Billowing white clouds of translucent mist rose steadily from the ground as the early evening's summer storm came to a quiet end. Though the sky was still tinted grey with the remnants of rainclouds, the warm gusts of wind that shook the trees promised a full recovery from the storm's raging wind and rain. Severus Snape, Hogwarts potions master and bitter widower for the last three years, put on his best scowl as he peered out one of the windows of his small summer cottage, as if the incoming sunlight and warmth might flee at the sight of his clear distaste. He growled deeply in his throat at the incessant chattering and chirping of the birds outside his window and for a moment, contemplated striking them all dead with a flick of his wand. He decided against it though, with a pang of remorse and longing. His Lily had loved nature, practically lived and breathed it. To kill innocent creatures without cause would be an injustice to her, and he could picture how she might have looked at him with anger flashing in her green eyes if he so chose to be rid of the annoying vermin.
He shook his head and swiftly descended the short staircase that lead from the upstairs hallway, where two doors sat, one locked and the other wide open. Severus felt another pang of sadness strike his heart as he turned to gaze over his shoulder at the locked door, a dark, painful symbol of the door that God had closed the day Lily had passed. He had spent one last night there, weeping bitterly into her pillow, before awakening the next morning and locking it for good. He had not ventured beyond that threshold since that dark, cruel day, and he vowed to never enter the room again. For the last three long, lonely years, he had made the guest bedroom his own. He scoffed to himself. Why even keep a guest bedroom anyway? It was not as if anyone was beating upon his door, eager to see him.
He crossed the red living room rug and settled himself in his favored mahogany wood and red velvet-lined chair. His long, pale fingers reached down blindly to the floor, where an open book lay facedown in a haphazard fashion, and brought the book up to his dark eyes. He began to read. He carefully turned the pages, relishing deeply the solace that the study of potions provided him. He knew potions. He understood potions. He knew exactly what to do to make the perfect potion. Unfortunately, life was a bit more complicated than stirring a few ingredients together and letting them simmer in a cauldron. As much as he loathed to admit it, Severus did not have all of the answers; given the past years of grief and solitude, he was not sure he had any of them at all. He scowled again and buried his large nose more deeply into the worn book, willing himself to concentrate solely on the words upon the yellowed pages. Heaving a disgruntled sigh, he immersed himself in potions theory for half an hour before he was rudely interrupted by a noise at the door. The book was lowered just enough for his dark eyes to peer over the pages and shoot daggers at whomever had the gall to disturb his quiet afternoon. He grunted and then turned back to the book. If he had any sort of luck at all, they would leave him be after a few moments. When no voice called annoyingly from the door, and no further noise ensued, Severus settled back down into the comfort of his chair and smirked to himself.
He had scarcely begun to read another three sentences when another noise met his ears, but this time, it came from outside the window. Severus rolled his eyes and blew a breath sharply through gritted teeth before slapping the book back on the floor and vacating his coveted chair. He casually rolled up his black sleeves, a sick part of him joyously awaiting the thrashing he was about to give to the hooligans who were surely attempting a rather poorly thought out prank. He plastered his best grimace onto his sallow face and threw open the door with a force that rattled the windows. A squeal erupted to his right, and he turned in a strange mixture of curiosity and horror to see a chestnut horse standing stiffly in surprise amongst the remains of his newly-ruined flower garden. Severus felt his eyes widen and his heart clench with brutal force. The large red beast had trampled the garden, the garden that Lily had so painstakingly planted and cared for, even when the illness left her weak. The roses had been bruised and crushed beyond salvation, and the violets were left lifeless in the black dirt. Worst of all, the last of the delicate white daisies were hanging listlessly from the horse's mouth, the roots still heavy with the rich earth they had been so lovingly planted in. In an instant, Severus felt his temper rise like an ominous tidal wave and he stalked angrily toward the great red beast.
"Out, out, you filthy creature!" he spat with such malice that he surprised even himself. He waved his hands at the animal and she leapt backward in surprise, ears flicking back and forth as the tall, thin potions master advanced steadily. When she failed to leave of her own accord, Severus landed a well-placed slap upon the shiny coat of her flank and watched in satisfaction as she wheeled backward in fright and broke into a canter. "And stay out!" he shouted as he watched her run further into the field, noting her round belly.
