Chapter Three: "This Is My Husband"
Dinner that evening was an interesting affair. Draco had never seen a woman spit like a cat but when Professor Trelawney ventured too close to Snape Helen bared her teeth and hissed.
Trelawney backed away hurriedly, bangles jingling. Trailing scarves and the heavy scent of incense that still made Draco sneeze, the Divinations teacher scuttled away like a distressed stick-insect.
With a squeak of laughter Professor Flitwick slipped off his chair. Professors McGonagall and Vector hid smiles behind their hands and Sirius Black (Sirius Black! What is he doing here? ... And sitting next to Harry Potter of all people?) hooted with laughter.
Potter, Lupin, Professors Dumbledore and Sinistra, Madams Hooch and Pomfrey, as well as Hagrid (whom Draco had been avoiding), all very carefully did not laugh. Draco wondered if they knew something he didn't.
He found out as Helen Snape stood up to glare at Black.
"So you think it's funny when a woman defends her husband?" She planted her hands on her hips and her voice took on a silky tone she must have learned from said husband. "What about when a woman defends her brother, Mr Black? You must remember that one... unless you ended up too concussed to remember. I'm sure your nose remembers. Don't you think Rona taught me a few tricks?"
Black mumbled something about women defending Snape needing their heads read, and received two elbows in the ribs — one from Potter and one from the werewolf.
Helen rested her knuckles on the table and levelled a stare at Black over Dumbledore's silver-maned head. "Want to say that again, dog-breath? No? Lucky for you. Why don't you go outside and find a nice piece of road kill to eat — or maybe just to roll in. Dogs like you love rolling in stinky old dead hedgehogs — the older and the flatter and the mankier the better. Leave eating inside for the civilised humans."
That effectively silenced Black. And the rest of the table.
The "civilised humans" seemed to be preoccupied with finding their stomachs again; all of them barring Dumbledore and Snape (who had been calmly eating their lamb chops and garden salad through Helen's entire outburst) having turned a little green at the mention of road kill.
Helen sat down again, having made her point to her satisfaction. "Well," she said brightly to Draco. "Lamb chops. Isn't this nice. When I was a kea I was never allowed to eat sheep. Some of the other keas did, though. Nasty business."
"Oh?" asked Draco, ignoring Potter's warning head-shake. "Why?"
Potter glared at him.
"Well," said Helen, "some of the older black-beaks knew that in the winter there was good eating on a sheep. What they would do was fly onto the back of a sheep and hang on to the wool with their claws. Then they'd either drive the stupid mammal over a cliff or just wait until it exhausted itself and the old bird could start pulling the wool back over the kidneys. The fat layer over the kidney, you see, is especially tasty. So once you'd pulled the wool back you would need to start digging with your beak. It's a fairly quick business as sheep don't have very tough skin — not compared to a kea's beak, anyway," she added proudly. "So once you've dug through the first layer and found the nice, warm flesh it's all good pickings from there on in. I remember seeing sheep with their intestines pulled out in big pink loops. A bit like Professor McGonagall's spaghetti bolognase, I recall," she added contemplatively.
Professor McGonagall, whom Draco could have sworn wasn't listening, stood up and, claiming urgent business, hurried out of the Hall with one hand clamped over her mouth.
Helen continued, apparently oblivious to the change in dinner companions. "Keas being keas, as soon as they see something that looks like it could be fun in a game of tug-of-war, they immediately start pulling on it to see how far it can go. Ropes, shoelaces, balls of wool, intestines... it's like picking at a loose thread. Once you start you can't stop until you've reached the end. Or unravelled the entire jersey."
"Maman will knit me a new one," Snape said, unruffled. He helped himself to another piece of lamb and began to pour himself another cup of tea.
"Let me do that," purred Helen, taking the teapot from him. "More tea for you, too, Draco? Headmaster?" She poured more tea for Dumbledore, but Draco shook his head, knowing from experience that if he had too much tea he wouldn't be able to sleep. "Anyway. Where was I? Oh yes. Intestines. So once the intestines have been pulled out the sheep normally dies of shock or blood-loss or something. That's when all the young keas who've been watching Old Man Blackbeak deal to the woolly mammal come in and start to feast on the raw meat."
"And does this happen often?" queried Dumbledore. Someone down-table (Black?) groaned: "Headmaster..."
"Oh, no," said Helen sanctimoniously. "Usually only in winter. And not very often. The normal diet is roots and grasses and various fruits and other bits of trees. Insects, too. Sometimes some keas manage to dig out a baby bird that has its nest in a hole, but usually we don't eat much meat. And of course as soon as some human sees that his sheep has been eaten by keas he gets upset and puts down poison for the culprit. Forgetting, of course, that the keas' natural habitat has been greatly reduced by the sheep that were introduced to New Zealand in blatant disregard of the rights of the indigenous species. But I suppose all the farmer can see is that one of his flock has had its intestines pulled out through a hole in its back. It must be hard to see the grand scheme of things when an animal under your care is trailing its kidneys behind it. Speaking of which," she added brightly, "would you care for more kidneys, Professor Flitwick?"
