The light cast by a wand-tip has a very
short range. It provided no more than a tiny beam in the utter darkness
surrounding him. Three feet was as far as he could see and beyond that
everything was swathed in black. He was in a low and narrow tunnel, crudely dug
out below the Hogwarts grounds. He had no idea where it led, or how long it
He had slipped
in through a hole between the tree’s roots and was now sitting on a low mound
just underneath it. He peered around. Above, beside and below him was earth,
warm and moist and squirming with creepy-crawling life. He did not trust it. He
preferred the solidity of cold stone.
The air inside
was dank, like that of a hothouse; his breathing felt unpleasantly constricted,
and he had to repress an acute urge to climb back out again. But he mustn’t. He
had to carry on, for his own sake. He would expose them, they would be sent
away, and he would be at peace.
impossible to stand up straight. He took the first few steps walking bent-over,
his back and shoulders scraping against the ceiling and his head at a highly
uncomfortable angle. He had grown quite tall during the past few years, and his
lanky frame proved most unsuitable to the exploration of tunnels. He sank to
his knees and reluctantly began to move on all fours, his back arched and his
lighted wand clenched between his teeth.
confined spaces. And he hated not seeing where he was going. It was only his
determination that kept him from returning to the reassuring vaults of the
dungeon common room.
It really was
horrible down here.
It was not that
he was a coward. He was just cautious, and he did not like the thought of there
being no escape route. Even simply turning around would be difficult enough in
this place, where there was no space for two people to pass each other. He
could only go forward, to God knew where. There were no forks, no niches,
nowhere to hide. He would be exposed to whomever or whatever came his way. No
running. No dodging. No shielding. He would be vulnerable and trapped, and he
wished he weren’t so keenly aware of the fact.
He did not like
this. He did not like this at all.
There was no
noise except that of his own labouring breath. The soft soil muffled even the
sound of his boots on the tunnel floor. It was as if he had wads of cotton in
his ears. So quiet. It made him nervous. Normally he liked silence, but not of
this kind. It seemed he could not rely on his senses here. And he needed them,
because the gang – …But where were they? He had the uneasy feeling that they
could be awfully close without him noticing. He turned his head in suspicion.
Three feet of emptiness - and beyond, the stifling, moist darkness.
This tunnel was
He had crawled
along for what seemed like hours now, and still he could not see the exit. For
all he knew, he could be under Hogsmeade, or even further. And no sign of them.
He stopped dead.
thought had just occurred to him. He could whack himself for not having
considered it before. Could it be – the muscles in his shoulders contracted and
he shuddered involuntarily – could it be that Black had lured him here?
Could he have been aware of the eavesdropper? Did he want him here?
He let out a
soft moan, settled on his knees and began to rub his neck with one hand. How
could he have been so stupid? Of course it was possible. That idiot Evan Rosier
had walked up to him while he was listening in on Black and Pettigrew planning
a gathering of some kind at full moon. Rosier had complained about the points
he, Severus, kept losing Slytherin in what was, after all, a personal feud with
that Potter character and came to inform him their house had collectively
decided that it must cease. The arrogant twerp hadn’t bothered to keep his
voice down. But Black and Pettigrew didn’t seem to have noticed - or had they?
- and prattled on about a knot on the Whomping Willow and a tunnel leading to
their secret meeting-place. And he, fool, was so eager to catch the
rule-breakers red-handed that he had rushed off, pushed that knot and clambered
into this bloody hole. Must have been something he ate, that his brain was
working so slowly. He had gone on a wild goose chase at a time when he should
long have been in bed, and if he was caught he would be in trouble. Stupid.
Just as he was
about to turn back, something made him prick up his ears. Somewhere far away,
someone called his name. He turned around with some difficulty and squatted,
his wand at the ready.
Merlin! Look, you have to turn back immediately, understand?”
It was Potter,
he was sure of it. He recognised his voice. Potter, who was ordering him about.
