Disclaimer: It all belongs to Harry Potter and his real mum, JK Rowling.
A HP fanfiction by Magda the Magpie
A/N: This story is mostly canon, except for Severus who survived the snake of course, otherwise, there would be no story. It is set after the Final Battle. I hope you'll enjoy it.
Chapter 1: The Savior
Severus Snape, Potions Master and teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, ex-Death-Eater, spy extraordinaire and member of the famed Order of the Phoenix, reluctant War Hero and recipient of the Order of Merlin First Class and of the Chocolate Frogs Collectible Cards, was currently trudging through the Forbidden Forest with mud-caked boots and a basket tucked under his arm, muttering to himself with every step.
"Really, if Muggles are smart enough to domesticate wild plants, you'd think wizards could at least attempt it. But nooooo... Pomona insists on keeping it 'traditional'. Bloody lazy old biddy if you ask me. Just what I needed, a lousy walk in this confounded forest full of death traps, at night, with a storm brewing... Reducto!" the dark man yelled, blasting a knot of innocent giant creepers that had the misfortune of being in his path.
However the wizard's current bad mood could not really be blamed on the difficult trek through the dense forest, or on the weather, or even on an uncooperative and unimaginative colleague, for that matter. No, truth was, this man had never been in a good mood to begin with. Ever. He did not doubt he had started scowling and sneering when he was just a babe at his mother's tit. And so, he didn't see the point in starting being all chipper now. No sense in breaking tradition.
First of all, it would creep everyone out and he would probably be sent to a permanent spell-damage ward in St Mungos.
Secondly, he had no reason whatsoever to be happy. Sure, the war had been over for a few years now, and he was no longer life-bound to serve two Masters with wildly conflicting demands. But he also had no purpose left in his life. He had really expected to be killed in the war and he felt...let down.
Severus arrived in a small clearing and slowed down, looking carefully where he stepped. He cast Lumos as it was too cloudy for the full-moon to be of any real use in his search of the rare Silver Knotgrass.
"Of course, you can only harvest the damned plant on the full-bloody-moon when all the dark creatures lurking in this accursed forest are crazed for blood... Knotgrass just couldn't turn silver on the second sunny day of the month... Noooo... It has to be on the full moon. Maybe I should feed Pomona to the darned creatures."
The brooding wizard felt better at the prospect but Minerva, the current headmistress and as close a friend as he was willing to admit, would probably ruin his fun and forbid it.
"Old, meddling, fussy, tabby, cat." Yes, 'cat' was an insult by and of itself in his opinion. He hated cats.
A glint of silver caught his eye and the man approached cautiously so as not to get entangled by the vicious plant, and sure enough, a nice batch of Silver Knotgrass was just waiting to be collected. Finally, some good news. He let out a breath of relief. Now, if only the weather didn't turn to rain, this outing would not have been half as bad as he had feared it would.
The wizard kneeled down, put on his dragonhide gloves and in one swift swoop of his gold sickle started collecting the precious grass and placing it cautiously in his basket. He was almost done when the sound that haunted his nightmares reached his ears. A wolf's howl, if he was lucky. However, this being the Forbidden Forest, and on a Full Moon to boot, he was practically certain it would belong to a werewolf.
Typical, he thought grimly.
In the blink of an eye, he was already running in the direction of the castle. Nothing could make him sprint like the prospect of coming eye to eye with the dreaded beast. He had barely run a few feet when the heavens decided to join in on the fun, a torrential downpour of rain dropping out of the sky, followed soon after by a blinding bolt of lightning hitting a tree nearby and sending splinters of wood in every direction.
Severus ducked, closing his eyes but he felt a few pricks in his shoulder and right cheek. Groaning, he clenched his jaw and resumed his race towards Hogwarts, towards safety. He wasn't that far now, he could make out the lights of the high towers through the trees. He heard another howl, closer this time.
Where were those bloody Centaurs when you needed them? He vaguely recalled Minerva explaining something about the Centaurs migrating some place or other in one of the staff weekly meetings... Now he wished he had paid a bit more attention.
