*chapter title inspired by Evanescense song by same name*
"Now, see how the mare thestral keeps watch over her baby?" Hagrid instructed softly. "Some folk once believed that thestrals were evil and unlucky, but that ain't so. They're dead clever beasties and useful, wicked fast and well nigh invisible to anyone who hasn't seen death happen in front o' their eyes."
I was watching from behind a low boulder along with Hagrid the herd of thestrals that lived in a secluded meadow up in the northern part of the grounds, hard by the Forbidden Forest. I had never known this place existed, and I had thought I knew all the good hiding places around the castle. But somehow I'd missed this one. Or perhaps I was only able to see it now, after I had watched Death take away my mother.
As promised, Hagrid had brought me to the meadow to see the new baby thestral, which was a rare sight, according to the gamekeeper. His favorite thestral stallion, Tenebrus, was grazing nearby, it was his mare that had foaled. Hagrid told me there were actually two herds of thestrals living here, one was Minos' herd, that was Tenebrus' father, and the other was Tenebrus', who had just recently started to gather some mares and sire foals. It was unusual that the two herds were tolerating being in the same space, but so far Minos hadn't attempted to drive his son off, and they seemed content.
As I watched the gawky foal heave itself to its feet and turn to nurse, I asked quietly, "What do the thestrals eat?"
Thestrals looked like walking nightmares, by that I mean they were coal black, had shimmering white eyes, bat wings, and skeletal bodies, their heads were sort of a cross between a horse and a dragon and they had fangs. I was sure their appearance had something to do with the stories that they were evil and unlucky. Most people generally assume that if it's ugly and looks evil, it is evil. People can be so stupid sometimes! James Potter looked like the god Mars and yet he was a mean-spirited bully, a prat of the worst order. So was his best mate, the dog Sirius. Lucius Malfoy looked like an angel, but he could smile at you one minute and curse you the next.
"Ah . . .they can eat almost anything. They like grass, but they also can hunt birds and small animals and eat them too. They're kinda like people that way, eating both flesh and greens. They especially like pomegranate seeds."
"Pomegranate seeds? Like in the myth of Hades and Persephone?" I hadn't had a great time in primary school, but one thing I did learn well was mythology. In the myth, eating six seeds of a pomegranate dooms Persephone to live in the Underworld as Hades' Queen for six months of the year.
"Yes. Like that," Hagrid said.
"You know that story?" I asked, surprised. Hagrid didn't exactly look like the sort who read classical literature.
"Sure do. My dad used to read me all the Greek and Roman myths when I was a little shaver. I still remember them." For a moment he looked sad, then it vanished as he pointed at the thestrals. "They pull the carriages that take you back and forth from the school to the train station. An' Dumbledore uses 'em sometimes when he needs to get somewhere in a hurry and can't Apparate."
We watched the thestrals feeding and playing for a few more minutes before Hagrid shifted his great bulk and said, "Sev, I have to go and check up on another of my . . .err . . .rescued animals. But she's cranky when she's injured and I wouldn't want you t'get hurt, so you can either stay here with the thestrals—it's kind of peaceful here and I know you haven't had much o'that—or you can come with me, long as you do as I say."
He looked at me questioningly.
"What sort of creature are you treating?"
"A chimera," he answered calmly.
"A chimera! Hagrid, that's a monster! It eats people!" I sputtered.
"Now, calm down, Severus. Chimeras got a bad reputation too, same as thestrals. Fact is, chimeras will eat deer or elk or sheep before they'll eat a human, an' the one I'm helping has never tasted human flesh."
"How do you know for sure?"
"'cause I raised her from a baby. Her name's Medea. Shee got caught in some poacher's snare a week ago and broke her leg tryin' t'get out and cut herself up real bad, since the net was barbed. She near bled to death b'fore I found her. Heard her cryin', see." The big man shook his head angrily. "Bloody poachers! Well? You comin' or stayin'?"
