The next two days went by uneventfully. By that I meant that none of the Marauders discovered where I was and what I was doing, and Slughorn didn't try and get me to come back to the castle. I was grateful for the one and bitter about the other, for it showed me that my Head didn't give two turds about my well being. Sure he knew I was with Hagrid, but did it ever occur to him to check up on me, make sure I hadn't been eaten by a bugbear or a vicious overgrown acromantula? Did he even once wonder why I had chosen to take refuge with Hagrid, of all people? No. Out of sight, out of mind.
During that time, I went with Hagrid on his rounds. He was responsible for all the animals upon the grounds, like the thestrals and the owls and the chickens and rooster that we kept for their eggs, feathers, and the occasional stewpot. A rooster's crow also kept basilisks at bay. Once we had fed and tended to them, we then entered the forest and Hagrid tended to Medea and a few other foundlings. Currently he was healing a vixen with a broken paw—it had gotten caught in a trap someone had set—a crooked legged deer, it had been born like that, and a hippogriff that had been orphaned by a manticore.
Only Hagrid could tend Medea, but I helped him with the other animals, even the little hippogriff. Hagrid named all his foundlings. He claimed a name was important, that it gave a creature a sense of belonging, of being care for. He called the vixen Flare, the deer Nibbler, and the hippogriff was Buckbeak.
I learned how to feed Flare some beef strips and oatmeal, the vixen would happily eat from my hand. She was almost tame, though she still ran to the back of her pen when I came with the food bowl. Nibbler was warier still, I would put the salt lick down in the pen along with some hay and dried grass, and he would only approach after I left.
My favorite was Buckbeak. He liked to catch food in his beak, and I used to throw him his dead coney or ferret and he would snatch it right up out of the air. He always bowed to me afterwards. Hagrid said that was a mark of respect and said I should bow back. I did as he told me. By now I trusted Hagrid's judgment when it came to the creatures of the forest. He had an instinctive way with them that was almost like magic.
I had never thought I would find much in common with the Hogwarts gamekeeper, whom most of my peers regarded as a lunk, thick as the castle wall. They mocked him behind his back, thinking he was too dumb to hear what they were saying, or not caring. I remembered some of my Housemates laughing one day as he came up to the castle in his brown robe and moleskin trousers. "There goes Hagrid, Dumbledore's charity case, dumb as a box of rocks."
Only they were wrong. Hagrid was anything but dumb. He was actually pretty wise and he saw things the others missed. He was the only adult at Hogwarts to ever notice that I was unhappy about going home. He never asked me what was wrong, but I knew he saw there was something upsetting me whenever he discussed the end of term.
I usually avoided answering him, for I didn't even wish to think about what awaited me back at Spinner's End. The gloom, the endless chores, the drunken nights where Tobias passed out cold on the floor, in a pool of his own drool and vomit. But that was preferable to the nights when he came home and wanted to pick a fight with me, sneering and bloated with hatred, heaping insults upon my already wounded spirit before exploding into violence.
Now that my mother was gone, I had no shield from his rages, no one to speak up on my behalf, to make sure he didn't kill me with his fists. He had broken my nose twice over the years and I had scars from where he had beaten me with belts and hard leather slippers "for my own good". I hated him and yet I desperately wanted his approval. Don't ask me why. I couldn't figure out my own twisted feelings where he was concerned.
So I contented myself with learning from the gamekeeper, whose knowledge of animals and magical creatures was equal to any professor I had ever had in Care of Magical Creatures. I had never thought I would be interested so much in anything except potions, but I soon developed a rapport with the injured animals I fed and tended. I understood their wariness and fear, for in a strange way I was just like them. I too had been injured and was afraid to trust, afraid to let anyone close, lest the harm done me be repeated. Like Flare, I bared my teeth and growled to hide how terrified I was, because to show fear was to be vulnerable.
