Chapter Eight: Cold
"Are we there yet?"
The miles rolled past.
"Are we there yet?"
Really, thought Draco muzzily, Snape was being remarkably patient, even if Helen was his wife. She had been asking this question every quarter-hour on the dot. It seemed that the indomitable Helen had one weakness — she didn't like the dark.
Draco leaned against the window and looked out at the night. So far what he'd seen of New Zealand hadn't been much. A railway track. An empty shelter. Some grass. Ice. But there had been a freezing wind that whirled around him in greeting and carried exciting scents of snow and frozen earth.
They had left Hogwarts early in the morning by Continental Drifter (much safer than a Portkey over long distances, even if it was a pig to set up) and arrived late evening at the deserted spot where Snape had left his car. The idea of Professor Snape, he of the potions and dungeons and billowing robes, owning Muggle transport had tickled Draco. Merlin knew it was the only thing he'd found amusing in the slightest since Snape had dragged him and Potter down from the Astronomy Tower. Draco had crept into Slytherin Tower and slunk into bed. Sleep had been late in coming, and of the fitful variety that only served to make the sleeper even more tired than when he first put his head on the pillow. Just as he'd drifted into something approaching real, deep sleep Draco had found himself woken by an excruciatingly chipper House Elf with an early morning breakfast of porridge.
That was when he knew just how angry Snape was at him.
Helen, grumbling and not at her best in the morning, was already up and packing when he stumbled out, rubbing his eyes into staying open. "Get your stuff, Draco-chick," she told him.
She ruffled his hair, fluffing it even more than it normally achieved by itself. "Sev says you're coming with us."
Draco returned her smile sleepily. He was going with the Snapes? Helen seemed pleased, but last night Snape had...
The memory of his infuriated Head of House was a better wake-up than a bucket of ice water poured over his head, and Draco winced. "He said what?"
Helen sighed. "That you're coming with us, yes. I must say that I'm pleased, but I wish Severus was happier about it."
"He doesn't want me to come, does he," Draco said in a small voice.
Helen's dark, liquid eyes softened, and she pulled him closer in a one-armed hug. "He's scared to leave you here."
Draco hung his head. "What if I promise to keep my mouth shut? He... he can put a spell on me, if he wants..."
"Oh, Draco... No, he's scared that someone will get suspicious and come looking for you. He only wants to protect you."
"That wasn't why I..."
"I know." She kissed his temple. "I know what you were doing. So does Sev. But Sev's going a bit overboard on the protectiveness thing at the moment. He wants to make sure that everyone is safe from..." She hesitated on the name.
"From my father."
Helen wasn't someone who had learned to spare the feelings of others. Either that, or she thought he was old enough to face the realities of life unblinkered. "Yes. Among others. Chiefly Lucius Malfoy, though." She released him. "Pack warm clothes. It's going to be cold where we're going."
"Uh-huh. The Southern Alps in winter. Trust me — you'll want warm things to wear. If you don't have anything with you then we can pick you up clothes on the way home. Otherwise, I think Harry left some of his clothes at our house. You two are of a size, so you'll have something to wear."
Draco had better manners than to sneer at Helen for suggesting the idea of a Malfoy wearing Potter's hand-me-downs. Besides, he thought — perhaps because he was still so sleepy — was he really still a Malfoy? That thought irritated him more than he liked, and he went back into his room to pack.
Now, driving through the dark in the back seat of some variety of Muggle vehicle, Draco leaned his cheek against the chilly glass window and drifted off into sleep, periodically waking to Helen's "Are we there yet?" and Snape's "No."
He must have fallen into a deeper sleep than he realised, because he never felt them stop and the car wobble as it became briefly airborne to allow the snow chains to wrap themselves around the tyres, and he never heard Helen's final "Are we there yet?" and Snape's reply of "N- oh, hang on. Yes. Here we are."
Draco was vaguely aware of being levitated over what sounded like a river and carried in Snape's arms into a low-ceilinged house. The next thing he knew was morning and he still felt like he hadn't slept.
