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Poppy insisted that Severus remain on bed rest all weekend and into Monday, so he had to cancel his afternoon classes with the fifth year Slytherins and Gryffindors, not that he really minded so much, since that particular class drove him to the edge of insanity sometimes, but he would never let her know that.  He grumbled and acted like it was a big imposition for him to be stuck in bed, resting and having nothing else to do but catch up on some recreational reading and talking with Freedom, whose wings were nearly healed. 

Poppy ignored his protests, saying sternly, "You'll do as I say, Severus Snape, and like it, because you know perfectly well that I'm right, and you would do the same to a student under your care."

Here she had him, for he was a medic, and would have prescribed the same treatment--rest, healthy food with lots of protein and vegetables, a potions regimen of Pain Relievers and Strengthening Elixirs and a willingness to cooperate with the Healer. 

"I can get you to do all those things save for the last one, Mr. Snape.  Your attitude leaves something to be desired," Poppy scolded lightly. 

That's for sure! He's always had a snarky attitude with people, Freedom said cheekily.

"Mind your own business, bird," Severus growled under his breath, then he turned back to the medi-witch.  "If I must stay in this blasted bed, I shall, and you needn't give me that look, Madam, I'm no longer a first year."

"Have I your word?"

The professor heaved a long suffering sigh.  "You do."

Poppy smiled.  "Good.  Now take this, it'll help with the tremors in your hands." She held out a vial of a white liquid, it was a healing potion designed to halt seizures and tremors resulting from strokes or other trauma. 

Severus looked at it in distaste, but he swallowed it.  The tremors were an after effect of the torture curse and sometimes took as long as a week or two to vanish completely, another reason why he was secretly glad he didn't have to return to class until Wednesday morning.  Shaking hands were a handicap he could not afford with his volatile fifth period class. 

Poppy left him alone then, and Severus summoned a book from his shelf and commenced reading.  It was an old favorite A Tale of Two Cities, despite what his students thought, he was not always reading about potions or ways to drive students crazy, and he liked reading classical Muggle literature and some mystery novels as well.

Freedom was perched upon the headboard, as was his wont while Severus was on bed rest.  Good book?

"Yes, though I have to admit, I haven't read it since I was fifteen.  Lily, who was my best friend in school, and Potter's mother, gave it to me as a birthday present," Severus said, opening it to the first page.

D'you mind reading it aloud? The hawk asked plaintively.

"Why?"

Umm . . .because I like to hear the sound of your voice, the hawk admitted.

Severus gave the bird an odd look.  "You like to hear the sound of my voice?"

Uh, yeah. It's like silk . . .very soothing.  You don't have to though,  the bird added, embarrassed suddenly.  Had he been human, he would have been cherry red.

"You are a very strange bird," his wizard chuckled.  "Very well. Funny, but Lily used to like to read aloud too . . ." He cleared his throat and began.  "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . ."

And so he passed the time, reading aloud Dickens and later Tolkien to his familiar, who listened attentively and interjected his own witty opinions whenever he felt like it.

They ranged from, Somebody should have plucked out that hag Madam DeFarge's eyeballs to Eagles are so overrated, Tolkien should have created a race of giant hawks to rescue Gandalf from the top of Isengard, we would have ripped Saruman a new arse.

"Merlin, but you are a bloodthirsty little beast! Where did you hear such language?"

You.  You told Hagrid that's what you wanted to do to the Dark Lord. And I'm not bloodthirsty,  I'm a hawk.  I hunt to survive.  What do you expect?

Severus did not answer, for the truth was he was no longer sure.  There were times he sometimes forgot he was talking to an animal and not a human, until Freedom reminded him of the fact with certain comments. 

Hagrid, Poppy, and the Headmaster all visited him off and on over the weekend.  Freedom was icily polite to Albus, he did not make any rude noises or try and nip the old wizard since promising Severus he would behave. 

Albus was puzzled by the bird's apparent coldness and said so.  "Funny, but animals usually like me."

Severus sighed.  "He's temperamental, Albus.  Most hawks are, you know.  They imprint upon one person and that's all.  They can take or leave anyone else."

