Despite the late night vigil he had endured, Severus still managed to rise at seven thirty. After taking a shower and dressing, he gave the hawk more potions and make sure he was eating the ground rabbit mixed with honey from the bowl and drinking water as well, before summoning Twixie to bring him his own breakfast. Hawk and Potions Master ate in companionable silence, then Severus hooded the bird and told the hawk to take a nap, he had some unfinished business to take care of. He left the red-tail dozing and headed to his office.
It was eight thirty and he had a few essays left to grade as well as their detention schedule to arrange until the three wretches showed up. Severus knew they would be prompt, they would not dare exacerbate his temper by not showing up on time.
The three filed into the office just as the clock struck nine, looking as though they had spent the entire night wide-awake in a state of nerve-wracking terror. Severus did not doubt that was the case and felt no sympathy for them. They were lucky he was in a semi-good mood, thanks to the hawk's survival.
"Sit, gentlemen," he ordered icily.
The three, pale and ill-looking, dropped into the chairs in front of his desk like stones.
Severus pointed his wand and the door shut soundlessly and locked. He waved it once and shields of privacy activated. Then he loomed over the three miscreants like a vengeful bird of prey, causing them to shrink back into their chairs as far as they could.
His wand vanished, at least it seemed so to the three trembling boys, though actually Snape had performed a swift bit of sleight of hand and tucked it up a sleeve. "So, Mr. Malfoy. You thought it acceptable to sneak into my potions lab after hours and steal ingredients from my personal stores, correct?"
Draco gulped, wondering how much longer he was going to be a member of Slytherin. Or Hogwarts. Or the human race, for Snape was mad enough to dissect him with a look. "Professor, it wasn't all my idea. Crabbe here thought it would be a good idea to make a potion to prank Weasley, Potter's best mate-"
"Whaddya mean it was my idea, Malfoy?" cried the other boy. "You were the one who was ticked at him for saying your da licked the Dark Lord's arse, not me!"
Draco glared at his partner in crime. "So? You were the one who had the book, Vince!"
Snape's voice crackled over the two like a whip and they all jumped.
"Yes or no, Mr. Malfoy-answer the question."
"Y-yes, sir. But-sir, we weren't really stealing the ingredients, we were going to-"
"Spare me your pitiful excuses, boy! You were caught redhanded by my ward. Disgraceful! Not only are you guilty of theft, but also an invasion of my personal privacy, and deliberate injury to my familiar as well. Or will you claim that was an accident too, Mr. Malfoy?" spat the irate professor, his dark eyes glittering savagely. "Perhaps it was mere bad luck that you stumbled into the perch and knocked my hawk off and didn't notice because you were too busy concentrating on fleeing from the room, yes?"
Draco knew then he was doomed. "Y-your familiar? B-but you never had one before, sir . . ."
"And that matters how?" Severus leaned in until his nose nearly touched Malfoy, who looked as if he were going to wet himself, so potent was Snape's displeasure. "I would expect this kind of idiotic insanity from Gryffindors, not from members of my own House, who should know better than to steal from me, your Head of House. Did you think I wouldn't know? Are you really truly that dense?"
All three shook their heads no. Abruptly, Severus turned and spun away, his hands clenched, and walked the length of the office, ostensibly too cool his temper somewhat, when the fact of the matter was, he was a good deal calmer than he appeared. He was still furious with the three, but not to the point of throttling them any longer.
He let them stew for an endless three minutes before whirling back around, his black robes billowing impressively, and one finger stabbing at them. "Were you in any other House than my own, gentlemen, you would be packing and on the first available train home this morning, your careers at this institution finished."
Draco's mouth hung open. "You'd expel us over a prank, sir?"
"A prank? A prank? You steal from your Head of House and nearly kill his familiar and you dare call it a prank? Something to be brushed under the rug and forgotten? Or laughed about in your dormitory?" Snape's eyes were like twin pools of midnight magma. "We shall see who laughs last here, Malfoy!"
Crabbe wished he could hex Draco's tongue out, for every time the blonde opened his mouth, he dug his grave deeper. "Merlin, Draco, you arsehole, just shut the bloody hell up!" he hissed to the other boy. "I don't want to die today."
"He wouldn't dare hurt us . . .our fathers . . ."
