This story was written before the release of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince". That doesn't really matter to the plot at all, but since Half-Blood Prince changed everything I knew about Snape, I thought I would mention the fact.
In the beginning there was Tolkien
And then Rowling said, "Let there be Potter!"
And there was Potter, and it was good
And the teeming multitudes of brick-sized books did proliferate
Inhabiting all the nations of the world
Until all knew and proclaimed the wonder of Potter
But then the infidels began to make false Potter
And build internet altars in which to house their unholy texts
And the weak-minded did flock to the idolatry of the false Potter
But the merciful Rowling spake, "Just make sure you password-protect the smutty stuff!
And you're not allowed to make money off it!
And don't forget to say who really writes Potter, you dirty fanfic sneak-thieves!"
Thus were the infidels spared the wrath of Rowling
And verily, her copyright lawyers also
And peace reigned upon fanon, and the earth
My apologies to those who expect better of me; this story is plot-challenged. It's more a "slice of life" thing than an actual story. I'll go iron my hands now. Bad mouse, bad mouse.
I haven't adopted the speech patterns that Rowling uses for Hagrid here, because we spend this story sitting inside Hagrid's head. Since you can't hear your own accent, it didn't make sense to me to have Hagrid hear himself say things like, "Lemme ha' summat Firewhisky." Of course he would hear himself say, "Let me have some of that Firewhisky." What other people hear when Hagrid speaks is mostly irrelevant; we hear the words through the filter of Hagrid's mind.
It's not clear to me that I've described Thestrals the same way that Rowling did. When I first read the description of a Thestral in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, what I pictured is exactly what I've described here. Having re-read the book however, I note that Rowling's description is a bit nebulous, and might just mean skinny horses, rather than horses that do not appear to have any internal organs.
Caring for Dark Creatures
"You won't tell on us, will you Hagrid?" said James desperately. "I mean, we can get back into the castle again, no problem! You won't grass on us, will you?"
Hagrid glared at the boys. "Look, you two," he said. "I can't just let you get away with running around in the forest, let alone after dark! It's dangerous, you hear? Why were you out here, anyway? You haven't answered me that!"
"Hagrid," said Sirius. "It - it's for Remus. It's something we're trying to do for him, and we needed to get an ingredient from the forest."
"Do for him?" said Hagrid angrily. "It's not his birthday! And even if it was, that doesn't give you any right to go putting yourselves in danger! You're only in second year! You can't handle the sorts of creatures that live in this forest, you hear me?"
"Hagrid," said James, his face twisting with anxiety. "Please. We know."
Hagrid started a little, and stared at the boy. "You know what?" he said suspiciously.
"Exactly what you think," said Sirius, his face as grave as James's. "We know, Hagrid. About Remus. And we just...want to do something for him, so he knows we're not going to run away on him. It's horrible, seeing how scared he is of us finding out about it every month. I mean, we're his friends!"
"Please, Hagrid," said James. "We're trying to figure out how to do something, and we needed an ingredient that grows in the forest. We've got it now, so we're just going to go straight back to the castle. Please don't tell on us?"
Hagrid stared at the two boys for a long moment. Finally he sighed. If he wasn't so bloody interested in Remus - if he didn't feel such a painful sympathy for Hogwarts' very young werewolf, Hagrid knew that he wouldn't be so inclined to be soft-hearted with James and Sirius now. "So you know about Remus, do you?" said Hagrid gruffly. "Well, then tell him that, would you? Him knowing that he can breathe easy around his friends would be a far better present than anything else you could give him. You aren't doing Remus any favours if you get yourselves killed out here, are you?"
"So you're going to let us go then, right?" said Sirius, already grinning.
Hagrid rolled his eyes. "Yes," he said wearily, knowing he shouldn't let the boys go. It would probably only give them the confidence to sneak out of bounds again sometime. "I ain't going to tell no one. But you get yourselves up to the castle right now, you hear? And if someone asks me about whether or not I saw you two tonight, I'm not lying to protect you!"
"Don't worry," said James, also grinning now, "we won't get caught!"
"Thanks, Hagrid!" said Sirius. "We'll be back in our beds before you've even knocked the mud off your boots back at your hut!"
"Get! Both of you!" said Hagrid gruffly, but he smiled as the boys gave him a pair of identical mischievous grins and then turned and dashed back toward the castle. Hagrid shook his head as he watched them disappearing into the dark, and then turned around and began walking back to his hut.
Hagrid was nearly all the way home when he heard the shouts and the sizzle of distant magic. He felt fear clutch at his stomach, and turned around and launched himself back along the path.
