The Firebird - A Snupin Fairytale Title: The Firebird Rating: PG Characters/Pairings: Severus/Remus Disclaimer: The characters belong to JK Rowling and the basic storyline to the Russian folk ouvre. Summary: A Snupin fairytale Author’s Notes: Inspired by the recent rash of fairytale fics in Merlin fandom I wondered about a Snupin fairytale and of course this one leaped to mind. First posted at lupin_snape for their April Showers event. I hope you enjoy it!
Once upon a time there was a czar who had no heir. He had fallen in love as a youth and ever mourned his dead lover, fallen long ago in a foreign war - and on the wrong side. Nevertheless every nobleman needs an heir and therefore the Czar of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore, took three young boys into his household to raise as his heirs.
The first of his fosterlings was James Potter, already heir to a noble family, however his parents were notable diplomats and their peripatetic lifestyle was not suitable for raising a child. They happily relinquished him into the care of the czar, only sending lavish presents to the boy and requiring him to write regular letters to them, wherever in the world they might be at the time.
The second of Dumbledore's proteges was Sirius Black, who had also been born heir to a noble family, however his parents had found him so wild and rebellious that they had disowned him at a young age leaving Dumbledore free to scoop him up to raise with James.
The third boy accepted into the czar's household was Severus Snape, whose mother was of noble birth but whose father was a humble woodcutter. The woodcutter and the fine lady had married in a fine fervour of love, but their marriage soon turned bitter with recriminations and spite, and Mrs Snape had been only too glad to relinquish the child who so resembled her detested husband and return to her regular pastimes of taunting her spouse and mourning her fate.
The three boys grew up together but despite all three having fine minds and hair as black as coaldust there was never a moment's peace between them, for all three of them were as proud as the devil and with tempers to match. The two eldest were also handsome boys who knew how to use sweet words to get their way, while the youngest, Severus was sharp-faced and sharper-tongued, so that the servants and peasants on the estate were afraid of him, and his guardian was frequently forced to reprimand him for his mannerless ways. His elder brothers, although careless to the point of recklessness, could always conjure up a smile and a disarming apology, so that they became general favourites whilst their foster-brother became more and more of a recluse.
On the Dumbledore estate was a very special tree brought from a far-off land long ago. As long ago as the czar's grandfather's grandfather's time it had borne golden apples, just thirteen a year. The czars treasured this tree and kept it on an island in the middle of a lake protected it with magical wards. Every day during apple season Czar Dumbledore would take a boat to the island and walk near the tree, watching the apples grow. One day, however, he found that he was missing two apples and he became very angry. He decided to stay on the island overnight and wait for the thief.
When the thief arrived, however, it proved to be a mystical firebird which flew in from the east and immediately began to peck at one of the golden apples, devouring it in minutes. The czar cast spell after spell, but the firebird completely ignored him and ate a second apple before flying away back towards the east, totally unaffected by the czar's wards or spells.
Czar Dumbledore was left dumbstruck behind, with only nine golden apples left on his tree. He needed to find a solution, and quickly! He summoned his three foster-sons to his rooms and told them that each of them was to research the problem and find some way to stop or catch the thief as soon as possible.
"I will stay on the island tonight," said James Potter proudly. "I am sure that I can find the solution by this evening!"
"And if he can't," chimed in Sirius Black, "I will take the watch by tomorrow night. Surely I will have found the answer by then!"
"I rather think that neither of these dunderheads will solve the problem," said Severus Snape coldly, "but I will take the third watch and I will not rest until I have achieved success."
All day the three boys laboured over their tasks. After two hours in the library James Potter smacked his book closed and got to his feet. "I have solved it!" he announced. But that night when the firebird came to the apple tree his intricate web of jinxes failed and the firebird departed exactly as before, leaving behind only seven golden apples on the tree.
Sirius Black muttered to himself as he leaned back in his chair, thinking, for most of the first day but at dawn on the second day he could be heard clanging and clattering in his workshop in the stables. He strode out confidently to the island that evening but his elaborately constructed cage completely failed to hold the firebird and by morning there were only five golden apples remaining.
