[Summary]: [HG/SS] AU/Crackfic:
One morning, Severus Snape wakes up with a furry visitor snuggled under the quilt with him. As he pulls back the quilt, two glowing eyes lock with his, and everything is turned on its ear. As the rest of his visitor crawls out from under the covers, he realises he has a problem. There is a Nundu cub in his bed, and for some reason, she's bound to him.
Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose and Dutchgirl01, who keep me insane, er, I mean sane. Wait… Hrm.
Breath of the Nundu
I'm Not Sure What Happened, But I Swear I Wasn't Drunk
Quiet is essential to my process. Perhaps it entered your mind unconsciously. Were your dreams filled with two flounders slapping together? A ketchup bottle being squeezed repeatedly as a nearby walrus issues a death-rattle?
Hermione sniffled to herself as she sat alone in the dark. She wasn't even sure where she was. One good look at the troll had sent her tearing through the halls, fleeing for her life.
She was convinced the magical world hated her. No one liked her. They talked about her behind her back— hell, they even talked around her and in front of her. The redhead, in particular, had a major grudge against her. She saw how he glared at her like she was a freak who didn't belong here. His black-haired best mate, while he was a little more polite about it, seemed to agree with him, shaking his head every time she raised her hand to answer something. How was she supposed to prove she was able to learn how to be a part of the magical world if she didn't answer the questions?
It wasn't like she could go back to being a Muggle after finding out she was a witch and that magic truly existed. She could never not love magic, but the people— why did the people have to be so cruel?
To be fair, she admitted, not everyone was out to get her. Her transfiguration professor and head of house seemed stern but quite kind. Her charms professor seemed to think she had great talent. Her potions professor, however, seemed to be taking something out on her, and she had no idea why. Madam Hooch seemed to think it was odd that she didn't like flying. Most students, she had said, look forward to flying out of all of their classes. Still, even Madam Hooch was kind to her, offering to give her a little one-on-one attention after the classes were done for the day. She liked her professors, well, most of them. It was just her supposed peers who were making her life miserable.
As for going home, she didn't want to do that either. One, leaving the magical world behind would make her old life feel even more bleak. Two, her home life wasn't as cheery as she liked people thinking it was. Her parents put on a cheerful face to the outside and professional world, but the truth was her parents were more than happy to send her away to school— any school. Boarding school, magical or otherwise was just a bonus. Did her parents love her? Hermione really wasn't sure. Most of the time, Hermione felt like a fashion accessory, to be shown off and bragged about in public, but when it came to home life? Not so much. It was part of why Hermione was so deeply into reading and studying. Burying herself in her work was something she had ample practice with.
She had thought that coming to Hogwarts would have opened a new door into making new friends and possibly finding a reason or a joie de vivre, but so far, all she had were housemates who scorned her and laughed at her, and non-housemates that pretty much did the exact same thing. The only people she seemed to get along with were her professors, and that just ostracised her all the more with her supposed peers. She had never felt so very alone in her entire life.
I'll be your friend.
Hermione looked up. "Who's there?" She sniffled, wiping her face with her robes.
I am everywhere. I am here.
Hermione blinked. It was dark in the room she was in, and she really hadn't been paying that much attention to her surroundings when she was running for her life. The troll had followed her for most of the way, and then a door had suddenly appeared just when she needed it. Thankfully, the troll had not discovered the same door. "Who are you?" Hermione asked, her curiosity rising.
A soft glow filled the room, and Hermione was drawn to it. It was a small room, but it was shaped like a circle. In the cardinal directions there was a statue. There was a lion, a snake, a badger, and an eagle. At the center of the room, however, was a very large cat. A leopard, perhaps?
I am the stone beneath you. I am the magic around you. Do you not feel my breath as you walk through my corridors?
Hermione wished for Hogwarts : A History at that moment. Surely it would tell her what this place was.
Chuckling filled her mind. I am the history. I am the future. Even now, I am the present. The book writes itself at my accord.
Hermione approached the center of the room. "You are Hogwarts?"
I am magic made form child. The voice was warm and gentle. Hermione couldn't help but feel safe. We can help each other, if you wish it.
"I'm no one special," Hermione replied bitterly. "Just ask anyone."
Special is not always measured in popular opinion. Nor is it always measured in the love one receives from those one wishes it from. Hermione gasped as a figure stepped out from the eagle statue. It was a tall, pale-faced woman with dark red lips and raven-black hair. On her head was a delicate diadem with a sapphire as deep as the midnight sky.
"Are you Rowena Ravenclaw?" Hermione boggled.
"All that was magic in her, perhaps," the figure said with a strong Scottish accent. "An echo of a time long past, but a testament that little changes."
"You sound just like I imagined her," Hermione confessed.
Rowena smiled slightly, her form shimmering into that of a tall man with long auburn hair and a bushy beard, laughing green eyes and a sword slung over his shoulder. Then he was a balding older wizard with a pointed salt and pepper beard. He stroked his beard thoughtfully and fingered an ornate silver locket around his neck. Then, the form shimmered again, and it settled on a plump middle-aged woman with warm blue eyes and red hair that glowed a deep orange in the sun, even though there was no sun in the room. Her hair was short, but wavy and arranged in an intricate braid around her head. Her eyebrows were delicate lines that arched over her eyes like a smile.
"Ah, this is probably best," the witch said with a smile. "Come, child, let me wipe those tears away." She took a homespun ivory handkerchief from her earthen-coloured robes and blotted Hermione's tear-streaked face. "I wish I could offer you a drink from my favourite cup, but I fear it has been lost to one whose heart was never full and whose mind is ever full."
Hermione frowned, not understanding.
The elder witch tutted. "There now, fear not. In magic there can be many great things. Good or bad. Light or Darkness, but these are only words. Magic is magic, and magic is forever. Here in these walls, all the more so. We have watched you, my dear. From the moment you came within our halls. We have heard your tears."
"You heard me?" Hermione squeaked, suddenly abashed.
The older witch smiled. "We hear everything in this walls, my dear. I'm sure there are some who would be very frightened by that, if only they knew."
"Why me?" Hermione asked.
The older witch sighed, sitting down on the nearby chair that simply appeared. She patted the seat beside her. Hermione sat down, tentative but curious.
"Do you wonder sometimes, how some things simply appear when you need it?" She asked.
Hermione nodded. "I lost my toothbrush. I looked everywhere, and then it just showed up in my water cup."
The blue-eyed witch smiled. "Help comes to those who need it here, my child, but sometimes, we fail those we wish we could have helped. Then, like the casting of a die, we cannot go back and make it right. But, with a little help, perhaps we can make things better. For you. For those who live here. For those who seek shelter in these hallowed halls."
"What can I call you?" Hermione asked.
"Do you remember what you felt as you crossed the lake the first time?" The elder witch asked. "That feeling as you saw the lights and the fires as the moon rose over the parapets?"
"Think of that, for it is I," the woman said with a gentle smile. For a moment, she flipped into the three other faces, which Hermione was beginning to realise were the four faces of the founders of Hogwarts.
The elder witch, who Hermione realised was Helga Hufflepuff, was kind, warm and genuine. "There is a deep emptiness inside you, child, but there truly does not have to be. What you need cannot be found where you have been looking, but it can be with a little faith and perseverance."
Helga stood and walked up to the sculpture in the middle of the room. Glowing emerald eyes lit up with her touch. "We need someone," she said softly. "Someone like you. Someone who still hasn't lost their faith in magic, even when they have lost faith in many other things and people. There are a great many wrongs to be righted here inside these walls, but only someone like you could help us."
"What could I do?" Hermione asked, puzzled. "I can't even seem to make friends properly."
Helga took Hermione's much smaller hand in hers. "We would be your friend, child— the song that sings to you as you fall asleep and the very air that sustains. You are not alone here, if you have the ears to hear and the heart to feel."
Hermione set her jaw and squared her shoulders. "How can I help you?"
Helga smiled. "Did you know, the Nundu is a very noble magical beast? They were once considered the kings and queens of all Africa, more so than the most magnificent of lions. It was said to be highly intelligent and a most impeccable judge of character, far greater even than the finest purebred kneazle. But there was only one problem. The Nundu absorbs the ambient energy around it, and the emotion it feels is channeled through its breath. Somewhere along the line, the Nundu was captured and abused, and its emotion grew to be focused on hatred. That hatred was passed on from one to the next, from sire and dam to cub, until almost all Nundu that have ever been seen breathe out their distrust and hatred into a miasma of lethal disease, killing all those around it lest they themselves be killed in turn."
