Chapter Twelve: The Ice Man Cometh
Snow must have fallen at some stage. The world was thinly blanketed. Tufts of dead grass and gorse bushes with a few late yellow flowers poked out of it forlornly, as if they had been forgotten by summer. Clouds grazed the foothills and the sunlight reflected off them in beautiful opalescent shades of peach and gold. Somewhere up high a skylark was singing, and from far away could be heard the baa-ing of sheep further down the valleys. A mountain breeze blew down to ruffle the grasses and the bushes and freeze anything foolish enough to venture out into the open
Draco rode through this landscape oblivious to everything but the bundle in his arms. He kept the baby tucked close to his chest. Dimly aware of the wind-chill factor, he focussed all the heat in his body into Severus to keep him warm. The baby slept, waking occasionally to open intensely black eyes and gaze out on the world.
He never cried.
In a way Draco wished he would — wasn't that what normal babies did? Draco found the intense ebony scrutiny a little unnerving when it rested on his face. It felt like an accusation.
Solomon carried them with his neck arched and tail flagged as if he carried the Crown Prince. He stepped as softly through the snow as if his charges were made of spun glass. For Draco it was like sitting astride a furnace. He channelled the heat from the pooka through his hands, into the blanket, and into the baby.
And all the time the little voice at the back of his mind was complaining about how hungry it was. Draco shut it away as best as he could.
When the pooka stopped Draco looked up from the baby's sleeping face.
In front of them was a house. Was that good? Draco searched his sluggish brain for an answer to that question.
Solomon shook his mane and stamped a forefoot. Draco took that as a hint and slid off, careful not to wake up the sleeping Severus.
The door was answered by a toddler dressed in warm winter clothes. He (Draco guessed it was a he) had serious brown eyes and a thumb stuck in his mouth.
"Hello," said Draco, wondering what to say next.
The toddler looked past him and the thumb came out with an audible pop. "Horsie."
"Yes," Draco agreed, light-headed from lack of food and sleep, and finding all of this quite surreal. "Horsie."
The toddler frowned. "No-ooo... Pooka." He looked at Draco as if the young Slytherin was suddenly a real person because he'd arrived with a pooka. "You've got ice all over you."
Huh? Draco shook his head and ice tinkled down onto the wooden deck. "Oh, so I have." When he shifted his shoulders ice splintered from the material.
"You have a baby, Ice Man."
"Um, yes." How were you meant to talk to children this young? "But he's not mine."
The thumb went back into the mouth for some serious contemplation.
"Are your parents home?" Draco asked in desperation.
On cue, a male voice called out, "Wirimu, what are you doing standing there? Close the door, son!"
"There's an Ice Man with a baby, Dadda!"
"Hello?" Draco called out.
There was the sound of footsteps. A well-built man with dark curly hair and tanned skin looked out at Draco with astonishment in his hazel eyes. "What the — Who are you?" Then, like the toddler, he looked past Draco at the pooka and his eyes widened. "That's Sylvia's..."
"Yes," Draco said shortly. "So is this baby."
After a second's aghast pause the man called out, "Maman! There's a frozen lad out here with a baby he says is Sylvia's!"
An older woman with white hair and a no-nonsense manner brushed past him, managing to steer little Wirimu away from the door at the same time. She stood and stared at Draco, then at Solomon, and then at Draco again. Finally her eyes rested on the baby. "Heavens above..." she whispered. "He's three weeks early." Her eyes snapped up to challenge Draco's. "Where's Sylvia?"
"Can I bring the baby inside?" he asked, feeling his temper begin to fray. "It's far too cold out here for a baby."
"Of course, of course! Come in..." Maman held the door open wider for him.
"Wiri..." Draco said, trying to remember. "And Rona?" That was the name of Severus' — Professor Snape's — foster sister.
Shocked looks, even from Wiri the toddler, who Potter had described as a tall, well-built man similar to the man Draco presumed was Wiri's father. Wiri-the-toddler was looking up at the grown-ups and sensing their distress.
