by Elsa (elsapphire71 @yahoo.co.nz)
Fandom: Harry Potter
Category: Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Spoilers: Though GoF, AU
Disclaimer: Any recognisable characters belong to HRH J K Rowling, long may she reign (oh, and Warner owns them now, too). I am merely borrowing them for my own humble purposes and (it should go without saying) am making no money out of them.
Summary: Sequel to Taniwha. Draco is having the semi-traditional identity crisis. Rated R for adult situations (sorry - not sex)
Author's Note: Warning! Warning! This fanfic is from Draco's perspective. If you want to read Nice Things about Harry Potter then you'll have to read between the lines. (They are there, but Draco is hardly about to admit to anything good about ol' scarhead.)
Chapter One: Hot
It was hot outside the café. Draco had expected Munich to be cold — it had been cold the other times he had been here with his father... Draco decided to abandon that line of thought. He still jumped every time he saw a tall, platinum-haired man.
Maybe Germany really wasn't such a good choice, he thought sourly. Too many blondes. Still, it wasn't as bad as Durmstrang. The only good thing about that school had been the cold. The cold had been so glorious that Draco had actually been seeking detention just to get outside into that wonderful, wonderful snow and away from the fires and the morons and the Dark Lord's spies.
He fished an ice-cube out of his drink and chewed on it happily, enjoying the way his strong back teeth crunched it into slivers that cooled all the way down his throat and into his stomach.
Maybe he should go into Switzerland or Austria and up into the mountains, he mused. The clear, cold air would help him think better. It was so hard here in the lowlands: the heat and the muggy air stifled the mind dreadfully. He could probably get work in one of the better-class Muggle hotels, or help out as a skiing instructor. Skiing was something he'd learned at Durmstrang (probably the only decent thing he had learned there), and Draco had taken to it like a merman to water.
The owner of the cafe was tolerant of the slim blond boy sitting out front who talked to the tourists and gave impromptu English lessons or tours of Munich in exchange for a "donation" or a meal. One of the first Muggle terms Draco had learned was "backpacker", and he used it whenever anyone asked him who he was or why he was sitting outside a cafe in Germany. But sooner or later Michael, the owner, would start to wonder why this boy didn't move on like the rest of the backpackers. Sure, Draco knew he was decorative, but he wasn't foolish enough to expect that he could stay there for the rest of his life.
Another nasty line of thought: The rest of my life. What am I going to do with the rest of my life?
Oh well. There were always options. When you were on your own, you had to keep careful track of what options there were, and currently being a waiter in a Muggle restaurant looked, well, okay, humiliating to say the least. But humiliating with access to good food and up in the mountains where he could go skiing. And be free.
No Malfoy or Voldemort supporter would be seen dead in a Muggle establishment... well, correction, dead only after an Auror had caught him or her wearing black robes and a white mask whilst on a Muggle-baiting expedition. Draco wrinkled his pointy nose. Muggles weren't too bad once you got used to them. Actually, he'd found living in the Muggle world incredibly exciting. Sure, there'd been a few scrapes with the occasional man who had thought that he was far too pretty to be, ahem, alone, ahem, in a big city like Munich, but Draco had dealt with worse from Lucius' Death Eater friends and even some of the teachers at Durmstrang. All those men had found out that Draco was neither naive nor stupid, and there was steel under the soft exterior.
Draco readjusted his sunglasses. The sun really was hot today. He sipped cold water through a straw and rattled the ice cubes in the glass as he pondered his situation. Maybe he should consider leaving for Switzerland sooner rather than later. Not many people had wanted to talk to him today. Maybe he should take up that offer from Jules and Kris to travel with them in their van to —
A shadow announced a potential customer as a tall man settled into the seat next to him with a sigh.
Draco nearly swallowed his straw.
"P- P- Professor..."
Snape. It was Snape.
Draco panicked, but quietly, not moving. His wand; where was his wand? If he used a binding spell on Snape maybe he'd have time to make a run for it. He could — no, he couldn't go with Jules and Kris, now. They could be tracked. Maybe that was how Snape had found him, and Draco liked Jules and Kris. If he was found travelling with Muggles a Death Eater like Snape wouldn't think twice about turning them into kebabs just to keep them quiet.
"Would you believe it was Sybill Trelawney who found you?"
Snape sounded quite relaxed. Draco decided to play along while he analysed his options. The trouble was, there didn't seem to be any options left. Just one big, yawning abyss where he was enslaved to that maniac Voldemort. Draco couldn't breathe for thinking about it. His vision swam. Snape must have hexed him...
"Breathe, Draco." Snape sounded concerned. Well, sure. If Draco asphyxiated before anyone could get a Dark Mark on him, Voldemort would be pissed. Draco started to giggle at the thought of Voldemort throwing a hissy fit and stamping his feet.
"Really, Draco. Calm down. I realise Trelawney isn't exactly the sort you would turn to for aid in finding a missing person, but I can assure you that —"
"You're telling me that Trelawney is a Death Eater?"
Snape jerked back. "Draco —"
"No, no. It's okay. I know all about how you serve You-Know-Who. It's just that I can't see Trelawney on the side of evil, unless the Dark Lord has a sudden need for light relief. No pun intended."
"Everysing okay, Draco?"
Draco stilled; controlled himself. Breathed deep. "Fine, thanks, Michael." No way was he going to let Snape harm someone who had been so kind. "This is Professor Snape — one of my old teachers."
"Ja?" Michael's eyebrows rose as he looked at the tall, lanky figure of Snape, who was dressed casually in Muggle clothing of Levi's and a light silk shirt. "Of what did you teach?"
"Chemistry and physics," Snape replied smoothly. "Draco did extremely well. I was greatly disappointed when he transferred to another school."
"Oh yes. Draco is a smart boy. I see that when he talks to customers. He is enjoying his holiday here in our beautiful city, I think."
Snape nodded. "Pleased to hear it. He worked hard at school, he deserves to relax and not worry about exams for a change. It's good he's making friends here, too."
"Oh yes. Draco has made many friends. Such a good-natured young man, and so polite."
Draco didn't like the way Snape's eyebrows shot up under the greasy curtain of hair hanging over his eyes. "Ye-ess," said Snape, carefully keeping his face expressionless. "Could I have a latte please? And some strudel. Draco, what would you like?"
"Uh — lemon sorbét?"
Michael left. Draco could run now, but Snape might... question... Michael about Draco's activities. Michael didn't know much, but that wouldn't stop a Death Eater from "asking."
"Voldemort's dead, by the way," Snape said conversationally, as if talking about the weather.
"What? When? How?"
"About a week ago. He annoyed my Grandmother."
"Of course," Draco said faintly. "Grandmothers have the worst tempers. I remember how Granny Malfoy used to hex me with boils when I annoyed one of her cats."
Snape smiled slightly, his coal-black eyes glinting with the genuine, non-malicious humour that Draco had been one of the few to witness. "A little bit like that, Mr Malfoy, yes. Would it help you to know that Voldemort won't be returning from where Grandmother has put him?"
"God, yes!" Draco blurted out, before trying to regain some of that Slytherin subtlety he'd tried to learn from watching his Head of House. "That is to say..."
"Relax, Mr Malfoy." Snape leaned back in his chair and crossed his long legs at the ankles, looking with every inch of his lean, black-clad body as if he were enjoying the sun. "Your enthusiasm does you credit."
What the hell was that supposed to mean? Snape wasn't exactly renowned for making statements that could be taken at face value. "Especially given whose son I am?" Draco hazarded shrewdly. He knew his guess was spot-on when Snape narrowed his eyes.
"Not quite how I would have phrased it, but your upbringing was fairly... adamant, shall we say, regarding the philosophical pre-eminence of a certain Mr Riddle."
"Lucius was rather keen on me learning my catechisms."
"Quite. I expect he had you memorise the answers before you could ride a broom. And 'Lucius'? Not 'Daddy Dearest'?"
Draco couldn't help grinning. He had always enjoyed his favourite professor's cynical sense of humour. Then he reminded himself that his 'favourite professor' had been one of Voldemort's most valuable servants and re-schooled his face back to neutrality. It saddened him. In the beginning he had been delighted that Snape had been a good, personal friend of his father's; midway through the Durmstrang school year, with the obscene glories of Voldemort's obscene philosophies spouted by every brainless Homo sapiens truant, it had hit him like a bludger to the chest. Severus Snape, role model of sarcasm and cool austerity, was the Enemy.
At the time it had hurt him so badly that Draco had refused to think about it. Because of his admiration of the man it had taken him that much longer to finally decide that no, it wasn't Draco who was wrong, it was the world around him. Only two nights after that terrible morning when he had realised Severus Snape could be wrong, he had gathered together a small bag of belongings, some Muggle money he'd always kept secret for some unthinkable emergency, his wand and broom, and then Draco Malfoy, heir to one of the richest and most powerful families in the magical community, had quietly left Durmstrang and the Wizarding world.
Now, confronted by the living, breathing reality of the man he had once admired so much, Draco was suddenly very, very tired. So Snape had come to take him back to his father... Well, it could have been worse. Avery, Nott, one or — he shuddered — both of the Parkinsons, or that pervert Macnair would have been an insult bordering on a challenge.
If his father had sent Severus Snape then that, at least, showed that he had some vestiges of respect for his runaway offspring.
Satisfying, after a twisted fashion.
Much as Draco wanted to sit here and eat lemon sorbét, he knew in his heart that it would be a kindness to Michael to go with Snape now to ward off any violence. "So. It's hot out here today. Should we get sunburn or get going?"
"So eager to leave Munich? I've always found it to be a most charming city."
Draco shrugged. "I'd rather get it over and done with."
There was a brief pause, then Snape pulled his chair closer to the table, the metal rasping on the concrete pavement, and propped his elbows on the wooden surface. "Draco. What exactly do you believe my purpose here to be?"
Draco flushed angrily. Did Snape have to pretend he was an idiot, too? "You don't need to play games, Professor. We both know my father sent you."
"How many fathers do I have?"
Snape blinked, his expression closing in on itself as he sat back. "Draco. Let me expressly assure you that Lucius Malfoy did not send me here. I am here for no-one else's benefit than your own."