The tiny professor shook his head, not daring to speak.
"But how come you never did this?" asked Draco. "I mean, if you were a bird you wouldn't have had any, um, moral compunctions that stop you from doing that kind of behaviour."
"I didn't. But by the time I was old enough to think abut that kind of behaviour I'd met Severus. Somehow he must have taught me that you shouldn't be mean to living creatures." She smiled adoringly at her husband. "He's very gentle and kind."
No-one, not even Sirius Black, dared so much as snicker.
Helen had made her point.
Draco thought he saw her smile as she picked up knife and fork again. "Well," she repeated with satisfaction. "Isn't this nice."
Trelawney made an appearance later over dessert, ostensibly to reassure Helen that she had absolutely no designs on the ex-kea's husband but, as Draco guessed, in reality to indulge in the sweet pavlova topped with fresh kiwifruit the house elves had whipped up in Helen's honour.
"You misunderstand my motivations," the Divinations teacher tried to explain mistily, eyes unfocussed behind her huge glasses. She still smelled of too much incense, and Draco's experiences with Muggles had taught him to recognise a particularly pungent herbal smell. No wonder the woman was always starving for sweets! And no wonder she had always seemed so out-of-it during Divinations. She was.
"I merely needed to brush past Severus' aura in order to ascertain what the astral planes have designated for his future," continued Trelawney, unphased by the suspicious way Helen crossed her arms. "We who are tuned into the higher planes of the spirit disdain what you more earthly types see as important. Mine is a lonely task," she added loftily, managing not to notice the way Vector rolled her eyes. Her mystical gaze did, however, become considerably sharper when Dumbledore served himself the next-to-last piece of pavlova, and, obviously trying not to appear greedy, she slipped the last piece onto her plate which was already overflowing with fruit, jelly, whipped cream and pavlova.
Draco wasn't feeling happy, either. He'd only had one piece to Trelawney's four. Oh well; the house elves had been well-warned about his new predilection for cold desserts, and a fresh dish of strawberry sorbét appeared at his elbow.
Trelawney continued, oblivious to Helen's narrowing stare. "Let me part the veil of mystery for you, my dear. The future reveals itself to my eye."
Dabbing at his mouth with a napkin, Snape frowned. "I think Helen is quite happy discovering the future for herself, thank you, Sybill."
He received a misty smile for his troubles. "Thank you, Severus, but I believe this is a matter to be discussed between women."
"Why?" snapped Helen. "Are you about to tell me I'm not going to have children, or something?"
Trelawney's mouth thinned. Draco had never thought her capable of malice, but maybe there was something in Helen's idea that she'd been interested in Snape. He didn't like the way the thin woman's eyes glittered. "These things should be discussed in private, my dear; but if it's any consolation a woman is so much more than breeding stock."
There was a brief scuffle that involved whipped cream.
Draco and Snape were quick enough to stop Helen from blacking Trelawney's eye, but somehow Draco doubted the Divinations teacher had foreseen how she would be wearing her own dessert.
Trelawney sat there, mouth opening and shutting silently as cream slid down her face. By some fluke, two round slices of kiwifruit lodged themselves behind her glasses, giving her a cartoonish look of surprise.
The first sound heard in the stunned silence was Snape's rusty laugh. "That's taking beauty therapy a little far, I think, Sybill. You should be able to buy something more appropriate in Hogsmeade."
"I..." Trelawney shook her head, sending the bowl and dessert-shrapnel flying. "How dare you?" she gasped. Her chair scaped on the flagstones as she pushed it back and stood. "You... you animal!"
"Animal I may be," Helen growled back, standing up to confront her tall opponent, "but at least I'm not a bitch. And how dare you imply that I won't be having any children?" Helen's voice rose shrilly "Do you have any idea what it's like to spend your life knowing that you have a mate, but still producing nothing but sterile eggs? Perhaps I was an animal, but I was a canny one and one with deep-felt emotions. And I remember what it was like, year after year, to yearn for a family and produce nothing but sterile imperfection. How dare you play on my emotions like that?" Helen was shaking, she was so upset.
Snape stood to wrap his arm around her shoulders, and she buried her head against his chest, still trembling. For a few heartbeats his heavy robes concealed her from the stunned diners. When she straightened she had to wipe her eyes but her face was calmer. She seemed to draw strength off her husband. "I'm sorry, Albus," she said in a meek voice. "I seem to be a little overwrought this evening."
