Disclaimer: Borrowed from JKR without permission, garnering no funds x.
Takes place after the first fall of Voldemort, 1981.
"With all due respect, Pr'fessor, Sir, I think you're makin' a terrible mistake."
Dumbledore stopped walking and looked at the groundskeeper, who was twisting the end of his huge, dirty scarf between his hands almost convulsively, staring at it as a bright flush spread across the few patches of his ruddy skin visible around his beard. Hagrid had never disagreed with him before, and it was clear that the effort of doing so now was causing serious distress. The half-giant could not meet the headmaster's eyes – another startling first from a man so used to radiating honesty and openness.
"Hagrid?" he said gently. "Please look at me."
Hagrid turned to look in completely the opposite direction.
Albus watched the back of his messy head benevolently until the weight of his gaze forced Hagrid to cast a grudging sideways glance at him.
"Is something the matter, my dear boy?" he smiled up at Hagrid, who was still winding the scarf through his fingers then yanking it free again, over and over.
"Yer know already," he muttered, averting his eyes again, sounding for all the world like a grumpy toddler.
"Much as I hate to disabuse anyone of their belief in my omniscience, I regret that I do not know what is bothering you," he lied smoothly.
Hagrid gave such a heavy sigh, Dumbledore felt the breeze of it stir the ends of his beard. Twist. Untwist. Twist.
"Snape," he whispered at last.
"Severus?" queried Albus, careful to keep his face blank.
"Yeh've given him a job here," he said accusingly. Twist. Untwist.
"That's right, Hagrid. I was concerned about finding a potions master of suitably high calibre after Professor Slughorn's resignation, so I was absolutely delighted when Severus accepted," he explained cheerfully. "Now that the war is over, so many are beginning to live brand new lives, unhindered by suffering! It is all so exciting!"
"But he was a…a…, well, you know what he was, sir," Hagrid's eyes implored Albus to understand. "I know he were useful during the war, an' all, but is it really right to have him around children all day long? And all night? Unsupervised access to the kids, especially to those kids. Sir, I know yer right fond of him, but he's not safe." He looked away again, apparently crushed by the burden of having to criticise someone whom he admired so much.
The pain on his face was almost too much for Dumbledore to bear. He reached up and rested a comforting hand on Hagrid's enormous elbow and squeezed as best he could through the thick fabric of the hairy overcoat. He had expected opposition to his decision to give Severus the teaching job, but not from this particular source. Taking a deep breath, he hesitated a moment before deciding to use the reply which instantly sprang to his lips. It was rather below the belt – a piece of knowledge he ought to keep to himself, not use to shame Hagrid.
Then he remembered the number of times Snape had risked death, or worse, for the sake of people who never knew nor cared about his bravery, earning little more than a begrudged word of thanks for his pains. Recalling the ludicrously high risk the spy had run trying to save the lives of his worst enemies, Albus kept his voice as kind as he could as he told Hagrid what he had sworn never to reveal thirty years earlier.
"You know, my dear boy, those were almost the exact words of caution I heard after giving someone else a job here," he did not remove his hand from where it rested in a silent offer of support, as well as a silent plea to receive it back. He watched carefully as his meaning hit home.
Hagrid lost about a foot in height as every muscle seemed to sag at once.
"Oh," he said very, very quietly.
"I realise how strongly you must feel on this issue in order to confront me," Albus continued. "And I assure you that you have gone up in my estimation, not down, for showing such concern for the students' safety, but I trust Severus absolutely. He has done bad things, terrible things, but he has also suffered dreadfully in his desire to atone for those mistakes. Hagrid, I believe that Severus deserves a second chance. I am going to ask you now to give him one."
They remained in the same position for a long time, the groundskeeper's natural kindness clearly battling with the demons which insisted that a nundu never changed its spots.
Eventually, the black eyes cleared somewhat, though concern still froze the corners of his big smile.
"Pr'fessor, yeh know I'll do anything yeh ask me to," he said. "I'll try me best."
"Thank you, Hagrid," he beamed, squeezing both huge careworn hands with his own ancient fingers. "I am so pleased. Now, it seems a long time since I visited that lovely little puppy of yours!"