Seeing he had just upset the little boy, Draco said in a rush, "Solomon brought me here. Sylvia sent me. She... we were at Grandmother Taniwha's Pool. And..."
"Where is Sylvia now?" Maman asked softly, holding one hand to her throat.
Draco looked away, remembering the rattle of rock and scree as the cliff wall had collapsed to bury the body. He swallowed. "Grandmother Taniwha arranged the funeral."
There was a sob from Maman, quickly choked off as her hand flew to her mouth.
"I'm sorry," Draco said, feeling wretched. By their expressions of horror mixed with disbelief, these people were obviously devastated. "She asked me to bring her baby to you."
Maman was holding out her hands, which were trembling. Draco hesitated, not wanting to give up the baby just yet. "His name is Severus Obadiah Snape," he said.
Maman nodded. "I know. Sylvia told us what she was going to call him. My daughter gave birth yesterday," she added. "Her daughter — Rona — but you already knew that, didn't you?"
"Can I take Severus to her?" Draco asked.
Maman looked at the man, who must have been the husband of Maman's daughter. He nodded, not taking his eyes off Draco.
"Don't upset her," he warned.
"Of course not," Draco agreed tiredly.
He followed Maman into a darkened bedroom. There was a bed with two people in it — one of them being a tiny baby who was wrapped in the arms of her mother. The woman appeared to be dozing but she opened her eyes when Draco walked in. "Who is it?" she asked.
"I've brought you Sylvia's son," Draco said softly. There was a wooden chair next to the bed and he sat in it gingerly, feeling as out of place in this homely warm room as a kneazle in a Muggle pet-show. Ice was melting from his clothes and the heat was excruciating.
Tears welled up in the woman's dark eyes. "I was just dreaming of her," she said softly. "She told me to look after her son. Is it true?"
Draco nodded. "She was a friend of yours?"
"She was my best friend. Thank you for bringing her son to me," she said. When she shifted her baby to rest against one shoulder, Draco helped her arrange the baby boy in her left arm. Watching the woman's face, kind through the tears, he knew Sylvia had chosen a good foster-mother.
Thinking of Sylvia, he was reminded of something else.
"I wish I could stay," he said truthfully, despite the heat that was making breathing difficult. "But I have to go."
The woman nodded. Draco tucked one finger into Severus' blanket and pulled it back gently for one last look at the sleeping baby. Eyes, black as the Taniwha's Pool, blinked open and looked back at him. "I'll see you later, I hope," Draco said.
He left without another word.
Once outside, he mounted the pooka with an easy leap. He took a few long, deep breaths of air that was so cold his teeth should have ached. Even the freezing air couldn't calm down the burning he felt in his chest.
In his sixteen years Draco couldn't remember ever being so angry. It seemed to have distilled itself down to a fine, thermic lance that cut away all other emotions. In front of his eyes was a thin, red haze and his breath ached in his chest.
"Right," he said to Solomon, his voice sounding strange to his own ears. "Take me to Lucius Malfoy."
Draco saw him first.
He'd had his wand ready ever since they had left the house and Draco had been recalling every spell he knew on the ride. When the pooka crested a hill and Lucius could be seen trudging through the snow following the set of hoofprints left behind when Draco had ridden away from the Taniwha's Pool, he screamed: "Expelliarmis!"
He'd been hoping to catch Lucius by surprise and then hex him before he got his balance back. But Lucius recovered too quickly. The older man dodged Draco's next Instant Icicle and bone-breaking spells.
Bright light rushed towards Draco from the tip of Lucius' wand. Draco ducked. The spell came so close it parted his hair and left a faint scorched stink.
Lucius' next spell was aimed at the pooka. "Fillayferda!"
It should have ripped the pooka's bones out.
Solomon caught the spell in his mane and shook the pus-yellow light until it shattered. Then the pooka laid back his ears and charged.
As fast as Lucius cast his spells, the pooka shook them off. Draco tried casting some of his own, but the rebounds from his father's spells made it impossible to aim properly. He wrapped one fist in the pooka's mane and held on, trying to ignore the prickly crawl of decaying magic on his skin.