"I see.  Well, I have brought you the latest copy of the paper, Severus.  And a box of chocolates.  I always find chocolates make me feel better when I am ill."

Severus thanked the Headmaster politely, waiting until the old wizard had gone before eating any.   

And that was not the only surprise.  Some of his Slytherins got wind that he was sick, Poppy had told certain people that Snape was suffering from a severe case of wizard flu, and the students, mostly girls, sent him Get Well cards and sweets.  One even had the temerity to send him a package of Blood Pops. 

Severus snorted.  "Ah.  It would seem the old rumor that I am a vampire is alive and well."

Why would they think that? queried his familiar, grooming his talons.

"Because I usually prefer black, am pale, tend to wander about at night, and am sharp tempered." Severus said with a smirk.  "Some students fear me, and vampires are feared too."

But that's ridiculous! Don't vampires drink blood? And everyone's seen you eat at the staff table and walk outside in the sun.  It makes no sense.

"Rumors are not founded on logic, Freedom, that s why they are rumors," Severus told him.  "Don't worry, I am used to that particular one.  Along with the greasy git and the dungeon bat. It helps my persona as a supposed Death Eater."

Oh, the bird said, then resumed grooming, but Severus's words upset him.  He dimly recalled yet another time, when a red-headed boy pointed at Severus when his back was turned and laughed, "Too bad Snape couldn't do us a favor, the bloody greasy git, and drop dead one night next to his cauldron!"  For some reason he could recall almost agreeing with the other boy, and that really bothered him, because Severus had saved his life and was kind to him and never shouted or tried to hurt him the way the loud man or the fat boy did in his dreams.

Of late, his dreams had become more and more disturbing, but he did his best to push them aside, for he needed all his strength to get his wings healed completely. 

He nibbled gently at the bandages that bound his wings and was promptly scolded by Severus.

"Freedom! You know those have to stay on another five days! Now leave them be."

Fine! I wasn't going to just rip them off.  But I want to fly so bad, Severus.  I feel like a . . .a rat, creeping along on the ground like this.  I need the sky.

The longing in the hawk's tone was unmistakable.

Severus beckoned the hawk to him.  "Come here." Freedom hopped down to his shoulder, careful not to grip hard, since Severus was only wearing cotton pajamas.  One long-fingered hand gently rubbed the hawk's breast.  "I know, but you must be patient a little longer, my friend.  You will have the sky again.  Just wait."

It's hard.  Sometimes I feel as if I shall go mad.

"I know how you feel.  Trapped in this bed for three days is not pleasant either, no matter what I read or how many visitors I get," the wizard said, a sympathetic note in his voice.  "But such is life.  All we can do is grit our teeth and bear it."  He continued stroking the hawk until the bird lowered his head and dozed lazily. "The splints should come off soon, my rebellious fledgling, and then we can begin short training flights with a lure to strengthen them again before you fly free for real."

I can't wait, murmured the hawk sleepily, nestling against Severus's head.

"Neither can I," Snape admitted, for he had longed to see a red-tailed hawk fly ever since he was a small boy.

Five more days and the waiting would be over at last.

Severus dozed as well, and when Twixie came in to see if he wanted anything for lunch, she found her master and his familiar sound asleep, dreaming of soaring upon the wind.

* * * * * *

But at last Severus was well enough to resume his teaching duties, and he allowed Hagrid to take Freedom on short excursions outdoors while he taught, getting the bird accustomed to the air and open sky and sun again.  Freedom drank in the sun and the feel of the wind ruffling his feathers and his longing to fly increased tenfold.

He grew restless, and began to eat ravenously, his appetite sparked by the promise of flying, Severus now fed him a half a rabbit for a meal, or two mice, or a duck quarter.  Every morning he now pestered the Potions Master with the same questions, Will the splints come off today? Can I fly now?

And every day the answer was, "No."

Until a sunny Saturday morning in late January.  Severus cast a diagnostic over the hawk, the way he did nearly every morning. 

Well? Can I fly today?

"Yes.  Now hold still while I remove the Sticking Charm on your wings," Severus ordered, waving his wand.