Dumbledore reached out and took her hand. "Think nothing of it, my dear. It's only been a little over two weeks since Voldemort killed you for defending Harry, Chad, and Severus. And to think that you were immediately afterwards thrown into a human existence... it must have been terribly traumatic." His blue eyes twinkled kindly. "I think one of the heroes of Voldemort's defeat has earned the right to feel a little strained by all the excitement."
She smiled at him fondly. "You are kind. Severus chose well when he decided to work for you." She reached over and wiped a dollop of cream off his whiskers. "And Maman was right — you are a sweetie. See? You've been served up for dessert."
Dumbledore patted her hand. "I'll have the house elves send up some cocoa."
He raised his shaggy eyebrows in mock-surprise. "Is there any other kind?"
She was escorted out the door by Snape. Draco felt very uncomfortable sitting at the staff table without any supporters, so was pleased to see Snape return within seconds. "Draco, see Helen back up to Slytherin Tower. I'd best see Professor Trelawney home. Headmaster, I should see you soon about tomorrow's trial."
"Of course, Severus," said Dumbledore. "I'll be up in my rooms. You know the password."
Draco scampered out while Trelawney was still protesting that she didn't need any help, thank you very much.
Snape replied that it would be unmannerly if he didn't walk her back to her rooms.
Trelawney fluttered words of denial.
A familiar set line to his thin lips, Snape insisted.
Draco grinned to himself. He'd love to be an Animagus fly on the wall when the Professor got that daft bat alone. He took the stairs two at a time, and soon caught up to Helen, who was talking to one of the portraits.
"Hello," said Draco. "Professor Snape asked me to go back with you."
Helen smiled at him a little sadly. As she reached out to tuck a strand of his inclined-to-fluff hair back behind his ear, she said, "It's not necessary. I was just being silly in there. I'm not doing very well at this whole Homo sapiens lark."
The wizard in the painting tut-tutted sympathetically "Neither did I at first, my dear. But it gets easier."
Draco tucked his arm through hers and gave her his best grin. He'd practised it in the mirror until the mirror had told him it was perfect. "You weren't being silly at all. I'm just sorry we stopped you from punching out that ghastly creature. I bet she didn't look in her crystal ball and see that she'd end up wearing her own dessert."
Helen winced. "What she said..."
Draco gave her arm a squeeze. "I think she's made about two correct predictions in her entire life. She's just a big drama queen — I bet she knows she's just a big phoney and thinks that if she acts all mysterious then no-one will notice. A couple of years ago she kept predicting Potter's death. He doesn't look too bad for a dead person — maybe the embalming fluid they used on him was some extra-amazing stuff so he doesn't get too smelly now that he's a corpse."
Helen wrinkled her nose and laughed. "Ick. That's so disgusting. Poor Harry."
"Hey, you were the one who brought up road kill over dinner. The looks on their faces... I thought I was going to rupture myself trying not to laugh. Come on — didn't Dumbledore say he was going to send up some hot chocolate?"
"All the more reason to get home."
Helen truly had a lovely smile. As they walked up the stairs Draco thought that at least he'd done something right today.
Had it really been such a long day? Draco was exhausted. So exhausted, in fact that he found himself dozing off on the couch while talking to Mrs Snape.
Mrs Snape... Helen... he'd never thought that the antisocial Potions master would marry. He'd seemed so involved with his work that it had verged on the impossible that he would ever settle down. But here, talking to the living, breathing reality of a Mrs Snape, Draco found it almost natural. Helen was so off-guard around Draco that he responded in kind and found himself warming to her like he'd never done with anyone else. He told her things that he'd never even told his own mother, like the invisible friends he'd made for himself when he was six... Helen had even asked what their names had been and if they'd liked chocolate. His mother would have sent him off for therapy.
So when he fell asleep it seemed the most natural thing in the world to cuddle up next to her and rest his head on her breast. She didn't object. In fact she put her arms around him and tucked him up close along her body so that he was perfectly comfortable.
Funny, Draco thought as he drifted through that strange place between sleep and consciousness, how he'd suddenly become very fascinated by women's bosoms in the last few years, and now that he was face to ... um... well, not face with them, he realised how hugely underrated they were as a pillow.
There was the quiet noise of the door opening and closing. Oh dear. I hope Professor Snape doesn't think I've got designs on his wife. Worse — I hope he doesn't tell me to move.
But Helen's fingers were gently sifting — preening, was the word that came to mind — through his hair and he felt like he was floating in a place where he didn't have to think and he certainly didn't have to worry. Everything was fine. Maybe he should wake up properly and say hello to Professor Snape?
No, he was still too far into sleep for that.