"Let me guess... I was sorted into Slytherin so you have a moral duty to be my guardian angel. Please, Professor. Don't insult my intelligence."
"Don't you dare take that tone with me, young Mr Malfoy."
"S-sorry, sir," Draco stammered, reduced in a picosecond by that whiplash voice to the status of a first year caught putting the wrong ingredients into his neighbour's cauldron.
"Understand this: When you were sorted into Slytherin you were given into my custody. So yes, I have a moral duty to care for your welfare. I'm hardly a textbook example of a guardian angel, but I take my responsibilities seriously. I had heard of your disappearance. It concerned me. When Professor Trelawney reported seeing you I took the opportunity to track you down to verify and maintain your safety. No-one connected in the slightest with He-Who-Must-Be-Dead sent me. I came of my own volition. Am I clear?"
Draco wasn't sure. He so desperately wanted to be sure that Snape wasn't the enemy, but the idea of admitting the man was a friend made him feel ill with nerves.
Perhaps Snape sensed this and, in a strange move for him, took pity on the boy. "Draco," he said more softly, "I'm not a Death Eater. Once I was and it was a terrible, terrible mistake I'm still paying for. But I realised my mistake. I turned myself in to Dumbledore, who, instead of sending me to Azkaban as I deserved, enlisted me as a double agent instead. I've spent longer than you've been alive spying on people like Lucius Malfoy and his associates." He unbuttoned the cuff of his left shirt sleeve and began rolling it up. Draco watched, entranced. He'd seen the Dark Mark on other people, his father being the stand-out memory, and he couldn't believe that Severus Snape of all people would be so casually baring the sign of his nefarious allegiance in the hot sun outside a Muggle café.
Snape slowly rolled up the black silk.
Surely Voldemort hadn't branded his followers so high in the forearm, Draco thought. His father's Mark had been lower towards the wrist. It took a moment until he realised what Snape was really showing him.
The Dark Mark was gone. Draco reached out tentatively. When Snape didn't bite, he touched the skin. It was winter-pale and smooth, just like an ordinary arm. He prodded at the space where a skull with a snake should be. "There's nothing there," he said wonderingly.
Snape smiled and leaned back again, rolling his sleeve down. "Voldemort is gone," he said, carefully and quietly enunciating each word.
Lights were going off in front of Draco's eyes. "It's over?" he asked. "I don't have to...? I don't have to...?"
"You don't have to be anyone you don't want to be."
Draco shot him a look of pure astonishment. Yes. Those were the words he had been trying to find. "So I don't have to go with you?"
"You won't force me to go back to Hogwarts?"
"No. I will, however, attempt to reason with you as to why Hogwarts is a good place to be. Ah, thank you," he added to Michael, as the café owner brought out the latte and sorbét. "No, nothing else just yet. And I mean reason, Draco, not force," he began once they were alone again. "I think you've had enough of people beating the rules into you."
Draco didn't ask how he knew about that.
"Besides, it's terribly bad manners to abduct people," Snape added, sipping primly at his coffee.
"All right. I'll ask the obvious question: Why is Hogwarts a good place for me to be?"
"Two points to Slytherin, Mr Malfoy, for knowing the correct question. I will answer it in turn with a question of my own: When was the last time you saw your father?"
Draco looked away. As with any mention of Lucius the day clouded over. It should have made things cooler but instead he felt stifled. "I don't know," he muttered. "Not long enough."
"Do you think he would have stopped looking for you?"
"Do you think he will find you?"
"Yes. Lucius is a very determined man when he sets his mind on something, and now that Voldemort is dead reclaiming you would be his pet project. As there are no students but most of the staff you can be protected at Hogwarts."
"Will you be there?"
Snape paused, then grimaced. "Damn. I forgot to add that there will be one student — Harry Potter has managed to remain over the summer."
"Lucius is starting to sound good..."
"Don't even joke about it, Draco." But Snape was smiling.
Draco sighed and picked at his sorbét. It really was very good. And Hogwarts should be cool, even at this time of year. "When do we leave?"
Chapter Two: Warm
Hogwarts wasn't much of an improvement on Munich weatherwise, Draco decided within moments of Portkeying to the gates flanked by statues of winged boars. Walking up the road alongside his former Potions master gave him a strange sense of déja vù at first, but the oppressive summer that smothered all of Europe up to and including Scotland soon made him concentrate on the more mundane feeling of needing a cold drink.
Snape seemed to have shrunk, or maybe it was just that he himself had shot up in the past year, Draco mused. Hopefully the latter — he hadn't wanted to be a weedy little shrimp like Potter all his life. Although he wasn't anywhere near as tall as Snape (and was unlikely ever to be), Draco estimated he now stood at least as tall as the man's chin. This minor satisfaction put a bounce into his step as they strode up the steps and through the wide-open main doors.
That small contentment dissolved as soon as they walked up the stairs from the Entrance Hall and entered the Great Hall. Damn. Why does the first person I see here have to be him?
Harry Potter was sitting at the end of one of the long tables, talking to a short-haired woman Draco had never seen before. Otherwise, the Hall was empty, a fact Draco didn't regret. Damn. Of all the people in the world, why did he have to run into Potter? Bad enough that he'd abandoned his birthright, the Malfoy name and — worst of all — the Malfoy fortune, but he wasn't quite ready to confront Potter over it. Potter must have been over the moon when he'd found out Draco had run away.
He edged a little closer to Snape, knowing that if there was one person in the world who hated Potter more than Draco did, it was Snape, and the man could strip paint from three furlongs with his sarcasm.
Potter looked up as they entered, and the woman, seeing that something had caught her friend's attention, looked around.
The most radiant smile lit up her face and the entire Hall as she stood and almost danced over towards Draco and Snape.
"You're back," she exclaimed. "You were gone forever!"
To Draco's amazement she rushed forwards and flung her arms around the Potions master. He stepped back, half expecting her to combust with the heat of Snape's displeasure.
The astonishments only kept piling up on each other as Snape hugged her back and kissed the top of her head. "Sorry, Helen, my love. But you get good coffee in Munich."
This Helen person snorted a most Snape-like snort of disgust. "You and your coffee. It tastes abominable."
"'Abominable'? Have you been practising new words?"
"Yes. Harry-chick's been helping me. I learned 'abominable' just for you."
Snape blinked slowly. "I'm flattered."
"Yes. Harry said you'd like that one. It's so good to see him again, Sev. Let's take him home with us."
Draco very carefully didn't snigger at the twin looks of horror from Snape and Potter.
"I'm afraid," Snape said cautiously, "that Mr Potter has important business on this side of the world. Besides," he added as Helen frowned and opened her mouth to argue, "he would want to bring his owl with him, and you and Hedwig are none too fond of each other."
Snape looked over her head and nodded as Potter mimed wiping his brow with relief.
"What about if I promise not to fight with Hedwig? After all, I'm a human now, so I can take the higher moral ground over an owl which is just an animal and incapable of the degree of introspection that separates we humans from animals."
Snape put his hands on her shoulders and held her at arms length. Not taking his eyes off her, he said: "Mr Potter, would you like to tell me just what she has been reading in the short time I have been gone?"
Potter shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "She found some of the books Hermione lent me, sir."
Before Snape could let loose the snarl he was preparing, Helen batted away his hands. "Are you trying to say that I can't read what I like? Are you censoring me? Fascist bully boy!"
With a ferocious glare at the squirming Harry, who looked like he wished he were at the top of the Astronomy Tower or even the middle of the Forbidden Forest, Snape grabbed Helen by the wrist and dragged her out a side door. There was one last: "Ow! My sovereign rights as an individual are being infringed! Harry! Call Amnesty International! Call the United Nations! Call Oprah Winfrey! Ow — get your hands off me, you, you... you infringer of human rights, you!"
As they disappeared out the door there was a yelp from Snape. "Humans, and by 'humans' I mean all hominids of different species, cultures and origins, humans don't bite!"
"Well, I only bite abominable fascist censors!"
The Great Hall resounded with the slam of the door.
Draco stared at it for a few long seconds. Talking to Scar-Head wasn't his ideal choice for information, but Draco's curiosity always had been greater than was good for him. "Who... or what was that?"
Potter straightened his glasses. "That was Helen. I only hope there's not about to be a divorce," he added worriedly. "They argue quite a lot."
It took a moment to sink in.
"Divorce? But... but... but that would mean Professor Snape got married. When did this happen?" And, unspoken, was the disappointment that he'd missed the wedding. Snape didn't have a family, so wouldn't he have wanted Draco to be the ring-bearer or some-such? Obviously Draco was too young to be Best Man — and as a student it would have been improper — but he'd have thought Snape would at least have told him that he was getting married. Maybe he wasn't as important to Snape as he'd thought. Maybe Snape had only ever been nice to him as part of his duties as a double agent; favouring Draco to make it look like he was a friend to Lucius Malfoy.
Maybe even Snape had never really cared for him.
That hurt so much he almost didn't notice that Potter was talking to him. "Sorry? What were you saying?"
Potter frowned, possibly at the idea of a Malfoy saying 'sorry.' Draco reflected that the Muggle world had taught him a few useful things, one of which being that an apology, even if insincere, was a useful tool.
"I was saying that they've only been married two weeks now, and spend all of their time either fighting or making-up."
Potter dared to give him a supercilious look. "'Making-up,' Malfoy. Think about it."
Draco did. Eeyew.
It was like thinking of your parents... Doing It. He shared a brief and unique look of complete understanding with Potter. "They are... um... discrete about it?"
"More discrete than their arguments, thank Merlin," Potter said with undisguised relief. "When they're mad at each other — about once every ten minutes on average — you can be up in Gryffindor Tower and hear them shouting from the dungeons. It's driving the other teachers crackers. Well, except for Professor Sprout. She goes out to the glasshouses and puts on her earmuffs. Even Headmaster Dumbledore got worried the first evening they were here for dinner when they started throwing food at each other." He grinned at the memory. "Prof. McGonagall told them to behave or she'd send them to bed without supper. Helen said that was okay with her if it meant she got to spend more time in bed with her husband... The look on old McGonagall's face at that was worth all the Galleons in Gringott's."
Snape in a food-fight? Oh, to think he'd missed seeing that. "They fight all the time except when they're making up?" Draco smirked. "Sounds like Professor Snape's found his soul mate."
