In which Snape befriends an old grey donkey, and life is gloomy, as usual

Severus, the old yellowish Potions master, stood at the edge of the Hundred Acre Wood and frowned. It was a very particular sort of frown, the type of frown only frowned by people who have Apparated and know that they have Apparated to the wrong place. (There is another kind of frown, accompanied by screaming, for people who have Splinched. Severus's was not this kind of frown.)

"Hmm," said Severus, and then he hmmed again for good measure, "Hmm."

He sighed. It seemed to him that he had only two options: he could try to Apparate home (which was slightly risky if he didn't know where he was to begin with) or he could wander and try and find out where he had ended up.

He thought about that for a while, and then he turned and began to stroll along, muttering to himself. It was just typical, that was what it was: he hadn't really had time to spare to Do Good in the first place, and he had huge amounts of work to do when he'd finished being lost.

Severus sighed, and was amazed to hear his sigh echoed from a short distance away. He reached into his pocket for his wand, though he wasn't quite sure which foe he expected to face. Images of Voldemort, Harry Potter and a large pile of marking danced at the front of his mind.

There was the sound of sticks being trodden on, and then a small grey donkey emerged from the trees to his right. It stopped when it reached the clearing where Severus was standing, and regarded him with what might have been idle curiosity.

For a fleeting moment, Severus stared – he had, after all, been trying to save unicorns, and this, for a second, looked a little bit like one. "You're not a unicorn," he said once he realised that he was in fact looking at a cuddly toy.

"No," agreed the grey, talking, donkey. "We can't all be unicorns, nice though they may be."

"Indeed," said Severus. "At least you're in no danger of being slaughtered and having a Dark Lord-cum-Quirrell thing suck out your blood."

"I don't imagine so, no," said the donkey. "Although it wouldn't altogether surprise me."

"Hmm," said Severus. He had the strangest feeling that he had met this donkey somewhere before. "I don't suppose you know where I've Apparated to, do you?"

The donkey looked rather confused. "Apparated?"

"Oh Merlin," said Severus. "You aren't a Muggle, are you?"

The donkey looked even more confused, and then a little offended. "Not that I'm aware of," he said. "Some of us are just donkeys, you know," he went on.

"I wish I was just a donkey," said Severus. "Some of us have to put up with Neville Longbottom, and set up meetings with 'ex' Death Eaters, just in case the Dark Lord returns, and bully Quirrell, and meet with members of the 'ex' Order."

"You are invited to these meetings, though," said the donkey. "I can't remember the last time a Death Eater invited me to a meeting. When do you think I was last invited to a party?"

"I—" said Severus.

"Never, that's when," said the donkey. "No Dear Eeyore, please come to our meeting. No You rae Curdylly invtd to Wols bthdathys for me. I was not invited. Not Curdylly. Not at all."

"Oh," said Severus.

"They forgot. Do you know when I was last Curdylly invited?" he asked.

"Never?" Severus said.

"Last month," said the donkey. "To my own birthday party. I invited Christopher Robin as well, but he was busy being busy, and the others had gone to look for haycorns up a tree and never got their invitations at all. I sat by myself and blew up a balloon and sang Happy Birthday, and then I cleared up."

Severus patted the donkey on the head sympathetically. "I wasn't allowed a party on my birthday," he said. "I had planned a night in playing chess and drinking gin with Minerva, but I was called away at the last minute to invigilate an exam for some student too stupid to have passed her exam in the summer with everybody else."

The donkey patted Severus on the foot sympathetically. Severus frowned, but tolerated him.

"It's a very gloomy state, being Unpopular, isn't it?" said the donkey.

"Very gloomy indeed," agreed Severus.

"But now you're here," said the donkey. "And you can't go home."

"Apparently," said Severus, who was not entirely happy with the idea.

The donkey, however, stared at him with something that looked incredibly close to not-gloom. "Then you can stay with me!" he said. "It isn't a particularly large house – though it was larger before it was moved, I believe – but I can make some space, and there are some fairly nice thistles nearby if you're hungry."

Severus felt quite sure that thistles were not what he would like best, and said as much.

The donkey looked mildly offended. "Honey?" he suggested.

Severus shuddered.

"Haycorns? Extract of Malt?"

"Not unless you mean whisky."