"Will be informed of your little escapade as soon as you can set quill to parchment, gentlemen. For you will all be writing letters home informing them of your disgraceful behavior, which goes against every standard of pureblood behavior codes. They shall be receiving two letters, one from you and the other confirming it from myself."
Abruptly Draco lost his superior attitude and began to whine, "Professor Snape, no! You can't . . .my father will kill me . . ."
"Please, sir . . ." began Goyle. "I only watched the door, I never touched anything . . ."
"Coward!" Crabbe cried. "Don't try and look so bleeding innocent, Greg!" He cast his eyes up at Snape. "Sir, please don't make me tell them . . ."
Snape, though he knew perfectly well of the stringent codes the Death Eaters held with their families, did not relent. Normally, he would never inform his Slytherin's families of their misdeeds, preferring to handle such discipline himself, but in this case he made an exception. "You should have thought of that, gentlemen, before you followed Mr. Malfoy into the lab, now shouldn't you? But instead you acted like Hufflepuff sheep and Gryffindor idiots and now you shall reap the rewards of your behavior."
"Yes, sir," Crabbe and Goyle muttered sullenly, shooting glares at Malfoy.
"I repeat, you all ought to be expelled, we do not tolerate thievery at this institution, and by the time I am done with you, you will wish I had snapped your wands. You are now on detention with me, Filch, and Hagrid until the end of term. You shall serve detention separately, five nights a week, and it shall include all Hogsmeade privileges revoked and suspension from Quidditch, in Mr. Malfoy's case." Draco whimpered, Snape ignored it. "It shall be served in the following manner, first you will all scrub and disinfect the Owlery-without magic and using Muggle cleaning materials-soap and water and toothbrushes-supervised by Mr. Filch. You will also be assisting Hagrid in caring for his animals, doing whatever he tells you, including shoveling manure and feeding the blast-ended skrewts, in this way you might have an inkling of what it means to properly care for another living creature, instead of callously leaving it to batter itself unconscious," here Severus leveled a razor sharp glare at Malfoy.
"Sir, the bloody bird bit me!" whined Draco. "I'm probably scarred for life!" he held up his bandaged finger.
"Spare me the dramatics, boy. You would not have been bitten at all had you stayed out of the potions lab. The hawk was provoked, much like the hippogriff was in your third year, I suspect, so don't expect any sympathy from me, mister!" growled Severus. "Your behavior is inexcusable, Malfoy, and this time you will learn that your family name cannot shield you from consequences. If my hawk had died, boy, I'd have taken payment out of your hide, am I understood?"
Draco nodded rapidly, unable to speak, for the look Snape gave him was terrible.
"Good." Snape sneered. "You will also work with me on harvesting several rare potions ingredients, several of which use animal excrement and toad ovaries and crayfish eyes, stinkweed, and bubotuber pus. Some might even require a trip or two into the Forbidden Forest. Those tasks should last till the end of term. You are all required to be in the common room at nine o'clock, no socializing, studying only until lights out. Mr. Crabbe, since you at least tried to help my familiar, instead of leaving it to die like Mr. Malfoy, you shall be let off a week early as clemency."
"WHAT!" shrieked Draco, unable to keep still. "Unfair, sir!"
"Silence, Mr. Malfoy! My punishments are not up for debate. You, since you were the one who masterminded this whole escapade and endangered my bird, shall also serve two weeks as Slytherin House's unofficial house elf, cleaning the common room and the dormitories and fetching items for the entire House, who will all know of your misdeed, and we shall see if that does not teach you respect for rules and your Head's personal privacy. During that period, you will not be seen or heard or spoken to by anyone in Slytherin. It will be as if you don't exist. You are not above anyone here, Mr. Malfoy, Lucius's son and my godchild or not. Best you learn that quick."
He summoned three pieces of parchments off his desk and handed them to the boys. "Here are your detention schedules. Follow them exactly and if you are one minute late, you will do an hour extra of detention the next day. Bring me your letters after class this evening. We shall be having a House meeting at eight. That will be all, gentlemen. Dismissed."
The three chastened boys slunk out of the office like whipped puppies, though as soon as the door closed, Snape could hear their voices raised in an argument.