Potter smiled. "You're probably right."
Draco sat down in the seat Helen had vacated and reached for the goblet of pumpkin juice that appeared at his elbow. "So. What's been happening? I hear Voldemort's finally turned in his wand for good."
Potter gave him an appraising look. "I'll swap you stories. Where have you been the last month or so?"
Draco wrinkled his brow, trying to recall what little exo-European geography he had learned. "Is that part of Scandinavia or Australia?"
A superior grin from Potter. Smug bastard. Draco held his tongue.
"Neither, although you were closer with 'Australia'. It's an island chain in the South Pacific Ocean. Not too bad, although it's winter there at the moment and pretty much all I saw was farmland and snow."
Sounded like paradise to Draco. "Munich's just the same as ever."
"I've never been." Potter sounded almost wistful. Draco relented and added some details about the city; starting with the heat and moving on to the old buildings he had visited, and then talking a little about some of the people he had met."
Draco shrugged. "Some of them are really nice. I was going to catch a lift up to Austria with a couple of them but Professor Snape said I should come here instead. They had this weird contraption called a 'van,' which is a sort of Muggle transport device that stops working every few miles. The van I saw could have been magic — some of the incantations Kris used to get it working again were pretty colourful. I never knew Muggles were so imaginative when it came to insults."
"So you got something out of your stay in the Muggle world, then?" Potter asked with a grin.
"Don't look so smug, Potter. I've never heard you say anything nice about your Muggle relatives."
"Only because there's nothing nice to say about them. I've met other Muggles who are really nice. Hermione's parents, for example."
Draco just knew he was waiting for him to say something about Mudbloods. "I thought they were dentists. You need a certain amount of sadism to be a dentist."
There. He'd said something nasty, but not directly about Granger. Potter'd have to change the subject now, Draco would bet his last Galleon — if he'd had any left — on it.
"So have you come back because of Voldemort?"
Yes. Damn, but I'm good. "No, I came back because the Professor asked me to."
"You never said why you left."
"No, I didn't, did I."
Draco smiled inwardly. Potter was getting annoyed, but trying to keep his patience. It might be interesting to see just how far he could push Potter's patience before it snapped. Maybe later. "I suppose everyone thought I'd run off to join up with Voldemort."
"A lot of people did."
"I thought that if you were going to become a Death Eater you could've done that from Durmstrang. I was under the impression that it was a big machine set up to crank out junior Death Eaters."
"It is. Was." Draco shook his head. "Was while I was there, anyway. Now?" He shrugged. "They could be knitting socks for the poor people in Outer Mongolia for all I know."
"So why didn't you stay? I would've thought you'd be happy to be there."
Like he was going to give Harry Potter the satisfaction of knowing that he'd been right about Voldemort. Potter didn't need any extra food for his big fat ego, and Draco as a Slytherin would be damned before he let a Gryffindor feel like he was the moral majority. Draco only hoped he wasn't displaying any of the annoyance he felt. It looked like the competition was going to be over who lost their temper first. Ah, happy memories, he thought sourly, remembering how it had felt to be turned into a ferret and bounced around this very room. Well, there was no Mad-Eye Moody to protect the darling of the Wizarding world this time. "It was boring. And weren't you going to tell me what you got up to in New Zealand?" he drawled.
If he was annoyed by the deflection, Potter didn't show it. In his mind Draco reluctantly chalked him up one point. "Not much. Portkeyed down. Snape picked me up and drove me up to the mountains. I met some of his family, rode a pooka, met an elemental guardian of death who just happens to be Snape's great-great-and-then-some grandmother, learned to snowboard, saw a dead parrot get turned into a live, naked woman, and saw Voldemort get what was coming to him." He took a deep drink of pumpkin juice. "That's all."
Draco leaned forward eagerly, all thoughts of rivalry forgotten in his excitement.
"You learned to snowboard?"
It was bizarre, Draco mused later as he wandered up the stairs to Slytherin Tower in the company of Professor Snape and Helen — or should he be calling her Mrs Snape? — the way that two people who hated each other's guts could sit down and talk sports as if they were bosom buddies. For a short time he had actually found Potter's company enjoyable without needing to indulge in the familiar cut-and-thrust of their rivalry.
Living with Muggles has made me soft. But he didn't feel anger, and neither did he hear an echo of his father's voice in the thought. By easing up on the other boy he'd actually obtained some good information. Plus, without Weasley and the Granger Mudblood, Potter forgot his holier-than-thou attitude and became almost interesting. Draco had even found himself smiling and, after one of Potter's stories about Helen-the-kea, laughing out loud. By the time Snape and Helen had returned arm in arm he'd heard all about Potter's adventures among the colonials without having had to tell Potter the real reason he'd run away from Durmstrang.
Five minutes of being nice after years of being an absolute bastard had just paid off.
It wasn't often Draco had ventured up into Slytherin Tower. It was rumoured that Snape had living quarters up there, but had chosen to renovate rooms for himself in the Dungeons instead, a more fitting living area given his sombre disposition and the Dungeons' propinquity to his students and teaching laboratories. The Tower was, like all the towers of Hogwarts, airy and well-lit during the daytime. It was also warmer than the Dungeons, unfortunately. Draco was already beginning to sweat. He promised himself a nice, cold bath as soon as he was settled into his new rooms.
"Here we are," said Helen, bouncing through the wooden door Snape held open for her. "Home sweet home, although don't expect me to start cross-stitching any samplers with some motto that's so old it's got grey hairs on its grey hairs." She skipped into the centre of the room and spun around gracefully on the Turkish rug there, flinging her arms wide.
In that moment Draco could imagine her as a bird.
"Well, Draco-chick; don't just stand there gawping like a great gawper, come in!"
Yes, definitely a parrot. One of his mother's cousins had had one that swore like a hedge-wizard. Helen's insults needed work. Doubtless Snape would help with that. "Are these your rooms now, sir?" he asked Snape.
The Professor was cut off by his wife, who skipped over and took Draco by the hand and dragged him into the room. "Ours, Draco," she said firmly, her strange, dark-honey eyes glowing happily. "His and mine and yours, now, too. Isn't that wonderful?"
Draco looked askance at his Head of House, who shrugged. "Helen has decided to kidnap you. She tried to kidnap Potter..."
"Harry," interrupted Helen.
"... Potter; but the Headmaster, in his infinite wisdom, decided that it would be best for everyone involved if Potter stayed at Hogwarts."
Helen sniffed. "No wonder Rona doesn't like Dumbledore. He's selfish."
Rona... Rona... Oh yes, that was right. Potter had said something about Snape having a foster sister called Rona.
"And you are still learning what is and is not permissible in the human world. And," Snape added thoughtfully, as Helen threw Draco's bag onto the couch and sat down next to it with a sulky thump, "you would still be learning to regulate your caffeine intake. How many cups of chocolate have you had today?"
Helen folded her arms and glared at her husband, who was watching her mildly. "Less than yesterday."
"Given that yesterday you made yourself sick, strangely I find I am not reassured." He sighed and ushered Draco over to the couch. He then took a seat in an armchair opposite. "Well, Draco. Helen has decided that you should stay in the Slytherin Head of House's personal quarters with us. Merlin knows but there's enough space, but do you want somewhere a little more private? Hush, Helen. The boy's sixteen now. Let him make up his own mind."
Personal space would be nice, but Draco had had enough of being on his own. This was the first time he'd had a chance to spend much time with Professor Snape other than in the student-teacher role, and now that he was recovering from the almost shocking discovery that his favourite teacher was not, after all, the enemy, Draco wanted to make the most of the opportunity.
There were so many questions he wanted to ask the man. When had he decided to turn on Voldemort? Why? What had it been like to be a spy? What were his personal feeling on Lucius Malfoy?
And the most important question of all was: Did he think Draco was more than the sum of his parents?
Draco wondered where that thought had come from. What could Snape know about Draco that Draco didn't already know?
Something tickled at the back of his mind. It was that little sleeping voice which stirred sometimes, turned over, yawned, and said: What do you think you're doing, Draco? and would then go back to sleep.
Now that little voice had stirred again. It was saying that Professor Snape might be able to help with Draco's identity crisis (Oh for Merlin's sake. I'm having an identity crisis? That's such a cliché!).
Helen nudged his leg with her toe. "Please say you'll stay, Draco. Sev's told me so much about you and I'd love to get to know you."
She had such gentle sincerity in her voice that Draco, to his shame, had to blink back tears. He hoped Professor Snape hadn't notice his weakness. That there was someone who actually wanted to know him for himself rather than as the Malfoy heir was a novelty he hadn't known before he'd left Durmstrang.
To think he'd found acceptance among Muggles and some woman who up until recently had been an alpine parrot.
"Sir? Are you sure it wouldn't be an imposition?"
"It would make my wife very happy."
But would it make Snape happy? That fathomless black gaze held no invitation, only secrets. "Then if you don't mind I'd like to stay." Despite the stifling heat. Just to have Helen look at him and see someone real.
Snape smiled and Draco let out his breath in relief. Professor Snape had never bothered to hide his displeasure. A genuine smile from Snape was as good as a ticker-tape parade welcoming home a hero.
"Where shall I put my things?"
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.
Chapter Four: The Dream
He must have been dressed in his night-clothes and put to bed at some stage of the evening. Or maybe he was still on the couch dreaming.
Whatever had happened, Draco felt like he was almost awake. He had had this dream before at Durmstrang, but never so strongly. It was a good dream, one that left him tired the next day but relieved at the same time, as if he had taken care of something during the night that needed to be done. It was a similar ticklish feeling to the one he got when that little voice at the back of his mind stirred and suggested something.
In the dream the night took on little bluish sparkles that limned edges and corners. Draco slipped into his robes and drifted through the door of his room into the main quarters.
The door out of Snape's quarters was warded, but it was a standard Slytherin ward that Draco knew. During the holidays Snape could afford to be lax.
This wasn't the first time Draco had been out in Hogwarts corridors after curfew. There was, as always, the danger of encountering a prowling Mrs Norris, or Peeves the poltergeist out on an ectoplasmic bender.
The little voice at the back of Draco's mind was wide awake now, and it sensed all these potential hindrances before they could become part of the dream. Draco glided through the corridors like a ghost.
