which there is serious danger ~
“Behind you, Ginny,” Severus whispered, laying a hand on her shoulder.
Ever so slowly, the smaller Gryffindor turned her head, catching sight of a wide-mouthed Slytherin on the way. Her eyes travelled further and she felt herself freeze.
Perched upon a fallen log was an enormous salivating black dog. It would have looked like a normal bull-mastiff except that its eyes glowed a dull red. Two others were standing behind it, just as large as their leader.
Ginny let out a slight whimper. The three beasts responded with a blood-curdling howl.
“The Firebolt!” Snape cried, his voice going higher than he’d intended. “Get up to the treetops!”
As quick as lightning, all three students scrambled onto the broomstick. The smallest dog gave a howl of rage and leaped towards them.
But a piercing scream stopped the broom in mid-flight.
“WAIT!” Draco roared to Severus, staring in horror at the still figure below them.
Ginny had been jerked off by the sudden acceleration of the broom and had fallen to the ground, hitting her head on a sharp stone.
“RELASHIO!” the Slytherin yelled, pointing his newly drawn wand at the slavering beasts.
A burst of fiery sparks hit the lead dog with a sizzle. The huge beast shrieked in pain and the smell of singed fur stopped the others just about to spring.
“MOBILICORPUS!” came another voice strongly, making the body of Ginny Weasley jerk suddenly into the air.
Draco grimaced as Snape fought to direct Ginny’s body higher. Their barely-functioning broom was sinking lower and the two unhurt dogs were growling louder.
“She’s not going to make it!” cried Draco in panic.
“SHUT UP!” yelled Snape, his head hurting from concentration.
Without warning the burnt dog gave a snarl and the closest dog’s eyes glowed bright red. With a throaty howl it leapt up at Ginny’s floating body. His mind suddenly blank, Draco gritted his teeth and threw himself at the beast with an answering snarl. Boy and beast hit the ground with terrific force, winding them both.
Severus gave a shout of anger and dove the broom down, catching the barely conscious Ginny over his shoulder. But the roughed-up broom couldn’t take it any longer and the two Gryffindors were also flung to the ground. “Ginny, REDIVIVUS!” Snape cried immediately, pointing his wand at the body next to him.
Without waiting for her response, the black-haired boy leapt up, throwing himself on the animal smothering Draco. Severus rolled the startled brute off the other boy and closed his hands around its neck.
“You’ll pay,” Snape hissed, his abnormally strong fingers wringing the great beast’s neck. “I know what you are, I know who—AAARGH.”
It was like a pain he hadn’t experienced for so long, not since he had served the Dark Lord…
“Hang on, Severus!” came a distant voice.
Draco searched wildly for his wand, but in vain, for it had fumbled from his grasp when he’d leapt. Ignoring the stupidity once more, he threw himself at the beast digging into Severus’s back. To his horror, the beast anticipated this and rolled out of the way, and Draco ploughed into a hunched-over Severus. Draco stared at the drooling fangs and tried to reach Severus’s wand instead.
“STUPEFY!” came Ginny’s scream to his side, cutting him off.
The foaming brute slumped to the ground. Draco’s head whipped around as he searched for the other creatures, finally spotting them on the ground. He let out a sigh of relief as he recovered his dropped wand, and walked shakily over to his companions. Ginny was already stooped over Severus’s body, trying to roll him off the strangled dog. Ginny looked up as he came over and gave him a small smile.
“We need to wash his bite before I close it,” she said softly, motioning to a nasty wound in Snape’s back.
Draco nodded weakly and lifted his wand. “Mobilicorp—”
“It’s all right,” cut in Snape with a groan. “I can manage…”
Ginny bit her lip and helped the larger boy up. Snape grimaced and tried to focus on something besides his back. His eyes wandered around the scrubby clearing, noticing that the dog he had strangled to death had lost the red light in its eyes. He felt a rush of hatred in the pit of his stomach and looked away.
“Is that one only stunned?” he asked his companions, pointing to the one that had bitten him.
“Yeah,” Draco assented, glancing at Ginny, but then noticing the bloody, disfigured body of the other one. “What the hell happened to that one?”
Ginny suppressed a shudder. “Well, it was coming straight at me,” she muttered.
“Diffindo?” Snape asked, picking up the battered Firebolt.
Ginny continued to stare at the mangled body. “Yeah,” she said. “It was the only thing I could think of…perhaps it was a bit much…”
“It deserved it,” replied Snape at once, casting a backward glance at his seemingly dead beast on the ground. “Come on then.”
His two companions followed him silently for some distance.
“A stream!” Ginny cried gladly, running to the surface and turning it crystal clear. Relief washed over her face as she started cleansing Snape’s nasty looking bite before closing it up.
