Chapter 17: The Party
The time finally came to get dressed for Slughorn’s Christmas Party and I found myself alone in the dormitory, pulling on my grandfather’s old dress robes while Mulciber and Longbottom were probably enjoying Christmas pudding by now. And Avery? Well, no one knew where he was.
I inspected myself in the mirror that was leant carelessly against the wall. Infirmos had had it sent to him from his mother when he had embarked upon a quest for better hygiene. I smiled grimly. If the recent events hadn’t driven Regina from his mind then I didn’t know what would. He was fully recovered in the hospital wing in just one night but Madam Kendle kept him in to relieve the stress.
I brushed some left over dust from the emerald velvet and straightened it out. Well, that’s as good as it’s going to get.
Walking through the door was like crossing the threshold into another world. Where the corridor was dark, lonely and quiet, Slughorn’s office was bright, crowded and extremely loud. Ear-splitting music blasted from a large horn-shaped instrument and students yelled to one another to be heard over the straining cries of the famous witch singer Maxine Meddleworth.
Looking around, I spotted Lily. My draw dropped open as I watched her having an animated conversation with Professor Slughorn. She looked absolutely radiant. Her body was rolled in a sweeping, purple dress that reached the floor at the back but was hitched up at the front to fall just below her knee. Several folds fell around her ribs and her feet were covered in small purple sandals. Her long, flaming hair was brushed around to the side of her face and fell over her shoulder, held together with small pins. Her skin appeared to sparkle until I shook my head and saw that she had purple, sparkling dust rubbed into her skin.
She glanced around and, spotting me beamed kindly. She beckoned me over and hugged me. We stayed like that for exactly three seconds until I spotted something.
Over her shoulder, I saw a face. A face that was staring at me with the utmost disappointment written all over it; it was Avery. Pulling away from Lily, I leaned around her to get a better look at him, but he was gone. Guilt erupted inside of me. I felt so bad that I hadn’t made an effort to find out where he had gone. But Dumbledore had implored me not to do anything rash… so I hadn’t.
‘What is it?’ Lily asked, spinning around on the spot. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘Nothing. It’s just… I thought I saw… it’s nothing. Don’t worry about it!’ I said grinning at her confidently. I shook Avery from my mind. I had spent enough time worrying and stressing over this. It was time to relax and have some fun.
Suddenly remembering Slughorn, I turned around. He was smiling at us awkwardly as if expecting me to say something first. Excuse me. Who’s the Professor here?
‘Hello, Professor Slughorn! This is a lovely party! However did you manage it?’ I was saved by a red haired sixth year. His face was dotted with freckles and he turned a brighter shade of red than I had ever seen as Slughorn turned to face him.
‘Oh it was nothing, Arthur! You know the way things work around here! I must say, you do look stunning tonight…’
Leaving them to their chit chat, Lily and I walked over to the other side of the room and sat down at a little table by the fire place.
‘It’s wonderful isn’t it?’ Lily said wistfully, smiling as she stared around the crowded room.
‘That’s one way to describe it,’ I smiled thinly as I watched her drink in the scene.
‘Oh Sev! Think of how hard it must have been to set it all up!’
‘You heard Slughorn. The house elves do all of the work around here!’ I grabbed a glass from a tray that a passing waiter was carrying. He was wearing a white uniform that had gold lettering on the breast. ‘SC’ It read.
I turned around, and to my surprise, Lily was glaring at me. “You don’t know that!” she said.
‘Look Lil, I don’t want to argue with you! Let’s just forget about it, okay? Let’s have some fun.’
‘Alright!’ she said forcefully, and then softly, ‘Alright.’
She glanced around the room and when she saw that our side of the room was pretty quiet she said, ‘So how are you taking everything?’
She didn’t say but I knew what she was talking about: Avery. ‘There really isn’t anything to take,’ I said sadly. ‘He’s gone. We don’t know where, but he’s gone.’
Lily smiled sympathetically.
‘Dumbledore said that he’s been possessed by Voldemort,’ I wrenched out.
The colour drained from Lily’s face as she stared at me. ‘What?’ and as I started to repeat myself, ‘No, I know what you said. But, what?’
‘That’s what Mulciber said. But you weren’t there to see what he was like. He just went all dragon on us.’
‘That must have been horrible!’ Lily gasped even though I had told her the story before.
‘Mm,’ I agreed.
There was an awkward silence. I fingered my glass and then took another sip. I looked over around the room. My stomach flipped as I saw Avery again. He was standing in the corner leaning casually on a purple and gold drape still staring at me in cold disappointment. I half stood up as if to go and talk to him but someone walked in front of him and when they passed… he was gone.
