Sabriel ran up the steps as she heard the bell signal the beginning of the next lesson. Being late would not be the best first impression to make on the already notorious Umbridge. She quickened her pace.
“Late, are we?”
She spun around. There, dressed in rather spectacular robes of midnight blue embroidered with golden dragons, was Albus Dumbledore, his half-moon spectacles balanced precariously on his crooked nose. He smiled at her look of astonishment.
Indeed. How are you getting on so far? Does my rather excellent establishment, the Parthenon of magical education compare with the, shall we say, lesser institute of Durmstrang?” He had a twinkle in his eye.
Sabriel feigned a contemplative expression. “Well… I’m not sure yet. I’m drawing up a pro-con chart to compare the two.”
“How was your first potions lesson?”
She thought for a moment. “Illuminating.”
“Ah, you learned about some marvellous new concoction which pushes the bounds of your educational experience?”
“No, we made the Draught of Peace which I have made some fifty thousand times (Dumbledore raised his eyebrows at the hyperbole). What was really illuminating was discovering why everyone hates my father so much.”
Dumbledore frowned. “Yes, he does have rather a distinctive style of teaching.” He looked troubled. “No one is giving you a hard time are they?”
She was touched by his concern. “No, not at all, but they’re not going out of their way to make me feel welcome. They’re probably waiting to see if it’s genetic. Well, except for Harry, Ron and Hermione; they’ve been great – the last people I expected to be decent human beings!”
He twinkled again. “And therein lies an important lesson. One should never believe everything one’s father says. But don’t tell your father I said that, he’s probably hopeful that the illusion of omniscience will last a tad longer. Now, I believe I have made you inexcusably late for Defence Against the Dark Arts – on your first day, no less.”
Sabriel looked stricken. Lateness was probably one of the ‘practices’ which ‘ought to be prohibited’ or ‘pruned’ or whatever it was Umbridge had said.
“Never fear” said Dumbledore, Noticing her distress; “I shall write you a note. I do believe that I still have enough clout within my own school to excuse a student from being late.”
Sabriel was takes aback at the bitterness in his voice. Dumbledore finished the note and gave it to Sabriel, who thanked him.
“Well, well. Toodle pip!” And with that, he wandered around the corner, a room full of soldiers in red coats standing to attention as he passed their portrait.
Sabriel hurried off towards the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, ruminating over the odd things that had happened so far on her first day. What on earth could be next?
A sea of heads turned as Sabriel clattered into the classroom, very nearly knocking a stand with a disgusting pink imitation Ming vase on it to the floor. She steadied it and took a deep breath. Every eye in the room was on her, a phenomenon which had repeated itself several times in the last few days and not a particularly nice feeling. She saw Harry, Ron and Hermione sitting a few rows from the back, so she headed over to where they were, desperate to just sit down and get out of the firing line.
Something about the little cough sent a wee shiver down her spine. She looked up and there was Umbridge, head to toe in sickly pink looking at her with an amused but distinctly chilly smile.
“And why, pray, are we late on the very first day?” She finished off the question with her little nervous laugh, a sound akin to a knife slipping on a plate, a squeak which set her teeth on edge.
Sabriel set her best smile on her face and held out the note. “I’m so sorry Professor Umbridge; I was speaking with the headmaster. He wrote me a note.”
Umbridge snatched the note out of her hand and opened it, her brows getting closer and closer together as she read on. She looked up with an even less real smile than Sabriel’s and spoke in her squeakiest voice.
“Well, this seems to be in order Miss Snape.” She fairly spat the name. “Sit down quickly and we can get on.”
Sabriel took her seat next to Hermione and looked up at the board where three blandly phrased ‘Course Aims’ were neatly written. Umbridge cleared her throat again and began to speak.
“As I was saying, you all have your copies of Slinkhard…”
Sabriel looked over at Harry and Ron who were looking pre-emptively bored. Hermione looked somewhat bewildered.
“… Basics for Beginners. There will be no need to talk.”
Everyone opened their books and began to read. Sabriel stared at Umbridge for a second, then looked down at the book and pretended to read. She couldn’t believe that an entire Defence Against the Dark Arts course was going to be made up of reading a book. She tried to focus on the page in front of her, but it was so banal and dull that her mind kept wandering off. She glanced up and saw that Hermione was sitting with her hand up. Almost everyone in the classroom was staring at her, all except Umbridge who was resolutely attempting to ignore her. Sabriel looked quizzically at Harry, but he seemed just as confused as she was about what Hermione was doing. Finally, when she could ignore it no more, Umbridge inquired as to why Hermione had her hand up.