Draco watched in silence, hesitating slightly as he approached the larger boy. “Look, I’m sorry for being such a fool. I know I shouldn’t have jumped off the sodding broom—”
“Then why did you?” cut in Snape irritably, the pain of his wound just starting to sink in. “Of all the stupid things you could’ve done – tackling the thing in midair –”
“What?” Ginny interrupted this time. “Did you really?”
Draco glared at Severus as Ginny went off into peals of laughter. Snape glared at them both in equal annoyance, when a sudden rustle brought them back to their situation. A wave of irritation rushed over Snape’s face as he whipped his head around, searching for the cause of the noise.
“Still up for that race?” he asked, his eyes darting around the shadows.
Draco and Ginny nodded uneasily.
“Stop!” hissed Snape, throwing his arms out against his two panting companions.
The two students froze and clenched their wands tighter.
“What is it?” Draco growled between breaths.
To their shock he gave them both a broad smile. “Hogwarts,” he breathed, pulling back a branch.
They were standing on the edge of the forest, right at the back of the Quidditch change rooms.
“Back where we started,” Ginny murmured, placing a hand on the cool wall.
The three students pushed their way out of the undergrowth and stood in the warm sunshine. The great castle that was Hogwarts rose magnificently before them. Ginny felt her knees go weak and Draco felt exceedingly tired all of a sudden. Snape looked for the familiar glint of the Headmaster’s window and felt a feeling of satisfaction swell up within him.
“WE MADE IT!” Ginny shouted suddenly, making the two boys jump violently.
All three students exploded into hysterical guffaws, running at the castle and punching the air.
“We made it!”
“And we’re still alive!”
“No thanks to you!”
“Oh, shut up, Malfoy!”
“Finally!” Severus crowed, giving them both a clap on the back but then stopping suddenly.
Draco and Ginny also skidded to a stop and grinned at him breathlessly. Snape nodded towards Hagrid’s cottage about a hundred yards away, at four rapidly approaching figures.
“GINNY!” came a roar.
Ginny’s face lit up as she recognised the running figures. “Ron!” she laughed, running forward to meet them.
Draco wrinkled up his nose and looked sideways at Severus. Snape shrugged. “Yeah, let’s go—”
“SEV!” came a bellow, drowning out whatever the black-haired boy was about to say next.
Snape froze and turned around to meet the enormous Gamekeeper. He hastily shook Hagrid’s hand before the big giant could pull him into a hug.
“SEV! Where’d yeh go? What happened? Everyone’s bin lookin’ for yeh; Dumbledore—”
But the sound of three loud voices all talking at once drowned out even Hagrid’s booming one.
“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!”
“WE’VE BEEN LOOKING F’YOU FOR AGES—”
“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!”
“MUM AND DAD’VE BEEN GOING MENTAL—”
“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!” they all finally cried at once, glaring at Ginny half-angrily, half-hysterically.
Ginny looked at them all dazedly, feeling quite overwhelmed. Hermione glared at her slightly tearfully and suddenly gave her an enormous hug. “We were so worried…”
Ron looked at her white-faced and gripped her shoulder very hard, as if he thought she was going to suddenly disappear again. “Everyone was!” he said tightly.
Ginny still felt slightly dazed. “Really?”
“Of course we were,” a familiar voice agreed emphatically, making her heart beat faster.
Ginny turned to meet the warm green eyes that she’d dreamt about since she was eleven. Harry Potter gave her a relieved grin.
“Are you all right? Do you need to sit down?” he asked, his grin fading slightly.
Ginny blushed violently and tried to say something but her tongue seemed to be stuck. To her surprise a deep voice spoke.
port-keyed at least forty miles into the
Harry, Ron and Hermione spun around to face the speaker in shock.
“I’m sure Ginny will explain later, but right now we’ve got to report to the Headmaster,” Severus cut in dispassionately.
“Hang on,” said Ginny desperately, before her tongue froze again. She blushed violently once more and presented Harry with the battered Firebolt. “Sorry it’s all beaten up… If it’s any consolation… it saved my life.”
Draco gagged loudly at this but Harry stared at the broom, barely recognising it. “My Firebolt…” His stare transferred to Ginny and he smiled. “I can’t believe you brought it back all that way. You didn’t need to– I’m just glad you’re all right.”
Draco scowled and Severus grabbed the Firebolt instead. “It needs to be examined for further dark magic,” he said nastily, ignoring Harry’s mutinous frown. “I’m sure Dumbledore will let you have it later… what’s left of it anyway.”
Severus smirked slightly but motioned impatiently to Ginny and flicked his head at Draco. But Ginny was still being interrogated by her brother, with Hermione giving cries of horror every now and then.
