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Twixie popped straight over to Hagrid's hut, wringing her hands agitatedly.  This was not the first time she had seen Severus injured after one of his meetings with the Evil One, as the house elves called Voldemort, but she hated when one of the wizards in her charge was hurt so dreadfully, it made her feel guilty, like she could have done something to protect him.  Twixie took her duties very seriously and she was fond of Severus, who was quiet and polite and did not rely on her to do everything for him the way some wizards did their elves.  The elf that had served Gilderoy Lockhart had been required to give an opinion on every piece of clothing in the professor's wardrobe and match outfits several times a day and fix the dandy's hair at least ten times an evening.  All the elves were very grateful that one was never returning to the castle.

Thus, when she heard the hawk screaming her name, she did not hesitate to answer the bird's distressed call, nor stop to think of fetching anyone other than Hagrid, whom she knew was one of the few Severus trusted to see him in such a state and who had also asked her to look out for the Potions Master.  She popped right into the gamekeeper's home, in front of the hearth, where Hagrid's dog, Fang, was lying eating a meaty bone. 

"Mr. Hagrid! You must come and help Master Severus quick!" she yelled, her large blue eyes filling with tears. 

Hagrid nearly dropped his tea kettle, he was so startled.  "Twixie? What's happened to Severus, lass?"

"Oh, Mr. Hagrid, his familiar called me, the poor bird was in such a state, and I came and Master Severus was lying on the floor, I think he had just returned from another of those meetings.  I told him and told him not to go back to the Evil One, but he never listens to me! Says it's his duty!" she wailed, bursting into tears.  "Poor Master Severus.  You must go and help him."

Hagrid set the tea kettle down upon the table with a clatter.  "There now, lass.  Severus will pull through, you'll see.  Go an' fetch Madam Pomfrey, we'll be needin' her potions and salves.  I'll go up and see what I can do fer Professor Snape meanwhile."

Twixie nodded, blowing her nose upon a huge handkerchief Hagrid handed her. "Right away, Mr. Hagrid, sir!" Then she vanished with a sharp pop.

Hagrid quickly left, after admonishing Fang to watch the house, moving quickly up the path to the castle.

He knew there was a quicker way into the castle through a secret tunnel, but it was not big enough to permit him to use it, so he had to take the longer route through the castle proper and the dungeons until he reached Severus's quarters, which were warded against anyone save himself, Dumbledore, and Poppy.  He paused before a tapestry of a silver snake speaking to a dark-haired wizard, moving it aside to reveal what appeared to be a blank stone wall.

Then he muttered the password, "Semperoccultus".  The stone wall vanished and a door appeared in its place.

Hagrid wasted no time in turning the handle and entering the professor's quarters.

Poppy was already there, her wand out, but was clearly having difficulties examining the comatose Snape due to the hawk perched upon his shoulder, who was screeching and hissing at her, his amber eyes blazing. 

"Hagrid! Oh, thank Merlin you're here.  I can't get this bird to leave the professor alone, and every time I try and approach him, the hawk snaps at me."

"Yeah, the hawk is Severus's new familiar an' seems a mite overprotective.  Don' fret, Poppy, I'll have ‘im calmed down in a bit." Hagrid reassured her.  He walked over and pulled on the gauntlet near the perch, it expanded magically to fit him, then he knelt down next to the hawk and said softly, "Easy there, lad.  No one's gonna hurt yer master.  We're tryin' t'help him.  Come now.  Come up here." He held out the glove, and pulled a bit of dried beef from a pocket as well. 

The hawk glared at him distrustfully, blinking.  He had not met any of the staff save Dumbledore since he had awoken in Severus's lab, and his instincts warned him to be wary of strangers, especially ones that tried to grab him away from his badly injured wizard, as that woman in the starched cap had.  It was the nature of a hawk to defend their own, even if their own happened to be featherless and two-legged, and Severus was vulnerable, making the hawk instinct to protect override the human logic Freedom possessed.

