Over breakfast that morning, ham and cheese omelets which I had cooked, Hagrid announced that he was going to see Aragog, his former pet acromantula. "I'm due fer a visit, you see. Even though he's all grown now and has got kids and grandkids, I still like to check up on him."
The way Hagrid spoke of his pets always made me smile. He treated them as if they were his children, which I supposed in a way they were, substitutes for the ones he never would have, unless he found some woman to marry. Then again, Hagrid seemed perfectly content with his bachelor existence.
But I suppressed a slight shudder when he mentioned the gigantic spider. Acromantulas were deadly, native to Borneo, and could reach up to the size of a small elephant, its legspan reaching fifteen feet. Acromantulas were a wizard-bred species, they could speak human tongues if they wished, though the Ministry classified them as beasts rather than beings because they had very violent tendencies and some enjoyed the taste of human flesh. Acromantulas were cited in Fantastic Beasts as a reason why the Ban on Experimental Breeding was put into effect. Acromantula venom was highly valued by potion makers though, and many an aspiring potioneer had risked his or her life to get venom from a dead spider.
"He has a mate?" I asked, surprised. 'How did that happen?"
"I found a traveler that was willin' to go to Borneo and get a female for me. I called her Mosag, and she took to Aragog righ' away. They've got quite a colony there deep in the forest."
"Oh. That's very interesting," I muttered, forking up another piece of omelet. My imagination immediately painted a picture of a section of the forest curtained off with webs as thick as a man's arm, and filled with hungry arachnids of various sizes. A cold chill went down my spine. That would be one place I wanted to avoid at all costs. I respected spiders as a necessary and useful part of the environment, but that did not mean I wished to converse with one that could eat me.
"Is that the same spider that you had when the Chamber was opened?"
"Yup. I managed to let him go in the forest b'fore they snapped my wand," Hagrid replied. "Do you want t'come with me and see him?"
"Uh . . .not really. I . . .still have an essay to finish for Astronomy," I said quickly. It was true, though I was almost done with it.
"Oh. All righ', if you get bored, yeh could always play with Fang or Beaky. I oughta be back around the afternoon. Aragog's home is pretty deep inside the forest, takes me a while to get there."
"Okay. Don't worry, I can take care of myself."
We finished breakfast, Hagrid washed up the dishes and then he took his crossbow and left, waving. "See ya, Sev! Stay outta trouble now."
I opted to finish my essay first, and then I could decide what I wanted to do with my free time. This was the first time I had been left completely on my own for longer than a few minutes and I relished the sudden freedom. I had never minded being alone. In my past experience alone was good, because it meant no Tobias and no Marauders, though I did miss Eileen and Lily.
After I had finished my assignment I was at loose ends. Usually I would read or brew a potion if I was in the castle, but today I didn't feel like doing either of those things. I was restless and the hut seemed way too confining. I decided to take a walk over to the clearing where Hagrid kept his convalescent pets and spend what time I had left with them.
The knowledge that tomorrow would be my last day here sat in my stomach like a lump of lead. Oh, how I wished I could just stay here over the summer. I would do anything . . .scrub the castle from top to bottom, clean the toilets, anything if only I could remain here. My father wouldn't care, he never wanted me around anyhow, and I didn't want to go home. It wasn't home now that my mother was gone. She had made it livable, or mostly so. It would be unbearable now, with only him there. I'd take a visit from Aragog over Tobias. At least the spider would only eat me if it was hungry. Tobias hurt me out of sheer malice sometimes.
These last few days had been so peaceful, so . . .soothing. I had never felt like that in my whole life. When I had first woken up in Hagrid's hut I had been broken apart, scared and depressed, wishing for oblivion. But gradually I had started to put the broken pieces back together, until now I felt almost whole again. All because of Hagrid, whose kindness and perception had worked its own brand of magic upon my desolate spirit, I would be forever in his debt, and forever grateful for his patience and understanding.