She watched the faces of the other students as they realised that there was, indeed, nothing on the board about practical magic. They all looked astonished that Hermione was being so defiant. Things started to get heated and Sabriel sensed that everything was getting out of hand. Harry’s temper was rising, along with Umbridge’s. When Harry mentioned Voldemort, Sabriel felt a cold pang ripple through her. She felt Hermione’s eyes on her, as well as Umbridge’s. She carefully steadied her hands and stared straight ahead.
“Detention, Mr Potter!” Umbridge looked triumphant, a gleam of malice in her eyes, her little pointed teeth showing. Sabriel was reeling; she barely heard anything else that was said. How could this woman be in such denial? How could the Ministry not want people to be able to defend themselves? After years of learning how to maim seriously any kind of attacker at Durmstrang, this overprotective nonsense was jarring.
She snapped back to attention when she heard Diggory’s name was mentioned. Harry was pale and shaking and Umbridge looked furious. She sent him out and continued with the lesson.
“Now, I think we can get on with what we were doing. Everyone continue reading chapter one and no questions!” She plonked herself back at her desk and furiously continued with what she had been doing.
Sabriel looked at Hermione who looked drawn and worried. The tension was buzzing in the classroom, the air thick with contemplation, everyone obviously lost in thought about what had just happened.
Sabriel tried again to focus on her book and thought to herself.
‘Welcome to Hogwarts.’
The rest of the day was a blur of new classes and new faces. Sabriel knew immediately that she hated Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures (not the biggest outdoor-girl – a frozen castle in Scandinavia not being the greatest place to foster a love of growing things); she loved charms; was excellent at transfiguration; was less bored in History of Magic than the rest of her class, but still more bored than Hermione; she obviously hated Defence Against the Dark Arts; she hadn’t made up her mind about potions (or the potions master); she hadn’t done astronomy yet (because of the necessity of darkness) and she had had more fun in Arithmancy than she had ever had in any class.
Harry had been very quiet ever since his clash with Umbridge. People had been whispering and sending sidelong glances his way ever since and despite his long experience with being in the limelight, it was taking its toll.
The four of them were walking towards the Great Hall for dinner when something large cackled its way past them.
“Tee hee hee! Potty wee Potter and his little friends!”
The pointed little man was bobbing up and down in the air in front of them. Harry, Ron and Hermione groaned.
“Peeves, will you just leave us alone? I’m not in the mood.” Harry looked thunderous.
“Oooh! Sensitive wee Pottermeister! Why so touchy Potty?”
Everyone looked around at Sabriel, who had a steely glint in her eye. Peeves managed to jump three feet in the air while being suspended in the air, rolling over backwards and bouncing off a grumpy looking statue of a giant.
“S-S-Sabriel. Um, I. Um. You’re looking particularly ravishing your ladyship.”
Harry, Ron and Hermione looked completely taken aback. Sabriel grinned at them.
“Why thank you, Peeves, you’re looking great too. How’s the Bloody Baron?”
“Eminently well. Stupendous. Splendiferous. Fantabu- “
“That’s enough now, Peeves.”
“Yes, ma’am. So, what magnificent event brings your ladyship to this humble establishment?”
“I’m going to Hogwarts now, so you’ll be seeing much more of me than usual.”
Peeves tried desperately to look overjoyed at the same time as looking utterly terrified.
“So, perhaps you should float along and bother someone else?”
“Absolutely your worship!” And he zoomed off, bumping into a suit of armour as he went.
She beamed at Harry, Ron and Hermione.
“What was that?” Ron looked astonished.
“Peeves and I go way back. He saw me talking to the Bloody Baron a couple of times and I survived, so he figured that he had to be nice to me if he wanted to live without fear.”
The tree of them seemed to retreat into their own heads, contemplating a world in which Peeves was their ally.
“Wicked.” Ron explained.
All through dinner Sabriel noticed that Malfoy kept looking over at her. Even when she wasn’t looking back at him, she could feel an icy shiver working its way along her spine, which signalled his cold eyes on her.
Sabriel wasn’t the only one to notice.
Pansy Parkinson had tried in vain the whole night to hold a conversation with Malfoy, but he was obviously preoccupied. When she saw what it was that was distracting him her eyes narrowed.
Severus Snape had also notice his student’s gaze and was silently fuming. He tried to use his best death-stare on Malfoy, one which would’ve reduced Neville Longbottom to a quivering wreck, but to no avail.