"You're already disgustingly fat enough for the both of us," he snarled under his breath as he continued to watch the mare, "You didn't need those damned daisies." When he was satisfied that she would not return, Severus turned and trudged back into the cottage, chest aching with the thought of Lily's hard work torn apart and ruined. He stopped in front of his chair and decided that he could wait to continue reading. If he remembered correctly, there were dishes in the sink in need of washing and if he continued to put it off, they might never be clean again. He grudgingly set to work scrubbing at the small pile of plates and silverware, cursing himself for leaving them to sit for a week, and when a few small beads of sweat formed against his hairline from the returning summer heat, he reached forward to unlatch the large window above the sink. He was grateful for the short gust of wind that cooled his face when the last plate had been washed and dried, and he tossed the towel to the counter with a heavy sigh before making his way back to read. He sank slowly into the chair and grasped the book once more in one long-fingered hand. Severus quickly leafed through the tattered book until he at last found the page he had been studying when he had been so rudely interrupted, and continued on. His mind buzzed wildly with the theories and possibilities the old book offered, and his only regret as he ate up the words in a ravenous need for knowledge was that he had not found the book sooner. A strange, unfamiliar warmth bubbled in his chest as he absorbed the words of wise potions masters from decades before his time, and Severus debated grabbing a quill and parchment to take notes. Just as he was about to turn the last page in the current chapter, a low nicker sounded from the kitchen, and he turned abruptly with a startled, horrified gaze to see the same chestnut mare peering in cheerfully through the window over the sink. Her ears pricked forward as he stared on in enraged bewilderment, and she offered another amicable nicker in greeting. He lurched from his chair and within seconds, was standing before the sink and forcefully shoving the horse's head away with one large pale hand. Before he could slam the window shut, however, she reached through with a disdainful stare and ears pinned flat against her large head and nipped him soundly on the hand. He cursed and glanced down at his bruised hand before staring back at the horse with a furious glare that would have made one of his first years soil their robes in terror. He was shocked, and more irritated, if that were possible, when the mare made to seize his hand again in her large teeth. He whisked his hand away from her reach and stared at her with wild eyes. She stared back in reply, ears pinned.
"What the bloody hell are you doing here again?" Snape shouted, a faint blush coloring his cheeks when he realized that he was now arguing with a horse, of all things. He slapped a hand to his forehead and sighed. Truly, he must have been alone for far too long. He removed his hand sharply from his face and clenched his eyes shut for a moment before opening them again to regard his unwelcome visitor. Her expression had softened considerably in his silence, and she was now looking at him eagerly, ears pricked forward and brown eyes bright with curiosity. He watched as she lowered her head to explore his countertop and found the wet sponge on the counter. She lipped at the sponge delightedly and made to pick it up oh-so-carefully in her teeth when Snape snatched it from her with a snarl. She pinned her ears at him once more and huffed her annoyance.
"Enough," he seethed. "Get out." She continued her exploration of his countertop in reply and Snape sighed dramatically in resignation. He turned his back to her and leaned heavily against the sink, covering his face once more with a large hand. "Is it so much to ask for another quiet summer?" he groused to no one in particular. He shook his head to himself in dismay, turning abruptly when a puff of hot air warmed the back of his neck. He stared indignantly at the mare, who seemed to smirk in reply, and, to his embarrassment, found himself conversing with her, yet again.
"Do you mind?" he growled in a weary, terse tone. She snorted softly and stretched her head forward to nip playfully at his uninjured hand. "I don't care for horses. Or creatures of any kind. Or any living thing, for that matter." She continued to nip playfully at his hand as if to convince him otherwise. He sighed in resignation, though still thoroughly annoyed, and stared at her with dark eyes.
"What on earth do you want?" he asked incredulously. "You're fat as a swine. Clearly, somebody tolerates you enough to feed you. Why don't you go on and bother them instead?" The mare turned her attention to the damp dishtowel in the sink and snatched it firmly in her mouth before Severus could steal it away. She bobbed her head playfully, seemingly enjoying the rippling sound of the fabric and the resulting breeze that tousled Severus' black hair and stung his eyes. He squinted his eyes shut and clenched his jaw as the mare continued to play exuberantly in the window. "I see," he said dryly. "You obviously find enjoyment in irritating lonely potions masters to the point of psychosis." The incessant flapping of the towel continued, and Severus swiped a hand exhaustedly over his face.