“But what I
don’t get is,” Ron burst out finally, after interrupting Ginny every time she
tried to explain something, “ –HOW DID YOU TRAVEL FORTY MILES THROUGH
THE BLOODY FORBIDDEN
Ginny looked taken aback at her brother swearing and paused. Ron, Hermione, and even Harry were gazing at her with barely concealed admiration. Ginny looked at her shoes. “Oh…well, we wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for these two,” she said loyally, glowing at Draco and Severus.
Harry, Ron and Hermione stared at the two boys incredulously while Draco and Severus gave them their best scowls.
“Hurry up!” Snape snapped, glaring at an unfortunate Ginny.
“Yeah, talk it up, Weasley…” Draco muttered, giving her a dirty look.
Ron opened his mouth to yell something when his best friend laid a hand on his shoulder. “Not now, Ron,” Harry murmured, throwing Draco a dirty look in return. “Ginny needs some rest.”
Ron’s face turned worried again. “Ginny, d’you want us to carry you back to the castle—”
“Ron, I’m fine.”
“No, but you might be feeling ill, and you could’ve caught something out there in that creepy—”
“Yes, there’s lots of nasty bugs out there, I read about it in One Million and One Life-Threatening Disea—”
“Hermione! I’m fine—”
“Now I’m your brother, and I think you need a long rest with plenty of—”
“It’s just that we care,” put in Harry hastily, seeing Ginny turn red.
“Yeah, Gin’,” Ron replied soothingly, patting her on the back. “I mean, if I’d been stuck with Malfoy along with loony Death Eaters on my tail, I’d be out of my mind right now.”
Ginny opened her mouth indignantly but it was another voice that spoke.
“Look, Weasley, if you weren’t such a blithering idiot you would notice that she was OK—” it took Ginny a few seconds to realise that Draco was talking to her brother and not her, “—and what’s more, Ginny’s probably handled it better than you ever could’ve, you great stinking—”
“Don’t you dare call my sister by her first name, Malfoy,” Ron spat, whipping out his wand.
“RON!” bellowed Ginny, waving her hands in her brother’s face. “Stop it!”
Harry and Ron stared at her dubiously, along with Hermione who was giving her a hard look.
“Look, Dumbledore’s expecting us,” Ginny carried on, a slight flush appearing at the back of her neck “So Severus and, erm… Draco and I… should start going.”
Hermione’s look turned disbelieving, along with Harry and Ron who stared at her in slight horror. The freckled boy reddened and rounded on Draco at once, grabbing his shoulder roughly.
“You watch yourself, Malfoy,” he hissed, right next to the scowling Slytherin’s ear.
A steely grip on Ron’s shoulder made him turn slightly.
“You watch it, Weasley,” Severus Snape snarled, giving Hagrid a glare as he moved to intervene.
Harry sent Snape a furious look and rounded on Draco. “Trust you to chum up with another Crabbe slash Goyle counterpart,” he sneered, giving Snape his most disgusted look.
Severus turned white and clenched his fists, but it was an unlikely source that intervened.
“Harry! How…how could you?” Ginny stammered, giving the rage-filled Snape an apologetic look. “Severus saved my life…more than once, and yes, even Malfoy! Show them some respect… please.”
Harry, Ron and Hermione stood there, dumbfounded once more. Hagrid scratched his head, looking quite surprised himself.
“Now, if you don’t mind, we’re going to see Dumbledore,” Ginny finished off determinedly. And with that, the flushing Gryffindor turned her heel and marched away.
Snape and Draco smirked at each other. “If, you don’t mind,” Draco drawled, jerking himself from Ron’s grip and setting off after Ginny. Snape crossed his arms and followed silently, unable to stop himself from sniggering at their expressions before he left.
Ron sat down hard on the short grass. “She’s gone mad,” he murmured faintly, shaking his head.
“She was acting odd,” Hermione muttered in agreement.
“I guess being stuck with them for a week, really changes a person,” Harry added, gazing at Ginny’s retreating figure with raised eyebrows.
“Er…I’m sorry about—wait! Where are you going?” Ginny exclaimed, as Severus pulled them behind an enormous tapestry.
“Shortcut to Dumbledore’s office,” Snape answered, revealing a hidden passage opening out to a narrow corridor. “I don’t want a lot of nosy students breathing down my neck…”
“How did you—”
“I’ve stayed here holidays remember? Since there was no one here, I had free reign over the castle…lots of time to explore.”
Snape smiled to himself. At least he’d been ready for that one.
Ginny looked somewhat satisfied and continued. “Well, anyway, I’m sorry about all the fuss that happened earlier—”
“It’s all right,” Snape cut in, casting a sidelong look at Draco.