Hermione frowned, her hands touching the marble sculpture with interest. "That is so unfair."
"The Nundu, much like you, young one," Helga sighed, "is often sadly misjudged. Did you know that Godric and Salazar wanted to make the crest of Gryffindor House a Nundu, but the children were so afraid of the very thought of such a beast that they chose the lion instead? They tried for an actual gryphon as well, but that wasn't well received either. The tales of gryphons eating wizards who didn't live up to their standards was found to be somewhat unsettling." Helga winked at Hermione.
Hermione grinned, suddenly feeling much more at ease.
Helga stroked the sculpture of the Nundu with a smile. "This school needs a protector, Hermione. More so now than ever before. We need someone who can hear our call, set about our tasks, and protect all those who live within the walls. More so, to protect those who have never stopped serving those who come here to learn and grow. We have chosen you, Hermione. You are fit for this task, but it will be your choice alone to make... if you choose to have faith in us."
Hermione stared into the glowing emerald eyes of the statue and then back up at Helga. "I want to help. I want— to believe in magic."
Helga looked upon her kindly. "Perhaps, in time, you can come to trust in magic as well, but, can you trust in us? Help us, and we shall help you find the peace in your heart you have always longed for— long before now."
"What do you need me to do?" Hermione asked.
Helga smiled. "Be our eyes and ears. Be our guardian in spirit and body. There are tasks you will know to do, and only you will hear of them. How you perform them is entirely up to you. In exchange, we shall teach you, as you sleep, the skills that will allow you to make your way in the world at such a time when your tasks are completed and you feel safe enough to show everyone who you really are. All that you have learned. All that we shall give you. This will all be yours to keep. A thank you, as you will, for your service. And, should you decide to remain our champion, then we will discuss other— job perks."
"But how? I'm just a first year," Hermione reasoned.
"Every wizard or witch, great or small, started as a person much like you, Hermione," Helga said with a softened expression.
Helga's form changed into that of the elder wizard with the pointed salt-and-pepper coloured beard and dark grey eyes. "It is simply what you do with what you have learned that makes one the truly great person or the one doomed to remain ordinary."
"Will you help us, child?" The man asked sombrely. "Help restore honour to the houses of our names. Restore balance to Hogwarts as it was in the beginning."
Salazar's form changed into the younger, bright-eyed Godric Gryffindor. "Remind those who live within this walls that chivalry is not only for the brave." His form changed back into Helga's.
"Hard work is not only for those who live under the banner of the badger," Helga added. She changed into the pale-faced, raven-haired woman.
Knowledge is a thing to be shared often, To fail in this," Rowena guided, "is to fail the future."
Rowena's form returned to the warm-eyed Helga Hufflepuff. "Will you help us, Hermione? Help us bring peace to Hogwarts."
Salazar Slytherin extended a large hand to Hermione. "My house would have you believe me to be a bigot— a man whose hatred for the Muggle-born outweighed all else. The truth is that once we were all Muggle-born. Most of us came from magic that sprung from the mundane, save those like Merlin whose conception was, even in lighter tales, nothing short of supernatural, but even he was supposedly born from a mortal woman."
Hermione tentatively took the elder wizard's hand, nervous in the face of the man who, as he said, had a reputation for being unsavory to those such as herself.
He placed a warm hand on hers. The truth is, I instilled the hat to pick out those people who were born to lead, born to cunning, drive, and wiles, but in so doing, I had inadvertently reinforced the misconception that such things came from the purity of one's blood. Those who were most apt to lead or mislead were also born of families who would see themselves raised above others for no other reason than blood rather than hard work and deeds. They would see themselves like the divine rulers of old, whose main trait was being connected to the divine seed of a rampant and virile god with a lack of self control."
Salazar sighed, patting her hand gently. "It was my fault, you see. I trained him, my apprentice, and he did learn all the things I did teach but one: that magic was born in the blood, but that blood could spring from a vacuum in a seemingly fathomless sea. He took my partial lessons, and did what any Slytherin is well-known for: he outmaneuvered me. He shamed me, making me look an addled fool, then he took my place at Hogwarts. Then, he did modify the Sorting Hat to favour those with supposedly pure blood over potential and talent right under my old friends' noses. I don't blame them, you see. I taught him— everything."
Salazar took in a deep breath and looked into Hermione's eyes. "I will promise you, Hermione. If you take up this cup and drink, I swear to you that I and my oldest friends, we shall teach you ourselves what it is to be a witch so that you may one day teach others the way it was meant to be."
Rowena was looking at Hermione very seriously. " At first, you will not remember much of yourself, and this will be done deliberately. You must make your allies with a purity of purpose unmarred by amy previous judgements."
Godric took Rowena's place. "You must be anchored to what made you human lest you lose yourself along the way, and thus, when you find those that you judge most needful of your care, comfort and help, you will become bound to them— they as your anchor and you as their comfort. Then, and only when the bond is true, we will come to you in your dreams and begin our lessons."
Helga took Godric's place. "And only when that bond has been tested and found true will you begin to remember yourself and hear our voices again while you are awake. When you are ready, we will ask you to attend to the tasks that require your special talents. You may find, however, that some of the tasks happen without your even knowing it. Some wrongs can be righted simply by being there before the event happens or even as it happens."
"How will this be possible?" Hermione asked, looking perplexed as though the task would be impossible.
"You will become our Nundu, Hermione, our champion," It was Godric that was smiling at her now. "You will grow up in the halls that you will guard and protect. You will learn its secrets and its people, and perhaps even the secrets of its people. And, in the end, I pray, you will defend us of your own will, not by oath or duty bound."
Hermione swallowed. "Will it hurt?"
Helga's warm eyes smiled. "I cannot promise you that life will not hurt, dear child. Life is life. The physical change shall never hurt you, and your presence will ease the pain of those who are in most need of it. It is our penance, you see, for failing those we should have helped long ago but could not. Through you, if you are willing, we shall bring balance to the school again."
Then, Helga was not alone. The four Founders of Hogwarts stood before Hermione, looking at her with varying states of emotion. They surrounded her, but not so unkindly.
"It is your choice, child," Helga said. "You may take as long as you wish to decide. When you do we shall know, and no matter the choice, we shall watch over you."
Hermione bit her lip. "Could I think about it?"
Helga smiled. "Of course, child.
"Remember," Rowena said. "Not all is what it seems in Hogwarts."
"Not all cruelty is without reason," Salazar added, "but some cruelty is, sadly, for its own sake."
"True wisdom is to know the difference," Rowena agreed.
"Bravery is to stand up for injustice, especially when your peers believe otherwise," Godric said with a nod.
The large statue of the Nundu burst into magical particles and reformed into Helga's hand. It was a locket with a great cat trapped in amber. Around it a hundred some glyphs were etched. A dark blue sapphire was suspended in the amber, the beast's paw upon it like a ball under its foot. Surrounding the cat was the eagle, the badger, the serpent, and the lion. She placed the locket around Hermione's neck. "When you are ready, we will know. Whatever you decide, Hermione. We will never fail to watch over you."
Hermione nodded, sniffling a little.
Helga pressed her lips to Hermione's right cheek. Rowena placed hers to Hermione's left. Godric pressed his lips to her temple. Salazar drew her head to his and gently pressed his lips to her forehead.
"Walk in safety, my child."
"Hermione! Where have you been?"
Hermione bolted upright in the Common Room sofa chair. Her eyes were wide and her hand went to her throat. She froze as her hand alighted on the warm thrum of magic contained in the locket.
"Oi, Hermione," Ron fussed. "Where were you? You had Harry here worried sick about you. There's a bloody troll loose in the school."
"Maybe he was just sick, mate," someone snickered somewhere in the Common Room. "Sick of listening to her prattle on." More snickering came from around the room, causing Hermione to flush hotly with embarrassment.
Ron shook his head.
"Hey, you seen my copy of Hogwarts: A History?" Neville asked from the side. He was digging frantically through his stack of books. "I have to write that essay for Snape, or he'll give me another detention on top of the one I already got for blowing up that cauldron."
"The one I accidentally poured the flaming potion on?" Seamus asked sheepishly.
Neville glared darkly at the other boy.
Ron scoffed. "You don't need a book, mate. Hermione is here." He shoved her forward with his hand. "Just ask her. I'm sure she'll just spout it out like the good little bookworm she is."
