The snow fell, silent but deadly, covering the grounds and the Forbidden Forest with a thick layer of icy white, smothering the grass, covering the holes of rabbits and groundhogs, coating the tree branches until they bent and bowed to the ground. Only the mighty oaks and fir trees stood upright against the onslaught. The wind picked up, making the snow swirl and dance, blowing right in the face of the twelve-year-old struggling to make his way through the trees. It cut through the woolen jumper and cotton pajamas, causing the boy to shiver uncontrollably and clutch his arms tighter to himself. His fingers were frozen, he had forgotten to borrow gloves, he'd been so freaked out by hearing the voice again. He had them tucked up under his arms, he'd read somewhere that would stave off frostbite for a while.
He had been intending to make his way to Hagrid's hut, or the greenhouse, but in the blinding snow, he had taken a wrong turn and ended up passing them by. Unable to see he'd gone off course, he continued wandering about, praying to find some kind of shelter before he froze to death. Snow coated him from head to foot, and melted inside his collar, trickling down his back in an icy stream. His trainers were full of snow, and each step he took felt like he was carrying fifty pounds on his feet.
He stumbled and tripped, once nearly landing face first in the snow. But somehow he managed to keep his feet and kept on trudging, his teeth chattering so badly he felt as if they were about to shatter into pieces. He realized too late that it had been a stupid decision to run outside, but he hadn't been thinking straight when he'd done it, common sense had been eclipsed by fear.
Harry could hardly see in the raging storm, he knew only that somehow he had to find shelter. For some strange reason, despite the fact that he was frozen to the bone, an old Christmas song fluttered through his head. "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose . . ." How he wished he were in front of an open fire now! Like in the common room, all toasty and warm. Jack Frost was doing far more than merely nipping at Harry's nose, he'd bitten it clean off.
He passed the boundary and crossed into the forest, only realizing that fact when he had gone a few hundred feet and tripped over a partially buried log. He pitched forward, striking his head against a buried rock.
The world spun about him, he saw ten hundred trees whirling in a stately winter promenade, and the snow spinning and swirling in an endless mist of white and silver. He crawled about two feet beyond the log, blood trickling from a cut on his head before he lay down and surrendered to the blinding pain and cold. His last thought was that at least the snow had made it impossible to hear the bloody voice.
Severus Snape had never been so cold in his entire life. He knew that rumor had it he had a heart of ice, but nothing could have been further from the truth. He was not unfeeling, simple very good at masking his emotions, a survival tactic which had enabled him to live through a very abusive father and being recruited by Voldemort to be his premier brewer of deadly potions. He had not wished to endure either of those things, but fate had never given him a choice. And so he had learned to shut down his emotions and pretend to be cold, hard, and unfeeling. Nothing had cracked that façade until the death of his beloved Lily, that had been the last time he had allowed himself to cry, to truly feel. It had hurt so much that he had retreated behind the wall of ice again, he would rather be numb than to risk such agony again.
Until tonight, when he had caught sight of a student running away, willing to face the fury of a blizzard rather than remain in the castle. Then he had allowed himself to feel anger . . .and not a little fear as well. Fear that he wouldn't be able to find the child before it was too late, and the elements overwhelmed them. This blizzard would probably go on record as one of the worst storms to hit the Highlands in recent memory. And he was out in it trying to find a lost child.
Snow was up to his knees, almost, and despite the warming spells he'd cast, he still felt the cold keenly. This was a killer snowstorm, and ordinary charms weren't able to stand up to this piercing deadly frost for long. With every breath he took, frozen air stabbed his lungs, causing him to cough and gasp. His nose began to run, and he had to pause to wipe it with his handkerchief.
He had begun by following the footprints in the snow, but the blizzard was quickly erasing the small tracks, and soon he knew he wouldn't be able to find the wayward child by sight alone. He lifted his wand and cast a Four Points spell, a generalized one. "Point me my missing student," he muttered and felt a tug upon his wand.
North and east. Towards the Forbidden Forest. Severus growled a curse word under his breath. What the hell had possessed the child to go haring off in the middle of a blizzard? Some asinine dare with his friends? Some sort of strain of lunacy? Or perhaps . . .perhaps the student was suicidal?