Severus Snape spent the first day reading and the second and third days in his alchemy studio, from which servants could hear him screaming imprecations at his equipment and smell the most appalling odours. On the third night he smeared a potion all over his skin and dipped his clothes in it, then he climbed to the top of the tree.
"Don't fall!" his brothers shouted, shaking the trunk mightily but the Czar said, "Come with me boys and give your brother his chance," so they all left the island reluctantly, looking back at Severus silhouetted in the branches against a darkening sky.
When the phoenix came that night, it ignored Severus and immediately began pecking at an apple, crooning to itself. Severus stretched out a hand and grasped the firebird's claw, but it was small and slippery and as quick as a wink the firebird had slipped out of his grasp. Severus sprang to his feet as the firebird ascended, dropping the half-eaten apple, but all he grasped was a tailfeather, which came out as he held on tightly. The bird screeched with fury and headed off to the east, abandoning its food and leaving Severus holding only one flaming feather in his hand.
Severus gazed after the firebird, his dark eyes sullen and determined. As he swung around to climb down from the tree he noticed that the feather's flames dimmed to a dull glow. Only when he turned to face the direction in which the firebird had left did the flames spring up again. Severus picked up the half-eaten apple and tossed it lightly from hand to hand before stuffing it into his pocket. He knew what he had to do.
Without a moment's delay he went to the stables and saddled his horse, then sprang into the saddle and rode off to the east, following the guidance granted to him by the flaming feather in his hand. He was so intent upon what he was doing that he was taken completely by surprise when a huge wolf sprang out from behind a tree, startling his horse into rearing up and bucking Severus off.
The horse promptly turned tail and ran back down the trail, heading for its stables. Severus drew his weapon and turned to face the wolf.
"I'm dreadfully sorry!" the wolf exclaimed. "There's not usually anyone on the trail at this time of night and I was just out for a run."
Severus swore mightily, but the wolf made no hostile gestures, merely continuing to stand there and mutter apologies, so Severus began to abuse it, "You fool! I'm on a quest for my father and I have to follow the firebird tonight, while the trail is still fresh! How am I to do that now that you have scared off my horse?"
The wolf bowed low to the ground. "Perhaps I could carry you to your destination, as it is my fault that your horse was so terrified? I am very fast."
Severus frowned, but the wolf had offered a realistic solution so he climbed onto its back and discovered that the wolf was indeed much faster than his horse. By the time dawn was lighting the sky he and the wolf were standing on a hill not far from a czar's palace. Below them they could see a small hillock, ringed with flame-trees where the firebird they sought was cradled in its nest.
Czar Ragnok was more than a little annoyed that they had tried to steal his firebird. (Although, actually, Severus caught the entire blame because as soon as the goblin popped out of every nook and cranny the wolf went silent and blinked innocent golden eyes at their captors.) However when Severus pulled the half-eaten golden apple out of his pocket the firebird let out a musical trill and swooped down to scoop it from his hands and finish the treat.
Staring at his pet the goblin czar had to admit that the firebird had a case to answer for stealing from a fellow czar.
"I propose a bargain!" Ragnok roared. "You can have this valuable bird to take back to Czar Dumbledore with my compliments... IF you do me a small favour."
What could Severus do but agree?
Czar Weasley lived only the width of a small wood from Czar Ragnok but he was as different from the goblin czar as chalk from cheese. His large family lived in the decaying remants of a grand palace, but they seemed unfazed by their somewhat decrepit surroundings. Every flaming head seemed cheerful and eager to help, but they were quite adamant that they had a sacred trust to protect the Sword of Gryffindor and could not possibly give it (the goblin czar had said return it) to any other czar.
Czar Ragnok had provided Severus with a parchment on which the history of the sword had been written in beautiful, miniscule script. Czar Weasley handed it to the eldest prince to assess and - after a whispered word from his wife - offered Severus a bed for the night, which he gratefully accepted. He had travelled all night on the trail of the firebird and had been thrust out of Czar Ragnok's realm without the chance for rest or sleep.
