Chapter Seven: Beginnings
At exactly twenty-three minutes past nine, Severus and Aenëus stand in the Potions Master's chambers in the dungeons. The tall Slytherin feels equal parts relief to have escaped the clutches of the over-protective Nurse, and apprehensive of what his ... guest might do to his precious rooms, while the little dragon stays close to his wizard's side, eyeing everything with big, emerald eyes that hold both fascination and fear, curiosity and wariness.
It really is cold in the dungeons, even during summer time, and a cosy fire flickers under an elaborately carved mantelpiece to rise the temperature to a pleasant level. The shine of the flames dances on the dark wood of the carved furniture that takes up the pattern of the fireplace, and makes the Slytherin green carpets that decorate the floor and some of the rough stone walls look strangely soft and comfortable. Two large, overstuffed armchairs stand facing the fire, and two matching sofas surround a low, wooden table with a book and several magazines lying on top of it. Most of the walls are occupied by floor to ceiling bookshelves, the books neatly organized after subjects and authors, while the more ancient and valuable, or simply dangerous tomes are locked away safely in one of several bookcases.
On the far side of the room, opposite the fireplace, where the door to the entrance hall is, another door leads into a very professional potions lab, pedantically clean and carefully put in order. Adjoining the lab is another heavily warded room that is kept locked all the time and has a distinct feeling of 'Do Not Enter!!!' about it. From the warded room, a short corridor that apparently runs parallel to the living-room leads directly to the master bedroom, with two doors on the side bordering at the living-room and three on the one facing away from it. The two doors open to the kitchen and the bathroom respectively, the latter adjacent to the master bedroom, while the three others lead to the dining-room next to the warded room, a guest bedroom in the middle and the study next to the master bedroom.
As the living-room, the lab, the kitchen and the bathroom have no windows and are magically lit, the other rooms hold a pleasant surprise: They actually have real windows which face the lake and look over the dark blue depths that loom beneath the cliff, reflecting the sunlight so that it illuminates the chambers rather nicely.
The entire decoration is done in Slytherin colours, green and silver, but somehow it manages to look not only cold and elegant, but kind of ...noble. Several pictures adorn some of the rooms, the majority of them of botany and magical creatures and thus non-talking, except for a painting of three ravens in the living-room who are eyeing the little dragon with almost as much curiosity as he them, and the portrait of Sicarius Snape, an ancient ancestor of his, in his study.
Severus rolls his eyes at the dragon's open astonishment.
'Why does everyone seem to think that I live in some kind of a torture-chamber? Just because I put those slimy things in my office to scare the students doesn't mean I want to have them in my bedroom.'
On their tour through his chambers, he watches his little companion closely, as he has done during their whole journey down to his dungeons, observing his charge's every reaction. According to Poppy, it would be best to give Aenëus a few days to get accustomed to his chambers with only short trips to the library, before taking him to longer walks through the castle, slowly drawing nearer to places that Potter knew and had emotions connected with, like the classrooms, the Great Hall, the Gryffindor Common Room, his Dormitory and the Quidditch Pitch.
The Potions Master had thought very thoroughly about how to approach the transformed Gryffindor, and decided to treat him like his Slytherins in general, with a few exceptions in regard to his Gryffindor attitude. With several of his students coming from less than loving homes like himself, he has plenty of experience in consoling hurt and rejected teenagers; after all, he isn't Head of Slytherin House for nothing. Although he had started teaching mainly due to a direct order of Albus, he takes his responsibilities rather serious, and while he still detests it strongly, he sees to it that even untalented imbeciles like Neville Longbottom leave the school with enough knowledge of what they can do and what not, so that they won't go and blow up their first own set of rooms in an attempt to brew a simple headache cure.
'Ah well, no use in dwelling on the theories, time to move into action.'
The ebony-haired man finally clears his throat, making Aenëus jump, before he looks down on his scaled companion and goes into lecturing mode.
"These are my and - for the time being - your chambers. While I have no hope that they are going to be in the same state when you will eventually be able to change into your human form again and move back into your dormitory, there are a few ground rules to ensure both of us will at least survive that long. As I was told your mental state is supposed to be that of a child at the moment, I will try to keep my words as simple as possible, though I cannot see where this might have posed a decrease in your intellectual capacities."
He sneers with his usual air of superiority.
"First rule: You are not allowed to enter the warded room, my private lab or my study without me. Once you have settled in, you may move around on your own in the other rooms, and later in the castle, but the conditions for that shall be discussed in due time."