Not even the ghosts noticed him.
Down from Slytherin Tower and then up again, up, up, up to the Astronomy Tower. The highest point in Hogwarts. During term-time this tower was a favourite place for romantic liaisons — or just good-old fashioned snog-fests. Given that Snape was probably the youngest member of the faculty, not to mention married, Draco couldn't see anyone complaining about being interrupted in their lust-a-thon. And if they did Draco could just tell them that this was his dream, and they should get the hell out of it. That had worked in the past at Durmstrang. And as nobody had mentioned anything the next day it was proof that these nocturnal excursions were mere vivid dreams.
All those stairs were hard work and only half-way up he'd come out in a light sweat, but at the top of the tower was his reward: that cold breeze Draco had been craving.
He drank it in like nectar.
The top of the wall up here wasn't low, but Draco was agile. He climbed up onto a ledge.
The night was pitch-black, it being only just after the new moon, but spread out below him was the Dark Forest. Draco never had found out where it ended. If he looked hard over at the lake he could see the waters rippling as the Giant Squid trawled for water cooled by the breeze. His eyes weren't focussing properly... there was a trick to it. What was it? Ah yes. A special way of blinking. A membrane moved from the inner corners of his eyes and back again, lubricating his eyeballs in some liquid that enhanced the starlight.
Up here only a few bats searching for moths ventured; most of the owls were home with their owners. There was a flash of white as a Snowy owl swooped after a mouse — after another blink Draco could see the mouse way, way down on the ground, and he felt a visceral thrill as the owl thrust forth talons and made her kill.
Smell was sharper, too. Chemicals wafting on moist night breezes took on new strengths. He flared his nostrils and the night almost overwhelmed him with sensation. He was becoming drunk on it. From far away was the scent of centaurs. Closer was the sweet musk of a unicorn stallion foraging on the edge of the forest. A stray eddy brought him the slightly sour musk of a carnivore — a hippogriff, by the backnote that hung in his throat. The memory it raised was even sourer... hadn't he scented this hippogriff before? <Slashing-talons-slicing-down-his-arm> Draco rolled back his upper lip and flexed his fingers like a cat's claws. That little voice said that another large carnivore was a challenge: one that Draco should meet some night.
Draco spread his arms wide, his robes falling back leaving his forearms bare. The wind stroked through the fine, blond hairs there. On the undersides of his arms it felt like silk. In that moment he felt as is he could leap from the tower and glide down and across the wide expanse that glittered beneath him. The wind would catch him and lift him up to the stars should he wish it.
Should I jump?
No, not tonight. Dreams take time to mature, said that voice. For tonight just feel the wind. Feel it sing through my fingers. Feel it caress my face. Feel its ebb and flow and know how it —
Then some rude bastard grabbed his robes and yanked him backwards.
Draco swore as he fell. He didn't have his wand with him (Idiot!) and had a brief vision of himself cracking his skull open on the flagstones. It would sound like a pot plant being dropped, it would... He'd heard that sound at Durmstrang the week before he'd left.
But someone caught him before he could dash his brains out.
Green eyes, dorky glasses, stupid scar...
It was Potter, and he didn't manage to stop Draco from hitting the ground hard enough to wind himself. Draco woke to find himself gasping for breath. "What the fuck do you think you're playing at, Potter?" he snarled.
Potter, the great idiot, looked almost as angry as Draco felt. "What the fuck do you think you're playing at? I just saved your life, you great goiterous git."
"Like bollocks you did, Potty."
"No? So you weren't just about to throw yourself off the tallest tower in Hogwarts?"
"No, actually, I wasn't," Draco snapped out, managing to lever himself up onto his elbows. "So what — you think I'm suicidal?"
Potter pushed his glasses back up his nose — they'd been knocked sideways in the scuffle. "Well, yeah. Your parents hate you along with the rest of the wizarding world; you've got no money, and you can't throw around your family name anymore."
Draco kicked out at him. "Well, I'm still not a smarmy little Gryffindor who can't see the woods for the trees and thinks everything revolves around his personal gravitational field because he's just completed his life's work. In other words, I've still got things to do without a lot of stupid expectations weighing me down, while you have done your work and can be put out to pasture. The world doesn't need you anymore. If we're comparing relative suicidal tendencies here, by rights it should be me pulling you off ledges. Except I wouldn't."
Potter had gone a dangerous shade of red.
"Fuck you, Malfoy," he finally ground out. "If you're so deprived of basic human kindness that you can't recognise it when someone does you a favour, then you're a sadder human being than I thought. If you are a human being, of course, because I just saw you blink with a third eyelid. Just remember that if you do jump you'll be doing me a favour."
"Heaven forbid I should do you any favours."
"Keep that in mind next time you're feeling like topping yourself. Dickhead."
He pulled his invisibility cloak around him and disappeared.
Draco listened to Potter's feet stomping back down the stairs. He sat up and rubbed his elbows. There would be bruises there tomorrow. And around his throat where that idiot had jerked his robe tight around his neck.
But they were nothing compared to his racing thoughts.
It's not a dream. It's real. This... this whatever that is happening to me... it's real.
And then was the thought so icy it made him shiver: Was I really going to jump?
Am I suicidal? Am I crazy? Is there a part of me that wants to die?
For a moment he'd considered jumping from the parapet. It had seemed the most natural thing in the world. The thin night air would have held him, he'd been certain.
This dream, the one he'd enjoyed so much, wasn't a dream. It was real.
And it could kill him.
And what the hell was that "third eyelid" business? Draco tried to blink that special blink again, but the best he could achieve was going cross-eyed.
Draco, despite being sixteen and a capable wizard even without his wand, couldn't help a small meep! of fright.
Out of the shadows glided the tall figure of the Potions master.
"Sleepwalking, Mr Malfoy?"
Draco scrambled to his feet. "I... I only came up for some cool air, sir. I wasn't going to... I mean I'd never..."
Snape waved him quiet. "I realise that, Draco. I, too, occasionally find the need for quiet reflection far away from the hustle-bustle down in the rest of the castle. But I, however, normally try not to wake up everyone in the process."
Snape lifted one corner of his thin mouth in what could have been a smile. "Next time you decide to indulge in somnambulism, do us all a kindness and don't set off all the wards between Slytherin Tower and the Great Hall, hmm?"
"Oh, indeed. You can make your apologies tomorrow."
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. Um... is Potter..."
Snape's eyes narrowed disdainfully at the mention of the Gryffindor. "Headmaster Dumbledore has decided that as Potter's enemies are dead he is safe to wander Hogwarts at night should the inclination take him." By his icy tone it was clear how strongly Snape disapproved of this.
The breeze whispered through the crenellations of the parapet and tickled the fine hairs on the back of Draco's neck.
Come and play.
Draco wavered, then blinked to discover Snape's hooded gaze on him. The scrutiny was unnervingly intense; Snape seemed to be waiting for... something. A sign. An omen. A key to the future.
Whose future? Draco's?
The moment stretched and broke.
"Come," said Snape. "It's going to be a busy day tomorrow."
That busy day started early, down in the relative coolness of the Potions classroom.
"It's not Polyjuice Potion, is it?" said Harry Potter, doubtfully eyeing the smoking goblets, keeping a desk between him and Snape.
"No," Snape replied. "This is a variation of Morpholytic Familius. Polyjuice Potion lasts a mere hour... unless you muck up the potion and add a part of an animal instead of a human... say, a cat... in which case you end up in the infirmary for some time to your dismay and your teacher's amusement."
Draco wondered what that was about. Potter had gone bright red.
Snape continued. "This potion isn't taught at Hogwarts. It's not actually banned, as such, but it is regarded as one of the less savoury examples of the art."
He muttered a brief incantation. There was a small puff of yellow smoke, and condensation began to form on the goblets.
Draco shrugged as he caught Potter's eye. Potter hadn't said anything about last night, to everyone's relief. Draco didn't want Helen worrying, and if Snape had been bothered by what had happened, well, he hadn't said anything. Snape wasn't normally shy about expressing anger. Draco had been on the receiving end enough times to know that if Snape was pissed off then Draco would be the first to know about it.
Draco lifted the cup like a challenge, toasting Potter once, sardonically, before downing the contents in one swallow.
It was like ice, but not the way Draco craved.
Ice should be soothing, not this chilly twisting that crackled through veins and sinews. A colony of termites had taken up residence in his body and were busy reworking it to meet their own blueprints. Blinking through a mist of tears, he noticed that Potter was also doubled over, choking.
Tall as an oak, Snape watched them, the folds of his cloak drawn around him and his face showing only a mild, professional curiosity.
On the other hand, maybe this is his way of telling me I screwed up last night...
With a faint twang! that felt like his ears popping after a steep climb during Quidditch, only felt throughout his entire body, Draco's discomfort was gone.
He leaned on a desk, gasping.
"Hah," Potter said shortly, surprised and a little amused.
"Want to share the joke, Potter?"
"You look like a Weasley."
Horrified, Draco spelled a tabletop into a mirror. He stared into it with no small amount of dismay. His perfect skin was... "I've got freckles!"
"But you don't have red hair," Snape said silkily. "Perhaps Mr Potter would like to have a look at his own reflection?"
Draco looked up at his teacher. Then looked at Potter.
"What's so funny?" Glaring at Draco suspiciously, Potter looked down at his reflection. "Oh no! Malfoy, we look like brothers!"
"Worse," chortled Draco, wondering if Professor Snape had been making a joke or just trying to get some obscure message through. The former, he decided. "We're twins. We can write to Mrs Weasley and ask her to knit us jerseys — one with an aitch on it for you, and one with a dee for me!"
Assured that the potion would last until evening, Draco and Potter had parted company at the top of the stairs down to the Dungeons; Draco to look for Helen, and Potter to go and explain to anyone in the Great Hall that he was actually Harry Potter and there was a double running around who was actually Draco Malfoy.
Draco vowed to transfigure his Slytherin badge to a Gryffindor one at the earliest opportunity and tell people what he thought Harry Potter should have told them years ago... or what Draco Malfoy thought they needed to be told, which amounted to the same thing.
Smirking at the thought, he began the ascent to Slytherin Tower, only to be flattened by Peeves.
