Chapter 50 : Responsibilities
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Ginny hated when one of her children looked at her with those big pleading eyes. She was always a sucker for them, especially when Severus used that look on her. He hardly ever asked for anything, unlike Alby, who seemed to want something different every day. She glanced away and wondered if the whole thing could be a set up. Harry had mentioned getting a dog once in their hearing, maybe this was their way of trying? She looked again at the baby black fox, all fuzzy fur and bushy tail, lying in the leaves. No, where would they find a fox like this all of a sudden? Even if Alby could talk to animals, no wild mother in her right mind would leave a youngster like that unattended. That was what decided her for now.
She steeled herself for the pleading and whining (well, maybe not whining from Sevvy, for he hardly ever did so) which would follow as she said, "Sevvy, Alby, I think we should discuss this with your dad before we do anything about the fox. After all, we don't know if he's been abandoned and if we do anything now, the mama could come back and find her baby missing and we wouldn't want that, would we?"
"But Mummy, it's a she and she told me her mum had been missing for two days," Alby informed her.
"That's why I fed her. So she wouldn't starve," Severus interjected. "Her name's Bright Shadow."
"You named her, Sevvy?" Ginny repeated in dismay. The last thing she wanted was for the kids to become too attached.
"No. It's her name. She told it to us," Severus said. "Do we have to wait for Harry?"
"Yes, we do. It's not right to just up and take an animal, especially a wild one, without talking to Harry first," Ginny said firmly. "Plus, we're still not sure if this baby's an orphan, so best we wait a little."
"How long?" Severus demanded, with a slight whine to his tone. He wanted to take the kit home now.
"Maybe . . . if your dad agrees . . . another day or so."
"A day! But she could starve!" Severus protested. Couldn't Ginny see the fox was hungry? "Or freeze to death!"
"It's not cold enough now for her to freeze, Severus," Ginny reminded him. "Now let's go and eat lunch with Grammy and we can discuss this later over dinner."
"I'm not hungry," Severus pouted, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Me neither," said Alby, copying his big brother.
"Well, you're still going to sit down with us and at least drink something and eat a piece of bread. I won't be giving you any snacks before dinner and that's at least four hours away. Now, come along!"
Severus remained staring defiantly at the fox kit a moment longer, feeling a strange feeling tug at his heart. It wasn't fair that he was so little and had to defer to adults! If he were bigger . . . if he were still an adult, like he had been before . . . he could rescue the kit. Now he'd have to wait, and patience was not a strong suit of his, even though he'd learned to cultivate it as a spy. "Goodbye, Shadow. We'll come back for you soon," he called, then reluctantly followed Ginny, Rose, and Alby back to the house. Now he'd have to convince Harry of his sincerity and hopefully Harry would understand that the fox needed him. And nothing had needed him in a long long time.
"What's with all the long faces?" Molly asked as she served up soup and sandwiches for lunch. All the kids looked down in the mouth, and Severus picked at his bologna and cheese sandwich with a sulky pout on his small face. Alby took a few bites of his salami and cheese and pushed it away, and even Rosie barely touched her soup with oyster crackers, which normally she loved.
"I had to tell them they couldn't keep a fox kit they found in the cornfield, Mum," Ginny told her mother as she ate her own soup and sandwich. "As you can see, they aren't too happy with me right now."
"A fox? In the cornfield?" Molly repeated. "That's a surprise. Most wild animals never come near here. The farmer next door keeps a mean old hound dog that runs wild things clear into next week."
At that, Rose started to sniffle. "Oh, no! What if that mean old dog hurts the baby fox?"
"It could be killed!" Alby wailed.
"That's why I didn't want to leave it on its own!" Severus said. "If it dies, I'll . . . I'll never forgive you!"
"Now, boys! And Rose too!" Molly began. "There's no need to get all worked up when nothing's even happened yet. The fox has probably been hiding in the cornfield for awhile and Farmer Jenkin's dog is tied up in the yard right now, so it's safe. So stop crying and eat your lunch. And Severus, don't blame Ginny if something happens. That's a wild creature and nature takes care of its own."
"But I think the mama fox's dead, Grammy," Alby put in. "The baby told me she hasn't seen her mama since two days ago."