There was a very dim flickering of spell-light on the low clouds over the forest. Hagrid used the slightly muffled yelling he could hear to orient himself. Why were the boys in that direction now? They had said they were going back to the castle! Hagrid loped along the dark forest trails by memory, covering distance quickly with the huge strides of his legs. It didn't feel as if he could move his great clumsy body nearly fast enough - not when he could hear James and Sirius screaming like that.
Hagrid rounded a corner and was suddenly upon the boys. He felt a shock of fear lance up his spine, from tailbone to brain.
The two - no, the three - boys all had their wands out and were screaming, firing spell after spell at a huge, opalescent shape that was moving purposefully out of the trees toward them while it clicked its pincers. The creature's body was as skinny as a preying mantis, but it sidled low to the ground, like a crab. It didn't appear to have a head or any eyes.
It also didn't appear to have any problem with magic, since the spells that the boys were firing desperately at the creature simply slid off its back, causing no apparent damage other than an angry red glow in its chitinous shell.
Hagrid gasped in shock. He hadn't known there were any Aculeus beasts in the forest! Surely a giant scorpion couldn't survive this far north? What a beautiful animal!
James shouted, "Impedimenta!" at the creature particularly loudly, and then gasped and dived out of the way as a giant stinger came arching out of the darkness, stabbing into the ground where he had just been standing.
"James!" yelled Sirius in alarm, his voice cracking into a boy's timbre again - something that it hadn't done for at least a month. The creature whirled around and shot a pincer out at Sirius. The boy flung his chest backward so that his entire body curved into a shape like a question mark. He managed to dodge the sharp edges of the claw, but was clipped hard in the chest by the wide knob that joined the creature's pincer to its arm. Sirius landed hard on the ground, his face showing more surprise than pain. Hagrid roared with a mixture of alarm and anger, and launched himself at the creature.
The third boy was someone Hagrid only dimly recognised, but he hardly had time to think about that now. At least the lad was handling himself well; he was firing spell after spell at the Aculeus beast, and although his face was very white, the boy looked more vexed by his lack of success than afraid of what might happen to him.
If only the skinny boy didn't look so desperately fragile next to the enormous Aculeus beast. Hagrid grabbed the creature's claw, just as the beast scuttled around to face him.
The shell on the enormous pincer was warm, and felt as slick as mother-of-pearl under his hands. Hagrid clung to it, huffing and digging in his feet. He could hold the pincer immobile, but only barely; the Aculeus beast was very strong. "Keep quiet!" he yelled at the boys, as the creature jerked him around, trying to free its claw. "It can't see, but it senses vibrations!"
"Where's its weak spot?" called out the boy that Hagrid didn't know. "I know it has one!"
"Its belly!" gasped Hagrid. "Whoa!"
The Aculeus beast had shaken both its pincers violently, and the motion hurled Hagrid into a thicket of brambles. He found himself abruptly staring up at the stars, slightly winded but cradled safely by the thorny bushes. Hagrid raised his head, and froze.
The Aculeus beast had lowered its body almost to the ground and gone abruptly still. It somehow managed to look even more threatening like this than it had a moment ago, when it was attacking him. Thankfully, the boys had also frozen, and made no sound to betray themselves to the blind creature. The Aculeus beast took a step forward, bringing it closer to the small dark-haired boy that Hagrid didn't know. Hagrid tentatively moved his leg to extricate himself from the brambles, and the autumn-dried leaves shivered around him in response. The creature's stinger suddenly snapped a little higher in the air, poised to strike. Hagrid went still again, and the creature took another careful step toward him, obviously aware that its attacker was still nearby. The dark-haired boy remained frozen, but Hagrid could see his eyes widening. Another step brought one of the Aculeus beast's legs dangerously close to the lad, and Hagrid could see the boy's dark eyes flickering around frantically, looking for some way to escape. Hagrid readied himself to lunge out of the bushes. If he could get free fast enough, then he'd be able to avoid the attack that the noise would bring upon himself - and hopefully the boy could escape in the ensuing excitement.
The pale boy suddenly raised his wand, pointed it at Sirius, and quietly hissed, "Rictusempra."
Sirius jerked as if he'd just been stabbed, and abruptly shrieked with laughter. The sound appeared to startle the Aculeus beast, for it suddenly reared up into a fighting pose, its pincers snipping wildly at the air.
