Severus didn't like care of magical creatures. He'd only gone on to take it at NEWT level because Lily had. Well that and the only other subject that fitted with his timetable was Muggle Studies and he didn't want to take that for obvious reasons. Severus wasn't an 'animal person'. His dad wouldn't have let him have pets as a kid even if he'd wanted one. He couldn't tell what animals were thinking, which made them unpredictable, which made them a threat. Magical creatures were essentially just animals with powers that made them even more dangerous. Lily had just laughed when he'd told her about his nervousness at the start of third year.
But now that she wasn't speaking to him he was dreading today's class even more than usual. Severus thought Professor Kettleburn was a good teacher despite his occasional recklessness. He was even one of the few that Severus actually liked. The only downside to his methods was that he always made students split into pairs to work together at the start of the year. These pairs had to be inter-house because “if you can't get along with someone different to you how do you expect to get along with a blast-ended skrewt?”. Yes, Professor Kettleburn didn't approve of the 'segregation' of students and thought it caused 'unnecessary friction'. So he did what he could to make them interact.
This hadn't been a problem up until now because Severus had always worked with Lily. It was the main reason he'd done so well in his O.W.L. He looked around at the other students milling about on the grass, still wet with morning dew, and felt nothing but resentment. Although there was a chill in the air, the September sunshine was beginning to edge through the clouds and sparkle off the black lake. Severus squinted against it. He didn't like being out on the grounds any more and had barely left the dungeons since returning to Hogwarts this year.
As he watched he noticed Lily tap the shoulder of a pretty, blonde Slytherin girl, named Emma Edgecombe, who smiled and nodded when she asked her to be her partner. Shit. Emma seemed gentle on the outside but she would tear Lily to pieces given half a chance. He tried to catch her eye to give her some kind of non-verbal warning but she was resolutely ignoring him.
Severus was in no hurry to find some unlucky Griffindor to work with. Hopefully there would be nobody left and he could just work on his own. He occupied himself with kicking at a tuft of grass while the others paired off with grumbles and awkward smiles.
“Having trouble finding a partner, Mr Snape?” Kettleburn said as he limped over to him on his wooden leg.
“I was hoping I could work on my own this year Sir. I-”
“I'm afraid that won't be possible. You know half your grade is based on joint working.”
Severus is about to launch into his already prepared argument but stops at the sound of someone approaching.
“Sorry I'm late Professor!”
Severus turned to see a breathless Remus Lupin panting behind them. His pale brown hair was uncombed and his robes were dishevelled suggesting he'd slept in. Severus wastes no time in shooting the boy a glare who looks away from him guiltily. A lot had happened in 5th year. There was, of course, that humiliating day by this very lake. The day that still replayed in his head each night making sleep more and more difficult to come by. But last year was also the year that Severus had learned Lupin's secret. It had resulted in more degradation at having to be saved by Potter and he was still left with the shock and fear that Black would go so far as to actually try to kill him. Still, it was almost worth it to finally have answers. Not to mention the sense of power it gave him.
He had no intention of telling anyone and risking (completely unjust) expulsion by breaking his promise to Dumbledore, but Lupin couldn't be sure of that and he enjoyed how nervous it made him. Severus knew exactly why he'd slept in today. He would still be feeling the effects of his most recent transformation. Severus briefly wondered where he spent his time as a werewolf when he wasn't at Hogwarts.
“Lupin! Excellent timing! You can work with Severus this year.” Kettleburn said cheerily as he placed a hand on Lupin's shoulder and guided him closer to where Severus stood. The two boys look at each other in horror.
“I don't think that'll be-” Lupin began but Severus cut him off.
“Nothing else for it I'm afraid!” Kettleburn responded, grinning behind his grey moustache. “Everyone else is already paired off...and we must start the lesson! Right everyone, gather round! With your partners please.” He shouted to the rest of the class.
Severus could see Black and Pettigrew sniggering and pointing at them. Potter was giving Lupin a look of deep sympathy at the apparent misfortune of having to work with him. Well he didn't have to worry because it wasn't going to be happening. Severus would refuse to work with any of the Marauders. Even the least threatening one.
He made his way over to the enclosure Kettleburn was guiding them to and stood as far away from Lupin as he could get away with. Slowly meandering around inside were about two dozen creatures that looked like giant snails which came up to around the height of Severus' knee. Each one had different coloured shells, slowly changing with hypnotic swirls, and they left behind a trail of glistening slime as they slithered.
“For our first lesson of the term we're starting with something easy. Streelers!” Kettleburn boomed excitedly, gesturing a wooden mechanical arm toward the pen.
Easy? Weren't streelers highly toxic? The grass where their slime trails had touched was already shrivelling and browning.
“Now, can anybody name the country the streeler is native to?” Kettleburn asked the crowd of students.
“Africa!” Pettigrew squeaked proudly.
Severus couldn't help himself.
“Africa isn't a country.” He said quietly, rolling his eyes.
“Whatever Snivelly.” Black whispered nastily, elbowing him forward towards the streeler enclosure when Kettleburn's gaze was elsewhere. Though the teacher abhorred bullying of any kind, his eyepatch and failing hearing meant he wasn't always aware when it was occurring.