The Weasleys were very hospitable and Severus unbent enough to exchange polite conversation with the Czarina, who kept pressing food on him, and one of the many red-headed princes before he retired to a guest chamber, the wolf coming with him. "Goodnight," he said, falling exhausted onto the bed.
The wolf leapt onto the other side of the bed and curled into a neat ball. "Goodnight," it said quietly.
Severus lay there wondering if it was really safe to sleep with a wolf on the bed but the wolf snored terribly, reminding him of home where Czar Dumbledore's snores could be heard from one end of the palace to the other, so after all it didn't take him too long to follow the wolf into slumber.
In the morning, Czar Weasley met him at the breakfast table.
"My eldest boy tells me that the goblin claim has a good solid foundation," he said without preamble. "Pass the marmalade, if you will."
Severus passed the marmalade and spread more really excellent strawberry jam upon his own bread roll. The wolf made a low pleading noise and Severus placed a slice of bacon on a plate for him, where it rested for less than a second before disappearing into a large set of jaws.
Czar Weasley eyed the bacon wistfully before placing the whole platter in front of the wolf. "The thing is," he continued, "I really can't afford to just give away such a valuable thing. Not without some kind of recompense or exchange."
The Czarina came in at that moment and took in the sight of the last of the bacon disappearing into the wolf's cavernous mouth. "Oh my!" she exclaimed. "Are you still hungry?"
When she came back with sausages Severus and Czar Weasley were still musing over what sort of deal would be a fair exchange for a magic sword of historic significance. "That thing!" she snorted. "It's a terrible dust-catcher. What we really need around here is another woman - and not that French one that Bill has been courting but a sensible local princess. Charlie's set his heart on Princess Nymphadora from across the river - but Czarina Tonks has a prejudice against redheads and won't even consider his suit. As far as I'm concerned you can have that silly sword if you can persuade Princess Nymphadora to marry our Charlie."
Czar Weasley seemed thoughtful. "Very well my dear," he said eventually. "That sounds reasonable. What say you, Prince Severus? Can you fetch us the Princess Nymphadora in exchange for the Sword of Gryffindor?"
It was a silly exchange in Severus' opinion, but he agreed to it quickly. A woman for a sword! With any luck the foolish chit would consider it romantic.
The Czar and Czarina Tonks were charming, and politely welcomed Severus to their very traditional home. The czarina was, when Severus thought about it, already known to him as kin to his foster-brother Sirius. On the matter of the Weasleys, however, they were less than sympathetic.
"They are perfectly nice people," the czarina admitted, "Despite their appalling hair, but allow our only daughter to marry one we will not! Nymphadora is our only heir and we are looking in other directions for her.
Princess Nymphadora slumped ungracefully in her chair until her mother reminded her to sit up straight. Severus caught her eye and found it speculative in a way that made him rather nervous. "But mother," she protested, "I don't want to marry any of the stuffy Princes that you have been inviting to tea - and we really don't need me to marry the heir: wouldn't it be better for our people if I married a second - or third (Severus shivered) - son who would be free to come and live here?"
Her mother seemed thoughtful at this notion, but drew her shoulders up tightly. "You may have a point, Nymphadora, but not a Weasley. They are too boisterous (the princess smothered a grin) and there are far too many of them."
She turned her attention to Severus with a new and unsettling glint in her eye. "Would you like to stay for dinner, Prince Severus? I find that we really don't know you nearly as well as we ought."
With a sideways glance at the princess, who was nodding encouragingly, Severus agreed, but he was not entirely sure that he was comfortable in this well-tended household and insisted on keeping his wolf with him.
They dined well on steak au poivre and Severus was shown to his chambers by the princess herself. As soon as the door shut behind them she grinned, a wild grin that Severus felt her mother would strongly have disapproved of. "You'll have to kidnap me," she said. "Mother'll come around once Charlie and I have tied the knot but she's really got a bee in her bonnet about the Weasleys.
"I adore your wolf," she added. "Would you like to come with me, you handsome thing? I'm sure the Weasleys would welcome you into the family too."