‘You’re awfully jumpy tonight,’ Lily raised her eyes at me as I sat back down. ‘I want to know if there is something wrong.’
‘I can’t – I –’ my mind was racing. What if I was going crazy? She looked at me encouragingly. ‘I – I keep seeing – I keep seeing Avery!’ I exclaimed.
‘What?’ I asked, alarmed.
‘Me too,’ she hissed across the table.
‘What?’ This emotion I was feeling was unmistakably happiness. But I felt guilty that I could feel happy that she was being tortured with his presence too. But it meant that I wasn’t going crazy.
‘I do too!’ she repeated in a loud whisper.
‘But – why?’
‘I don’t know!’ she said defensively. ‘Why do you?’
‘I thought it was because I felt bad about not trying to find him when he went missing! But you don’t like him so it can’t be that…’ My mind was racing. Why could Lily see him too? I gasped as realisation dawned.
‘Mulciber!’ I said, louder this time.
‘What about him?’
‘If he thinks Avery is angry at him… Oh God…’
‘Stop saying ‘what’ and let me think!’ I snapped and I instantly regretted it.
She fell silent, her eyes lowering to stare at her hands that were folded in her lap.
‘Sorry,’ I mumbled.
‘It’s okay,’ she said, always blessedly forgiving.
No, no, no! This is horrible! This isn’t the way I planned my first year at Hogwarts at all!
‘Ok, this is just me thinking aloud but –’ I paused, thinking hard, ‘Volde- sorry! You Know Who is making us think that Avery is disappointed in us with the hope that one of us will crack and go to find him!’
‘Um – How do you know that?’
‘Dumbledore! Dumbledore told me that You Know Who will want to know what’s behind the door in the dungeon and that’s why he’s possessed Avery!’
‘You went to talk to Dumbledore? And what? What part does Mulciber play in this?’ Her eyes were wide.
‘Avery’s his best friend! He’ll surely crack before any of us do! He’ll find Avery and show him what’s behind the door so that Voldemort can see and get the information he needs.’ Fully expecting her to gasp at my words, I found the silence unnerving.
‘Still confused… I admit Mulciber’s horrible; but would he really do something like that?’
‘He just wants to get his friend back. And… he doesn’t know how valuable the information is.’ I said, defending him.
‘Besides, Mulciber’s not smart enough to find Avery if Voldemort has hidden him away!’
‘You said his name!’
Ignoring me, she continued, ‘If anyone were to find him, I would be betting on you.’
My heart fluttered and I’m sure I blushed like an overly embarrassed beetroot.
‘Hey! He’s not that bad!’
Lily just stared at me.
‘He’s not!’ I protested.
‘Ok… he’s not the sharpest wand in the shop but I don’t think it’s Voldemort who’s taken him anyway,’ I said.
Leaning over the table, I told Lily all about my visit to Dumbledore’s office in an urgent whisper. I told her that the thing behind the door was one of Voldemort’s Death Eaters and that the information of the Death Eater’s whereabouts was so valuable, that Dumbledore could not risk Voldemort getting his hands on it. I told her what Dumbledore had identified as his only two options. And I told her which of those I suspected he had taken.
‘Mmmm… I get it now,’ she said sadly, staring at the floor. ‘So we’ve got to try to stop Mulciber doing anything stupid to get Avery back? Is that right?’
There was a break in the music and the chatter died a little until Maxine Meddleworth started to warble softly again through the instrument to the side of the room.
‘What if he’s using the time now? You know, while the feast is on?’
This hadn’t occurred to me and I felt myself flinch violently.
‘Oh no! Oh no, no, no!’ I muttered, holding my head in my hands.
‘Should we go and find him?’
‘Should we go to find him? Of course we have to go and find him!’
‘But Dumbledore told you not to do anything without his consent!’
‘I know. But I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t… know!’ I groaned hopelessly.
‘Maybe we should go to Dumbledore? Then we can tell him our theory and he can look out for –’
‘We need to find him in the Great Hall!’ I interrupted. ‘If he’s not there then he will have gone to find Avery!’
A reckless rage broke over me as I marched through the room towards the open doors, Lily scurrying along behind me. I dismissed waiters that offered me food and drinks and ignored Slughorn’s slightly disappointed yell, ‘Leaving so early, Snape?’
We finally reached the end of the maze of people and found ourselves at the door. I pushed it open and hurried out into the dark corridor. I stopped as lights popped in front of my eyes while my eyes struggled to adjust to the dimness.
