Chapter 1: A Visitor to Hogwarts
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”
Chapter 2: The Dungeon Bat's Familiar
The next morning, Severus rose before the dawn, reasoning that a view of the sunrise over the hills would further the almost holiday atmosphere he’d been experiencing while verifying the wards. As he slung his satchel over his shoulder and exited through the massive front doors, he was astonished to find the little fox waiting for him. “Good morning,” he said, as it approached him, low to the ground, looking hopeful. “You enjoyed the biscuit that much, did you?” The fox daintily hopped down the steps and turned to look back at him. When Severus merely stood where he was, the fox repeated the gesture, approaching him with belly to the ground, then turning and bouncing down the stairs, looking back with an impatient expression. “Very well,” Severus laughed. “If you’re that eager to get started, I suppose we’d better be on our way.”
The day passed in much the same way as the previous one, save for a moment of euphoria when Severus found a treasure trove of unicorn hair. He carefully collected it, humming happily to himself while the fox looked on. Its head was cocked and it looked bemused. “Judge not, fox,” he said, a little huffily. “If you knew how difficult it was to find this much unicorn hair at once. This has saved me hours of searching.” The fox gave a little yip and stretched.
As they were approaching the entrance to the castle again, mid-afternoon, Hagrid appeared from the direction of his hut. “Hullo Professor” he greeted cheerfully. “I see you’ve met the little ‘un.”
“Indeed. You’re right, it’s certainly tame.”
“He’s a bonny little fella’. Hate to think of him in the forest on his own.”
“Why don’t you take him in?”
“Can’t.” Hagrid scratched idly at his beard. “Fang didn’ take to ‘im at all. He’s a daft beast, won’ see reason, but he’ll rip the little fella’ to pieces if I take him in.”
“Shame,” Severus said thoughtfully. “He is rather small.”
“Why don’t you take him, Professor?”
“I think not, Hagrid. I’m not running a fox orphanage.”
Hagrid looked heartbroken. The fox had been looking back and forth at them during this exchange, rather like he was watching a tennis match. “Lookit him, though. It’s like he understands us.”
It did rather look like the fox understood what was being discussed. It gave a little huff, and sank down to its haunches. “Be that as it may,” Severus said, “I have potions ingredients to inventory. Good afternoon, Hagrid.”
Severus strode up the steps and the doors to the castle opened. He entered without looking back at the fox, something he soon regretted, because it was quietly walking beside him, and slipped inside the castle along with him. The doors swung shut, and the fox continued down the corridor as though it belonged here. Severus hissed in annoyance. The fox gave him a slightly arch look and then blithely continued in the direction of the dungeons. “If Filch catches you, I’ll not come to your defence,” he warned it.
As he reached his quarters, the fox was patiently waiting outside the door. “Absolutely not,” he said firmly. “I may be willing to overlook some transgressions,” (the fox huffed at this) “but I’ll not be allowing you into my personal chambers. Go. There are likely plenty of mice for you to chase.” Severus was certain that foxes couldn’t roll their eyes, but it gave him an equivalent look and slipped quietly down the corridor.
All was serene, until Severus settled beneath his covers that night. He had nearly drifted off to sleep when he heard it. For a long while, he wasn’t at all sure what it was. It was as though a cat were mewing, but at an alarming volume that suggested someone had cast a Sonorus charm on the unsuspecting creature. The noise went on and on. Severus wasn’t frightened, although the sound did raise the hairs on the back of his neck. Finally, he realized, and with a snarl, he threw the covers back and stalked to his doorway. Flinging the door open, he glared down at the fox. “Stop howling at once,” he hissed at it. “I will not hesitate to hex you”. The fox looked a little startled. It opened its mouth as if to begin howling again, and Severus pointed a finger at it ominously. “Not. One. More. Sound,” he said darkly.
He flung the door shut with considerably more force than was necessary and stood, head against the door. There was a silence that extended, and Severus sighed with relief and returned to his bed. The moment his head hit the pillow, the howls resumed. “It’s not my fucking problem,” Severus growled, and cast a silencing spell that cut off the outside world, foxes and all, and allowed him to sleep.
This pattern continued as the weekend approached. The fox waited patiently (and sometimes very impatiently) outside his quarters, and followed him as he made his way through the castle. On the third such day, as Severus entered the Great Hall for breakfast, the fox brazenly walked beside him. “I think not,” he told it mildly, but foxes, it seemed, were rather stubborn creatures, and it proceeded as though it hadn’t heard him.
As Severus took his seat, Albus and Minerva ceased their whispered conversation and regarded them. “Good morning,” Severus said stiffly, trying to ignore the fluffy orange beast that sat quietly on the floor beside him.