Hagrid continued speaking to the bird in slow even tones, clicking his tongue gently.  "Come, laddie.  Don' worry.  Yer master will be all righ'. We won't hurt ‘im none.  Relax." He proffered the strip of beef.

Freedom studied the big man intently.  There was something familiar about his voice, he had heard it before.  The voice and the hands, he remembered the hands soothing another creature, a large winged horse-like thing.  A hippogriff.  That's what it was.  And it bit Malfoy.  I remember this one crying over the hippogriff too.  He cares for the wild creatures.  Freedom cocked his head, remembering another vivid picture of the big man hatching a baby dragon.   I know you.  You were . . . are a friend.  I can trust you.  You will not hurt Severus.

Abruptly, he snatched the meat from Hagrid's hand and then allowed the big man to take him on his wrist.  Amid the many confusing images swirling in his head and his concern for his wizard master, Freedom knew one thing, the big man-Hagrid-Twixie had called him, could be trusted.  He settled upon the gamekeeper's wrist, and Hagrid stroked him.

"That's a good hawk.  Calm now.  Let's set you down here, fer now, since I got to help Poppy with Severus, all righ'?" Hagrid crooned, bringing Freedom back to his perch. 

The hawk watched as the Witch-With-the-White-Hat knelt down and began waving her wand over Severus.  She did not look pleased.  "Worse than last time, I'm afraid.  Let's get him in bed, Hagrid, and then I can begin to treat him.  He's in shock from the bloody curse and his pain levels are off the scale.  Another would have died.  Damn that bloody monster! And damn Albus too for sending him back again!"

Hagrid bent and gently lifted Severus in his arms, careful not to jar him.  "Y'know, Severus chose to return, Dumbledore only asked him."

The medi-witch shot him a glare.  "He would never need to do more than ask, Hagrid.  You and I both know why.  Dumbledore might be a great wizard, but sometimes his Grand Design blinds him to the sacrifices others make.  Severus is not the only spy he has."

Hagrid carried the Potions Master into the bedroom and gently set him down upon the bed Poppy had turned down with a wave of her wand.  "I know.  But he's th' best at what he does."

"Yes, but even the ‘best spy' has limits.  And if Severus breaks, what then? Albus will have a guilt trip and then go and get a new spy," Poppy snorted.  Then she banished the Potion Master's clothing, which was stained with blood, so she could examine him thoroughly.

She cast an Anti-Shock Charm on him first, and was relieved to note some color coming back into his waxen cheeks.  Then she cast a simple Freshen-Up Charm on him, cleansing his skin of the blood.  One of the marks of the Cruciatus was that it tended to burst blood vessels and leave fantastic bruises and bloody weals on the skin of its victims as well as damaging nerves. 

Poppy's lips tightened as she saw the marks upon Snape's pale skin.  The bastard had been targeting pressure points again, with a surgeon's preciseness, to cause the maximum amount of pain in the shortest length of time. She wondered sadly why he had singled Severus out for this kind of punishment, for the Dark One did not normally inflict such damage on his pet Potions Master, he was too aware that none of his circle possessed Severus's level of ability with potions or was able to get so close to Dumbledore.  Poppy was well aware of the dangerous game Severus played, he had revealed all to her one night in a delirious ramble, and afterwards had sworn her to secrecy. 

The medi-witch shook her head.  There was no fathoming the reasoning of a madman.  Her only concern now was healing the damage he had wrought.  She removed a vial of Nerve Reliever from her kit and spelled it directly into Severus's stomach, that would take care of the worst of the spasms he was suffering. 

Immediately afterwards, he ceased twitching spasmodically.  Then she spelled a second potion into him, this one a Class Six Pain Reliever, which was the strongest available.  Some of the lines upon his face smoothed out afterwards and he sighed.

"Sleep.  That's right." She gently brushed the dark hair away from his eyes, tucking it behind his ears. Then she began casting spells to mend the damage to his ribs, they had been cracked, his lungs and kidneys, all of which had been injured during the curse.  When she straightened to get the jar of special salve from her kit, which she had made up especially for Severus, since he was most often the one who needed it, she found Hagrid behind her, the hawk upon his wrist.

