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Severus stalked down the corridor like the wind of death, muttering imprecations about Harry bloody Potter, the Boy Who Lived to Make Him Insane, and considered it the worst timing in the world that Potter had to go missing or whatever right then.  And of course Dumbledore would insist he help search for the annoying brat, despite the fact that it was Friday night and Severus was supposed to be free on the weekends to grade and maybe relax a bit with a book and a small glass of port.  Or nurse an injured hawk back to health if he so chose.  Instead he was dragooned into searching the grounds for the damn boy.

Severus reasoned that the grounds were a good place to start, since Dumbledore would have set most of the staff to looking inside the castle already.  And the Headmaster knew Snape was familiar with the grounds, since he wandered them frequently in his quest for potion ingredients.  The Potions Master's long stride soon took him down the stony trail to Hagrid's hut, which bordered the Forbidden Forest, he wished to speak with the gamekeeper about the injured hawk as well as ask him if he knew of any familiar haunts Potter liked to visit.

Severus knew many of the staff tended to disregard the bluff man, thinking him a little dim if friendly, like his big boarhound Fang.  But Severus knew there was more to Hagrid than met the eye.  The gamekeeper saw more than anyone would guess, and if Potter had a hiding place somewhere on the grounds, Hagrid probably knew of it.  The way he had known of the spots young Snape used to frequent, seeking solitude from his chattering classmates and relief from the constant persecution of the Marauders.

Unlike the Headmaster and probably the rest of the staff, Snape was unwilling to admit that Potter's disappearance was anything more than a schoolboy prank, such as his father used to pull, skipping out of class when there was a quiz or test that day.  The boy had only been missing a few hours and Severus knew that if any Death Eater had captured Potter, he would be summoned through the Mark to witness the Dark Lord's triumph over his hated enemy.  A triumph which would end in Potter's death, but not before the snake-faced wizard tortured him first for being a thorn in his side.  And if that ever happened, Severus knew his days of spying were over, for he was pledged to defend Potter at all costs.

Pledged by his wizard's oath, given to his best friend Lily, witnessed by Albus Dumbledore, a promise more binding than even the life debt he had owed James Potter. The oath had been given just before the Potters had gone into hiding, Lily had forgiven him for following the dark road, and then she had asked him to swear the oath. 

He had done so, knowing full well it was his path to redemption.

But Potter was not a guest of Voldemort, of that much Snape was certain. 

Therefore, Potter was here somewhere, probably using that confounded Invisibility Cloak. 

Scowling, Snape tapped upon Hagrid's door. 

It was opened almost immediately, and the gamekeeper gave the Potions Master a genial smile.  "Hullo, Professor Snape.  What can I do for you?"

"Has the Headmaster informed you that Potter has gone missing yet?"

"Harry, missing? Fer how long?"

"I would assume a few hours.  Apparently, he never returned to his common room after dinner and his friends must have reported his absence to the Headmaster, who has decided to mount a search for the blasted little . . ." Severus trailed off angrily, too furious to insult Potter properly.  "Would you know where he . . .likes to go when he is finished with classes, Hagrid?"

The big man scratched his head.  "Normally, he hangs out at the Quidditch pitch with Ron Weasley, that's his best mate, and sometimes he goes down by the lake too."

"Those places have been checked already," Snape sighed impatiently.  Every minute he was searching for Potter was another minute wasted, another minute he could be spending with the rescued hawk, making sure it was eating and drinking and kept warm and calm.  "Anywhere else you can think of? Perhaps somewhere near the Forest?"

Hagrid's forehead crinkled.  "Ah . . .there might be one place . . .a little glade I showed ‘im just this year." He coughed softly and avoided Snape's eyes suddenly.  "Y'know the one, professor . . .yeh used to use it too, when you wanted to get away from Black and that lot, remember?"

"You showed Potter my secret glade?" Severus cried, incensed.  "The one where Lily and I used to study?"

"Yeah, I figgered he could use a place t'hide, seein' how things were with him after Cedric's death an' all.  I didn' think you'd care, you haven't been there since Lily died, and I thought it'd help Harry to go there, where his mother used to be . . ."

"Did you happen to mention that I used to go there too?"

Hagrid flinched at the fury in the Potion Master's tone.  "No, I jus' tol' him about Lily.  He was upset an' lookin' like he needed some time by himself, th' way you usta, Professor, when you came back from home at the beginning of term."

Severus stiffened.  Of all the adult wizards at Hogwarts, only Hagrid had ever guessed that his home life was not as it should have been when he was a student.  Severus had never spoken about it, conditioned since he was small to never tell anyone what happened at Spinner's End.  Yet somehow Hagrid had known something was amiss, and had offered the lonely boy an open invitation to come for tea anytime and showed him a secret place where he could go and escape for a few blessed hours.  Later, he had shown it to Lily, and they had spent many pleasant hours there, hidden away in the woods amid the great trees and emerald foliage, talking, researching new spells, and inventing new potions, writing formulas on scraps of parchment. 

