It was ten minutes before the staff meeting started, and Severus was doctoring his tea to exact specifications. Minerva, Hagrid, and Filius had all arrived before him, and were deep in conversation when he joined them, long fingers grasping the steaming mug.
“Do you suppose it’s rabid?” Filius was asking. “Maybe it’s dangerous”
“S’not dangerous, Filius. It’s tamed.” Hagrid insisted.
Minerva scoffed. “Is it more or less tame than the baby dragon you were harbouring here?” Hagrid had the decency to look a little shamefaced. “What about the blast-ended screwts? Is it as tame as they were?”
Severus suppressed a smile. Hagrid had an inability to see reason when it came to creatures, and whatever they were discussing could be slavering and biting children, but he’d still defend it.
“I tell you, you’re wrong!” Hagrid was growing red-faced. “It’s been watching me for two weeks. It’s never taken a step out of line, jus' follows me around the grounds, and sits and watches. Last week, I had a little kip under a tree, and it sat with me. It’s tamed. It must be someone’s pet”
Severus, who had been attempting to maintain a detached air of disdain, felt his curiosity overwhelm him. “What are we discussing?” he asked, a little grudgingly.
“Hagrid has a new friend” Filius squeaked brightly. “There’s a tame fox that has been seen around the grounds lately. We were just discussing how unusual it is for a fox to be so outgoing.”
“’S just a kit, it is. Dunno where its parents are. Poor little tyke. Maybe it’s been orphaned.”
The other teachers had begun to filter in, and soon enough, Albus had arrived, and brought the meeting to order. As they worked their way painstakingly through the agenda, Severus allowed his mind to wander. The Dark Lord had been quiet of late, and it was plaguing Severus’ every thought. The Order suspected that he was about to go on the offensive, and the stress and uncertainty had them all on edge. Finally, Dumbledore got through his discussion of security measures for the upcoming school year, and looked expectantly around the table. “Any new items?”
Minerva looked up. “With term starting in a week, I think that we need to do a reconfirmation of the wards. If there are any breakages, they could allow anyone in.”
Albus nodded. “That’s an excellent suggestion. Can I ask for volunteers to walk the boundaries of the wards?”
Severus cleared his throat. “I often walk the grounds in search of potions ingredients. It would be no hardship to check the wards as I go.”
“Thank you, Severus. If that’s all?”
Thankfully, there were no other items to discussed, and as the teachers cleared out, Severus heard Minerva say “…got an owl from Miss Granger... quite worried about him.” Severus retreated to his dungeons with a world-weary sigh. Whatever misadventure had plagued Harry Potter was none of his concern…at least not until Albus dragged him into it.
And so it was the next morning that Severus found himself at the front gates, prepared to walk the boundaries of the wards. It was clear, and the sun was just peeking over the horizon. Severus had no doubt that it would be warm later, but the air still carried a chill. He hefted a bag over his shoulders. Keeping the wards to his right side, a comforting thrum of magic, he set off in the direction of the Forbidden Forest.
It was several hours later when Severus stopped to investigate a promising patch of Belladonna. The berries weren’t quite firm, but he pulled a small notebook from his satchel, and noted the location for a future return. A twig snapped behind him, and Severus whirled around, wand in hand.
Standing frozen, one delicate paw raised in the air, was a fox. It eyed him keenly, curious, but hesitant. Severus slowly dropped his wand hand and regarded the little creature. “Hello,” he said softly. “I imagine you’re Hagrid’s friend.”
When he spoke Hagrid’s name, the little fox tilted his head, almost as if he knew the name. Severus smiled. “This seems like a rather nice place for a cup of tea,” he continued. “You may join me, if you wish.” He removed his cloak and spread it on the ground, glad that the rising sun had dried the mist and was warm on his face. Settling down atop his cloak, he reached into his bag and removed a flask of tea and some sandwiches and biscuits that the house elves had packed for him this morning. Unwrapping a biscuit, he stretched his legs out and watched the fox with interest.
It remained where it had been, paw still in the air, watching him with focused intent. As the wrappings of his biscuit crinkled, it cocked its head. The smell of tea and biscuits reached it presently, and it sniffed the air in delight. Bright green eyes never leaving his, it took a tentative step in Severus’ direction. Severus sat calmly. The fox didn’t seem dangerous, although it was odd for a nocturnal creature to be out and about at this time of day. With painstaking slowness, the fox took another gentle step towards Severus. When some time passed and Severus didn’t seem to be presenting a threat, the little fox seemed to come to a resolution, and with delicate steps, approached him in earnest. As he reached the cloak, the fox sunk to its belly and averted its eyes. Severus broke off a piece of biscuit and slowly placed it on the edge of his cloak. The fox jumped a little at his movement, but when it noticed the biscuit, it pounced on it with glee and carried it a few steps away.
The fox had obviously decided that it quite liked biscuits. After consuming the piece Severus had offered, it approached again, the tip of its tail wagging hopefully, making a soft whining sound. It looked healthy enough, but extremely small, and quite thin. Severus wondered if Hagrid were right, and this were an orphaned kit. With a wry smile, he removed another biscuit from its wrapping and set it on the edge of the cloak. It seemed that his fate in life were to look out for the orphans of the world.
The fox seemed quite content with him now. As Severus removed a book from his bag, and sat in the sun, reading, the fox laid down a few feet away, chin on its paws, watching him. This lasted for nearly an hour, until a wayward grasshopper found its way onto Severus’ cloak. The fox’s eyes grew brighter and it avidly watched the insect, slowly moving closer, until it pounced on the grasshopper and crunched it down happily.
With a laugh, Severus packed away his things and stood. He brushed the grass from his cloak, and folded it away neatly. “Thank you for your company,” he said, “but if I don’t complete this work, the Headmaster won’t be best pleased.”
He strode off along the wards again without a second look back. A little while later, he happened to glance behind him, only to notice that the fox had been padding along behind him. “I’m not adverse to company,” he said. “Be sure to let me know if you feel any holes in the wards”
As sunset neared, Severus approached the front doors of the castle, satisfied with his accomplishments. He wasn’t finished; Hogwarts boasted an enormous grounds, and Severus couldn’t help himself from dawdling when he found a particularly interesting specimen of fauna or fungi. The Dark Lord’s lack of activity recently had provided him with an unusual amount of leisure time, and he was enjoying himself.
With a glance behind him, he was surprised to see that the little fox still patiently trailed behind him. He had expected that it would follow him for a time, then, when it became clear that Severus wasn’t going to feed it anything further, they would part company. Other than a few episodes when it had bounced through the forest after an unsuspecting vole, the fox had been behind him the entire day. It had been such an uncharacteristically pleasant day, that Severus found himself a little wistful as he regarded the little creature. “As I doubt that Mister Filch would be pleased with me if I allowed you inside, I’m afraid that this is where we part company. Good luck, little one”. The fox seemed a little disappointed, and sat by the doors for a moment, as if hoping that Severus might change his mind. “Go to Hagrid,” he suggested. “I’m sure he’ll find a place for you to sleep comfortably, if that’s what you’re after”