I considered. I did enjoy watching the thestrals, it was a balmy June afternoon, and as Hagrid had said, very peaceful here in the meadow. I had not known such peace ever . . .or at least not that I could recall. Especially not recently. It was something I craved, I realized. But at the same time, I could not resist the lure of the unknown. I had never seen a live chimera up close. All I knew about them was from reading textbooks in Care of Magical Creatures—which according to Hagrid were wrong. I was filled with curiosity.
"I'll come," I replied. "Are you going to see her now?"
"Yeah, jus' as soon as I bag a deer. She'll be hungry and Medea doesn't like me givin' her potions on an empty stomach. You can stay here till I get back, okay?"
"All right," I agreed, content to bask in the sun on top of the boulder while Hagrid hunted and watch the thestrals flying and running in the meadow.
Hagrid moved off into the forest, carrying his crossbow slung over his shoulder. I watched him till he disappeared from view, then climbed up the boulder and lay down on my stomach, propping my head in my hands. Hagrid had told me this morning after breakfast that he had sent a note to Slughorn, telling him where I was so he didn't worry. I snorted. Ha! As if that drunken sot cared what happened to me. He had never bothered to do anything when I had complained to him as a firstie about the Marauders harassing me, he tolerated me because I was brilliant in potions, but had never invited me to join his Slug Club. I guess I wasn't exalted enough, or pretty enough. Lily got invited as did a few others, but not Snape. Poor outcasts didn't belong with the wand-and-Galleon set, though I could claim pureblood ancestry on my mother's side all the way back to the Founding of Hogwarts. Not that I wanted to associate with them, most of them were stuck up snots, but still . . .it hurt when I watched others who didn't have a tenth of my skill brewing get praised and ushered into the Slug Club. Yet another thing to add to the tally of things that had gone wrong this year.
I sighed. I shouldn't be thinking about that. I didn't want to dwell on the past. That would only make me long for oblivion again. I owed Hagrid my life, and I was slowly starting to appreciate what living could mean again. Thanks to Hagrid, I was slowly allowing myself to feel again . . .and feel joy, not pain, peace, not strife. It was an unlooked for awakening, but I welcomed it. For I had begun to realize that feeling something was better than feeling nothing at all, which was what I had felt before taking that draught.
I dozed and woke to Hagrid shaking my shoulder.
I jerked up fast, turning around and throwing a hand across my face before I knew what I was about.
"Easy there, lad. I'm not gonna hurt you," Hagrid said softly. "I'd never hurt ya, Severus." His tone was the same one he used upon Fang when the dog was whimpering, for Fang was afraid of thunder, and it had rained earlier this morning for a brief time.
"I know. I know." I said, ashamed. I lowered my hand and looked away. How could I have betrayed myself like that? I scolded myself fiercely. Tobias wasn't here and I knew Hagrid would never hurt me. So why did I keep flinching and cringing all the time when he touched me? I waited for the obvious probing questions. They never came though.
"Sorry I scared you," Hagrid apologized. "D'you want to go back to my house and take a nap?"
I shook my head. "No. I'm fine. I just . . . was having a bad dream. The sun made me sleepy."
"All right then. If you're sure?"
I noticed he had a freshly killed deer carcass over his shoulder. It had not been dressed , so I assumed Medea enjoyed all parts of her kill. I slid off the boulder, straightened my shirt and robes, and followed the caretaker through the trees to a small clearing where there was a huge metal stake pounded into the ground. It was attached to a large steel chain, the links were as big as my hand, and the chain was hooked to a large spiked collar, similar to a dog collar, but what this held was no puppy.
Medea was large, about as big as a compact car, she was colored tawny gold on her body and legs, and she had a lion's head, complete with mane, and next to it a goat's head, with curling horns and glittering ruby eyes. Her tail was a snake, a vivid green viper, which hissed at us in warning as we approached.
Medea's front leg was badly damaged, Hagrid had splinted and wrapped it. She lay on the ground stiffly, growling low in her throat, a singsong wail of warning. Scenting and then seeing us had driven her into a paroxysm of nerves. She also had multiple long cuts on her flanks and chest and one nasty one near her right eye.
Hagrid motioned for me to stay back and still, and I obeyed. To the half-giant, she might be a pet, but she was still a dangerous predator.