"Out of the way! Out of the way!" shouted the poltergeist gleefully. "VIP coming through — that'd be me, ex-blondie!"
Rattling suits of armour as he went, Peeves shot off down one of the corridors.
After dusting himself off, Draco looked up to see Helen running down the staircase. She stopped at Draco.
"Draco or Harry... have you seen a ghost with a bow-tie?" she panted.
"Peeves? What do you want him for?"
"We're playing hide-and-seek," she announced. "I'm It. Which way did he go?"
Before he could think, Draco pointed down the corridor. Then he remembered himself and gave himself a mental kick. "Wait..."
"No time!" shouted Helen, her voice Dopplering behind her as she sped off in pursuit of the poltergeist. "Sev wants to go in an hour, and I promised Peeves we'd play this morning!"
Helen shouldn't be playing with Peeves. He'd end up hurting her, or luring her over a balcony and then...
A cold hand settled on his shoulder. Draco turned to see the Bloody Baron. The grim Slytherin ghost gave Draco a solemn look of reassurance before floating off after Helen.
Whew. The Baron was the only one who could control Peeves. Snape must have set him to watch over his wife. As Draco watched, the Baron fluttered into invisibility, but Draco was in no doubt that the ghost would be watching over Helen Snape.
If Peeves set one incorporeal toe out of line he'd lose it.
From somewhere far away down the maze of hallways came a crash, followed by a whoop of triumph from Helen. "Found you!"
Well, he'd seen Helen. What to do now? Draco decided to wander into the Great Hall and see if there was anything light to eat.
He paused by the side door, listening.
Potter was in there with that murderer Sirius Black, who was ranting about something. The werewolf's voice could be heard, too. Draco peeped around the door. Yes, Black and Lupin. Sprout was there, talking to Flitwick, and Vector was tucking into a plate of kippers.
"Um, Sirius..." Potter was saying, looking slightly mutinous, although that could have been the new face.
Black's pugnacious voice rose. "...Ghastly woman. Last night I thought I'd never be able to eat again, and I've eaten rats. Her and that slimy git deserve each other."
"Sirius..." the werewolf admonished softly as Potter's face darkened around the new freckles.
"No, hear me out, Moony. She thinks that just because Harry liked her when she was a parrot she can get away with behaving appallingly now that she's human. If she is human. Nothing human could be that fond of Snape."
Draco's eyes narrowed.
Potter slammed his cup down onto the table and stood up. "She's brave and she's kind. And you're forgetting that the reason she's a human now is because you had Snape put into a position where he would've died. Protecting me, I might add; protecting me from the creatures you allowed to find me when you barrelled down to New Zealand. Professor Snape would have been killed. He was certainly tortured." Potter's voice cracked as if he were genuinely upset. That would have been new from Boy Wonder — he'd never cared about Snape's welfare before. "Because of me. I owe Helen, true, but that's not why I like her. I like her because she's honest and she cares about people. So what if she loves Professor Snape? That's her choice and it's between them. But don't you start hassling her just because you're jealous that Snape's finally managed to get what you've never had — a loving wife."
Black spluttered. "Jealous!"
Potter kicked back his stool and strode out of the Hall. As he passed Draco he snarled, "Heard enough?"
Draco shrugged, having thought he'd been out of sight. All his plans for transfiguring badges were forgotten in this rare fellow-feeling with Potter. He had a new plan, anyway. One that made him cringe inside a little, admittedly, as it involved the unthinkable — being polite to Potter for a whole day — but a plan that was probably worth going through. A brilliant plan... if it worked, of course. And for that he needed to get Potter on-side.
"I guess," Draco replied calmly. "Actually, I was going to propose a truce for today."
Potter spun around. "Say what?"
Draco raised an eyebrow. "Well, as Helen wants to take us into London and Professor Snape is ready to have us locked in our rooms at the slightest provocation," which was overdoing it, but hey, a little hyperbole never went amiss, "I thought we should be on our best behaviour."
"Meaning?" asked Potter, narrowing his eyes suspiciously.
"Meaning exactly that," said Draco, not wanting to tell Potter that now that Helen was pregnant Snape would cut out their hearts with a spoon if they upset his wife. If Helen wanted them to know she'd tell them. It wasn't Draco's news to spill.
"So what's in it for you?"
"Does anything have to be in it for me? Can't I just be pleasant for Mrs Snape's benefit?"
"Well then you'll just have to accept that I'm trying to protect her. And Professor Snape." And any future Snapelings...
"And how is your being nice going to effect that?"
"Well, for that I need your help..."
Chapter Five: Cold War
None of them knew exactly how long the trial would last.
Snape, looking bitter as ever at the prospect of being a witness in favour of Sirius Black, had told the trio not to bring attention to themselves, not to endanger Muggles and themselves by using magic, and to just generally to stay out of trouble. With his gaze still lingering on Potter after that last decree, Snape had given Helen a Muggle device called a "beeper" and told her to update him using that should she need any assistance. He, in turn, would inform them when the court had finished with him.
Looking uglier than a camel that had just bitten into the world's sourest lemon and was about to spit it right back out again, Snape took them by Portkey from the gates of Hogwarts to the Leaky Cauldron end of Diagon Alley.
"Don't make me come back here before I have to," he warned once they had passed through the Leaky Cauldron and into the streets of Muggle London.
"Oh, stop fussing," said Helen, managing to stand on tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek and pick a piece of lint off his black jacket at the same time. "It'll give you ulcers."
"I have a great deal of experience in curing them."
"I bet you do. But that's no excuse for working yourself into a frenzy."
The sour look turned to distilled ascetic acid. "I do not..."
"You'd better go. Your friends are waiting for you," said Helen, waving to Lupin. She and Black seemed superbly happy to ignore each other today, but she was getting along well enough with the werewolf.
Snape drew himself up with hauteur. "I'd hardly call them my ?"
"Yes, dear. Now go and play nicely."
With a snort, Snape turned on his heel and stalked off. Without his billowing robes the effect was diminished slightly.
Helen smiled. "Isn't he fun." She linked arms with the boys. "Now: where shall we go first?"
Draco caught Potter's eye — Potter nodded.
Plan A was about to go into operation.
Draco knew a shop in an old arcade fairly near the Leaky Cauldron that was frequented more often than was admitted by some of the pure-blood families. Ask them about it directly and they'd say they wouldn't be seen dead in such establishments, but Draco knew for a fact that there were some things the Muggle world supplied that the wizarding did not, and Lladro figurines was one of them.
His mother had started a bit of a trend.
He was counting on that trend still being in effect amongst the womenfolk of the Death Eater families, who liked (he knew) nothing better than a chance to catch up and swap gossip while shopping. Mrs Crabbe and Mrs Goyle had fairly rigid schedules and were known to drag their sons along with them when they went shopping.
Today should be Narcissa's day for the Parisian boutiques. Draco was hoping like hell that his mother was sticking to her schedule.
"Oh, what a good idea!" exclaimed Helen, clasping her hands in delight at the sight of all the chinaware. "I wanted to get a tea set, but didn't know who to ask. Severus took me to Diagon Alley, but they didn't have anything nearly as nice as these!" She favoured them both with a brilliant smile that made some of the male passers-by turn their heads.
Not just some of the passers-by. Draco noticed a couple of heavily-built teenagers sitting outside one of the caf鳠and trying to pass as Muggles.
"Uh — Helen?"
"What is it, Draco?"
"I just need to see a couple of old friends."
"What? But Severus told us to remain in disguise. I hardly think going over and meeting your old pals is being obedient to the wishes of He Who Must Be Obeyed."
"Well, I'm not going to tell them it's me."
"That's a strange way to interact with your friends. Do you think it's emotionally healthy?"
"It's a Slytherin thing," said Potter, while Draco was still trying to work out an answer.
"I'm sure it is. I'm also sure Severus wouldn't approve."
"I'll go with him and make sure he behaves, Helen," said Potter piously. Bastard.
Helen gave him an ancient look. "And who's going to make sure you behave, Harry-chick?"
"If we do anything wrong Professor Snape'll have our hides nailed up in the trophy room," Draco argued. "Harry-chick knows that as well as I do." He smirked.
"Harry-chick" glowered at him. "For once in his life Malfoy wants to do something altruistic. I think we should be supportive since 'good-will to all men' doesn't come naturally to him." He looked sombre, as if a tooth was bothering him. "Helen, there are people out there who aren't happy with Professor Snape. They could be a major problem for you at some stage — if not now, then certainly later. These people have long memories and can pass down a grudge like a treasured family heirloom. If we can start a few counter-rumours now..."
"Ah. So it is a Slytherin thing." Helen smiled archly. "Play carefully, children, if you can't play nicely. I'll be just over here in this china shop."
Draco and Potter eyed each other. They hadn't expected persuading Helen to be so easy.
After making sure that Helen had gone into a shop devoid of Death Eater associates, Draco sauntered over to the table where Crabbe and Goyle were sitting, with Potter stalking behind him, the distrust in the gaze of the Boy Who Lived boring into the back of Draco's neck like flame from a Hungarian Horntail.
Merlin, but Draco's old cronies had grown in the last few months... There really must have been troll in both their ancestries. They looked up sullenly as Draco and Potter approached.
Draco swung a chair around and straddled it. "You guys aren't Vincent Crabbe and Greg Goyle, are you?"
"What's it to you, shrimp?" Goyle. Ever the quick wit when it came to repartee.
Draco held up his hands in mock-surrender. "Sorry. Didn't want to bother you. Just a friend of mine, Draco, described two guys who looked like you. I thought I'd just check, 'cos he's been worried about those guys."
Crabbe and Goyle sat up straighter, their stupid eyes lighting up with interest. "Draco? Draco Malfoy?" asked Goyle.
"Yup. You sure you're not those guys?"
"Yes — I, ah, I, ah, I mean no, we are those guys," stammered Goyle. "Sorry. Didn't know you were friends of Draco's..."
He was babbling. Draco cut him off with a wave of his hand. "I understand." He leaned forward conspiratorially. "We have to be careful, after all. Things have been a bit... tense lately, if you know what I mean."
His former cronies scowled. "We do."
"But," said Crabbe, who had always been the brighter of the two, "how do we know you're friends of Draco's?"