It had been an almost sacred place to the young Severus, and now Potter had learned of it.  He knew that Hagrid meant well, the man loved tending to the strange and injured wild things that came to him, and he extended that same compassion to those among the students he felt were in need as well.  Like Severus.  But why on earth would Hagrid ever equate the Boy Who Lived, the prince of the wizarding world, worshipped by thousands as the last best hope against Voldemort, with the miserable abused child Snape had been?

 Hurt by Hagrid's inadvertent betrayal of his privacy, he snapped, "What do you mean, he is like me? Potter is pampered and spoiled, he lives in an affluent Muggle neighborhood, unlike me, who dwelled in a rundown row house.  I'll bet he never had to work a day in his life, never knew what it meant to go hungry and cold because his bloody father drank away all the money he made and treated him like pond slime . . ." breathing hard, Severus wrenched his temper and the subsequent awful memories back beneath his icy mask.

"Professor, y'can be mad at me all you want, but don' take it out on Harry, please.  Things ain't always what they seem, you oughta know that better than anyone.  And I'm tellin' yeh, something's not right with Harry."

"Such as?"

"Well, let's see . . .he came back and he wasn't the way he usually is, he hardly smiled and he didn' seem to want to be with his friends, he kept goin' off by himself, I figgered it was ‘cause of Cedric's death and his return, but he didn' want to talk about it, he even started refusing t'stop for tea on Saturdays, sir, an' that jus' ain't like Harry.  He usta love havin' tea with me."

Severus, who had also been one of those students Hagrid invited to tea, couldn't resist asking, "Did you feed him blueberry scones with sweet butter too?"

"Aye, and he used to go back for seconds, he was always hungry, like he never had enough to eat at home."

Severus snorted.  "Impossible.  Potter's relatives were not impoverished, they could afford to feed ten of him."

"Maybe, but what if they didn', Professor? Y' didn' see him like I did when I went to fetch him to Hogwarts that first year," Hagrid pointed out.  "He looked like he was nine ‘stead o' eleven and a good stiff wind would blow him away.  Those Muggles, they were all fat as hogs, but not him, he was like a ghost, pale and scrawny, jus' like-"

"Don't say it! Potter and I are nothing alike!"

"No? I think you're wrong," the big man said firmly.  "Y' won't admit it, but you're more alike than you know, Severus Snape."

"Don't be ridiculous, Hagrid! He's his bloody father all over again, arrogant and rich and spoiled beyond belief, drunk on fame and glory . . ."

Hagrid shook his head in disappointment.  "Never thought I'd see the day when you let prejudice blind you, sir. You're acting like Sirius Black, seeing only what you want t'see an' not what's really there."

"I'm what?" Severus gasped.  "How dare you compare me to that-that mutt, that rotten attention-seeking bastard who nearly killed me and then waltzed away with a slap on the wrist? How dare you?"

"B'cause that's who ya sound like righ' now, Severus," Hagrid said, his tone soft with disapproval, and suddenly Snape felt every inch that scrawny unloved student again, whose only real friends had been a pretty red-haired girl, books, and the big man and his numerous pets.  "I usta t' tell Sirius that he was wrong t' make fun of you ‘cause you were Slytherin, that not everyone was a piece, that all o' the Houses had good an' bad members in them, an' that he shouldn't judge a person by the cut of his robe or his hair, but he never wanted t'listen.  Slimy Slytherin, he'll go dark jus' like You-Know-Who, like all of ‘em, he usta say and then he'd laugh.  But he was wrong, wasn't he?"

"You know he was."

"Aye, else you wouldn't be standing here arguing with me.  That bein' so, I'm askin' yeh t'look past the fact that Harry's James Potter's son and see what y' couldn't before . . .that he's a kid in need of help.  Do what Black never could, or never wanted to, Professor, see the truth.  You're a mite smarter than Sirius, sir, so it oughta be a snap."

"Damn straight I am!" he muttered, then flushed red, because it had been a long time since he had allowed anyone to scold him as if he were eleven again.  He sure as hell was smarter than Black, of all people, and his pride smarted at the insinuation that he was not seeing the truth, for a spy's main duty was to gather information and be able to see that which was hidden. 

Have I been that blind? Is Hagrid right? Could I have missed the obvious signs of neglect and depression because I refused to see that he wasn't James's son only, but Lily's as well?  Have I become as impulsive and stubborn and idiotic as Black after all? Merlin forfend!