And why did he want him to go back? Was he, perhaps, on the verge of finding
out something Potter did not want him to know? So it was no ruse of Black’s
after all; he was really about to stumble on a secret which he could use
against his enemies. A smirk settled on his face. It was too late. They could
not stop him now. He had to hurry; Potter was smaller than he was and could move
faster in this confounded mole track. He let himself down on hands and knees
once more, clamped his wand with his teeth as before, and crept on as fast as
“Snape? Are you
moving away or what?”
Potter was much
closer by already, swift little devil. He must not let him catch up.
blockheaded moron!” Potter actually sounded exasperated. “Come back, I’m not
joking! You don’t know -”
But he did,
He had reached
a point close enough to the tunnel’s ending to distinguish noises from the
other side – tearing, ripping sounds, things crashing down, the creaking of
floorboards. He heard panting, and yapping, and yelping as if from a very large
dog. And then there was a piteous whining that curdled his blood. He was
petrified, and with wide eyes watched as the light inside what he now realised
must be the Shrieking Shack threw against the wall the grotesque shadow of a
man transforming into a wolf. He had not been prepared for anything of the
kind, and it took some time for the terrible reality to dawn on him. He had set
out to catch the Potter gang at one of their pranks, and had been tricked into
the lair of a werewolf instead.
He bit so hard
he felt his teeth sink deep into the wood of his wand.
In a normal
situation he might have been able to respond reasonably and with agility. His
mind would have gone over the things he had learned about werewolves and maybe,
just maybe, he might have come up with something useful against the creature,
because in ordinary circumstances he was actually quite resourceful. But the
unexpectedness of the confrontation had numbed him with shock and his mind was,
for once in his life, an absolute blank. There was only -
It held him in
a pincer-like grip.
Blood rushed to
his head; he felt it pound deafeningly in his ears, smothering even the
werewolf’s terrible shrieks and Potter’s anxious shouts, and his heart suddenly
beat much too fast; it hurt. His brain was clouded, he could only think of one
thing: he was in mortal danger, he would be ripped apart within seconds if the
beast got to him. He had to get out, and quickly, too; his reflex was to stand
up and run, but he found he could do neither – his hands, his elbows, his feet,
his knees, his back, his shoulders, his head all bumped into firm earth. He was
engulfed with soil, it pressed him down, squeezed him, choked him, held him
trapped like a grave. Panic seized him. The Hogwarts grounds had swallowed him
whole. His mind raced in all directions at once and nothing made any sense. Now
he couldn’t get enough air, and his wand – his wand was gone; he must have
dropped it and now the light had gone out. “Lumos!” he cried, “Lumos!” – but in
his agony he must be doing something wrong because the spell, simple as it was,
failed. He balled his hands to fists, then began to flail his arms wildly
around as if trying to swim to the surface, his breath coming in painful gasps;
he clawed at the low ceiling, causing bits and pieces of dirt to fall into his
eyes, his mouth, his clothes. He spat and coughed, his eyes watered, he hurt
all over. There was a part of his brain that told him it was no good, that he
needed to think coolly to escape; but his body was somehow useless and trembled
someone yanked him backwards by the hood of his robes. He fell and picked
himself up again.
hissed, grabbing a wand from the ground and tucking it in Severus’ belt. “We
have to get as far away as possible before the transformation is complete!” The
meaning of his words did not really get through. Potter must have noticed; he
took a firm hold of a portion of Severus’ robes and determinedly dragged him
through the pitch-black tunnel like rats escaping from a fire. In their
struggle to get out they had no time to light a wand and no hands available to
hold one in; so they stumbled forward in the dark, frequently colliding and
kicking each other. Behind them, the werewolf’s whines changed into howls. They
tried to move faster; their breathing grew ragged; they did not dare to look
behind. The monster might be upon their trail already; they would not hear the
pounding of its paws on the crumbly tunnel floor, and the distance of its cries
was hard to interpret.
his way behind James Potter with closed eyes. There was hardly any point in
opening them. His heart kept thumping as if it would explode; he wished Potter
would move faster, though he wasn’t sure how long he would be able to follow
even their present pace. He was weary and he thought he could feel every single
nerve in his body ache, but he was driven forward by a frantic desire to
survive. The tunnel drove him crazy; he wanted to burst out of it; he wanted
another way out; he wanted – control. But he was squashed between a werewolf
behind and James Potter in front. He could not even push him aside.
skipped a beat at a suspicious noise from inside the passageway.
think it’s…” he said hoarsely.