After dinner, the Gryffindors headed up to the common room and Harry hurried off to his detention with Umbridge. The Gryffindor common room was bustling with activity; a few students (like Hermione) attempting to get a jump-start on homework, but finding it extremely difficult due to the distracting nature of the other occupants.
Ron and Dean Thomas were in the middle of a particularly brutal chess match in which Ron’s set seemed to be gaining a considerable amount of gratification at the sheer destruction of the other side.
Hermione was hidden behind an enormous book of ancient runes which expelled large quantities of dust every time she turned a page. A quick examination of the borrowers’ card revealed that the last person to take out the book had been Quentin Albert Fitzroy in 1809, confirming a fact which had been long-suspected by most all in Gryffindor House – that Hermione Granger was the biggest swot in over a century.
Fred and George Weasley were doing indiscriminate things with large amounts of feathers, an activity which created impressive amounts of noise and which made Hermione exhale rather loudly and regularly (a sort of ‘Humph’ sound), which disturbed even more dust from her book, the combination of which with the feathers caused Neville to sneeze spectacularly and often.
For a while, Sabriel sat back and surveyed the chaos before her. No one seemed inclined to make the effort to talk to her, so she contented herself with watching and muttering an occasional “bless you” to Neville.
However, after a while, Sabriel noticed that a few people seemed to be edging closer to her, and in fact everyone in the room occasionally glanced in her direction. After Hermione had emitted her final “Humph” (“Atchoo!”) given up on her book and joined Sabriel, she began to notice it too.
“They’re probably all curious. I mean, you haven’t hexed anyone yet, or made a particularly vicious sarcastic comment to anyone, so as far as they’re concerned you’re not an average Snape.”
Sabriel laughed. “You’re probably right.”
Seeing that she wasn’t likely to curse him, Neville made a little squeaking sound that was like a mixture of a cough and an ‘um.’
“So, um. How come you’re… here? Now, I mean.” He looked taken aback at his own question.
“You mean, why have I suddenly come to Hogwarts?”
“My dad wanted me closer to home… you know, since what happened at the end of last year?” He worried about me being so far away.”
Sabriel realised that just about the whole common room was listening and that they all looked rather shocked at such a display of concern for another human being coming from Snape.
Seamus Finnigan piped up. “Where were you before?”
“How come?” Lavender Brown joined in.
Sabriel pondered this for a second. She had never managed to get a straight answer out of her father about this, but she gave it her best guess.
“I think my father didn’t want me to come to Hogwarts ‘cause he’s here. He didn’t want me to have to go to a school where he taught. I didn’t want to go to Beauxbatons, because they don’t teach much of real substance there, and Durmstrang is the only other decent wizarding school in Europe, except for this one school in Greece, but I’d have to learn Greek for that. He almost considered pulling me out when Karkaroff became Headmaster, but he didn’t for some reason.” Sabriel had always wondered why he had left her there with a man whom he most emphatically did not trust.
Parvati Patil burst out with the question they had all probably been dying to ask.
“Who’s your mother?”
Sabriel saw everyone eagerly lean forward in anticipation of her answer. She saw Hermione out of the corner of her eye shaking her head frantically to try and get everyone to drop it. They were all probably wondering if Snape had a wife holed up in the dungeons in the manner of Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre, but less dashing.
Sabriel wondered if any of them realised that most of the teachers had families who they barely ever got to see – McGonagall had two rather intimidating daughters who both played Quidditch and won medals in Scottish Country Dancing. Trelawney had a sister who wrote horoscopes for the Chipping Cleghorn Gazette. Sprout had seven children (none of whom, thank Merlin, could sing) and a grandchild on the way. Flitwick had been married for forty years to a six-foot-tall woman who insisted on calling him ‘Flitty’ – something which he would have strongly protested against, had he not been so utterly devoted to her.
But none of this would have occurred to any of the students at Hogwarts; probably, thought Sabriel, quite rightly. Once one knows these things about one’s teachers, it’s hard to go back. Sabriel found it exceedingly hard not to call Flitwick ‘Flitty.’
Sabriel looked around at all of them. “Well, my mother died when I was a baby.”
Everyone looked guilty, especially Parvati.
Sabriel continued. “About the same time that the Potters were killed.”
Harry, who had just climbed through the portrait-hole, froze in his tracks.
Sabriel thought she might as well tell them.
“Her name was Selina. Selina Snape. Originally Selina Sosnovska.”