“Yeah,” Draco smirked, “–the look on their faces when you said you were going off with us…”
Draco’s voice drained out to an uncomfortable silence. The only sound now was the faint echo of footfalls on the stony floor.
“I did mean it…” Ginny began in a small voice. “I mean… I never thanked you, Severus… and you, er, Draco. I wouldn’t mind, you know… We could still talk and er…”
There was an awkward silence as Ginny trailed off and no one replied.
Severus felt a strange feeling swell up in his stomach as his thoughts drifted back to the last few days. All the pain and Death Eater attacks aside, it would not be those instances he’d remember in the years to come. It would be the smaller, almost insignificant moments - Draco and Ginny gathering food, falling out of trees, laughing and fighting at the same time… Severus started to rub his right palm unconsciously.
“Blood on blood,” he mumbled to himself.
Draco and Ginny continued to gaze at the stony floor, vague memories of that night wisping into their minds.
“Well, at least we know that the oath worked after all,” Ginny murmured.
“Yeah, but like I said earlier,” Draco sneered, though rather half-heartedly. “I was hoping to get more than just a sore left hand.”
To his shock Ginny collapsed on the spot. Draco dropped to her side in alarm, only to discover that she was silently laughing.
“Sore… sore left hand!” she gasped for air, getting to her feet and starting to move once more. “Well, I don’t know what you were expecting when you got stranded in the forest with a beautiful girl, but I assure you, Draco, a sore left hand was the most you could’ve expected.”
Severus rolled his eyes at the childish innuendo but started sniggering at Draco’s pained expression.
And although Severus felt they’d have answered a hesitant not really when asked if they were friends, he knew that something strange had happened in that moment. Something had changed.
The three students reached the end of the passage and blinked at the sudden light, as the thick tapestry was pulled backwards by Albus Dumbledore himself. Severus, Draco and Ginny trooped quickly out, to find themselves standing in the same corridor as the statue that led to the Headmaster’s office.
“I’m afraid the whole school has headed down to the Entrance Hall to get a look at you, but I assume you’d rather come upstairs and have a chat?” Dumbledore inquired, his eyes twinkling at Severus.
Draco and Ginny looked at him reluctantly, thinking of the enormous welcome that awaited them. Not to mention it was probably time for lunch…
The Headmaster seemed to read their minds. “Yes, I have a small meal prepared for my hungry travellers, and also, I’m sure your parents would like to drop by to make sure you’re all right…”
All three of their faces lit up at the mention of food, but then Draco remembered something, something that made his body feel numb.
“My father…” he began.
“Yes, yes, please tell me everything upstairs, come along now,” Dumbledore interrupted briskly, whispering the password and gesturing them to the stairs.
When all three were seated, (which didn’t take long as the food was sitting next to the chairs) Dumbledore spoke in an unusual, serious tone.
“Now, I wouldn’t be pulling you up here if it wasn’t vital you told me exactly what happened. I know you are hungry, tired, and generally uncomfortable, but would you please recount all the details of your disappearance.”
Draco shrugged and Ginny scratched her head. Snape looked at them and sighed. “You two can eat, I’ll tell the story…”
And he told Dumbledore in as much detail as he could remember, all about their weary journey, helped out by a few comments between mouthfuls by Draco and Ginny.
He began with how they had all ended up in the Quidditch change rooms, the fight over the Firebolt, the sudden disappearance, the story that he told Draco and Ginny about his ending up there (while flashing the Headmaster a meaningful look), their encounter with Voldemort, Draco with his father (Dumbledore looked incredibly sombre at this account), the single Death Eater incident, the centaur (the Headmaster’s face brightening), the oath (turning thoughtful), their last trek through the forest and finally the encounter with the horrible dogs. And all through this, each had added comments about small hardships they had come across, from the poisonous snakes to the swamps of quicksand.
When they had finally finished, Mr and Mrs Weasley, along with Bill and Charlie Weasley popped out of the fireplace, demanding an explanation and throwing themselves onto Ginny as soon as they saw her. And so they had to tell the whole story again for their benefit, and again when the Heads of Houses and Cornelius Fudge turned up, and once more when everyone demanded to hear it a second time, it was so unbelievable.
Luckily, on the third time Dumbledore had bewitched a quill so it wrote down everything that had been said by the exhausted trio. A copy was made for the Weasleys, the Minister of Magic, and a special one each for Draco, Ginny and Severus, and finally one for Dumbledore himself.
The Heads of Houses departed for the Great Hall and Fudge departed via Floo. The Weasleys said their reluctant and tearful (mostly on behalf of Mrs Weasley) goodbyes, and were the last to leave. Before he left, Arthur Weasley shook hands with Severus and then, hesitantly, with Draco.
“You’re good lads,” he said sincerely, giving them both small smiles, “If there’s anything I can do for you…”
Snape smiled politely back and Draco shut his mouth firmly and shook his head.