"I told you we never shoulda done it," moaned Goyle.
"Oh, stuff it up your arse, Goyle!" spat Malfoy.
"Why don't you, Malfoy?" snarled Crabbe. "It's mostly your fault anyhow, you smart-arsed prig. I told you not to touch the hawk! Now thanks to you, my da's gonna shred my arse when I get home, never mind what the professor's already done!"
"Shut up, Crabbe! At least you don't have to play bloody house elf to the entire House. I'll be lucky if I can even serve the whole detention once everyone in the House knows, they're going to be out for my blood . . ." moaned Draco.
Despite his strict demeanor, Snape was well-respected by his snakes and Malfoy's misdeed would not be tolerated by them, who would see it as an affront to their Head's dignity and honor. Life was going to be extremely unpleasant for one Malfoy for the rest of the term, Severus thought in satisfaction, then he finished marking his essays and headed up to the Headmaster's office to inform Dumbledore of the discipline he had meted out and also to discuss Potter's possible mental state with the Headmaster.
As a teacher, it was his duty to inform the Headmaster of any suspicion of mentally instability and depression that might lead to suicide in a student, whether Slytherin or any other House, and while he disliked Potter, he could not ignore the boy's plight. Dumbledore needed to be made aware, but afterwards what he did about it was his own business.
Severus was still hoping the damn child would come out of hiding and stop driving the whole school insane with his antics. The only time he had ever seen the Headmaster this agitated had been after the werewolf incident at the Shrieking Shack in his sixth year, when he feared Lupin's exposure. Severus's lip curled as he recalled the way the Headmaster had fawned over the werewolf's fate, ordering Severus to keep his mouth shut or else risk expulsion. Not a word had been spoken about Severus's near demise by the teeth of said werewolf. It was then that Severus realized that no one gave a damn about him, Black and Potter and Pettigrew were not going to be punished at all for their malicious stupidity, and the only thing bothering Dumbledore was whether or not his precious Gryffindor was kept safe. That was the last straw, the thing that had snapped Severus's fragile emotional state into bits, and if not for Hagrid, the Potions Master would not be standing here this morning.
"Acid Pops," he murmured to the stone gargoyle that guarded the stairs to the Headmaster's office.
The gargoyle slid aside and Severus stepped up on the revolving staircase. He would inform Dumbledore of his suspicions and then go about his business, for there was no doubt in his mind that Dumbledore would not ignore Potter, his beloved Golden Boy, the way he had Snape. No, when Potter returned from wherever he had gone, as he assuredly would by tonight, Dumbledore would play the doting grandfather and welcome home the prodigal wizarding savior with open arms and lemon drops, Severus thought bitterly. He'll kill the fatted calf, so to speak, and we'll all celebrate his return and no one will say so much as a cross word to the bloody prince for scaring the daylights out of everyone. Just like his father, Potter can do no wrong. Unlike me, whose single foolish mistake has damned me for all time. I followed Lucius, Avery, and Mulciber out of a desire to finally belong, to keep from being the outcast, not because I ever really believed in all their pureblood nonsense. But they offered me something no one else ever had, a place to belong, it was only six months later that I realized they too only wished to use me for my potions expertise and my magic, and that was all. It was then I knew that I had only one true friend, who had never betrayed me, and so I went to Hagrid, confessed my idiocy and he told me to speak to Dumbledore.
That had been the beginnings of his days as a spy, a role he was still playing today. A thankless dangerous task for which there was no reward save one-the destruction of Voldemort. And unless the bloody Boy-Who-Lived turned up that goal would be nearly impossible to fulfill, Severus thought irritably. He knocked once on the door to Dumbledore's office.
"Come in, my boy."
Severus did, wondering as he did so if the Headmaster had a doorward upon the office that let him know who visitors were before he opened the door. Either that or the old man could see through walls, and while Dumbledore was powerful, Snape doubted if he possessed such abilities. He sensed that it suited the Headmaster's purpose to be considered clairvoyant by most of his students and staff. But Severus knew that assumption was a lie, else he would have known how depressed and lonely Snape was back when he was sixteen and Potter as well. Clever Dumbledore might be, but Snape had stopped worshipping the ground he walked on long ago.
"Ah, Severus. Was there something you wished to speak to me about?"