The bandages fell away and the splints dropped off to lie on the table. 

Freedom gave a soft cry of delight.  My wings! I can MOVE then again!

He half spread them, crying aloud in joy.

Severus grabbed the jesses.  "Easy.  Don't go anywhere.  Let me see those flight primaries first." He gently extended first one wing and then the other, making sure all the hawk's feathers were whole and not missing or broken.

Freedom huffed and nibbled at his hand.  They're fine.  They just itch.

"Hush." Severus poked at them gently, verifying that they were whole.

Freedom began to preen them vigorously. 

Once the bird had finished cleaning the wings, Severus took him on his fist, grabbed up the lure and a falconer's whistle, a bag of small pieces of meat, plus a 50 foot creance line, and said, "We're going out, and I'm going to let you fly a short distance on the line and then come back to me.  You need to build up strength in those wings before I let you fly alone."

Aww, but Severus! I'm not a dog. I don't need a leash.

"Right now you do.  The line is there as much for me as you.  If you start to falter, I can help you before you fall."

My wings are healed, so why should I fall?

"Not quite.  Now quit complaining.  Let's go outside."

Severus walked briskly out the secret tunnel near his quarters and from there to the secret glade that he used as a refuge during his schooldays.  The little glade was still the same, surrounded by screening vines on one side and oaks but otherwise it was open to the sky. 

Freedom trembled upon the Potion Master's wrist, his wings unfurling slightly.  They were a deep brown, with a creamy white underside barred with black.  The wind swirled through the trees lazily and the hawk tilted his head and for the first time in two weeks allowed the wild urging to fly stir in his blood.  Severus, when can I fly?

"Wait a bit." Severus said, snapping the creance line to the swivel attached to the jesses.  Then he hung the whistle around his neck, a falconer usually used the whistle to call the bird he hunted in, or to reinforce certain positive behaviors.  "I want you to listen to me carefully.  I think flying for fifteen minutes at first is enough, you don't want to strain those wing muscles too much, and when I blow this whistle twice, I want you to come down and land on my wrist.  Then I'll examine you and if you seem all right, you can return to the air for another fifteen minutes.  All right?"

Freedom considered, then nodded.  Okay.  Now can I fly, Severus?

In answer, Severus lifted his arm and tossed Freedom up into the air.

The hawk instinctively spread his wings and in a second had caught an updraft and was flying straight up into the sky, shrilling a red-tail's distinctive kree-eear in rapture. 

Severus felt his mouth start to turn upwards in a smile at the bird's pure unadulterated pleasure, and he carefully played out the creance line, it would go to a maximum length of 50', which was all Severus wished for Freedom to fly that day. 

The hawk paid the line barely any attention, save to notice that it was there, he was too involved in feeling the wind beneath his wings again and experiencing the adrenaline surge that always came when he flew.  His broad wings were made for swooping and gliding and circling lazily on air currents above prey. 

His amber eyes could see everything that happened below him in the glade, down to the mouse that crept from its burrow behind Severus and was nibbling an acorn, unaware that a predator lurked above. Freedom tensed.

Though the young hawk had never hunted anything, the instinct to do so was strong in him, and he circled and watched the mouse for an endless two minutes, the urge to attack growing in his breast until he could not ignore it any longer.

He plummeted from the sky, talons outstretched, in a dive so unbelievably quick that Severus nearly missed it. 

"Freedom!" The Potions Master cried in alarm, thinking the hawk was falling at first, whirling about in a panic, only to realize that the hawk was not in danger, but hunting.

The mouse squeaked and tried to bolt for cover, but few things can match a diving red-tail, and Freedom's talons soon made an end of the foolish mouse. 

Freedom stood over the dead mouse, one talon raised and screeched in triumph.  I did it! I killed a mouse myself! Did you see, Severus?

"Well done!" praised the Potions Master, coming over and smiling quietly down at the bird.  "Will you eat it now or shall we save it for later, as a snack?"

Freedom considered the question for about two seconds before he began tearing the mouse apart.  The flight, short as it was, had made him very hungry, and he was quite proud of himself for having caught his own dinner for once.  I can hunt! I can fly! Just like a real hawk, he thought in satisfaction, gulping down the warm meat. 

