Chapter Eight: Blossoming Affection
After a week, Severus and his little dragon have settled into some kind of a routine.
Severus usually wakes first, has his morning shower and gets ready to face the day. After having discovered Aenëus' fondness of water, the Slytherin became resigned to allowing him to play in the filled tub every few days, which often leaves his bathroom with puddles on the floor, and ended with Severus fully clothed in the tub next to his dragon at the first time.
When both have finished their breakfast, they go to the library, where the Potions Master continues his research and Aenëus explores the halls. By now, the dragon has progressed so much that they are able to stay the whole morning and most of the afternoon, though it took nearly endless patience on Severus' part to get so far. But patience, or rather endurance, is something the Slytherin has learned early on, and it is what makes him a good spy and an outstanding Potions Master, in addition to having kept him alive long enough to become both. He sees what needs to be done, and takes care of it, and that's that. Harry Potter needs to be brought back, and so he tends to the dragon, even after yet another flashback has sent him shaking into his arms.
He doesn't know how much Aenëus remembers by now, but their form of communication provides him at least with some clues, and he guesses that the main part of the barrier in the other's mind still stands, as the dragon still seems to be unable to accept the memories as his own. Severus hasn't had 'the talk' about it with him yet, because he wants to wait until Aenëus has learned more about his past.
Albus and Minerva returned four days ago, with little more information than they already had. Aenëus belongs to no dragon race that is mentioned anywhere in written history, and the legend Minerva heard of is not recorded in any of the historical tomes either.
But they found a very old woman, whose great-great-grandfather used to tell her of an Age of Magic, where the Muggle World and the Wizarding World were still one, and some wizards used their powers to experiment with the genetic Transformation of Muggles, thus producing powerful servants, creatures with the warm loveliness of the Dawn or the cold beauty of the Dusk. But as in all times, there were those who craved power above anything else, and they corrupted parts of their brethren's creations, giving birth to the Dark Races in the process, the trolls, giants, werewolves, vampires and many more. A great war broke out, and ended with the remaining wizards hiding themselves and their world from the Muggles to prevent a repetition of the tragic events, and the non-magical folks in turn forgetting about the magic that once was part of their life.
So far they guess that Aenëus belongs to one of those magically created races, but there is still so much more they don't know. Why the Dark Races survived all the time in almost constant or even increasing numbers, whereas the light creatures were always so very few, for example. Or why a creature like Aenëus didn't manifest before, and why it does now. So Albus sent discreet messages to people he knows, and since most owe him the one or other favour anyway, they were only too happy to help. But none of them has ever heard of the legends, and their libraries hold no information of the times that precede the Founders.
The Headmaster has told the Order the same as the Ministry, that he had sent Harry away to protect him after the attack, and Severus wonders if Albus suspects a leak. But with the Dark Lord's apparent inactivity, they have no hints as to whether he has managed to acquire a spy in their ranks or not.
The Weasleys are crushed by the loss of their youngest son, even though there might be the chance, however unlikely, that he will come back somehow. Minerva told Severus when she came back from the latest Order meeting that the young Weasley girl and the Longbottom boy must have put one and one together in a rare outburst of intelligence and deduced what had to have happened in the Department of Mysteries, and that they are now practically living in the Blacks' library and seem to be going through every book in there to find a way to bring their friends back.
Typical heroic Gryffindors, but then, maybe they will find something useful and at least they aren't wallowing in self-pity or trying to get themselves killed like Lupin, who has taken to volunteering for the most dangerous missions despite Albus' gentle reprimands that they will need their DADA teacher alive and in one piece at the beginning of the new term. Oh yes, Lupin took the events in the Chamber of Death very badly, both times, and seems to feel responsible somehow for what happened at the second time. Severus would like to get a chance to talk with him, but he still can't leave Aenëus alone. Although his demeanour towards others has softened somewhat, he suffers greatly under the Slytherin's absence, even if it is only for a short time, and he is just not stable enough yet for a meeting with Lupin. But perhaps in a week, if he continues to progress so nicely... Well, he will have to talk to Albus about it.