Hurrying through the corridors, down the stairs and around corners, we finally emerged into the Entrance Hall from the Grand Staircase. I could hear the rumble of voices coming through the wide open double doors of the Great Hall and light spilled out of it illuminating Lily’s frightened face. I realised that I hadn’t been at all kind to her tonight and I felt ashamed of myself. Brushing this thought away, I peered through the doors into the hall. Golden goblets and plates lined the four long house tables and a sea of faces glanced at us standing in the doorway but turned back to their feast very quickly.
Striding over to the Slytherin table, I ran my eyes over it and spotted Longbottom, sitting with a few second years.
‘Mmmm?’ He said, looking up at me, a curious expression on his face.
‘Have you seen, Infirmos?’
His eyes clouded but he didn’t say anything.
Nothing. He just stared past me as if remembering something horrible.
Panic welled up inside of me and I fought the urge not to reach forward and shake him. I placed my hand on his shoulder and I asked him again, struggling to keep the waver out of my voice, ‘Where – is – Mulciber, Longbottom?’
He shook his head, his lips slightly parted in a look of horror. His second year friends were listening interestedly.
‘I need to know!’ I said, raising my voice so that the others sitting at the Slytherin table turned to watch. ‘Please?’
Longbottom’s face contorted as he struggled to wrench words from deep within.
‘Please don’t tell him I told you! He said he’d kill me if I told you!’
‘What is it?’ My heart was beating very fast and I was glad it was beating inside my chest or it would be heard loud and clear all over the Great Hall.
‘He’s gone… to look for your friend who’s missing… you know… Avery?’
Yes I did know Avery. My heart beats doubled in intensity and I turned to look at Lily who was standing behind me, her lips pressed together so tightly they were turning white.
My face burned hot as I struggled not to yell with fright and anger. I turned, grabbed Lily’s arm and marched her out of the Great Hall without a backwards glance.
I had no idea where my feet were taking me until I ended up in Dumbledore’s corridor. Looking around, I saw the stone gargoyle.
‘Cauldron Cakes!’ I said to it. Nothing happened. ‘That was the password last time I was here!’
Lily stayed silent.
‘Do you know any other magical sweets?’ I asked her. Fear and panic were swelling like a dirty bubble in my chest until I thought I would pop.
Lily shook her head, looking frightened.
‘Oh no! Oh no no no no NO!’ I was almost yelling now.
‘Shh… it’s alright! We’ll find him! We’ll figure something out,’ Lily said.
She reached out to put her hand to place it on my shoulder but withdrew it quickly as loud, hastened footsteps echoed through the corridor.
‘Quick! Behind the Gargoyle!’ I whispered frantically.
We jumped behind it. It was rather cramped as there was barely any space between the stone statue and the wall. I tried not to think about the warm pressure of Lily’s arm next to mine as I peered out from behind the statue.
Infirmos emerged from around the corner, striding towards their hiding place with grim determination and rage battling for a place on his face.
Standing in front of the gargoyle he said, ‘Mint Humbugs!’
The gargoyle jumped aside, leaving Lily and I crouching in the open space as the wall slid aside to reveal the spiralling staircase.
At the sight of us, Mulciber leapt into the air with fright and placed his hand over his heart. He recovered quickly and muttered, ‘First the password and now the interfering friends! What next?’ Then he spoke loudly, ‘What are you doing here?’
I was speechless. Luckily, Lily regained her nerve and said, ‘Mulciber?’
‘Let me go and get him,’ he whimpered. His eyes were vague as if he wasn’t really there but behind them I could see a fire, crackling and spitting. He was dangerous.
‘No!’ I yelled loudly. ‘Listen, Mulciber. We can’t show Avery what’s behind that door! If we do, Voldemort will have information that we can’t afford to give him! Dumbledore said so himself!’
‘Dumbledore? Dumbledore? Do you mean the man who locked up our friend?’
‘He didn’t have a choice,’ I told him quietly. I could see Mulciber’s struggle as his face contorted.
‘I don’t care,’ Mulciber cried. ‘We can’t just leave him in there. He’s all alone, Snape!’
We watched hopelessly as Mulciber reached under his robes for his wand but was interrupted as footsteps sounded from around the corner. He paused and turned towards the noise before whipping out his wand. Regina ran around the corner. Infirmos backed slowly away so he could point his wand at the three of us.
‘I’m here to help you, Infirmos! We need to get him out.’
I moved so that I was blocking the whole doorway and said defiantly, ‘I won’t let you past!’