Severus could hear heavy footfalls behind. Any second now, he'd be werewolf snack. Not that he minded dying that much, but a cleaner death would have been more to his taste. Blood, grime, torn limbs and entrails spilled everywhere just wasn't up to his standards. He liked things clean and organised, like his potions lab. Oh well, at least the students would get a kick out of this.
The wizard received an unexpected blow in the back which sent him sprawling forward on the muddy ground and he felt the near miss of a very hairy and muscular limb. Then, he heard a scuffle and the cry of a dog in pain. Had the Centaurs arrived? Or Hagrid? He quickly twisted around, still lying on the mossy floor, wand at the ready if they needed help.
Standing protectively before him and facing the beast of his nightmares was his saviour, brandishing what looked like a wooden bludgeon. However, he considerably lacked in either height, muscles or equine legs. What the hell? Okay, so it wasn't a Centaur. But who would be crazy enough to be in the Forbidden Forest at this hour. A student? Probably, since he seemed too dimwitted to brandish a wand. With his luck, it was an underage student who had gone in the forest on a dare. Idiot.
Severus couldn't let a student get hurt so he sprang to his feet, pushed whoever it was aside and cast a fire-whip from his wand. Not very useful but usually sufficient to frighten the younger werewolves. The beast only backed a few paces away and growled menacingly. Severus sighed. Nothing was ever easy, was it? He then threw a barrage of light hexes and curses, most only intended to restrain or frighten the dark creature. He wasn't a monster himself, he knew very well there was a person beneath all those fangs, claws and fur. At long last, the beast roared it's... What?... Displeasure, annoyance, defeat? Whatever. The werewolf was gone. But so was the student.
He hadn't even heard the stupid brat scamper off. Severus bolted for the castle, hoping to evade further attacks from the werewolf now that he was a lone prey once more. But more than that, he hoped to find the missing student on his way to give him an epic tongue-lashing. He'd have to warn Minerva too, and that, he was not looking forward to.
"What do you mean a student is missing? In the Forbidden Forest? At this ungodly hour?" Minerva asked shrilly.
Severus only nodded, too busy trying to down the contents of the tumbler the headmistress had mercifully filled with Firewhisky.
"What House? What year?" she barked.
"Don't know, too dark," he answered truthfully. And too bloody scared, he kept to himself although his trembling fingers might give him away. Still, he could blame it on the cold or adrenaline so his pride wa safe enough.
"Well, at least tell me if we're looking for a boy or girl, that we might start searching!" she shrieked, her tight bun getting more and more undone by the second as she paced the round office.
The shaking wizard's face became utterly blank for a moment before he responded in a bewildered voice.
"I... have no idea...I really don't...I just assumed it was a boy..."
"And assumed it was a Gryffindor too, I suppose?"
Severus had the decency to looked abashed and said nothing. Thoughts of the Marauders had crossed his mind if he had to be honest.
Minerva threw her arms in the air and screeched in exasperation before leaving the office, ready to rouse all her Heads and Prefects for a very thorough head-count. Severus finished his liquor and dragged himself off to the dungeons to check on his Slytherins. It wouldn't do if the foolish rule-breaking idiot that saved his life was one of his Snakes but he really doubted that was the case.
"Probably a thrice-damned Gryffindor as usual." He muttered stubbornly before stepping into the green and silver common room.
"Well, Severus? Care to explain?" asked the headmistress in a clipped voice from her seat behind an oversized desk. Rousing the whole school for the useless hunt of a potentially missing student had left her tired and irritated. Week-ends were supposed to be restful.
"You're certain all of your precious lions are accounted for? It would be so like them to sneak out playing hero and breaking Merlin knows how many rules in the process," the scowling wizard countered with a sneer of evident disdain.
"Of course I am," Minerva bristled "I would never endanger any student, whatever House they may be from, for a cover-up...I'm not Albus, you know that," she said, throwing an apologetic look at the portrait of the former headmaster. "But, since there are no students missing... Add to that the unlikely presence of a werewolf so near the castle, too… Are you sure of what you saw, Severus?"
"Since when have any of my reports been anything but accurate?" he demanded calmly, but the air around him shimmered with contained rage.