I reached the clearing where Flare, Nibbler, and Beaky were hidden. All the animals knew me by scent and sight by now and were happy to see me. I had treats in my pockets for them—some honey chews for Nibbler, strips of jerky for the other two. They gobbled my offerings and looked about for more. I spent thirty minutes petting and playing with them, until they dozed lazily in the sun.
Then I rose to stretch my legs and thought about visiting Medea, for some reason. I usually only went there when Hagrid was about, but this time I felt I needed to go alone. Medea could not hurt me, she was chained and I was too smart to put myself within reach of her claws and teeth. The chimera was unpredictable and tolerated me, but there was no bond between us, for she had already given her heart to Hagrid.
I made my way to Medea's sanctuary, and greeted the chimera cordially. She huffed and switched her snaky tail, lying full length in the grass, her injured leg stretched out in front. Most of her cuts, except for the deep one over her eye, had healed by now and she looked almost normal again.
I sat on the ground some ten feet from her, looking at her. "You're so lucky," I said aloud. "You get to stay here with Hagrid, while I have to return to that house and my drunken bastard father again . . ."
Before I knew it, I was pouring my heart out to her. Hagrid always said animals made the best listeners and Secret Keepers, because they would never tell a soul and never make fun of you, even if you sounded stupid. I talked on, telling Medea all about Tobias, and my mother dying, and my break-up with Lily and how I prayed to be able to stay at school, with the one person who seemed to care about just me.
Medea listened attentively, her ears flicking back and forth as I talked.
Until her attention was caught by a faint rustling in the grass off to one side. I turned my head to see what it was, and saw a large gray rat emerge from concealment.
My first instinct was to shoo it towards the chimera, for it would make her a nice snack. Until it suddenly transformed into Peter Pettigrew, one of the hated Marauders. His friends called him Wormtail, I called him a skulking coward, always sneaking about, blackmailing people when he discovered their innermost secrets.
"What are you doing here, Pettigrew?" I demanded. My mind was racing, wondering how much he had heard. Oh, God . . .what if he had heard everything?
"Looking for you, Snape. Been wondering where you'd holed up since Lily gave you the sack." His sly face was twisted into a parody of a smile, his pointed nose twitched with eagerness and his squinty eyes gleamed. My heart sank. "Poor Snivellus! His mummy's dead and his dear old dad beats him for being a naughty boy! Boo hoo!"
I was furious. "Shut up, you puke-licking coward! How dare you follow me here? Get out!" I was sickened. He had heard it all, and now he would run and tell his friends and it would be all over school in the blink of an eye. I would never be able to hold up my head again.
"Make me, Snivellus!" he taunted. "You greasy git, why don't you wash your hair, huh? Hagrid doesn't use shampoo, the smelly beast? Figures. I guess he likes stinky things, considering he's half a beast himself!" Wormtail brayed at his own wit.
Suddenly I was furious. "I said . . .SHUT UP! Hagrid is more of a man than you'll ever be, Pettigrew! You're not fit to lick his boots. I'm so sick and tired of you bloody Marauders barging in where you're not wanted, making trouble for no reason, looking down your shitty noses at everyone, thinking who the hell you are!" I had years worth of suffering and anger coiling inside me and now it burst free. "Oh, you're so funny, pranking fat people, and so clever, making Sheila Williams look so stupid, strutting about the school like you owned it, you and your mates Potter, Black, and Lupin! How'd you ever end up there? Guess they needed some poor stiff to test their pranks out on, huh? Kiss their arse, laugh at their lame humor, eh?"
"That's a lie! I'm their friend!" protested Wormtail.
"Uh huh. A special friend, right?"
"Piss off, Snivellus! At least I have friends, unlike you, slimeball. Even Lily couldn't stand you after awhile, that's why she dumped your sorry arse—"
I saw red then. I sprang at the little rat and knocked him flying with one blow of my fist. I was sick and tired of the Marauders ruining everything for me.
He screamed and landed with a thud . . .right in front of Medea.
Pettigrew didn't, the arse.
He tried to get up and Medea pounced on him, holding him down with her good paw, snarling in rage.