He polished off the mouse in a matter of minutes, then scraped his talons and beak clean on a nearby oak tree. 

Then he launched himself into the air again and flew delighted circles above Severus's head until the Potions Master blew the whistle twice. 

Though he was reluctant to leave the sky, Freedom obeyed the whistle, because he could feel his wings beginning to grow heavy.  He glided down in small spirals until he landed with a light thump on the Potion Master's outthrust fist.

But the edge of his talon got caught in the leather gauntlet and he almost fell off.  He flapped his wings hard, and Severus caught him with his other hand before he could have an accident, pushing him gently upright until he managed to secure himself properly upon the gauntlet.

"Easy.  Don't be in such a hurry."

The hawk looked a bit embarrassed ducking his head slightly.  Merlin, but that was dumb! he hissed. My talon got caught.

"I know.  Even so, you did very well for your first time." Severus cast a diagnostic, then told Freedom that everything was healed and normal. Freedom chirred in happiness.

Does that mean I can fly whenever I want?

"Not quite yet, my friend.  You need to build up strength in those wings muscles again before I let you fly free. That's why I have the falconry equipment, so that I can help you exercise those primaries and so forth."

Severus gently felt along each wing, trying to see if there was any swelling along the wing joints, but the muscles felt fine.  "We'll have short flights like this one every day, perhaps during the early morning is best, that ought to build up the muscle tone you've lost by being injured."

For how long? Freedom demanded.  Having rediscovered the sky, he was not eager to relinquish it again, even if what Snape said made sense. 

"A week should be sufficient," came the wizard's reply. 

Freedom clicked his beak irritatedly, but did not protest.  He knew better than to whine about one of Snape's dictates, the professor detested whining.  All right.  So long as I can fly for a little bit, I guess I can wait that long.

Snape's eyebrow rose.  "Thank you, Majesty, for your approval," he said sarcastically.  "Not that I need it.  As your falconer and caretaker, I am responsible for your health, and I will not risk you tearing tendons because you are too impatient to allow your wings time to adjust to flying."

The hawk huffed.   I said I'd be careful, Severus.  No need to go all overprotective on me.

"I was not being overprotective, merely stating a fact," Severus said abruptly.

Sure you were.

Severus ignored that comment, then decided to tell Freedom a bit more about the glade, hoping to settle the hawk somewhat.  He kept glancing towards the sky.  "This glade we're in is special to me.  It was a safe haven for me during school, when I was the target of bullies, and I also shared it with my best friend, Lily.  We used to come here to study and I always found my way here when I was upset, just sitting here made me feel better.  There is something serene and calming about this place, and that hasn't changed since I was a boy," the Potions Master remarked, sitting down upon the soft grass.

Freedom relaxed, allowing the strange serenity to infuse his soul, which still had raw hurting patches deep inside it, and half-dozed in the sun, letting the rays penetrate all through his feathers and into his muscles. 

Severus watched the hawk, a crooked smirk upon his face, secretly pleased that the hawk was able to take to the sky again.   When he had thrown the hawk from his fist, he had been quietly praying that the hawk would be able to remain aloft, and to his everlasting satisfaction, Freedom had.  It was one of the few times that Snape could ever recall being proud of himself.  He was a born perfectionist, and he was his own worst critic.  There had been a kernel of doubt within his heart, he had feared that something unforeseen would occur and Freedom would never be able to fly right, or at all.  But the hawk's breathtaking ascension had laid to rest that doubt once and for all, and Severus quietly permitted himself a tiny smile of triumph. 

It felt good, to have saved a life, instead of watching one perish.  For once the burden of guilt he bore felt lighter, and he hoped this night he would dream of Freedom flying, instead of those he had failed to save from the Dark Lord's clutches.

* * * * * *

 During the next week, while the fifth-years prepared for their upcoming OWLS, and also spawned tons of rumors as to the whereabouts of the missing Harry Potter, each morning Severus would take Freedom to the glade and fly him for short intervals, though as the week went on, he allowed the hawk longer flights.  Sometimes Hagrid accompanied him on these trips, delighted with the hawk's recovery. 