Obviously happy to change the subject, the half-giant dragged Dumbledore off towards the hut, beaming with fondness at the thought of the young animal.
"Oh, he's not so little anymore, sir!" he chuckled.
At the sound of his voice, the back door of the groundskeeper's hut crashed open and the most enormous dog Albus had ever seen came gambolling out, tongue and ears flying in the wind. No one could imagine this joyful, boisterous beast to have grown from the terrified brownish pup which Professor Kettleburn had found cringing in a filthy Hogsmeade ditch, boot-marks clearly visible on his protruding ribcage.
To everyone's relief, Fang had finally stopped growing. Minerva had opined at dinner a few weeks earlier that if he continued at the startling rate he had been achieving since his smashed jaw had been healed, he would be bigger than the castle itself by Christmas. He had not quite worked out how to coordinate all this new bulk yet, however, and, positively enraptured at the sight of his adored master and the nice old man who brought him treats, he flung himself at them with delirious abandon.
Hagrid and Albus were both knocked clean off their feet.
"Oof, yeh big daft bugger! Gerroff! Pr'fessor, are yer all right?" he grappled with the delighted hound who was trying to express his deep doggy love by drowning him in slobber.
"No bones broken," Dumbledore got happily to his feet unassisted, only to be floored once again by a swipe of the huge, ferociously wagging tail. Hagrid hauled him to his feet and brushed him down, scolding Fang and insisting on tea and biscuits in the cabin to help the headmaster recover.
Once inside, Albus settled down into a huge chair while Hagrid busied himself with the kettle and various large jars. A frequent visitor to the hut, he hardly batted an eyelid when his host gave a small exclamation on opening the sugar tin and then spoke into it.
"What are you doin' in there, eh? Go on wi' yeh!" He shook an unidentified small creature out onto the windowsill with great care, before dipping a spoon into the tin and adding sugar to the two huge cups. Fang lolloped over and sniffed curiously at whatever it was. "Leave 'im alone," Hagrid shoved him out of the way. Losing interest, the dog plonked his head in Dumbledore's lap in a very unsubtle request for a fuss.
Stroking the silky ears with one hand and sipping his drink with the other, Albus studied the man and the beast in silence for a long while. The groundskeeper was as adept at collecting strays as the headmaster. Would Hagrid really be able to cast aside his – entirely justified – hatred of Death Eaters in order to give Severus a chance to feel accepted? If anyone was capable of goodness, it was the big-hearted giant before him now. Or would he just make a show of it to please Albus? He had hated reminding Hagrid of the great favour he had done by taking him in all those years ago, when he had no wand, no family and nowhere else to go, but he needed to get the message through somehow.
Fang shifted slightly on his knee and suddenly, Dumbledore realised how to do it. Pouring some tea into his saucer, he placed it on the floor for the dog to drink, which he did, with loud, slurping enthusiasm.
"Good boy, Fang," he said, instigating more tail-wagging and a series of small crashes. "Although, you weren't so good when we first met you, were you?"
He was alluding to the early stages of Fang's rehabilitation, where the abused puppy had lashed out at every human being who came near him, snarling and biting, terrified that all human beings were going to hurt him as badly as he previous owners. Before learning to appreciate Hagrid's love and care he had cringed away from all contact, hiding in dark places and threatening everyone who dared to come near.
"Ah, but he were just wary of people, tha's all," Hagrid leaped to his dog's defence. "If folks yer hurt so bad when yer small, there's no reason fer yer to trust anyone. Yer lash out ter try and defend yerself."
"How true," Dumbledore pretended this was a revelation, stroking his beard thoughtfully. "If hatred is all one has ever known, it must be impossible to express love oneself."
"Exactly!" beamed Hagrid, glad to have enlightened the headmaster on this point.
"And I suppose this is true for wizards as well as dogs?" pontificated Albus.
"Well, I dunno, I suppose it is," reasoned the groundskeeper, figuring that it was certainly true of hippogriffs and blast-ended skrewts, though he had never met a temperamental flobberworm, so it might not work for all species. He drained the last of his tea pensively. Actually, that meant nothing, perhaps the flobberworms were just hurting on the inside.