Severus nodded, thinking of course, otherwise why would I be here? "Yes. First I am here to inform you that three members of my House will be serving probationary detention with me, Filch, and Hagrid." He then went on to describe what they had been caught doing and who they were. As predicted, the Headmaster seemed quite delighted that Severus had found a familiar.
"That is very good, my boy. I have always said you needed a familiar to keep you company. You are alone too much, Severus."
Alone is safer, Snape frowned, but he merely nodded curtly. "There is one more matter that needs to be discussed, Headmaster. Concerning your missing celebrity."
Albus straightened, the vague look suddenly leaving his face to be replaced by one of shrewd cunning and hope. "You have found where Harry is? Why did you not tell me immediately?"
Because Potter should not be the only student you are concerned over, the Potions Master had to bite his lip to keep from snapping. There are two hundred and ninety-nine others as well. "No, Albus, I have not discovered where that wretched brat is hiding. Instead I have come to bring you a theory as to why Potter has disappeared. Hagrid recently informed me that he noticed Potter seemed depressed and upset upon returning from break."
"Harry? Depressed?" Dumbledore's eyebrows rose into his hair. "I hadn't noticed."
Nor would you, because you are too busy considering the next move in the game rather than the pieces, Severus thought acidly. "Hagrid knows the signs. As do I," he said bluntly. "Potter's behavior changed radically at the start of this term."
"Yes, you did say he had been behaving in your class."
"Now, Severus, the boy does know how to behave, you simply do not know how to react to it," began Dumbledore.
"Albus, there is a difference between making a conscious choice to behave and being apathetic. Potter had also been avoiding his friends," Severus declared. He could not believe Albus to be that oblivious. He quickly detailed the other warning signs as well as the fact that Potter had not reappeared by now in Gryffindor Tower.
"But you believe he is somewhere upon the grounds?"
"It is only logical. He can only walk to Hogsmeade, since he is underage to Apparate, even if the wards were removed. His broom is still among his possessions, so he has not flown anywhere."
"What about kidnapping?"
"Possibly, though Potter is so annoying no one would keep him past two hours," Severus said dismissively. "And before you suggest it, no, the Death Eaters do not have him. That I would know."
"Why then has he not returned?"
"It is beyond me to fathom the reasons a hormonal teenager like Potter does anything. I simply wished you to be made aware of the fact that Potter might be emotionally unstable." He rose to his feet, duty done.
"Care for a spot of tea? Lemon drop?"
"No, thank you. Now, I must be going, Headmaster. My familiar needs my attention. Good day."
He swept from the room, leaving a rather shocked Albus Dumbledore to ponder if his potions professor was right in his assessment of his least favorite student.
* * * * * * *
But Snape did not go immediately to his quarters, instead he headed out to Hagrid's to inform the gamekeeper that Potter was still incognito and also to see if the big man would be willing to look after the hawk, much as it pained him to give the bird up.
Hagrid was clearly concerned about Potter's absence, and in an attempt to soothe his nerves, Severus performed the battery of locator spells and detection charms once more, with the same results as before.
Hagrid shook his head. "I jus' don' understand it. Why won't he jus' come back?"
"Perhaps he had a fight with Weasley and Granger, or over Granger, and he is sulking," Snape tossed out. That would be like a Potter, to sulk like a four-year-old over a girl, the way his father had done over Lily, without regard for dignity.
Hagrid shook his head. "I dunno, Severus. It jus' don' seem like Harry."
"Humph! Be that as it may, I have another favor to ask you." He told Hagrid of the crisis that had occurred with the hawk last night and his misgivings about being able to care for the animal. "I don't . . .I don't want him to be neglected, and with my current schedule . . .as well as my other duties . . .it might not be safe for him to be with me."
Hagrid eyed the other man shrewdly, sensing the struggle taking place within the Potions Master, the longing for companionship warring with the fear that another whom he loved would be taken from him. "Are ye sure that's what y'want, Professor? You've been takin' good care o' him till now. Good as I could have."
"This isn't about what I want, it's about what is best." Severus said, trying to maintain his façade.
"And it's best for ye to be alone?"
"You know what I am, Hagrid. I cannot afford any weakness next time I am called, or else . . ."