"Don't be such a git, Ronald," another voice chided.
Hermione looked up hopefully towards her unknowing saviour.
Percy Weasley looked at his brother with disgust. He looked Hermione over. "You okay? We were worried, yeah?"
Hermione nodded, silent.
"Next time, stay with us, okay? They are still dealing with a troll downstairs. You could have been hurt."
Hermione nodded again, chastened.
Percy's gaze softened. "Why were you not with us in the Great Hall, anyway? It was— what is that?"
Hermione's eyes widened.
Percy's fingers touched the pendant around Hermione's neck. His eyes narrowed as he pulled her to the side.
"Where did you get that?"
Hermione cast her eyes down. "I— it was given to me."
"Given? By whom?" Percy asked suspiciously. "I've seen that pendant before. It's trapped behind crystal in the Hall of the Founders. First years don't have access to it. How did you get it?"
"She probably stole it off one of the upperclassman," someone snorted, eavesdropping. "They are always making replicas in Transfiguration class."
"I di— " Hermione stammered. "I didn't steal anything!"
"Given then, stolen. Whatever," the blond Gryffindor said, waving his hand as he went back to his book. "Girls."
"McGonagall will sort this out," Percy said, jutting his chin. "Come along, Hermione." He shoved her in front of him and out of the portal to McGonagall's office. "Stealing is a serious offence, Hermione. We don't tolerate it here at Hogwarts."
Hermione fumed silently, having seen first hand what the twins did all the time "in good fun."
"McGonagall is off helping the other staff," Percy said. "I have to get back to the dorms. You will stay here and wait for her. I'm sending her an owl to let her know the situation."
"I didn't steal anything!" Hermione blurted, scandalized.
"If that is true," Percy said, eying the locket with clear suspicion, "then I will apologise to you later. I will not have someone under my watch accused of stealing and end up being accused myself of not properly following up on it as a prefect."
He gestured to a seat opposite McGonagall's office desk.
Hermione sat down in it, her jaw grimly set.
A group of Slytherin walked by, escorted back to their Common Room by a prefect. They cat-called at her. "In trouble already, Granger? Figures. She doesn't know any better, being an uncivilised Muggle and all."
The group laughed, hustling down the hallway.
Percy snorted. "Stay here, Hermione," he ordered, closing the door firmly behind him.
Suddenly, the door opened again. "Oh, and give me the necklace. I'll give it to McGonagall. If what you are saying is true, then she'll give it back to you."
Hermione's eyes grew very wide. She shook her head back and forth wildly in negative.
"Hermione," Percy cautioned.
"It was a gift!" Hermione protested. "It's all I have."
Percy sighed. "If it really was, then you'll get it back," he admonished. He reached to take the locket from her.
The locket flashed with magic, a tendril like the limb of an octopus lashed out and slapped Percy's hand.
Percy had his wand out as he pointed it at the locket. "Where did you get that? Did my brothers put you up to this?"
"What?" Hermione gasped, horrified. "No!"
"If you are going to get along here, Hermione Granger," Percy warned. "You would be best served to stay well away from the likes of my twin brothers. For that matter, it would be best if you stayed away from my family altogether. Ronald is an utter failure. He can't even take care of Scabbers without losing him. Fred and George will end up getting you expelled, and if you think you're going to get in with the famous Harry Potter, then you'll have to get in line with the entirety of bloody Gryffindor."
Percy gave her a disgusted look. "Don't leave this room, Granger." He slammed the door behind him, leaving Hermione alone as the tears streamed down her face.
She clasped the locket in her hand tightly, feeling it instantly warm in her hand. "I'll do it," she whispered. "I accept your offer."
Hermione padded down the shadows of the hallway corridors, her paws making absolutely no sound as she walked along. She had been worried about something, but she now couldn't remember what that was. In fact, her heart was far lighter than it had ever been. It seemed as though a heavy weight had been taken off of her shoulders. As she walked down the corridors, she felt the magic in the walls and felt even better. It was like a hug coming from everywhere at once, and she liked it.
She batted at a moth and chased it down the hall. It flew up towards the portraits, and she leapt up to bat at it, her paws whapping up against the portrait.
"Hey!" the portrait said. "Watch it there, kitty."
Hermione laid back her ears. She hadn't been expecting that.
The moth fluttered down the hall, and she chased after it. If there had been any awkwardness in her change in body, she was easily shaking it off, and her thoughts were lighter than they had ever been in her life. She couldn't even remember what she was thinking about before. It seemed so distant and out of mind. It felt good to be alive, and everything was— MOTH!
Hermione leapt up into the air and snapped her mouth around the moth with a clack of her teeth. The offending insect was gone in a instant, but the moment it hit her stomach, she realised she was hungry. Positively starving. She bounced down the hallway, keeping to the shadows and following the school's natural leylines. They tickled her smoothly furred skin as she walked, and she liked how it made her feel. She mrrowled to herself, the golden locket around her neck rang like the sound of a Tibetan temple bell, its sound ringing in the air with a grounding thrum.
Exploring was fun! This was so much better than— well, she really couldn't remember, but she was definitely having fun now!
A rustle of feet caught her attention, and Hermione dove behind a nearby pillar, lowering her belly to the ground. Her tail lowered, and her ears flattened tightly against her head.
A thin, twitchy little man with a turban on his head shuffled by, and Hermione flattened against the ground. He smelled like some sort of spice and— rot? Why would he smell like rot? Hermione growled softly, and pressed her body to the floor until she practically blended into the stone. Something told her to stay low and remain unseen, and she listened to the little inside voice.
"Yes, yes, my Lord," he whispered. "Wouldn't it be better if we told him? He is your servant af—"
"No!" A sibilant voice hissed angrily. "No one shall see me until I am ready to be seen. "
"Yes, master, of course," the twitchy man groveled, seemingly to himself.
Hermione bared her teeth, irritated, the fur on the back of her neck rising stiffly. Then the man hurriedly disappeared down the corridor.
She waited until the man turned the corner and slunk down the hall, ears flicking from side to side as she listened to the goings on of Hogwarts on multiple levels. She heard a muffled groan coming from somewhere above, and then she came upon the moving staircases.
Hermione narrowed her eyes. Something about the moving staircases was bad, but she couldn't remember what that was. Still, the sound of distress was unmistakeable. She had to investigate.
Clinging to the side of the moving staircase to move her way up unseen, Hermione found herself on the third floor. She sneezed at the dust, but something more interesting caught her attention. It was a light, herbal smell mixed with blood, and something that smelled like— wet dog?
Something in the back of her head told her something was behind the far door, and the soft groan confirmed that. Hermione hunkered down as the door opened and slammed. A tall, dark-robed figure limped by her, pausing only long enough to insure the door was well and truly closed. He hissed to himself as he walked, favouring one leg. She could smell the blood.
"Have to make sure it's well guarded, Severus," the man muttered. "Hagrid has something that can help us, he says. Giant bloody arse three-headed dog. How is that even a good idea? Albus is going to get someone killed. He's going to get me killed."
The man limped away, and Hermione felt a tug of sympathy.
Curious, she investigated the closed door.
She sniffed the edges, wrinkling her nose as the musty scent of canine wafted out from the edges. She eyed the handle of the door and grabbed it with her paws, but it didn't open. Suddenly, a large slam came from the other side accompanied by furious barking and low growling.
Hermione moved backwards, making a tiny nervous sound. She wasn't exactly small, but whatever was on the other side of the door sounded very, very large.
Curiosity brimming, she eyed the handle of the door again. She flexed her claws, one by one, extending six exceedingly sharp, dagger-like claws.
Didn't she have five— no, six seemed right. Hermione shook her head. Of course she had six claws on each paw. What self-respecting example of her species wouldn't have six? Hermione scratched her chin with her rear foot. Her thoughts felt strange. Maybe she needed a nap— and a zebra to gnaw on. That would be spectacular. She could settle for nice water buffalo, or a roc egg— better, a whole roc! She wouldn't have to eat again for days.
Hermione shook her head and yawned, stomach rumbling insistently. Something told her that there was something she had to take care of before she could go on grand adventures. The man who had limped past her seemed interesting. He smelled interesting, at least. He also seemed in dire need of a friend, and Hermione was all about making friends. At least, she thought she was. Wasn't she? Oh well, she was now!