He taught Severus how to use the lure to coax the soaring hawk back down to the earth.  The lure was a long leather string which had a bit of wood with feathers attached at the end of it.  Hagrid tied a bit of raw meat to it as well and coaxed the hawk to investigate by spinning it in a circle, since raptors hunted by spotting motion along the ground.  "Y'should always feed him a little before you fly, but not too much. Yeh want ‘im a little hungry, so he'll come in to the lure and be glad for the treat you give him as a reward."

It was paramount that the hawk receive positive reinforcement each time he answered Severus's whistle or lure, for a hawk, unlike a dog, would never stay where it wasn't wanted, or where it was mistreated.  Not that Severus ever entertained thoughts of mistreating his familiar.  During the weeks he had acquired the hawk, he had become unusually fond of the bird, until he found it hard to remember what it had been like before Freedom had come into his life.  Lonely and bitter, he thought, and then pushed away that introspection, preferring to concentrate on learning how to man Freedom, which was a falconer called it when you acclimated and trained a bird to hunt for you.

Because of the bond, and the Hawk Speak potion, which Severus repeatedly dosed himself with, Freedom was quick to learn whatever the pair wished to teach him.  He loved the treats of rabbit, pigeon, and chicken, but he discovered he enjoyed Severus's approval even more than the food.  The wizard's quiet "Well done!" or "Good job!" or affectionate rub across chest or crest fulfilled some unnamed need deep inside the young hawk, a longing he never even knew he possessed until now. 

Before Severus, no one ever really noticed if I did well or not, or if they did, I can't remember it. And in the dreams he could remember, the loud man was now joined by a shrill woman and a whiny fat boy and they were always yelling at him and saying he was a good-for-nothing freak who deserved to be dead.  He had tentatively shared one of the episodes with his wizard master, and Severus had surmised that the people might have been Freedom's former owners, and if that had been the case, Freedom should be glad he was no longer in their care. 

"And lucky that I don't know who they are or where they live, or else they would quickly find out what happens to ignorant wicked slobs who mistreat my familiar," Severus said grimly, and his eyes spat icy contempt and dark fury and the hawk was very glad he was not Snape's enemy. 

Freedom learned to "wait on" Severus, which meant circling over the wizard, waiting for his whistle to stoop at the lure, later Severus would use this same behavior when hunting live quarry, conditioning the young tierce to be patient and not strike too quickly at prey, therefore ensuring a successful hunt.  Most hawks caught a quarry two or three times out of five attempts, but the ratio went up when working together with a falconer. 

Freedom loved flying at the lure, binding to it tightly and then gobbling the tidbit at the end.  Sometimes Severus would cast it wide, requiring Freedom to soar up high and then stoop, or close to him, requiring the hawk to glide and circle more precisely.  Several times at the beginning of the week, Freedom would miss the lure, being too impatient, but by week's end, the hawk was stooping to the lure like a shot, and hitting it every time.

Severus made a kind of game to it, using a longer lure and seeing how many times the hawk could bind it in a ten minute span while spinning it quickly or slowly, farther and nearer.  Freedom's accuracy was astounding, the hawk even managed to catch the lure in midair a few times, making Hagrid grin.

"That's a canny hunter ye've got there, Severus.  Not many hawks can do that on the fly, young as that one is."

Severus felt an unaccustomed jolt of pride at Hagrid's words, almost like a parent would when he hears someone praise his child for performing brilliantly at sports. "Yes, he's an excellent flyer.  I think he's nearly ready for me to loose him."

Freedom glided lazily above them, waiting for Severus to cast the lure.  The repeated exercise and fresh air had caused the hawk to gain weight and his deep brown feathers were glossy and shiny with good health. 

Hagrid peered up at the hawk and nodded.  "Yup.  Nice bloom on'im too.  He's come a long way, Severus."

"That he has," agreed the wizard, eying the raptor fondly. "A very long way from the half-dead bundle of feathers I found in the grass that evening."

Hey! Quit talking and cast already, Sev!