“You’re good lads,” he repeated finally, stepping backwards into the fireplace.
Dumbledore rubbed his hands together. “And now I think you can go.” He smiled, shooing them out the door. “I’m sure everyone at the feast will be dying to know your story also.”
All three companions exchanged broadening smiles. They had been sitting in his office for several hours and, although they had tried to listen attentively to everything the Headmaster was saying, all they had really heard was one word:
“Hang on, will you!” Ginny exclaimed, all three students cascading down the stairs with the black-haired boy in front as usual.
“You two had all that food in Dumbledore’s office,” Snape argued, refusing to slow down as he thought of the feast ahead.
“That was long forgotten!” Draco counteracted, shoving in front of the other boy with a triumphant cry.
“Wait!” Ginny yelled once more, putting on a sudden burst of speed. “We look awful! Shouldn’t we stop off at –oof!”
Snape stopped suddenly, making both Draco and Ginny collide into him and knocking them all into a heap on the stairs.
“Watch out,” muttered Snape annoyed. “What’d you do that for?”
“ME?!” Draco countered indignantly, shoving the larger boy off him.
“Get off!” bellowed Ginny, whose robes they were still standing on.
“Yes, perhaps we should tidy up a bit,” Snape said thoughtfully, smoothing down his short hair and ignoring the other two’s glares. “After all, what kind of long lost heroes are we, if we don’t enter in style?”
Draco smirked, forgetting their accident. “Prefects bathroom ahead,” he declared, sprinting down once more.
Ginny grinned to herself and followed a running Snape. “I hope it’s empty…” she murmured, catching up and standing in front of a creamy picture of a lemon.
Draco whispered the password and climbed through the gap, leaving the two Gryffindors outside.
Snape looked at Ginny a trifle smugly. “Didn’t you know? Draco’s a Prefect.”
Ginny blinked at him. “Oh, well… good for him…”
Clambering through the portrait hole, Ginny looked around in awe. Immediately starting towards the massive sunken-in bath, she came to a sudden stop. “Er…is this a boy’s bathroom?”
Draco tested the frothy water with a finger. “Yeah, but there’s no one in here. They’re all probably waiting in the Great Hall.”
Snape started to undo his robe and Ginny gaped at him. “Er…but what…what about you…er, you two?” Ginny stuttered, turning a violent shade of puce as Snape bared his chest.
“What?” replied Draco blankly, removing his shoes.
“See-you-in-a-bit!” Ginny yelled suddenly, jumping into the only closed shower cubicle and slamming the door.
“What’s with her?” Draco mouthed to the larger boy. Peeling off his outer robes, Draco plunged into the bath with a sigh.
Severus soon followed, taking care not to reveal his Death Eater tattoo. The water was so warm and relaxing he soon forgot all else, until his thoughts were interrupted by a loud blaring noise seeming to come out of nowhere.
“Play something else, you dratted thing!” he heard Draco growl.
Severus spun lazily to look over at Draco, who was irritably prodding some sort of stone lion with his wand. The lion had a defiant look on its face and the sound of bagpipes droned from its open mouth.
“One of the Slytherin prefects charmed it last year,” Draco explained. He hit the lion with his palm. “Although the bloody thing’s supposed to produce music.”
The lion started playing an angry fast tune, as if to say it was producing music.
“Hey! I like bagpipes!” came a muffled shout from the shower cubicle.
“Yeah, but you’ve got bad taste!” Draco yelled back, but giving up on the smug stone lion in disgust. “Sounds like someone’s beating a house-elf…”
“Bagpipes are all right,” Severus yawned.
“ –And the house-elf’s beating a kneazle,” continued to moan Draco, now under a cloud of shampoo. “And the kneazle’s being violently ill…”
Severus felt too lazy to care. “Just make it stop if you don’t like it.”
“Don’t you dare!” came Ginny’s answering shout.
“I can’t,” muttered Draco bitterly, as the stone lion steadfastly ignored his wand movements. “The bloody thing hates me now… for absolutely no reason…”
After half an hour of complaints about bagpipes, and the resulting water fights that thus ensued, all three teenagers left the bathroom soaked and slightly more dishevelled than when they’d entered. The trio glanced at each other and burst into snorts of laughter.
“To the Great Hall!” Ginny cried dramatically, whipping Draco in the face with her wet hair.
“Race you!” Snape said hastily, seeing the young Slytherin turn red.
“On your marks—”
“Where is she?!” hissed Ron, jabbing the table with his fork.
The whole school milled around in the Great Hall, including teachers and the Headmaster himself. Word had spread like wildfire and Dumbledore had come down and given them a short recount on what had befallen Ginny, Draco and Severus. Although they didn’t know it, their disappearance had caused an enormous uproar in the magical community.