Hermione froze as a large, hairy, shambling man walked by, whistling to himself, dragging a leg of something that smelled… absolutely delicious. She licked her chops, drooling and her stomach growling insistently.
The man opened the door, dragging the leg of something behind him. Hermione tore after it, sliding behind the man without him seeing her and then diving into the adjoining room. The room was terribly dark, but as her eyes adjusted, it became wonderfully clear.
The hulking man didn't even see her. He dragged the haunch in, and a giant three-headed dog whined and growled to get either at the man or at the food. Either seemed likely.
"There now, ya big lug," the man said, patting the beast with his hands. "Food for all three mouths. "You keep guarding this here door, and the Headmaster says he'll let ya stay even though those mean folks at the Ministry say you're untrainable and misbehaved. Psh. Don't let them tell you that you're dysfunctional, eh? No, sir. Alright, time for me to go. They need help moving that big troll out of the lavatory. Apparently he was showing off to the female troll he thought he saw. Not too bright, those."
The man patted the dog a few times and then shuffled out, tripping slightly as he left, so the rug moved under him. He brushed himself off and left. Hermione's ears swiveled and she heard the door's muggled bump against the rug instead of the door latch.
Well, at least she had a way out!
Hermione's stomach growled.
The three-headed canine lifted his head and began to bark furiously. He launched on the thick chain he was on, so much so that the stone that was anchoring the heavy wrought iron ring was starting to pull out from the grout work. The dog was so determined to get at her, that he seemed forget that breathing was rather a necessity, and he suffocated himself on the chain just enough to collapse on the floor.
Hermione flicked her tail with disdain. Not the sharpest tool in the shed, that one. She padded over and tore into the haunch of meat, savouring it with delighted mrowls. She dragged the meat over into the corner with her, pulling it under herself in fine feline tradition. Ideally, she would like to pull it up somewhere and hang it from a tree. Vaguely, she remembered a rather nice-looking tree outside on the grounds.
Hermione shook her head and ate ravenously. The meat was glorious, if just a little too fresh to be completely tender. A nice hang for a few days would make it tender and render the taste even richer. Mmmm… meat. She licked her mouth and fastidiously groomed the blood off her paws.
The three-headed dog was starting to rouse again. And now he was pissed that she had his food. He lunged to the end of the chain, the stone starting to give. Foam was flicking everywhere in thick globs.
Hermione flattened her ears to her skull and arched her back, reaching out her large paws to swat the huge dog in the face. Her sharp claws smacked the canine squarely on the nose.
The first head yelped and whined, head sagging.
The second head, spurred on from the attack on his brother head, lunged at her again.
Hermione swatted him straight across the face, her claws and her hissing growl warning him away.
The second head helped and sagged, ears drooping.
The middle head, which seemed to be the wisest of the three, whined softly and lowered his head down in submission. His tail wagged at her as he whined and licked his chops.
Oh, well, if that's all you want.
Hermione dragged the haunch into range and sat down next to it.
All three heads looked at her warily, eyeing her sharp claws.
Hermione yawned and scratched her jowls with her rear foot, causing the locket around her neck to tinkle musically.
The dog's tail thumped wildly against the ground at the sound, and he pulled the food over to him, all three heads digging in as though it were his last meal on earth.
Unlike Hermione, he made short work of the entire haunch, seemingly uncaring that the food would taste better if left to hang around for a day or two. Then, when he had crunched open the bones and gnawed out the tasty and rich marrow, he focused his three heads on her once more.
Triple tongues nailed her from every side, tipping her over. Hermione mrowled, unhappy with being rather wetter than she preferred. She batted at the dog's muzzles, keeping her claws in, but the dog seemed to realise the warning and whined, setting his heads down to look at her. Hermione rubbed up against him, partly to rid herself of the canine drool and partly to express forgiveness for his transgressions.
His tail beat the ground in rapid smacks, vibrating the ground. Hermione rubbed her cheek against each muzzle, smearing her scent over him, letting every other feline like herself know that this drooling canine was hers. She had no idea what that meant, really, at least for the future, but it was all about labeling your stuff. This guy was her stuff. Well, he was now.
The dog wagged his tail and whined, seemingly happy with being assimilated into her territory.
Hermione gave each muzzle a raspy lick and padded back out the door, slipping between the space the rug had left to allow her escape. The dog whined, straining against the chain to follow her, but not in the barking maniacally I-really-want-to-chew-on-you kind of way. Hermione mrrowled apologetically and the dog whined and set his head down, tail still wagging.
She pushed the carpet out of the way and used her front paws to push the door closed. She had a feeling that if a student happened to come by, the last thing they would want to do was find what was on the other side of that door. Making a mental note to come back when she had some sort of food in tow, she trotted down the empty hallway, following the pleasant scent of herbs and toffee.
Hermione followed the scent from shadow to shadow. Thankfully, no turban-wearing half-rot smelling man showed up to offend her nose, and she was glad of it.
As timing would have it, just as she found the source of the toffee-herbal scent, she found him leaning heavily on the wall as he traced some sort of intricate pattern on the nearby tapestry. The wall next to it moved aside, exposing a portal into a private quarters. He was limping even more heavily this time, and weariness practically radiated off of him, so much so that he didn't notice the distinctly feline shadow slip between his robes and the door and into the room beyond.
She watched him most of the night from under his very thick bed curtains. He seemed so terribly exhausted, weary, and alone, and her heart ached for him as he muttered to himself. He seemed to be speaking to someone as though he were not alone, and part of Hermione seemed to feel like she knew that feeling well enough.
He went about his evening rituals with a strange fervor. Even with the pain, everything was done just so. He winced, rubbing his leg as he graded parchments until every last one was finished, and then he pushed the heaping pile aside with a sigh.
At one point, an old man's head came through the floo and started to converse with him.
"I'm sorry, Severus," the man in the floo said. "This cannot wait. I need you to fetch it for me tonight."
"Yes, Headmaster," Severus said wearily, standing, wincing as he tried not to stand on his badly swollen ankle.
Hermione waited under the bed until after he left, busying herself by sniffing around the room and inspecting his things. She really liked the smell of his robes, and she flopped over them, rubbing herself on them as she cheek marked those too, as hers.
Hours passed, and when the sound at the door came again, she dove back under the bed once more.
Severus dragged himself in, somehow managing to look even wearier than before. He groaned, flopping on the bed, barely even coherent enough to do much more than take off his dragonhide boots and lay his head on the pillow before his soft snores began filling the room.
Hermione crawled out from under the bed, mrowling sadly. She leapt up onto the bed and took the duvet in her teeth and pulled it over him. Something told her that this man needed companionship in a bad way. Thankfully, she was well equipped to be there for him in that capacity.
She snuffled his wounded ankle and licked it assiduously, cleaning the blood off it. Then, she snuggled up under his arm, pressing up against his chest while under the duvet.
Severus' arm wrapped around her, pulling her close, perhaps the hunger for some sort of companionship asserting itself on an instinctive level.
But as his warmth and scent wrapped itself around her and she shared her own with him, she purred happily, closing her eyes as the first sleep after her change dragged her off into oblivion.
She had found her person. That was reason enough to have a celebratory sleep. Maybe he would have meat for her in the morning.
"Severus?" Minerva called his name, but it sounded like she was somehow speaking underwater.
"Erghffff," Severus groaned. "Why is it, Minerva, that you feel you must inflict yourself upon my person in my own chambers? I already regret giving you access to my wards."
"Severus, you didn't show up for your first class," Minerva huffed. "That is considered reason enough for a wellness check."
"W— what?" Severus grunted, pulling the duvet and quilt back.
"Severus, have you been drinking?"
"Of course not, Minerva," Severus sighed, sitting up. "You know about my father."
"Well, it's not at all like you to miss class, Severus," Minerva chided. "Are you feeling poorly?"
"No more so than usual," he sighed, rubbing his eyes. "What time is it?"
"Half past noon, dear," the Animagus tutted.
"Half past— I never sleep past eight at the most!"
Minerva raised a curious brow.
Severus flipped the duvet and quilt over and yawned widely.
"Oh, my word," Minerva gasped, utterly entranced. "Severus, wherever did you find her?"
Severus looked down.
Minerva reached down, extending her fingers. "Oh, what a beautiful little girl you are," she cooed.
A large bundle of fur uncurled and stretched, from the tip of her nose to the end of her tail. Big, glowing orange-green eyes stared up at them both. The distinctively spotted cub let out a soft, squeaky yawn as her paws wrapped gently around Minerva's fingers. She licked Minerva's hands with her rough tongue.