"You said Potter looked depressed? When did you first notice this?"

"Ah, ‘bout two weeks into the new term," Hagrid reported. 

Snape frowned.  Now that he thought about it, Potter had seemed more subdued and less cheeky than was his wont.  As he had told Dumbledore, he hadn't taken any points or given the brat detention in weeks, an almost unheard of occurrence. Usually the incorrigible child managed to smart off to him and annoy him the first day in class.  But this time . . .Potter had been quiet as a mouse, and polite, and unresponsive to Snape's sharpness and sarcasm.  Abnormal behavior indeed, and the spy mentally kicked himself hard for not noticing that telling detail.

Snape, you need to retire and commit yourself to St. Mungos if you can't observe better than that, you oblivious idiot! A first-year would have noticed something off right away given Potter's previous behavior, and you, who have been a master spy for sixteen and a half years, missed it.

While Severus mentally walloped himself soundly, the two walked out behind the cottage and into the forest.  Though he hadn't been back to his secret glade in years, as Hagrid had commented, Snape found his feet still knew the right path to it.  Fourteen years and still he had not forgotten, would never forget, the best refuge he had ever had, one in which only Lily had ever been allowed to intrude.

A familiar bitter ache was rising in him then, and he sought to distract himself from its sharp pangs by questioning Hagrid more about Potter.  "Did he say anything to you about what went on over the summer?"

"No, Professor.  Jus' that he was glad to be out of the house.  He didn' talk too much at all, but I could tell something was botherin' him, I think he blames himself fer everything.  Cedric's death and the return of You-Know-Who, it hit him awful hard, sir."

"Mmm. I'd imagine so." Severus murmured, seeing a classmate die so violently in front of you was bound to leave a scar, and then being used in a blood ritual to bring back the wizard equivalent of Hitler from the dead would upset anyone, and not even Potter was immune to such tragedy.  And if Hagrid were right, and his home with the . . .Dursleys was similar to Snape's own had been with his alcoholic father and downtrodden mother, that atmosphere on top of the events of last year might very well have combined to throw the boy into a deep depression. 

In which case, Potter missing suddenly took on a whole new chillingly terrible aspect.

Obsidian eyes met brown ones, and Snape knew Hagrid too suspected what Severus had just concluded, though neither spoke.

Both of them were intimate with the depths of despair and had travelled the twisted road of self-destruction as young teenagers, Hagrid after being unjustly expelled and cast out of his one true home to live as a scorned failed wizard and a half-giant, mocked and derided, until Dumbledore had literally saved his life by giving him a position and some self-worth as gamekeeper.

 And Snape too had embraced the darkness after his mother had died in sixth year and Lily had rejected him so harshly and Black had nearly killed him in the Shrieking Shack, and no one seemed to care at all if he lived or died a slow painful death from a werewolf's bite.  Only his savior had been the man beside him, who had found him unconscious from a strong Sleeping Draught, and had recognized the signs.  Hagrid had taken him into his cottage and cared for him for a week, much as he would a wounded wild animal, and in truth Snape had been no better than that emotionally, and he had kept the boy's awful secret upon Snape's insistence, sharing also his own dark time with the lanky teen, becoming one of the few Snape trusted. 

Severus suspected Hagrid had something to do with Lily's change of heart towards him, but the other would never say so and Severus would never ask. It wasn't important why Lily had forgiven him, only that she had.

And she would hex you seven ways to Sunday if she ever knew the state you allowed her son to get into, Severus Tobias Snape.

"Do you think . . .?"

"Maybe.  Not before this, but now . . ."

Leaves and dead branches crunched beneath their feet and then Snape halted, tugging aside a large curtain of seemingly dense creeper to reveal a pristine sunny glade. 

Empty.

Severus felt his heart grow cold.  He swore softly for several minutes. 

Then he gathered himself back under control and said, "Where else in the Forest could he have gone?"

"Maybe to Thestral Rock? Sometimes kids who've seen death are drawn there," Hagrid said.  Like you were.

But that too proved unfruitful.  Severus cast locator spell after locator spell, and all of them came back undetectable.  Yet that in itself was a hopeful sign.  If Potter were dead, the spell would come back with an echo attached to the signature, indicating faded magical core, and the dead had no need of concealment. 

"Nothing.  Wherever he is, he's concealing himself well," Severus concluded sourly, hating to admit he'd been bested by a mere student.  "Perhaps he merely wished to find a place uninhabited by foolish noisy Gryffindors. Or skive off from my latest potions assignment."

"Y' don't think he's . . .?"

"There was no echo. Potter is hiding, he will come out when he is ready, or perhaps when he is hungry, like a frightened cat," Snape drawled.