"Forgive me, Severus. You're right, of course," she amended.
The rest of the staff present in the headmistress' office had wisely remained quiet and out of the way, sipping their well-earned tea in their tartan-covered armchairs, until Baylee Finkle cleared her throat, asking for their attention.
The battle-scarred witch sporting overly colourful robes was the newest addition to the Hogwarts staff. She had replaced the late Carrow sibling who had been the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor before the Final Battle and the last applicant to succumb to the cursed job. Miss Finkle, who as an Auror had been dramatically impaired during that battle when she lost both legs to a vicious Diffindo, had been happy as can be to fill the position offered by Minerva. And despite the lack of legs, she had proved to be an excellent teacher and new Head of House for the Gryffindors for the last four years, proving in the process the position was no longer cursed. Severus didn't care much who was the DADA professor anymore. Actually, he didn't care much for anything. His life was now utterly meaningless, his only ray of sunshine was making others feel as miserable as him. He chuckled at the thought of having turned into a Dementor.
"Maybe it could have been a … you know, one of the Most-Wanted?" Miss Finkle asked, avoiding his eyes.
The Most-Wanted was a list of Death-Eaters who had fled the battlefield as soon as Voldemort had been struck down by the Boy-Who-Lived-Again. The Ministry of Magic had issued the list along with the rewards for their capture and had thus created a new career, unprecedented amongst wizardkind: the bounty-hunters. The crippled witch didn't want to say 'Death-Eater', since it was widely known, thanks to the Potter brat, that Severus had been a Death-Eater himself, albeit a double-agent one. But nobody wanted to remind the snarky ex-spy of that fact unless they had a certain death-wish.
"I somehow doubt that a former servant of the Dark Lord would want to save the life of THE traitor, don't you, Miss Finkle?" He answered harshly.
The witch merely shrugged her shoulders.
"I just don't see who else could be hiding in the Forbidden Forest, it's hardly a welcoming place." She concluded and a few others nodded their heads in approval.
Severus sneered at their asinine questioning, although he was asking himself those very same questions, and he left for his rooms to heal the little cuts and bruises he had gained that night, only remnants of his impromptu werewolf-taming adventure.
The Potions Master's temper was getting worse, although the students had doubted it was even possible. There was someone in the Forbidden Forest and, if it wasn't a student, he was determined to find out exactly who, or what, it was.
The best way to achieve that was to consult the half-giant gamekeeper, Hagrid. He wasn't particularly smart but he knew the forest and it's inhabitants better than anyone else.
"Snape?" Hagrid was visibly surprised to find him on his doorstep, not that he blamed the huge man, he had never come to his hut before for a social call. "Won' yeh come in now? Still a bi' chilly outside! Heard all 'bout tha' ruddy werewolf of course. Bin lookin' for it too." The giant's tone was a bit too jovial in his opinion but Severus was impressed that the gamekeeper took his job so seriously.
"Any...evidence?" Severus asked after refusing his host offer of what appeared to be a bucket of tea and a sugar-coated rock.
"Well, there's bin a bloody storm since las' night so it was hard findin' anythin' at all bu' since yeh said a tree bin blasted ter pieces, I did find the place it happen' at. Lucky it was a mossy ground an' all, I found footprints."
Snape congratulated the half-giant, he had earned it, after all. Except for the House-Elves, who didn't like being thanked, he didn't know one person whose work he'd consider well done, and least of all the dunderheads he still taught for Merlin knew what reason. At this point in his life, he was just doing it out of habit.
Soon after, Hagrid accompanied the gloomy professor through the Forbidden Forest, pointing here and there at various creatures and plants he found interesting. Severus learned that the Centaurs had all moved further away to the north of the Forest, nearer the Mountain border to take refuge in the caves for the winter. It rang a bell, so he must been half-listening to Minerva's ranting on the subject at the very least.
"'Ere yeh are, see here the deep tracks of the werewolf no doub' an those musta be yer footprints. Dragonhide boots, he'? Leaves clear prints, those do," he explained as if he was teaching a class, and Severus thought it might actually be a good idea and made a mental note to submit it to Minerva as an optional course.