"Hagrid, what do you mean, bringing that bird in here? It's unsanitary."

Freedom clicked his beak at her in annoyance.  You've got some nerve, lady! I'm perfectly clean, and I don't have lice or diseases either.

"Ah, Poppy, he's Severus's familiar, an' he belongs with his master, see? Was goin' nuts ‘cause he couldn't see where the professor was, so I brought him in here to watch.  He'll behave now that he can see you're takin' care o' Severus."

Poppy eyed the bird curiously.  "You're acting like he can understand you."

"He can some.  Hawk's are smart birds, smarter than owls." Hagrid told her earnestly.  "How's he doin'?"

"He's had major trauma to his nerves and muscles, typical of the Cruciatus, some damage to his ribs, lungs, and kidneys, which I've mended, plus he's running a fever.  You'll note the marks on him too. He'll need potions for several days and to be kept warm and quiet.  After I apply the salve, I'll spell a Fever Reducer into him, and then he needs to be watched.  He really ought to be in the Hospital Wing, where I can monitor him myself."

Hagrid shook his head.  "Y'know he prefers t'be here."

"Yes, I know.  Else his cover might be blown.  Merlin forbid anyone should ever see Severus Snape in a moment of weakness." Then her expression softened.  She grabbed the salve and began applying it deftly, watching in satisfaction as it healed the bruises and red weals in minutes.  Severus never stirred, not even when Hagrid turned him over so Poppy could treat his back, where the worst of the bruising and lacerations were. 

The big man flinched and muttered angrily, "Sodding bastard! Oughta be staked out and torn t'pieces by manticores and burnt by dragons!"

Freedom hissed angrily in agreement.  Right, and I would rip out his heart if he were here, the stinking buzzard!

"Aye, were he here now, I'd break my Healer's Oath and commit murder," Poppy declared, her brown eyes hard.  "He must be stopped."

"Harry will stop him," Hagrid stated quietly.

Poppy sighed, spelling a set of shorts and hospital pajamas on her comatose patient.  "There's another one I fear for.  The boy's too young, too much of a burden is placed upon his shoulders.  Albus asks too much.  Expecting a fifteen-year-old to go up against such a monster.  Lily is probably turning in her grave to see it."

"Yeah, but th' prophecy . . .he's the one," Hagrid whispered.

Poppy snorted.  "Like Severus, I don't trust prophecy.  It can be interpreted too many ways.  But Albus believes and what Dumbledore believes so does half the wizarding world.  Best he be careful though, lest he get what he wished for."

"What d'you mean?"

"I mean that the prophecy might come true, and Harry might defeat You-Know-Who, only to lose his own life in the doing.  Then Albus will have blood on his hands all right, for all his greater good!"

"I . . .I never thought o' that." Hagrid mumbled.

"Start thinking about it then.  Albus, though he is a good man mostly, is not God, and he makes mistakes, some of them terrible ones." She pointed to Severus.  "That's one of them.  We would have lost him if not for you, Hagrid. And that would have been a real tragedy. I only hope he doesn't make the same mistake with Harry." She sighed.  "I've seen too many lives ruined by well-meaning people fighting that monster to have much tolerance for it a second time, Hagrid.  The road to hell is paved with good intentions, or so my father used to say."

"He was a Muggle, wasn't he?" Hagrid asked, setting Freedom upon the headboard.

"He was, like Severus there, I am a half-blood. Like Harry Potter too.  Only my father was a damn sight better than poor Severus's." The medi-witch spelled a Fever Reducer into the slumbering Potions Master, then tucked the covers about him and cast a cooling charm over them.  She wiped sweat from her brow.  "Hagrid, surely you aren't going to have that bird in here the whole time?"

"An' why not? Poppy, that bird loves Severus, and sometimes that's th' best medicine of all, better than even potions and spells, knowin' that somebody who loves ye is nearby." Then he added, "'Sides, if anything ever happened t'that hawk, Severus would never forgive us."