The Firebolt had been traced and revealed to have been tinkered with dark magic, and since Ginny had been going to fetch it the day she disappeared…
Hogwarts had been in chaos, and no one knew where to start looking since they had left no clue to their whereabouts. It was widely rumoured that Voldemort had risen once more, and now Albus Dumbledore himself had confirmed it during his tale.
The past several days had been nervous unsettling ones, and with students being ushered to each class by teachers, it was just like when the Chamber of Secrets had been opened. It was enough to shake anyone’s nerves, but when the news had reached Hogwarts that the three lost students were safe, students and teachers alike were so overjoyed that they threw up their usual Saturday activities and celebrated.
It was because of this that the whole school was waiting with baited breath as three awkward figures stumbled uncomfortably through the doorway.
Severus Snape stared around at the sea of expectant faces around him and his smile dissipated.
A roar like the sound of an enormous wave crashing hit them full on. All of a sudden they were drowning in a sea of students all rushing to whack them over the shoulder or shake their hands or pat them on the head or simply roar even louder in their ears. Snape gasped for breath and struggled to get out but was pushed even further under by another magically appearing swarm. Ginny was laughing and crying at the same time, her voice ringing with emotion as she hugged her friends and her brothers all at once. Draco was being pummelled by the Slytherins, the older years congratulating him and slapping him on the back, the girls staring at him adoringly. Snape noticed, to his utmost disgust, that he also had an enormous girl troupe trying to get as close as they could to the ‘mysterious new boy’.
“Will everyone please resume their seats?” rang a clear voice from the other end of the hall.
Severus sent the Headmaster a relieved look as everyone moved reluctantly back to their chairs. A burly Ravenclaw offered to carry Ginny to her seat but she graciously denied, grinning widely at Draco and Severus. Draco rolled his eyes and peeled a hysterical Pansy Parkinson off him. Dumbledore motioned for them to come towards the front and smiled slightly. The three travellers strode forward, feeling slightly awed at all the attention transfixed upon them.
Ginny sent Harry and Hermione a hurt look as she walked past them. “Why didn’t you come to welcome me?” she whispered.
Harry winked at her and Hermione smiled. “Party in the common room afterwards,” she whispered back.
Ginny glowed at them and soon found herself standing in front of a serious-looking Dumbledore. Her smile evaporated and she looked in alarm at the unusually sombre Headmaster. Dumbledore nodded at them and raised his arms to the rest of the hall.
“I have briefly recounted the chain of events that led to the disappearance of these three students. Now that they have returned, there is no use denying it any longer.” Dumbledore’s eyes seemed to bore into every single person’s in the room. “Voldemort has returned.”
The unlikely trio at the front looked at each other soberly, their encounter with the Dark Lord playing slowly in their minds.
“But—” the tone of Dumbledore’s voice changed dramatically, “—we must not be discouraged in the face of such evil—” he turned to the three companions and smiled slightly, “—and we should always hold on to our successes, and ever always celebrate them.”
A ragged cheer arose from the school, the atmosphere lightening considerably.
“And so,” Dumbledore continued, holding up his hands again for silence, “it’s time for the old points awarding—” the hall’s cheer rose up again, “—and I’m sure you’ll all agree; for acting with courage, cunning and showing pure willpower in an utterly bizarre and chilling, devoid-of-their-fault circumstance, I award Ginny Weasley, Draco Malfoy and Severus Snape… fifty points each!”
It was as if they had just walked in again, the roar of cheering was as deafening as before. Harry and Hermione were punching the air wildly, with Ron, Fred and George leaping on the table and cheering with pride. There was a lot of whistling and bellowing from the Slytherin table. Even the other two tables were cheering uproariously, but the unlikely trio stood stock-still and looked at each other wide-eyed.
“But…but we didn’t do anything,” Ginny whispered.
“DIDN’ DO ANYTHIN’, SHE SAYS!” Hagrid boomed heartily, slapping Professor McGonagall on the back and giving a chuckle.
A wave of laughter started up in the hall while Professor McGonagall replaced her spectacles.
“But it’s true…” Ginny said, looking at Draco and Severus.
“Oh well…” Draco grunted, torn by the prospect of fifty points.
Dumbledore smiled. “Of course, you haven’t heard.”
But a chorus of voices cut in first.
“The Ministry’s caught several—”
“Yeah, DOZENS of Death Eaters—”
“At the far
side of the
“They stuck out on account of a huge Dark Mark—”
“Most of ‘em stupidly Disapparated to the edge of the forest—”
“Yeah, right into Aurors loving arms—”
“And one blabbed—”
“Seems they were going to some hollow—”
“And so off popped the Aurors, Charlie was with them—”
“And Bill! And Dad!”
