Chapter Two: Warm
Hogwarts wasn't much of an improvement on Munich weatherwise, Draco decided within moments of Portkeying to the gates flanked by statues of winged boars. Walking up the road alongside his former Potions master gave him a strange sense of déja vù at first, but the oppressive summer that smothered all of Europe up to and including Scotland soon made him concentrate on the more mundane feeling of needing a cold drink.
Snape seemed to have shrunk, or maybe it was just that he himself had shot up in the past year, Draco mused. Hopefully the latter – he hadn't wanted to be a weedy little shrimp like Potter all his life. Although he wasn't anywhere near as tall as Snape (and was unlikely ever to be), Draco estimated he now stood at least as tall as the man's chin. This minor satisfaction put a bounce into his step as they strode up the steps and through the wide-open main doors.
That small contentment dissolved as soon as they walked up the stairs from the Entrance Hall and entered the Great Hall. Damn. Why does the first person I see here have to be him?
Harry Potter was sitting at the end of one of the long tables, talking to a short-haired woman Draco had never seen before. Otherwise, the Hall was empty, a fact Draco didn't regret. Damn. Of all the people in the world, why did he have to run into Potter? Bad enough that he'd abandoned his birthright, the Malfoy name and – worst of all – the Malfoy fortune, but he wasn't quite ready to confront Potter over it. Potter must have been over the moon when he'd found out Draco had run away.
He edged a little closer to Snape, knowing that if there was one person in the world who hated Potter more than Draco did, it was Snape, and the man could strip paint from three furlongs with his sarcasm.
Potter looked up as they entered, and the woman, seeing that something had caught her friend's attention, looked around.
The most radiant smile lit up her face and the entire Hall as she stood and almost danced over towards Draco and Snape.
"You're back," she exclaimed. "You were gone forever!"
To Draco's amazement she rushed forwards and flung her arms around the Potions master. He stepped back, half expecting her to combust with the heat of Snape's displeasure.
The astonishments only kept piling up on each other as Snape hugged her back and kissed the top of her head. "Sorry, Helen, my love. But you get good coffee in Munich."
This Helen person snorted a most Snape-like snort of disgust. "You and your coffee. It tastes abominable."
"'Abominable'? Have you been practising new words?"
"Yes. Harry-chick's been helping me. I learned 'abominable' just for you."
Snape blinked slowly. "I'm flattered."
"Yes. Harry said you'd like that one. It's so good to see him again, Sev. Let's take him home with us."
Draco very carefully didn't snigger at the twin looks of horror from Snape and Potter.
"I'm afraid," Snape said cautiously, "that Mr Potter has important business on this side of the world. Besides," he added as Helen frowned and opened her mouth to argue, "he would want to bring his owl with him, and you and Hedwig are none too fond of each other."
Snape looked over her head and nodded as Potter mimed wiping his brow with relief.
"What about if I promise not to fight with Hedwig? After all, I'm a human now, so I can take the higher moral ground over an owl which is just an animal and incapable of the degree of introspection that separates we humans from animals."
Snape put his hands on her shoulders and held her at arms length. Not taking his eyes off her, he said: "Mr Potter, would you like to tell me just what she has been reading in the short time I have been gone?"
Potter shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "She found some of the books Hermione lent me, sir."
Before Snape could let loose the snarl he was preparing, Helen batted away his hands. "Are you trying to say that I can't read what I like? Are you censoring me? Fascist bully boy!"
With a ferocious glare at the squirming Harry, who looked like he wished he were at the top of the Astronomy Tower or even the middle of the Forbidden Forest, Snape grabbed Helen by the wrist and dragged her out a side door. There was one last: "Ow! My sovereign rights as an individual are being infringed! Harry! Call Amnesty International! Call the United Nations! Call Oprah Winfrey! Ow — get your hands off me, you, you... you infringer of human rights, you!"
As they disappeared out the door there was a yelp from Snape. "Humans, and by 'humans' I mean all hominids of different species, cultures and origins, humans don't bite!"