Wormtail started to bawl. "Please don't eat me . . .oh please . . .please . . .Snape call her off . . .please . . .I don't wanna die . . .call her off . . ."
I stared in disgust and loathing at my fellow wizard, recalling vividly the night they had almost gotten me killed. I was sure Pettigrew had been hidden somewhere, laughing up his sleeve at me. But it wasn't so funny now that the shoe was on the other foot. "Better stop moving, Pettigrew. You're making her hungry. She might start to nibble on your toes."
"Please, Snape! Get her off me-e-e! I'll do anything! Anything!"
"Spare me, you lying piece of dung! You'll say anything when you're neck's in a noose." I spat. "I can't help you. Medea only listens to Hagrid and he's not here right now. You'd better pray he comes back soon."
His eyes bugged and he began crying again.
"That's what you get for trying to start trouble," I said nastily. "If you'd left me alone, then you wouldn't be in this scrape. So much for the Gryffindor bravery! You're nothing but a coward! Just like the rat you become!"
Medea was now licking her lips, and drool fell onto Wormtail's face, making him start wailing all over again. I wanted to smack him silly. I'd faced the werewolf with more dignity than this piece of dung. Or my father, for that matter. I'd never begged for mercy, no matter how hard he beat me.
I could tell he was irritating Medea though. Her eyes started shining with this queer light and she began to make a strange singsong growl.
I was growing nervous. Much as I disliked Wormtail, I didn't want to be witness to a devouring. But then I heard the familiar tramp of feet and Hagrid appeared in he clearing, another dead deer slung over his shoulder. "Medea, old girl, look what I got for ya . . .Great Merlin! What happened here?"
He looked from me to Medea, bewildered.
I opened my mouth to speak, but Wormtail beat me to it, whining in his nasally voice, "What's it look like, you big oaf? Help me! Can't you see I'm about to get eaten, you stupid arse?"
I snarled, "Don't you talk that way to Hagrid, you little swamp rat! He's worth twenty of you!"
"Easy, Sev. What happened?" Hagrid laid a hand on my shoulder.
I told him.
He frowned in disapproval and for an instant I was crushed. Why was he mad at me? But it turned out the frown was for Wormtail. "Jes calm down, Wormtail. I'll have you out in a jiffy. Quit wriggling . . .you're exciting her."
Hagrid began crooning to Medea, and the chimera turned her head, looking at him with affection, or so it seemed. Hagrid had the deer in his arms, showing it to her. She seemed interested in it.
The gamekeeper slid the deer closer to her.
Medea drooled. Her head swayed from the deer carcass, which she knew was food, to the odd thing she had pinned beneath her foot. Suddenly, she made a decision.
She turned and began to feed on the deer.
Hagrid grabbed Pettigrew and carried him out of reach of her claws.
He was already trying to suck up, praising Hagrid to the heavens. My lip curled. Really, he was pathetic. Then I thought of something else. I still had to worry about him spilling his guts about me. But then I got an idea.
"Hagrid, hold him for me," I ordered, taking out my wand.
"Sev, what are you doin'?"
"Fixing a mistake. I won't hurt him." I approached them.
Wormtail started babbling, "Don't hurt me! Don't let him hurt me!"
I ignored him and laid my wand against his temple. "You will forget everything you saw and heard. All you'll remember is meeting a scary monster in the forest. Obliviate!"
Pettigrew's face went slack and his eyes rolled up. He had fainted, the big coward.
I gave him a disgusted look. "Figures. I don't know how he ever got Sorted into Gryffindor."
"There are many kinds of courage, Severus. His kind is only for himself, when he's cornered he'll fight back, just like a rat. That's a kind of courage, if you like. The Hat doesn't Sort that way though. Then there's the other kind of courage, when you're brave enough to stand up for a friend, and loyal, even though it costs you in the end."
He began walking through the forest, Pettigrew slung over an arm like a sack of grain.
"That's the kind you have," I stated.