Hagrid fought himself desperately out of the brambles but the dark-haired boy was already in motion, racing forward and aiming his wand at the Aculeus beast's underbelly, shouting, "Impedimenta!" James pointed his wand at the creature also and yelled "Diffindo!"
Unfortunately, James was not in a position where he could aim at the creature's underbelly properly, and the spell rebounded off the Aculeus beast's shell, striking the dark-haired boy squarely in the chest. Hagrid saw an arc of blood droplets fly through the air. The boy gasped and fell to the ground, one hand pressed against his chest and the Aculeus beast moving in weird slow-motion above him.
"Get Sirius!" shouted Hagrid, dashing forward to grab the dark-haired boy and pull him out from under the creature. "Back to my cabin! Run!"
"Finite Incantatem!" shouted James, pointing his wand at the laughter-stricken Sirius and then helping his friend struggle to his feet. The two boys turned and ran. Hagrid yanked the dark-haired boy up and stuffed him under one arm, then ran after them, catching up quickly.
"All right, Sirius?" said Hagrid, hearing the worry in his own voice as he loped along easily beside the sprinting boys.
"Yeah! I'm okay, Hagrid!" gasped Sirius, but he aimed a very nasty look at the boy that Hagrid was carrying.
"Put me down!" snapped a rather nasal and whiny voice from somewhere in the vicinity of Hagrid's elbow. "Put me down at once!"
"In a bit," said Hagrid, patting the boy on the head distractedly. He was dimly aware that this action seemed to have incensed the lad further, but ignored the boy's swearing and kicking.
They reached the cabin a few minutes later, Sirius and James gasping for breath. Hagrid opened the door and ushered them in with a gesture. The two boys staggered past him and collapsed onto his kitchen chairs, their faces very red.
Hagrid put the dark-haired boy down, then grasped the lad firmly by the shoulders and turned him around to get a good look at the cut on his chest. The boy gasped and then whimpered, and Hagrid looked up to see a look of acute pain on his pale face. Hagrid loosened his grip, feeling the blood rising into his cheeks at the realisation that he was hurting the boy more than the cut was.
"What's your name, lad?" said Hagrid, to cover up his embarrassment.
"Severus," gasped the boy, flexing his undoubtedly bruised shoulders.
"Snivellus," muttered Sirius from the table, and the boy snapped his head around and glared.
Hagrid tugged at the slash that had split the chest of the boy's robe, trying to see what damage had been done underneath.
"You hexed Sirius," said James in a low, growling voice. "You were using him as bait!"
"Well it worked, didn't it?" said Severus in a sneering voice. "I've read about Aculeus beasts. They rear up when you startle them."
"What if it hadn't reared up?" shouted James. "You could have killed him!"
"Quiet, James!" said Hagrid, still trying to see how badly Severus was hurt.
"Better him than me, in that case," said Severus smoothly, giving James a thin smile.
"You can shut your gob too, Mister Snape," said Hagrid darkly, for he now remembered who this small, pale boy with the absurdly large nose was. It was the same lad who had jinxed James and knocked him into the lake the previous year, during the boat ride over to Hogwarts. Hagrid could hardly see how he had forgotten that nose, let alone that face, given the furor the boy had caused. Unsorted first year students were not supposed to show up at Hogwarts well-versed in curses, and the fact that this one had was considered a very ill omen regarding the sort of family he came from. "Right," said Hagrid. "Off with the robe then, lad. I need a closer look at that gash."
Snape snapped his eyes around and stared at Hagrid, then folded his arms across his chest. "I am not taking my robe off!" he said haughtily.
"Yes, you are," said Hagrid. "I need to have a look at that cut. Come on; we're all lads here."
"Yeah, show us your knickers, Snivelly!" said Sirius brightly. Snape shot a look of fire at the other boy.
"You be quiet!" snapped Hagrid, standing up abruptly and feeling that his patience had been tested quite enough this evening. The smirk slid off of Sirius' face. "Why were you two even deeper into the forest?" said Hagrid, with more force than he intended. "You said you were going straight back to the castle! I trusted you!"
James and Sirius didn't speak, but only gazed up at Hagrid with big-eyed, woeful expressions.
"Well?" snapped Hagrid, determined not to let them charm their way onto his good side this time. "I'm waiting for an explanation!"
"Snivelly was following us again," Sirius muttered, beginning to pout a little.
"You call him by his proper name!" said Hagrid.
"Snape was following us," said Sirius in an even sulkier tone.
"So they decided to chase me," said Snape coolly. "That's how we ended up deeper in the forest."
Hagrid glared down at James and Sirius, who both looked guilty and sullen.