“Yeah, they outnumbered the robed-rotters five to one—”
“Dad caught one single-handedly—”
“But we had no idea—”
“That you had anything to do with it—”
Dumbledore smiled at them congenially. “Thank you Fred and George Weasley, and I might also add that your return has opened up the eyes of the Wizarding community, and especially the Ministry.”
But their heads were still in a whirl with the sudden news.
“What about...?” Snape’s voice trailed off as he gave Dumbledore a meaningful look.
The Headmaster shook his head. “Alas, Voldemort himself and his inner circle weren’t traced, even some minor cat’s paws escaped. But we did get the majority, so cheer up, make yourself merry! It is only four o’clock and we have a long celebration ahead of us!”
The hall cheered as mountains of food started appearing on the long tables. Draco, Ginny and Severus suddenly remembered their hunger and gazed at the banquet in anticipation.
“C’mon, Gin’!” chorused Fred and George Weasley.
Ginny beamed at them and turned to their scarlet table. She looked uncertainly to Draco and Severus and then back at her table.
“See you round I suppose,” Draco said stiffly, and moved off to the stamping Slytherin table.
Ginny sent Severus a hopeful look. Snape scowled and followed her reluctantly to the Gryffindor table. He seated himself right at the end and began to shovel down food as fast as he could.
“Hullo there!” came a cheery voice next to his elbow.
Snape looked up as a blonde boy plonked himself down on the seat next to him. He was unfamiliar to Snape, yet he was far too large to be a first year.
“Oh!” the boy said extending a hand. “My name’s Philip Woodley! I was next up for Sorting after you, remember? I just transferred.”
Severus ignored the boy and hoped he would move away. He couldn’t remember seeing him at the Sorting, but then there had been more exchange students than usual this year. He was just about to resume eating when something large and wet landed on his plate. Much to his disgust, a large yellow toad was burrowing around in his mashed potato.
“Sorry about that!” came the cheery voice once more. “Thorn’s like that y’know, loves her mash.”
Severus fixed him with a steely glare.
“Here, Thorny, come on, girl, get out of the angry boy’s ‘taters,” Woodley coaxed, prodding the toad with his carrot.
Severus opened his mouth to say something cutting when the boy gave him a sudden wink. “I think she likes you, what did you say your name was? Scrape or something like that—”
“I didn’t say,” Severus cut in with barely-concealed rage, “ –and its Snape, weren’t you listening to the Headmaster?”
“Oh, yes!” Woodley replied instantly, sending him an admiring look. “But I’m just terrible with names! Ha ha!”
Severus ignored him and pushed his toad-filled plate away in distaste. He had just reached for a new one and was piling it up once more when Woodley clutched him violently.
“What is it?” he cried in alarm, all of the instincts of the forest kicking back into gear.
“Thorn did a trick!” cheered Woodley, picking up the fat toad and dancing it across the table.
“What year are you in?” Severus demanded, in his most withering tone.
“Fourth year!” whooped Woodley, flipping the alarmed toad, oblivious to the glare Severus was giving him.
“Yes, I can tell,” sneered Snape in distaste, specks of gravy flying everywhere.
“Maybe we’ll be in the same classes together?” said Woodley, turning his attention back to Severus.
“I am in fifth year,” Severus said snootily. “We don’t associate with younger years.”
“Are you really?” asked the other boy. “But what about the other missing girl? She’s a fourth year – I know because we’re a girl short and—”
“Well, she’s more mature than most of your year,” cut in Snape with a scowl, looking at Woodley as if he was something gooey in the bottom of one of his cauldrons.
To his annoyance, the twinkling boy just gave a wink and nudged him hard in the ribs. “Mature, eh? Know what you mean, she looks like she’s got a temper though! Say no more!”
“Look, will you just leave me alone?” Snape replied dangerously, grinding his teeth.
“No need to get your robes in a twist, Scrapey old boy! Here, I’ll give you a hold of Thorn if you—”
But at that moment Snape gave a strangled roar and threw himself on the alarmed Mr Woodley and started pummelling him with his juice goblet.
“GO IT, WOODLEY!” came a roar.
“SNAPE, SNAPE!” came an answering chant.
“Severus! No!” screamed the unmistakable voice of Ginny Weasley.
“Watch it, Pip!”
“SLAUGHTER HIM, SEVERUS!”
The last cheering bellow had come from the other side of the room, where Draco Malfoy was dancing around on the Slytherin table, his eyes bright and his goblet raised to the ceiling.
“Philip Woodley, SEVERUS SNAPE!” came a shout from the staff table.
The two scuffling boys leapt to their feet and stared in horror. Minerva McGonagall descended towards them like a very tall and thin, enraged bull ant.