"Well, that may be, but until we know for sure, you just leave that fox be. Lots of times mama animals leave their babies hidden while they lead predators away from them, and that could be the case here."
"But what if it's not?" Severus persisted.
"Then we deal with that later," Molly said. "Now eat up! I don't want this good food to go to waste or have you whining later on you're hungry to your mum."
Severus, recognizing the finality in her tone, and also not liking to waste food, picked up his sandwich and took a bite. He hoped Harry would be home soon. He chewed slowly and drank some milk to make the food go down. Normally he liked bologna and cheese but today everything tasted like sawdust.
Alby nudged him in the ribs when he was halfway done with his sandwich. "Do you think Dad will let us keep the fox?" he whispered.
Severus scowled. "How should I know? Do I look like him?" he demanded irritably. He was already upset with the way things had worked out, he didn't need his little brother asking stupid questions.
"You don't have to be so grouchy!" Alby sniffled, looking like he was about to cry.
Rose rolled her eyes as she ate her tuna sandwich. "Merlin, Al, don't be such a crybaby," she hissed.
"'M not!" cried Alby. "Sevvy's being mean to me!"
"Oh, get over it!" snapped Severus. Usually he felt bad about losing his temper with Alby, but not today. Today he was too irritable.
"Children, quit bickering," Ginny ordered wearily. "Alby, quit pestering your brother. And Severus, stop snapping at him, or else you can go stand in the corner until you work through this bad mood."
Before Severus could say anything, Indi began crying in the next room. "Now look what you did! You woke the baby!" Ginny frowned and got up from the table to see why her daughter was crying.
"Ha! Ha! Sevvy's in trouble!" Alby sing-songed, gloating a little.
Severus glared at him. "Watch it, Albus. You sound like a brat."
"Do too!" Rose butted in.
"Who asked for your two Knuts?" Alby cried.
"Would all of you like some time out?" asked Molly sternly. All of them shook their heads. "Good, because I know you're all upset about the fox kit, but that's no excuse to tease, yell, or be mean to one another. Am I clear?"
"Yes, Granny," all of them chorused.
"All right, now once you eat lunch, I have a plate of shortbread here for you to sample. If you behave, you can each have three pieces."
All the children shut up then and finished their sandwiches. Molly's shortbread was too good to resist. Also, Severus was afraid that if he got in trouble, it would show Harry that he wasn't responsible enough to care for a pet, and he badly wanted to help the baby fox.
As the children ate their shortbread, Molly cleaned up with a wave of her wand, making sure to save a plate for Hermione, who was sleeping, she had become very tired in the afternoons since she was pregnant.
Harry arrived home after going out with Dudley, Ron, Remus, Celia and the boys to Ginny cooking some beef stew and Alby coloring a picture while Severus wrote in his journal to Lily, telling her about the fox they had found and how he hoped Harry would let him keep it.
I think it may be my familiar, Lil, I just have this feeling, though I don't know for sure because I never had a true familiar before, but this just feels right. Now all I have to do is convince Harry to talk Ginny into letting me take care of Shadow. Sure hope that old saying about husbands being able to sweet talk their wives is true.
He laid down his quill when Harry came into the kitchen, grabbed Ginny and swung her around, saying, "Hey, what's cookin' good lookin'?" He planted a smacking kiss right on her mouth as he did so.
Ginny blushed and said, "Harry, the children are watching!"
"So? Then they can see how to treat a lady," Harry laughed, setting her down. "So, what are you making for dinner? Whatever it is, it smells divine."
"It's just beef stew with gravy and mashed potatoes," Ginny said, coloring a little.
"Mmm . . . sounds delicious," Harry grinned. "Where's Indi?"
"Asleep. I just got her down for a nap a little bit ago."
"Maybe I'll go say hi."
"Don't wake her, You know how cranky she is if she doesn't get all her rest."
"Sounds likes someone else I know," Harry quipped. Then he yelped lightly as she swatted him with the dishcloth. "Hey! What was that for?"
"You were talking trash about me," Ginny returned impishly. She smirked as her husband rubbed his behind.
"I never even mentioned you," Harry objected.