"Get out," said Hagrid. "Get yourselves back to the castle, right now! No dawdling, no stopping, and no taking the scenic route! Out, now! I'm so mad at you I could spit!"
"Hagrid..." said James timidly.
"I said get out!" shouted Hagrid, and the two boys jumped visibly. James got up and edged toward the door, and Sirius moved to follow him.
"Can we come back tomorrow to...?" said James.
"I said get yourselves back to the castle! I've got nothing to say about tomorrow!"
The two boys ran, their faces stricken. When the door had snapped shut behind them, Hagrid turned to look at Snape, who was regarding him with large, worried eyes.
"Robe, off," said Hagrid, more crossly than the boy deserved.
Snape hesitated a moment longer, then reached one hand up and undid the buttons at the throat of his robe. He pulled the clothing off over his head, and then clutched it against himself, looking bashful, wearing only slightly grey-looking underpants and his socks and shoes underneath.
The house-elves took care of the laundry at Hogwarts, so the grey underpants were most likely a result of improper laundering at home, rather than a lack of cleanliness. Hagrid, who was regretting his temper already, gently pulled the robe away and put it on the table, then squatted down and looked at boy's cut.
The blood had smeared all over Snape's bone-rack chest - Hagrid thought he could probably encircle the skinny boy's stomach with one hand if he cared to try - but the cut itself had mostly stopped bleeding.
"There, that's not so bad, actually," said Hagrid.
"The shell of the Aculeus beast must have absorbed some of the spell's power, or it wouldn't have glowed red like that, right?" said Snape, peering down at the damage dispassionately.
"Could be," said Hagrid vaguely. Snape lifted his eyes and curled his lip slightly in a sneer. "Well, let's get you cleaned up," said Hagrid, standing up and moving to get a basin and face flannel off the shelf. "Go sit by the fire, Mister Snape, so you don't catch your death."
When Hagrid returned with the water and flannel, the boy was sitting on the chair closest to the fire, fingering the tear in his robe and biting his lip a little.
"The house-elves will fix that up a treat for you," said Hagrid, "if you don't happen to know the spell to do it yourself."
"There's a spell?" said Snape distractedly. "I should look that up."
"You know a lot of spells already," said Hagrid, giving the boy a sidelong look. He wet the flannel in the basin. "You handled yourself well out there. Where'd you learn all them jinxes?"
"Duelling club," said Snape in a very soft voice, his lips hardly moving. He was still looking down at his robe.
Hagrid reached over to start wiping the blood off of Snape's chest, and the boy flinched away from him, eyes widening. The reaction reminded Hagrid forcefully of some of the more skittish animals he had handled over the years. Hagrid responded in exactly the way he would have with a nervous animal; he froze, but maintained eye contact. Snape blinked at him for a moment, then reached forward and took the face flannel away from Hagrid. He began washing the blood off his chest himself.
"That must sting a bit," said Hagrid, just to give the boy something he could save face with. "You're right; you should probably do it yourself."
"Yes," said Snape, his eyes averted.
"You like some tea?"
"No." Some of the disdain was coming back into the boy's voice.
Hagrid sat down, and regarded Snape. "I'd like to know what you were doing out in the Forbidden Forest in the middle of the night," he said.
Snape's hands slowed a bit, but he showed no other reaction. "Why should I tell you anything?" he said. "I'm in trouble already, aren't I? Why admit to anything?"
"You're not in trouble," sighed Hagrid, and the boy's eyes rose. They were incredibly dark eyes; probably as dark as Hagrid's own. "I told James and Sirius earlier this evening that I wouldn't tell no one that I caught them," said Hagrid.
"You're letting them get away with being out of bounds?" hissed Snape, his jaw clenching in outrage.
"I can't say I'm inclined to, right at this moment," said Hagrid wearily. "Not after they went back into the forest again, after telling me they were heading for the castle. But I gave my word, and I'm going to keep it. Now, if I don't grass on them, it wouldn't be fair for me to grass on you neither, so you get the same deal as they did. I won't say nothing about catching you tonight, but if someone asks me whether I saw you, I won't lie for you neither. It's up to you to get yourself back into Hogwarts without being seen."
Snape nodded, but said nothing.
"And," said Hagrid, fixing the boy with a firm gaze, "I want you to tell me why you were out here in the first place."
Snape lowered his head again, and continued washing. "I just wanted to see what they were up to," he said in a low, angry voice. "They're always doing things they aren't supposed to, and they always get away with it. It isn't fair."