“Good Pettigrew! Specifically Kenya but I would also have accepted Tanzania as there are a small number there. As you can see they can thrive in Europe with the right breeding despite the difference in climate. Wizards have successfully...”
Severus was finding it hard to focus on the lecture with one marauder next to him and the other three close behind. Being in close proximity to them and substance that could kill him fairly quickly made him anxious. He kept his gaze set on one of the creatures whose shell was slowly turning from a shade of shocking pink to dark green as it munched slowly on a patch of undamaged grass.
“Well then, now it's your turn! Grab a streeler and get feeding them. There should be one for each pair. While they're eating you can sketch them out in your books. Oh, and don't forget to use the extra thick gloves when handling them if you want to avoid a visit to the hospital wing!” With that Kettleburn opened the enclosure and set them loose.
Severus made his way over to the bench where various pairs of gloves and a selection of vegetation was laid out. He didn't turn to see if Lupin was following him or not. As he selected his gloves he heard the voice of James Potter behind him.
“I don't think you really need those Snivellus...considering you produce the same slime that those things do.”
A few of the other students snickered. Severus just ignored him. It was getting harder and harder to fight back now he'd lost Lily's friendship. If he wasn't careful they might actually break him this year. He snatched up the gloves and strode back over to the streeler he'd been watching earlier. Donning the protective equipment, he picks up the animal roughly before he can hesitate.
“Hey watch out!”
The sound of Lupin's voice makes him turn, causing him to narrowly escape a long spike that emerged from the streeler's shell.
“You need to make sure you hold it at arms length! Weren't you listening?” Lupin was saying as he caught up to him, clutching a handful of greenery. Severus just scowls at him and then at the streeler which cocks an antennae at him curiously. He walks over to a section of grass far from the other students and sets the overgrown snail down carefully. To his displeasure, Lupin follows and sits down next to him. “I brought a selection of leaves,” the boy continued, “I couldn't remember which ones they were supposed to like.”
Severus watches as Lupin offers a purple leaf to the streeler from his gloved hand which causes it to shrivel in on itself. With a withering look, Severus snatches a handful of kale from Lupin that seems to please the creature greatly and it starts to nibble happily.
“Awesome! You did it!”
Severus doesn't respond or look at him as he takes out his book and drawing materials. Kettleburn always made them sketch out a creature and label it anatomically when they were first introduced to it. It was the most enjoyable part of the class in Severus' opinion, not least because he was rather good at drawing.
The same couldn't be said for Lupin apparently. His streeler illustration was looking more and more like a squat giraffe every time Severus sneaked a glance at it. Lucky for him they were graded on accuracy rather than artistic talent. Lupin had his textbook open and was using it to label his drawing. He suddenly snorted at something he'd read.
“Sorry,” he said sheepishly when he caught Severus looking at him in exasperation. “I just read that these things are kept as pets by 'those who enjoy kaleidoscopic colour changes'. What kind of people would keep something so dangerous as a pet?”
“People who are on something.” Severus responded despite himself. Lupin laughed, some of the nervous tension on his face drained away.
“You can say that again!”
“No, I mean literally. People like to stare at them after they get high.”
Lupin was giving him his full attention now. He actually seemed pleased that Severus was talking to him.
“Really? Are you speaking from experience?” He asked with an amused smile.
“No Lupin,” Severus sighed. “I just made the effort to research before class.”
“Yeah right, now I know what you Slytherins get up to in your spare time!” Lupin was teasing him but it was playful rather than cruel.
“Less dangerous than what you get up to in your spare time.”
“Touché.” Lupin's smirking was really starting to annoy him. At least he knew where he stood with the other three. He couldn't stand this fake friendliness.
They didn't speak again for the rest of the lesson. When it was over Severus hung back to speak with Professor Kettleburn. Again he pleaded with him to let him work alone. Or at least let him switch partners.
“I'm afraid not Mr Snape” Kettleburn wasn't meeting his gaze as he wandered over the area the students had been working and sprinkled a dark purple powder over the damaged grass that caused it to regrow instantly.
“But sir, please, you don't understand!”
Finally his teacher turned to look at him. Severus could see a sympathy in his gaze that made him burn with shame. He places a mechanical hand on Severus' shoulder.
“Look Severus, I'm not blind to the way some of the other students treat you...and I've been rather concerned about you since you and Miss Evans seem to have run into some difficulty. But Remus is a kind boy. I think he'll-”
“You don't know him like I do. He-” Severus stops abruptly when he notices that Lupin has quietly approached them.
“Listen, sir, I don't have a problem being partners with Severus but if he's that uncomfortable maybe we should switch.”
“Tell you what boys, indulge me! Work together for the rest of the month and if you still can't stand each other I'll see about switching you. There's always some pair that end up falling out and beg to change by then anyway. Until then I shall remain optimistic! Now run along, I'm sure you have other classes to get to.” With an air of finality he turns back to tending the grass, humming happily.
Severus summons up one final sneer for Lupin before he stalks off back to the castle. Turning back to look over his shoulder (a habit he's picked up over the years) he sees that the rest of the marauders are still there and have huddled around Lupin in a conspiratorial manner. He walks faster, intent on returning to the safety of the dungeons.