I watched as Hagrid moved towards her, slowly but without any fear of the big creature. I understood that approach. Showing fear to a predator was asking to get eaten or attacked and then eaten. A predator respects strength and showing fear was a prey response.
"Hey there, Medea. How you been doin', old girl?" he asked the chimera, sounding as if he were talking to a housecat instead of a beast that could rip out his throat in an eyeblink. The chimera pinned him with her bright yellow eyes. Her growl changed slightly, it sounded more like a puzzled noise now. "Here, Medea. Brought you some lunch. Figured you'd be hungry by now." He unslung the deer from his shoulder and tossed it down inbetween his pet's paws.
Even injured, the chimera moved like lightning, pinning the carcass down with her good paw and then dipping her head to tear at the soft underbelly. All three heads enjoyed the feast, even the goat head, I saw, had fangs and not the usual flat teeth of an herbivore. As Medea tore and gulped the deer, crunching and tearing happily, Hagrid knelt and opened his big leather pack.
He removed several things from it. A roll of huge sheet like bandages, a few bottles of potions and salves, and what looked like a huge sea sponge, for applying some of the potions, no doubt. I wondered how he would manage to get near her eye to treat it. The cut was on the lion's head, and the head was currently gulping down lunch.
Hagrid squatted back on his heels, content to wait till his pet had finished her meal before trying to tend her. All the while he kept up a soft patter of words, crooning to her in a relaxed easy tone. To my astonishment, the half-lioness creature began to purr, loudly and off key, but it was definitely a purr.
Medea had devoured the entire carcass within ten minutes, eating everything, including all the bones and sinews. Nothing remained save a few bloody splotches. Sated, she looked up at her master and gave that odd sort of purr again. I noted her fierce eyes looked sleepy and very relaxed.
"That's a girl, Medea. Why don't ya take a nap, hmmm?"
He turned back to me and winked conspiratorily.
It took me a moment before I realized just what Hagrid had done. He had drugged her with some kind of potion, probably a Calming Draught or maybe a soporific one. I was trying to figure out how he had done it, when he rose and began slowly approaching the chimera.
He actually reached out and caressed the lioness head, and scratched the goat behind the horns and let the snake curl up his arm. Gryffindor bravery indeed! Hagrid was far more brave . . .and maybe foolish too, some would say . . .than any of the Marauders. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, a man petting a chimera without worrying about losing a hand or getting burnt to a crisp or clawed to death. A chimera had killed a Quidditch star once on holiday in Greece.
As I watched in awe, Hagrid calmly drew away and opened a potion bottle and shook its contents upon the sponge. "Now, Medea, you be good an' let me help you now, aye?" he kept talking to her as he swabbed out each of the nasty wounds upon her.
And they were nasty, I could tell even from a distance. I could only imagine how they must have felt when she had first gotten them. They were jagged and reminded me of lashes given with a knotted thong, like old naval captains used to give sailors who disobeyed them back in the 1800's. I had read Horatio Hornblower and some other naval historical series last year, some of which had been illustrated. I had found them in a box in my attic, and discovered they had belonged to my grandfather, Victor Snape, a man I had never met, since my father had basically cut off all ties to his family after leaving home and then marrying my mother. All I knew about the man was that he was dead, having died when my father was seventeen in a mining accident. But the books were wonderful, offering me an escape from my dreary life.
The net had been barbed, I recalled Hagrid saying, and I shuddered to think of what Medea had endured before Hagrid had come to get her out. Nothing should suffer that way, not even a chimera. Especially not one who was not a man-eater. Whoever had set that trap should have been thrown into one and left to rot.
Hagrid was gentle, but it must have hurt some, for occasionally the chimera would snarl or the snake head hiss in protest. But she remained lying there, allowing him to tend her in spite of it. Now that was true devotion. And trust. Sudden tears sprang to my eyes. I had only trusted two people that way—my mother and Lily. And both of them were gone now. I stared at the gamekeeper and his chimera and I felt an irrational longing and jealousy rise up within me.
I wanted to trust someone that way, I wanted someone to take care of me, I was so alone, all the other students, even werewolf Lupin, had someone that they trusted, someone to talk to, to trust with their deepest secrets and fears. All of them except me.
