Chapter One: Hot
It was hot outside the café. Draco had expected Munich to be cold — it had been cold the other times he had been here with his father... Draco decided to abandon that line of thought. He still jumped every time he saw a tall, platinum-haired man.
Maybe Germany really wasn't such a good choice, he thought sourly. Too many blondes. Still, it wasn't as bad as Durmstrang. The only good thing about that school had been the cold. The cold had been so glorious that Draco had actually been seeking detention just to get outside into that wonderful, wonderful snow and away from the fires and the morons and the Dark Lord's spies.
He fished an ice-cube out of his drink and chewed on it happily, enjoying the way his strong back teeth crunched it into slivers that cooled all the way down his throat and into his stomach.
Maybe he should go into Switzerland or Austria and up into the mountains, he mused. The clear, cold air would help him think better. It was so hard here in the lowlands: the heat and the muggy air stifled the mind dreadfully. He could probably get work in one of the better-class Muggle hotels, or help out as a skiing instructor. Skiing was something he'd learned at Durmstrang (probably the only decent thing he had learned there), and Draco had taken to it like a merman to water.
The owner of the cafe was tolerant of the slim blond boy sitting out front who talked to the tourists and gave impromptu English lessons or tours of Munich in exchange for a "donation" or a meal. One of the first Muggle terms Draco had learned was "backpacker", and he used it whenever anyone asked him who he was or why he was sitting outside a cafe in Germany. But sooner or later Michael, the owner, would start to wonder why this boy didn't move on like the rest of the backpackers. Sure, Draco knew he was decorative, but he wasn't foolish enough to expect that he could stay there for the rest of his life.
Another nasty line of thought: The rest of my life. What am I going to do with the rest of my life?
Oh well. There were always options. When you were on your own, you had to keep careful track of what options there were, and currently being a waiter in a Muggle restaurant looked, well, okay, humiliating to say the least. But humiliating with access to good food and up in the mountains where he could go skiing. And be free.
No Malfoy or Voldemort supporter would be seen dead in a Muggle establishment... well, correction, dead only after an Auror had caught him or her wearing black robes and a white mask whilst on a Muggle-baiting expedition. Draco wrinkled his pointy nose. Muggles weren't too bad once you got used to them. Actually, he'd found living in the Muggle world incredibly exciting. Sure, there'd been a few scrapes with the occasional man who had thought that he was far too pretty to be, ahem, alone, ahem, in a big city like Munich, but Draco had dealt with worse from Lucius' Death Eater friends and even some of the teachers at Durmstrang. All those men had found out that Draco was neither naive nor stupid, and there was steel under the soft exterior.
Draco readjusted his sunglasses. The sun really was hot today. He sipped cold water through a straw and rattled the ice cubes in the glass as he pondered his situation. Maybe he should consider leaving for Switzerland sooner rather than later. Not many people had wanted to talk to him today. Maybe he should take up that offer from Jules and Kris to travel with them in their van to —
A shadow announced a potential customer as a tall man settled into the seat next to him with a sigh.
Draco nearly swallowed his straw.
"P- P- Professor..."
Snape. It was Snape.
Draco panicked, but quietly, not moving. His wand; where was his wand? If he used a binding spell on Snape maybe he'd have time to make a run for it. He could — no, he couldn't go with Jules and Kris, now. They could be tracked. Maybe that was how Snape had found him, and Draco liked Jules and Kris. If he was found travelling with Muggles a Death Eater like Snape wouldn't think twice about turning them into kebabs just to keep them quiet.
"Would you believe it was Sybill Trelawney who found you?"
Snape sounded quite relaxed. Draco decided to play along while he analysed his options. The trouble was, there didn't seem to be any options left. Just one big, yawning abyss where he was enslaved to that maniac Voldemort. Draco couldn't breathe for thinking about it. His vision swam. Snape must have hexed him...
"Breathe, Draco." Snape sounded concerned. Well, sure. If Draco asphyxiated before anyone could get a Dark Mark on him, Voldemort would be pissed. Draco started to giggle at the thought of Voldemort throwing a hissy fit and stamping his feet.
"Really, Draco. Calm down. I realise Trelawney isn't exactly the sort you would turn to for aid in finding a missing person, but I can assure you that —"
"You're telling me that Trelawney is a Death Eater?"
Snape jerked back. "Draco —"
"No, no. It's okay. I know all about how you serve You-Know-Who. It's just that I can't see Trelawney on the side of evil, unless the Dark Lord has a sudden need for light relief. No pun intended."
"Everysing okay, Draco?"