Even though that last idea chilled him to the bone, he knew that if the child truly meant to off himself, there were plenty of other ways to do so, easier ways, than getting frozen to death in a blizzard. He shook his head, sneezing. When he got hold of whoever this was, he was going to strip the hide off them, figuratively speaking. His hands were too cold to make the unfortunate child into potions ingredients, more's the pity.
After five more minutes of walking, he felt the spell pull him deeper into the forest. He narrowly avoided barking his shins on a large log, but once he had detoured around it, his Four Points spell dragged him off the trail and to one side.
The toes of Snape's boots stumbled over something unyielding and he nearly measured his length in the snow. "What the hell?" he spat, only then seeing the red sleeve sticking out of the snow. "I should have known—only a Gryffindor would be idiotic enough to do something like this." He knelt in the snow, muttered yet another heating charm, and started to dig away the powdery snow.
He had soon uncovered a shoulder and a head. Dark hair, and a pale face, one that was wearing black-rimmed glasses. Snape's fingers gently brushed the snow away and saw the familiar lightning bolt scar. "Potter!" he nearly howled. He longed to give the reckless brat a good smack upside the head. "What the hell were you thinking?" he snarled, continuing to clear away the snow.
His fingers found the side of Potter's neck. He pressed down, praying to still find a pulse. He felt a flutter. There! It was very faint, hypothermia had set in, but it was there. He breathed out a sharp sigh of relief. The boy was a tremendous annoyance and often made Snape long to shake him till his teeth fell out, but the Potions Master did not wish him dead.
The boy's skin had taken a bluish tinge and when Severus finally lifted him from his frozen bed of snow, he saw that Harry's hands and fingers were frozen stiff and blue. "No gloves, no damn coat!" Snape swore. "If you weren't already out, I'd be tempted to whack you to the moon, you idiot! Didn't anyone ever teach you how to dress for the weather? Were your relatives that bloody dumb? Or weren't you paying attention when your aunt told you to put on a coat and gloves before playing outside?"
He scolded as he cast a Warming charm over the unconscious boy, trying to raise his body temperature a little. He unwrapped his cloak and bundled Harry into it, then cradled him in his arms. "There! Now don't tell me I never gave you anything!" He snarled. He was truly frightened over the boy's condition, and he had never dealt well with fear. He hid it beneath anger, though it still clutched his innards, squeezing him hard. "You had better not die on me, Potter! I didn't risk becoming a bloody snowman just to have you die and spare yourself the lecture of your life, you insane brat!"
He looked up, and realized that he could no longer see the trail he had made through the snow. He no longer knew the right way to get back to the castle, the storm was so fierce it obscured even the familiar landmarks he used to find his way out of the forest.
Damn and double damn!
They needed to find shelter quickly. Potter couldn't take any more of the punishing cold, and if he were being honest, neither could he. His cold had grown worse with exposure to the icy air and he was coughing harder now, and gasping with every breath he took. Harry was nearly blue with cold.
He turned Harry so his face was pressed against his thick velvet robe, shielding him from the wind and snow as best he could. It was then that he heard it . . .the low vicious howl, rising steadily into a high-pitched snarl. Severus glanced about and saw five pairs of eyes approaching in the distance. They glowed with a malevolent light, a putrid yellowish-green, and their clawed feet left black splotches in the snow as they stalked Severus and Harry.
"Bloodspawn!" Severus hissed. "Of course, they would be attracted to fresh meat, especially in such a storm." Bloodspawn were a wizard-bred cross between a cat and a weasel, they were long and sinuous, could move with diabolical speed, and fed upon anything that happened to cross their path, including wizards. They tracked by hearing the blood and heartbeats of their prey, and thus could hunt in any conditions. They were immune to cold and wet, the only thing they feared were dragons. They were abominations created during Grindelwald's rise to power, and a pack of them had settled in the forest some years back. They had pricked ears like a cat, large triangular ones that could funnel sound into them very efficiently. They were a smoky gray color, rippling with muscle and their muzzles were slightly elongated and filled with sharp fangs.
Severus carefully backed away through the snow, keeping eye contact.
The bloodspawn leader met his eyes with savage ferocity, letting loose a low keening sound.
Foot by foot Snape moved away, knowing he had only a few moments before the leader sprang and the rest of the pack followed.