"Lord, give me strength," he said half-heartedly in a deep sigh. He was not a man of faith, especially after Lily had passed, but he was ready to accept any sort of deliverance from the large red nuisance in his window. As he pinched the bridge of his abnormally large nose between his fingers, something soft barely touched his hand, and he turned slowly to find the mare nosing at his palm. As annoying and ridiculous as she was, Severus felt his irritation lessen somewhat, especially when she nickered again in her throat. "Very well," he said bitterly, "I suppose I can clear out the old shed for you for the night. But then, it's off to wherever the hell you came from, you bleeding dunderhead." The mare watched as he made his way to the door, and eased her head slowly from the window frame. She approached him briskly, and Severus growled under his breath when she reached out and yanked off one of the black buttons from his long black sleeve. He then swiftly made his way to the west end of the small property, where a fairly-large tool shed stood somewhat crookedly. He did not remember there being much inside, just old boxes and basic gardening equipment, but Severus longed to make the job as quick as possible. Then, in no time, the annoying animal would be long gone and he would be free to continue his summer. Alone.
The mare stood silently behind him as he unlatched the double doors and swung them wide open to reveal the cluttered interior of the tool shed. Severus groaned. The job would likely take until dark, which meant little time for supper and even less time for reading. Still, a small silent nagging in his heart urged him to just get the task over with and let the mare stay for the night. He set to work clearing old cardboard boxes of gardening tools out of the way first, and then tackled the loose papers that littered the wooden floor of the shed. Upon gathering them in his arms, he leafed through them quickly and froze when a familiar face leapt out at him from the armload of old letters and documents. A black and white photograph of his dearest Lily stared up at him from the mess in his arms, and the world stopped. Her copper hair had been pulled back into a loose ponytail, and her face shined brightly with laughter. Severus smiled softly. She had braided little white daisies into her hair that day. Their wedding day, to be precise. He recalled the way her sweet, bell-like voice had so gently uttered her promise to him, and the way her nose crinkled when she began to laugh for the sheer joy that followed their ceremony. Severus felt a few tears bite at the backs of his eyes, and set the precious photo off to the side before leafing through the remainder of the loose papers. The mare slowly approached him from behind and lowered her head to the glossy photograph in the grass. Severus was about to rebuke her, slap her flank again and send her galloping away, but he stopped himself when he noticed that she had not begun to chew or play with the picture. She stood for a moment, staring at the photograph, and then turned to inspect the interior of the nearly-bare tool shed. Severus smirked thoughtfully to himself and finished leafing through the last of the papers. Given the amount and the fact that none of them held any value to him any longer, Severus decided he would spread the papers onto the floor of the shed once more. It would have to do in the absence of straw, but he told himself he was foolish for providing bedding for the beast. Animals were made to be outside in harsh conditions, he sneered internally. Still, Lily would have rung his neck if he had left the horse with anything less than an attempt at a suitable living space, and that was the only thing that kept him from turning the mare loose to her own defenses.
He made his way back to the cottage, chuckling somewhat as the mare followed closely behind. Severus stopped abruptly in midstep and risked a silent glance over his shoulder. The mare had stopped behind him, head raised and eyes shining eagerly. He stepped forward again, and this time, he did not stop until he reached the door. He paused, hand firmly locked around the brass doorknob, and turned back to look at the chestnut horse. As he expected, she had stopped behind him, and was now waiting patiently, it seemed, for further instruction.
"You are immensely annoying," Snape barked harshly, though unable to hide the smirk that came through as the mare's ears flattened back and her tail swished irritably. Before he had a chance to consider his actions, Snape had extended his hand to stroke the small, lopsided star on the horse's forehead. When he realized just what he was doing, Snape jerked his hand away as if he had been scalded, and proceeded into the cottage with a sharp slam of the door. The mare huffed and walked briskly to the kitchen window, which, to her luck, was still open. Severus rolled his eyes as the mare eased her large head through the window and regarded him with a soft, inquisitive gaze. He ignored her as he set about to make a pot of homemade soup for supper, but she made her presence known, much to his annoyance, when he began to chop carrots slowly into the pot. She weaved to and fro in the window, eyes wide and nostrils flared as she gazed longingly at the vegetable in his hands. Snape frowned at the mare in faint disgust, and held the carrot behind his back. She nickered desperately.
"Absolutely not," he spat. "You've plenty of grass to gorge yourself on out there. Away with you." The horse was relentless. When nickering had failed to change his mind, she resorted to flapping the dishtowel, only more vigorously this time. Snape smirked to himself wryly, but paid her no mind. When she began to paw sharply at the side of his home, however, Snape groaned loudly and gripped the carrot firmly in his hand. "Oh, for the love of God," he groused, heaving the carrot out the window in the narrow space between the mare's head and the window frame. She nickered happily and trotted after the small morsel, which landed on the ground some 10 feet behind her. Snape growled as she approached the window once more, crunching loudly on the begrudgingly-offered treat. As the small pot of water continued to warm on the stove, Severus found himself wondering if the horse would need water during the night. The part of him that loathed her presence told him she would last until morning, but the rare, compassionate side told him that it was only right to offer it, and so with a soft sigh of resignation, Severus filled his largest pot with cool water and carried it out to the shed. The mare had followed, yet again, and Severus could not resist giving her a curt pat on the neck before swiftly returning inside.