Poppy gave in then, for she understood the bond of master and familiar and Hagrid could be stubborn as a stone when he had something in his head, especially when the something concerned an animal.  "Very well.  But mind you watch Severus and don't be playing around with that hawk, y'hear? He should sleep for a good four or five hours yet but if his fever gets any higher, call me.  Severus has Floo powder, or you can send Twixie.  I've left vials of Pain Reliever, Fever Reducer, and another dose of Nerve Reliever as well as a Muggle thermometer. You know how to use one from last time, right?" Hagrid nodded.  "Good.  Give him water and infused chicken broth when he wakes up, but no solid food for a day or so, his system won't tolerate it. And tell him he is to stay in bed until I come back to check on him, which won't be till tomorrow morning, I have a ward full of sick students."

"I'll take care o' him, Poppy, don' worry."

She smiled at him.  "I know.  You always have." She straightened her cap and apron then said, "Well, I'm off to inform Albus of his spy's condition.  Merlin's Grace, but I'd like to shake some sense into him!"

She departed with a soft swish of her gray robes and Hagrid chuckled and pulled up a chair to sit beside Severus's bed.  "Poppy likes t' grumble, but she's a good soul," he told the hawk.  "She loves Severus like a son, y'know."

Freedom bobbed his head affirmatively, then hopped down to nestle beside the sleeping Potion Master, making soft kreeing noises, much as a mother would make to her nestlings to soothe and comfort them.  I see that now.  Together we shall help Severus heal.  Friends are the best medicine.

 

* * * * * *

Severus stirred, coming up out of his drugged sleep with a sharp gasp.  The first thing his eyes saw was his familiar, Freedom's eyes gazing into his own.  He almost smiled.  But the pain he was feeling wasn't conducive to that expression, nor was he accustomed to smiling much any longer.  Though once he used to smile quite frequently at Lily.  The second thing he realized was that he was lying on something soft, not the cold floor of the lounge in his quarters.  Very slowly, he turned his head, for even moving that much bloody hurt, and then he saw Hagrid.

The big man's eyes lit up when he saw that Severus was awake at last.

"Awake, are ye? Welcome back, Severus, lad."

Snape moistened his lips then managed to ask, "How long have I been . . .asleep?"

"Bout five or six hours now.  Poppy said you'd be out that long.  Not gonna bother askin' how yeh feel, ‘cause I can tell it's ruddy awful. Would you like something t'drink?"

Severus nodded, wincing.  This was probably the worst he'd ever felt after a session with Voldemort.  That he could remember anyhow.  He gritted his teeth as Hagrid gently slid an arm behind his head, helping him lift it enough so he didn't choke when Hagrid pressed the rim of the glass of water to Snape's lips and he swallowed.

The water tasted deliciously cool and bore a faint tang of lemon to it. 

"How's that?"

"Better," Severus said, speaking more clearly now that his throat wasn't dry.  "How did you find me?"

"Your familiar called Twixie, she called me, I called Poppy, an' here we are," Hagrid answered simply.

"Freedom called Twixie?"

"Sure did.  That's some hawk yeh got there, Severus."

I had to do something, Severus.  I thought you were dying and I . . .I didn't want to be alone again.

"Shh.  I told you I wasn't dying, foolish bird," murmured the Potions Master gruffly, though he was quite touched at the familiar's devotion.  Grimacing, he managed to lift a hand and brush the hawk's feathers. 

Freedom dipped his head so Severus could touch him easily, and Hagrid's jaw dropped.

"You can understand ‘im?  But how?"

"A potion.  It lets me communicate with hawks for four days."

Hagrid's bearded face split into a broad grin.  "But that's wonderful, Severus! Now yeh have someone to talk to that can answer you. That's grand, that is!"

Severus felt his mouth twitch slightly, for Hagrid's enthusiasm was infectious.  "It is, unless he's being a mouthy pain-in-the-arse."

Hey, remember this mouthy pain-in-the-arse saved your life.

Severus raised an eyebrow.  "Oh, really? Hagrid, how bad was it?"