"So what of the other person? It all looks a bit vague to me." He demanded, trying not to sound too impatient. He really craved some answers since that night, but he didn't want to fluster his only chance at getting them.
"That's the bes' part. Yeh see, here?" he pointed at a vague hollow in the mossy ground. "An' here. D'yeh see the very small footprints? Def'nit'ly looks human, very small, and light. Prob'bly a kid or a small woman," his face screwed up in thought. "'Course, it coul' be a mighty huge wood nymph or dryad bu' that's noy very likely."
"Why would you even think that? I don't think there has ever been wood nymphs in this forest," he asked, really curious. He was starting to actually enjoy the half-giant's company, who didn't seem affected at all by his dark persona. But then again, the gamekeeper found the most deadly creatures just adorable...
"Jus' seems strange someone human woul' be walkin' out here withou' their shoes on is all." The half-giant pointed out. "As I said, it's still chilly out here."
Severus looked around trying to spot more of the small naked footprints but had to give it up as a bad job. Everything looked like a jumbled mess he could make no sense of himself. Unless... "Hagrid? Do you think you can follow the trail, see where the human came from and where he went?"
The huge man beamed, happy that the dour wizard seemed to trust his skill and nodded like an eager puppy. He scouted the area, hopping around here and there as if he was doing some strange ballet danse while looking mostly at the floor, but occasionally up at the trees with a confused expression.
"Well?" Severus asked despite himself, urging him on.
He had tried to be as patient as possible, but it wasn't one of his better qualities. He wondered idly if he even had one except for potion-making. Down-to-earth, composed, perfectionist...but all those could be faults as much as qualities.
The half-giant finally shuffled back, scratching his beard where his chin might be hiding.
"Strange. Never seen anythin' like it ter be hones'. Trail jus' dissapears near trees so I'm guessin' he climbs 'em or somethin'. Good concealmen' stayin' in the trees, have to admit, good protection too from most of what yeh'd find in these woods."
Severus was a bit disappointed with the little information he had gathered, but he could at least rule out the possibility of it being a Death-Eater, since all their marked women and children had been accounted for, whether dead, imprisoned or in Saint Mungo's permanent wards and orphanages.
Back at the oversized hut, Severus thanked the gamekeeper for his time, and had to promise to come visit him again at his insistence. That was strange, nobody sought out his company usually, except for Minerva and Poppy, but he was almost sure it was more out of habit than anything else. Maybe the Gamekeeper felt lonely. Hagrid promised in return to keep his eyes open for any other evidence of the 'bare-foot' as he had taken to naming the human hiding in the Forbidden Forest. He always liked to give silly names to creatures after all, and this one wasn't half bad compared to 'Fluffy' the Cerberus hell-hound or 'Norbert' the dragon.
The Potions Professor was walking back to the castle, deep in thought as he replayed over and over again the events of that night, seeking out the smallest of clue that could help him identify his saviour, when he effectively remembered the wooden bludgeon the bare-foot had been wielding. It looked familiar...the size, the shape.
Damnit, he could kick himself! He hadn't recognized it out of context but it could only be a Quidditch beater's bat, it was too similar to be anything else.
He quickened his pace, looking more than ever like a giant bat with his black robes billowing all around him. Rolanda Hooch, the flight instructor for the first years and the Quidditch supervisor would know if any equipment had been reported missing lately. If he hurried he would be able to talk to her in the teacher's office, just before she left for lunch in the Great Hall.
"Rolanda," he greeted her curtly as he entered, but not quite managing a smile.
"Severus," She replied in the same tone, but her yellow hawk-eyes widened slightly when she saw he was approaching her to engage in conversation.
An actual conversation! This was most unusual. Minerva and Pomona who had been gossiping about students nearby, stopped at once and ogled them too. Severus rolled his eyes in annoyance.
"If it's not too much bother, would you mind checking with the Quidditch teams and into the school supplies to find out if any Quidditch material has been reported missing this year," he might as well check an overly long period of time, just in case, and the school year had started over seven months ago.
"Hum...sure, Severus. May I ask why?"