Severus stared blankly down at his bed. "What? Minerva, I swear, I've never seen this kitten— cub—animal before in my life!"
"Just look at her paws," Minerva fussed. "She's going to grow up to be a monster. She looks like a leopard cub, but she's considerably larger. Oh! And those beautiful eyes!" She picked up the cub in her arms and the furry creature purred loudly, placing her paw gently against Minerva's face.
Snape stared, looking as though he were trying to retrace his steps very, very carefully. "Minerva, I don't think that is a leopard."
Minerva gave him a look that roughly translated to "Well, I don't really care what she is, Severus. She's adorable."
One sharp eyebrow rose into his hair automatically, but the pseudo-leopard cub shot her tongue out and licked his face while on her back in Minerva's arms.
Snape's expression softened. "I have no idea how she got here." He started to walk away, and the little beast made a sad little whuff, resting her head on her paws and gazing up at him with her soul in her big, orange-green eyes.
Both Minerva and Severus felt a sudden shock, as though a very large bear rug had zapped them at once with a powerful jolt of static electricity. Then a strange, wondrous, spreading warmth filled them at once and they collapsed together.
The wayward pseudo-leopard cub then yawned, kneaded their robes, and curled up between them, purring loudly.
Lucius Malfoy stepped through the floo with a yawn. His wife's latest socialite soiree ran until the wee hours of the morning and involved far too many people that he really didn't care for. It was enough to make him swear off humanity as a whole, but thanks to his current "status" he had an image to uphold. There was also the fact that there was stirrings the Dark Lord was going to rise again, and if that was true, he would have to find his way into the good graces of his "fellow" Death Eaters again, lest his young son grow up without a parent— or any parents.
Severus was the only person who truly understood. Even as a half-blood wizard, he was far more intelligent than even the more talented sort they had at Hogwarts. He knew things, saw things, and then, like most Slytherins, took note of the information on the off chance it might prove useful at a later date. Strangely though, he and Severus had become friends, which wasn't something Lucius every admitted to lightly, if he even admitted to it at all. He could lie, of course. That was hardly a new thing for him, but it wasn't a lie when it came to Severus.
It had been because of that friendship that Severus had been Marked. At the time, both of them had their reasons. Severus because he had nothing left to lose, and Lucius because he thought he had everything to lose. Both of them had been wrong in it, but it wasn't like you got branded by the Dark Lord and then said "Mm, no. Sorry. This really isn't for me."
It was the Mark that insured that.
If Lucius ever failed in his tasks to the Dark Lord, if he did indeed return, he had no doubt that his family would pay the price for that.
Lucius looked around. Severus was normally one to have tea ready for his arrival, or a good brandy. While Severus himself rarely if ever drank thanks to his paranoia that whatever vice created his father would transfer to him, he did have very good taste in liquor.
Scratching sounds came from the adjoining chamber, and Lucius was curious. Severus didn't have a familiar or any sort of fascination with animals. He'd turned down Lucius' offer of a peafowl or two, a good dog (stating he wanted nothing that reminded him of Black), or even an cat. Truly, Lucius thought, Severus needed something to take care of. He needed something to distract him from his tendency to brood over things so hard that his gaze would melt iron. Every time he had asked Severus to babysit Draco, his boy would scarily proper. It made him wonder what was exchanged. It wasn't that he ever believed Severus to raise a hand or wand to a child, no. It was a just the man seemed to find the very idea of children as distasteful as an allergic reaction to air.
Curiosity demanding a high toll, Lucius investigated the next room.
He arrived into an unmitigated disaster zone. Chairs were tipped over, curtains were shredded, the rug was slung over to the fireplace and half of it was burned. A feather pillow was torn to shreds, and there were about a thousand little feathers scattered all over the floor. Oddly enough, the fragile teaset on the nearby table was untouched, and the handmade quilt that Lucius' grandmother had made Severus was unmolested.
It was probably a good thing. Lucius' grandmother had made it specially for Severus after the younger Snape had stayed hunkered under one of her quilts all weekend while visiting the Malfoys during Christmas holidays. Knowing his gran… she's rise up from her grave to sort that out offence. She's always been one to take care of "her people," and Lucius had the sinking suspicion that the reason he'd made so many bad choices was because she hadn't been there to hex the sense back into him. Merlin knew, it didn't get bad decision making from his mother's side of the family. His mother had tried to guide him right, but his father had unfortunately been the voice of "reason."
Every was entitled to a few mistakes in life, right?
Chewing noises came from below him.
There was a leopard kit— cub chewing on his Italian dragonhide boots?
Nice, Severus. You can't be seen with a normal cat, so you get yourself an exotic?
Orange-green eyes stared up at him with a distinctive glow.
Wait. This wasn't a leopard cub at all!
Lucius froze. He thought about his wand and then twitched. It took one hundred skilled wizards to take out the animal he was thinking this one was. Okay, so this one was a fairly small one, but did that really matter?
The cub mrrrrowled and stood on its hind legs and placed oversized paws directly over his family assets.
Lucius flinched. Forget the sodding Dark Lord. This was far, far worse.
Sure, they hadn't managed to have any children since Draco, but there was always at least the slimmest possibility that they might, by some miracle have another child, and well, he didn't want to lose his ability to father one due to a very happy cub of a magical feline species.
A double groan caught Lucius' attention. Severus and McGonagall scraped themselves off the ground with a few scratches to the head and bleary-eyed looks.
"What happened?" the Scottish witch asked.
"Severus," Lucius hissed. "Call off your— frisky animal."
"She's not my," Severus yawned, "frisky animal."
"I never imagined Professor McGonagall to be the exotic animal collector, Severus," Lucius replied.
"Oh, she's not mine," Minerva said.
At the sound of Minerva's voice, the cub perked, pushed off Lucius, and bounded over to the elder Animagus with a series of happy mrrowls.
Lucius gave Minerva a look.
"Minerva is not lying," Severus said, waving Lucius off with a gesture the blond wizard was prone to using often. "She just showed up today."
Lucius twitched the cover of his mouth. "You do realise that is a Nundu cub, Severus. Those aren't exactly your run of the mill anything."
Severus frowned. "What?"
Lucius let out his breath. "That," he said, pointing to the pseudo leopard cub that was stretching her claws out on the nearby chair, "is a Nundu cub."
Watching the cub lick Minerva under the chin while listening to her purr, Severus raised a dubious eyebrow.
"Check the paws," Lucius said, splaying his hands like claws. "If there are six digits, she's a Nundu, or a mutant leopard. If it is the latter, I will apologise and pretend this never happened." Lucius paused. "There is the saying 'green spot in the ear, disease to fear'. We learned it as children, well, at least Malfoys do. Not that most people would ever get close enough to even a potential Nundu to find out for sure."
The cub was happily wriggling in Minerva's arms and didn't seem to want to settle for inspection.
Severus placed a pale hand on back of her neck and gently pinched the fold of loose skin there. The cub stilled instantly, going immediately limp in instinctive response to being transported in her "mum's" mouth. Severus gently pulled her head back and inspected her ears. Then, he pressed into the pads of the cub's oversized paws and pressed into them, splaying out all six clawed digits.
"Green spots in the ears," he confirmed. "Six digits per paw." He released the nape of her neck, and the cub squirmed and licked Severus under the jaw and placed her carefully sheathed paws against his face in a playful bat.
"She hardly seems to be the murderous representative of her species," Minerva noted bemusedly. "Even her breath smells… like elderberries. We've both been in the room with her all morning. We're obviously not diseased or dying."
Lucius tentatively put out his hand to the cub, and she lick, lick, licked his fingers with her rough tongue. "Yes, I would tend to agree, but the species identification is true. It must be."
Lucius frowned suddenly. "How do you know it's a she?"
Minerva and Severus both looked away to stare at the destruction of the room instead of Lucius' face.
Lucius stared not so very politely.
"She doesn't have those parts, Lucius," Severus muttered.
Severus gave him a very pointed look.
Comprehension hit Lucius like a thunderclap, and his face abruptly flushed. "Oh."
"Honestly, Lucius," Severus scoffed. "You can figure out she's a bloody Nundu, but you can't figure out she's a female?"
Lucius sighed. "I'm a wizard, not a magizoologist, Severus. There are limits to the things I remember from childhood."