Severus still growls and sneers and snaps a lot when others are around them, but Aenëus seems to know the difference to real anger, and has gotten used to it somehow during the last few days. The Slytherin would never admit it, but by now he finds the dragon's presence strangely calming and reassuring, which is an absolute paradox, since he can't remember having had such a trying everyday life since his student days. And it doesn't help either that Albus told him he looked better than in years and Poppy pointed out smugly that regular meals and a healthy amount of sleep could do that to a man. Minerva, ever the wise, kept her comment to herself and just smiled knowingly. Sometimes he is sorely tempted to strangle his colleagues.
Today, the Potions Master has decided to try his luck with taking Aenëus to the classroom of one of Harry's more uneventful subjects, and remembering his own school days, and the dull droning of Professor Binns, he finally settles on History of Magic. He plans to spend a few hours in the library first, to leave Aenëus a part of his everyday routine, and pass by the History of Magic classroom after lunch.
They are about half-way to the dungeons where they still have all their meals, when Severus realizes that he forgot his wand in the library, along with his quill, ink, parchment and notes, in the wake of Aenëus' latest flashback episode. Scowling, he turns to his dragon.
"I just noticed that I left something behind that I need to retrieve. As I assume you are familiar enough with the way to our quarters by now, I suggest you go on and wait for me there. I should not take long, maybe I will even be able to catch up with you."
His little companion twitters what Severus has learned to identify as his 'alright' sound, and starts to hop down the next flight of stairs. The Slytherin frowns, and waits until the other is out of sight, to make sure that his charge does indeed disappear into the right direction, before he turns and heads back to the library, groaning inwardly. It is really time for Potter to get better again, because no matter what Albus, Minerva and Poppy say, the company of the dragon is not good for him. Leaving his wand behind like that, and just because of a brat in distress... No, it is definitely time to put a bit more distance between Aenëus and him, before his emotions succeed in making him any more careless.
Fifteen minutes later, the Potions Master storms towards the dungeons, cursing Mrs Norris deftly under his breath.
'Stealing and hiding my wand... When I get my hands on that bloody cat, Filch will be lucky if there is enough of her left to make a handbag of her fur!'
Seething, he quickens his pace, hoping that his dragon is alright and didn't get any feather-brained ideas while he was waiting, as he has shown an increased inclination to over the past few days at the same rate that his self-consciousness has been overcome. Apparently Potter's cheeky nature has already returned, even if the majority of his memories haven't.
Upon turning around the last bend, it becomes obvious that his hopes were in vain, since there is no little dragon waiting for him in the corridor in front of his chambers. This time, he curses out loud. Creatively and colourfully. After he has calmed down a bit, he growls, and activates the locator spell he put on Aenëus in the wise anticipation that it might soon come in handy. When he realizes where the spell points him, however, he lets out another stream of obscenities.
'Of course the annoying little twerp has nothing better to do than run off to my classroom! This is most certainly not the way I intended his recovery to proceed!'
Several flights of stairs and some corridors later, a worried Severus arrives at the door to his potions classroom, slightly out of breath. Suspecting the worst, he prepares himself inwardly for an either howling, hysterical or a catatonic dragon, but when he enters the dimly lit room, he finds Aenëus sitting on Potter's workplace, gazing around the room in deep contemplation. For a moment, relief washes through him, but it is quickly overcome by white-hot anger.
'How dare the impudent brat ignore my orders like that!'
"And what exactly do you think you are doing here?" he hisses menacingly.
Aenëus jumps and flinches, looking up at him with wide, emerald eyes.
"Have my orders been too difficult to understand?" he asks softly.
A shake of the head.
"Did you get lost on the way to our quarters?"
Another shake of the head.
"Then may I ask why you are in the potions classroom, which, I might add, is not even remotely in the direction of where you are supposed to be, instead of simply doing what I told you?" he snarls, his dark eyes gleaming with rage.