He enjoyed (or at least attempted to enjoy) a bowl of soup, shaking his head at the way the mare eyed the bowl longingly. He waved her off when he went to put the bowl in the sink, and she tugged at a tendril of his black hair in reply. He had chuckled then, a rare sound that his own ears scarcely heard anymore, and patted the horse's forehead somewhat affectionately before straightening back up and regarding her with a withering gaze.
"Do not destroy my house, horse," he snapped bitterly, "or my garden. Or my shed." The mare snorted in reply and Severus bade her a firm goodnight, but not before eyeing her suspiciously one last time. He then made his way to the guest bedroom, sank thankfully into bed, and faded into sleep.
Severus woke hours later to the steady pattering of rain on the roof, and he was about to allow himself to be lulled back to sleep when he recalled that he had forgotten to close the kitchen window the previous night. Hurriedly, he yanked his dressing robe over his arms and knotted the loose belt around the waist before charging down the stairs to the kitchen. Sure enough, rainwater had pooled all over the countertop, and droplets were still pouring in as the wind howled against the small cottage. Severus managed to lock the window, albeit somewhat difficultly, and had trudged halfway up the short staircase once more when he remembered his guest. He groaned and slammed his head against the nearby wall. He so longed to return to sleep, wake up, send the horse packing and then be on with his life, but there was that small, prodding voice in the back of his mind once more, urging him to do as Lily would have done. He submitted to himself and stumbled to the window in the living room, where he could clearly see the shed just across the yard. He was about to turn away when he realized that the mare was inside, and lying crumpled in the meagre nest of paper he had provided. Without stopping to wonder if he had lost his mind, or if he was getting too soft with age, Severus reached for an old blanket and hurried out into the rain. He sprinted for the shed, slowing only when the mare gave a startled grunt and raised her head sharply at his sudden appearance. He stepped into the dry shed, gently shaking the rain from his hair, and stared at his guest worriedly. She seemed perfectly content, although her copper coat was darkened considerably in color. Severus might have attributed it to the rain, but curiosity won out and he reached forward to lay a hand against her neck. She was hot and damp to the touch, confirming for Severus that she was lathered with sweat. Still, the way she peered at him with the same playful eagerness he had witnessed earlier told him that the horse could not have been very sick. Her eyes had not glassed over, and her ears were pricked forward in the usual fashion. Severus felt his brow furrow deeply in concern and knelt in front of the red mare, reaching out to stroke the matted, damp mane from her head.
"What's the matter, old girl?" he asked softly, surprising himself at the tenderness of his own voice. "What's got you feeling so poorly?" His answer came from a nearby rustling in the corner, and Severus stood to hit the light switch on the wall. He gasped slightly in surprise and felt his eyebrows rise suddenly on his pale face as the dark, wet form of a foal was revealed in the light. The tiny thing was moving about shakily, spindly legs splayed out in all directions, and its ears hung limply off to each side of the small head. Severus cautiously approached the new creature and carefully unfolded the blanket to cover the foal's small, shivering body. He set to work rubbing vigorously at the foal's dark coat, stopping only when the red mare nudged him with her head and reached for her foal. Severus patted her reassuringly, disbelief still clouding his features, and finally found his voice as she continued to nose at his elbow.