Yawning until his jaw crackled, Draco leaned out of his narrow bedroom window and looked at the snow. A crisp breeze danced with sparkles of ice crystals in the morning sunlight. The amber light stretched out in front of him, down to a river, and along a deep, shadow-stippled valley. Looking down, Draco saw that he was on the upper level of a two-storied cottage he couldn't remember arriving at. For a moment he furrowed his brow anxiously, fearing who he would meet in this strange place. Over the last few months it had become instinctive for him to wake and freeze like a frightened fawn, hoping his father wouldn't see him. He lifted his upper lip in an unconscious snarl at the realisation he'd become a fugitive. His father would find him sooner or later, and then...
<Bite. Kill. Kill them all. Bite&tear>
Draco blinked, frightened at his own thoughts. Where had that come from? The explicitly visceral savagery thrilled while it shocked.
Down below came the sound of Helen's soft laughter and the low purr of Snape's voice. Draco's pointed nose twitched. Coffee. Blue Mountain Troll blend, the Professor's favourite.
He was Safe.
Deep animal instinct slunk back into the subconscious shadows. Draco was pleased to have his mind back to normal again. In view of that, he pulled his old Hogwarts robes on — the ones he'd left behind at Hogwarts and Professor Snape had had put in storage for him — and climbed through the trapdoor in the floor to where normal, sane people could tell him that he, too, was normal and sane.
Normal and sane, he realised a few minutes later, were relative terms.
The Professor and his wife were bickering idly over who would cook breakfast. The argument was settled by rock, parchment, scissors, which Helen won. That meant she would cook — or mutilate, as Snape sniped, to be threatened in turn by a brandished frying pan. Then, instantly united in the face of a mutual enemy, Snape and Helen had vetoed Draco's request of coffee, his protestations that he'd become accustomed to the beverage in Munich heard with horror on Helen's part, and scorn on Snape's.
"While in my house, Mr Malfoy, you will not indulge in something so devastating to the nervous system!"
"But I'm used to drinking coffee in the morning!"
"And then, of course, you go out screaming around Munich to exercise off that caffeine-induced enthusiasm. When I mentioned damage to the nervous system, I was referring, of course, to my and Helen's nervous systems. Teenaged boys bouncing off the walls is not conducive to a restful morning."
"I can't go out?" That had come out whinier than Draco really wanted. "I mean, it's beautiful out there. I was hoping to..."
"Make snowmen? Ski? Embroil one of my nephews in teaching you how to snowboard?"
That had been the general plan, yes. Draco had thought it a fine one. From Potter's stories he'd been looking forward to meeting Snape's nephew Chad. Now it sounded like the morning would involve porridge. He really hated porridge. He'd had it at Durmstrang until it felt like the grey goop was coming out his ears. Now that was a happy thought. At least he wasn't still at Durmstrang. "Um..."
Snape's severe countenance softened fractionally. "I have plans for this morning, Draco. It's best if you have a nourishing breakfast."
That sounded ominous. Maybe Draco was going to be shanghaied for collecting Potions ingredients. But on the other hand he'd always enjoyed Snape's lessons. This looked like a good chance of catching up on a little of what he'd missed learning from the Potions master in the past year.
"Do you eat bacon, Draco?" Helen asked from over by the old wood stove. "I have, um, let's see, bacon, eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes... and some weird bread stuff that Sev soaked in some eggy mess."
She hadn't mentioned porridge. Oh yes, the morning was looking better already.
Those "plans" of Snape's turned out to involve a long trudge through the snow. Grumpily, Draco wondered why he couldn't have had some coffee — preferable iced — to help him ease into the day. Angrily he tugged boots over his thick socks and pulled the laces too tight, subsequently needing to loosen them so that he wouldn't lose circulation in his toes.
"Have you got everything?" Helen asked.
"Of course," Snape replied, kissing her on the cheek. He was wearing his winter professorial robes and a heavy woollen cloak. As far as Draco could tell, Snape wasn't carrying anything, but then given the amazing variety of bottles rumoured to be secreted away in those voluminous folds — Veritaserum, the Draught of Living Death, at least three different love potions, and his own patented hair grease had been among those Draco had heard speculated upon — he could have had anything from his wand to a pair of pet miniature sphinxes tucked up his sleeves.
"Say 'hi' to her from me?"
Then they were outside.