"Keep your feathers on," Severus called back, rolling his eyes. He began to whirl the lure about his head and then down towards the ground.   The bird now referred to him as Sev, ever since the Potions Master had confessed one lazy morning that Lily used to call him that.  It had been years since he'd been addressed that way, but Snape found he did not mind the bird using the shortened form, because he considered Freedom as much of a friend as he ever had Lily. 

He blew the whistle, signaling that Freedom could stoop.

The hawk closed his wings and dived, opening them an instant before he reached the feathered lure and grabbing it solidly with his talons.  Ha! Got it in one again!  He quickly bent his head and ate the tidbit of raw chicken at the end of the lure, his reward for hitting the target successfully. 

Hagrid and Severus exchanged glances.  Yes, the young tiercel was ready to fly free.

"Tomorrow," Severus announced.  "Tomorrow, I'm going to release him." He frowned.  "I just hope he decides to return instead of flying off."

"Oh, he'll return to yeh, Severus.  That bird has the tightest bond with you I've ever seen."

"How do you know? I have never had a familiar and no one here has ever had a hawk either."

Hagrid shrugged.  "Dunno.  But my gut tells me Freedom won't leave you.  Not even for the open sky.  He might fly away, but he'll always come back.  His home is here, with you."

Severus hoped Hagrid was right.

* * * * * *

Snape slept restlessly that night, dreaming of removing the creance line and giving the hawk his freedom, only to watch the bird fly away, never to be seen again.  You see? taunted a small insecure voice.  It does not matter how much time and effort you put into something or someone, they all leave you in the end.  Eileen, Lily, and now Freedom.  And then you are alone, like always, Severus Snape.

He woke feeling slightly nauseous, but a quick glance at the bird lying beside his head soon restored his equilibrium.  Since regaining the use of his wings, Freedom often chose to sleep near Severus at night, instead of on his perch in the lounge.  Usually, the bird slept on the headboard above, but occasionally Snape found him nestled on the extra pillow beside his head, like a hen roosting.

Lying down was not something a hawk did very often, but when they did, it meant they were very relaxed and calm, and trusted utterly that they were safe and not likely to be attacked. 

Seeing the bird display such trust in him soon had Snape banishing the butterflies in his stomach and falling asleep again a few minutes later.

Hawk and wizard both awoke at precisely the same instant, and Severus greeted his familiar with a cordial, "Good morning.  Are you ready to fly free at last?"

Freedom mantled, stretching out a wing and a foot on the same side, then repeating it for the opposite side, before replying, I've been ready for that weeks ago, Sev! Hurry up and get dressed, the sky is calling.

Severus managed a small smile at the bird's enthusiasm and obeyed his familiar for once.

Freedom ate the pieces of pheasant Severus gave him before coming quickly to his fist and sitting quietly. 

"I'm going to hood you for a bit, just in case something startles you.  I don't want you flying into a wall," Severus said, removing the hood from its place upon the shelf above the perch.

I'd never fly into the wall on purpose! What d'you think I am, dumb?

"No, but Peeves has been lurking about lately, and he is fond of making loud noises and scaring the snot out of first years.  And other unsuspecting people and birds."

Humph! I'm not afraid of no ghost! Freedom said indignantly, then gave in at Snape's stern glare, lowering his head submissively and allowing the professor to place the hood over it.

The act of hooding the hawk gave Severus time to compose himself, for he was starting to feel nervous again, but he made himself walk out of his quarters and down the path to the glade. 

It was quite early in the morning, the first rays of the sun had just barely tinted the sky a rosy pink and the air was crisp and a bit chilly.  Snape wrapped his black cloak about himself and walked briskly into the center of the glade.  "We're here," he informed the silent tiercel.

Then he slipped off the hood, and Freedom looked about.

A quiver of longing raced through the unbound hawk.  Can I fly, Severus?

Snape swallowed hard.  This was the moment of truth. 

He cast the hawk from his fist. 

Freedom soared into the vast vault of the sky, higher and higher, until he vanished into the trees. 

The Potions Master gasped, for watching the hawk fly was like seeing a piece of his soul take wing.  It was breathtaking and humbling and at the same time terrifying, for now the hawk was free to do as he chose. 