"I know who you were referring to," said his wife. "Want me to kiss it better?" she teased naughtily.
"You do that and that stew will burn and we'll be eating out for supper," Harry snickered. Then he went into the living room, where Indi was napping in the portable playpen.
Celia was grinning down at her and saying, "Aww! I wish you were awake so I could play with you."
"She'll be awake soon enough," Severus said quietly. He smiled at his baby sister, then glanced up at Harry, wondering how to tell him about the fox. He had followed Harry into the living room from the kitchen.
Suddenly Alby ran in and hugged Harry about the legs, as was his wont these days. "Daddy! Daddy, guess what? Sevvy an' Rosie an' I found a baby fox in Grammy's cornfield! Can we keep it, Dad? Can we?"
"Hey! I was going to ask him first, blabbermouth!" Severus cried angrily. Trust Alby to just blurt it out like that.
"What fox? Where is it?" Celia asked eagerly.
"Still in the cornfield." Severus told her. "Ginny made us leave her there. She said the fox might still have a mama and it could come looking for her."
"But I talked to the fox, Daddy, an' she said her mama was missing for two days. So don't that mean she doesn't have one no more?" Alby said.
Harry sighed and looked down at his youngest son. "You mean doesn't she have a mama anymore," he corrected, then said, "Well, Alby, that all depends. She might still have one, some mothers are known to leave their babies for awhile when they're trying to distract hunters from their babies. If that's the case here, we just have to wait and see."
"But what if Alby's right and she doesn't have a mother?" Severus pressed. "We can't just leave her there, Harry. She'll die and I . . . I think I've bonded with her."
"You what? You think you've bonded with her?" Harry repeated. "That she's your . . . familiar?" He nearly groaned aloud. This was all he needed.
"I . . . I don't know for sure because . . . I've never had a familiar before," Severus admitted. "But when I saw her, she came to me and I petted her and she . . . looked at me and I felt . . . like she was meant for me. I . . . I can't explain it any better than that, Harry." Severus said. He groped for more words, but they wouldn't come. Finally he said, "Please, let me keep her if she has no mother left. I promise I'll take good care of her. I'll feed her, train her, and everything. She'll be my responsibility, like Honeygold's Alby's." He couldn't resist mentioning that, since Alby was younger than he was and he had a familiar, even if Ginny and Harry had to remind him to clean the owl's cage and feed and water her once in awhile.
Harry wanted to bang his head into the wall. The last thing this household needed was another animal to take care of. Then again, Severus was right. Alby had Honeygold, so it was only fair that Severus get a familiar too. "I was hoping you'd get a cat or something, Sev. Not a fox."
Severus shrugged. "I didn't pick her, Harry. She picked me."
"It's a girl fox?" Celia wanted to know. "When can I see her?"
"Yes, it's a vixen," Severus said.
"We'll go back to the Burrow in a day or two," Harry said. "By then we should know if she's been abandoned or not."
"But what if she gets hungry, Daddy?" Alby cried.
"Uh . . . you can tell Grammy to feed her," Harry said.
"What's her name?" Celia wanted to know.
"Her name's Bright Shadow," answered Severus. "That's what she said it was, anyway."
"Ooh, that's pretty! Is she red and white?" Celia squealed.
"No, she's black, with a small white tuft at the end of her tail," Severus answered.
"A black fox! Cool! I never knew there were black foxes before."
"Actually, they're grey foxes, but some can be born black, Cee," Harry told her. When Severus gave him a dumbfounded look, he said, "It's true, Sev. I read a book about it from Hagrid one year."
"So can we keep her, Dad?" asked Alby, pulling on Harry's leg.
"You mean, can I keep her?" Severus corrected possessively. "Just because you can talk to her doesn't mean she's yours. She's my familiar."
"Boys, enough! We'll talk about it later," Harry said firmly, ending the argument. Then he bent down and kissed Indigo, who was still asleep. "Hello, baby princess. I can't wait till you wake up and rip my hair out again," he murmured, his eyes full of love for his baby girl.
"She ripped out your hair?" Severus asked.
"Last night when I was holding her while Ginny warmed up her bottle," Harry winced.
"How was the ice cream with Uncle Dudley?" Alby asked.