Aenëus blinks and tilts his head to one side, his attention focused on the Potions Master.
"Second rule: You will not touch any of the items on the shelves, especially not my books. If you want to look at one, point it out to me and I can put a charm on it that will read the text out loud, that is until you remember enough to regain your reading skills."
His scaled companion blinks again, looks over to the bookshelves, and his eyes begin to sparkle. Relief washes through Severus upon seeing the bright intelligence in his green eyes, lightening them in a way they had lacked when he found him in the Department of Mysteries. Human intellect lingers in the emerald depths, and not just the infantile mind he has displayed the day before, but more. It is nowhere near the gaze of a seventeen-year-old, but it's still a good sign. In fact, it is so encouraging that the Potions Master resolves to take a risk and test something.
"Third rule: In these chambers, and here alone, I will call you Potter."
The dragon flinches, and a flash of hope runs through the Slytherin's body.
"Is something the matter, Potter?" he asks softly, watching the other flinch again, and raise his wings in discomfort. "Might it be you prefer to be called something else? Harry, for example?"
Aenëus closes his eyes and moans softly, shaking his head as if to get rid of the name he has just heard, slowly backing away from the tall wizard before him.
"Oh no," he whispers, "there will be no more running away. It is your choice whether I call you Potter or Harry, but choose you must, and you will!"
Trembling with distress, the little dragon mewls and whimpers, crouching down and trying to hide himself behind his large wings once again, but Severus is determined not to give in. With cautious motions, he sinks down on his knees in front of Aenëus and gently takes his chin in his hand to make him meet his eyes. Terror blazes in the emerald orbs, and fear and pain; for a moment, he thinks he notices a spark of recognition, but it is gone before he can be sure.
"Fourth rule: I will not hurt you. I will not allow any insolence either, but whatever you do, your punishment will never involve physical pain. Do you understand that?"
The dragon blinks at him, blinks again, and again, and then suddenly he can feel a slight nod of the delicate, yet strong jaw in his grip.
"So you do understand what I say."
Another timid nod.
"Good." He releases him. "I am still waiting for an answer to my question. You will be Aenëus once we pass the doors to these chambers, but inside I will call you by your real name. So what shall it be? Potter?"
The dragon flinches again, and drops his gaze, shuddering. When Severus remains silent, he hesitantly lifts his eyes to look back up at him, and shyly shakes his head.
"Very well, Harry it is. Now was it really that difficult?" he demands gently.
Aenëus raises his wings again and drops his gaze in what Severus assumes might be embarrassment, but he shakes his head 'no' for an answer.
"Good." The Slytherin strokes the smooth, golden crest, and the dragon moves forwards until his scaled form is pressed against the warm, black-clad body of the wizard.
"Rule number five: You will always come straight to me when you are in distress and feel you cannot deal with it on your own," he mutters to his little companion, who has reclaimed his favourite position in Severus' arms with his head tucked under the other's chin.
Sighing, he finally picks the copper and golden creature up and moves them both to one of the sofas. After depositing Aenëus on the moss-green leather, he goes to one of the bookcases, opens it with a muttered password and takes a large volume bound in black leather out, before returning to the sofa and starting to search for information on age reversal curses. The dragon curls up next to him, and resumes looking around in the living-room. After a while, he rises and twitters questioningly, shooting Severus an uncertain look. The Slytherin gestures for him to go on without raising his eyes from the book.
"Feel free to explore. Just keep in mind what I told you earlier."
Chirping an affirmation, Aenëus hops down onto the ground and starts examining the room, staring at the many books in fascination, looking into every niche and corner (which causes several sneezing fits), burying his paws into the thick green carpets and rolling leisurely onto his back on the lush rug in front of the fire where he is finally lulled into a light slumber by the warmth of the flames.
He wakes just on time for lunch, and after a hearty meal, wizard and dragon leave the dungeons for a short trip to the library. Aenëus hesitates at the doors, but his fear to be left alone is stronger than his anxiousness, and eventually he follows the tall Slytherin inside. Like before, he stays at Severus' side the whole time, and makes small sounds of distress until they quit the book-filled halls and return to the Potions Master's Chambers. Despite the dragon's obvious discomfort, the Slytherin is rather pleased with his progress and plans to stay in the library for a longer while the next day.
The rest of the day passes in peace with Severus reading and Aenëus playing merrily with the ball the wizard had transfigured for him the previous afternoon.