The other bloodspawn began to keen as well, a precursor to the hunt.
Severus cut loose with a bolt of fire, scoring the leader and creating a line of flame across their path. It wouldn't last long, but it could buy him time.
The bloodspawn howled and shrank back.
Snape turned and ran as quickly as he could, his breath rasping in his throat.
On one of his previous expeditions into the forest to gather some rare herbs, he had seen a cave somewhere, if he could just find it . . .he might be able to take shelter in it . . .as he ran, he cast another Locator Charm, using it to pinpoint the cave he had seen.
Behind him, he heard the shrieks and snarls of the bloodspawn as the fire died and the creatures charged after him.
He could practically feel their hot breath on his heels as he fled, trying to stay one step ahead of the starving creatures. He followed the incessant pull of the spell, dodging about trees and occasionally firing off more hexes as he did so. He managed to cast a Notice Me Not hex that would allow him to blend into his surroundings for a few moments, though it wouldn't slow the bloodspawn down much. They did not track by sight, but by heartbeats.
The caterwauling raised the hair on the back of his neck and he forced himself to run faster than he ever had in his life. He glanced back once and saw the lead bloodspawn come bounding through the snow, mouth gaping, eyes slitted in hate. The offspring of misbegotten magical experiments, the bloodspawn hated their wizard creators, and had been made to detest all wizardkind. They lived to hunt and slay those born to magic, and they were salivating with eagerness, drooling in anticipation of sinking their fangs into Snape's ankle and gnawing his foot off.
But as fast as he ran, the bloodpsawn were faster, they had the advantage of four legs, magical speed, and were not hampered by carrying a twelve-year-old unconscious boy through deep snow. They closed on the pair with rapid lunges, and Snape's only hope was to reach the mouth of the cave before they managed to bring him down.
Severus could see the cave ahead, it loomed up starkly against the winter sky. He pushed himself forward, determined to reach the haven, determined to save the boy he had promised to guard. Long ago he had made a promise to an old and dear friend, a promise that would right a great mistake he had made, though no one else knew of it save the one he'd made it to. Another suspected, but didn't know for sure, and Snape did not feel charitable enough to enlighten him.
He raced up the small incline and his boot crossed the threshold of the cave just as the bloodspawn leader closed his teeth about Snape's ankle.
Severus spun about, bringing his opposite boot to bear on the bloodspawn, kicking it as hard as he could in the neck. "Get off me, you bloody bastard! Find something else to snack on, cat!"
The kick hit the bloodspawn hard, and the beast gagged and fell backwards, taking a strip of Snape's boot with it.
Severus sprang for the cave, casting a strong ward against evil creatures as he did so. He just managed to duck inside when the rest of the bloodspawn surged at the barrier, their cries of disappointment echoing loudly over the song of the wind. They smashed into the ward and were burnt and repelled.
Severus limped slightly and walked deeper into the cave, his wand lighting up his path. The cave was oddly warm and the floor was smooth, as if something had been run across it to polish it. Probably water, Snape mused, continuing onward into the cave.
It was surprisingly large and Snape had no trouble navigating it. He halted in what he assumed was the center of the cave, and laid Harry down. Then he knelt and pulled out one of Harry's poor hands from his cloak. He tapped his wand against the blue flesh and muttered a Restoring Charm. As the blood began to flow back into Harry's fingers, they began to change color from frozen blue to a more healthy reddish pink.
Harry stirred, groaning from the intense pain.
He tried to jerk his hand away, it felt as if someone were setting his fingers on fire.
"Ahhh! Stop!" Harry opened his eyes, panicked. Why did his hand hurt so bloody much?
"Potter, relax." Severus ordered, keeping firm hold of his patient's arm. "I know this hurts, but it has to be done. Unless you want to be known as The-Boy-Who-Lived-Without-Hands?"
Harry struggled, whimpering. "Snape? Where am I?"
"That's Professor Snape to you. Stop fighting me!"
"Well, you have no one to blame but yourself, running out in the middle of a blizzard without a coat, boots, or gloves!" Severus snapped irritably. "Did you leave all your brains back in Gryffindor Tower?"
He began to rub and chafe the small hand.