"It was good," Celia said. "I had strawberries and pralines."
"And I had—"
"Strawberry and peanut butter," Severus and Alby finished. That was Harry's favorite ice cream.
"How'd you remember that? I could have had chocolate."
"Please, Daddy. You always have that kind," Alby said, rolling his eyes.
"Oh. Guess I'm a creature of habit. All right, let me go and wash up for supper. Celia, why don't you help Aunt Ginny set the table? Severus and Alby, you can sweep the floor."
"After dinner can we talk about the fox?" asked Severus. throwing Harry a wheedling look.
"Yes, now get!" Harry clapped his hands lightly and the children scampered away. He took one more look at his sleeping daughter before going upstairs to get changed.
After supper, which was as good as it smelled, the family went into the living room and discussed the finding of the fox and whether or not it was a good thing to give it a home if it was Severus' familiar. Ginny agreed reluctantly, because she knew that a bonded animal was never happy away from its wizard, and she remembered how unfair it had been when Ron had a pet rat and she had nothing when she was growing up, until Ron had given Pig when she was almost done with school, after her Pygmy Puff had died. She didn't want any resentment between her sons, or cries of how it was unfair that one had a familiar and the other didn't, especially because Severus was more mature and older than Alby.
Harry thanked Merlin Celia wasn't begging for a familiar too. No, Celia's one big wish was for her mum Monica to accept her magic. Sadly, Harry didn't see that happening any time soon, according to what Dudley had told him.
"All right. So here's how it goes if we find the fox is abandoned," Harry began in his Gryffindor House Rules voice. "We bring the fox home and I build a run to keep it in sometimes. When the fox is inside, Severus, you're in charge of it. That means that you make sure it—she—doesn't make a mess anywhere—"
"You mean like pee and poop on the floor?" Alby demanded.
"Yes, or chew up things or whatever. You're also in charge of giving that creature a bath and feeding and watering it. I'll have to ask Hagrid if he knows anything about foxes because I sure as heck don't know how to care for one."
"I can help, Sevvy! I can 'splain to her what she needs to do and see what she wants," Alby said proudly. "An' introduce her to Honeygold and Pig."
"All right, fine," Severus agreed. "But remember, she's my familiar, not yours." His greatest fear, besides the fact that the fox would be gone before they could adopt her, was that Alby would manage to convince her that she was better off as his familiar, since Alby was a Beast Master and all. He couldn't let that happen. Alby already had Honeygold, he didn't need Bright Shadow. Not the way Severus did.
Severus looked at Harry and Ginny. "I'll take care of her, Harry. Don't worry. I'm responsible enough to care for a fox kit."
"You'd better be, Severus Snape," Ginny admonished. "Because I have enough to look after with Alby, Celia, and Indi to be taking on a fox too!"
"I can help too, Sevvy," Celia said, speaking up for the first time. "Mummy never let me have a pet, she said they were smelly and dirty, but I always wanted one. I like the owls but a fox is cuter. And cuddlier."
Severus nodded. He knew Celia would be a good person to enlist, since he was sure that taking care of a fox was a full time job.
Harry and Ginny made Severus and the rest of the kids wait until two more days had gone by before they went back to the cornfield to see if the fox kit was there. By then Severus was near to biting his nails with impatience, a thing which he'd never indulged in before. Molly had been leaving food for the fox and it had been eaten. But Severus wasn't sure if the fox had gotten it or some bigger creature had.
It took a bit before Severus found his way back to the spot where Bright Shadow was. At first he thought the fox kit was gone, that the mother actually had returned for her baby. He felt a crushing disappointment fill his heart. He never should have allowed himself to hope, to become attached. He should have known better. Wishing and hoping had always ended in tragedy for him. Why would now be any different than before?
Suddenly, he heard a yip, down low by his foot. He knelt and called, "Shadow, are you here? Hey, Shadow, it's me, Severus. Remember me?"
Suddenly a black shape exploded from the leaf litter to the left of the corn stalks. Severus was so shocked to see the little fox that he over balanced and landed on his bum.
Then the black kit was jumping up on him and whimpering, licking him with her pink sticky tongue all over his face, hands, and neck. She was obviously happy to see him.