At night, when we returned from our forest ramblings, Hagrid would eat with me. We usually had some kind of stew or beef pie with bread and butter or honey. The food was good, Hagrid didn't know many recipes, but what he did know was filling and tasty. Lately I was always starving, and Hagrid never minded if I took seconds.
"Yer a growin' boy, Sev. Yeh need to eat in order t' grow right."
I half-opened my mouth to tell him that I knew that, but in my house we barely had food enough for three people for one meal, let alone three square ones. I quickly shut it and ate some more stew. It was venison this time.
"I'm jus' glad you like my cooking," Hagrid chuckled. "I got my growth spurt around six, an' I got tall enough t'pick my pa up and carry him on my shoulder."
I thought about how much I would have loved to pick up Tobias and toss him over my shoulder and kick his arse into the street. Or wallop him till kingdom come. That image plus the one of Hagrid as a little boy with his father perched on his shoulder made me do something I hadn't done in a long time.
It made me laugh.
Hagrid's black eyes twinkled. "Yeah, it was pretty funny. At first I thought it meant I didn't haveta obey him anymore, but I was wrong. Pa was still pa, an' he could still make me toe the line." His eyes darkened and he said sadly, "I still miss 'im. He taught me all 'bout cooking an' how t'care for a hurt beast or bird. And how t' shoot a crossbow an' hunt cleanly, without makin' a critter suffer."
I continued eating, the old resentment and bitterness clawing at me. Why couldn't I have a father like that? One who taught me things besides how to duck a cuff or tell a good ale from a bad one? One who told me he was proud of my brains instead of harping at me for being a useless bookworm, who didn't sneer at me for being skinny and scrawny. Who didn't hate me for having magic like the witch he had married and loved once.
I had to assume that once he had loved my mother, there had to have been something more than mere attraction there, more than mere sex, for her to have stayed with him through all the crap he pulled. God knows it wasn't just for me.
"Did he . . .like you having magic?" I asked after mopping up the last of my stew with a piece of crusty bread nearly the size of my hand. Hagrid liked to serve large portions of everything. It was a good thing I was always hungry now, because I would have felt guilty wasting food.
"Blimey, o'course he did! He was pleased as punch! He wasn't sure I would, you see, bein' as my mum Fridwulfa was a giantess."
I gaped at him. "You're a half-giant?"
"Aye. You mean, you didn't know?"
I shook my head. "I thought . . .maybe you'd swallowed a growth potion."
Hagrid laughed, not unkindly. "No, lad. Got my size from my mum. Not that I really remember her. Pa had a picture of her that I usta look at . . .she were pretty for a giantess."
"Why did she leave? How old were you?"
"I was three. And I guess she figured it was time for her to go back t'her people. She was never the cuddly type, an' once she made sure I didn't need her, she left. Pa raised me on his own and I think I was better off."
I wished I could say the same.
I fed Fang a second dish of stew, the boarhound always had a voracious appetite. He had taken to sleeping at the foot of my bed and while I'd never admit it, I had actually grown used to a dog sleeping on my feet. The only drawback was he tended to drool.
After dinner, we sometimes played a boardgame. And it wasn't Wizard Chess either, since Hagrid didn't own a set. Instead we played draughts (checkers), naughts and crosses (tic tac toe), or backgammon. They were simple games I should have learned as a child, but no one had ever taught me. You didn't need to be a genius to play them, but they were fun, and that was another thing I had little experience at. The only fun I had ever had was when I played with Lily as a child and brewing potions with her and Mum.
I had summoned some more clothes from my room, and my school books, so I could do some of my summer work now, instead of waiting to do it at home. After our nightly game, I did some of it at the kitchen table. Had anyone glanced inside the hut, they might have assumed we were a family. But no such luck. I had never had anything resembling a normal family.
My childhood had been full of shadows and sorrow, with only a few glimpses of sunlight. I could recall more nights when my father had smashed plates against a wall and cursed out my mother and me than I could eating dinner together and sharing a civilized conversation.