"Yup. And you too. I was coming over here and I heard what you yelled at him 'bout me. There was no call for you t'defend me that way—"
"There was. You saved my life." I argued. I took a deep breath. "I . . .I wasn't just asleep out there on your back porch. I . . .I'd taken a strong Sleeping Draught because I wanted . . .I was trying . . .to die . . ." My voice quivered on that last word, as it hit me then how close I had come to getting what I'd thought I'd wanted. And what I would have missed if I had succeeded.
His free arm came about me then, hugging me to him. "Aye, lad, did you think I didn't know that? I found the empty vial sittin' there next to you. I knew what had been in it, I use stuff that strong sometimes t' put a badly injured animal out o' it's misery. Y' won't remember this, but I stuck a feather down yer throat t' make you puke, an' then gave you a counterdraft an' then you slept. I didn' want t'pry, so I never asked why y'done what you did. Kinda knew anyhow, b'cause I been down that road myself once."
I jerked my head up from his coat and wiped my eyes. I had been weeping quietly into his moleskin coat, but his words made me forget my own sorrow for a moment. "You? You tried to . . .?"
He nodded slowly, and I saw the flicker of an old pain deep within his eyes. Pain and understanding, the sort that can only come to one who has drunk deep of the depths of despair and sipped from the cup of hopelessness.
We said no more then, both of us unwilling to speak of it while Pettigrew was still with us. Who knew but the sly rat might be shamming and hope to pick up more secrets? We placed him outside the forest, close beside the Quidditch pitch, and then returned to the cottage, where I cast several Silencing Charms just in case. Hagrid made tea, a strong brew, and laid out some cheese and bread, butter and honey.
Silently, we ate, and then Hagrid began his tale.
"I never tol' anyone 'bout this, not even Dumbledore knows, but when I was fifteen, I grew real melancholy, an' did' want t'do nothin' but sit in my room and stare at the wall, or lie on my bed an' think about all the things me an' my dad had planned t'do once I finished school, about how proud he was that I'd been wizard enough t' go t'Hogwarts an' get a wand, and how ashamed he'd of been now that I'd been expelled. I thought of how all I was good fer was scrubbin' floors and haulin' drunk people outta the tavern. Got so bad that I felt I had nothin' left t'live for. Mum was gone, Dad was dead, I had no wand n'no real job, and nobody cared a'tall about Rubeus Hagrid, half-giant, 'cept when they needed a strong back t'lift somethin'. Half the people I met spat at me, an'the other half talked like I was too dumb t'understand 'em. I had no friends, 'cause nobody would give me the time o' day."
"I know what that's like," I said feelingly.
"Aye. Well, got so bad that I decided maybe it was time t'join my dad an' the angels on high. So I left late one night, an' went out to a deserted part o' Diagon Alley, an' I tried t' do it. But I didn't succeed, b'cause a stray puppy came an' started lickin' me as I lay there bleedin'. Kept lickin' my face, see, and cryin', an' I realized somethin' then. I realized that the dog cared for me, that a dumb beast had more compassion than any o' my fellow humans ever had. The dog kept lickin' me, an' finally I found the strength t'get up, and bandage myself an' take the puppy back wi' me to The Leaky Cauldron.
"I'd found somethin' t'live for, somethin' that needed me as much as I needed it. D'you know who that dog was, Sev?"
I started to shake my head no, still overcome with emotion, but then a familiar black head nudged my hand. I went to stroke the broad head and scratch behind the ears, and then I knew. "Fang. It was Fang."
"Aye. A scrawny thing he was, back then, but I soon fattened him up. An' when I left for Hogwarts, he came with me, an'he's been with me ever since. And a better friend I'll never have. 'Till now."
"You mean Dumbledore," I clarified, thinking it had to be him, since Hagrid thought so highly of the old wizard.
But to my shock he shook his head. "No, Sev. I mean you."
I remained with my mouth agape. Me? How could that be? I was nobody, just some pathetic Slytherin who'd managed to pass out on his back porch. I wasn't worthy of the title, look what I had done to Lily. How could Hagrid want me as a friend?