Severus laughed in delight and hugged the warm fuzzy kit to him. For the first time ever, he felt as if he was drowning in joy, and he couldn't stop giggling at the way the fox was kissing him.
"Sevvy? Is she here? Didja find her?" came Alby's voice from a few feet away.
"Yes! Come over here and talk to her for me!"
Seconds later his brother came busting through the cornfield and he was followed by Celia and Harry. "Whoa! You did find her! And she sure is glad to see you!" Alby cried. "Bright Shadow, did you miss us? Where's your mum? Did she ever come back?"
The little fox yipped again and Alby said, "Merlin, that's too bad. Dad, she says her mama never came for her and she's probably dead since she's been gone so long. She's alone."
"I want to take her home." Severus said quietly, gently stroking the fuzzy black fur. "Do you want to come home with me, Bright Shadow? Be my friend and my familiar?"
Alby translated. The small fox gave a contented growl and curled up in Severus' arms.
"I guess that doesn't need a translation," Harry laughed. "Sev, looks like you've got yourself a familiar."
Severus grinned up at him, the expression on his face a rare one—of pure joy.
"Can I pet her, Sevvy?" asked Celia.
"Yes. Shadow, this is Celia, my cousin. She won't hurt you," Severus introduced them. "Let her sniff your hand, so she knows your scent."
Celia did and Shadow licked her. The girl giggled and stroked her fur. "Ooh, she's like a warm fuzzy blanket! How beautiful her fur is!" She petted the fox some more. "Is she magic, do you think?"
Severus shrugged. "I don't care if she is or not. She's my familiar and that's all that matters." He stood up, Shadow cradled close.
"Come on, kids, time to head home," Harry said. "Mum's waiting supper and we need to let her meet the new addition to the family. Her and Indigo."
For the first week or two, Shadow was a model familiar. Harry built a play area in the yard for her, according to Hagrid's book on English foxes and their habits. He made the run fairly large with chicken wire for fencing and wards to keep the fox in and other animals out. The gate latched automatically when one of the kids went in or out, so there was no chance of leaving it open. Harry placed a large hollow log with a sturdy tree branch on it so Shadow could make a den and climb it, since foxes like to climb. He gave her a sand box so she could do her business in it, like a cat. Inside the enclosure he put a lot of squeaky toys, ropes, bones, and other rubber things like he would for a puppy, since Shadow was teething.
Severus had learned to feed her a diet of ground meat, a raw egg, chopped vegetables, and some vitamin pellets for canines. She also had fresh water every day. The run had a roof over half of it for shelter in case it rained.
For the first two weeks, Severus, Alby, and Celia kept her in the run . . . most of the time. The only exception was at night, when Severus brought her inside to sleep with him. He insisted that the nights were too cold for her to sleep alone and she would get lonely. After listening to her cry the first night, he had snuck out to the run and slipped her into his bed.
Ginny had found them together the next morning when she went to wake him up. At first she was not happy. "Severus, what is that animal doing in your bed? She could have fleas or—or mange or something! She belongs outside, young man!"
Severus opened one eye sleepily and hugged Shadow. "You don't make Honeygold sleep outside. She was crying all night, she was scared and lonely."
"Severus, she's going to have to get used to being in the pen."
"Why? You wouldn't put Indi in a pen and ignore her."
"That's different. Indi's my daughter—"
"And she's my familiar! She belongs with me at night." Severus said stubbornly, his chin jutting out.
"I'll not have a wild animal in my house . . ."
"She's not wild and all she wants is to be with me. So there!"
"Don't you "so there" me, Severus Snape!" Ginny growled. "You quit sassing me right now or else I'll . . . take you over my knee."
"Go ahead then! Beat me for all I care!" he cried, tears hovering in his eyes. "You let Alby take Honeygold out of her cage all over the house and she's not even housebroken. Shadow just wants company at night, and I like her better than Mimic. She keeps the nightmares away." He gripped the fox tighter. Shadow trembled a little and hid her face in his pajama top. "You can spank the daylights outta me and I'll still keep bringing her here at night . . . or I'll go and sleep out there."