The donkey's head drooped. "We can ask Christopher Robin, when he comes home from school," he said. "You could play a game while we wait. I'll find Pooh Bear – people like to spend time with Pooh."

Severus did not much like the sound of that. "Your company is quite sufficient," he said.

"Oh," said the donkey, and he seemed delighted. "Quite Sufficient. Well I never."

Severus gave him a small smile, and there was a pleasant moment of peace.

"Perhaps Christopher Robin will know about Apparateding," said the donkey. "Maybe he can take you home."

Severus nodded. "That would probably be a good idea," he said. "You see, I am trying to prevent a Dark Lord from gaining eternal life by slaughtering unicorns. I was Apparating to the side of unicorns in an attempt to cast protective spells over them. My last Apparition must have gone awry and brought me to you. Unless...I don't suppose you've seen any unicorns wandering around, have you?"

The donkey shook his head, but suggested that Christopher Robin might know if any newcomers had arrived in the wood.

Severus wondered who this Christopher Robin was, and how he got to be so omniscient. He imagined a Dumbledore-ish sort of character, and shuddered.

"We could look for unicorns," suggested the donkey. "An expedition, of sorts. We found the North Pole that way, you know."

"Did you really?" asked Severus, though inwardly he worried that he might have Apparated a little further up the globe than he had previously thought. He glanced around at the very British-looking plants to reassure himself.

The donkey nodded. "Pooh found it. Shall we go and look?"

"All right then," said Severus, and so it was decided.

As they walked, the old grey donkey recounted tales of losing his tail, and more of his birthdays being forgotten, and his thistles eaten, and his Useful Pot being dropped in a river by Roo, and being BOUNCED by Tigger. Severus listened, and then recounted his own tales of exploded cauldrons, and Lily marrying James, and being tried by the Wizengamot, and Harry Potter, and spying at great risk to himself, and being levitated with his underpants on display to the whole school. The donkey listened, and when they passed them, he pointed out such sites as Rabbit's House and a Sandy Pit.

Severus observed the wood with its occasional talking stuffed toys in wonderment. He was unsure how it could be that a toy tiger could bounce like that without some extreme charm work, which was probably worthy of reporting to Arthur Weasley. Then again, if it was reported, his new friend the old grey donkey might be affected; Severus wasn't sure that he liked that idea. He decided that what Arthur didn't know wouldn't hurt him. The day passed much more quickly than most days did and, once or twice, Severus found himself close to smiling.

Alas, they did not find a unicorn.

"Not surprising," said the donkey, rather gloomily. "I rarely find things when I'm looking for them."

"Neither do I," said Severus. "Life's often like that, I find."

"Maybe you should try your Apparated trick again. That might find you a unicorn."

Severus nodded – it really did seem like the only solution. "Though I don't know why I'm bothering," he said. "It'll only cause me more trouble if I'm spotted."

"That's sad," said the donkey.

"But if I don't go, the Dark Lord might find the Philosopher's Stone and come back to power."

"Oh dear."

"Quite," said Severus. "So I should probably..."

The donkey nodded. "Off you go then," he said. "I've been expecting it. People who might become friends seem to have a habit of leaving."

"I know," said Severus. "I've found that too."

They sighed, one last time, in unison.

"It was nice to meet you," said Severus, who didn't often find opportunities to say that and actually mean it. He gave the donkey a small smile.

"Yes," said the donkey. "I do hope you find your unicorn and this dark lord doesn't come back to power."

"Me too," said Severus with feeling. "Goodbye."

"Hmm," said the donkey. "Maybe you'll Apparated here again sometime."

"I hope so," said Severus, and he Apparated. Moments later he was in the Forbidden Forest, standing next to a unicorn, which took one look at him and prepared to gouge him to death with its horn. "That's gratitude for you," muttered Severus, backing away. He cast a quick spell to protect the unicorn from all who might seek to harm it, and wished that a similar spell existed for Potions masters. Next time, he decided as he prepared to go back to his nice cosy office, he would reserve his help for stuffed toys.

He gave a sad sniff: it was that kind of evening.

Then he went home. Severus settled down in his dungeons and read a book and wished he was the sort of man who was left in peace to look at thistles, and many miles away, the old grey donkey settled down on the floor of his house and thought thoughts and wished he was the sort of donkey who was invited to meetings. And though it was a rather gloomy ending to the story, at least it was one, and that, Severus thought, was something.