The wolf slunk behind Severus and she laughed. "Looks like he prefers you," she said blithely. "What's his name?"
Severus looked at the wolf who looked back impassively. "Lupin," he improvised, wondering why the wolf never spoke in public. "I call him Lupin."
"Right," said Nymphadora. "Now I'm not taking that potholed pathway to the Weasleys' in the dark so we will have to set out at first light. Mother doesn't get up until several hours later and we can be at the Weasleys' by then. I hope they have a handy priest."
"If you're this pleased with the match why didn't you run away before?" Severus asked, inserting his question with difficulty into the eager flow of her words.
"Oh Charlie's never actually said anything to me," the princess responded. "I thought he was eyeing me up and down but if he's been sending me courting letters and gifts as you said then Mother has been keeping them from me. She's very oldfashioned you know."
When she finally left, promising to meet them in the stables at dawn, Severus was only too glad to lie down on his silken coverlet and try to sleep. The wolf stretched out beside him, its head on the pillow and its paws touching the foot of the bed.
"Don't get into the habit, Lupin," Severus muttered as the wolf sighed heavily, its breath ruffling Severus' lank hair. "By tomorrow evening this will all be over and you can go back to the cave or lair where you came from." He turned his back on the wolf's reproachful gaze.
"Goodnight, Severus," the wolf replied gently.
"What is your name, anyway?" Severus murmured, half asleep already, but if the wolf replied he didn't hear it.
At first light they met in the stables but as Severus began to saddle the princess's horse a great clamour came from the house.
"Father must have found my empty bed!" Princess Nymphadora exclaimed. "Even if we get Firebolt saddled he will catch us up before we get to the Weasleys'!"
For the first time the wolf spoke when someone other than Severus was in earshot. "Quick!" he said. "I'm faster than any living horse - I can carry you both to the Weasleys in time!" Nymphadora looked doubtful, but when Severus sprang to the wolf's back she set her chin and jumped up behind him, wedging her bundle between them and circling surprisingly strong arms around his waist.
Behind them was a cry of outrage as Czar Tonks stormed out of the palace and from a high window the Czarina called, "Nymphadora! Why can't you learn to behave like a proper princess?"
"Where's the fun in that?" Nymphadora called back, but it's doubtful that anyone left behind could have heard her with the speed that the wolf was loping out of sight towards the river.
When they came in sight of the river the wolf leapt over it in one great bound and within minutes they were in sight of the Weasleys' dilapidated home. Nymphadora slid off the wolf's back and into the arms of the burliest of the princes who came bursting out of the palace towards them. Severus averted his eyes from some very un-royal behaviour as Czar Weasley emerged, more moderately than his children, to greet them.
They were invited to stay for the wedding, which was to take place immediately, but Severus thought that even the sure-to-be-excellent food would not compensate for enduring the hurly-burly of the Weasley menage for much longer. He thought the wolf looked a bit wistful.
"You can stay, if you wish," he snapped, but the wolf only rubbed its big head against Severus' thigh and indicated that he should mount. The Sword of Gryffindor flashed in the sunlight as Severus carefully re-wrapped it and stowed it safely in his tunic.
The goblin czar greeted him with eager, acquisitive eyes. "You have the Sword?" he inquired incredulously. His hands almost trembled with eagerness to take possession.
"The firebird..." Severus reminded him.
"Yes, yes!" Czar Ragnok gestured to his minions who brought forth the firebird in a silver cage. They bowed courteously to each other as the formal exchange was made and then at last Severus was on his way home.
As the wolf loped across the leagues of forested land between the czars' realms with swift paws Severus thought about what it would mean to him to have succeeded in his quest. He was proud of his negotiating skills and his persistence, but it did not escape him that without the wolf's help he might never have reached his first goal, let alone succeeded at every step of the way.
Under him the wolf's powerful muscles moved in rhythmic action. Severus clutched the cage in one hand and leaned his body flat along the back and neck of his steed, his free hand wound into the thick fur at the neck, allowing the motion to rock him comfortingly as home drew ever closer.