Then the pooka was upon Lucius.
The wizard rolled, screaming, as the little horse struck out with his front hooves. The pooka then spun, almost unseating Draco, and kicked Lucius so hard there was the dry crack of a bone breaking.
Lucius was still screaming, and so was Draco now, urging the pooka on.
As he dodged a particularly vicious kick to the head, something rolled out of Lucius' pocket. Draco caught a glimpse of a metal sphere somewhat like a clock with too many hands.
Solomon stomped on it.
Lucius' screams of terror reached a new pitch. "No! Idiot! No!"
He snatched for the sphere that was now emitting little erratic bursts of sparks. "No, no, n-"
Lucius Malfoy disappeared.
Draco sat on the pooka, which was heaving great, angry gasps of air. Its ears were still flat against its skull in rage, and the nostrils had curled back as it sniffed the air for traces of its target. But all that was left of Lucius was churned snow with a few scraps of material and a little blood smeared on the lichen of a rock.
"Follow him," Draco commanded. "I know you can do it."
The pooka lowered its head as if it were thinking. In all possibility it was. Then its head snapped up and the hindquarters bunched like springs to hurtle it off through the new snow along a new track.
Feeling psychopathically calm, Draco sat on the back of the charging pooka and waited to see where he would go.
He didn't have long to wait: Solomon leaped and twisted in mid-air. Shot out like a cork from a bottle, Draco flew through the air.
It was snowing again where or when he landed and the sun had shifted in the sky. A second ago it had been morning — now it was mid-afternoon. Panting against the sharp pain in his ribs he'd got from the latest fall, Draco shook his head, hearing ice clinking in his hair, and looked around.
There was Solomon, watching him with his calm, pale eyes. Solomon had also moved and was standing in front of Draco, now.
Draco wondered how far he'd moved in time. It was impossible to tell. He couldn't remember any of the landmarks well enough to tell if they'd changed. He could have been thrown into the future by a few hours or he could be somewhere in the twenty-fifth century. He got up and brushed the dirt off his knees. The pain in his chest wasn't too bad; he'd probably just bruised himself. Broken ribs felt different.
"All right, Solomon, where am I meant to go now?"
Instead of letting Draco sit on his back again, the pooka whickered softly and set off along the track. After producing a small shower of sparks from his wand to check that it was all right, Draco stomped off after the pony.
Solomon wasn't going far, fortunately, because after all that had happened in the last day (years?), exhaustion was finally catching up with Draco.
"Well?" Draco asked as he ruffled the pony's mane while he got his breath back. "So what's so great about a tree?"
They were standing under a rather interesting old macrocarpa tree. Instead of being tall and slim like most of the big trees Draco was used to, this macrocarpa had been growing alone and the wind had twisted it into something approaching a giant bonsai tree. It reminded Draco uncomfortably of the Whomping Willow. And now that the sun was starting to slide behind the mountains the macrocarpa tree with its dark, shaggy, thickly-scented branches was starting to look a lot more sinister.
Solomon ignored him, looking up into the branches instead. The pony nickered softly, its nostrils rippling.
Draco squinted up into the tree.
Well, yes. So it was a very interesting tree. And it smelt nice, too. Kind of like a pine forest, only less sharp and more resinous. Some of the branches had taken on interesting shapes and overall it looked like the kind of tree Draco had loved to climb and build huts in when he'd been a kid. But here and now, somewhere or some-when with the sun going down and his maniac of a father on the loose, Draco was beginning to feel uncomfortable about it.
The shapes of the branches, for example... If you looked carefully, one looked like a swan coming out from behind the trunk. There were fairy roads and owls' roosts and a foot...
Hang on. Keeping his wand at the ready, Draco shaded his eyes to get a better look at the foot. If he didn't know better.... Nah. It's just a branch.
Then the "branch" moved as it scrabbled for a new purchase on the tree trunk. A clump of snow thumped onto the ground. "Hey!" Draco called. The foot was too small and grubby to belong to his father, but maybe this kid had seen Lucius.