The world came to him in waves and bursts as he drifted. He became aware that Snape was crouched next to the couch and Helen was whispering to her husband.
"...asleep. He's had a long day, poor boy. Don't wake him."
"He has a bed, you know." Snape.
He heard Helen's chuckle resonate through her chest. What a nice sound. "I know, but I'm selfish. Tomorrow I'll ask Dumbledore if we can keep this one."
"You know you can't just take someone else's child."
"His parents are bad people. You told me about his father. Yuck. And his mother's appalling, from the little he's said about her."
"He said that?"
"No, and I doubt he would. He only mentioned a few things in passing but I'm not completely unaware of what makes up good and bad mothers. Narcissa is nothing like Rona and I'd do much better than her."
"Yes, you would, but it still doesn't mean we can keep him," Snape said patiently. "I talked to Trelawney."
And? Draco wondered.
"And she's not going to bother you again. Not unless she wants some industrial-strength hallucinations. I threatened to spike her incense with sumotoad secretions."
"That was sweet of you."
She sounded completely sincere, too. How many women took sumotoad secretions as proof of their husband's undying love for them?
"Anything for my wife."
There was the noise of a brief kiss.
"Do you have to go away tomorrow?" Helen, sounding unhappy.
"Regretfully, yes. I give my evidence at the trial tomorrow morning."
"Then Draco and Harry and I will come into London with you."
"Don't give me that look, Severus. You're so smart I'm sure you can work out some sort of concealing spell or potion for me and the boys."
A strangulated pause. Then:
"That was below the belt."
Draco couldn't help laughing. Snape sounded so...
"Are you awake, Mr Malfoy?" Snape sounded a bit peeved, actually.
Was Draco awake? "M'n'gh."
"Hush, Sev. He's only half-awake." Helen was smoothing his hair again, and he dozed off to the sounds of Snape moving away and over to the bookshelf.
It could have been hours or minutes later that Draco rose again into that light doze and realised that Snape and Helen were talking again.
"... don't have to find out tonight. There's time to ..." said Snape's husky baritone.
"We do. I need to know for sure." That was Helen's voice, its tone firm with an undercurrent of desperation. Draco snuggled closer, wanting her to be happy.
"... to bed, first, then..."
"...comfortable... him sleep and say the spell quietly so that..."
"... and if the powder turns blue..."
"Which it just has... Helen, I believe congratulations are in order."
What was happening? Helen seemed to be crying; her chest was heaving under Draco's cheek. Bad news?
Draco opened one eye.
The room was dim. In the thin, amber light Snape was kneeling beside the couch and only because he was so close could Draco make out that his expression was absolutely blank. Slowly the man reached out, and placed his hand flat on Helen's lower abdomen.
There was a faint blue glitter that sparkled between his long, splayed fingers.
Pretty, thought Draco muzzily. The sparkles were hypnotic.
"Thus the emotional strain you've been under lately, my love. Your hormones are readjusting to cope with our baby."
Again that bitten-off sob from Helen. But this time Draco realised what it was: not grief, but joy.
Helen was pregnant.
He felt himself hugged tighter as she sought to express her boundless happiness, and she kissed the top of his head. "Severus...?"
"Yes." If Draco hadn't seen it he wouldn't have believed it. Snape's face, first so carefully blank, dissolved into a look so rapturous that he seemed to be transformed. "Yes," he said again, the eloquent Potions master seemingly incapable of any other word.
Draco found himself pushed further down the couch as Helen moved to make room for her husband. Snape squeezed in at the end of the couch, draping an arm around his wife to rest his hand on Draco's shoulder.
Wow. Draco was snuggled up next to a pregnant woman. He wasn't sure how he felt about that. It was really... strange. Weird. Kind of bizarre in an organic way.
And utterly amazing.
Helen and Snape were going to have a baby.
They were so happy. Why hadn't Snape kicked Draco off the couch and told him to bugger off to his own room? This business with Helen was none of Draco's business. Shouldn't Helen have pushed Draco away and started discussing the latest plans for a shopping spree extravaganza with her husband? They hadn't done that. Instead Helen had hugged him tighter as if she wanted to share her joy with him. Maybe she didn't want to wake him, but Draco would put Galleons on Snape's being able to levitate Draco away to where he was supposed to be without waking him.
At the edge of hearing was Helen's heartbeat. Snape's hand felt comfortable on his shoulder.
In fact Draco couldn't ever remember feeling so comfortable. No... comfortable wasn't quite the word. Safe didn't cover it either. Wanted? Nope; more than "wanted." Whatever the word was, Draco couldn't think of it. Maybe there was no word for how he felt. He simply knew that wherever he was, it was a good place to be.
As he finally fell into a deep sleep, he thought; Trelawney really sucks at prognostication.
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