Dinner is consumed in silence, and a few hours of further research later, the Slytherin wakes the already dozing dragon and both retreat into his bedroom.
Aenëus is sound asleep when Severus comes out of the bathroom in his grey nightshirt and the Potions Master shakes his head lightly in amusement.
'I wonder what is more abstract: A dragon in my sleeping chambers, or the fact that the dragon is Harry Potter.'
Then he smirks gloatingly.
'Oh, he is going to be so mortified when he realizes what he has done! Snuggling with his greasy git of a Potions Master, what a terrifying mental image...'
With a satisfied sneer, the Slytherin slips under the covers and extinguishes the light.
And like the last two evenings, sleep comes swiftly and easily.
When the bright sunlight streaming in through the windows wakes the ebony-haired wizard, shreds of another dream try to escape his mind before he is completely awake.
The autumn sun glittering on the blue depths of the lake... A warm, breathing body beneath him... Metallic sparkling scales in a sharp contrast to his black robes... lying lazily on his back, enjoying an unusually warm late harvest day... his dragon's broad back rising and falling under him in a steady rhythm... a feeling of utter contentment and safety... of wholeness...
Shaking his head lightly, he tries to grasp the fleeing images, but to no avail. With a shrug, he abandons his efforts and leaves the bed, stumbling drowsily into the bathroom and heading straight for the shower. Once the hot water is pouring down on him, he relaxes again, reaches for his soap and starts to lather his body and hair. He is just about to wash the foam off, when he hears a delighted squeal.
'Seems Pot- Aen- uhm, Harry is awake,' his still sleep-befuddled brain processes the information.
Severus moves his head under the jet of water to rinse his hair, and as he comes out from under it, the squeal is heard again. 'Strange. That sounded so ...close.'
When a splashing noise catches his attention, he frowns, and wipes water and wet hair from his eyes. 'That splash... that was not me.'
His eyes snap open, and looking down, he finds himself eye to eye with a very wet copper and golden dragon. Aenëus' scales glisten with the moisture, his emerald eyes are bright with joy, and he shakes himself happily, only succeeding in getting wetter in the process. For a moment, all Severus can do is stare at his charge before the full extent of the situation becomes aware to him.
"POTTER!" he roars. "WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING?! GET OUT OF MY SIGHT! NOW!"
Aenëus screams in fear, and dashes out of the bathroom faster than a Snitch. The Slytherin stares after him in fury for a long moment, before he realizes what he has just done, and groans.
'Oh, damn, damn, DAMN!'
Turning off the water, he grabs his wand and murmurs a quick drying charm under his breath, before grabbing a bathrobe and leaving the bathroom to look for his companion. Fortunately, the trail of water Aenëus has left shows him where to go and leads straight to his bedroom. On the first look, however, he can see no sign of his charge, so he looks under the blankets and even glances under the bed before he notes that the door of his wardrobe is slightly ajar. Taking a deep breath, he opens it a bit further and peers in. There, hidden in the darkness under some of his robes, is the little dragon, shaking violently with fear.
"Harry?" Severus says softly, and opens the door wide enough that a small streak of light falls in.
The dragon freezes for a moment in fright like the proverbial deer in the headlights before he moans in distress and scampers further into the darkness, crawling deeper under the robes in a futile attempt to hide in the restricted space. The Slytherin sighs deeply and reaches slowly for his upset companion, but Aenëus only shrieks in fear when he feels the hand on his back and tries frantically to get away. Seeing as there is no chance of escape, and with Severus looming in the half-open door, his face unreadable against the bright light of the room behind him, the terrified dragon panics. He draws himself up from his crouching position, wings spread as wide as the wardrobe will allow, crest erect, green eyes glowing with feral horror. Then he hisses, bares his fangs, and pounces upon the bewildered Potions Master. Severus, totally unprepared for the unexpected outburst of aggression, loses his balance and lands on his bottom, while Aenëus dashes out of the wardrobe and under the bed, where he hides in the darkest corner, whimpering pitifully.
'Well, done, old boy, really well done,' the Slytherin thinks sarcastically. 'I wonder if anybody could have fucked that up any more than I just did.'
Deciding to abandon any semblance of dignity for the moment, as they are alone and it is a case of need, he squats to the ground at the side of the bed and searches for the little dragon in the shadows, after charming the bedroom door shut, of course. Terror-filled emerald orbs gaze back at him from the far end of the bed, absolutely out of reach, and he heaves another sigh. It seems as though he will have to talk him out of there.