His chin quivered a bit, but he wouldn't relent. Didn't Ginny understand about familiars? They belonged with their wizard. And Shadow didn't have fleas or mange, she was perfectly clean and he brushed her just yesterday.
Ginny stared at the defiant little boy. This was the first time in a long time that Severus had deliberately defied a decision she had made and she didn't like it. She was tempted to spank him, but something in her made her pause. The look on his face . . . as if she'd asked him to give up potions or cut off his arm . . . she looked again at the fox huddled there and finally she threw up her hands and said, "Very well, she can stay here at night. But you're responsible, young man, for any mess she makes, understand?"
"And if you ever pull an attitude like that again, your behind will regret it. Clear?"
"Yes. I'm sorry I yelled at you," he said softly. "But she needs me and I need her."
"Oh, Severus!" Ginny groaned. "You're going to drive me insane. You and that fox!"
That was only the beginning.
Shadow enjoyed being played with and made much of. Alby could translate her fox talk for his brother and cousin, or anyone else they happened to invite over. The Lupin boys loved playing with her, and Sirius often took his Animagus form so he could romp in the grass with her and challenge her to races. Since Padfoot was bigger, he often won, but Shadow was clever and could sometimes outsmart him by climbing a tree and running along it, then jumping down and beating him that way.
Jamie, who was a daredevil and unafraid of heights, liked to climb trees as well. One day, while the others were inside getting something to eat for a snack, he decided to climb an old elm tree after seeing how easily Shadow raced up and down it. Unknown to him, the upper branches were rotted and when he put his weight on one, it snapped and he came tumbling down.
He landed on the ground, bruised and scraped. Luckily, nothing was broken, but when his brothers and Severus, Celia, and Alby came out a few minutes later, they found the intrepid explorer crying his eyes out.
"Jamie, what happened?" asked Teddy.
"Did you fall?" asked Sirius, looking at the blood covering his brother's leg.
"Do we need to call an ambulance?" asked Celia nervously.
"No-o!" Jamie wailed. "I don't wanna go to the hospital! They stick you with needles an' I hate them!" He clutched his leg and sobbed. "I'm bleeding! What if I die?"
Shadow came and began licking the tears from his face.
Severus knelt down and tried to examine Jamie's leg, but the boy was hysterical. "Lupin! Stop wailing and let me see how bad it is. I don't think you need stitches, but we'll never know unless you take your hand away and let me see."
"What . . . if I do need 'em? I'm . . . scared, Sevvy!"
"Stitches don't hurt. They numb the area first with a spell." Severus sighed. "Now let me look."
"There's blood all over. I . . . don't like blood."
"Look, pet Shadow, all right. Then you won't see the blood." Severus ordered. "Celia, go get me some sticking plasters, some water, a rag, and some antiseptic potion."
"In the bathroom cabinet."
"Should I tell Aunt Ginny? She's giving Indi a bath."
"No, just hurry and bring back what I said." Severus told her. "By the time she comes, I can have this fixed."
Celia came back with everything and Severus washed and disinfected the scraped knee. Of course, Teddy practically had to hold his younger brother down while Severus cleaned the cut, because Jamie hated the way the antiseptic potion stung.
"No! Please! It stings!"
"I know, but I have to do this," Severus told him. "Otherwise your leg could get infected and have to be chopped off."
"Chopped off! No!" Jamie looked terrified.
"Then let me clean it. It'll only sting for a bit." Severus said. "Teddy, hold him for me." He swabbed out the scrape while Teddy hugged his brother.
"Oww! It burns!" Jamie wailed. "I hate you, Sevvy!"
"I know. Now count to ten." Severus ordered. He used to say that to his mother too when he was Jamie's age and had gotten hurt.
"Just do it."
Jamie started counting. " . . . eight, nine, ten! It doesn't hurt anymore!" he cried as Severus stuck a plaster on it.
"Merlin, Jamie, you acted like he was cutting off your foot," Teddy said, rolling his eyes.
Jamie blushed. "I don't like getting hurt and that potion stings."
"The operation's over," Severus said. "Let me put this stuff away and we can play tag with Shadow."
"How'd you know how to do that, Sevvy?" asked Celia.
"Had it done to me enough times by my mum," was all the young Healer answered. That was true, but it was also true that he'd fixed up many a student as well during his years as House Head.