The cub reached out and batted at Lucius' walking cane. Despite himself, his expression softened.
"Adorable," Minerva said.
Lucius twitched. "Yes," he said almost painfully, as if the admission might cause him to die horribly of some sudden onset of dragon pox.
Lucius opened his arms out in invitation, and the cub immediately perked up, clambering over to him. Unfortunately, her rear claws got stuck in Severus' robes, and she began to panic. She yowled, paws and legs flailing. There was a sharp odour of pickled herring as she squirmed about.
Severus hissed as her claws dug into the flesh of his arm even through his thick robes. Blood trickled down his arm as Severus' face twisted in pain.
"Severus!" Minerva gasped, moving to help him. Blood was trickling down his arm in rivulets of crimson. She held his arm as she summoned bandages with her wand.
Severus struggled against her touch. "I'll deal with it!"
"Severus! You're bleeding! Let me help you," Minerva ordered.
Severus gave her a panicked look as she sat him down in the nearby chair. He watched her pull up his sleeve, exposing his faded but still present Dark Mark.
"Ach," she tutted. "You're going to scar. These are deep gouges." She ignored his protests as she chanted over his arm, guiding her wand over the wounds.
"I feel you staring at me, Severus," Minerva sighed. "I haven't been patching together cubs for decades without gaining considerable skill from watching Poppy."
Severus flinched and tried not to yank his arm back.
The cub, seemingly mollified, crawled into his lap with a rumble in her throat. She nudged away Minerva's hands to lick Severus' bleeding arm, her rough tongue gently rasping against his skin as she made seemingly apologetic noises.
Minerva hoisted the cub out of the way. "You're not helping, love," she tutted. "Let us help him now."
The cub mrrowled unhappily, headbutting into Minerva's arm and grappling her robes with her paws.
Severus and Lucius, however, let out a low mutual gasp. Severus' arm was healing before their eyes, but that was not the only thing. The sickly looking, dormant and greyed mark on his arm— the badge and mark of a Death Eater— was bleeding out as though it were his blood. The wounds from the cubs' claws were knitting together rapidly. His skin, pale as it always had been, righted itself into perfectly pristine order— unmarked and unmarred in any way.
Severus and Lucius exchanged disbelieving glances.
The cub wriggled free from Minerva's arm and pounced on Severus' lap, headbutting into his chin with an audible thunk, her purrs radiating with her affectionate attentiveness.
Severus's hand soothed the area between her ears, his fingers ever so gently rubbing the soft fur of her ears.
The cub rolled over onto her back, exposing her furry belly, her paws up in the air. The scent of freshly baked bread filled the room.
The floo flared to life in green flames. "Severus? Minerva? Are you together? Er… Are you dec— bloody hell. Severus? Is Minerva with you?"
The cub flattened her ears and bounded off Severus' lap and dove under the somewhat tattered remains of Severus' bedsheets. Severus cast a quick spell on Lucius, turning him into a gaudy corner lamp, making an apologetic face as he threw his nightshirt over it.
The headmaster's head popped out of the green flames. "Ah, there you are, the both of you. I've been looking around the entire school for you. I had to pull the emergency floo ward nullifications just to get through all your bloody wards, Severus. Are you both down with dragon pox? Do I need to call Poppy?"
"No, Albus," Minerva said. "I was just checking on Severus. He seems to have come down with with a little something from Mr Longbottom's latest potion explosion."
"Oh dear," Albus said, stroking his beard. "You do look a little peaked, my boy. "Minerva, I hope you aren't coming down with it too. You look a little pale too, my dear."
Minerva waved him off. "No, Albus. I'll be fine. It just took me a while to get through the horrible wards, is all."
"Ah, well, I think I may need a nap myself. Maybe after I get some of those wonderful currant pasties," Albus answered. "Sorry about your wards, Severus. I'll… well, I have no idea how to put all of those back in place. You give paranoia whole new meaning."
Severus glared at the older wizard.
"Now, now, you know it isn't natural for both of you to be missing in action at the same time," Albus placated. "I was worried. You do understand that, I hope. Seems like the entire school just slept in today. I've never seen anything like it."
Severus muttered something that may or may not have been in Aramaic.
"Do I need to find a substitute for tomorrow, or are you on the mend, Severus?" Albus asked.
"I should be fine, Headmaster," Severus answered, sniffing somewhat loudly.
"Ah, good, well," Albus replied. "Feel better soon, then." The headmaster's head disappeared and the flames died down.
Severus gestured towards the floo and closed the panels to prevent any further intrusions of the prying-meddlesome-wizard kind.
The cub poked her head out from under the bed and, sensing no further danger, padded out from under her hiding place. The air smelled oddly of sulfur as she glared at the closed floo, perhaps sensing that no one had appreciated the intrusion.
Severus waved his wand, and Lucius stood where the lamp had been. The blond wizard raised an eyebrow as he removed Severus' nightshirt off his head.
"Apologies," Severus muttered.
Lucius sighed. "It was understandable. I appreciate your keeping my occasional visits secret from the meddling old man." He rubbed his nose. "What is that odour?"
"Brimstone," Severus answered.
The cub perked her ears and placed both paws on Severus' chest and looked up at him adoringly, her bright orange-green eyes stared into his.
"That was not supposed to be your name," Severus told the cub rather sternly.
The cub mrrowed at him, placing her large paw against the side of his nose.
"It seems she has chosen it herself," Lucius commented, brushing lint off of his person.
Severus cocked his head to the side to regard the furry interloper that had just woven herself into his life. "What am I going to do with a Nundu?" Severus grunted.
Minerva, who had shifted into her smaller silver tabby form, was exchanging sniffs and headbutts with the newly dubbed Brimstone. The cub seemed perfectly happy to imitate the smaller cat and mirror her actions.
Lucius' hand went to his arm as he rubbed it habitually. "I could think of a few places with which to start," he answered sombrely.
"There you go, Master Snape," the overly cheerful older witch said as she put the magical identity tags on a fine leather collar. "Here, now, young miss. Please let me put this on you."
Brimstone mrowled, putting her paw against the woman's face as she licked her upside the face.
The woman chuckled, clipping the collar around her neck. "This will keep you nice and legal, young lady."
The woman smiled, tapping the collar tag that clearly said "Brimstone" on one side and "Masters Snape and McGonagall — Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry" on the back. "After extensive testing, I can confirm a few things. One, she is, indeed, a Nundu. One hundred percent. Two, her breath is not the instantly fatal disease riddled type, which I can only presume the old legends saying that Nundu breath is directly correlated to emotion. As she is clearly very happy and quite taken with you and apparently all others she meets, her breath seems to be neutralised. I would, however, recommend that you never leave her in any situation where she might learn to hate someone."
Severus and Lucius exchanged glances as Minerva scratched her head.
"We work at a school with rampaging hormonal teenagers," Severus noted.
The cheery witch swallowed hard and smiled disarmingly as if to say "Well, can't win them all."
"Thanks to Mr Malfoy paying to have the familiar confirmation and aptitude test," the witch said, signing the parchments and stamping them. "Brimstone is protected under the law as your bonded familiar. This gives you certain rights. You may, of course, take her anywhere you are in magical establishments. If you take her to Muggle areas, however, there will be a charm on the collar that will shrink her down and cloak her visually to resemble a bengal housecat, to avoid considerable— panic."
Lucius raised a brow. "She is a Nundu. Panic will be the first thing on most people's minds."
The witch smiled. She scratched Brimstone behind the ears, earning her a happy purr. "I am not one of those magizoologists who allow fear to cloud my judgement of a species as rare as the Nundu. Much like gryphons, there are always things the history books do not tell us. Such as sins of the human race against another powerful magical species."
Brimstone whapped her tail against the witch's arm and mrowled.
The magizoologist witch tapped her quill against the nameplate on her desk that somehow managed to cram so many titles on it that her name was crowded to the side. "I'm not sure how much experience either of you have with true familiar bonds?"
Snape and McGonagall shook their head. "I fear we know very little, Master Greenbrier."
"Rosemary, please," she laughed. "I do not stand on formality here. Now, what you may notice in the days to come, as the bond solidifies, is that you will start to see things that she sees or hear things that she wants you to hear. What she shares with you will depend on how much she thinks you will need the information. You will, in time, be able to tell her, but it will take time, practice, and a little trial and error. While we have many people with familiars, very few have the actual full bond. That you do is really quite special. She will cross land or sea to get to you if she thinks you are in trouble, but if she is in trouble, so, too, will you, so be careful where you choose to send her."