Mulciber slashed his wand. I felt a sensation like I had been kicked in the stomach and I went flying sideways into Lily, knocking her to the side. She let out a squeal as we headed towards the ground. There was a loud ‘crack’ as we fell and I landed next to Lily.
In an instant, I was on my feet, wand out, ready to defend us; but Mulciber and Regina were already gone. Feet pattered the staircase as they hurried upstairs to Dumbledore’s Office. I held out my hand to Lily to help her up but she didn’t accept it.
She didn’t stir at all.
“Lily! Lily!” I yelled. I dropped to my knees beside her. Panic stricken, I shook her shoulders. ‘Wake up! Lily! Wake up!’
She was lying face down on the stone floor so I turned her over as quickly and gently as I could. My heart leapt as I saw a deep gash about the size of my hand across her forehead. My stomach flipped strangely. She was unconscious.
Blood trickled slowly down her face. I had completely forgotten about Regina and Infirmos as I stared down at her, paralysed by fear.
As realisation of the situation crept back into my mind, my cheeks burned with anger. I set her head gently back onto the ground and stood up, starting quickly up the stairs, adrenaline providing extra speed and stamina.
As I neared the top I saw that Dumbledore’s door had been kicked open. Most of the tables in the circular room were turned over and many of the strange, silver instruments were in pieces on the ground.
The thing that struck me as odd, though, was that the office was completely empty of people. I was alone.
I ran up the stairs that led to Dumbledore’s more private study and looked around. There was nothing except a large, gold replica of the planet Earth.
I made to run back down the stairs but I skidded to a stop. I gasped in surprise and fright as I saw Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall standing in the doorway, staring at the mess Regina and Mulciber had made of Dumbledore’s office.
‘Severus?’ Professor McGonagall said. But it wasn’t a question. ‘What have you done?’
That wasn’t a question either.
Dumbedore peered at me through his half-moon spectacles and I had the strange feeling I was being x-rayed by his piercing blue eyes.
I realised I had been quiet for much too long and it could easily be mistaken as a guilty silence.
‘Professor! I swear- I would never –’
‘Then what are you doing here, Mr Snape?’ Professor McGonagall asked sternly.
Hurriedly, I told the Professors everything. From how Lily and I had realised what was going on at Slughorn’s party to when I came into the room and it was a mess… and they were gone.
They listened curiously. Professor McGonagall’s lips were pressed tighter and tighter together while I was talking until it appeared she had no mouth at all, just a thin, white line where it should be.
I suddenly remembered Lily. I told them about her so quickly and I was so scared that they might tell me she was dead. Instead I was told that she was in the hospital wing already and Madam Kendle was looking after her.
Dumbledore hurried up to his study and came back five seconds later with an even grimmer expression on his face.
‘Gone,’ he said to McGonagall.
Without a word, they swept out of the office and down the spiralling staircase. They paused long enough at the bottom for me to acknowledge the fact that Lily was not there anymore and notice the bright red blood stain on the floor of the corridor. I stared at it, feeling the sting as tears pricked at my eyes.
I shook my head and ran after the professors, along the corridors, down stairs, left, and right, left again… until finally, I was in the Dungeon Corridor.
Mulciber and Regina stood with their backs to me facing the closed door. They stood very still.
‘Tom? Tom Riddle?’ Dumbledore asked cautiously.
Regina spun around. ‘How DARE- how DARE you use my filthy, muggle father’s name!’
I gasped. It was clear now, Voldemort had possessed Mulciber and Regina in Dumbledore’s office@ In the same moment, Mulciber had pulled open the door and was staring into the room intently. As before, the creature leapt out at Mulciber and he stepped calmly backwards and the door slammed shut without him touching it. The slam echoed around the walls and I pressed my hands against my ears to soften the sound.
Dumbledore took a step forward, wand drawn and there was a swishing sound and something large and black whipped upwards and through the roof. Mulciber and Regina crumpled to the ground as if lifeless.
Professor McGonagall and Professor Dumbledore hastened towards them.
‘Hospital wing! Now!’ Dumbledore said urgently. Using a hovering charm, he lifted Regina and McGonagall did the same to Mulciber.
The edges of my vision started to go foggy and my head span dangerously. I gripped the stone wall for support but my knees crumpled and I saw the dark ceiling of the dungeon.
I was starting to go numb and my brain was going fuzzy. I was released from all of my burdens that I had been carrying. I was free. And I hadn’t felt happier this year. McGonagall’s head appeared above me, she looked worried. Her face was blurred around the edges by a yellow light that seemed to shine behind her head like a halo. I wanted to ask her why she was so worried.
And the world went black.