"Harry?" he calls again, tentatively, only to see the green eyes close, and receives another pain-filled moan in reply.
"Aenëus?" he asks, very softly. A plaintive whine answers him.
"Look, I apologize for shouting at you," he begins in his deep, silken tones, letting his voice wash over the scared dragon. "Even if you did intrude upon my privacy, my violent reaction was uncalled for, in face of your current mental state. I admit that you caught me off guard and your former status as my student made me overreact. I honestly regret my lack of self-control and will try to ensure that it will not happen again."
He pauses briefly, allowing a bit of humour to creep into his words. "Now would you kindly come out from under the bed? I am about to get a crick in my neck."
Aenëus blinks, and even with the lack of light, the Potions Master can tell that he's shaking again.
"It's alright," Severus says gently. "Rule number four, remember? I tend to stick to my own rules, and while we are at it, I would strongly advise you to make use of number five sometime soon, seeing as you are obviously too upset to deal with your distress on your own at the moment."
He backs a bit away, sits up and spreads his arms invitingly.
"Come out, little one. I will not hurt you, I promise."
For a few minutes, nothing happens, and the Slytherin is just starting to think of another approach to the problem, when all of a sudden, his arms are full of trembling, whining dragon, and he folds his little charge into his robes without a second thought. After a while of cuddling (although the Potions Master wouldn't call it that even under the threat of torture), sweet whispered nothings, and a great deal of calming down on both sides, Severus looks down on his little companion and asks softly: "Are you feeling better now?"
Aenëus nods shyly, and tucks his head into the crook of the wizard's neck.
"Do you feel up to go and find out what the House-Elves have prepared us for breakfast, then?"
Another timid nod.
"Very well. Do you mind if I change into my usual attire before we move to the living-room? Even though I have heard of the rumours that some wizards like to wear almost nothing under their robes, let me assure you that I do not belong to that ... extraordinary circle, and very much prefer to be clothed properly."
The dragon sighs, and rather reluctantly leaves the warmth of the other's arms to hop onto the bed and crawl under the blankets, warbling his consent.
Severus graces him with a half-smile and a nod, and leaves for the bathroom.
Half an hour later, both of them are not-cuddling on the sofa with full stomachs, Aenëus sprawled over Severus' lap, playing with the buttons on his black outer robes while the Slytherin is scanning the papers. He finally puts them down with a snort, and the dragon looks up at him questioningly.
"It appears that this time, the Ministry's habit of withholding important information might work out in our favour. They waited two days for something they could put on the front page, so that their little note about the Death Eater Raid in the Department of Mysteries would go unnoticed on a page in the back. Even in the Quibbler there is only a small article, but at least they added pictures of the missing persons."
He cocks an eyebrow at his companion, who lifted his head and seems to be trying to get a look at the photos the wizard mentioned.
"Of course, you are not among them. Albus told the Ministry that he sent you into hiding to prevent a mass panic. He also spoke to the Grangers and the Weasleys, but as we do not know what happened ourselves, all he could do was ask for patience."
The little dragon shows no reaction, and Severus frowns. "Harry? Did you listen to what I said?"
Alarmed by the lack of response, the Potions Master gently lays a hand on the bronze back. "Aenëus?"
The dragon is frozen on the spot, his muscles stiff as granite, motionless like a statue he stares down at the pictures of his friends.
'Oh Merlin and Morgana...' Severus groans inwardly, but at the same time recognizes his chance to learn more about what had happened in the Chamber of Death, and his Slytherin nature urges him to seize the opportunity, so he steels himself and draws his wand.
The Department of Mysteries... Every part of his body hurting profusely after numerous beatings and countless curses... Ron and Hermione behind him, the redhead lying in her arms, the after-effects of the Cruciatus he took in her stead making his body twitch slightly... The perverse pleasure and satisfaction in the eyes of the Death Eaters around them... Voldemort's taunting and glee... Pain, so much pain, so hard to stay conscious, so impossible a task to even rise to his hands and knees...
Scarlet eyes burning at him in triumph, he returning the gaze, like looking Death in the eye... No hope left... Nothing left... Just one thing... Gathering all his strength, he channels his magic into the Animagus transformation...
Fire around him... And smoke... Run, you fools, run! ... Ron and Hermione vanishing through the Veil... Pain, liquid fire in his veins...