"Let's see... something he'd know that..." Draco smiled a truly evil smile. "How about the way you, Crabbe, thought that Draco didn't know that you were descended from Uric the Oddball's daughter and a troll until that day you hassled him about the Malfoys not being pure-bloods because they have a bit of Veela in them? Didn't Draco tell you, and I quote, 'I wouldn't be too quick with the slander, or you'll find your family tree displayed on the Whomping Willow'." Crabbe's complexion oscillated rapidly between pale and puce. "And Goyle, you —"
"That's okay," the other boy babbled. "We believe you, don't we, Vince?"
"Um, yeah. Sure we do."
"Good." Draco smirked, then remembered he was meant to be someone else and smiled instead. "Anyway, my name's Deacon. This — " he jerked a thumb at the transformed Potter "— is Bob. Say 'hi,' Bob."
"Hi," said "Bob" with his teeth gritted.
"Draco heard we were going to be in London today. He asked us to keep an eye out for you and find out if you guys were okay."
"Really?" asked Goyle, thick eyebrows raising.
"Uh-huh. He's been worried about you and your families after all the you-know-what over You-Know-Who."
There was a pause involving two pairs of lips moving silently while they worked it out.
"Oh." Crabbe and Goyle's faces darkened again sullenly. "Yeah. That wasn't great. Who would've thought that Snape of all people would be a traitor?"
Draco raised his eyebrows and hoped Potter was doing the same. "You're joking right? Severus Snape, a traitor?"
"Well, he was there when the Dark Lord fell. He helped Potter to..." Goyle trailed off as Draco shook his head sadly. "What?"
"Don't you know what really happened?" Draco sneered. "Honestly. I thought you two would be right in the midst of all the information."
"Well, we are..." said Crabbe in a sullen voice.
Draco snorted. "Obviously not. Haven't you got any idea of what happened — well, no, you can't have," he added disgustedly. "I don't know how our Lord ever got as far as he did without better support." Sorrowfully he shook his head. "I suppose it was only because he had people like the Malfoys and Severus Snape helping him that he even had a hope of not being tripped up by the morons on his own side."
"Hey, are you calling us —"
"Morons? Yes, I am," Draco sneered, hoping he wasn't pushing these two dunderheads too far. "Obvious morons, if you believe the tripe that Severus Snape was a traitor."
"But he —"
"— Led Harry Potter straight to the place of sacrifice just as the Dark Lord wanted. It wasn't his fault that Dumbledore showed up with Aurors just as he got Potter there. It turns out that some idiot got hold of Potter's owl and used her for a tracking spell, which made the old Hogwarts fool suspicious."
By their looks of chagrin he guessed they'd known something of the plot to find Potter. Bingo, as the Muggles said.
"Snape got knocked out in the first volley — and by someone on our own side, too," Draco said, his voice dripping with contempt. "Luckily it looked like Snape'd been trying to protect the beloved Potter and, being the genius that he is, managed to avert suspicion. They think he's their hero now, rather than the Death Eater he is." Draco shook his head again, this time in admiration. "And as for the Malfoys..."
"Yes," said Goyle.
"What happened to Draco?" said Crabbe. Both were leaning forward eagerly, absolutely captivated.
"Well, and this is the weird bit, when Draco left Durmstrang —"
The muttered insults came thick and fast, surprising Draco, who had been expecting a little vitriol. Just not this much.
"Ran away, cowardly little ferret..."
"Little worm never had any backbone. Always got us to do his dirty work..."
"At Durmstrang he spent all his time getting into trouble with the teachers so's he'd get detention and get to spend time alone out in the snow playing girlie games like building snow-wizards..."
"Ferret-features thought he didn't need us anymore."
Potter turned a snigger into a cough. Draco's face had gone rigid. "My, my, what a lot of bile. I recommend Banscroft Thistle as a liver tonic, myself. But as for Draco running away? Tut, tut, tut. That's what you were supposed to think," he said, barely keeping a lid on his anger by reminding himself that he was talking to these hippogriff-ends to help the Snapes. "You remember that week when he left Durmstrang? That was just after you'd gone on your first Muggle-baiting expedition. You must remember it. The teachers weren't supposed to know about it, of course, but Professor Fowley turned a blind eye. All in the gallant school tradition, of course."
"Draco never had much real interest in that kind of thing," Crabbe said slowly, thinking. "But he helped us catch that old man. Wanted to let him go, too, the weak-stomached little —"
"Yes, yes. As he said, murder brings too much attention. You should have listened to him, you know. He told you to stop but, well, you were having fun, I suppose... And then you levitated the old Muggle and you, you clumsy great di— ah, well, you dropped him."
Crabbe shrugged. "Never was much good at Charms." His brow wrinkled. "Draco told you about that?"
"Yes. He said he remembered the sound of the man's head breaking." Draco rubbed at his nose, hoping his hands weren't shaking. Damn. They were. He clasped his hands under the table before anyone could notice. He still remembered that sound. Worse, he remembered it when he woke up in the middle of the night and wondered if it had any part of the person he really was.
Crabbe smiled. "Sounded hollow — that's Muggles for you. I bet a Mudblood's skull would sound the same — maybe we should test it out on that Granger flobberworm sometime."
"Quite," Draco replied with a cold smile, aware that behind him Potter was working himself up to an indignant Gryffindor fury that wouldn't help anyone. A change of subject was in order. "So, as I was saying, Draco left Durmstrang. He knew that it wasn't a good time to leave and that people would assume the worst about him, but he was under orders from the Dark Lord himself."
"Voldemort?" Crabbe gasped.
"No, Darth Vader, idiot," Draco snapped. "Who the hell do you think I'm talking about?" Not that they'd know who Darth Vader was, of course. Draco hadn't until only a month ago, and then he'd been absolutely transfixed for the duration of the movie. Who'd known Muggles had such magic? Voldemort thought he'd been pretty hot, but he'd never had a cool leit motif like Darth Vader... "And don't say his name out loud. You never know who's listening."
Draco shrugged. "Someone wanting money from turning in families of Dark wizards, perhaps? These are bad times for us."
Mutters of agreement.
"But I digress. Draco was sent out on assignment. That's why he kept getting himself detentions so that he could meet up with the Dark Lord's agents outside Durmstrang. Snape was the one who recommended Malfoy for the assignment and our Lord agreed and made the orders. I'm not sure what the details were or who the Death Eaters were who were involved — Draco is fairly close-mouthed about it now, as he should be, but I have my suspicions, and those involve the Dark Lord preparing himself in case the unthinkable happened and he was defeated again." Draco sighed a dramatic sigh. "As we all know, the unthinkable did happen, and we all have to hope that the refuge Snape and Draco prepared for him was sufficient."
"Yes. I mean that we have to do what we've done before. We wait. We conserve our resources. And then, when he rises again, we follow."
Crabbe and Goyle sat back, eyes wide. "Gosh. So Snape's really on our side?" asked Crabbe, still only half-believing.
"Of course. But it's difficult work for him. He's already making some inroads at the Ministry, and Dumbledore thinks he's his tame little Potions master..."
"Is it true that Professor Snape's giving evidence at Sirius Black's trial? That he's helping Black?"
Shredding a paper packet of sugar into a saucer, Draco smirked. "He's good, isn't he?"
"Blimey, yeah," said Crabbe. "So is Draco okay?"
About bloody time you asked... "Well, Draco was worried that your families might have been caught up in the backlash." Let them feel bad for being the miserable short-sighted idiots they are. "It's been hard for him to get word about the people he cares about." Or wants to keep a surreptitious eye on, anyway. "He's been worried about his friends, that I do know. He's fine, otherwise. He was staying with my family in Australia last week, which is how we got to catch up on what had been happening."
"New base of operations, if Snape has his way," Draco replied airily. "Lots of space, somewhere the Aurors won't suspect us of hiding out, and there is already an established network of contacts there."
"Oh." Crabbe looked like he wanted to ask more questions, but Draco had caught a familiar reflection in a shop window.
"Well, it's been absolutely charming to meet you chaps at long last. When the time comes we'll have to swap notes in Australia. I know a lovely little bistro that serves excellent barbequed prawns — run by Muggles and the beer is ghastly, but you can't have everything." Draco shook hands with the bewildered Crabbe and Goyle and stood. "Another time," he said, hoping he wasn't gabbling.
"Sorry Goyle, but I must dash. Urgent business and all — you know how it is. Come, Bob."
Potter, looking bemused, followed Draco after eyeing his two former classmates with a disconcertingly direct stare that promised Bad Things in Future.
Draco approved — Crabbe and Goyle squirmed satisfyingly under it. It was a look he'd have to practise later in the mirror.
"Why the sudden rush?" Potter asked. "Helen isn't back out yet."
"Well, she's an ex-parrot, isn't she?" Draco temporised. "And Professor Snape isn't notoriously keen on flamboyant colours in his presence. I think that's one of the reasons he can't stand the Weasleys, among their more obvious deficiencies, of course. We need to stop her from making some sort of mistake in choice that could cause a divorce."
Potter snorted. "My, you are helpful today. So it's nothing to do with the fact that your mother just walked into that lingerie shop?"
"...And I just saw Narcissa walk into a lingerie shop," finished Draco ruefully. "Come on, let's find Helen."
Chapter Six: Others' Dreams
"Not that I'm complaining about the human wisdom Grandmother endowed me with — I mean, two weeks ago I was a bird — but I think it's rather out of date. What do you think, Draco-chick? There was a girl you were looking at today who had a skirt so short that you could almost see her breakfast."
Once he'd worked that out, Draco assured Helen that fashions had changed in the last few hundred years. He remembered that girl, though. She'd had really nice legs. Damn — had Helen noticed him noticing? "I'm not complaining about fashions," he replied. "Not when they're worn like that."
They were back at Hogwarts, back in Slytherin Tower. To Draco's relief Helen hadn't said anything to her husband about the boys' little excursion into counter-espionage.
Helen looked down at her own modest ankle-length skirt. "Do I have good legs?"
Draco choked on a piece of chicken. "Um..."
"It's not in Draco's best interests to answer that one way or the other," Snape interjected. "If he tells you your legs are inferior then he'd have to deal with the wrath of an insulted woman."
