagrid.
‘What on earth could a Game Keeper give as detention?’ Severus wondered aloud after McGonagall left.
‘Maybe he’ll force you to play Quidditch, that wouldn’t be bad!’ Mulciber joked.
‘The way Potter does, it would,’ Severus muttered, bitterly.
Severus hadn’t seen a game of Quidditch yet, but during Herbology, he had caught glimpses of the Gryffindors practicing on broomsticks.
Potter looked sickeningly gifted at flying.
Severus had never been a sports enthusiast, but nearly all the other boys, no matter what House they were in, seemed to talk of nothing else.
Lucius bored him stupid as he told anyone who would listen about the upside-down stunts he could perform on his Comet 260.
Severus left the table the moment dinner was over, not even staying for pudding, and decided to go back to the Slytherin dormitory where he threw himself into his homework.
He judged that if Potter was going to give him a hard time in detention, then at least he could thrash him at homework and earn Slytherin more House points.
All too soon, eight thirty arrived, and Severus dragged his feet down to Hagrid’s Hut, in the grounds.
Hagrid was stood outside, waiting for him with a lantern, and his huge, black boarhound, Fang.
Severus’ feeling of dread increased, greatly, when he saw that Hagrid was carrying a cross-bow.
What on earth would they be doing?
A minute later, Potter and Black had arrived.
Potter smiled when he saw Hagrid, and Severus could tell at once that they were on friendly speaking terms.
Hagrid nodded back, solemnly.
‘It’s not gonna be a good time, I’m afraid, boys, includin’ you, James,’ he said, seriously. ‘We’re goin’ into the Forbidden Forest. Word is that there’s something in there Professor Dumbledore’s not too happy abou’, and he needs our sharp eyes and ears to catch a glimpse of it. You’ll be safe with me and Fang though,’ he added, reassuringly.
I wouldn’t be so sure about that, Severus thought, irritably, watching Fang roll over, puppy-like, so that Black could scratch his belly.
If they met anything dangerous in the forest, he highly doubted Fang would be the first to defend them.
Hagrid led them across the grounds to the Forest’s edge, and turned round to face them, one more time, as they reached the first trees.
‘Before we go in, listen to me very carefully,’ he said, ‘Stick to the path, you understand? If you get lost, not even I might be able to find you again, and who knows what could happen,’
‘I’ve heard there are giant snakes in the Forbidden Forest,’ Black said, and Severus was glad to hear a note of fear in his voice.
‘Oh, no chance of that,’ Hagrid said, ‘if there were any giant snakes in there, a few long-legged friends of mine would be running for their-’
He stopped abruptly, as if he had said too much.
‘What?’ Severus said.
‘Nothing of importance to you three,’ Hagrid said, loudly, ‘We’ve got a detention to be gettin’ on with. So let’s get on with it.’
‘Get it over with, more like,’ Potter muttered, as they made their first few steps under the trees.
He glared across at Severus.
‘You’re scared, aren’t you, Potter?’ Severus teased.
‘Not as much as you, coward,’ Potter hissed back.
Severus felt a hot surge of anger. He gripped his wand under his robes.
They pulled their cloaks more tightly around them as a cold, northerly wind blew in through the trees, but after that, the Forest provided more shelter.
For twenty minutes, there was no sound except for the snapping of twigs and the crunching of leaves under their feet.
Occasionally, they hesitated so that one of the boys could untangle his cloak from brambles, or low-hanging tree branches.
The smell of moss and earth filled Severus’ nostrils, and he wondered what sort of things did live in the Forbidden Forest.
He sped up a little so that he was close to Hagrid.
‘Do we know exactly what it is we’re looking for?’ he asked.
‘No,’ Hagrid answered, uncomfortably, ‘All we do know is that it’s closely linked to the Dark Arts, possibly even ...’
But he broke off again and shook his head.
‘No, I’m not tellin’ ya. It’d give ya nightmares.’
‘It’d give Snape nightmares, maybe!’ Potter said, and Severus clenched his teeth, ‘but I’m not scared of anything. Try us at least, Hagrid, come on!’
Hagrid looked like he was considering it, but at that moment, there came a noise from ahead.
Everyone froze except for Hagrid who raised his crossbow.
The noise had been short and sudden, like something falling over onto a lot of leaves.
‘Who’s there?’ Hagrid barked, ‘I warn you, I’m armed!’
There was no answer.
Severus felt goose-bumps swell along the backs of his arms.
He had the most curious sensation that something was watching them, but not from the path ahead.
For some reason, he found his head straying to his left, and Severus stared into an area of forest that was blacker than the rest.
He felt, more than heard, the stranger move away from that area, and, next thing he knew, he was looking to his right.
Something was keeping an eye on them at a distance, but why, he couldn’t tell.
Then Severus realised something wasn’t right.
Hagrid had lowered his crossbow, and he was sagging as though very weary. Potter too looked like he was fighting to stay awake, and Black actually stumbled.
What was going on?
Then, the weirdest thing happened.
Something grabbed the back of Severus’ cloak, and plucked him from the ground, easy as if he were a helpless insect.
He hadn’t heard them coming, and he couldn’t hear them moving, as they flew away, through the treetops, completely silent.
Severus couldn’t make a sound at all.
His brain seemed to have filled with fog, as he couldn’t move or speak or think.
He felt Black’s arm bump him, gently, on his left, as the creature carried him in its other foot, but from what Severus could see of Black, he was completely immobile.
The creature that had hold of them had a fifteen foot wingspan.
When it set Severus down again, he felt freezing rock under his hands.
Shaking, Severus saw that he had been carried to a curious part of the Forest where parts of the mountain appeared to have broken off into it.
Huge rocks were melded together, possibly by magic, and they formed a crude cave.
The monster had landed in front of them a short way.
Its eyes were the size of saucers, and they glowed luminous green in the pitch black. On the end of its huge, dark wings were six-inch long claws.
Pure fear gripped Severus where he crouched.
He balled his courage together, and reached for his wand, very slowly.
Black was groaning beside him, barely conscious.
‘Who - are you?’ Severus asked, tensely, pointing his wand at the giant bat.
... I cannot reveal my name ... for my powers are weakened, but our numbers are growing...
The words came without the creature moving its jaws.
‘What do you mean?’ Severus asked it.
... I mean that I am looking for the one who can save us...
A streak of black had shot through the creature’s wing.
It howled in pain, and something smoke-like poured out of gaping mouth.
Instantly, the cloud was whisked away in a wind.
To Severus’ astonishment, the giant bat vanished, and Severus thought he glimpsed something much smaller flit away, but it was impossible to tell in the dark.
It was Hagrid’s voice, shouting from far below.
‘I’m alright,’ Severus shouted downwards, ‘Black’s out cold, but I think I can get us both down,’
Severus cast Wingardium Leviosa on them both, and guided them, gingerly, down towards the Forest floor.
He felt relived to feel earth underneath him again, rather than the craggy rock of that thing’s cave.
‘Crikey!’ Hagrid said at the sight of them.
‘Is he alright?’ Potter panted, ashen-faced and sweating.
Hagrid picked up the unconscious Black in his huge hands.
‘What the heck happened back there?’ Hagrid asked Severus, ‘One minute we’re together, and the next, you and Black were gone!’
‘What we’ve been looking for found us first,’ Severus answered, darkly.
Potter was craning to look at Black, but Hagrid looked spooked.
‘What was it?’ he asked.
‘A vampire,’ Severus replied, and he sounded so certain, not even Potter scoffed.