"Severus, it's not weakness to care for another creature. There is great strength in friendship, whether that of man or beast. An' if you're summoned, I'll care for your hawk till you return."
"It would be better if you took him."
But Hagrid shook his head firmly. "If you saved his life again, Professor, then he's imprinted with you. Even if I wanted to, he'd never be happy with me. He'd pine over you, an' that wouldn't be good for his recovery. He needs you." Then he added softly, "Take a chance again, Severus. This one won't leave you, hawks are loyal forever."
Severus set his lips in a firm line and abruptly rose from his chair at the gamekeeper's table and paced across the one room cottage. Was Hagrid right? If the hawk had imprinted upon him, as the gamekeeper assumed, then it would be cruel to deny the eyas his choice. An unhappy bird would not heal and might even die out of longing, some birds could will themselves to die, and Severus had not spent all night wrestling with death only to have the hawk self-destruct.
Somehow during that long night, the hawk had managed to slip past his carefully guarded barriers and touch his heart, the heart he had thought dead and buried long ago in a grave with a certain red-haired witch. And though every instinct screamed at him to let the hawk go, that involving himself with the bird left him vulnerable , gave his enemies something to use against him, he could not. For much as he was loathe to admit it, Hagrid was right. The hawk needed him and he needed the hawk. You're a fool, Severus! A stupid sentimental fool! A part of his mind scolded scathingly.
Yet even though he damned himself for listening to the impulse of a lonely heart, he found himself turning back to Hagrid and nodding slowly. "All right. The hawk stays. For now."
Hagrid's beard split in a genuine smile of delight, and he clapped the slender wizard so hard on the back he nearly knocked Snape into the table. "Good fer you, Severus! Yeh won't regret it. Trust me."
Snape concealed a wince and snorted. Damn you, Hagrid! But inwardly, a tiny corner of his heart rejoiced.
* * * * * *
Meanwhile the hawk who was once Harry Potter dozed and dreamed upon his comfortable perch back in the Potion Master's quarters. The Calming Draft Severus had dosed the red-tail with before leaving that morning served to send the hawk into an odd dream-like state, though instead of the usual dreams of raptors, soaring upon an air current, swooping down upon some luckless rodent, or devouring a tasty rabbit, the transformed wizard dreamed of what had once been.
"Boy! Get your lazy arse up and start making us breakfast! I have a Ladies Aide meeting to attend!" the shrill voice of a pinched-face woman called, and he stirred in his cramped dark nest and squinted as the door to the cupboard was thrown open. "Up and stir yourself, you good-for-nothing brat! Unless you want your uncle to persuade you?"
"Coming, Aunt Petunia!"
And he jumped up, nearly banging his head upon the door frame, to hustle into the kitchen and begin the daily round of chores.
Then the scene faded and was replaced by another.
"Harry, haven't you finished your homework yet?" asked a small bushy-haired girl, her face drawn with disapproval. "Snape's essay is due tomorrow and you haven't even written a foot."
"Ah, leave off, Hermione," ordered a tall redhead. "Won't matter if he completes it or not, Snape will just give him a zero or whatever anyhow, the greasy long-nosed git."
"Not necessarily, Ronald. If you would both put some effort into your assignments instead of slacking off and obsessing over Quidditch, maybe Professor Snape would give you an E every now and then."
"Oh, right. Like that'll ever happen. Snape grading Gryffindors fairly. Only way that'd ever happen is if Snape got his brain switched with a normal person's. Or exchanged that lump of ice in his chest for a real heart," sneered Ron.
Hermione gasped. "Ronald Weasley1 How could you say that?"
"Because it's the truth. Sometimes I wonder if he's even human . . ."
The hawk stirred uneasily. And what about me? What am I?
Abruptly, the scene changed again, and this time he heard a cold hissing voice ordering, "Kill the spare!"
But it was too late.
The green light exploded and struck the chest of the dazed Cedric and then he was falling, falling to the earth, his eyes wide in shocked disbelief.
The hawk thrashed about on the perch, making sharp keening noises.
"Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken."
And he felt the sharp thrust of the dagger, cutting into his flesh, and blood dripping down into a stone bowl, while all around him, dark figures in hideous whitewashed iron masks watched and laughed mockingly.