Severus shielded his eyes with a hand, but he could not see where the red-tail had gone.  He felt his stomach turn over and he suddenly wished he had never agreed to allow the hawk off the line.  What if Hagrid were mistaken and the bond was not enough to call the bird back? There would be nothing Severus could do if the hawk chose not to return.  He gripped the lure in wooden fingers and fought to keep from pacing about the glade. 

Thirty minutes.  I'll give him thirty minutes before I call him in.  And then we'll see what's more important to him, my friendship or flying.  His hand clenched upon the leather strap.  I gave my word, and I could not be foresworn.  All I can do is wait.

* * * * * *

 Freedom caught an updraft and rode it straight into the heart of the sun, or so it seemed.  It was pure bliss to simply fly as high and as fast as he wished and not have to be tethered to anything.  All that mattered was the wind and he allowed himself to become one with it, and it danced and swirled about him, making him giddy. 

He circled and glided, enjoying the sensation of being free to go where he wished for once, with no one to summon him back.  He peered down and saw Hogwarts far below, and the dot that was the Black Lake shrouded in morning mist.  The castle looked so tiny from up here and the lake was a mere dot in a green landscape.  All was still, the larks and sparrows and robins had halted and frozen when he had taken wing, and now the only sound was the soft whisper of the wind and the slap of water against the shore as the wind ruffled the surface of the lake. 

The red-tailed hawk began to circle over the lake, his sharp eyes had caught a hint of a tentacle upon the surface, as the giant squid awakened to bask in the sunshine.  An imp of mischief stirred in Freedom's breast, and the hawk mentally calculated how fast he would have to be to tag the squid before it went beneath the water again. 

He circled higher, then began flying as swiftly as he dared on a diagonal trajectory.

He skimmed over the dark water, his talons barely scraping the surface, giving a hawk's sharp cry of warning, and then he rose into the air like a streak of light and his talons closed ever-so-gently over the squid's tentacle. 

Got you! Surprise!

The squid splashed in shock, jerking back beneath the water.

Freedom shrilled a victory cry and climbed into the sky again, his wings shimmering like some magical creature as the sun hit the droplets of water upon them. 

Kreee-aar!

He knew it was foolish to announce his presence like that, he would warn all the prey in a ten meter radius that a red-tail hawk was lurking, but he couldn't resist.

He was so full of joy it was impossible to keep it contained and he had never been one for dignity anyhow. 

Up and up he flew, in a dizzying ecstatic spiral, his heart thundering in time to his wingbeats, riding the wind expertly.  He did not know how he knew how to do it, but he allowed his conscious mind to slip away for a bit and then instinct took over, and suddenly the wind was his to command.

He looped and dove, startling a flock of geese migrating south, they honked at him in disapproval, calling him a rude brat, but he merely flipped his tail at them and shot away, laughing insolently. 

I am Freedom and I can fly faster than any of you! Catch me if you can!

He blurred, flying at his fastest speed, which was close to fifty-five miles per hour, since he was an Animagus, he could fly faster than an ordinary hawk, shaped as he was by magic, and he was also slightly stronger as well. 

He slingshot around a gray mountain peak and then headed back towards the castle, eyes alert for anything moving upon the ground. 

Suddenly, his eyes caught a flicker of movement, and he homed in upon it.

It was a rabbit, just emerging from its burrow, pink nose twitching.

Freedom rode an air current down slowly, circling silently. 

The rabbit sniffed, then began to hop cautiously away, nibbling on some bitter grass. 

Freedom, recalling his lessons from Severus, hovered, allowing the rabbit to get a good distance from his home before he stooped. 

But the rabbit was quicker than the lure and it bolted. 

Freedom's talons just grazed its back, ripping away a tuft of fur, and then it was gone, racing back towards its burrow.

Freedom pursued, but it was too quick and the last glimpse he had was of its bushy tail vanishing down the rabbit hole.

Aww, blast! Missed!

The tiercel beat his wings hard, flying back up some thirty feet, a little disappointed at having been outsmarted by a rabbit, but his delight at being able to fly soon squelched those feelings.