Draco loosened the scarf Helen had insisted he wear — he felt stifled with it around his neck. Beneath his feet snow crackled with every step, and the sun bounced off a world blanketed in white. Even the shadows were pale blue and served to mark gentle curves rather than etch out sinister lines. The sun was a bit strong on his eyes, but after blinking a few times Draco found that his vision adjusted nicely. Snape hadn't suggested he wear sunglasses, so he supposed he was in no danger of snow-blindness. Snape himself was walking ahead, his longer legs carrying him seemingly effortlessly over the drifts while Draco struggled in his wake.
It soon grew too hot, and Draco carried the scarf and opened up the front of his robes, letting the breeze cool the skin of his neck and upper chest. What he really wanted to do was strip off and roll around in the snow, but somehow he doubted the strait-laced Snape would ever condone that. Just the idea made Draco smile slightly.
"Keep up, Draco," Snape commanded, and Draco picked up the pace.
"Where are we going?"
"Your family?" Draco was enthralled at the prospect. No-one, even the Malfoys who were closer to Snape than anyone else, knew anything about Snape's family beyond that fact that his father had been English and had attended Hogwarts. It was rumoured that Snape senior had married some colonial girl who had gone to Hogwarts during his time there and then, so far as anyone knew, disappeared off the face of the Earth. Lucius had told Draco — well, Narcissa, actually, but within Draco's hearing, so that sort of counted — that everyone had thought Snape senior had drunk one too many of his own potions and died. It hadn't been until Severus Snape, a dark, greasy, scowling child with all the social graces of a dyspeptic manticore and who hexed as easily as breathing, had suddenly turned up one year at Hogwarts that they realised he'd spawned a child.
Even though they had been in different years Lucius remembered the stir Snape junior had caused. No-one knew what to make of the semi-feral eleven year old, and, at Hogwarts where people were neatly pigeon-holed from the Sorting Hat on, this was more than a little threatening. Other students had varied in their attitudes from the intrigued through suspicious to the flat-out antagonistic. Several Gryffindors had been particularly noteworthy for singling out Snape as the target for their pranks. He, of course, had retaliated in true Snape form, which had — Gryffindors being Gryffindors — escalated to an underground war.
This, in retrospect, had greatly amused Lucius, who had gone on to say that ostracism by the student body followed by some judiciously applied kind attention on the part of an older student (Lucius) had worked wonders in winning Snape over to the correct path. Voldemort's path, of course, it went without saying.
Draco had spent his final sleepless nights at Durmstrang wishing that he had access to a Time Turner so that he could go back and join up with Snape at the same age. They would have ruled Hogwarts. And, backed by Snape, Draco wouldn't have been in such danger of being forced into taking the Dark Mark and living a life where torturing poor innocent people like that old Muggle was an everyday occurrence. Finding that Snape really was on his side had been like a beam of light on a dark, stormy sea. Part of Draco felt guilty about putting the Snapes in danger by talking to Crabbe and Goyle, but another, more selfish part, was glad to be with the one person in the world he could trust.
"Yes," Snape replied. "You'll be speaking to someone fairly old and rather proper in her manners, so mind you be on your best behaviour."
Potter had mentioned someone called Maman, who was Snape's adoptive mother's mother, and explained that she and Snape had had a spectacular if one-sided argument on the night Voldemort was... removed. Potter would be pleased to know that Professor Snape and Maman were speaking again — Draco wasn't sure if they had been before Potter left this country to return to Hogwarts, and although the old lady had sounded formidable — anyone taking on Snape was, in Draco's opinion, either formidable or devoid of any desire to live a comfortable life — she had also been kind to Potter.
Draco hoped Maman would be as hospitable when Snape showed up with him. He had so many questions to ask about the younger Severus and this strange country.
Honestly, he thought as he tripped over yet another tree root, how did an old lady like Maman get to her own house? Maybe Professor Snape was taking some sort of back-route.
Only when they finally emerged into a clearing surrounded by tall tree ferns and beeches, did Draco realise how mistaken he was. Almost, but not quite...
They had come to see Snape's grandmother, but not one by adoption. In the clearing was the still, midnight pond that could only belong to...
"Grandmother Taniwha," Draco breathed. His awed breath hung before his face for the briefest moment before it slipped away to join the mist gliding over the surface of the pond.
Snape spared him a glance and a raised eyebrow. "Grandmother Taniwha," he agreed. "I hope you remember how to behave with her...?"