"Well, I only bite abominable fascist censors!"
The Great Hall resounded with the slam of the door.
Draco stared at it for a few long seconds. Talking to Scar-Head wasn't his ideal choice for information, but Draco's curiosity always had been greater than was good for him. "Who... or what was that?"
Potter straightened his glasses. "That was Helen. I only hope there's not about to be a divorce," he added worriedly. "They argue quite a lot."
It took a moment to sink in.
"Divorce? But... but... but that would mean Professor Snape got married. When did this happen?" And, unspoken, was the disappointment that he'd missed the wedding. Snape didn't have a family, so wouldn't he have wanted Draco to be the ring-bearer or some-such? Obviously Draco was too young to be Best Man — and as a student it would have been improper — but he'd have thought Snape would at least have told him that he was getting married. Maybe he wasn't as important to Snape as he'd thought. Maybe Snape had only ever been nice to him as part of his duties as a double agent; favouring Draco to make it look like he was a friend to Lucius Malfoy.
Maybe even Snape had never really cared for him.
That hurt so much he almost didn't notice that Potter was talking to him. "Sorry? What were you saying?"
Potter frowned, possibly at the idea of a Malfoy saying 'sorry.' Draco reflected that the Muggle world had taught him a few useful things, one of which being that an apology, even if insincere, was a useful tool.
"I was saying that they've only been married two weeks now, and spend all of their time either fighting or making-up."
Potter dared to give him a supercilious look. "'Making-up,' Malfoy. Think about it."
Draco did. Eeyew.
It was like thinking of your parents... Doing It. He shared a brief and unique look of complete understanding with Potter. "They are... um... discrete about it?"
"More discrete than their arguments, thank Merlin," Potter said with undisguised relief. "When they're mad at each other — about once every ten minutes on average — you can be up in Gryffindor Tower and hear them shouting from the dungeons. It's driving the other teachers crackers. Well, except for Professor Sprout. She goes out to the glasshouses and puts on her earmuffs. Even Headmaster Dumbledore got worried the first evening they were here for dinner when they started throwing food at each other." He grinned at the memory. "Prof. McGonagall told them to behave or she'd send them to bed without supper. Helen said that was okay with her if it meant she got to spend more time in bed with her husband... The look on old McGonagall's face at that was worth all the Galleons in Gringott's."
Snape in a food-fight? Oh, to think he'd missed seeing that. "They fight all the time except when they're making up?" Draco smirked. "Sounds like Professor Snape's found his soul mate."
Potter smiled. "You're probably right."
Draco sat down in the seat Helen had vacated and reached for the goblet of pumpkin juice that appeared at his elbow. "So. What's been happening? I hear Voldemort's finally turned in his wand for good."
Potter gave him an appraising look. "I'll swap you stories. Where have you been the last month or so?"
Draco wrinkled his brow, trying to recall what little exo-European geography he had learned. "Is that part of Scandinavia or Australia?"
A superior grin from Potter. Smug bastard. Draco held his tongue.
"Neither, although you were closer with 'Australia'. It's an island chain in the South Pacific Ocean. Not too bad, although it's winter there at the moment and pretty much all I saw was farmland and snow."
Sounded like paradise to Draco. "Munich's just the same as ever."
"I've never been." Potter sounded almost wistful. Draco relented and added some details about the city; starting with the heat and moving on to the old buildings he had visited, and then talking a little about some of the people he had met."
Draco shrugged. "Some of them are really nice. I was going to catch a lift up to Austria with a couple of them but Professor Snape said I should come here instead. They had this weird contraption called a 'van,' which is a sort of Muggle transport device that stops working every few miles. The van I saw could have been magic — some of the incantations Kris used to get it working again were pretty colourful. I never knew Muggles were so imaginative when it came to insults."
"So you got something out of your stay in the Muggle world, then?" Potter asked with a grin.
"Don't look so smug, Potter. I've never heard you say anything nice about your Muggle relatives."