He struggled, but ropes bound him, and he was helpless, he threw back his head and screamed . . .
The hawk woke, trembling with fear from some nameless terror, his amber eyes whirling. Oddly, the darkness which had comforted before now made him uneasy, and he brought up a talon, trying to remove the hood. I need to see!
His talon scraped at the leather, but the hood was fastened correctly and would not come off. Small screeing noise emerged from the young hawk as his talons clawed at the charmed leather.
That was the sight that met Severus's eyes when he returned from Hagrid's after an obligatory cup of tea and a blueberry scone.
For one moment, the wizard stared in disbelief, then moved forward to calm the agitated avian.
"Easy there. Easy. What's wrong?"
The hawk relaxed a fraction upon hearing the familiar soft tread and the silky voice. He quit clawing at the hood and turned his head towards the sound of the Potion Master's voice.
"Relax. You never fought the hood before," soothed the tall man, gently stroking the hawk and unfastening the hood.
Bright amber eyes gazed up at him, and the eyas looked relieved . . .if such an expression could be said to exist in a bird's eyes.
I can see again, thank Merlin! Thought the hawk and for some reason immediately felt better.
Severus tugged on the glove that rested on a hook lower down on the perch, unsnapped the jesses, and clicked his tongue. "You're acting like a startled hare. What on earth is the matter with you?" He held out his wrist and the hawk stepped on it.
Scared. A green light. And Cedric . . .dying . . .
Astonished, Severus watched as the young hawk crept up his arm and huddled in the crook of his elbow.
Gently, Severus brought up his other hand and scratched the bird on the back of the head. "You are a very strange hawk, do you know that? Cuddling up to me, of all people." The hawk buried his head in the soft robes, chuffing softly.
The Potions Master shook his head in bewilderment. Nothing in the falconry book had said anything about a hawk suffering from separation anxiety. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you had a bad dream or something. But that's ridiculous, hawks don't have nightmares. I don't think you're capable of remembering that way, you're only a bird, after all, and most birds aren't known for their intelligence-Ow!"
The hawk lifted his head from Snape's shoulder and squawked indignantly.
"What the hell was that for?" snapped the wizard, rubbing the sting away from his shoulder. The bird had nipped him, though not hard enough to break the skin.
You called me stupid! I'm not, I just had a bad dream, the eyas hissed.
"Merlin's Grace, but you're acting like I insulted you. Or are you just hungry?"
The hawk clicked his beak meaningfully. Both, you silly arse.
"Stop that. You're oversensitive," grumbled the professor, and he rubbed a hand down the hawk's back, soothing the ruffled feathers. "Maybe you're not such a bird brain after all, hmmm? Not if you're my familiar. Figures, out of all the hawks in Britain, only I get stuck with a temperamental oversensitive fledgling who is too smart for his own good."
The hawk looked him right in the eye and screeched.
We suit each other.
Severus felt the corner of his mouth quirk upwards in a reluctant crooked smile.
"Ah, well. I suppose we shall do well together." He summoned the rest of the coney, which he had cast a preserving charm on, and spoke a charm to dice a small portion, which he then fed piece by piece to his new familiar.
To his surprise, the hawk took the pieces delicately from his hand, without nipping.
"Huh. Looks like your former master, whoever he was, taught you some manners at least."
Yes. I wasn't raised in a barn, the red-tail thought, giving his wizard an indignant look before returning to gulping down his lunch eagerly, though a part of him wondered what a barn was.
Afterwards, Severus returned the eyas to his perch so the hawk could clean his beak and scrape it against the wood, filing it down somewhat, an instinctive behavior to keep the beak from overgrowing. But once that was done, the hawk made it plain he wished to sit upon Severus's fist, and the Potions Master obliged, allowing the hawk to sit upon his shoulder while he worked at his desk, writing three sets of letters regarding his misbehaving Slytherins.
The soft scratch of quill on parchment was quite soothing and the hawk dozed, head tucked against his speckled breast, nestled against a curtain of black hair.
Hope you enjoyed this chapter.
Next: The relationship between wizard and familiar takes on a new turn as Severus experiments with a potion of communication. And Harry starts remembering more about his past, though he won't regain his full memory until several chapters later.
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