"Oh.  Yeah, that makes sense.  Should we stop searching, then?"

"For now.  It grows late, we have been looking for two hours at least, and wandering the forest at this hour is risky even for us.  We can resume tomorrow, if Potter has not turned up by then." Severus said, surprising himself by the words that had just come out of his mouth.  Since when did he start caring about Harry bloody Potter? Since Hagrid punctured your bubble of irrational enmity with a few sharp words, his conscience whispered.  You promised to watch out for Lily's son, and even if you did not, it is your duty as a teacher to make sure your students are safe . . .even from themselves.

"Come let's go back, Hagrid. I shall tell the Headmaster we found nothing." Snape ordered, turning back down the path that led out of the forest.  "I also have a favor to ask you.  Do you have any equipment to train a young hawk?"

"I think I still do, but why?"

Severus told him, and Hagrid's face lit up at the prospect of saving yet another poor wild thing from grim death.  He eagerly agreed to give Snape his set of training jesses, sturdy perch, leash, hood, glove, and lure.  As well as a book on falconry he had used while rehabilitating a goshawk he'd found one year in the meadow, the victim of a Muggle weapon. 

"A gun, I would say," Severus said quietly, from Hagrid's description of the wounds.

"Filthy things.  But I saved her, and she flew free after a month.  Most beautiful sight I ever saw." Hagrid sniffled, brushing a few tears from his eyes.  He always grew maudlin when discussing pets and animals he had lost or set free.  "I got a coney too for ya, Professor. Fresh caught today, was gonna make some stew with it, but I can always snare another. Though if the little fella is in pain, you'll need to grind the meat up fine and mix it with a little honey, make a paste, and feed it with a spoon or your finger, if he'll take it."

Severus nodded.  "A spoon, I don't trust my finger near him just yet, he's already bitten me once."

Hagrid was not surprised, being bitten was a hazard when caring for any wild animal.  "And plenty o' water too.  He'll be thirsty after all your potions."

They had reached the cottage and Hagrid went inside to gather the falconer's kit, smiling happily.  He was glad Severus had finally allowed himself to feel compassion for something again and he had an instinct that the hawk and the Potions Master would become very good friends. Young injured hawks like the one Severus had found often imprinted upon humans who rescued them, bonding to the man as they would an elder hawk.  Birds of a feather, aye.

Severus waited on the porch, tapping a boot impatiently against the cobblestone walk, impatient to get back to his new charge.  And then he felt the wards on his lab activate, and he snarled a vicious oath.  Someone unauthorized had taken something from his private potions stock, and when he traced them, the student was going to wish he or she had never been born.   The ward was tingling madly in his head, buzzing like a nest of enraged hornets, and he stuck his head inside the door and called, "Hagrid, send me the kit over later, there is an emergency back in my lab, some wretched student has broken in there, and I need to get back immediately-"

"Here, Severus.  It's all in this cloth pack," the gamekeeper thrust a large leather bag into his hands, wincing at the dark fury in the other's eyes.  "Don' kill him, Professor. Y'don' want to go to Azkaban, trust me." An involuntary shudder went through the big man's frame as he recalled his own three month stay there years ago.  It was not something one could ever forget, and he was happy Severus had escaped that dreadful fate.

Severus bared his teeth in a predatory smile.  "Killing is too good for the likes of whoever did this, Hagrid.  I detest thieves as much as I do lying little brats. Perhaps I'll only nail their hide to a wall in my office, maybe make a necklace of their thieving fingers, feed their liver to my hawk, the possibilities are endless . . ."

He spun around, black cloak billowing like a bird of prey to catch the quarry that had dared invade his eyrie, tossing a belated thank you over his shoulder.

Hagrid watched the tall figure stride back up to the castle.  "Fool kid had better start makin' out his will.  He ain't in any mood to cross tonight, eh, Fang?" The big man scratched his dog's ears, and continued to stare out into the night, pondering the fate of Harry James Potter, lost boy.


 



Chapter End Notes:


eyrie--a hawk's home, whether a nest or a rock face.


I have portrayed Hagrid a bit differently here than usual, in a role of mentor to Severus and given him a bit darker past, because I thought the things he endured--expulsion, prejudice--had to leave a mark on him, and account for his near worship of Dumbledore.

Also this story takes place BEFORE the Occlumency lessons and Umbridge's takeover of the school, though Umbridge's takeover will occur during the course of the story. Therefore, Snape's anger and bitterness towards Harry is not as pronounced and he is more inclined to take Hagrid's advice.

What did you all think of their conversation?

And yes, the wrath of Snape shall fall upon those who invaded his lab!

Next: Snape discovers the intruders and promises retribution, but first he must save a battered Harry!hawk from the brink of death.

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