“We’re there. But the Willow... I’d quite forgotten about it. We’ll have to do
“We can’t push
the knot. Tree’s supposed to keep the werewolf in, savvy?”
you’ll end up if you don’t hurry, Snivelly.”
as Potter climbed out of the hole, propped himself up against the Whomping
Willow’s trunk to survey the movement of its branches, then extended a hand and
pulled him up, too.
said. “See the large branch on the left? Makes this funny sweeping movement.
The branch over there on the right lashes, and when it’s out of the way, the
one above comes down like a sledgehammer. I think the trick is to jump-” But
his explanation was cut short by a howl so unmistakably close that it sent
shivers down their spines. Potter gave Severus a mighty shove, catapulting both
of them between the aggressive plant’s whipping and beating branches, so that,
scratched and bruised but without any permanent damage, they rolled to a
standstill on Hogwarts’ moonlit lawn.
no time catching his breath; they wouldn’t be really safe until they reached
the school. If they could get the better of the Whomping Willow, so
might the monster, despite Potter’s protestations to the contrary. He quickly
got to his feet and ran, as fast as his tired legs could carry him, to the
castle, Potter on his heels. They crossed the sloping lawn in seconds: terror
gave them wings. Severus clutched the cool bronze knobs on the oak front doors
and swung them open with force, hurtled inside, and slammed them shut again
behind Potter. It was only when he had shot the seven heavy bolts in place that
he collapsed, holding on to the last one.
“Well, that was
quite a run, eh, Snape?”
As if it had
been a game of some sort.
Pettigrew’s giggle and Black’s voice.
you all right?”
“Yeah, I am.” A
curt tone. “Snape looks a bit off colour, though.”
Snivelly for you: all dissolved in tears.”
It was true.
Once he had reached the safety of Hogwarts, once he had put thick stone walls
and robust wooden doors and trusty steel bolts and a zillion powerful spells
between himself and the werewolf – once he had managed that, his strength had
entirely deserted him. He was spent. He just sat there, leaning against the
door, his knees pulled up, looking, and feeling, perfectly wretched. Violent
sobs rocked his thin body and tears welled from his eyes; he had no more energy
to fight them back. He was too worn out even to react to Black’s jibe. He
closed his eyes and let his head sink on his knees, wishing the three of them
would disappear. He couldn’t stand up to them anymore. He was finished.
“What, pray, is
the meaning of this nocturnal gathering?” McGonagall’s stern tone. He didn’t
care enough to look up.
for it, Professor. He was spying on us. So I thought a practical joke…”
“What kind of
eager to find out where Remus went, and why, so…”
“Mr Black, you can’t
have… Whatever were you thinking? No wonder Snape looks so upset.”
nothing wrong with him. James came to his rescue.”
moving closer. Rustling of clothes and the scent of shortbread. A hand on his
“Shush now. You
are safe. Come with me.” She sounded kinder than he had thought possible. “You
can let go of that bolt now, Mr Snape.”
His fingers were convulsively clenched around the handle. Slowly, carefully,
she loosened them one by one.
“I am taking
you to the Headmaster’s office,” she said.
Severus Snape considered himself tough. By
wizard standards he was still very young, yet at thirty-four his life had been
quite eventful already.
At eighteen he
had joined the Death Eaters. A Dark Mark had been burnt into his skin. He had
witnessed torture, death and destruction and had been subjected to the Cruciatus
Curse, a fate that was bound to befall every servant of the Dark Lord sooner or
later. He had been forced to learn and live with the perpetual threat of being
hunted down by Aurors and so to become the victim of even more Unforgivable
At age twenty
he had turned to spy for Albus Dumbledore. That meant he had lived in constant
fear of being found out, with as added burden the knowledge that if he cracked
up, he would put other people in danger. He had to watch his movements and
words at all times. He had to lie to people who trusted him. He was a traitor.