"I . . .I don't understand."
"Don't ye? Lad, you need a friend more n' any student I know, like I did back then. More, y'need a mentor, somebody t'help you over the twists an' turns in the road. Now, I might not be as smart as you, or as strong as Dumbledore, but I know sufferin' when I see it. I know you've been put down an' kicked aside an' you and your dad don't get along."
"How do you know that?"
"One, y'never speak o' him. And that usually means you have nothin' good t'say about someone, or y'don't want t'remember. And two, sometimes y'talk in your sleep."
I flushed. "I don't need your pity!" I flared, anything to keep the hurt from resurfacing.
"And I'm not givin' you any." He returned sharply.
I immediately cringed and whispered, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean . . ."
He sighed. "I know your bark's worse than your bite, lad. What I'm offerin' ye is a second chance. The chance t' live. Yer young, ye got loads o' magical potential, an' you're like me—a survivor. You didn't really wanna die that night."
"No. You know poisons that would kill you quick as blinking, you're no novice potion maker, Severus Snape. If you'd really intended to off yerself, you would have. But a part o' you didn't want to die, anymore than I did. You wanted someone t'convince you that yer life was worth saving."
I stared at him. He was right. Why had I chosen that particular draft? I could have just as easily drunk nightshade or any one of a dozen other poisons. But I hadn't. "And you think that my life is worth saving?"
"Aye, I do. You're a good person, son. You're worth saving a dozen times over."
His words, so honest and heartfelt, snapped something inside me. My shattered spirit mended itself then and suddenly I was crying, not the silent tears I had shed throughout all my childhood, but actual sobs. I was crying for everything I had lost and also for all I had been given back.
I felt Hagrid's hand on my shoulder, patting gently. I cried harder, because no one had ever done that for me. Somehow, I ended up on his lap, and there I cried into his shirt, until I was wrung dry of tears and regret.
Then I lay there and listened to his huge heart beating, and I knew two things.
One, that I was worth saving.
Two, that I had come home at last.
Harry was flung abruptly out of the memory and he emerged from the Pensieve, gasping with the shock. He had never shared anyone's memories so vividly, and for a moment he was stunned, trying to comprehend everything he had learned.
He carefully wiped his face on his sleeve.
"Here, Harry. Use a towel, how many times must I tell you that?" A large green flannel was placed in his hand.
Harry jerked up so violently he tripped over his own feet and fell on the floor. Severus had come back. Severus knew he had been in the Pensieve. Then he probably knew about the memories Harry had viewed as well, the bottle was still next to the stone basin, Harry thought, guilt overwhelming him. He glanced up at his father, but the sun was in his eyes and all he could see was Snape's shadow. He could imagine, however, the fury on the other's face.
"I'm sorry! I didn't mean to!" he babbled, scooting backwards on his butt, anticipating a smack for daring to invade the other's privacy in such a heinous fashion. "I wasn't looking, I grabbed the wrong one. I'm sorry! Please don't kill me, Da."
Severus stared down at the lanky youngster, utterly bewildered. "Harry, what is wrong with you? You're acting like I'm going to belt you one. Stop it."
"You are. Because I invaded your privacy. But I didn't mean to!"
There was desperation in the green eyes now.
Severus grasped Harry's hand and helped him up. "You are making no sense whatsoever. You know perfectly well I would never beat you. Now, what are you talking about?"
Harry gulped, then said slowly, "I found the Pensieve in the cabinet and I saw the box of memories you'd packed. One of them was the one where I pranked Draco. I wanted to see it again, so I reached down and opened it and emptied it into the water. But when I put my head in, I found that it wasn't my memory at all. It was one of yours."
Severus remained expressionless. "I see. Which one was it?"
"This." Harry picked up the vial and handed it to him. Then he waited for the axe to fall.
Yes, another horrible cliffy! But I felt the upcoming discussion was best left to a whole new chapter. How do you think Severus will react? Will he, as Harry believes, go ballistic on his arse? Or will he attempt to discuss the memory calmly? Or a little of both?