He flew loops about Gryffindor and Ravenclaw Tower, and buzzed the Owlery, waking some of the owls, who hooted at him crossly to go and play somewhere else, you blasted nuisance!

Freedom ignored them, they were just being grumpy crosspatches and unappreciative of the beautiful day. 

He slowed, cruising leisurely, suddenly tired from his mad dash across the sky.  The sun was marvelously warm upon his back and he hovered, allowing it to seep into his bones.  He felt wonderfully relaxed and calm, though his stomach was grumbling a little. 

Then a shrill whistle, almost too shrill to be heard by the human ear, split the air.

Freedom jerked and spun about on a wingtip.

Huh? That sounded like Severus. 

Only then did he recall that he had left the black-robed wizard alone in the glade. 

He climbed higher, heading for the dark green splotch that was the Forbidden Forest.

* * * * * *

Severus put the whistle to his lips and blew.

He waited a minute, his eyes scanning the sky.

No Freedom.

The sky was empty save for the occasional cloud scudding by.

Severus felt his heart sink. 

The hawk was gone. 

He blew again.

Still nothing.

Two minutes went by. 

Bitter disappointment raged through him, making his stomach churn.

I should have known it was too good to be true.  He's not coming back.  He's off miles away from here, flying free as he was meant to, and he's forgotten all about me.  He doesn't need me, he can hunt for himself, he'll find a wild hawk for a mate and never care about the stupid wizard who mended his wings, except to tell his fledglings about me one day . . .

Snape shook his head, his jaw clenching.  I was a fool, hoping that he would stay with me.  

He cast his gaze upward again, a part of him still daring to hope . . .

And then Freedom burst into view, his beautiful wings glistening as the sun shone upon them. 

Severus whirled the lure overhead, praying the hawk would remember his training and what they had shared.

The red-tail circled.

Then he stooped, blurring past the lure, to alight on Severus's fist in a thunder of wings.

Hi, Sev! I had such an incredible morning! It was brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

Snape stared at the hawk, too relieved to say anything. 

Freedom turned his head, looking the Potions Master right in the eye.

Uh, Severus? Are you okay? You have the weirdest look on your face.

"You . . .came back."

Of course.  Why wouldn't I? I belong here, with you.  Freedom cocked his head in puzzlement.  I'm starving! Got any rabbit?

Snape blinked dazedly, the sudden revelation making him slightly lightheaded.  Freedom had returned to him.  The bond had held.  The hawk had chosen him over the wild.  He was Snape's true familiar. 

Severus! Hello! Got any rabbit or chicken in that pouch of yours? Because all that flying really worked up an appetite and I don't feel like hunting right now, so can you please give me some?  Before I pass out from hunger?

Severus fumbled with the pouch at his waist, at last removing several large chunks of chicken.  He held them out to the hungry hawk and then he did something he rarely ever did, something that would have stunned half of the student body at Hogwarts. 

Severus looked at his familiar and grinned, and it transformed the cynical face into one, that, for an instant, was joyful and innocent, as he had been long ago when he had loved a certain red-haired witch.

A heartbeat later it was gone, and the snarky mask was back in its place, but Freedom had seen and would remember it with astonishment, though he would not understand why until two weeks later.


 



Chapter End Notes:


Lots of new falconry terms!

Tiercel-a male hawk or falcon

stoop-the act of diving from on high to the lure or prey

wait on-a hawk circling over the falconer, waiting for the signal to strike at the lure or prey

bind- to grab hold tightly with talons, as to a fist or prey

canny-smart or knowing-Scots dialect

bloom-refers to a hawk's good health, shiny feathers and alertness

I hope you all enjoyed Freedom's flight as much as he and Sev did.

Thanks to all my wonderful reviewers, guess I can't say that enough!

Harry will regain the bulk of his memories in two or three chapters, but won't transform back for awhile because it's fun being a hawk and he's going to learn some rather upsetting things about his former life.

Next: Severus takes Freedom to a staff dinner, where his familiar meets Umbridge and learns of the Ministry policy to ignore the return of Voldemort and other disturbing things.

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