Giles tapped lightly on the door. “Are you awake, Sev?”
“It’s dark.” Came the muttered reply.
“I came as soon as I noticed it was sunset.”
“I want to leave this place.”
“We’ll have to see what the doctors have to say.”
“The doctors are crazy.”
“Funny, they say the same thing about you. Now, I have with me
a thermos of pepper up. Do you want it?”
“Please. It can’t possible be worse than what they’ve been feeding me.” Severus stared at the iv stand with disgust.
“Right then.” Giles got the thermos out of his bag, screwed the top off, and handed it to Snape who reached for it with his good hand. “I take it you can handle dosing yourself?”
“What, you think I’m going to overdose on pepper up? That’ll be the day.”
“The doctors would throw a fit if they saw you with that thermos.”
Severus took a large gulp. “They can throw a fit; they do anyway.”
“Ah yes, Dr. Rosenberg told me about that.”
“Which one was Dr. Rosenberg?”
“The balding redhead.”
“The complete git who felt the need to ask the most asinine questions despite the answer being perfectly obvious to anyone with half a brain?”
“That sounds about right.”
“He’s an idiot.”
“He thinks you’re delusional and wants me to sign the forms to admit you to an asylum.”
“Delusional? I’ll show him delusional.”
“Yes, I imagine you would. What was the bright idea declaring to a muggle that you were a wizard and were prepared to hex him? Those sorts of statements could lead to serious trouble with the Ministry. You’re lucky he already thought you were crazy. I have half a mind to sign the papers just to teach you a lesson.”
Severus was silent for a few moments, thinking things through. “You would do it, wouldn’t you?” He finally whispered.
“You would sign the papers to put me away.”
“No, you didn’t.” Severus admitted. “But only because you want something.”
“What? Now let’s talk about delusional. What could I possible want from you?”
“Everybody always wants something.” Severus answered cryptically.
“I have my shop, good friends, a comfortable house, and a fulfilling mission in life. I don’t want anything from you.” Giles retorted, uncomfortable with Severus’ intense gaze.
“I know what you want, and I’m not giving it to you.”
“And what’s that?” Giles asked skeptically.
“Because sometimes you’re safer not knowing.” Severus muttered, then closed his eyes to fall asleep.
Giles watched his brother carefully, observing how his breathing slowed down with the pace of the quieting heart monitors. He glanced out the window where the thin sliver of a moon hung low over the horizon, then back at the quiet body on the bed. “You know, feigning sleep would be a lot more persuasive if you hadn’t drunk so much pepper up not five minutes ago.”
Severus eyes opened. “Damn.”
“I still don’t see why…” Giles’ comment was interrupted by the buzzing of his phone. “Oh for heaven’s sake, just a moment.” Giles pulled the phone out of his pocket. “Rupert Giles speaking.”
“Yes, I can hardly hear you.”
“Um, about those raccoons, they don’t happen to have red eyes and yellow spines, do they?”
“Not any raccoon that I know of, no.” Giles frowned.
“Well, then we may have a problem.”
“Are you in danger?”
“Not immediately, no. I figured I’d leave them in the dumpster and just put police tape around the alley.”
“Really? That’s a novel approach for you.”
“Well, evidently decapitation just allows them to regenerate, and they’re sort of oozy so I figured calling for reinforcements would be better than ruining another pair of shoes.”
“Oh dear, not the shoes.” Giles rolled his eyes. “I should probably come see what you’re referring to, but I’d rather not leave the hospital until morning.”
“That public building clause is a bummer.” Buffy agreed.
“Can you run by the shop and pick up the Basic Guide to Magical Creatures and bring it to the hospital?”
“Which one is that?”
“It will be on the second shelf from the top. The spine is green, but the cover is brown. If you can’t find it, you may want to check with Willow. I may have lent it to her.”
“Alright. See ya in a few.” Buffy hung up.
“What is that?” Severus nodded towards the cell phone.
“Sometimes you’re safer not knowing.” Giles replied with a smirk.
“So then, I took the sword, and thwap! Hit him right across the back end… accidentally of course.” Rupert bragged.
“Oh you did not.” Severus rolled his eyes.
“I did too.”
“That’s so cool that you got fencing lessons over the hols.” Evan commented as they stepped off the train.
“My father paid for me to get professional quidditch lessons.” Lucius tried to draw the attention back to himself.
“Are you trying out for the team, then?” Rookie fell for the distraction.