"So at least in this you are back to your old self then. While everybody is out to keep famous Harry Potter safe and hidden from the Dark Lord, famous Harry Potter has no need to abide by the rules. No, famous Harry Potter makes his own rules, just let the rest of the world worry about his safety! Why should famous Harry Potter bother to stop and think about the consequences of his actions, when he has a whole bunch of Gryffindor friends who are just too happy to follow him into disaster and save his sorry little hide?"
Green eyes darken, and Aenëus flinches, but the copper and golden dragon still makes no sound.
"Damn it, Potter, when will it finally get through that thick skull of yours that what other people tell you might actually be the best for not only you, but also those around you?! How many more will have to die before you finally accept that others might know a situation better than you?! When will you finally start to listen?!"
Severus turns on his heel, to try and calm down a bit, and so he misses that the dragon has started to tremble, and his emerald eyes are glittering strangely.
"How uncannily like your father you are, always thinking the world evolves around you. But let me tell you that it does not. Others are out there, risking their lives for you, or having already sacrificed them, and the least you could do is make sure that it wasn't in vain."
He pauses briefly. "People are always so quick to talk about Gryffindor courage and nobility, but being brave doesn't necessarily mean to stand in the front line in a battle, and being noble demands to respect the value of other people's efforts. So far I have seen very little of either of them in you."
Aenëus finally makes a strangled sound, somewhere between a whimper and a choke, and the Potions Master turns back to his charge to find the little dragon shaking badly, and when he looks into the dark green eyes, the raw agony in them shatters any remnants of his anger, and stabs like a dagger into his heart. Too old those eyes are, too much pain they have seen, and when the heavy guilt and the self-loathing in them eventually let Severus move again, he hurries to his dragon's side, folding the shaking figure into his robes.
"I'm sorry," he whispers.
It is this one word that breaks the dam, and Aenëus finally starts moaning, whining and wailing, pressing himself against the body of his wizard who just holds him and mutters "I'm sorry" over and over.
A long time later, the dragon lies silent in Severus' arms, and the black-clad Slytherin is stroking the smooth scales softly.
"I really am sorry, you know," he finally says in a low voice. "I had no right to say what I did. All these years, burdens that an adult wizard would have found hard to bear have been placed upon your shoulders, and you rose to every challenge and managed to come out of them more successful than anyone could have asked for. And every time, you only tried to protect those around you, regardless of the danger to yourself. What happened to your godfather and your friends is not your fault, never let anyone tell you that. If there is anybody to blame then it is Voldemort."
He looks down into troubled emerald eyes.
"I think it may be I who failed to see the true problem. You are so much of a Gryffindor that we all tend to forget that after everything that happened, you are but a child, who never was allowed to be. I think the greatest mistake we made was letting the Wizarding World make you straight into the Boy-Who-Lived, the saviour, the wonder-boy, when all you were was an unloved child that wanted nothing more than to be granted the same life as any child your age."
He tightens the embrace for a moment. "I am truly sorry."
They spend the rest of the day in relative peace, and after dinner, Severus reads Merlin's adventures to his dragon again.
After the potions classroom, the visits to the other classrooms are monotonously uneventful. The wizard and his dragon enter, Aenëus wanders around a bit, then finally jumps onto the table where Harry Potter used to sit during his school days and gazes around the room in silent reverie. When he is done, he goes to Severus and makes a pleading sound, not really a whine, but close to it, and they leave the room and return to the dungeons. The little dragon always hurries, and only relaxes when they are on his favourite sofa again; he in the strong arms of his wizard, the fire crackling comfortingly in the background. Aenëus is always tired after these visits, worn out by remembering, confusion and fear, and it never takes long for him to fall into a light slumber, his body on the sofa next to the Potions Master, his head on his wizard's lap. Severus sighs, picks up the book he is currently reading, and continues his research until dinner time.