"So you really were just nosing around after them?" said Hagrid, frowning at the boy in distaste.
Snape finished wiping off the blood and threw the face flannel back into the basin with a sharp motion, his face tense. "You're just like the teachers," he said. "Such clever, handsome boys! They can do no wrong! Let's pick on the ugly ones instead."
"Looks don't count for nothing with me," said Hagrid in such a dark tone that the boy eyed him sidelong, looking wary again. Hagrid lightened his voice a little. "In fact," he said, "I got a bit of a passion for things that most people consider ugly, so don't tell me that I can't see someone's heart past the look of their face."
Hagrid pointed to the cut on Snape's chest. "I want you to have young Madam Pomfrey heal that up for you tomorrow morning, hear?" he said. "She usually doesn't ask too many questions. You can probably come up with a good story." The boy nodded. Hagrid reached over and picked up Snape's robe. "And if someone does catch you sneaking back into the castle tonight," he said, "you'll have a job keeping them from asking you about that gash if they see it, so we'll sew this up for now. Then I'll walk you back to the main doors."
"You didn't walk the other two back," said Snape sulkily as Hagrid got up and fetched his needle and thread.
"Because there were two of them, not one, and neither of them were hurt," said Hagrid. He threaded his needle, and scowled at the robe. The black thread on the black fabric was nearly impossible to see by firelight.
"Here, give it to me," said Snape irritably. "My hands are smaller than yours. I can do a better job of it anyway."
Hagrid gave the boy a look, and then handed the robe and needle over. Snape hunched over the task with slightly pursed lips, trying to angle the robe so that he could see better in the light from the fire. His stringy, shoulder length hair was casting shadows over the cloth, and the boy hooked it irritably over one ear.
Hagrid took advantage of Snape's concentration to study the boy.
The boy's nose really was huge - just barely on the normal side of being a deformity. It wasn't simply an over-large nose, like Dumbledore's, or a misshapen nose, like - well - Dumbledore's. It was just shockingly massive, a sculpted mountain ridge of skin and cartilage. A great prow of a nose attached to a very slender boy's face. It was so big that it had a gravity all its own, which sucked at the eyeballs until you could hardly see anything beyond that huge hooked nose.
Hagrid frowned a little, and forced himself to see beyond the huge hooked nose. What remained wasn't so bad. Sure Snape needed to be dunked in a tub of soapy water and scrubbed until he was yowling, sure his parents should have had those snaggle teeth fixed a long time ago, and sure the boy made things worse by scowling all the time, but if you looked past all that - looked past the fact that he was tragically mired in the gangling, spotty stage of adolescence, looked past the sallow skin and wretchedly bony body - it really wasn't that bad. Snape had high, sharp cheekbones, an elegant curve of a jaw line, and glittering black eyes that would have set many a girl's heart a-flutter if they were put in another face. With a different nose, he would have had subtle, aristocratic good looks. Snape never would have had the startling attractiveness that Sirius Black was showing signs of growing into, but he would have pulled the girls when he got old enough.
And instead, I bet he's been treated like a leper by his classmates just for existing, thought Hagrid, finally feeling some sympathy for the prickly, unpleasant boy. Bet he's been razzed since forever, just for being what he can't help being. He must be a tough one, to have lived through that and not been crushed to dust by it. Hagrid glanced down at the robe in the boy's hands. Snape had nearly finished sewing up the tear, and had done a much better job of it than Hagrid could have.
"You're a dab hand at that, Mister Snape," said Hagrid.
"It's just a matter of concentration," said Snape witheringly. "It not difficult."
"Fine, but that doesn't mean you're not good at it," said Hagrid easily. "It's rare enough for a lad to know how to do basic mending. Dead useful skill to have, too."
"Yes," said Snape in a low voice, keeping his eyes on his work. Hagrid eyed the slightly threadbare state of the robe, and another drop of sympathy for the boy fell into the growing pool of the stuff that was settling in Hagrid's chest.
Snape knotted the thread and broke it, then handed the needle back to Hagrid. Hagrid got up to put the needle away, and when he turned around again, found the boy already pulling the robe over his head.
Snape grimaced as the robe settled onto his chest. "Yuck," he said, curling his lip and dabbing at the robe with one finger. "It's still sticky."
"The blood doesn't show, though," said Hagrid. "Black's good that way."
Snape pursed his lips against what was definitely a smirk.
"What?" said Hagrid.
"Yes. You're right," said the boy, now smirking openly. "The thing about Black is that his blood doesn't show. You should hear what his brother calls him."
