Chapter Three: Arrival in Hogwarts
The momentum of the Portkey knocks Severus flat on his arse, but as it was designed for the possibility that he would be severely wounded or otherwise incapable of apparating, it lands them on a huge bed in a special room of the Infirmary, sparing him the pain and embarrassment of picking himself up off the floor.
The by now almost familiar whimper makes him look down at the dragon, no, Potter. He is trembling violently again and squashed flat against Severus' chest in an attempt to make himself as small as possible.
The Slytherin snorts. "You can stop your pathetic show now, Potter," he says coldly. "We are back in Hogwarts and you are safe now, so kindly get a grip on yourself, let go of my clothes and change back into your usual annoying self."
To his dismay, Potter gives no sign of having heard or understood him. Before he has a chance to vocalize his anger, however, the door swings open and Poppy comes rushing in, alerted by the surveillance charms on the room. The dragon makes a mewling sound of fear and tries to hide deeper in the Potions Master's robes, but his actions go unnoticed by the Nurse as she approachs the only patient she has seen more often in her Infirmary than Harry Potter, Neville Longbottom and Remus Lupin together.
"Severus! Albus told me you were gone. How bad is it this time?" she asks with a concerned expression.
The dark-haired wizard growls while trying to prevent the dragon from crawling further under his teacher's robes. "It seems that this once my being late has turned out advantageous for me," he replies. "This time, it is not I who is in need of your talents. "
Poppy frowns slightly. "Not you? Who then? I don't see anybody else in this room."
Severus sighs in annoyance, still attempting to get the little dragon away from him. If he wasn't so badly injured, he could just grip him by the neck and drop him onto the bed ... "You would, if he would finally let go of my robes."
The Nurse's eyes drop to the bulge on his chest and widen at what she sees. "A dragon?! Really, Severus, your idea of a joke is beyond me sometimes. Why didn't you bring it to Hagrid?"
"Because I have reason to believe that it is Potter," he growls.
"Harry?" she gasps. "But how...? What happened?"
"If Potter would eventually stop acting like the spoiled child he is and start to behave like the young adult he is supposed to be, he could tell us," he snaps.
Still staring at the trembling creature, Poppy swallows and does what she is trained to: she switches back into Nurse mode. "Be that as it may, you said he has been injured?" At his nod she continues: "Well, then let me have a look at him."
"Easier said than done," he grumbles, but shrugs out of his Death Eater robes, thus uncovering most of the small dragon's body.
The rust-coloured creature whimpers at the loss of warmth and shelter, and lifts his head out of Severus' teacher's robes to look for the cause of it. Upon seeing the Nurse with her wand pointed at him, he squeals in terror, pushes under the Slytherin's robes and claws into his shirt, whining in fear.
"Ouch! Potter, that is enough! Stop struggling and get off of me this instant! Your antics will aggravate your internal wounds if you go on like this!" he hisses.
A pain-filled moan implies that the Numbing Potion has already worn off and that what Severus just predicted is most likely already the case.
Realizing that it might be her proximity that distresses the small dragon so badly, Poppy steps back despite her growing concern. "Internal wounds? Sweet Morgana, Severus, he might bleed to death if he keeps struggling like that!"
The Potions Master is just about to make a sharp retort, when another, gentler voice cuts in. "Then I suggest we give Severus a bit more room, and he tries to calm his little friend down," Albus Dumbledore advises soothingly.
"He is most certainly not my friend," Severus snaps. "All I want is to get him off me so that I can finally return to my dungeons!"
"Severus, please. In such a state of panic as he is, the dragon reacts on pure instinct and that is to flee and hide. The sooner he relaxes, the sooner he might let go of you. Now why don't you try and comfort the poor creature while you tell us what happened at the Ministry?"
Albus looks at the younger wizard with warm kindness. The Slytherin snarls in annoyance, but can already feel the anger and the tension beginning to leave him.
"You want to know what happened, Albus? Potter happened, that is what!" he growls. "Your Golden Boy was at the Department of Mysteries this afternoon and almost succeeded in getting himself killed yet again!" He takes a deep breath, then launches into a report of what he saw.