“I think I shall. We have two open Chaser positions this year.” Lucius took his place at the front of the group of Slytherin second years, leading them off the train platform.
“Aren’t the docks that way?” Rupert whispered to Severus.
“Really, Ru, everyone knows that only first years take the boats. Everyone else takes the horseless carriages.” Severus rolled his eyes. “One would think you’d never read Hogwarts, A History.”
“Horseless carriages, is that your crazy wizard way of saying cars?”
“By horseless carriage I mean horseless carriage.”
“But that makes no sense. How can a carriage drive itself?” Rupert’s question was a bit too loud.
Lucius glanced back. “Even if you’re a mudblood, you don’t have to be so obvious, Ru. It’s called magic.” The other Slytherins laughed at the joke, cutting off at Lucius’ cue.
“Right, funny, ha ha.” Rupert rolled his eyes. “So where exactly are these supposed horseless carriages?” He asked, following the group.
“Should be on the other side of the station.” Evan answered. “My father says that it’s best to get the first carriage, less dusty. I’ll race you?”
“You’re on.” The second years went tearing through the crowd, shoving Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws out of their way. Rupert was in the lead until they reached the carriages, where he screeched to a halt.
“I win!” Lucius called. None of the other boys admitted that they let him win to avoid having to listen to the whine later. “Now, everyone get in this carriage so we don’t have to share.”
The boys piled into the carriage, all except for one. “What’s the hold up, muddy?”
“Oh hell no.” Rupert was backing away from the carriage slowly, eyeing its empty harness with trepidation.
“What? Afraid of a bit of magic?” Rastaban taunted.
“When you said horseless, I didn’t think you meant…”
“What? It’s a carriage, there are no horses.” Severus rolled his eyes. “Now get in. We don’t want to hold up the line.”
“Those sure as hell aren’t horses, and I’m not getting in that carriage.”
Severus eyed his step-brother carefully. “Rupert, what are you looking at?”
“I don’t know.” Rupert cringed. He glanced back to the carriages behind them. “But I really think we don’t want to be in the first car.” The boys all looked at him like he was nutters. “I’m going to ride in the…” He glanced backwards again. “… fourth car. Have fun.” He backed away from the carriage, going to a different carriage farther back.
“What’s his problem?” Damon muttered.
“You don’t suppose he actually takes offense to being called mudblood?” Argentius pondered.
“Nah, he doesn’t know any better.” Lucius shot that theory down.
“I’m going back to ride with him.” Severus quickly decided, hopping out of the carriage.
“What? You can’t do that!” Lucius objected.
“I’ll tell you guys what I find out when we get to school.” Severus replied, moving back a few carriages.
“You better!” Lucius yelled back.
Severus just waved and got into the compartment he saw Rupert entering. He locked the compartment door behind him so that no one could interrupt them. He stared at Rupert, who was looking out the window nervously. “Well?”
“Why do you have to create a scene everywhere you go?”
“I didn’t make a scene!”
“You rejected Lucius’ carriage.”
“I did not.” At that moment, the carriage jerked forward, and began the long procession up to the school.
“He said first carriage, you took fourth. What’s your problem?”
“I don’t have a problem. It’s the rest of you that have a problem. How could you even think of getting in a carriage driven by that… that…” Rupert shuddered, at a loss for words.
Severus put his hands on Rupert’s shoulders, forcing his brother to look him in the eyes. “Rupert. I want to know what you saw.” He spoke in that eerie calmness that always made his brother nervous.
“It was awful. The creature driving that cart was crazy. His eyes were squinty, his tongue was lolling out of his mouth at a weird angle, and smoke was coming from his flaring nostrils. I haven’t been around many horses or whatever that thing was, but I thought anyone could tell an unhappy animal from a normal one.” Rupert whispered. “It was mad, very mad, and I can’t believe the rest of you got into that carriage.”
“According to Hogwarts a History, the carriages are driven by creatures called thestrals, which are invisible…”
“No they’re not.”
“Yes they are.”
“No, they’re not.”
“Let me finish. They’re invisible to everyone except someone who’s seen death.”
“Oh.” Rupert muttered, glancing out the window again.
“So what? So I can see horrible ugly beasts for the rest of my life? Thanks, but I think it would be safer not knowing that.”
“So, how can you see them?” Rupert glanced everywhere except at Severus. “Come on. You may as well tell me; I’ll find out eventually.”