After dinner, the Slytherin reads to him, or tells him stories from his own teenage years at Hogwarts, about the professors, the other students, the Marauders and Harry's parents, and not just the mean pranks they played on him, but everything that comes into his mind. Of course, he only does it to make up for his outburst in the potions classroom, and because it will surely help the boy to accept his memories faster, or so Severus tells himself.
Their evening talks soon become a daily rite, and the Potions Master eventually finds that it is in fact quite nice to have company on these lonely summer evenings when the school is almost empty, with Minerva, Albus, and even Poppy occasionally away on Order business, or simply visiting their families. Naturally, he wouldn't admit it, not even to himself, and would call the loneliness 'peace', and Aenëus' presence 'an unwelcome burden', but at the end of the third week, he catches himself toying with the idea of getting himself a familiar when Harry is restored to his human self, a young Occamy perhaps, or a Kneazle, and he shakes his head and decides that he should rather book a room at St. Mungo's then.
Voldemort summons him two times, but just to have Severus give his report and stock up the Dark Lord's potions stores, and even though he can feel the scarlet eyes follow his every motion, both times he gets away without being submitted to the Cruciatus. This starts to make him very uneasy, but he accepts his luck as he would have accepted his punishment, without comment.
He had Minerva look after Aenëus the first time, but they are alone in the castle when the second call comes. He leaves his dragon only very reluctantly and with great trepidation, and for the first time, he has problems with emptying his mind of all emotion, because the picture of the copper and golden dragon perching tense and trembling on his sofa, with the green plush dragon clutched to his chest and a lost look in his eyes, tries to remain stubbornly in his thoughts.
It is from this second, mentally exhausting meeting that he returns, worried and strangely anxious to get back to his little dragon, and he starts talking about his family when both of them are not-cuddling on the sofa after an overly affectionate greeting. In hindsight, he couldn't tell why he did it, perhaps because he never told anyone except Lucius, the Dark Lord and Albus, or because somewhere deep down, he hoped that someone who was willing to hear out the supposed murderer of his parents would know better than to judge him on what he said, or maybe because he just simply needed to talk about it after all this time.
And so he opens a bottle of Old Odgen's, settles onto the sofa with his dragon on his lap, stares into the fire and starts to speak.
About his weak, sickly mother from whom he has inherited his unhealthy complexion and thin stature; how she had been soft and gentle and had always tried to protect him when he had been ill so often as a boy, and how her loving efforts only succeeded in getting her beaten and eventually killed by his nasty, abusive bastard of a father.
About his purist father, who had decided that since his useless wife couldn't give him another heir, the one he had would need to toughen up, and who had taken it upon himself to ensure that he did.
About the beatings, the potions, the curses, the Unforgivables, and the rest he even now cannot talk about. How he had taken to make himself repulsive, both in appearance and demeanour, to keep his father at bay, and to make sure that nobody would like him and suffer his poor mother's fate.
How he had yearned to start Hogwarts, how he had hoped that somehow, it would get better, that he would finally find a home, and how the hostility and the ridicule of the Gryffindors together with the relative poorness his father's unhealthy tastes had brought upon the family had taught him better.
How it was Lucius who eventually took him under his wing, who found him a place in Slytherin House, who let him stay with him during the holidays whenever their fathers would permit it. About the arrogance of his pure-blood sire, who didn't approve of the Malfoy's connections to the half-blood Dark Lord and how he finally followed Lucius' example and took the Dark Mark the day after he graduated from Hogwarts.
How he finally killed his father, slowly, deliberately, with the Dark Lord smiling approvingly down at him when he was done.
And how it hadn't changed a thing, how he could still feel the shame and the guilt and the helplessness, how he still felt dirty and tainted and used even after all these years.
And all the time, Aenëus stays at his side, listening silently until Severus stops talking and just continues to stare into the fire with glazy eyes. Then he carefully takes the sleeve of the black robe between his teeth and gently leads his wizard into the bedroom, where the Potions Master undresses mechanically, and climbs into the bed. Only when he is safely tucked in does the little dragon slip into his arms, purring softly, trying to comfort. And Severus embraces him tightly, and doesn't let go the whole night.