"It's all right," he breathed softly, reaching over to pat the mare's flank (the same flank he had so harshly slapped earlier that day, he recalled with a sting of shame). "I wouldn't hurt him. He's all right." Further inspection confirmed that the foal was indeed, a colt, and in a matter of minutes, Severus had the little creature nearly dry. He then stepped back and found a place in the corner away from the two horses where he could stay and watch without intruding any further. He stayed silent in wonder as the mare somewhat shakily heaved herself to her feet and turned to face her offspring. She nickered in a low, affectionate sound to the colt and Severus chuckled softly as the foal replied in his own high-pitched squeal. She carefully inspected every inch of her foal, stopping every now and again to touch her muzzle to his and nicker softly. Severus sat in the corner, rapt with amazement. Hours ago, he had nearly driven the poor mare off of his property to save a few flowerbeds that could always be replanted. He realized with a creeping feeling of guilt that had she not returned after the initial confrontation, her foal would have likely been born in the nearby woods that night; there was no telling what hulking predators might have attacked them both if the mare had sought refuge in the woods. Severus gulped back a pang of remorse, and reminded himself that things had played out wonderfully in the end and that both animals were safe in his care. In fact, the smaller of the two was slowly rising to his feet in the corner. Severus watched as the tiny foal staggered in place, muscles quivering beneath the black skin as they were tested for the very first time. He managed to stay standing for a moment or two before his lanky legs buckled beneath him and he stumbled to the floor once again. The little creature was determined though, and before long, he was standing once more, albeit awkwardly, with his long legs splayed out to the sides in all directions. The mare then nudged his side encouragingly, and he took a few trembling steps to her side, where he nosed along her belly eagerly. The tiny black tail flicked back and forth in excitement as the foal greedily consumed his first meal, and Severus could not help the chuckle that ensued when the red mare heaved a long-suffering sigh and seemed to roll her eyes wryly at her offspring. He slowly got to his feet and reached out to stroke the mare's face. She playfully rubbed the length of her nose against his shoulder and snorted softly. She then raised her head to stare him in the eye, beast to man, and Severus met her gaze readily. They stared for a moment or two before Severus finally broke away with a resigned sigh, and reached out to ruffle her mane.
"Very well, I suppose you and the little one may stay," he offered, a biting voice in the back of his mind scolding him for making such a rash decision. Still, as irritating and bothersome as the mare was, he could not turn her and the young colt away with a clear conscience. A softer, gentler voice inside of him whispered that maybe he would grow to enjoy their company, and he scoffed at the thought, even though he knew very well that he was in deeply already. Outside, the rain was letting up to reveal another sunny day, and when he was satisfied that mare and foal would be all right by themselves for a few moments, Severus made his way back to the house to fill another pot with fresh water. Of course, keeping the beasts would mean he would have to make a few trips down to the quaint village to purchase real food for his new guests, but for today, he supposed they would be content with grazing freely in the front yard, so long as they kept away from his Lily's beloved garden. He returned the pot to the small shed and smirked when the tired mare drank from it in long gulps. When she was finished, she stepped carefully into the grass and began to graze contentedly. She turned with wide eyes after a moment to beckon her colt from the safety of the shed, and whinnied around a mouthful of half-chewed grass to bring him forth. He was hesitant however, and seemed quite reluctant to join her. Before he realized what he was doing, Severus made his way to the foal's side and ran a large hand down the long, sinewy neck, relishing the softness of the newborn's mane.
"Come along, little one," he urged in a low voice as he placed a hand upon the colt's rump and gave him a gentle shove. "Out you go now, come on." The colt, frightened by the sudden contact, leapt into the grass and went rigid in surprise at the new sensation for a moment before taking a few curious steps forward into the new environment. Severus chuckled and made his way back to the house, where he fixed himself a well-deserved cup of coffee. He trudged wearily up the stairs to change into his robes, but stopped for a moment as he passed the locked bedroom across the hall. Did he want to go in and face the life he'd once had all over again? Would it change anything if he did? Severus snorted to himself. Thanks to a certain fat, red horse and her long-legged offspring, things had changed quite a lot in the last 24 hours. With a bit of trepidation, Severus decided that it couldn't hurt to just peek inside and be done with it. He was rapt with the flood of memories that ensued upon the opening of the door, however, and made his way inside to sit gingerly upon the bed, which had lain undisturbed since that last night. The birds still chirped exuberantly from outside the window, but Severus found that he did not mind them as much as he had the previous morning. His eyes then fixated on a photograph of his late wife that he had long since forgotten, and he was startled for a moment as a glimmer of understanding beamed in his heart. His Lily sat perched atop a large, red horse, ten-gallon hat worn lopsided over her long hair and a saucy smile written expertly into her face. Severus risked a glance out the window, where the two horses stood, one grazing and the other bounding around in toddling, unbalanced leaps and bucks. He smirked to himself. Maybe God had known exactly what he needed, thanks to a certain vivacious redhead who had likely suggested the idea. As much as he loathed to think of the expenses and the responsibility of keeping the two animals, he supposed it would be rather nice to have them around. He smiled sadly to himself. Yes, it was surely what Lily would have wanted.
**I had so much fun writing this story :) I thought I'd publish it today in honor of the second of three foals being born at my barn back home today :) It's a little palomino tobiano Saddlebred colt, and he's super adorable :D I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed writing it! Please let me know what you think :) !**