Hagrid frowned, not understanding. "Oh?" he said, "Well, er, are you ready to head back then?"
Snape nodded tersely, picking his wand up off the table and putting it in his pocket.
"Right then," said Hagrid. "Let's go." He led the way out of the hut.
The moon was half-eaten by darkness, and the stars glowed coldly against the black winter sky. Hagrid smiled up at the points of light visible through the bare tree branches.
"Lovely night for a stroll," he said. "But not so lovely that it'd be worth getting killed over. You do understand that, right?"
"Getting attacked by a giant scorpion does prove your point, yes," said Snape sourly.
"It wasn't worth it to get Sirius and James in trouble, neither," said Hagrid.
The boy said nothing for a moment, and then practically snarled, "Yes it was. I only regret not managing it!"
"What?" said Hagrid angrily, stopping and staring at Snape. "How can you say that?"
"How come no one sees what they're like?" said Snape bitterly. "According to everyone, Black and Potter are this pair of shining heroes, and I'm a little Dark wizard in training. I mean pur-leez - I'm only twelve! Is that why they get away with torturing me? Nobody cares, because I deserve it? They're the ones who are Dark, not me!" Snape scuffed at the dirt violently with one shoe and then kept walking, forcing Hagrid to follow after him.
"Well," said Hagrid, trying to be fair about it despite having heard enough from Poppy to know that Snape wasn't taking any ill treatment from James and Sirius lying down, "you maybe gave yourself a bit of a reputation, jinxing James like that on the boat last year. I mean, I heard Professor McGonagall yelling at you, so you know it ain't usual for first years to know curses like that, let alone use them on other students before they've even been sorted."
The boy scowled up at Hagrid and opened his mouth to say something, but then gasped instead, staring at the sky with suddenly wide eyes. Hagrid looked up sharply, and then relaxed, breaking into a grin. A dark shadow blacked out the moon for a second, soared around in a tight arc against the stars, and then landed ahead of them with a gentle tapping of hooves. The shadow stepped toward them shyly, regarding them with silver eyes.
"That's a Thestral," said Snape, and for the first time that night, the boy's voice held no disdain, no anger. It was just a boy's voice, right on the edge of becoming a man's voice.
"Well spotted, Mister Snape," said Hagrid, smiling down at the boy. Snape had very wide eyes, but showed no signs of fear. "Her name is Sloe," said Hagrid. "I've been trying to start a herd of Thestrals here in the forest, and it's maybe going to happen. She's starting to look like she might be pregnant."
"Great Merlin, where has she got room for a womb?" said Snape, staring at the skeletal horse, at the sleek fur that wrapped tightly around her bones, apparently excluding the possibility of any internal organs.
"Come on, I'll show you," said Hagrid, putting a hand on the boy's shoulder and starting forward. The boy resisted, and Hagrid looked down at him. "She's not dangerous," he said. "Stygian, her mate, is too skittish to let humans near him, but Sloe is getting friendlier all the time. Come on."
"Are you sure she's not dangerous?" said Snape, walking warily toward the Thestral, one hand fisted in his pocket. "I thought they were considered Dark creatures."
"Superstitious nonsense!" said Hagrid. "I mean sure, Sloe can take care of herself, but that doesn't mean she's evil. You can take care of yourself, right?"
"Yes," said Snape abstractly, still staring at the Thestral. "But maybe dementors and werewolves aren't intrinsically evil either - I asked if she was dangerous." Sloe took a step toward them, and then another. When she was close enough, Snape slowly reached up one hand and laid it on her nose. When the Thestral did not complain, he stroked her glossy coat tentatively.
"See?" said Hagrid. "Gentle as a lamb. She's looking for a treat, the little darling - wish I had something with me. Look here: you see how that one lower rib is swelling on the inside? She is pregnant; I'm sure of it. That swelling will continue to grow inside her until she gives birth to a foal. Then the sack that the foal came out of will dry out and fall off, or she'll chew it off. Then she'll look like a proper bag of bones again."
Snape angled his head to look at the place where Hagrid was pointing, but said nothing. The boy's expression was perfectly neutral, but there was an openness about him that hadn't been there before.
"Isn't she a beauty?" said Hagrid lovingly, stroking Sloe's leathery wing.
"Yes," said Snape, sounding a little surprised. The boy turned his head to look up into the creature's silver eyes again. Sloe bent down and licked the front of Snape's robes, making the boy jump.
"Ah," said Hagrid. "She smelled the blood on you. That's why she came."