"Because of her special dietary concerns, you will be given a house-elf that is authorised to apparate to the game preserves. Brimstone's tags have permits to allow her to hunt in familiar hunting area. The tags will allow her in automatically and prevent her entry from areas that house restricted preserves. This will keep her from accidentally eating an endangered species if you haven't had time to brief her on it."
Lucius stifled a laugh. "Can you imagine, Severus? Having your giant overgrown cat taking out a bald eagle or a wild water buffalo across the pond?"
Severus sputtered slightly at the mental image.
Minerva looked strangely amused.
"Well everything looks set here," Rosemary said. "I am glad you decided not to wait to have her registered. It will save a lot of unnecessary note, if you will be traveling to places such as past the first floor of the Ministry, St Mungo's, major events such as say— the World Quidditch Cup, where large crowds gather and might tend to panic, owling ahead is required due to her special circumstances. This is only due to her species' rather fearsome reputation. As for traveling in public, the common thing to do is to place your hand on her shoulder when she becomes big enough that this is possible, as you walk. This signals to others that she is with you and she is fully under control, to avoid inciting panic and causing unfortunate misunderstandings. Seeing as she is an endangered species, we have a very keen interest in keeping her healthy. I would appreciate it greatly if you would allow me to check on her from time to time and make sure she is continuing to do well. I will owl ahead of time, of course."
"That is not a problem," Severus immediately agreed.
Minerva nodded in the affirmative.
"If anyone should attempt to harm her, however, do not hesitate to inform either the Aurors or myself. You may also inform the Endangered Magical Species Consortium as well. She is protected, under law, and that offers both her and yourselves certain rights as her caretakers," Rosemary concluded. "Any questions at any time, do owl me. I will be happy to help."
"Thank you for seeing us on such short notice, Master Greenbriar," Lucius said with a nod.
"You are most welcome," Rosemary said with a smile. "To see a real, live Nundu—one so healthy and not trying to kill us all, is a true pleasure."
They all shook hands and excused themselves.
Brimstone, who was sprawled blissfully in the middle of Rosemary's desk seemed sad that she was losing another talented ear scratcher.
Rosemary smiled. "I will see you again, my soon to be very large friend."
Brimstone gave her a rough slurp with her tongue and jumped down from her desk, following Severus and Minerva out as she wedged between them and headbutted their hands for scritches.
The magizoologist chuckled. "Hogwarts is in for quite an adventure," she said to herself, stamping the paperwork and filing it away. "I hope they're prepared for it."
Nundu? Who do? You do?
If any of you happened to be lucky enough to be at the Familiar Registration Department at the Ministry yesterday, you may have been seeing spots. Literally.
Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall and noted Potions Master and Professor Snape from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry were seen bringing in a large leopard cub into the Familiar Registration Department yesterday. There was only one minor difficulty: it wasn't actually a leopard at all.
'Green spots and breath of sickness', the old nursery rhyme strikes fear into the hearts of many witches and wizards the world over. Stories of a hundred skilled wizards being needed just to stun one doesn't help the species reputation, but Master Rosemary Greenbriar said in an interview, "I've never met such an endearing young cub. She will be quite a tribute to her species, for sure. I have no doubt that with proper care and handling, she will be perfectly well-mannered. That is not to say she won't be dangerous. A Nundu is a Nundu after all, but a Nundu's lethality is based entirely on negative emotion and intent. I'll tell you plainly: the only thing that is going to get her to breathe disease on you is if you try to hurt her, her bondmates, or threaten her home. Like all familiars, they are much smarter than the average animal of their type, and they can learn very quickly."
"No, Professor Snape has not been breeding Nundus at Hogwarts," Headmaster Dumbledore scoffed at this reporter's question. "Believe me, I would have been aware if that was the case. How she arrived here is anyone's guess. It's quite possible someone was trying to transport her via the floo network and mispronounced something."
With a sharp rise in illegal exotic magical animal smuggling, the Nundu is at the very top of the endangered and protected animals list and special permits are required to even enter their habitats let alone own one, but special exceptions have been made in this case due to the confirmed familiar bond. Thanks to extensive testing at the Ministry, it has been confirmed that she is fully bonded to her people, and that is very good news for the safety of those attending and working at Hogwarts.
"Nundus are extremely protective of their homes and their people," Magizoologist Harcon Weiss told us. "What they consider their homes, however, spans an entire territory and all that is within it. As long as her people introduce her properly and socialise her, she will protect everyone within Hogwarts without hesitation."
Nundus were once highly sought after as treasure room guardians, and it was to due to this that the grudge between Nundus and humans eventually came to pass. Unlike gryphons, who often mauled and flew away, Nundus transformed into a peaceful yet protective species into one that breathed disease and killed entire villages. Rumour has it that a Dark Wizard tampered with the species, but modern research seems to indicate that the Nundu's ability to breathe disease depends entirely on emotion.
Many magizoologists are lining up and sending owls to have the opportunity to meet Wizarding Britain's rising Nundu star, but at the time of this interview, the only thing the Nundu, named Brimstone, seems to want to do is chew on this reporter's boots!
All I can tell you, dear readers, is that she has the most glorious eyes, and the last time she breathed on me, she smelled of elderberries. So far, I haven't died.
A word of caution to our readers: Nundu, phoenixes, gryphons, and the like are considered critically endangered and protected animals. Having one without the familiar bond or a permit is illegal. Harming one is doubly so. For those of you who feel like running out to try and find any of the above in the hopes of developing a familiar bond with them, don't.
"True familiar bonds are exceedingly rare," Master Fabien Rochelle stated. "You are far more likely to get attacked by one of these rare animals than getting one to bond with you. It's simply not worth the risk. You are far better off wandering through Eyelops or the Magical Menagerie and finding a bond with one of the many fine animals there. Those animals have been raised around people and are much safer options for anyone looking for a possible familiar."
Those of you who may be interested in working with the endangered animal program are encouraged to contact Master Harmony Blackbird by owl. She has a volunteer network spanning the globe.
"We're always looking for volunteers," Blackbird said. "Help us out, and who knows? Sometimes, one of the animals will choose you, not the other way around."
Blackbird, who has been one of the world's first witches to develop a confirmed familiar bond with an East Asian Bluebottle Kirin, is one of the world's most famous and talented magizoologists. Back in the seventies, she made history by publishing her articles about gryphon intelligence and family structure.
For those of you wishing to catch a glimpse of the beautiful and infamous Brimstone, we are saddened to inform you that her main place of residence is at Hogwarts, and now, thanks to the approval of the Board of Governors, both she and her bondmates have been given permanent quarters there. Hogwarts is a private magical boarding school that is closed to the public. The Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, asks that you please avoid causing unnecessary distractions for the students and staff when sending any correspondence in regards to non-official Hogwarts matters.
[Photo of Brimstone tracking a moth with her eyes, paw outstretched]
We have, thanks to the kindness of the Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall and Potion Master Severus Snape, been permitted to take a few photographs for your enjoyment.
An owl dropped the Prophet into Severus' bowl of oatmeal with a flop, causing the potion master to curl his lip in disdain. To top it off, the hare-brained owl perched between Brimstone's ears and hooted tiredly.
The Nundu moved her eyes to peer at the owl curiously, having thankfully come preprogrammed with the knowledge that owls were not chew toys.
"At least it wasn't Errol this time," Minerva tutted, passing the crumpets.
Severus gave her a look that translated as, "You just had to bring a Weasley anything into this, didn't you?"
Minerva chuckled to herself.
Severus noted that the Headmaster was raking him over with his eyes. Severus stared back at him only to get that annoying twinkling eye regard.
Minerva looked up, and Albus turned away as he always did, looking the typically dotty old man. Severus, however, knew better.
Albus had not been happy at all to learn that Severus' Mark had mysteriously disappeared. Severus, of course, had been well nigh ecstatic, as much as one such as he ever appeared ecstatic. The Mark had been his most brazen act of shame in his life. Every bad thing he had ever done had been reflected by the irrefutable evidence of his worst mistake, the hated Dark Mark. Severus' usefulness to the old man, however, had largely depended on his ability to use the dark wizard as a spy and errand boy. Now that he no longer had the Mark, if the Dark Lord should rise again, Severus would be utterly useless in that regard. It wasn't as if Albus could order him to go get himself Marked again.