While filling the other two in on the events of the last hour, he unconsciously steadies the dragon with one arm, raises the other, and begins to rub the scaled back in a soothing manner. The lithe figure flinches at his touch at first, and Severus can feel the small heart racing, but then he sighs and stops his struggles. Slowly, the trembling lessens until it finally subsides, and the little body relaxes under Severus' hands. Severus' fingers somehow find their way to the long neck and stroke the smooth crest, and the dragon melts into his arms. He tucks his head under the Slytherin's chin, closes his eyes and winds his tail loosely around one of the wizard's upper legs.
Albus observes the process with a slight twinkle in his eyes. "It seems he has calmed down at last. Poppy, do you think you could check on him while he stays in Severus' arms?"
The Nurse nods. "It's a bit more difficult, but practicable. We examine small children on their mother's arm that way quite often." To Severus, she adds: "Stay still and relax, and try to make sure he does the same."
The Slytherin nods tiredly. He murmurs soft nonsense in his dark voice to keep the dragon's focus on himself, and for the second time, it works.
Several spells later, Poppy sighs and steps back again. "Numerous fractures, bruised kidneys and a ruptured spleen, plus the after-effects of several curses. You did a good job on the broken bones, Severus. You would have made a fine Medi-wizard."
She gives him a small, warm smile before she continues. "I mended the bones and the spleen, and took some of the pressure off the kidneys. Now I'm going to give him some potions for the injuries, the pain and to make him sleep. He will need a Nutrient Potion, too, for he is obviously malnourished. What do you suggest we use, Severus?"
They discuss their possible options briefly, before settling on a selection of five potions.
Severus prods the dragon softly to wake him from the dozing state he has fallen into, then gently encourages him to take the potions, and makes sure he swallows them. Another sigh tells him when the concoctions take effect, and the small creature goes limp in his arms as the Dreamless Sleep kicks in. Heaving a sigh of his own, the Slytherin gently lays the prone figure down on the bed, feeling strangely bereft without the warm, living body at his chest. He quickly squashes that thought, however, and turns back to Albus.
The Headmaster had remained in the background while they were tending to the dragon, but now comes to the bed and sits down next to his younger colleague. Poppy, satisfied that her patient will now get the rest he needs, excuses herself with the remark that she has an injured member of the Order to see to and leaves the room.
"And what now, Albus?"
"Now, we watch over the little one's rest and try to reconstruct what happened today," the old wizard replies calmly.
Severus scowls slightly. "We already know what happened. Potter and his friends went to the Department of Mysteries. Voldemort got wind of it and was waiting there for him. A battle ensured, Potter changed into his Animagus form and fried the room. Three Death Eaters died in the flames and one was severely burned. What else should there be?"
The Headmaster looks thoughtfully down on the sleeping dragon, and reaches over to trace the lightening bolt scar on his forehead. He then trails his fingers down the golden crest and lets them rest on the bronze back between the coppery, bat-like wings. The creature stirs uneasily, but doesn't wake, and Albus takes his hand back when he sees his discomfort.
"There are several facts that do not fit in with this explanation. Where are Miss Granger and Mister Weasley, for example?"
His Potions Master frowns. "The burned corpses were too large to belong to them, they were most probably Death Eaters. Perhaps the Dark Lord has taken them hostage?"
Albus strokes his beard absent-mindedly. "We will have to check that. But somehow I doubt it. They would have needed preset Portkeys to do that, and the fire erupted so fast that four of them even failed to get out in time. But there are other inconsistencies."
Again, he gives the little dragon a pondering look. "You know, Severus, that an Animagus can turn into the form of the animal that represents him best at will. But a dragon is not an animal, it is a mythical creature. In the last thousand years there has been no reported case of an Animagus taking on a form that was not that of a mundane animal.
Furthermore, I may not be an expert on dragon breeds, but I have never seen one like this before. The build, the colouring, I have never heard of a type of dragon that looks like him. And there is something else."
He looks up at the younger wizard, and cerulean eyes meet onyx. "This dragon is very young, no more than a child. If I am correct in my assessment, his current age equals that of a four or five year old human."
Severus draws a deep breath at the revelations, and lets his gaze drop to the sleeping figure between them. The dragon makes a soft, mewling sound in his sleep, and unconsciously scuttles closer to the Slytherin.
"So what do you think happened at the Department of Mysteries, Albus? Surely you have something in mind?"