He had escorted Dumbledore out of his home and waved as he scaled the steps back to the castle before he twigged.
"Oh," he said, for the second time.
Fang looked at him enquiringly as he sat down on the stoop of the cabin, lost in thought. He remembered a tiny first year boy who flinched when Hagrid offered him a hand down into the rowing boats across the lake, who knew more nasty hexes on his arrival than most kids learned in their full seven years of schooling, who wrapped his skinny arms tightly around his chest whenever he ventured outside, as though protecting himself from an unknown threat.
A rubber dragon whose tail had long since been chewed off landed in his lap, and Hagrid looked up at the overgrown puppy's hopeful expression. When he did not immediately react to the big eyes and cocked head, the thumping tail or the doggy grin, Fang nudged him impatiently in the elbow.
"All right," the half-giant assured him. "You want ter play, we'll play!" He stood and heaved the toy as far as he could across the lawn. Fang rocketed away after it with an admirable intensity of purpose, only slowed by a slightly comic lack of control over his lanky legs. It was only a few months since he had been brought to the castle, but the change was miraculous. He had bitten Hagrid too many times to count at first. On being brought into the hut, he had slunk under the bed, baring his sharp teeth at anyone who dared to even peer at him, not dropping his guard even during the long periods of heart-breaking whimpering as the healing potions took effect. It had been a dragonhide-clad Poppy who had named him after trying to apply a disinfecting balm to his septic ear one particularly savage afternoon.
Hagrid was a patient man. He had let the puppy get comfortable in his new surroundings and learn that this particular two-legger had no interest in harming him. It had taken time and copious amounts of love, but eventually they had become inseparable friends. From that point, it was a small step to trust other people, though he was still not overly fond of crowds or noisy children. He suspected that Fang thought himself clever for allying with the biggest member of the Hogwarts human pack – he certainly took comfort in hiding behind his large master when threatened.
Hagrid supposed that Snape had done the same in throwing himself on the protection of the most powerful Light wizard in the world, the only person who You-Know-Who had ever been scared of. But Snape was not as advanced as Fang, still firmly entrenched in his vicious self-protection phase.
The toy squeaked as Fang tossed it in the air, globules of dribble visibly flying around him as he cavorted happily on the grass. Kettleburn had been unsure if it would have been wiser to send the broken animal away, to a dogs' home or animal sanctuary, but Hagrid had known for certain what would happen. No matter how kind the staff were, they simply would not have had enough spare time to devote to a single, damaged little animal. Fang would have certainly bitten his perceived captors as often as possible and eventually, they would have been forced to put him to sleep, knowing he was unsuitable for re-homing.
No, there had been no choice but to treat him to a little personal kindness in a proper home.
He wondered where Snape could go if he didn't have the job at Hogwarts. Much like Fang had been back then, the cold man was unlikely to endear himself to strangers who simply did not understand. Hagrid gave an unusually cold laugh as he realised that the same could have been said for himself – expelled from school without qualifications and apparently responsible for a girl's death, giant blood in his veins, clumsy and too large for most offices or shops - he would not have fared well elsewhere.
Fang was thriving thanks to Hagrid's care, Hagrid was content because of Dumbledore's benevolence. Perhaps if the three of them worked together, they could go some way towards looking after Severus Snape.
It was an unappealing thought. Snape was rude, sarcastic, ill-tempered and probably a murderer, but Hagrid forced himself to think of the nasty young puppy who had grown into a happy dog thanks to a little positive attention.
Hagrid sighed. He would just have put in some effort and prepare himself for sustaining more painful wounds in his attempts to soothe yet another savage beast. Fang grew bored of his rubber dragon and gambolled back to his master, all licks and nuzzles and expressions of adoration, which gave the groundskeeper a lovely warm feeling inside, reminding him of how the dog had revolutionised his lonely existence.
He mustn't dwell on the difficulty of the task in front of him, but concentrate on the fact that he would be doing some good and perhaps going some way towards repaying the headmaster's kindness. Dumbledore was quite right, as usual. Everyone deserved a second chance.
'Newt Scamander' tells us that a nundu is a massive, feline creature capable of wiping out entire villages in Africa simply by breathing on them. Much more dangerous than a leopard, then x.