Helen frowned. "I wouldn't get angry with him for telling me the truth."
"Give your human responses a little time to mature and you'll find yourself becoming vain in no time at all. Trust me."
Helen's fork hit the table with a clatter. "Is this cynicism? Draco, was Severus being cynical? Rona keeps warning me about that. She says that when Sev gets cynical I have to kiss him senseless to stop him being a prat. So, was that cynicism?"
Dropping his own knife and fork and holding up his hands in surrender, Draco said, "That question was even more unfair than the one about your legs."
"I can't believe Rona said that," Snape argued. "Besides, I've already asked you not to discuss things like that in front of the students."
"Like what? Cynicism or kissing you senseless?" But there was a gleam in Helen's honey-dark eyes that suggested she knew exactly what he meant.
Snape was blushing. "As for your legs," he said in what was for him a pitiful attempt to change the subject, "they carry you around in the normal manner and thus are perfectly adequate. Fashions and hemlines change with astonishing rapidity in the Muggle world. I wouldn't recommend you worry too much about keeping up with the latest fads. How short was this questionable skirt?"
"You could just about see her knickers." Helen propped her chin on her knuckles and stared over the table at her husband. "Should I be wearing a skirt like that?"
Snape blinked rapidly.
Draco looked down at his plate. The temptation to laugh could prove to be fatal.
"Ah," said Snape, "I don't think you should."
"Why not?" Helen pouted. Then she added, "Oh, I see what you mean about vanity. But are my legs really not very good?"
Snape rolled his eyes and muttered what sounded like a prayer for sanity. "Actually, given the high concentration of hormonally challenged teenagers around here during term, if you wore a skirt that short you'd cause a riot. There's a reason we encourage the wearing of long, shapeless robes, you know. And that's because we teachers dislike spending too much time prying the students off each other, let alone the staff."
Apart from Helen's avant garde take on the art of dinner conversation, it was a quiet trio that ate dinner in Snape's quarters that evening. Draco didn't mind the change in setting — the Great Hall was a bit too jolly for his tastes tonight, what with the celebration over the success of today's court proceedings. Snape's evidence (given under Veritaserum) had been regarded as the clincher. Sirius Black, to the great relief of all but four of the castle's current occupants, was expected to be pardoned tomorrow. All the occupants barring those three in Snape's quarters and Filch (who was probably off practising his routes for sneaking up on students when the school year started) were down slapping each other's backs in the Great Hall.
Draco didn't wish the man any particular grief, but Black had insulted Helen and, as such, was instantly filed under B for Bastard. Helen seemed to take the whole thing with a grain of salt providing Severus wasn't in any way affected by Black being a free man.
"He's served his time," he said cryptically.
Served his time for what? Draco wondered. If he was innocent of the murder of the Potters, then what had his crime been? It must have been something fairly horrific if Snape thought over a decade in Azkaban was appropriate.
Draco asked, but Snape's scowl and Helen's shake of the head warned him that pursuing the topic wouldn't be a good idea.
"So what shall we do tomorrow?" Helen asked. Luckily she had abandoned the topics of skirts and kissing Snape senseless, two topics Draco found incredibly uncomfortable hearing about from Mrs Snape, especially with Professor Snape in the room. She was eating lamb chops. Again. "Can we go to Hogsmeade?"
Snape made to reply, then doubled over with a muffled grunt.
Helen cried out: "What's wrong?"
Hissing, Snape drew in a breath. "Grandmother," he replied shortly, biting off the syllables. "She thinks I've been away too long. Tomorrow we'll be taking a Continental Drifter home."
"Oh." Helen was crestfallen as only an ex-parrot can be. "And we won't be taking Harry-chick?"
"No," Snape snapped. "Thank the gods."
Privately, Draco agreed. He'd felt a nasty stab of jealousy when Helen had mentioned Potter.
Helen speared a piece of meat viciously. "Dumbledore's a mean old man, not letting us take him home with us. Oh well, at least we get to keep one of them." She smiled at Draco, who smiled back.
"Draco will be staying here at Hogwarts."
There was an outraged squawk from Burd Helen. "What? Sev! You can't leave both of them behind! And Draco would love our home!"
Draco eyed his professor worriedly.
Snape avoided both their gazes as he scowled down at his plate. "Hogwarts is a safer place. He can catch up on his education and the Headmaster will keep an eye out for his safety."
Helen said made a suggestion that was surely biologically impossible, even for powerful wizards skilled in transfiguration. Draco's eyes went round as he squirreled it away in memory.
"You heard me. I want Draco to come back with us."
Draco had heard that Helen had been a stubborn parrot at times when she wanted something. By the belligerent gleam in her eye he wondered if this was one of those times. Flattering though it was, he didn't want to become the source of an argument between her and Professor Snape. He slumped down in his chair a little.
There was a hesitant knock at the door.
Oh, thank Merlin! "Come in!" he shouted, leaping up to open the door.
Potter. Damn and blast, he was actually grateful to Potter, who looked equally surprised at the sight of a Malfoy being happy to see him.
"Sorry," Potter said. "I hope I wasn't interrupting anything."
"Only the beginnings of a humongous fight," Helen told him cheerfully.
"Oh," said Potter, raising an eyebrow at Draco when he realised why the blond was so pleased to see him. "Should I go away and come back when you've got it out of your system?"
Draco glared at him.
"Not at all," Helen assured him. "See? I'm learning manners. I can save up all my arguments for a later time and get angry then. Now I can be a gracious hostess. Tea, Harry-chick?"
"Yes please," Potter replied, unduly solemn. Draco just knew that somewhere under that calm exterior Potter was laughing.
Draco's comment from yesterday about Snape having found a soul-mate seemed to be spot-on.
"Why are you here, Mr Potter?" Snape, all business, said.
Potter nodded, seemingly expecting no less from his Potions master. He sat down in the empty chair next to Draco's and clasped his hands in front of him on the table. "I just came to thank you for what you did for Sirius."
Snape looked at him sourly. "Do you think the Headmaster would have allowed me to do otherwise?"
"I think you don't really need Professor Dumbledore very much at all these days," Potter said shrewdly. "I think you and Helen don't need Hogwarts unless you want it. And I think that if you'd really wanted Sirius to go back to Azkaban you'd have arranged it. I've seen the kind of protection you have from Grandmother, remember."
"You seem to be thinking quite a bit, Potter," Snape said, his eyes glinting strangely. "It never used to be a habit with you."
Potter ducked his head. "As you say, sir," he replied, not sounding angry despite the barb. "But during the short time that I was thinking I thought I should come up and say thank you. Sirius probably won't — he's not the most thoughtful of people, as you know, and Remus would like to but probably doesn't want to disturb you..."
Snape tilted his head to one side. "A wiser man than I thought, that Lupin. And what makes you think you aren't disturbing me?"
Potter grinned. "I'm pretty sure I am, but I'm used to making you angry, you see. And I wasn't sure when you'd be leaving so I wanted to see Helen before you left. Thank you," he added to Helen, as she handed him one of the new cups she'd bought that day.
Instead of the garish abominations the boys had worried about, she had settled for a set of blue Denby after Draco had hinted that Snape preferred plain practicality and pointed out that china painted with frolicking 17th Century milkmaids and their suitors would probably accidentally get lost seconds after Snape set eyes on them. Helen had taken the hint, after admitting that she was probably going to have to work long and hard to develop some sort of taste in these matters. Maybe it wouldn't have mattered what she bought, although upon seeing his wife's purchases Snape had mentioned something approximating approval in Draco's hearing. How they interacted in private was a mystery, but as the forthright Helen hadn't blacked Snape's eye yet (and she was pregnant — wow) Snape must have been more warmly demonstrative than his somewhat arctic public persona suggested.
"I'd hardly leave without saying goodbye, Harry-chick."
"I didn't think so, but I wanted to be sure."
Helen frowned. "I'm hardly one of those Dursley-sheep."
Potter bit his lip trying not to laugh. "No," he said at last, his voice careful. "You're not, are you?"
"And I wanted to tell you something, anyway," Helen said, bouncing in her seat. "Can I, Sev? Can I pleeeeeease? Draco knows. Can't Harry know, too?"
Snape glared at Draco. "And how does Mr Malfoy know?"
"Well, he was half-awake last night when you cast the diagnostic spell."
Blast. Had he been that obvious? Draco avoided Snape's basilisk glare.
"I suppose if..."
"Hooray! Harry — guess what?"
"Oh joy," sighed Snape sourly. "Guessing-games. It'll be Exploding Snap next."
"Make a change from Exploding Snape." Helen waved a hand in his direction airily. "Ignore him... Oh, you'll never guess. I'm pregnant!"
Potter's reaction was a satisfying, eye-popping, "Huh?"
"I'm pregnant — I'm going to have a baby in about nine months and I won't even need to lay an egg because I'm a mammal now and mammals have these amazing gestation devices called 'uteruses' and 'placentas' and..." She stopped for breath, luckily.
At the mention of "placentas," Draco, who'd been trying to eat shitake mushrooms, put his fork down again.
"It's a perfectly normal biological phenomenon, Potter, even if it is a miracle of nature," Snape said coldly. "And now I'd like to stop discussing its miraculously intricate details."
"Helen is, yes," Snape said, with a small, chilly smile at the Gryffindor's slack-jawed disbelief.
"Well, yes, I mean..." Potter gave up, sliding around the table instead to embrace Helen. "That's so wonderful! You're going to be the best mum ever! Is it a boy or a girl?"
Laughing, Helen said, "One thing at a time! I've only just found out that I'm going to have a baby, let alone what sex it'll be. Besides, I don't think I want to know. Do you, Sev?"
"Sev" shrugged while sipping a glass of red wine and being apparently indifferent to the deplorable excess of emotion happening in front of him. "So long as it's definably one or the other, I shan't be too bothered."
Helen snorted and slapped her husband's arm. "Mister Cool. Not so cool last night, when I...oh, all right," she grumbled happily as Snape shot her a furious glare.
Chapter Seven: The Dream Waking
Now it was some time after midnight. And Draco still couldn't sleep. Possibly it was the heat, he thought, and got up to have a cold shower.
Ten minutes later he was feeling more invigorated that sleepy. Maybe it was all the things he had on his mind...