Draco stilled; controlled himself. Breathed deep. "Fine, thanks, Michael." No way was he going to let Snape harm someone who had been so kind. "This is Professor Snape — one of my old teachers."
"Ja?" Michael's eyebrows rose as he looked at the tall, lanky figure of Snape, who was dressed casually in Muggle clothing of Levi's and a light silk shirt. "Of what did you teach?"
"Chemistry and physics," Snape replied smoothly. "Draco did extremely well. I was greatly disappointed when he transferred to another school."
"Oh yes. Draco is a smart boy. I see that when he talks to customers. He is enjoying his holiday here in our beautiful city, I think."
Snape nodded. "Pleased to hear it. He worked hard at school, he deserves to relax and not worry about exams for a change. It's good he's making friends here, too."
"Oh yes. Draco has made many friends. Such a good-natured young man, and so polite."
Draco didn't like the way Snape's eyebrows shot up under the greasy curtain of hair hanging over his eyes. "Ye-ess," said Snape, carefully keeping his face expressionless. "Could I have a latte please? And some strudel. Draco, what would you like?"
"Uh — lemon sorbét?"
Michael left. Draco could run now, but Snape might... question... Michael about Draco's activities. Michael didn't know much, but that wouldn't stop a Death Eater from "asking."
"Voldemort's dead, by the way," Snape said conversationally, as if talking about the weather.
"What? When? How?"
"About a week ago. He annoyed my Grandmother."
"Of course," Draco said faintly. "Grandmothers have the worst tempers. I remember how Granny Malfoy used to hex me with boils when I annoyed one of her cats."
Snape smiled slightly, his coal-black eyes glinting with the genuine, non-malicious humour that Draco had been one of the few to witness. "A little bit like that, Mr Malfoy, yes. Would it help you to know that Voldemort won't be returning from where Grandmother has put him?"
"God, yes!" Draco blurted out, before trying to regain some of that Slytherin subtlety he'd tried to learn from watching his Head of House. "That is to say..."
"Relax, Mr Malfoy." Snape leaned back in his chair and crossed his long legs at the ankles, looking with every inch of his lean, black-clad body as if he were enjoying the sun. "Your enthusiasm does you credit."
What the hell was that supposed to mean? Snape wasn't exactly renowned for making statements that could be taken at face value. "Especially given whose son I am?" Draco hazarded shrewdly. He knew his guess was spot-on when Snape narrowed his eyes.
"Not quite how I would have phrased it, but your upbringing was fairly... adamant, shall we say, regarding the philosophical pre-eminence of a certain Mr Riddle."
"Lucius was rather keen on me learning my catechisms."
"Quite. I expect he had you memorise the answers before you could ride a broom. And 'Lucius'? Not 'Daddy Dearest'?"
Draco couldn't help grinning. He had always enjoyed his favourite professor's cynical sense of humour. Then he reminded himself that his 'favourite professor' had been one of Voldemort's most valuable servants and re-schooled his face back to neutrality. It saddened him. In the beginning he had been delighted that Snape had been a good, personal friend of his father's; midway through the Durmstrang school year, with the obscene glories of Voldemort's obscene philosophies spouted by every brainless Homo sapiens truant, it had hit him like a bludger to the chest. Severus Snape, role model of sarcasm and cool austerity, was the Enemy.
At the time it had hurt him so badly that Draco had refused to think about it. Because of his admiration of the man it had taken him that much longer to finally decide that no, it wasn't Draco who was wrong, it was the world around him. Only two nights after that terrible morning when he had realised Severus Snape could be wrong, he had gathered together a small bag of belongings, some Muggle money he'd always kept secret for some unthinkable emergency, his wand and broom, and then Draco Malfoy, heir to one of the richest and most powerful families in the magical community, had quietly left Durmstrang and the Wizarding world.
Now, confronted by the living, breathing reality of the man he had once admired so much, Draco was suddenly very, very tired. So Snape had come to take him back to his father... Well, it could have been worse. Avery, Nott, one or — he shuddered — both of the Parkinsons, or that pervert Macnair would have been an insult bordering on a challenge.
If his father had sent Severus Snape then that, at least, showed that he had some vestiges of respect for his runaway offspring.
Satisfying, after a twisted fashion.
Much as Draco wanted to sit here and eat lemon sorbét, he knew in his heart that it would be a kindness to Michael to go with Snape now to ward off any violence. "So. It's hot out here today. Should we get sunburn or get going?"
"So eager to leave Munich? I've always found it to be a most charming city."
Draco shrugged. "I'd rather get it over and done with."