A few months went by and Shadow grew to twice her size thanks to the wholesome diet the kids fed her. She was sweet and lovable . . . unless she was getting into trouble, which she did on a regular basis. Even though Alby had explained the rules to her, she was sometimes scatterbrained and forgot.
Once she chased the neighbor's cat all the way down the street and almost got hit by a car. Luckily Severus caught her before she ran in the road, where a car was coming.
Then she dug up the flowers Severus had planted alongside the house for Ginny, and hid under the porch when he called for her to come out, forcing him to get all sweaty, dirty, and tear his good shirt crawling underneath to get her.
"Bad girl! You don't hide when I call you!" he scolded. "Now look at me! I look like an orphan or a street brat!" He carried the chastened fox over to her run and put her inside.
When Ginny saw his clothes she made him take a bath and change and yelled at him for being so careless. He didn't bother telling her about what Shadow had done.
Another time, he invited Cory and Lily over to play, and by mistake, Cory let Shadow in the house. The little fox followed her nose and found Draco's cloak hanging over a chair and began to play tug-o-war with it. By the time the kids saw it, she had put several rents in it with her sharp teeth.
"Oh, no! What did you do?" cried Cory.
"You chewed Daddy's cloak!" Lily groaned. "He's gonna kill you! And us, for not watching you."
"Shadow! Why can't you ever remember to chew your toys?" Severus sighed.
"She says she forgot," Alby told him. "She was bored and it looked like fun."
"Great! Just wait till Draco sees!"
"Sees what?" asked Draco, coming out of the study with Harry. He froze when he saw his cloak in tatters and the children standing about with guilty faces. "What in Merlin's name happened to my cloak?"
"Um . . . it was an accident," Cory began, sniffling.
"What did you do, Scorpius?"
"Then what happened?" Draco put his hands on his hips.
The children remained silent, covering for the fox, who was under the table.
"Well? Lily, are you going to answer me?" Draco demanded.
"It's like Cory said, Papa. It was an accident," Lily said staunchly.
"I don't care if it was an accident! What the hell happened? I want an answer and I want it now. Do I have to count to ten?" Draco warned.
Both Lily and Cory shook their heads. They knew that if Draco counted to ten, they'd end up spanked and grounded. But how could they betray poor Shadow?
"What if we told you what happened?" Severus began cautiously. "Would you promise not to get mad?"
"I'm already mad."
"Worse than you already are."
"I . . ." Draco looked flabbergasted. "Severus, just tell me!"
"I know what happened," Harry cut in.
"You do?" Draco looked at him.
"Yes. It involved a certain familiar who likes to eat clothes . . . like socks, shirts, shoes . . . am I right, boys?"
"Yes," the children reluctantly agreed.
"Thought so," Harry sighed. "Sorry, Draco. It's Sev's fox. She's a little terror. Just the other week she chewed Ginny's Quidditch robes. Thought we were going to have a fox rug for a minute. Then she chewed Alby's shoes . . . while his foot was still in them." He waved his wand and Draco's cloak was mended.
Draco gaped at him. "And you . . . put up with that?"
Harry shrugged. "Hey. It's a familiar. What do you want me to do, shoot her? Sev, take Shadow outside and put her in her pen."
Severus obeyed, and Draco said to his children, "Next time I ask you a question, you'd better answer me. I don't deserve to be ignored over a fox."
"But Dad, you might have hurt her!" Cory cried.
"And she's only a baby. She doesn't know better!" Lily told him.
"Oh, you kids are too much! Go play, before I lock you in your rooms till you're twenty!" All the kids ran outside after Severus. Then he glared at Harry. "What's so funny, Potter?"
"You, Malfoy. You remind me of my wife sometimes. You get the same pinched expression on your face."
"Oh, shut up! I'm thirsty. Got anything to drink?"
"I have bottled water. Made by a company called . . . Stone Fox," Harry smirked.
"I ought to drown you, Potter."
"Too bad I can swim," Harry smirked and ducked the other's retaliatory smack on the head.