"Hello? Can I ask you something...?"
The foot disappeared. There was a dry rustle as the small tree-dweller scrambled higher up through the branches.
"Oh, hell," Draco breathed, knowing there was only one way to get anywhere here. He kicked off his boots. He left his boots on the ground in the snow but, on a wayward impulse, tucked his socks into the pockets of his trousers.
It had been a long time since he'd climbed a tree. As the Malfoy heir, such pursuits as tree-climbing had been discouraged. The reason Lucius disapproved was something to do with the way Muggles were only a step up from monkeys. Or was that a step down? Draco never could remember that one.
As he puffed and panted his way up from branch to branch, Draco remembered climbing trees as being easier than this. Maybe it was because he'd been a lot lighter in those days. Or maybe it was because the trees on the Malfoy estate had been better behaved. They hadn't dared drop snow in his eyes whenever he tried to look up.
Neither, he decided, grimacing, had the trees put big gobs of sticky goopy sap on his hands. He tried shaking the blobs off his fingers. Nope. Wiping his hands on the rough bark was a qualified success: although he got the sap off, what was left over had bits of bark and dead leaves stuck into it.
Draco sighed and sniffed his fingers. At least it didn't smell too bad. Kind of nice, actually, in a clean, out-doorsy way. He settled into the crook of a branch.
"Hi," he said to his fellow tree-climber. "What are you doing outside on such a cold day?"
The other — from the glimpses Draco got through shadows and branches — was made up of white limbs and a bird's nest of hair. There was the glint of a wary eye from the shadows under the tangled hair. Draco looked away, not wanting to seem threatening.
"Pretty high up here," he commented. "Can you see the pony down there? He's not big and he looks even smaller from up here." How were you meant to talk to little kids? At a guess, Draco would say that this was a human child, but it was hard to tell exactly.
Whatever it was looked down at the pooka.
Solomon looked up and gave an encouraging whinny.
"His name's Solomon," said Draco when the child looked at him again.
The head tilted and the eyes narrowed in an unspoken question.
"He's pretty, isn't he. He can run really fast, too. And he's smart. I'm not sure what he thinks he's doing at the moment, because he wanted me to climb up this tree and talk to you and I can see that you don't want to talk to anyone, but he's smart anyway. So maybe he knows it's a good thing for me to be up here talking to you. He's not mine. He belongs to a friend of mine. Have you seen this pony before? Maybe you know its owner?"
The child, who had edged forward a little while Draco was talking, shrank back into the shadows and flicked its hair over its face to hide its features again.
Draco looked away. Okay, no questions. The kid seemed interested in him talking, but when Draco addressed the child directly it seemed to take this as a threat.
Wonderful. Instead of being down on the ground with his crazy father he was up in a tree with a crazy juvenile arborealist. Still, it was an improvement. Draco leaned back against the trunk of the tree and spoke to the empty air.
"He belonged to a lady. She had black hair and her eyes were like the sky when it's night and there's no moon. She gave birth to a baby boy and then she died. I was there and she asked me to look after the baby. Solomon — the pony down there — he carried me and the baby to a house. I left the baby at the house. There was another lady there who was the black-eyed lady's friend, and she promised to look after and love the baby."
There was a faint rustling in the branches as the child shifted closer. Draco didn't look at him as he carried on with his story.
"The baby stayed with the family and Solomon took me away. I don't know why, but he brought me here. I need him to send me back to where I came from so that I can... stop a bad man who wants to hurt my friend. But Solomon wanted me to come here. So... here I am sitting in a tree." He sighed and looked at his sticky hands. "With some sort of gunk on my fingers that I can't get off. I tried rubbing my hands on the tree, but that just made them dirtier."
The child was so close now. Draco still didn't look up, trusting other instincts than sight to warn him if the tree-child was dangerous.
"And I keep getting ice on me," he grumbled, flicking the new film of ice off his sleeve. His body seemed to be melting the snow as it landed on him, and then it would freeze in the wind. Not that the cold hurt, but it was bloody weird.