Harry gritted his teeth. Much as he disliked Snape, he knew the man was only trying to help him. "Where am I, sir?"
"Somewhere in a cave in the Forbidden Forest," replied Snape curtly, halting his chafing to examine the slender fingers. "Potter, can you move your fingers?"
Harry tried, grunting with the effort. His fingers felt like blocks of wood and they smarted and tingled unmercifully.
"Good. You haven't lost all feeling in them."
"I wish I had." Harry muttered. This hurt worse than re-growing the bones in his arm had.
Severus said nothing, beginning the chafing again.
Harry tried not to squirm or cry, he didn't want Snape to think he was a coward. "How . . .how did . . .you find me?"
"Obviously, I used magic," Snape drawled. "What in hell possessed you to run out in a blizzard?"
Harry clamped his lips together and refused to answer. No way would he reveal to Snape his true reason. As the stinging pain in his hand abated, he started to notice how much his head hurt. It throbbed horribly.
He felt as if a giant vise was squeezing his head.
In spite of himself, two tears trickled down his cheeks.
Snape noticed and blotted them away with his handkerchief. "I'm almost done with this hand," he said gruffly. Potter was bearing up remarkably well, he must have a high pain threshold. Frostbite was painful as hell. He gently massaged the tips of Harry's fingers.
"Th-thanks," Harry managed to get out.
"Are you going to answer my question?" Severus asked pointedly.
"Don't be rude, Potter! I deserve some explanation since I risked my life to rescue you!"
Harry bit his lip. He couldn't believe Snape had rescued him. It was the last thing he expected. But he didn't know what to say to the potions professor. Snape already thought he was a troublemaker and arrogant, why should he add liar and crazy to the list? Then again, why should he care what Snape thought of him? "I—It was . . .I heard . . ."
Suddenly, in the far back of the cave, a light appeared, a softly glowing golden light.
Then there came a strange noise, a soft shushing scraping sound, as of something raspy being dragged across the stone.
"What was that?" Snape hissed, dropping Harry's hand and coming to his feet, wand at the ready. They were not alone.
The slithering sound continued, and Severus waited tensely.
"Professor, what is it?"
A huge serpent slithered into view, it was over twenty-five feet long, a brilliant golden shade with darker golden spots along its back. It had a feathered ruff about its head and sparkling emerald eyes. Its tongue flicked in and out, smelling the two intruders to its lair and it looked them over curiously.
**S-s-so. . .finally s-some visitors to my home. Tell me, what do you do here, little wizards-s-s?**
Harry heard the hissed speech and tried to scramble away. It was happening again. He was hearing voices. "N-o-o!" he wailed. "Leave me alone! I don't want to hear you! I don't want to go mad!" He started to smack himself about the head with his half-healed hand.
Severus gaped at the boy. "Potter, what on earth! Stop that!"
The snake lowered its head and peered at the boy on the floor. **Boy, can you understand me?**
"Shut up! I don't want to hear you!" Harry half-sobbed.
Snape's eyes darted from the snake to the small boy. "Potter, can you . . .understand what the snake says? Do you hear a slightly raspy voice in your head?"
Harry nodded, flinching as Snape grasped his wrist firmly and pulled his hand away. "Y-yes. I'm . . .g-going round the bend . . .totally barmy . . .right?"
Snape snorted. "For heaven's sake, Potter! Just because you can speak to snakes does not make you crazy. It's a rare ability, true, but it doesn't make you mad."
**Indeed not, s-s-mall one. It makes you s-s-marter.** chuckled the serpent.
"I'm talking to a snake?" Harry repeated.
"You're a Parselmouth, Potter."
"How do you know that? How do you know I'm not just going nuts?"
"Because I can understand her as well," Severus answered simply. "One of my ancestors married a daughter of Salazar Slytherin centuries ago and the gift was passed down through her. I too am a Parselmouth."
Did the ending of this chapter surprise you?
I hope it did, even if only a little.
For those of you wondering about the snake, and why Harry doesn't recall being able to talk to snakes, you'll find out the answer to those questions next chapter!
Thanks to everyone who has read, reviewed, favorited and alerted this. Your interest in this story is very encouraging.
Please tell me how you're liking it so far! I'd love to hear your thoughts on it and what you think may happen next.
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