I blinked hard and told myself to quit wallowing in self-pity. I didn't need anyone. I was fine by myself. But even then I knew it was a lie.
Hagrid was almost done with her when he turned abruptly to look at me.
I had no time to duck my head and pretend to be looking elsewhere, I was caught totally off guard, my longing visible even to the densest person, which Hagrid was not. Our eyes met and I knew what he saw in mine. A shattered soul, longing to belong, but afraid to get close to anyone again.
Then I dropped my gaze to my sneakers.
Hagrid turned back to Medea and said nothing, but I wasn't fooled. He had seen and he understood.
Inwardy I cursed myself. I didn't know what was wrong with me. I had never allowed my emotions to show so blatantly, I had learned to lock my feelings away by the time I was eleven, so my father didn't have the satisfaction of hearing me cry when he beat me, and the Marauders never did either.
Finished with his task, Hagrid rumpled Medea's mane again before putting everything away and getting to his feet. "You see, Severus. Medea might be dangerous, but a bit o'kindness goes a long way to gaining her trust."
I had the odd feeling it wasn't Medea alone he was talking about.
To hide my vulnerability, I quickly asked a question. "How can you just trust that she won't . . .hurt you? I mean, she's a predator."
"Well, when you raise a critter from a baby, it gets to know you an' trust you, 'specially if you learn how to handle it right." He said, leading me away from the clearing. "A lot o'people see one thing when they look at a creature like Medea, or a gryphon, or a dragon. They see a monster, something too dangerous to do anything with except try and avoid it or make it submit to you. Or kill it."
"But you don't. You see beyond that."
"I do. B'cause I know what it's like to be seen as an outcast. I'm not entirely human either. My mum was a giant an' my dad was a human wizard. That was why the Headmaster was so willing t'believe I was dangerous an' my pets were too when that girl was killed in my third year. The Headmaster tried to make me kill Aragog, my acromantula, saying another student had tol' him that it were Aragog who killed the poor girl. But it weren't. The girl, she died, but not by an acromantula's bite, Aragog was too little to have the venom strong enough to kill a girl then, he were jus' a baby."
"Wait. You had a classmate die when you were at school?" I halted and just gaped at him.
"Yeah. It's not somethin' we usually discuss . . ."
"Who was it?"
"You know the haunted bathroom in the castle? Well, the ghost that haunts it, Myrtle, was the girl who died in my year. The same year that the Chamber of Secrets was opened. They thought I did it, y'see, and Aragog was the creature from it. So the Headmaster expelled me and snapped my wand. An' after that, nobody wanted t'know me. I was made a ward of the Ministry, but the wizards there didn't like me, thought I was a troublemaker. I wasn't allowed to do magic and they gave me a room in The Leaky Cauldron, an' had me clean the pub. Thought I was too stupid to do aught else. But once I was of age, they let me go, and nobody would hire me."
I was furious. "You mean, they just, kicked your arse out on the street?"
"Yup. Pretty soon I was starvin'. But Dumbledore saved me. Took me back to Hogwarts an' gave me this job and I've been here ever since."
"How mighty nice of him!" I sneered. I couldn't help myself. When I had needed him, he had shoved me aside, allowing the Marauders to walk away with a slap on the wrist after they had almost killed me. All he'd cared about was Lupin, not the fact that I had almost died in that bloody hole. "I guess you were lucky, you were one of his own. If you'd been Slytherin, he might have just patted you on the head and given you a lemon drop!"
Hagrid winced. "Ah, Severus. Dumbledore is a great wizard, I always said so, but . . .that don't mean he can't make mistakes. An' he made a bad one with you."
My mouth hung open. "You know? You know about . . .what happened that night?"
Hagrid looked at me and nodded solemnly. "'Course I know, lad. I was the one who planted the Willow for Dumbledore and told him the best way t'contain a werewolf. I was the only one here besides the Headmaster who knew the truth about Lupin."