In the morning, the Potions Master is bad-tempered and hung-over, and greatly embarrassed for letting himself go like that, especially since he can't recall exactly how much he had told his little companion. So he returns to his curt, cold teacher attitude and keeps his distance from Aenëus during the day. There is no evening talk this night, and when it is time for bed, Severus tells the dragon that it is time for him to start sleeping in his own room again, since Aenëus would have to learn to do so anyway, and he had been sharing his bed long enough now, thank you very much.
The dragon stares at him in confusion for a long moment, before something seems to die in his eyes, and he vanishes into the guest bedroom without further protest. The Slytherin looks at the empty door-frame for a full minute after Aenëus has left, and wonders what it might be that suddenly makes his ribcage so tight and the centre of his chest ache, but he eventually swallows the lump in his throat and goes into his own bedroom, firmly quenching every thought about how his bed seems strangely cold and empty without his companion.
It is about midnight when muffled, pain-filled cries wake him from an uneasy sleep, and after a moment of disorientation in which he reaches for the dragon at his side and finds nothing, Severus jerks fully awake and recalls the events of the previous day. Cursing himself for his thoughtlessness, he rushes out of his sleeping chamber and into the guest bedroom.
Aenëus is cringing into one of the corners of the room, eyes shut tightly, emitting a lost whimper, the kind of sound one makes when he knows that no one would come and help him, the choked cry of defeat of someone who has given up the hope of being rescued, and it cuts straight into Severus' heart. Within an instant, he is beside his dragon, reaching out to wake him, when suddenly he can feel something reach out on its own, and the room vanishes around him.
A big, beefy man with an enormous moustache is towering over him, his face contorted with rage... a large hand grabbing him at the throat... spittle on his cheek as the man shouts at him, literally spitting insults into his face... his lungs burning with the lack of air... then the sudden release as he is thrown across the room, and the fiery pain that explodes in his flank where his side hits the hard desk... the man baring his teeth at him while a vein is throbbing in his temple, and his stinking breath washing over him, telling of too many drinks in the pub... more pain, as the large, purple fist connects with his frail body, again and again and again and again...
his own ragged breathing, unnaturally loud in the silence when he is finally alone in the darkness...
alone, alone, always alone...
With a hoarse cry, Severus jerks both of them out of the dream, and he draws the dragon into his arms before Aenëus has the chance to panic. They remain like that for a long time, crying in each other's embrace, each in his own way, both for an innocence lost that nobody had the right to take away from them.
Much later, the Slytherin picks his dragon up and they return to the large bed in the main sleeping chambers. No word is spoken the whole time, but then, there are no words that need to be said between the two of them right now.
The rest of the night is passed in peace, and in the silent knowledge that other than in the past, each has someone who will come for him now. And that is enough for them at the moment.
The next day dawns brightly, and seeing the fine weather, Severus decides to take both of their minds off things a bit and let Aenëus stretch his wings on the Quidditch Pitch later. Breakfast isn't nearly half as awkward as the Slytherin feared it to be, and a fragile balance seems to have established now that they know that the other understands their problems better than either would have expected. Severus is still ashamed that he didn't think of the traumatizing consequences that the talk about his family and his pushing the dragon away the day before were prone to have on his little companion, but Aenëus is already back to his old self, twittering and chirping and bustling around.
'Silly little Gryffindor,' the Potions Master thinks, but it is a warm thought, as he glances fondly down at the wet dragon in his tub.
After another morning in the library and a light lunch in the dungeons, Aenëus finally leaves the castle with his wizard for the first time in more than three weeks. The Slytherin can't help but smile at the dragon's antics, who makes his overflowing joy at being outside very clear to the world. He bounces around like a kitten, leaping here and there, rolling in the lush grass next to the path, and generally enjoying his life. Severus wonders briefly where the other takes all the energy from, but then he supposes that it really might be a bit dull in the dungeons for a child.