“DETENTION!” she roared, and seized them both by the ears and pulled them out of the Great Hall.
A storm of clapping rose from the table as the two flushing boys were yanked past. Philip managed to throw his toad to another fourth year before he went, and soon they were away from the noise and were heading upstairs along an old dusty corridor.
“Let go of me!” Snape hissed, outraged and humiliated by being pulled away by his own colleague.
“You should be setting an example, Mr Snape,” McGonagall grated, twisting his ear harder.
“Oh no,” groaned Woodley. “Not the Trophy Room…”
McGonagall stopped outside a door and looked sharply at Philip.
“Don’t tell me you’ve had a detention already, Mr Woodley?” she asked disbelievingly.
From the look of Woodley’s crestfallen face, it seemed he had.
“Now, I will be calling Filch to ensure he looks over you while you work,” McGonagall said sternly, shoving the two boys into the Hogwarts Trophy Room. “There are the cleaning tools in the corner, and there’s no point using magic in here as your wands will refuse to work.”
And with that, the still-outraged witch slammed the door while the two boys moaned in complaint.
After a slight pause, Woodley rubbed his cheek. “That’s quite a punch you pack there, Scrape.”
Severus felt like desperately punching him again, but restrained himself and took to glaring at him instead.
He looked rather like Draco, Snape noticed, picking up a wet rag and moving to a trophy. He had the same blonde hair, although it was brighter and thicker, and the same pointed face. In fact, if he wasn’t always grinning like an idiot and his eyes were a cold grey instead of a twinkling green, they’d make a strange match.
Woodley looked up and caught Snape’s eye. “All right?” he said good-naturedly, as if they hadn’t been bashing each other ten minutes ago.
Severus scowled in response and went back to cleaning his trophy. To his surprise, it was already sparkling clean, as were nearly all of the rest. He looked at the other boy.
“Yeah.” Woodley grinned. “I cleaned most of ‘em two nights ago. That Squelch really breathes down your neck…”
Severus grunted. The stupid boy must be talking about Filch.
“What did you do to get the detention?” he asked grumpily, throwing his rag back and slumping against the wall.
“Oh, you know…” Woodley shrugged distractedly, finishing off the last of the trophies and perching lightly on the bench. “Got lost…”
Severus grunted once more. He couldn’t be bothered asking for the details.
“So tell me, what was it like out there in the woods?” asked Woodley wistfully, after a long pause.
Severus shrugged. It had been the best time he’d had for ages. “All right,” he said stiffly.
“I grew up in the city you know,” sighed the other boy.
Snape gave him a scathing look, hoping he’d take the hint that he didn’t care.
“I was home-schooled,” Woodley went on, not noticing the other boy’s sneer. “I didn’t even know this place existed…”
you not?” Snape replied rather scornfully. “Every wizard in
Woodley shrugged lightly, looking embarrassed. He was just about to reply when the door burst open and Filch stomped nastily in.
“Aha! Not working are we?” he accused, glaring at the two boys.
“We’re finished!” replied Woodley cheerfully, giving him a whack on the shoulder and slipping past him.
“See you, Argus,” Snape said vaguely, and also pushed past.
Filch stared disbelievingly around at the sparkling trophies. “Cheeky stinkers,” he muttered under his breath, his plan of yelling at the boys for the rest of the evening vanishing into nothing.
welcomed in the Gryffindor common room by a cheerful roar and numerous
crackers. Swiftly backing out of the portrait hole, he decided to pay
Dumbledore a visit instead. He still had
to fill him in on the details of the
Severus left in great disgust, ignoring the invitation to stay. He walked back down to his old quarters, sitting himself down in his armchair by the fire. Although it felt good to be back amongst his old things, the stark, chilly atmosphere familiar and comforting, he still felt restless. He poured himself a glass of Firewhiskey to relax, and soon found himself dozing.
It was about midnight when Snape decided to creep back to his dormitory to retire. However, whenever he tried to close his eyes, vivid images of their time spent in the forest would replay in his mind.
His thoughts eventually drifted to the Woodley boy. During the scuffle he had looked quickly up when he’d heard Draco’s voice cheering him on. Draco hadn’t looked at all like the sneering boy who’d once been his student, his face full of mirth and his hair tousled about.
Then Draco had been pulled down by that new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. Snape smiled to himself as he remember her chasing him around the Hogwarts grounds, only to grab a pile of robes with Dumbledore’s name on them. It seemed so long ago now. Everything before the forest seemed so distant and vague, but he could still remember those flashing grey eyes as she had struggled to hold him down. He would be looking forward to Defence Against the Dark Arts this year.
And with that last thought in his mind, Severus Snape fell asleep with a slight smile playing on his thin lips.