There would be no mercy for him from either side. He had alienated everyone.
When he was
twenty-one he was apprehended by the formidable Alastor Moody and tried in
front of the full Wizengamot, which happened to include his father, on charges
of terrorism and mass murder. He had survived a cross-examination by Bartemius
Crouch, who had seemed really bent on sending him to Azkaban. Dumbledore had
spoken on his behalf, vouching for his character and work at Hogwarts, and his
name had been cleared. His father had disavowed him.
The next twelve
years had, admittedly, been more peaceful, as from crime and spying he had
seamlessly moved on to a career in education. Teaching at Hogwarts held, of
course, risks nonexistent at Muggle schools, including, to name but a few
random examples, nearly losing a leg to a giant three-headed dog, having a
Basilisk at large, being forced to work alongside Remus Lupin and, last but
definitely not least, tutoring the likes of Neville Longbottom.
And now another
threat was looming at the horizon: the Dark Lord was assiduously preparing his
return. If he succeeded, the position of a lapsed Death Eater would be
precarious indeed. He was certain to be punished by death when caught.
considered himself tough. He had a remarkable memory that registered, ordered
and stored countless potion recipes, transfiguration diagrams, charms,
incantations, dates of Goblin uprisings and warlock councils and Giant battles,
book titles, page numbers, the names of plants and creatures and people, their
faces, facts, addresses, histories, scientific discoveries, and, clearest of
all, the events of his own life in all their minutiae. Considering that an
unpleasantly large portion of those dealt with inflicting and receiving pain,
with betrayal, fear and prosecution, Minerva McGonagall had once, when she
thought he was out of earshot, remarked to Dumbledore that in his case amnesia
would be a blessing. He knew that she suspected him of being suicidal.
She couldn’t be
further off the mark. Severus clung to life with a tenacity and a passion that
would have surprised her no end. He took pride in his capacity to overcome the
traps and pitfalls his opponents set for him. He did not exactly enjoy
challenges of the kind; he just had an irrepressible instinct of
self-preservation and, however strange it might perhaps appear in a
misanthropic and bitter man such as he, his own existence was dear to him.
He could live
with everything that had been dealt to him. The horrors of his past did not
haunt him. They did not turn into nightmares from which he woke up screaming.
It was not that
he had no conscience. It was circumspection, anticipation and a readiness to
face the consequences of his actions that made him resilient. He was not
impulsive. He was cautious – his schooldays had made him so. Whenever he took a
step or made a decision, he carefully calculated the advantages and
disadvantages, estimated the risks, and considered a number of possible exits.
He did not need the Sight for that; in most cases simple common sense sufficed.
He did not allow anyone to catch him unawares. If he was prepared for what was
coming, he could steel himself, take the blow, deal with it, and shake it off like
so much lumber. He was tough.
But it still
happened that he woke up in his bed fighting for breath, his whole body
trembling and wet with perspiration, his heart thumping frantically in his
constricted chest, his hands clawing at the sheets, struggling to get out of
that tunnel that suffocated him with the werewolf drawing nearer and nearer,
howling, snarling, and he defenceless, smothered, crushed, unable to move or
even cry for assistance, a helpless prey to the bloodthirsty monster that had
been masquerading as an ordinary boy, and triumphantly handed over to it by
It was the one
memory with which he was singularly unable to cope.
They said his
antipathy for the Potter gang was childish.
And here he
stood, at the foot of the motionless Whomping Willow, at the entrance of the
nightmare tunnel, picking nervously at Potter’s invisibility cloak. Three of
his students had climbed down for he knew not what reason, and Lupin had
followed them – Lupin, who had neglected to take his Wolfsbane Potion on a
night with a full moon.
He was a
professor. He had a responsibility towards those three. They probably didn’t
He had with
…only the wand
with the tooth marks that bore witness to the fiercest terror he had ever
Headmaster counted on him to keep the Potter boy from harm. He must-
Lord, give me
considered himself tough. He pulled the invisibility cloak over his head and
resolutely plunged into the tunnel.
He would sorely
regret it a few hours later.