"Only because there's nothing nice to say about them. I've met other Muggles who are really nice. Hermione's parents, for example."
Draco just knew he was waiting for him to say something about Mudbloods. "I thought they were dentists. You need a certain amount of sadism to be a dentist."
There. He'd said something nasty, but not directly about Granger. Potter'd have to change the subject now, Draco would bet his last Galleon — if he'd had any left — on it.
"So have you come back because of Voldemort?"
Yes. Damn, but I'm good. "No, I came back because the Professor asked me to."
"You never said why you left."
"No, I didn't, did I."
Draco smiled inwardly. Potter was getting annoyed, but trying to keep his patience. It might be interesting to see just how far he could push Potter's patience before it snapped. Maybe later. "I suppose everyone thought I'd run off to join up with Voldemort."
"A lot of people did."
"I thought that if you were going to become a Death Eater you could've done that from Durmstrang. I was under the impression that it was a big machine set up to crank out junior Death Eaters."
"It is. Was." Draco shook his head. "Was while I was there, anyway. Now?" He shrugged. "They could be knitting socks for the poor people in Outer Mongolia for all I know."
"So why didn't you stay? I would've thought you'd be happy to be there."
Like he was going to give Harry Potter the satisfaction of knowing that he'd been right about Voldemort. Potter didn't need any extra food for his big fat ego, and Draco as a Slytherin would be damned before he let a Gryffindor feel like he was the moral majority. Draco only hoped he wasn't displaying any of the annoyance he felt. It looked like the competition was going to be over who lost their temper first. Ah, happy memories, he thought sourly, remembering how it had felt to be turned into a ferret and bounced around this very room. Well, there was no Mad-Eye Moody to protect the darling of the Wizarding world this time. "It was boring. And weren't you going to tell me what you got up to in New Zealand?" he drawled.
If he was annoyed by the deflection, Potter didn't show it. In his mind Draco reluctantly chalked him up one point. "Not much. Portkeyed down. Snape picked me up and drove me up to the mountains. I met some of his family, rode a pooka, met an elemental guardian of death who just happens to be Snape's great-great-and-then-some grandmother, learned to snowboard, saw a dead parrot get turned into a live, naked woman, and saw Voldemort get what was coming to him." He took a deep drink of pumpkin juice. "That's all."
Draco leaned forward eagerly, all thoughts of rivalry forgotten in his excitement.
"You learned to snowboard?"
It was bizarre, Draco mused later as he wandered up the stairs to Slytherin Tower in the company of Professor Snape and Helen — or should he be calling her Mrs Snape? — the way that two people who hated each other's guts could sit down and talk sports as if they were bosom buddies. For a short time he had actually found Potter's company enjoyable without needing to indulge in the familiar cut-and-thrust of their rivalry.
Living with Muggles has made me soft. But he didn't feel anger, and neither did he hear an echo of his father's voice in the thought. By easing up on the other boy he'd actually obtained some good information. Plus, without Weasley and the Granger Mudblood, Potter forgot his holier-than-thou attitude and became almost interesting. Draco had even found himself smiling and, after one of Potter's stories about Helen-the-kea, laughing out loud. By the time Snape and Helen had returned arm in arm he'd heard all about Potter's adventures among the colonials without having had to tell Potter the real reason he'd run away from Durmstrang.
Five minutes of being nice after years of being an absolute bastard had just paid off.
It wasn't often Draco had ventured up into Slytherin Tower. It was rumoured that Snape had living quarters up there, but had chosen to renovate rooms for himself in the Dungeons instead, a more fitting living area given his sombre disposition and the Dungeons' propinquity to his students and teaching laboratories. The Tower was, like all the towers of Hogwarts, airy and well-lit during the daytime. It was also warmer than the Dungeons, unfortunately. Draco was already beginning to sweat. He promised himself a nice, cold bath as soon as he was settled into his new rooms.