"And did you know about the Marauders roaming around at night, setting a werewolf free?" I demanded. I had learned about that little escapade from listening to the Marauders confess to the Headmaster through the keyhole when Dumbledore had dismissed me, after securing my word that I would never reveal Lupin's furry little secret.
Hagrid looked horror stricken. "They didn't! Those bloody fools! What were they thinkin'? I can't believe Dumbledore didn't punish them for that! An' for what they did to you too. I tol' him, I did, that he was wrong to not give them some kind o' detention at least. Fooling around with a werewolf like that . . .you just don't do things like that . . .somebody could have gotten bitten!" And this from one who "fooled around" with dangerous monsters every day.
"Lad, I'm sorry. Sorry you feel the way you do. But I can't blame you. Nobody stood up fer you, did they?"
"No. Nobody gave a damn!" I spat. "Sound familiar?"
Hagrid nodded heavily, clearly upset. "That mighta been true then. But it's not now. D'you understand what I'm saying?"
I met his eyes and saw something in them I had never dared to hope for.
But I didn't understand why he would care. What was I to him?
"Why do you care about these dangerous creatures? Why aren't you afraid of them?" I wasn't really asking about them, but about myself.
"Because someone has to. Somebody needs to understand them," he answered evenly. "Even a predator has a purpose. And is necessary. Medea might be dangerous, true, but she can also be affectionate and loving, kinda like a big kitten, so long as you respect her. Most predators have a kind of pecking order, they need to know who's boss, an' once you gain their trust, it's yours forever, unless you do something to break it. A lot o' creatures go off by themselves when they're hurt or sick, because they think it's bad t' show weakness an' they're afraid of bein' hurt again or they're dying. An' they growl and snarl at you when you try an' help so you think they ain't hurtin' so bad. But once you calm 'em down, an' show them you're all right, they'll accept you. That's all I'm tryin' t'do, lad. These animals need me. The whole world might be against 'em . . .but that don't make it right. So I do what I can."
I almost smiled then, to hear myself compared with a "dangerous creature", a pet project for Hagrid, like helping Medea. But in a strange way, it made sense. For I too was a stray, one he had taken in from the cold and sheltered. Did I dare take what he offered? Could I trust him not to betray me? I wanted to . . .so badly, but still . . .I was afraid. It was too soon. I was still raw and bleeding inside.
"Oh. I understand now." Though I wasn't sure I did. How could Hagrid care so much for me, who was just a student, and not even of his House? How could he think I was worth saving?
But I did not ask any of those questions. Instead I walked back with him to his cottage and set the table for supper.
"Severus, y'don't have to do that," he protested.
"I do too. My mum didn't teach me how to sit around on my arse and expect a house elf to serve me. Or think that I deserved to be served by anyone." I answered, lining up the forks and knives next to the plates. "I'm not a spoilt rich brat, like Black and Potter." I glared at him challengingly, daring him to refute me.
But all he said was, "All righ', Severus. Thank you," before dishing up the barley and chicken stew he'd left simmering upon the stove all day.
We ate, and after supper I insisted on washing up the dishes, another chore I often had to do at home. I paused in rinsing a plate, wishing wistfully I could stay here for the summer. Maybe I could ask Dumbledore for a job here? I would do anything if only I could stay here instead of going back to Spinner's End.
Then I sneered at my reflection in a soap bubble. God, but I was pathetic! Dumbledore wouldn't let me stay, I knew better than to even think it. I also knew better than to tell anyone what life was like at home. I scrubbed at the second plate, consoling myself that I had five days left. Five days . . .maybe a miracle would occur.
But I wasn't holding my breath. Miracles only happened to good kids who deserved them. And I knew I wasn't one of them. If Tobias had taught me anything, he had taught me that.
I hope you are all reading and enjoying this glimpse into Severus' past.
I don't know if I'm doing a good job with showing his fears and anxieties, because I've never known anyone recovering from an attempted suicide before and how they would react. I'm just using my instincts. If something seems off, please tell me.
I originally intended this to be five chapters, but it looks like it may be slightly longer. Like 6 chapters. Hopefully that makes people happy.
I enjoyed playing around with the chimera, although mine had a lion's body because I just didn't see a goat's body working with the image i had in my head.