“Good morning, Severus,” Albus twinkled. “You seem to have a rather beautiful dining companion”
“We’re not together,” he said stiffly.
“The fox seems to think you are,” Minerva said.
Albus said nothing more, but his eyes twinkled a little. As the food arrived on the tables, the effect on the fox was instantaneous. Its eyes gleamed and its bushy tail wagged wildly. It gave out a low whine as it approached Severus on its belly. With a world-weary sigh, Severus plucked a slice of bacon from the platter and tossed it to the fox. Minerva laughed. “Not together,” she said under her breath.
Severus suffered the teasing of his colleagues over the next day with ill grace, but things came to a head over the dinner hour when Filch reached the end of his patience. “Headmaster,” he whined. “We can’t have vermin in the castle!”
Severus instinctively bristled at the terminology, but, as he didn’t want the fox around anyhow, kept silent.
“Argus,” Dumbledore soothed, “he doesn’t seem to be causing any damage. Surely you don’t object to Severus’ familiar”
“It’s not my familiar,” Severus protested.
“He seems pretty familiar to me,” Minerva said dryly.
“Why don’t you take it?” Severus snarked back at her. “Or do cats not consort with foxes?”
“Headmaster…” Filch’s voice had reached a crescendo pitch as his whines continued. “It’s against the rules!”
“Enough!” Albus’ voice was firm. “Argus, the fox stays. He isn’t causing any harm.”
Filch stalked off down the corridor, muttering furiously to himself. The fox seemed pleased by the development, but was quickly distracted by a moth that flew by. As the fox stalked and eventually ate the moth, Severus watched in distaste. “I could banish it,” he said hopefully, but the twin gasps of shock from Albus and Minerva quelled him.
As the fox began its howling that night (two hours early, Severus noted), Severus reached his breaking point. He stomped to the door and flung it ajar. “You will silently sleep by the fire,” he said, furious at having been bested by something no bigger than a bludger. “You will not touch anything. You will not climb on the furniture. If you choose to disobey any of these instructions, I will apparate you to Canada, bleeding-heart Gryffindors be damned.” The fox seemed to understand, because it calmly walked inside towards the fireplace, turned three times, and settled down on the hearthrug, nose tucked beneath its tail.
On September first, Severus found himself arms-deep in lesson plans, and thus was nearly late for the sorting. As he strode quickly to the Great Hall (fox padding nimbly behind him) he heard a great chorus of excited voices. The students were back.
Squaring his shoulders, Severus made his way to the head table, ignoring the whispers of the students. It seemed that they were as charmed by the little fox as the teachers were. The fox largely ignored them, and sat next to Severus’ chair, tail thumping hopefully.
Dinner passed without incident, but Severus noticed a conspicuous absence at the Gryffindor table. Granger’s eyes were red-rimmed and Weasley looked worried. As the prefects led the students to their dorms, Severus prepared himself for the typical start of term speech he gave in the Slytherin Common Room. As he was leaving the hall, however, Minerva’s arm on his sleeve stopped him. “Albus needs us in his office,” she said, her face pinched with worry.
“Potter?” He asked, resignedly.
“Potter,” she murmured back bleakly. Minerva and Severus shared a strong kinship, and their shared mission to keep the Potter boy alive to face another school year had created a galvanizing effect on their friendship. Now, as Harry entered his sixth year, they had developed a relationship that allowed them to communicate much with a raised eyebrow.
They rode the stairs up to Albus’ office in silence, Severus wondering what sort of mishap would be interrupting the peaceful holiday feeling he’d managed to cultivate over the summer. He looked at his watch. Five hours. Five hours into the term without a mishap. The fox, who, frankly, was his constant companion now, rode silently beside him. As they entered Albus’ office, the fox preceded him, and sat by the fire. Severus slouched into an armchair and irritably waved away the offer of a lemon drop.
“What?” He asked finally.
“It may have escaped your notice, but Mister Potter was not on the Hogwarts Express this afternoon.”
“Oh Albus,” Minerva said “Where do you think he’s gone? I told you we should have been looking for him when Miss Granger sent an owl last week.”
“What did Granger say?” Severus asked.
“She and Mister Weasley haven’t heard anything from Mister Potter since the first week of August. Since he often has issues communicating over the summer, I’d dismissed it as his relatives punishing him a little too enthusiastically, however this is worrisome.”
“What do his Muggles say?” Severus asked.
“We haven’t been able to reach them. There have been…issues with getting responses to owls sent to the Dursleys in the past. Severus, I’d like for you to accompany me to the Dursely’s house to speak with them.”
Severus sighed. “Very well. When?”
“Now, I think.”