When they arrive at the stands, Aenëus still shows no signs of fatigue, and after a brief hesitation, he follows his wizard up the stairs. Upon stepping out to the rows of seats, however, the dragon stays behind, and remains rooted to the spot until the Slytherin gently picks him up and takes him to the railing.
The little dragon trembles on his arm, and after a long while, finally looks down onto the field. For a moment, Severus fears that he might slip into another flashback, but suddenly Aenëus wriggles out of his arms, and hops onto the railing, his muscles tense and his emerald eyes wide. The Slytherin is just about to step behind him and get a hold on him, when his dragon looks directly into the sun for a second, spreads his wings, and launches into the air with a challenging cry that resembles none of the sounds he has uttered so far, but reminds Severus strangely of the cry of a phoenix.
Wand at the ready, the Potions Master's gaze follows his dragon as he dives down into the pitch, drawing closer to the ground at a neck-breaking speed, and only pulls up when Severus almost casts Wingardium Leviosa on him. The next two hundred and forty minutes are among the most exciting, but also most mesmerizing hours in the Potions Master's life.
Aenëus' flight is incredible. There is no hesitation in his motions, no fear, only joy and freedom, and an ethereal grace the Slytherin has never seen before. The sun glitters brightly on the dragon's metallic shining scales, and in some poses it makes him look like a figure of liquid fire, all golden and red and copper, climbing into the air like a living flame, higher and higher, until he is only a shadow before the sun, and it seems to Severus as if the dragon and the celestial body are but one.
Tears are running down his face, and they are not caused by looking into the bright light, but he doesn't notice. His eyes are firmly set on his dragon, who is still performing his glorious dance with the winds, his blazing reverence of life, his passionate celebration of freedom.
Severus' heart aches with sudden longing, with the yearning to be part of this, to share this experience of liberation, so much that the pain becomes almost unbearable, and without warning, like in the last night, he can feel something reach out and touch his mind, and then everything is lost in the sheer exhilaration of flight.
Later, much later, he comes back to his senses to find himself still in the same position in which he had watched his dragon fly, with Aenëus perched next to him on the railing, concern in his green eyes. His companion makes a worried sound when the Slytherin finally shakes his head lightly as if to clear it, and Severus looks at him with a disconcerted expression, the intoxication of his flying experience still fresh in mind.
"What the hell was that?" he asks hoarsely, yet not overly brightly.
Aenëus twitters uncertainly, shifting his weight from one front paw to the other like he always does when he is unsure, before inching closer and repeating the worried sound. Severus takes a deep breath and steps back from the railing, swaying a bit from disorientation, but it lasts only a moment. His dragon follows his movements with a concerned gaze, and the Potions Master rolls his eyes.
"Don't worry, I'm alright," he snarls. "Though I would greatly appreciate it if you could at least give me some kind of warning the next time before you mess around with my mind."
Guilt and confusion in the emerald depths, Aenëus jumps onto a seat next to him, and whines pathetically. Severus snorts, rolling his stiff shoulders.
"Let me guess: You have no idea what you just did."
The dragon barks an affirmation.
"Consequently, I take it that you also have no concept of how to control it."
"Wonderful," the Slytherin sneers sarcastically, "having my thoughts snatched away to a dragon who is high on being able to fly is just the thing I needed for my next Death Eater meeting. I am certain the Dark Lord will enjoy the experience, once he decides to join it with his Legilimency. Perhaps he will even like it so much that he grants me the favour of a quick death before he comes to get you."
Whimpering, Aenëus raises his wings and lowers his head, clearly unhappy. It somehow gives Severus a twinge in his heart, and he sighs, and sits down next to his dragon, wincing as his stiff back muscles protest against the movement. Looking down on his upset companion, he takes the smooth scaled chin into his hand and lifts it so that the green eyes meet his.
"Will you promise me that you will not go out and fly while I am at the meetings? That you will stay in our chambers and do nothing that might provoke a flashback while I am away?"