When Hogwarts came at last in sight he sat up, back straight and proud as befit a son of the house. A black flag waved on the ramparts and a sudden fear clutched his heart for the Czar - he was very old, after all. But as the wolf carried him up the steps his guardian and brothers burst out of the doors as impatiently as any Weasley.
"We thought you were dead, my boy!" Dumbledore exclaimed. "Your horse came back alone and his tracks led back to the trail of a huge wolf!"
Severus bowed, saying the words that he had planned on the way home. "Here is the firebird you asked for, sir." He went to pass the cage to the czar, but James intercepted him, reaching out to snag the handle.
Behind him the wolf coughed - a deep scratchy sound. James jumped and Severus ignored him, taking the cage directly to the czar.
"Very interesting, my boy," his guardian murmured. "We must talk about your adventures." He placed a frail arm around Severus' shoulders to begin leading him up into the castle, but Severus stopped abruptly.
"Lupin!" he exclaimed. He turned to find the wolf watching him with hopeful golden eyes from the base of the steps. "I owe you a debt," he said simply. "What can I do in repayment?"
The wolf didn't speak but ran lightly up the steps to his feet, tucking himself in close to Severus' legs. Severus frowned. "We shall speak more of this later," he said, but his left hand reached down to touch the wolf's soft fur before he turned to rejoin Czar Dumbledore.
The story was told and marvelled over as Severus' brothers watched him with resentful respect. At the end Dumbledore reached out to examine the caged firebird again. "The magic on this cage is quite unexpected," he said, his hands hovering as if to sense the aura. I'm not sure that..."
He opened the cage and gently took the firebird into his hands, muttering an incantation. The firebird screamed and fell unconscious to the ground, changing into a beautiful woman with glorious fiery hair.
"Perhaps you have also returned with a bride, my son?"
Severus stared at the woman with dismay. She was indeed very beautiful, but...
From the other side of the room James gasped with equal dismay. "No Sir!" he exclaimed. "I am the eldest and I should be the first to wed." His eyes on the the woman held an expression that Severus had never seen in them before. Carefully, respectfully, he picked up the unconscious woman and carried her to the closest guest chambers, accompanied by a maidservant.
"Severus?" Dumbledore asked.
"I don't think she's for me," Severus replied. "But perhaps when she is awake we can ask her what she thinks."
That night as he stripped off in his bedchamber he turned to find the wolf, front paws on the side of the bed, awaiting his notice.
Severus wavered. "What do you want from me?" he asked.
"Just one more night," the wolf replied. "After that you may consider any obligation discharged and I will go if that is what you wish."
Severus looked up at the familiar ceiling of his bedroom. It held no answers.
"Very well," he said, settling under his covers as the wolf stretched out beside him as it had done the night before. When the wolf's snores began to rasp in counterpoint to Dumbledore's Severus finally fell asleep.
Severus couldn't actually say that he was surprised in the morning to find a naked young man in his bed. The man's rusty hair was the same colour as the wolf's coat had been and his long, well-shaped limbs echoed the spare elegance of the wolf.
When his eyes opened they were a beautiful golden brown.
"Do you wish me to go, Severus?" the young man asked.
"What do you want?" the Prince replied.
The young man shook his over-long hair and raised himself into a kneeling stretch. "By letting the wolf sleep for three nights in your bed you have broken the spell on me," he said. His throat stretched long and tempting under Severus' nose. "I want to stay with you, Severus," he said softly, his eyes beseeching.
Severus knew that the firebird princess could never hold his heart, now. Let James have her - if he could win her!
"I want that too," he said.
In the Spring, he thought, they would wed without haste, with appropriate dignity and ceremony. If James could win his princess it might even be a double wedding.
In the meantime... there was a beautiful young man naked and willing in his bed.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Author's note: I have to confess that in my fairytale book the Hero marries the Princess, and the Wolf lives with them (and becomes the first wolfhound) however I am fairly sure that my readership will prefer this version!
The firebird does not transform in the original story either. It just seemed like a good idea at the time.
The story is a bit silly and was written far too fast, but I hope you enjoy it anyway!