Sometimes it was a challenge for Severus to train his familiar. It wasn't that Shadow wasn't smart, she was, and sometimes she was too smart for her own good. Told she couldn't tear up the rubbish at the Potter house, she ran away and got into the rubbish bin at the neighbor's house and ended up with a can stuck on her nose. It took Severus, Harry, and Ginny with a charm to get the soup can off the fox's nose safely and she scratched Severus in her attempt to get away.
As she grew, Shadow's body odor became more musky and Ginny hated it. "That fox stinks! Give her a bath, Severus! Or else she can't come inside."
"But I did! It's just . . . how she smells," Severus sighed.
The other day, Ginny had found Shadow curled up inside the playpen with Indi and had chased the poor fox with a broom around the living room screaming until Severus came and rescued her. Ginny had been furious and insisted Severus keep her outside, that this wasn't a barn.
When Severus had replied, somewhat cheekily, that his fox smelled better than some people, like Mundungus Fletcher, Ginny had given him a swat on the bum for his smart mouth and sent him outside. He hadn't cried then, but after he had put Shadow in her run he curled up with the fox in his lap and cried softly, "You have to stop getting in trouble, Shadow. Before they send you away . . . and me too for defending you."
The little fox had licked his face and whined, she knew Severus was upset, but didn't understand why.
"You all right, Sevvy?" asked a small voice. The gate unlatched and someone came inside the pen. It was Celia.
Severus looked up and quickly dashed his hand across his face. "Yes. She didn't hit me that hard. Not like . . . my dad used to."
Celia came and sat down next to him. "Sometimes Aunt Ginny doesn't understand about wild things. If you yell, you scare them more. My mum was like that. She'd scream something awful if a bird or a frog got in the house."
"Do you . . . miss your mum?"
"Sometimes. I wish she'd stop hating me and let me come home, but . . . maybe that'll never happen."
"Don't you like living here with Harry and Ginny?"
"Yes, but sometimes I miss my dad and mum. Don't you?"
"My mum died . . . and sometimes I still miss her," Severus admitted, stroking Shadow. "But my dad . . . if he weren't dead I'd wish him straight to hell. Living with Harry and Ginny is a lot better than what I had at home."
"Is that why . . . you're afraid they'd send you away?"
"Yes." Severus bit his lip. He hadn't intended for anyone to hear him. Guess he'd better stop talking aloud.
Celia put her hand on his arm. "I don't think Aunt Ginny and Uncle Harry would do that, Sev. They're not mean people . . . not like my mum. They'd never kick you out . . . or Shadow."
Severus draped his arm over her skinny shoulders. "I know . . . but sometimes I worry . . . even when I shouldn't . . . I'm sorry about your mum. Maybe if she talked to someone . . . like Harry . . . he could explain to her about magic . . ."
Celia squeezed her eyes shut. "Daddy's tried, Sev. He's tried so many times . . . but she just won't listen! All she hears is what she wants to."
"Maybe that's because the right person hasn't talked to her yet," Severus said. "But even if . . . she never wants you back . . . you'll always have a home with us."
"I wish my dad would divorce her sometimes," Celia sniffled. "But then I wouldn't have a mummy any more. I . . . don't know what's worse . . . having a mummy who thinks you're evil or having no mummy . . ."
Severus remained silent, and just let Celia hug him. Shadow licked both their faces, scrubbing them of tears until they laughed and petted her. Despite her penchant for trouble, they both loved the little fox and how she could make them feel better. They hugged and played with the ebony fox until she fell asleep and then they were tired as well and fell asleep beside her.
Harry found them a few hours later and brought them inside, used some Freshen Up charms on them and put them down for a nap before dinner.
Ginny saw and said that she owed Severus an apology for being so harsh. "Lately, I seem to have no patience, Harry."
"We all have days like that, Gin. Sev will forgive you, don't worry. He's a lot more understanding now than he used to be."
"When he was our teacher? Maybe he understood then too, but couldn't show it."
"Maybe. Why don't I help fix supper tonight? You can talk to Sev afterwards."
Ginny agreed, though she wished Shadow would hurry and grow up, so the fox could stop getting into trouble. It was almost like having another kid in the house, she thought as she scrubbed up some potatoes.
A/N: How was that? Thanks to bkerrmom1 for providing me with the information on having a pet fox!
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