"Bad enough, lad.  Poppy said ‘twas worse than last time.  She left me potions for you to take an' said you're not t' get out of bed till she comes back.  Gave me strict orders ‘bout it, an' I'm gonna make sure yeh follow ‘em."

Snape snorted, though the way he felt, he wasn't up to bucking either of his caretakers at the moment.  He might be proud, but he was not stupid.  And for Hagrid to start calling him ‘lad' again, the way he'd done when Severus was a student, meant he was very upset and concerned, since he had stopped doing that when Severus became a professor.  Which meant that his hawk was right. 

Severus moved his head slightly, and murmured, "Thank you, Freedom."

You're welcome.

Severus looked back at Hagrid.  "Who else knows besides you and Poppy?"

"The Headmaster. Poppy tol' him soon as she finished fixing you, an' he came here t'see fer himself.  Looked mighty upset, tried t' touch you, but your hawk-Freedom is it?-he nearly took Dumbledore's finger off. Can't figger out why."

Because it's HIS fault Severus is like this! hissed Freedom angrily.  He sent him back to that miserable viper!

"I agreed to go," Severus argued.  "You know why. You promised you would behave.  That is not what I call behaving."

I didn't really bite him.  Just scared him a little.

"Next time restrain yourself.  If you are able.  I have to work under him, and I do not want the Ministry ordering me to put you down because you are a menace, the way they made Hagrid do with Buckbeak, his hippogriff."

"Dumbledore would never order you t'kill your familiar, Severus," protested Hagrid.

"Albus might not, but there are others who would, should they learn of his tendency towards biting people's fingers," said the Potions Master severely. "Umbridge, for one.  She is a Ministry official through and through and I do not trust her."

I never even touched the old coot! I was defending you! And they'd kill me for that? Freedom squawked.  There's something seriously wrong with the people in charge here!

"Calm down.  No one is killing you.  Unless it's me, for making me deaf by screeching in my ear."

Oh.  Sorry.

"However, you are correct, the Ministry is not the brightest when it comes to policy regarding anything unusual or different and especially not when it comes to non-humans.  So, for your sake . . .and mine . . .keep your beak away from the Headmaster."

Okay, Severus, said Freedom meekly, and Snape gave the hawk a sharp glance.

The bird's sudden acquiescence made him suspicious, for the hawk was no meek familiar, but then he sighed, too tired to ponder about the hawk's behavior.  Perhaps the threat had scared some sense into the bird, though Severus doubted it.

"You'd do well to leave Umbridge be too, Freedom," Hagrid told the hawk.  "She don' seem like th' type to take t'animals.  Gives me th' creeps, she does."

Freedom just nodded, the mere mention of that name made him shiver, though he didn't know quite why.  But if Severus didn't like her, or Hagrid, than he was certain he wouldn't either. 

Abruptly, Hagrid recalled that he was supposed to give Snape the potions Poppy had left.  "Anyway, Dumbledore tol' me to tell yeh when you woke up that he was sorry you were hurt an' to get well soon.  An' you're due for more potions."

Snape glanced at the vials sitting upon his nightstand.  "A Pain Reliever, a Fever Reducer, and a Nerve Reliever, correct?"

Hagrid nodded, unsurprised that the Potions Master recognized the potions simply by looking at them.  Severus was known to be one of the best Potion Masters in Europe and he had an eidetic memory.  "Aye, lad.  Which one d'ye want first?"

Snape considered.

Let's see how well you take your medicine,  Freedom gloated.

Severus glared frostily at him, then replied, "The Nerve Elixir first."

"Right." Hagrid uncorked the vial. "Now, let's sit you up a bit." The big man gently eased Snape to a half-sitting position, supporting his head with one hand.

Snape tried to hold the vial himself, but his hand shook and he almost spilled the draft all over himself. He cursed silently, God but he hated being so helpless!

"Easy.  Let me help," Hagrid whispered, tilting the bottle, his hand over the professor's.