"Here we are," said Helen, bouncing through the wooden door Snape held open for her. "Home sweet home, although don't expect me to start cross-stitching any samplers with some motto that's so old it's got grey hairs on its grey hairs." She skipped into the centre of the room and spun around gracefully on the Turkish rug there, flinging her arms wide.
In that moment Draco could imagine her as a bird.
"Well, Draco-chick; don't just stand there gawping like a great gawper, come in!"
Yes, definitely a parrot. One of his mother's cousins had had one that swore like a hedge-wizard. Helen's insults needed work. Doubtless Snape would help with that. "Are these your rooms now, sir?" he asked Snape.
The Professor was cut off by his wife, who skipped over and took Draco by the hand and dragged him into the room. "Ours, Draco," she said firmly, her strange, dark-honey eyes glowing happily. "His and mine and yours, now, too. Isn't that wonderful?"
Draco looked askance at his Head of House, who shrugged. "Helen has decided to kidnap you. She tried to kidnap Potter..."
"Harry," interrupted Helen.
"... Potter; but the Headmaster, in his infinite wisdom, decided that it would be best for everyone involved if Potter stayed at Hogwarts."
Helen sniffed. "No wonder Rona doesn't like Dumbledore. He's selfish."
Rona... Rona... Oh yes, that was right. Potter had said something about Snape having a foster sister called Rona.
"And you are still learning what is and is not permissible in the human world. And," Snape added thoughtfully, as Helen threw Draco's bag onto the couch and sat down next to it with a sulky thump, "you would still be learning to regulate your caffeine intake. How many cups of chocolate have you had today?"
Helen folded her arms and glared at her husband, who was watching her mildly. "Less than yesterday."
"Given that yesterday you made yourself sick, strangely I find I am not reassured." He sighed and ushered Draco over to the couch. He then took a seat in an armchair opposite. "Well, Draco. Helen has decided that you should stay in the Slytherin Head of House's personal quarters with us. Merlin knows but there's enough space, but do you want somewhere a little more private? Hush, Helen. The boy's sixteen now. Let him make up his own mind."
Personal space would be nice, but Draco had had enough of being on his own. This was the first time he'd had a chance to spend much time with Professor Snape other than in the student-teacher role, and now that he was recovering from the almost shocking discovery that his favourite teacher was not, after all, the enemy, Draco wanted to make the most of the opportunity.
There were so many questions he wanted to ask the man. When had he decided to turn on Voldemort? Why? What had it been like to be a spy? What were his personal feeling on Lucius Malfoy?
And the most important question of all was: Did he think Draco was more than the sum of his parents?
Draco wondered where that thought had come from. What could Snape know about Draco that Draco didn't already know?
Something tickled at the back of his mind. It was that little sleeping voice which stirred sometimes, turned over, yawned, and said: What do you think you're doing, Draco? and would then go back to sleep.
Now that little voice had stirred again. It was saying that Professor Snape might be able to help with Draco's identity crisis (Oh for Merlin's sake. I'm having an identity crisis? That's such a cliché!).
Helen nudged his leg with her toe. "Please say you'll stay, Draco. Sev's told me so much about you and I'd love to get to know you."
She had such gentle sincerity in her voice that Draco, to his shame, had to blink back tears. He hoped Professor Snape hadn't notice his weakness. That there was someone who actually wanted to know him for himself rather than as the Malfoy heir was a novelty he hadn't known before he'd left Durmstrang.
To think he'd found acceptance among Muggles and some woman who up until recently had been an alpine parrot.
"Sir? Are you sure it wouldn't be an imposition?"
"It would make my wife very happy."
But would it make Snape happy? That fathomless black gaze held no invitation, only secrets. "Then if you don't mind I'd like to stay." Despite the stifling heat. Just to have Helen look at him and see someone real.
Snape smiled and Draco let out his breath in relief. Professor Snape had never bothered to hide his displeasure. A genuine smile from Snape was as good as a ticker-tape parade welcoming home a hero.
"Where shall I put my things?"
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