A small hand reached out gingerly. Draco looked anywhere but at it. He felt it touch his shoulder and finger the ice that lay there.
"You Ice Man?"
Surprised, Draco looked into the child's onyx eyes.
It was Snape.
"Yes," he said softly, taking in the tangled mop of black hair, the skin that was blue-white with cold, and the thin arms that said that someone hadn't been feeding this child enough. "I'm the Ice Man."
The child shuffled closer along the branch. Draco held still as exploratory fingers touched his face and knocked ice off his cheek. He hadn't even noticed the ice on his face and shook his head to dislodge more of the stuff that was starting to stick to him like a varnish.
"Sorry, sorry, sorry," the child whispered, hunching down as if he expected to be beaten.
Despite the roaring furnace of rage in his chest, Draco spoke softly. "You did nothing wrong. I'm the Ice Man. I'm your friend."
The dark eyes looked up, disbelieving. Snape shook his head.
Draco forced a smile. "Oh, yes I am. I was there when you were born. Your mother asked me to take care of you, Severus. I took you to your new family. And I think that Solomon wanted me to come here and climb this tree because he was worried about you."
Still the suspicion. Draco had a sudden, terrible thought. "Can you understand me?"
Damn. He'd forgotten questions were taboo. The child hunched in on himself again, flicking his hair over his face in an effort to hide.
"It's all right," Draco soothed. "You look cold."
The child seemed to mull this over. "Yes. Cold," he said at last.
Draco nodded. "Here," he said, digging into his pocket. He pulled out his socks. "Give me your feet."
The child's bare feet (Snape's feet, Draco had to remind himself, trying to keep himself on track with the fact that this child who looked to be somewhere between four and seven would be Professor Severus Snape, Head of Slytherin House and Terror of Hogwarts Students in twenty five years or so) were white with cold. After Durmstrang Draco knew the early signs of frostbite, and this child was showing them.
Okay... first of all, you don't rub frostbite... not if you don't want to peel off a layer of skin, anyway. "I have to get the blood moving in your feet, Severus," said Draco. "It will hurt, but if I don't do something you might lose some toes."
The child looked worried, and Draco smiled what he hoped was a reassuring smile. He hadn't practised one of those in the mirror, but he gave it his best go. It seemed to work.
He took out his wand and muttered a quick spell. First you had to get the flesh warmed just a little, then you had to make sure that the blood flow was getting through to the white areas. A Muggle would slap the foot. That, Draco had been told, was sheer agony.
His spells were a little painful for Severus, who flinched but managed not to pull his feet away or kick Draco out of the tree, but they did the trick. "There," Draco said in satisfaction as he pulled the socks on. "That should keep the tissue healthy."
Merlin, how young was Severus? His grammar was atrocious.
"It's going to be good, yes. You're being very good, too." Draco took off his shirt and shook off any ice that clung to the grey silk. "Here. Put this on." It wasn't much, but like his robes that were buried with Sylvia it was spelled for warmth. And compared to the rags of cotton the ki- Severus was wearing, it was winter-wear for an Eskimo.
Severus hesitated with the shirt in his hands. "Cold?"
"No, it'll help keep you warm."
Again the head-duck. "No. You."
"Oh. No, I'm fine. I don't have trouble with the cold. I'm the Ice Man, remember?"
Finally, a smile! It was a bare twitch of the corner of the child's mouth but Draco was sure it wasn't just a trick of the light. The little fingers were stiff with cold so Draco helped him put the shirt on. It was far too big, of course, but that meant that the long sleeves provided a rough substitute for mittens. "There." Draco took the opportunity to try and brush some of the hair out of Severus' face. At this time of his life it was as soft as cat fur and not at all greasy, but it was an absolute mess of witch-knots. Deciding he wasn't going to get anywhere without a comb or — for preference — scissors, Draco gave up and settled for tucking the long fringe behind the boy's ears. "Now that we can see your face, do you want to come down and meet Solomon?"