There was a brief pause, then Snape pulled his chair closer to the table, the metal rasping on the concrete pavement, and propped his elbows on the wooden surface. "Draco. What exactly do you believe my purpose here to be?"
Draco flushed angrily. Did Snape have to pretend he was an idiot, too? "You don't need to play games, Professor. We both know my father sent you."
"How many fathers do I have?"
Snape blinked, his expression closing in on itself as he sat back. "Draco. Let me expressly assure you that Lucius Malfoy did not send me here. I am here for no-one else's benefit than your own."
"Let me guess... I was sorted into Slytherin so you have a moral duty to be my guardian angel. Please, Professor. Don't insult my intelligence."
"Don't you dare take that tone with me, young Mr Malfoy."
"S-sorry, sir," Draco stammered, reduced in a picosecond by that whiplash voice to the status of a first year caught putting the wrong ingredients into his neighbour's cauldron.
"Understand this: When you were sorted into Slytherin you were given into my custody. So yes, I have a moral duty to care for your welfare. I'm hardly a textbook example of a guardian angel, but I take my responsibilities seriously. I had heard of your disappearance. It concerned me. When Professor Trelawney reported seeing you I took the opportunity to track you down to verify and maintain your safety. No-one connected in the slightest with He-Who-Must-Be-Dead sent me. I came of my own volition. Am I clear?"
Draco wasn't sure. He so desperately wanted to be sure that Snape wasn't the enemy, but the idea of admitting the man was a friend made him feel ill with nerves.
Perhaps Snape sensed this and, in a strange move for him, took pity on the boy. "Draco," he said more softly, "I'm not a Death Eater. Once I was and it was a terrible, terrible mistake I'm still paying for. But I realised my mistake. I turned myself in to Dumbledore, who, instead of sending me to Azkaban as I deserved, enlisted me as a double agent instead. I've spent longer than you've been alive spying on people like Lucius Malfoy and his associates." He unbuttoned the cuff of his left shirt sleeve and began rolling it up. Draco watched, entranced. He'd seen the Dark Mark on other people, his father being the stand-out memory, and he couldn't believe that Severus Snape of all people would be so casually baring the sign of his nefarious allegiance in the hot sun outside a Muggle café.
Snape slowly rolled up the black silk.
Surely Voldemort hadn't branded his followers so high in the forearm, Draco thought. His father's Mark had been lower towards the wrist. It took a moment until he realised what Snape was really showing him.
The Dark Mark was gone. Draco reached out tentatively. When Snape didn't bite, he touched the skin. It was winter-pale and smooth, just like an ordinary arm. He prodded at the space where a skull with a snake should be. "There's nothing there," he said wonderingly.
Snape smiled and leaned back again, rolling his sleeve down. "Voldemort is gone," he said, carefully and quietly enunciating each word.
Lights were going off in front of Draco's eyes. "It's over?" he asked. "I don't have to...? I don't have to...?"
"You don't have to be anyone you don't want to be."
Draco shot him a look of pure astonishment. Yes. Those were the words he had been trying to find. "So I don't have to go with you?"
"You won't force me to go back to Hogwarts?"
"No. I will, however, attempt to reason with you as to why Hogwarts is a good place to be. Ah, thank you," he added to Michael, as the café owner brought out the latte and sorbét. "No, nothing else just yet. And I mean reason, Draco, not force," he began once they were alone again. "I think you've had enough of people beating the rules into you."
Draco didn't ask how he knew about that.
"Besides, it's terribly bad manners to abduct people," Snape added, sipping primly at his coffee.
"All right. I'll ask the obvious question: Why is Hogwarts a good place for me to be?"
"Two points to Slytherin, Mr Malfoy, for knowing the correct question. I will answer it in turn with a question of my own: When was the last time you saw your father?"
Draco looked away. As with any mention of Lucius the day clouded over. It should have made things cooler but instead he felt stifled. "I don't know," he muttered. "Not long enough."
"Do you think he would have stopped looking for you?"
"Do you think he will find you?"
"Yes. Lucius is a very determined man when he sets his mind on something, and now that Voldemort is dead reclaiming you would be his pet project. As there are no students but most of the staff you can be protected at Hogwarts."
"Will you be there?"
Snape paused, then grimaced. "Damn. I forgot to add that there will be one student — Harry Potter has managed to remain over the summer."
"Lucius is starting to sound good..."
"Don't even joke about it, Draco." But Snape was smiling.
Draco sighed and picked at his sorbét. It really was very good. And Hogwarts should be cool, even at this time of year. "When do we leave?"
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