Severus gulped the potion down, grimacing, for it tasted terrible.  But he already had expected that.  No healing draft tasted good, since most herbs and ingredients for healing were bitter extracts. 

Which was why most witches dreaded giving medicine to their little children.

Hagrid gave him water afterwards, then Severus indicated he wished to take the Fever Reducer next. 

Half a glass of water later, he took the last potion.

He felt a sleepy lassitude drift through him, as the potions dulled the sharp pain again. 

Hagrid gently laid his head back down on the pillow.  "Would yeh like some broth? Poppy says you can have that an' water, but no solid food yet.  You'll sick up else."

"I know.  Later.  Tired."

An instant later the dark eyes closed and the Potions Master slept.

* * * * * *

Twixie came and brought Hagrid dinner and spelled him at Severus's bedside while the gamekeeper ate and also fed Freedom another two mice.  Then the big man returned to Severus watch, knowing that victims of the Cruciatus Curse often suffered nightmares after it. 

Sure enough, sometime in the wee hours of the morning, Severus began to thrash and moan, startling Freedom from his sleep upon the headboard. 

Hagrid awoke instantly and saw what was happening.  He went over to the bed and called Severus's name, knowing it was not good to touch him when he was like this.  "Severus? Come on, lad, wake up!"

Severus!

After a few minutes, the Potions Master woke, the voices of his friends penetrating the nightmare labyrinth he wandered in, the maze of bones and faces of all the innocents and those he loved that had died at the hands of the Dark Lord, all of them reaching out to him, screaming and begging for rescue, while he watched helplessly, eternally tormented.  "What? Where?"

"You were havin' a nightmare, but you're all righ' now."

"Oh." Severus scowled, furious at himself. 

Hagrid peered worriedly at him, noting the flush had returned to the pale cheeks.  "Looks like yeh got a fever again.  Let's take your temperature."  He picked up the thermometer Poppy had left and Severus opened his mouth.

A few minutes later, Hagrid removed it and nodded.  "Yup. 103 degrees.  I'll call Poppy, we need a stronger Fever Reducer."

"No," Severus said hoarsely, his dark eyes glassy but coherent.  "I have a stronger one here, in the bathroom cabinet, and Dreamless Sleep too."

"Oh.  Shoulda known that," rumbled the big man, and he rose to get the new potions.

After dosing his patient, he returned to his midnight vigil, gently bathing the Potion Master's face with a cool wet cloth.  Freedom hovered, watching worriedly. 

But Severus settled into sleep and slept peacefully until Poppy arrived the next morning to check upon him. 

His fever had broken by then and she pronounced him slowly mending, allowed him to walk as far as the bathroom, but after that told him to remain in bed and gave him more potions.  She also insisted he eat some chicken broth infused with a Nutrient Potion and a small piece of toast, as well as juice. 

Severus grumbled, but he obeyed, because he detested being so weak and he knew the quickest way to heal was to rest. 

Poppy raised an eyebrow and declared that his new familiar must be a good influence upon him, because normally he was hell on wheels to deal with when he was sick. 

Snape gave her a death glare for that comment, but Hagrid just chuckled and said, "Told you so, Poppy.  The best medicine fer what ails ya is a good friend.  Or a familiar."

"Hmmm.  Next time Mr. Potter shows up in the Hospital Wing, I'm fetching Hedwig from the Owlery. Then maybe he'll stay put for once.  He's always trying to get up too soon, like the professor. Thank you, Hagrid."

Severus scowled at his mentor, grumbling under his breath about being compared to "that damn brat, of all the nerve!"

The other two ignored him, for they knew what they had said was nothing but the truth. The Boy-Who-Lived and the snarky Potions Master were more alike than either of them would ever admit.


 



Chapter End Notes:


Well, do you agree with Hagrid?

How did you like Poppy here?

Semperoccultus-the password to Snape's quarters means "always hidden". Next: Now that both our men are mending, it'll be time for Snape to remove the splints and for Freedom to finally fly. But is the bond between them strong enough to bring Freedom back to Severus once he flys free?

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