Of course, the gossipy witch would want to know. Well, it was hardly a secret anyway.
"Hagrid and I are hunting a mythical creature that may have some kleptomaniac tendencies," he answered crytically, enjoying the look of confusion that clouded her face.
Madam Hooch looked at him as if he had gone mad or spoken Gobbledegook.
"And what monster could possibly interest the both of you?" inquired Minerva, butting into a private conversation without a shred of shame, but that was so like her, he didn't even take offence.
"A bare-foot. It seems to be a small, tree-climbing, bat-wielding werewolf-basher."
"I'll believe it when I see it," she chuckled. "Please indulge him, Rolanda. It's so rare of him to take an interest in anything else besides potions."
Nobody ever believed you when you said the whole naked truth.
"Funny you should mention something like that though," the flight instructor told him. "because it's notorious the Quidditch Pitch has been 'visited' more than once since... well, since the school reopened four years ago, really."
After the Final Battle, right here in Hogwarts - be it castle, lawn, greenhouses or even the Black Lake and the Quidditch pitch - where so many had died and the damage been so great, the school had been shut down for a year to put it back in shape in order to welcome the students back.
"I don't listen to idle gossip, as you very well know," he retorted snidely.
If he did, he would probably hear so many nasty things about him, it would give him a headache.
"It just proves how useful the rumour mill really is, doesn't it?" she snapped back, but resumed quickly at the scathing glare he was sending her. "Since the school reopened, students have been complaining about their Quidditch gear going missing. Sometimes it's a their outfit, discarded on a bench because it was too hot; a glove they dropped on the pitch while flying; or a bat they left for a few minutes break; even a snitch went missing last year. And before you go accusing anyone, all of the Houses have been targeted these last four years. But you really should know that, being a Head of House yourself. So, of course, the Quidditch teams started the rumour that they had their own Quidditch ghost now, although he has never been seen. And it's more like a poltergeist actually, if it can steal their stuff. Funny thing is that the team that is last robbed is said to be cursed with bad luck for their next match and the students actually take that into account for their bets. It really tips the odds."
Severus was speechless. He had really been out of touch with reality if he had never heard about any of that before.
"Oh! And his name is Clyde," she added as an afterthought.
"What? Why?" he asked, a bit befuddled by all the new trivia.
"Beats me," she said with a shrug.
Severus glided away from the staff room, but not to lunch in the Great Hall. No, he didn't feel like it. He went to his personal quarters instead and summoned the Slytherin ghost.
"Bloody Baron, it's so nice of you to come."
The translucent being merely bowed his head in acknowledgement to his current Head of House. Contrary to his Gryffindor counterpart, the Bloody Baron disliked communicating with the living, which suited the Slytherins just fine.
"I wonder if you could confirm the presence of a poltergeist, or even a ghost, currently haunting the Quidditch pitch?"
"I think we already have our hands full as it is with Peeves," the ghost slurred nastily. "No new spirits have taken up residence at Hogwarts lately, which is surprising, considering..."
Yes, considering... Considering the sheer amount of lives taken violently and prematurely in this very place. It was a wonder indeed. But Severus thought that might be because most everyone, whether on the winning or losing side, fully expected to die on the battlefield anyway.
"Indeed," the wizard said slowly, echoing his thoughts "Thank you, Bloody Baron. That will be all."
It was starting to feel like detective work and Severus found himself enjoying it. Like any good Slytherin, he valued a puzzle complex enough to sharpen his wits and take his mind off more mundane matters. However, it was hard to imagine someone had been surviving alone in the Forbidden Forest for these last four years or so. Or maybe his bare-foot wasn't alone, he couldn't jump to conclusions, that would be so...Gryffindor.
Only one way to find out, he'd have to scout the Forest and he didn't feel like leaving that for later. It was still the week-end and he fully intended to get some answers before resuming his monotonous work on Monday.
Severus hated what he was about to do with all his heart, but it was the only way he could think of to achieve his goal. He opened his window and, standing in front of the cool fresh air, he made himself relax. It had been a long time since he last tried it, but he closed his eyes, concentrating on the transformation process and flew out the window.