His dragon nods, and chirps eagerly, and the Slytherin releases his chin.
"Then I see no immediate life-threatening problem with this new ...ability of yours. Of course, you will have to learn how to restrain it as soon as possible. I do not particularly fancy having anyone meddle with my mind, especially not without my consent. Do I make myself clear?"
Another nod and chirp answers him, and after a brief hesitation, Aenëus scuttles over and presses his body against the Potions Master's. Severus heaves another deep sigh. "Why do I have the feeling that you will be the death of me one day, you intolerable brat?" he mutters crankily, to conceal his still shaken emotions.
Aenëus whines pitifully, and licks his wizard's cheek. The Slytherin freezes at the affectionate gesture, and his chest tightens inexplicably. The dragon seems to take his inactivity for a permission to continue, and so he proceeds to lick away the salty trail of dried tears tenderly, until Severus snaps out of his trance and pushes the scaled muzzle away, much less roughly than he intended to.
"My, I knew that flying raises the appetite, but I would never have guessed that it could make you that desperate," he sneers, but only half-heartedly.
Huffing, his dragon buries his copper and golden head into the crook of Severus' neck, and snuggles into the dark-haired wizard, contentedly absorbing the warmth of his black robes after the chill of the height. The Slytherin sighs yet again, and lets his arms circle around his little friend. They stay like that for a long time, enjoying the way the sun caresses their bodies, and watch the sunset together.
Back in their chambers, Severus groans in pain as he rises from the sofa after dinner. His back is hurting profusely, the muscles stiff and tense after the long standing and sitting at the Quidditch Pitch. Aenëus shoots him a worried glance and chirps questioningly, but the Slytherin clenches his teeth and ignores the other's concern.
'Oh no, my friend,' he thinks sourly, 'despite your better efforts today I still have some dignity left, and I will do the devil and surrender the rest of it. It's not as if you could help me anyway.'
Aloud, he just says: "I am going to retire now, and seeing as it has been a long day, I suggest you do the same."
Aenëus twitters good-naturedly, hops down from the sofa and bustles into the bedroom. The master bedroom.
'Ah well, I might as well allow him to sleep there. I rather doubt I would be up to another nightmare, so it may be better just to turn a blind eye to his presence tonight. I can still tell him to sleep in his room tomorrow.'
Unlike usually, his dragon is not already asleep when he comes out of the bathroom, and Severus raises an eyebrow at his lying on the wizard's side of the bed. Aenëus just chirps and scuttles over to the other side, as the Potions Master puts out the light and crawls stiffly under the cover, grunting when his muscles protest violently. The second thing he notices is that his part of the bed is comfortably warm, and he turns onto his stomach with a sigh, to let his sore back be soothed by the lingering body warmth of his dragon in the blanket. He has just relaxed a bit, when he becomes aware of the third thing that is different that night, and he tenses at first at the feeling of warm paws on his shoulders. The touch, however, stays, and the rhythmical flexing of the paws, like that of a contented kitten while it is suckling at its mother's side, soon has his muscles loosened and relaxed. The feeling of a light weight settling on his back, together with a most comfortable warmth soaking through the blanket and the deep vibration of Aenëus' purring finally lull him into sleep.
The next day, Severus takes his dragon into the Great Hall for lunch. They are alone, since Severus has asked the others to stay away that day, planning to let Aenëus reacquaint himself with the room before he sees any persons in it. The hall seems strangely empty, as it always does during the holidays, and the Slytherin wonders how they are going to handle things when term starts again in two and a half weeks.
'Better let Albus worry about that, I certainly have quite enough at hand already.'
As in the classrooms they have visited, Aenëus first wanders among the long rows of banks and tables, looking here and there as if he can see something that escapes Severus' keen eyes, before he finally turns to the Gryffindor table and reluctantly scrambles to the seat that has most often been occupied by Harry Potter over the last six years. Gazing around, his eyes eventually fall on the places next to him, and he lets out a low wail.