Severus narrowed his eyes. Or, maybe he would, for his much-vaunted greater good. This time, however, Severus had serious protection: Brimstone. The chances that any Death Eater would dare to come within a Quidditch Pitch of him, knowing full well that Brimstone would likely be nearby was slim to was also the supposition that if she had taken away his Dark Mark that she'd just do it again, thus foiling Albus' plans.
How did Severus know?
Severus smiled knowingly to himself.
He wasn't the only one running around with a newly-pristine arm as of late.
After Nundu-sitting for Severus for a night, Lucius Malfoy had also gained the blessing of the rambunctious cub. She had, much as they expected, not known her own strength, and she had inevitably clawed the blond wizard's robes to shreds. Then, mollified by her actions, she sidled up to Lucius and licked his arm clean. Pristine clean. Dark Mark free, even.
Not even a single day after Lucius had gone home, a pair of owls had arrived bearing a large basket containing an assortment of exotic jerked treats for Brimstone and a batch of Severus' favourite double-chocolate fudge brownies that were his secret indulgence. Narcissa Malfoy was nothing if not thorough and prompt in sending thanks when thanks were due.
As Brimstone gnawed happily on what may or may not have been the remains of a Chianina cow's femur, Severus savoured his brownies. Albus, however, kept glaring daggers at him.
Then, in a perfectly unnerving Slytherin move, Severus arched a brow and gave him a tight smile, staring the Headmaster directly in the face.
Albus turned away, seemingly engaged in an intense conversation with Sybil Trelawney. No, that wasn't an obvious move at all, Albus.
A strange phenomena seemed to be going on around Brimstone. There were the fearful ones, of course, but there were some curious types who were willing to not only brave the fearsome Nundu, but they were willing to approach him just to get a better look at her. He wondered how long that might go on, especially when she started to grow into her paws and ended up larger than a Pleistocene tiger.
Severus looked over at the Slytherin table. Draco was looking particularly happy today. It probably had a lot to do with his father's recently obtained "freedom." There were many things Lucius could not do while still under the Mark, and one of them was treating his son the way he truly wished. In just a few interactions, Draco had turned over an entirely new leaf of confidence without the demeaning arrogance he normally overcompensated with.
Lucius had dumped a load of old "questionable" artifacts off at Borgin & Burkes in Knockturn Alley, having no more need to hold on to them. The shop owner, of course, was more than happy to take them off his hands. One thing, however, Lucius did not give up. Instead, he had met with Severus and showed him the one thing that boded ill for their future: the diary of Tom Riddle.
It was blank.
Both Lucius and Severus knew that blank very rarely meant empty. Spells, however, revealed nothing. No, they would have to put their Slytherin heads together and figure it out in due time, but not today and probably not tomorrow. For now, they would take comfort in the smaller victory of losing their Marks together and the blessing of a Nundu who had appeared out of nowhere.
As he caught Minerva's eye, he thought about the fact that she had reacted to the recent sight of Severus' Dark Mark with clear sadness. That had surprised him.
"I'm sorry I wasn't more available to you back then, Severus," she had said as she touched the pristine skin where his Mark one lay. "I wish I had known. I took the Headmaster at his word, and only now am I starting to see how very wrong he was."
Severus, full of emotion from seeing his Mark disappear before his very eyes, placed a warm hand over hers. "You are my friend now, Minerva. That is more than enough for me."
Severus suspected there was some unspoken history between Minerva and Albus. The thing was, he was almost positive that even Minerva didn't know what that history was. If that happened to be true, that meant that somewhere along the way, Minerva had been "relieved" of her memory of the events in question. There was an exceedingly short list of people skilled enough to do that, especially to a witch as powerful as Minerva, and not get caught.
That realization made him much more sympathetic to Minerva's past with regard to himself. There was a pretty good chance that had Minerva known anything about the favoured Marauders and their disreputable activities, she may well have walked into the Headmaster's office with an earful primed and ready to be unleashed, only to walk out wondering why she was mindlessly walking the halls at two a.m. for no reason she could discern. And whatever happened to that wizard named— Ra, Re, Robert— Robert Fiarbaim. What did Minerva call him? Rabbie? Why couldn't he remember clearly? There was something— damnation.
Severus looked down at Brimstone, thinking the name Robert Fiarbaim very, very clearly into her head. I need you to remember this name for me. It's important. He prayed she could.
Brimstone looked up at him with her orange-green eyes and lay her head on his leg.
Robert "Rabbie" Fairbairn.
Severus narrowed his eyes. In fact, that was starting to make more and more sense.
No, perhaps whatever fate that had brought Brimstone into both of their lives was truly benevolent. Now, at least, they could face the future together, and with Lucius no longer tied to the Dark Lord, he could keep his family safe while he could assist Severus in the tasks to come.
Severus shook his head, confused. Daydreaming again, he admonished himself. He stared down at his half-eaten oatmeal. The house-elf, Tinky, had ported in to drop off a large and meaty bone of some— thing. Severus nodded in thanks to the new elf and hoisted the meat down to Brimstone, who tackled it with happy exuberance and crunching noises.
Severus finished off his meal and nodded to Minerva that he was going off to prepare for class. He drifted by the Slytherin tables, looking to see if anything was out of place, but thankfully found nothing, save for Draco smashing a serving bowl of oatmeal down over Goyle's head and calling him a stupid git. That was perfectly normal. Severus wasn't concerned at all.
Brimstone padded silently beside him, nudging his hand with her whiskers and mrrrowling, chattering her teeth in excitement to be on her way. As his hand idly stroked between Brimstone's ears, she moved her head and gently licked his fingers with her raspy tongue.
He was never so glad that she was there with him.
Warmth trickled through the bond and he smiled fondly at her. They made their way down to his office, pausing only once to take points from a Ravenclaw and Gryffindor snogging shamelessly behind one of the curtains. Curtains? Really? Did they not realise that body shapes show quite well through curtains?
As he sat down behind his desk to draw up his lesson plans, Brimstone dropped the bone she had been carrying in her mouth the entire way. She added it to her "trophy" pile at the back of his office with a strange look of pride.
As he dipped his quill into his ink well, Brimstone placed her head on the edge of his desk and stared at him intensely.
Robert "Rabbie" Fairbairn.
Severus dropped his quill and stared.
Brimstone stared back at him, her long tail looped over her back and her ears perked attentively forward.
"What did you say?" Severus questioned her carefully.
You're an idiot, Severus chastised himself, and you definitely need to get more sleep.
He picked up his quill and began to write again.
Robert "Rabbie" Fairbairn.
Severus' eyes grew very wide and he stared into her familiar orange-green glowing eyes. He grabbed a piece of parchment and wrote the name down on it, then, deciding that wasn't enough, wrote it again, tore the parchment in half, and stashed one of them in one of his well-loved books.
Why did that name seem so familiar?
"You wouldn't happen to know who that might be, would you?" He asked the Nundu.
Brimstone just blinked at him, cocking her head curiously.
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. Now he was talking to a Nundu and expecting a clear answer. Did that make him insane?
Severus stood and put on his traveling cloak. He would have to send an owl to Lucius. Maybe it was one of his old contacts that he had just forgotten about in passing.
You don't forget a face or a name, Severus Snape, and you know it.
Severus hurried out the door, hastily Occluding his mind as he went. There had been a time when he thought after the Dark Lord's death that he wouldn't have to worry so much about such things, but apparently he was going to have to be even more careful in the place he called home.
"Come along," he said softly, holding open the door.
Brimstone hopped up and trotted out the door, her tail curled over her back like a flag.
He was suddenly all the more glad that Brimstone was always near him. His paranoia told him that if she hadn't been there, someone might just happen to coincidentally run into him on his way to the owlry. That same paranoia told him that he'd end up back in his chambers again without remembering how he there.
Isn't that a little too paranoid, even for you, Severus? He admonished himself.
Severus narrowed his eyes. You're not paranoid if people really are out to get you. Filling his mind up with horrifying images of Rubeus Hagrid naked and dancing the can-can, with his hairy legs up high in the air and his bits bouncing wildly with every kick. With those particularly disgusting thoughts in mind, he immediately made a bee-line for the owlry. If anyone tried to read his surface thoughts on his way there, he hoped they choked on the mental images.
Merlin knows, he wanted to.
A/N: One more plot bunny in the hatch and out the starting gate! What do you think? Heh. Heh. Heh.