A shy nod and another almost-smile. Draco was charmed.
Almost immediately upon that he was alarmed as Severus slipped on the branch. Draco grabbed him. "Your hands are too cold," he said, taking them and feeling them for warmth. It was hard to tell as his own hands were icy, but by the lack of colour Draco guessed they weren't far off being frostbitten either. And cold hands had no strength.
Unless you were part-Veela, of course.
Draco cupped the grubby little hands in his own and huffed on them, hoping that his breath had some warmth left in it. By the way Severus smiled again he guessed his breath must be warmer than Severus' hands. Not that that was all that reassuring, but... "Okay. Um. Here's what we'll do. You climb onto my back and I'll carry you down. Keep your arms around my neck — your... arms... yes, arms... that's them... put them around my neck. Neck. Neck. No. No. That's my arm. Yes. That's my neck. Hold on. Stay there and I'll carry you down." Draco was sure that the child's inability to understand him was more than pure hypothermia. "Yes, that's it. Good. Okay, here we go."
It was easier going down. Draco's feet seemed to remember all the little toe-holds from the way up and his fingers grabbed all the right branches. Then they were on the ground and a delighted pooka was blowing gusts of fiery air into his hair and a frightened child was hanging on around his neck so tightly that Draco was starting to choke.
"Easy there, old pony. It's all right, Severus. You're safe. I'm right here." The arms loosened enough for Draco to shift the child around to sit on his hip. Severus rested his head on Draco's bare shoulder and eyed the pooka doubtfully.
For his part, Solomon seemed delighted to see his young master, but Draco held up a warning hand. "Careful, Solomon. Don't scare him. It's okay, Severus. He's just really happy to see you."
"Yes. To see you."
There was a heavy pause during which the child gripped Draco tighter. "Me?"
"Yes. He belonged to your mother. Now he belongs to you."
Oh. How much English did Severus speak at this age? "He loved your mother. He loves you."
The shadowy eyes narrowed in thought. "Love? Me?"
Good. Somewhere along the line Severus had heard the word "love."
Whew. "Yes. You love your sister, your sister Rona loves you. Solly loves you, too."
"Dad took away Rona."
Ah. "You live with your daddy?"
In a small voice: "I want to live Rona."
"Well, Solomon and I are here to take care of you. We love you too."
Apparently this was all a little too much. Severus buried his face in Draco's shoulder. Draco could feel the small body shaking, but he suspected it was more than cold, as Severus seemed too far gone into hypothermia to be shivering.
The pooka whickered again and tossed his head. Draco had become accustomed to reading the signs: Solomon was saying he wanted to move on.
"Would you like to sit on Solomon's back? He's nice and warm."
A head-shake with the face still buried in the crook of Draco's neck.
"No? Okay." Damn.
When Solomon started walking Draco followed, still carrying the child who wouldn't let go of him.
He was utterly exhausted. Not only were his ribs aching from their bruises, but his legs were twanging with exhaustion and his arms were burning from carrying Severus, who now seemed to weigh twice as much as he would as an adult.
Draco's magical energies were dangerously low, too. All wizards, even Neville Longbottom, are capable of wandless magic under duress, and Draco had been using his to channel any and all stray degrees Celsius into the tiny body of the boy. Ice crackled off him with every movement and some of it had left cuts on his bare shoulders.
He was so tired he hadn't realised it was time to stop until he bumped into Solomon's backside.
It was the steam that reached out like fingers that told him where he was. That, and the brooding power of Grandmother Taniwha.
"End of the road, Severus," he said as he slid the child onto the ground.
Severus whimpered and tried to cling, but Draco took his hand and coaxed him into standing up and facing the pond.
"Your grandmother lives in there," he said quietly. "She wants you here now."
There was a dazed look on Severus' face as he stumbled towards the pond.
Perhaps it was because Draco was so tired, too, that he was too slow to stop Severus.
The little boy walked to the edge of the pond and kept going.
There was no splash. The black water closed over his head without a ripple.
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