His wizard holds him while he mourns for the friends he has lost, for the memory of two young people whose absence makes the dragon's heart weep, even though he neither knows who they were nor what they meant to him, and so he mourns the loss of himself that only now becomes aware to him for the first time.
They skip lunch and return to the pitch early, and this time, Severus has a surprise for his friend.
When Aenëus is soaring high through the air, he releases the Golden Snitch that he has brought in his pocket, and watches his dragon hover in one place for a moment before diving down and taking after the little winged ball. Five minutes later, he has caught it, in a fantastic turning manoeuvre that makes the Potions Master hold his breath unconsciously.
The Slytherin and his dragon spend the rest of the afternoon out there, Aenëus chasing after the Snitch and catching him numerous times, and Severus watching him in a strange fascination.
The remainder of the week passes uneventfully.
First their breakfast, then also their lunch, and finally all their meals are taken at the Great Hall, instead of the dungeons. In the beginning, there are just Albus, Minerva and Poppy with them, but at the weekend, the other teachers start to arrive, and Severus has a hard time keeping up his evil-bastard-façade while calming down his excited little dragon friend.
The other teachers are told what Albus decided to make their background story: That Severus is experimenting with conjuring spells at his order, in hope that it might help them to find out more about what happened at the Department of Mysteries. Close enough at the truth, yet at the same time far away enough not to worry.
But it isn't the teachers the Head of Slytherin is concerned about, for despite the Headmaster's antics, he knows how to choose his staff (even Quirrell did serve a purpose after all, and Severus is positive that there are no other Death Eater among his colleagues). No, it is the students the Potions Master fears, and they still don't know what to do with the dragon once the insolent dunderheads are back.
Well, for now all the comments about how cute his dragon is, and whether he is able to breath fire, and if the spell is very difficult, are enough to keep his scowl firmly in place and make him glare at everybody that dares to so much as bat an eyelid into his direction. The latter question stemmed from Sybill Trelawney, which earned her a nasty smirk and the response that if she wanted to learn the finer arts of blood magic and try to conjure something without a) bleeding to death and b) summoning a demon, she was more than welcome to do so. The shocked Divination professor lost whatever face colour she possessed at once, and bid a hasty retreat with the excuse that her Inner Eye requested her presence at her tower.
The rest of the teachers are easier to handle, save Polaris Sinistra, who, a Slytherin herself, never seems to be intimidated by Severus' foul temper and biting remarks. She tries to inquire further, only to be put off trail by Albus himself. Always having known when a graceful retreat is in order, she admits defeat, but the Potions Master is sure that her curiosity will win over her respect for the Headmaster before long, and thus he adds her to the growing list of problems to deal with.
Fortunately, Hagrid is away with Mme Maxime for another week, and the teachers for Muggle Studies and Ancient Runes won't arrive before the next weekend either. They only have to deal with Professors Flitwick, Hooch, Sinistra, Sprout, Vector and Firenze at the moment, and judging from the look the centaur shoots the little dragon he already knows more than is good for him. Pomona and Rolanda are quite taken with Severus' new familiar, but his obvious shyness towards everyone apart from the Potions Master succeeds in keeping them at bay, while Filius and Aenëus eye each other with an equal wariness that makes the other occupants of the table, as well as Filius himself once he realizes what he is doing, chuckle in amusement.
Severus and Aenëus spend the remaining days of the week exploring the grounds, avoiding nosy professors, flying at the Quidditch Pitch and continuing to remember and research. The question of Aenëus' sleeping in the guest bedroom remains untouched, and the dragon stays in his wizard's bed without further discussion.
But it isn't until the teacher for Defence Against the Dark Arts returns to the castle that the Potions Master realizes he forgot something.
He wanted to have a talk with Remus Lupin.
Looking down at his dragon, who has gone rigid at his side, staring at the tired werewolf as if he would vanish the moment his eyes leave him, Severus makes his choice.
'There's no time like the present.'
Time for a chat in the dungeons.
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