"But she won't bite me, will she?" said Snape, looking mildly revolted as the Thestral continued to lick at his chest, but not stopping her.
"Of course not! They eat birds and such." Hagrid looked at Snape thoughtfully. "You could come out and help me feed her and Stygian sometime," he suggested. "You'd be able to watch the pregnancy progress. Wouldn't that be something?"
Snape pursed his lips a little. "I think I would rather not," he said eventually. "Caring for animals isn't really my thing."
"Fair enough," said Hagrid, feeling a bit disappointed. "Pity though. I think she likes you."
"She'd be the first," said the boy in such a dull undertone that Hagrid almost didn't catch the words. Then Snape turned and looked up at Hagrid with a thoughtful, slightly unpleasant stare. "You're part giant, aren't you?" he said.
Hagrid felt the blood creep into his face. "Oh, er. What would make you say something like that, Mister Snape?" he said.
"Oh, er," said Snape in a softly cutting voice, leaning back to emphasise how far up he had to look to meet Hagrid's eye. "Take a wild guess. That and the fact that I accidentally hit you with a stunning spell while we were fighting off the Aculeus beast, and you didn't even notice."
Hagrid said nothing, but felt acutely uncomfortable. Having this boy know about his parentage was a lot different than, say, James, Sirius or Peter knowing about it. And nothing at all like Remus knowing about it; Remus was one boy that Hagrid would have liked to have told.
Snape turned back to Sloe. "And Professor Flitwick has a little bit of goblin in him, I'm quite sure," the boy said.
"Do you have a problem with either of those things?" asked Hagrid uneasily.
Snape paused for a long moment. "No," he said. "It's...interesting. Unusual. There's nothing wrong with being unusual."
"Nope," said Hagrid. "And no use in being ashamed of what you can't help, neither." The gravitational attraction of Snape's nose tugged on Hagrid's eyeballs again.
"No," said Snape with a quiet forcefulness, still stroking Sloe's silken nose.
"Who did you see die, then?" said Hagrid.
It was the wrong question, apparently. Hagrid saw the boy freeze.
Snape dropped his hands from Sloe, and said jerkily, "It's time I went back to the castle." He turned and began walking, leaving Hagrid and the Thestral behind.
"Hold up, Mister Snape!" said Hagrid, and hurried after the boy. "I said I was going to walk you up there!"
"Then walk!" said the boy in a harsh voice, not even slowing.
Hagrid sighed, and caught up to the boy in about three strides, then slowed to a gentle walking pace that matched Snape's quick trot.
"I was only asking," said Hagrid gently. "If you'll forgive me turning your words around on you, Mister Snape, it's interesting that you can see Thestrals. Unusual."
"And it's nothing I want to talk about," spat Snape, still sweeping along the path at a very brisk pace. He looked annoyed that he couldn't outpace Hagrid.
"Fair enough," said Hagrid, frowning. He really didn't like the vehemence of this reaction from the boy; it couldn't be due to anything good. Hagrid cast around for something else to talk about. "How about that Aculeus beast, eh?" he said. "Wasn't it a beauty too?"
Snape turned and gave Hagrid a look like he'd sprouted radishes from his ears. "I suppose so..." said the boy slowly.
"I didn't think they could live in England," said Hagrid. "Might be someone's pet that was let loose when it got too big. They can grow fast, when they've got the right food." Hagrid smiled, warming up to the topic. "Professor Kettleburn says he figures they could interbreed with fire crabs. Blimey, I'd like to see what you'd get out of that."
"Wouldn't that be illegal?" said Snape, still eyeing Hagrid with a funny look on his face. "There's a law against experimental breeding; I've read about it."
Hagrid thought about it a moment. "Aye," he said ruefully. "You're probably right."
Snape tripped a little, and then began watching the path again instead of staring at Hagrid.
"You really do like odd creatures, don't you?" the boy said quietly, still looking at the ground.
"Interesting creatures, you mean!" said Hagrid with enthusiasm. "Just because something isn't fluffy and pretty doesn't mean it's not worth paying a mind to!" He looked down at the silent boy. "Have you got a pet, Mister Snape?" he said.
The boy looked startled. "No," he said. "I told you; taking care of animals isn't really my thing."
"Oh, but pets are great," said Hagrid. "They'll be your friend when no one else is feeling friendly, and they don't care a lick about what you look like."
"What are you insinuating?" said Snape in a soft voice. He stopped in his tracks, and glared up at Hagrid with very cold eyes, his hand creeping toward his wand pocket.