Another perspective... Looking down from a greater height... Everything is sharper, clearer... Scents are more intense... He can smell fear... And confusion... Powerful muscles move as he lowers his head and half-spreads his wings... But still the pain, so much pain, so little energy left...
A curse, tentatively thrown at him... White-hot agony... A deep breath... And fire... So much fire... Flames everywhere... Cries of pain...
Then darkness... And nothing more...
With a gasp, dragon and wizard jerk out of their trance. Severus folds Aenëus into his arms, shocked and overwhelmed by the strong feelings that accompanied the memories, and by the other's heart-breaking howling and shaking. When he has regained some semblance of control over his emotions, he starts to rock the little dragon like a child, whispering soothing nonsense into his ear. Slowly, very slowly, Aenëus' howls subside to whines, then to whimpers, until he falls silent. It is then when the wizard finally dares to look his scaled companion into the eyes, fearing to find that Harry has retreated into his infantile state again, but intelligence still shines in the emerald depths, only slightly darkened by confusion and incomprehension.
'So he saw, but doesn't understand. That is most certainly more than I could have hoped for. With time and other memories to help him, he will eventually be able to make the right connections. But for now, we better not rush it.'
"Do you understand what you just saw?" he demands softly.
Aenëus shakes his head slightly.
"Would it be acceptable if we talk about it another time?"
An emphatic nod.
"I thought so. But keep in mind that even if it does not feel this way at the moment, those memories belong to you, and it is very important that you recall the rest of what is still hidden in the depths of your mind."
Fear flickers in the dragons eyes, and he tenses in the Slytherin's arms.
"I did not say that it would be easy or pleasant. But do not worry, you will not have to face your past alone. I will stay by your side. We will do this together, alright?"
Aenëus sighs, and nods reluctantly, melting wearily into his wizard's embrace.
"Very well. Now I think we earned ourselves a bit of rest. Have you ever heard about the great adventures of Merlin?"
Another shake of the head.
"Then it is about time that you do. Accio 'Merlin's Quests'." After he has arranged his dragon, the book and himself in a comfortable position, he opens the tome and starts to read.
By early afternoon, Aenëus has recovered enough to regain his natural curiosity, and sets off to explore the other rooms of the chambers. Severus uses the break to grab one of the books he brought from the library and resumes his research. Due to the unexpected delay, he will need more time to go through their contents, and he resolves to defer their return to Pince's realm to the next morning. The afternoon passes quietly, and his work is only interrupted once when Aenëus comes back to the living-room, carrying a stuffed, plush toy dragon.
The Potions Master groans. "That's Draco's! Do not tell me my Godson has hidden it in my guest bedroom all the time."
The real dragon drops the plush one in the Slytherin's lap and chirps questioningly. Severus looks down on the toy, and his lips quirk into a half-smile. He remembers the day he gave it to Draco well, it had been on his second birthday, and he had told him that the dragon would always protect him when he himself couldn't be there. The blond toddler had stared at the green dragon with the silver eyes in awe, then smiled angelically, and thanked his Godfather with a fierce hug. He had called the dragon 'Sev' and taken it with him everywhere, until his father decided that he was too old to carry his toys around. The Potions Master had thought that it had finally been banished to the loft of the manor along with the rest of his toys, but apparently Draco had managed to smuggle it out and hide it here.
A soft nudge at his hand brings him back to the present and a copper and golden dragon looking up at him expectantly.
"This dragon belongs to my Godson, but as he did not seem to need it in quite a while you may play with it, provided that you take good care of it and do not damage it in any way. It is to be returned to me in the same state that you found it, is that understood?"
Aenëus twitters a positive answer merrily, snatches the toy and slumps down onto the rug in front of the fireplace, where he plays a bit with it before he curls up around it and dozes off. Severus shakes his head at the sweet picture, the rust-red dragon with the green toy one, and only hopes that no one gets the idea of visiting him while his guest is still with him. The fluffy atmosphere might just give them the shock of their lives.
He wakes his little companion for dinner, and after a few more hours of research and playing, they both retire. Aenëus follows his wizard into the master bedroom, and because of the stressful day, Severus allows it, although he had planned to get the other used to sleeping apart from him. But that can wait for another day. One thing still needs to be said, though, and before he puts out the light, he glances sternly at his dragon.
"Kindly refrain from following me into the shower from now on. You can take a bath tomorrow, if you feel the need for it. Okay?"
A tired chirp answers him as his little companion snuggles into his side.
'Wait! Was that a twinkle in his eyes?! I am doomed...'
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