There was a full minute of silence before Rupert replied, his voice a hollow monotone. “I was five.” Severus leaned forward. “My grandparents had invited me to stay with them in London since Father had business in France. My grandmother and I had gone to see a play that got out rather late. When we were walking back to their house, there was a man in a top hat waiting by the gate. Grandmother asked him if he needed any help. He asked if this was the Giles residence. Grandmother asked him why he wanted to know. He said ‘My sire has a message for them.’ Then his face contorted into a horrible disfigurement. Grandmother grabbed a cross from her purse, shoving it at the hideous man, and ordered me to run into the house and call Grandfather out. I ran and yelled, and as I reached the front door, Grandfather was already running outside, carrying a crossbow. I turned to see what was going on, just in time to see Grandmother drop her cross. The vampire snapped her neck in a quick movement; it took no longer than it would take for me to snap my fingers. By the time Grandfather had loaded the crossbow and fired, Grandmother was dead. It went so fast.” Rupert stared out the window. “Grandfather seemed to expect it. He said that a watcher would rather die quickly in the good fight, than linger in illness. I threw up.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Don’t you wish you had never asked?”
“No, I needed to know.”
“Why? So you can report back to Lucius? What a waste of…” Their conversation was interrupted by several loud shrieks. “Bloody hell, what’s that?” Both boys leaned out the window to see what was going on.
The front carriage had careened of the main path and was heading towards the Forbidden Forest; the rest of the carriages screeched to a halt as the thestrals were torn between following their leader and the path.
“Bloody hell, it’s mad.” Giles watched the beast try to shake off its harness. The rest of the children in the other carts were screaming at the sight of the front carriage rocking back and forth and rolling quickly towards the woods. “We’ve got to do something.”
“Rescue our friends?”
“How are we supposed to do that?” Rupert grabbed his wand from his pocket and quickly jumped out of the carriage. “Hey, where do you think you’re going! We’re not supposed to leave the carriages!” Severus screamed after his brother, who was running towards the carriage going into the woods.
He realized he’d never reach the carriage in time unless he had some help. “Accio broom!” Rupert called out, ignoring his brother’s yelling. A broom from one of the student’s luggage came zooming towards Rupert, who jumped on, and flew towards the front car. He brought the broom up to parallel with the carriage and banged on the door. “Open up!”
“Bloody hell, Ru, how’d you get here?” Damon flung the door open as the rest of the Slyths clung to the carriage sides.
“Stole a broom, and you should too. There’s a big hill up ahead.”
“Stole a broom?” Damon asked incredulously, banging his head on the top of the carriage as the thestral jumped over a large rock. “Ow!”
“Oh bloody hell, like this - Accio broom!” Another broom went zooming towards Rupert, who managed to pass it off to Damon. One by one the Slytherins jumped ship, hovering on borrowed brooms. As Rookie was the last one off, they hovered, watching the carriage tumble over the rocks, flipping several times, and gaining momentum as it fell down the hill. Only Rupert could hear the high pitched whinny of the thestral as it plummeted down, getting pinned under the carriage it was pulling.
“Merlin, that carriage tried to kill us.” Rabastan muttered as the runaway carriage finally came to rest upside down at the bottom of the hill.
“It wasn’t the carriage.” Rupert muttered, staring at the dying thestral, pinned under the weight of the carriage, snarling until the very end.
“How did you know?” Lucius turned to Rupert.
“It’s safer not to know.” Rupert muttered and turned back to the caravan. He was surprised to see all the students leaning out their windows clapping wildly. “You know, I think I’d rather ride to school than take a carriage. How about you?”
The Slytherins readily agreed, with Lucius taking point. They were met at the school gates by Dumbledore and McGonagall running out to meet them. “Good heavens, is everyone alright!” Professor McGonagall fretted. “We saw the carriage go off of the rocks!”
“We’re all safe, no thanks to those carriages and their shoddy workmanship. Expect to hear from my father about this!” Lucius huffed.
“The thestral died.” Rupert muttered.
Professor Dumbledore looked at him thoughtfully, and looked like he was on the verge of asking a question, but instead turned to Lucius. “I’m much relieved to see you all survived your adventure, for that is what is really important. Now, perhaps you should see about returning the brooms you borrowed, hmm?”
“Oh, right.” The boys mumbled, a bit let down that there wasn’t a bigger to-do about it by the faculty.
Rupert glanced down at the broom in his hand. “Oh damn.” Rupert muttered. “I don’t suppose any of you could return this for me?” Carved into the handle was the name Sirius Black.