Hagrid frowned at the boy. "Look at me," he said quietly, gesturing to his massive body. "You think I don't know what it feels like?"
Snape's face jerked downward, so that he broke eye contact with Hagrid, and the boy suddenly looked sulky rather than angry. Hagrid waited, but Snape didn't say anything more.
"Come on, then," said Hagrid gently, starting forward. Snape fell into step behind him, and managed to broadcast a sense of sullen resentfulness even when out of sight. "How about a cat?" said Hagrid, looking over his shoulder, trying to catch the boy's eye. "You seem the quiet type. You'd probably like a cat. They mostly take care of themselves. Or an owl, how about? Owls are dead useful; they can carry your post for you."
There was only stubborn silence from behind him. Finally, he heard Snape say in his soft, slightly sulky voice, "I can think of better things to do with my pocket money than buying a pet."
Hagrid thought about the slightly threadbare robe the boy was wearing, and frowned at his own stupidity. "Well," he said, "how about a rat or a frog then? They're cheap enough. For that matter, I could probably find you one of those for free, in the forest. What do you say?" Hagrid slowed down slightly, so that the boy was forced to catch up and walk alongside him.
Snape was still staring at the ground, even though the castle loomed just ahead of them, looking stately and beautiful with its candlelit windows glowing against the dark sky.
"Maybe a bat?" said Hagrid, thinking that the description 'little Dark wizard' might be more accurate than Snape wanted to admit. The boy shrugged. "Or a snake?"
"Aren't snakes hard to care for?" said Snape quietly, still not meeting his eye.
"No, not really," said Hagrid, and then smiled. "Ah, I could get you a real beauty from the forest! We've got a type of adder here that doesn't grow too big..."
"Poisonous?" said Snape.
"Oh," said Hagrid, feeling his heart sink a little. "Right. You probably don't want something poisonous in a dormitory."
"No, no; that's totally all right," said Snape in a light voice, raising his eyebrows and giving Hagrid an innocent look.
Hagrid gave the boy a rather sharp look in return, and then chuckled in spite of himself. "I had a poisonous spider for a pet when I was a boy," he said fondly. "Got myself in a fair amount of trouble because of it, too. I expect I can trust you to be smarter with your pets than I was, though. All right, Mister Snape; how about I get you a snake, then? You'll need to feed it meat, of course. Are you fast enough to hex mice?"
"I'm fast enough to hex anything," said Snape smugly, looking pleased.
"Good," said Hagrid, smiling, and then added lightly, "Not a Parselmouth, by any chance, are you?"
"No," said Snape, and surprised Hagrid by actually grinning. "I wish I was, though. That would be brilliant!"
Hagrid chuckled. "Yes," he said. "I always thought so too."
They had reached the steps up to the front doors of the castle. Hagrid stopped and turned to the boy. "You know how you're getting back in?" he said. Snape nodded.
"There's a secret passage that comes out just down the hall from my common room," the boy said. "I only need to get under the marble staircase in the Entrance Hall, and then I'm basically home free."
Hagrid nodded. "All right then," he said. "And I won't be catching you running around in the forest in the middle of the night again, will I?"
"Not if I can avoid you," said Snape with a hint of a sly smile.
Hagrid scowled at him slightly. "Not quite the answer I was looking for," he growled, and Snape grinned at him again, looking every bit as mischievous as James or Sirius ever had. And just as was always the case with those two, Hagrid couldn't help grinning back at the boy. "Off you go, Mister Snape," he said gruffly.
"When do I get my snake?" said Snape, raising his chin and giving Hagrid a fierce look.
"When I catch it," said Hagrid. "I'll send you an owl to let you know you can come pick it up."
The boy nodded solemnly, and then turned and hurried up the steps to the front door.
"Mister Snape," said Hagrid, and the boy turned. "Maybe you want to stop by my cabin, once in a while?"
"Why?" said the boy, looking wary again.
"Just to talk, if you feel like it sometime," Hagrid said. "Always nice to have a cuppa and a bit of a visit."
The boy blinked his large, grave eyes at Hagrid for a few moments, and then shrugged, looking embarrassed and strangely shy.
"Well, keep it in mind," said Hagrid, smiling. "Ain't got a lock on my door. You're always welcome."
The boy nodded, not quite making eye contact. "Thank you, Mister Hagrid," he said quietly, and then pulled the castle door open a fraction and slipped inside quickly.
Hagrid sighed, and turned around. "He won't come," he muttered to himself, starting on the long walk back to his hut. "But he'll remember that he's got an invitation, and that's something at least. That's something."