As Snape's question/commands went, this one wasn't all that subtle. Behave, or you'll be writing out everything you learned in DADA five hundred times in the snow. "Yes, sir. I'll be careful."
Apparently satisfied by Draco's subdued expression, Snape nodded.
Draco followed him across the clearing. With every step snow shivered from the fern fronds and whispered onto the ground. Otherwise it was absolutely still apart from the mist that moved under its own power.
It bestowed upon the pond the illusion of active thought.
Maybe it wasn't an illusion. Draco still wasn't sure how much of Potter's story had been plumped up to impress Draco, but by the way the fine blond hairs prickled up the back of his neck, the story hadn't been too much exaggerated. Draco had always had a good sense for elementals, and this place fairly thumped with power.
Instinctively he tried to look unthreatening.
Following Snape's example he knelt on a broad slab of stone jutting out over the edge of the water. Looking down, Draco saw only his own reflection in the black water, looking pale and pinched and a little smudged around the eyes as if he'd been ill.
The gently undulating surface gave no indication of what lay underneath. The depth could have been inches or, as in Potter's wild imaginings, it could have been a portal to the underworld. At one point Potter had started trying to explain that the water was something else and not really water, but then had shaken his head and moved on with the story.
Draco flared his nostrils.
It didn't smell like water. It smelt like something out of his dreams. Whatever it was he hoped the Professor wasn't going to ask him to dip a finger into it. Draco was fond of having fingers. He didn't want to lose any just yet, if ever. Of course, if Lucius caught up with him...
He concentrated on what Snape was saying, listening more to the tone than the actual words. Snape sounding... well, humble... was a new thing. He was so used to the tall, haughty Potions master sweeping around Hogwarts that this Snape down on his knees, asking without pride for protection for Draco, was as alien as the black water.
"This is the boy I have told you about, Grandmother," Snape said, addressing the water formally.
Draco was touched and a little alarmed that Snape should have mentioned him already to this unknown quantity.
Still speaking softly, Snape said, "I have told you what he is and now I hope that you will accept him." Snape refused to look at Draco as the boy rolled a nervous eye at him. Instead, the man reached into his robes and pulled out a wreath of white roses.
Draco took it and, as directed, placed it on the inky surface, taking care not to get his fingers wet. The water mumbled a little, lapping at the stone and dripping ferns that formed its banks, then swirled the circlet away.
He watched with baited breath as currents drew it into the centre of the pond and moved it around, as if the water were feeling the wreath for some esoteric texture. The roses twinkled beneath the mist and droplets formed on the white petals of the roses and waxen leaves of the ivy that held the flowers in place.
The movement stilled.
Hadn't Potter told him that the roses Snape gave Grandmother Taniwha for him had disappeared?
Next to him, Snape stiffened.
Draco didn't need to be told that the taniwha hadn't accepted him. He bit his lip.
Snape turned, frowning. "It's not your fault," he said, his voice distracted as if he was thinking hard on some new, unforeseen problem. He stood, touching Draco's shoulder as a signal that he, too should stand. "Don't take it as a rejection. If she wanted you gone, believe me, you'd know."
"So... what is it, then?" Draco was taking it as a rejection. He knew one when he saw one and wished Snape wouldn't patronise him.
Thinking, Snape looked across the pond at the rocky wall opposite that, once upon a time, had been a rockslide. There was a fine young tree growing out of it now, proof that given enough time biology could overcome whatever geology threw at it. One of Draco's early tutors had been keen on the Muggle sciences. Possibly that was just one of the reasons Lucius had had him fired without a reference.
"She may be thinking about it. For all I know she may be asleep. In actuality I know very little about her habits," Snape confessed. He looked down at Draco kindly, an expression that wasn't often seen by any students, even the Slytherins. "If I were her I'd be thinking about how to re-establish the wards around the cottage. They were severely disrupted after Mr Potter's visit and I haven't the skill to properly reinstall them. Elementals take their promises seriously."
"Come, Draco. It's beginning to snow and neither of us are properly outfitted for a storm."
Feeling very low in spirits, Draco clambered up the bank after Snape.
Unseen behind them, as the first snowflakes melted before touching the surface of the steaming pool, the roses slowly began to spin.
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