But now I had peace and quiet and no longer needed to be on my toes, looking over my shoulder for those bullying prats, the Marauders. And yet I still started at loud noises or sudden movements. I hated myself for it, yet I couldn't seem to help it.
After completing my Charms assignment for Flitwick, I decided to turn in. I'd had a long day and I was pleasantly weary. I changed behind a curtain Hagrid had set up about my bed, then curled up in the middle of the bed and drifted off to sleep. Fang's bulk hit the bed an instant later and soon my ears were filled with his snores. But somehow I managed to fall asleep anyhow.
I hadn't had a nightmare since waking up here, but for some reason that night I did.
Once again I was a little boy, about six, and I was cowering in a corner, listening to my parents quarrel again. I hated it when they yelled at each other, it made me feel sick to my stomach. They sounded so angry . . like they were going to tear each other to bits. Even then I knew that was not how mums and dads should sound.
" . . .dare blame me for the state you're in, Tobias Snape!It's your own sodding fault that we have no money and had to ask my father for a loan!' cried Mum.
"I never wanted that . . .don't need no fuckin' charity, Eileen!" Dad yelled.
I put a hand over my mouth. Dad had used a really bad word. I knew because I had repeated it once, and Mum made me eat soap and gave me a smack on my bottom too. Would she do that to Dad?
" . . .you're impossible, Tobias! You think you can feed us on your wages after you drink them all away? I had to take the money!"
"I'll not be beholden to any wizard, but especially not your holier-than-thou parents."
"Sometimes I wonder why I ever married you. I'm not even sure I love you anymore . . ."
Now I felt bad for my dad. How come Mum didn't love him anymore?
The row lasted another few minutes, then it was still. Mum had gone down to her lab and I saw Dad sitting in his favorite chair, drinking a bottle of what Mum called booze. I crept about the hallway and hesitantly approached Tobias.
Then I laid a hand on his arm and said, "I love you, Dad, even if Mum doesn't."
He slammed the bottle down and glared at me. I sniffled, wondering why he was mad and if I was in trouble. "Never ever say you love me, you little kiss-arse!" he snarled, then he shook me hard and turned me over his knee, growling, "You sniveling whelp, I'll give you something to cry about!"
He kept that promise, unlike the other ones he'd made and broken.
After it was done he threw me from him and I ran . . .I ran . . .and ran . . .into the dark . . .and behind me came his voice, raw with fury . . .never say you love me, whelp . . .never say you love me . . .
It was then I knew that he hated me . . .he could not even bear for me to say I loved him, or maybe he didn't think I was good enough . . .
I woke up gasping and yelling, "Why, Dad? Why?"
I wrapped my arms about myself and shivered, unable to quit trembling. Fang licked my face. "Ugh! Please1 Your breath could kill a stink bug."
I hoped I hadn't woken Hagrid.
"Sev? You okay?"
"Yes," I replied, hoping he wouldn't come over.
"Heard ya screaming across the room. Must'a been some nightmare." Suddenly Hagrid's bulk was there, leaning over and looking concerned. "Were ya dreamin' about your mother then, lad?"
"No. My father," I blurted. Then I clamped my mouth shut.
"Ah. You want some tea? Or maybe some Dreamless Sleep? I got a vial here somewhere. Horace gave it to me after my pet crup died last year."
"I'm fine. Thank you," I added, not wanting to seem ungrateful.
"If you're sure . . .?"
"All righ', Sev. Good night." Hagrid said, and then he reached out and patted me very lightly on the shoulder.
"Good night," I said, and then I turned over and tried to pretend I was asleep.
I heard Hagrid return to his bed and breathed out sharply. Again I puzzled over Hagrid's concern for me. Why did he care about me when my own father didn't? And more importantly, what would I do when it ended and Hagrid decided to send me away?
I curled up on my side again and prayed that morning would never come, so I could stay here forever and dream about living in a house where my father actually loved me and never told me to stop saying I loved him.
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