"I have some ideas about what might have taken place, but we will have to wait for Mr Rookwood to recover before we get any affirmations. I think that Tom planned his ambush better than we thought, so well, in fact, that there was no chance of escape for Harry and his friends. I suppose he tortured them, by magic and otherwise. Faced with a slow, painful death, I fear they took the only way out they could think of: They went through the Veil.
Harry must either have distracted the Death Eaters to buy them time or was prevented from following them by someone. Cornered and with no hope left, his survival will took over and he transformed into the dragon."
"That does not explain his unusual form and his young age," the dark-haired wizard replies.
Albus smiles mildly. "I am not omniscient, my dear boy, as you well know. We still have much to discover. I will talk to Minerva about the Animagus affair. If I remember correctly, there is a spell that can force an Animagus back into his human form, but I think we better wait with that until his condition has stabilized further. In addition, I will ask Charlie Weasley to send me information about dragon breeds that fit his appearance. As a member of the Order, he will know how to be discreet about it.
If Voldemort calls you, you will tell him that the dragon died of his wounds and that there were no survivors. I will see to it that St. Mungo's tells the Ministry the same about Mr Rookwood and keeps his continued survival a secret. Until we have figured this out and have Harry returned to his normal self, this will stay between Poppy, Minerva, you and I. The fewer people that know about him, the better. You might even think about another name for him."
"Me?" Severus narrows his eyes in suspicion. "Why should I think about a new name for Potter?"
"Because he trusts you. He needs someone to rely on right now. We have no idea what he has been through, and you have seen how badly he reacted to Poppy's and my presence. It will only be temporary, until he is human again and fully recovered. Please, Severus. This is not the adolescent student you know, but a lonely, frightened child. He needs someone to protect him and to take care of him."
"And to keep him out of trouble, that is what you mean, is it not?" Severus growls, but he can feel exhaustion catching up with him. Now that the adrenaline the stress and tension provided him with has worn off, he doesn't have the energy for a discussion with the clever old coot. Albus gets his will in the end most of the time at any rate, so he might as well spare himself the effort. "Oh, well, I will do it, but only as long as it is absolutely necessary. And I will most certainly not coddle him, do you understand me?"
The silver-haired wizard smiles knowingly. "Perfectly. Who knows, perhaps we will find a way to restore him to his former self tomorrow, and he will not need you any longer."
The Potions Master snorts. 'Somehow I doubt that.'
"Well, it has been a long day, and you look like you could use some rest as well. Would you mind staying here for the night?"
Severus rolls his eyes. "Yes, I would, but before you ask, yes, I will stay. Is there anything else?"
Albus's gaze falls back to the dragon. To Severus' dismay, he realizes that his hands have developed a mind of their own and are currently caressing the dragon's slender neck again. In turn, the dragon has somehow managed to wind his coppery and golden body around the wizard with his tail curling loosely around his right leg and his scaled head resting in the Potions Master's lap.
"No, Severus," the old wizard tells the Head of Slytherin with a sly smile, "I believe that was all. A goodnight to you, my dear boy."
Without waiting to decipher the younger man's muttered answer, the Headmaster turns and leaves the room, the familiar twinkle returning to his eyes.
'Maybe this will work out to the best for us all.'
Back in the room, Severus sighs in annoyance and calls a House-Elf to get him his sleeping attire.
After a last, pondering look, he gently disentangles himself from the dragon and changes into the black silk pajamas that the Elf brings him. He slides under the blankets, then feels the dragon snuggling into his side, and sighs again.
'In the same bed with a Potter,' he thinks with a grimace, 'I have really sunken low.'
Oblivious to his thoughts, the dragon sighs in his sleep and tries to curl around the tall Slytherin again. Torn between indignation and amusement, the dark-haired wizard puts an end to the attempt, but allows the small creature to curl up beside him.
'He really does look like a child. And he seemed rather subdued today. Maybe this will not be as bad as I thought.'
The corners of his mouth quirk up in a small smile without his notice. 'At least he does not snore.'
He settles his head down on the pillow, then watches his hand once again find its way to the warm, smooth bronze back while he slowly drifts off into slumber. He is way too tired to question it.
'Aenëus,' is the last coherent thought on his mind before sleep finally claims him, 'that is a good name for him.'
When Poppy quietly opens the door to check on them some ten minutes later, both dragon and wizard are sound asleep, snuggled closely together. She leaves them silently, with a tender smile on her lips.
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