Maybe a mental inventory would help. He sat down on his bed against the headrest, his knees tucked up against his chest.
Item the first: The Snapes were going home tomorrow.
Item the second: He wasn't going with them. He would be staying in this hot place with ghastly Gryffindors and not one Slytherin.
Item the third: If there had been any Slytherins here they would probably have reported him to his father already.
Item the fourth: Lucius Malfoy. His father was probably going to kill him if — no, when — he caught him.
Item the fifth... "Item the fifth" was a disturbing one, albeit in a perversely humorous manner. Draco Malfoy missed the Muggle world. He missed Munich and he wanted to do normal Muggle things like going backpacking around Europe, and getting a mortgage, whatever that was. Well, maybe not the mortgage bit, but certainly the backpacking sounded good. He wanted to travel and meet girls — not necessarily in that order. Certainly at the top of the list was meeting girls.
Item the sixth: Draco had no idea of who he really was. Last night Harry Potter had dragged him out of a near-fatal bout of sleepwalking and accused him of being not only suicidal, but of having a third eyelid.
Up on Astronomy Tower.
Bugger it, Draco thought, more pragmatically than philosophically. I'm going up there again.
He had probably tripped off enough wards to wake most of the castle, but hey, if it was good enough for Potter to go wandering around after hours, then what could they do to Draco?
Boot him out of Hogwarts?
They'd be doing him a kindness. Once Snape was gone who would stop Lucius Malfoy from waltzing in and collecting his errant heir? Dumbledore? Dumbledore the great Gryffindor-lover would hold the door open for Lucius and wish him a speedy journey home with his Slytherin son.
At the bottom of the stairs from Slytherin Tower, Draco paused. There seemed to be light coming out from under the nearest door of the Great Hall. Who could be in there at this hour?
He crept over and leaned up against the ancient oak door.
Music. Softly played, and a waltz. Greatly daring, Draco pushed the door open a crack.
Inside, the Great Hall was lit by the soft lights of the Aurora Borealis. It streamed in great, lambent sheets of red and blue and green through the vastness of the room. Under its majesty the flagstones were coaxed into warming to a soft grey-green that flickered and shifted with its own shadows. All the tables and chairs had been moved aside and were lined up against the walls much as they had been in the Yule Ball over a year ago. There was space for hundreds of people to dance.
There were only two.
There, in the centre of the Hall, danced Snape and Helen.
They were wearing formal dress robes: Snape's were black, of course, even if it was a black that held iridescent echoes of the magical lights of the aurora, but Helen's robes rippled with shimmering brown-greens and were off-set by touches of red at wrist and throat and waist.
They danced slowly, perfectly attuned to the music and each other. When they turned, Draco saw that Helen's eyes were half-closed and she had a dreamy look on her face. Snape's expression seldom showed pleasure, but there were echoes of that intensely joyous look he had worn last night when he and Helen had discovered they were going to be parents.
Feeling like a voyeur intruding upon their private happiness, Draco eased the door shut with the barest click.
When he set off up Astronomy Tower he was much more careful about not setting off the wards.
Had the stairs always been this steep? he wondered as he stopped to catch his breath. Or this many? Maybe living in the Muggle world really did make you soft. The fresh breeze greeted him like an old friend as he stepped out onto the parapet. He held his arms wide, slowly turning with his eyes shut, absorbing the ecstasy of the night. Yes. This was what he had been missing, but it was edged somehow as if he were the piece of a jigsaw puzzle that didn't quite fit in.
Draco shrugged out of his robes. Underneath he was wearing grey silk pyjamas that fluttered gently around the ankles, promising stronger, cooler breezes if he could only get a bit higher. The battlements were higher than his head — they looked promising.
Draco crouched and leaped.
The stone was cool beneath his bare feet. He dug his toes into the cracks between the massive stones, clinging to the top of the wall as he regained breath and balance. His heart was thumping. He'd nearly jumped right over the edge!
He muttered an oath under his breath as he realised how close he'd just come to plummeting to his death, and rechecked his sleeve for his wand, patting it in reassurance when he found it. Not that he wanted to use it. Knowing Lucius, it was charmed to activate a location spell if Draco used it. But it was nice to know that it would be there in an emergency.
With thin moans, the breeze whipped around the battlements and combed Draco's hair away from his face, reminding him of Helen. It was reassuring. After one huge, jaw-cracking yawn he settled back against the night-cold stone that bled off the heat from his body, and half-closed his eyes. For a long time he just sat there, enjoying the cool solitude and the almost-feeling of belonging. The stars had moved several degrees towards morning before the inevitable happened, as it always did, and his curiosity stirred itself into life.
So what happened last night?
Let's see... it wasn't a dream, not unless Potter's suddenly started featuring in my dreams, and Wonderboy should be so lucky. It all felt so...
It had felt good. His body still hungered for the afterglow of those dreams, the sensory command he'd experienced, and the alien thoughts that had been his own.
Actually, Draco realised, that imagery was a tad disturbing. Had he been given some sort of hallucinogenic drug while at Durmstrang? He wouldn't put it past some of the more bizarre-minded of the students there. No student at Hogwarts would dare, of course, and he couldn't remember having the dreams before his fifth year. No, they'd started at Durmstrang after that first night he'd been banished outside into the snow for some misdemeanour he couldn't even remember now, it was so trifling. The important thing had been his discovery of the beauty of ice. That had been the trigger. His first dream had been about a snowfield at night with some colossal wind slicing over it. Over the year the dreams had grown in strength until last night's, which had been the most powerful he could remember. It had been wonderful, right up to the point when that thrice-damned —
"If you're going to jump don't you think you should have done so by now?"
— Potter had woken him up.
"Are you stalking me, Potter?"
A snort. "You wish."
Draco turned his head, his nostrils flaring almost instinctively. The breeze moved through the shadows and allowed him to make a fairly good guess...
"You're on the right of that pillar."
With a sigh, Potter took off his invisibility cloak. "That was pretty good. Mind telling me how you did that?"
Draco shrugged. Saying "I could smell you" sounded weird in the extreme, so he said, "Magic," instead, and hoped he sounded appropriately mysterious.
"Hmm. So it had nothing to do with any nictitating eyelids?"
Someone had been looking up long words. Draco bristled. "What is it with you? You're so great that suddenly everyone else isn't human?"
"You're going to tell me that a little Veela blood gives you a third eyelid? No? Then does it let you jump six feet? Veela blood is one thing, but did someone turn you into a frog while you were at Durmstrang and then botch turning you back?"
"What are you blathering on about now, Potty?"
"I'm saying, Malfoy, that normal people don't jump like you did earlier."
Draco narrowed his eyes. "Just how long have you been sitting there watching me, anyway?"
"As long as it took to see if you were going to do something weird," Potter said stoutly. "Weirder, I should say," he qualified to Draco's growing annoyance. "And then I got bored."
"And you've been sitting at the top of Hogwarts for hours now just doing nothing."
"With you watching me. Now who's the weirdo?"
"Stop being so bloody defensive for half a minute, Malfoy. Last night you nearly jumped off this tower —"
"Like hell I did!"
"... and when I saw your eyes they had this extra eyelid. I've been looking up part-Veelas in the library today and they don't have those. And the way you wilt every time the temperature goes up half a degree you'd think you were some kind of Norwegian Icerose. Not to mention the fact that every time you eat something it's made of ice."
Shifting uncomfortably, Draco said, "So I don't like the heat. Your point?"
"My point is that this summer it's actually quite cool. If this is hot for you, then I don't know how you survived other years. As a matter of fact I've seen you out playing Quidditch in higher temperatures than this. Badly, I might add," Potter taunted. "Are you going to blame your poor talent on it being too hot, or are you going to stick to the usual sad excuse of just being pathetically inbred?"
That was too much. Draco jumped for him, missing, but landing springily on his feet and fingertips. Potter swirled his cloak around him and disappeared.
Enraged, Draco reached down deep inside of himself and tugged at the faint tracery of dream-memory.
The night air swam around him, thick with scents and the lingering aura of heat. Snapping through his nerves were rivers of cold fire. At the back of his throat was the sense of the alien heat of his own blood thrumming through his arteries. He ignored it — it could wait. He had external enemies.
Yes. Draco blinked again to clarify his vision. There, faintly outlined by a misty glow of radiant heat that set his teeth on edge, was Potter. He lunged.
Potter swept the invisibility cloak off and used it to tangle Draco's feet.
Draco sprawled, cursing.
"Sorry," said Potter, stepping back judiciously and not sounding very sorry at all. "But I needed to make you angry."
"Just you breathing makes me angry," Draco snarled, rolling onto his feet and preparing to pounce on his antagonist.
"Shut up and think for a minute, Malfoy. What's your vision like?"
Draco paused, crouching on his haunches and panting. The heat sapped his energy and it was hard to think... But... "Good," he grudgingly admitted. "Better than good, in fact."
Potter squatted down in front of him, his eyes intent behind those ugly glasses. "Why?"
Draco stilled, thinking hard.
Then he realised his mistake and stopped thinking.
Ah — there it was. He blinked again.
The world swam for a second as something slithered over his vision and then cleared to become precise beyond imagining. The world was reborn. In the stone blocks molecules sparkled in crystalline lattices woven through with ancient magics.
The stars spoke in ancient runes of gravity and light.
Down below he could hear the roots of the trees murmuring as they pumped water skywards and stopped borer holes with sticky sap and, these being trees with their own magics, spells specific to lignin and cellulose that could never be spoken by a human tongue.
He licked his lips.
The air around Hogwarts crackled with wards. He could taste them, taste the different flavours of the witches and wizards who had set them. The wards smelt so good he was almost salivating. Some were faded shadows of magic-users long since dead, with echoes stretching back to the Founders — Draco was sure he could taste the unmistakable tang he had felt when the Sorting Hat had screamed "Slytherin!" all those years ago and still tasted every time he went into the Slytherin dormitory. Yes, there was Dumbledore's essence of lemon drops, McGonagall (he'd never suspected tartan could have a flavour, but there it was), Flitwick, Trelawney (that made him pause and wonder about the sanity of his new senses) and the crisp autumn of Snape, among so many others.
Far overhead a night-lark sang with a pure and animal joy of purpose.
In front of him crouched Harry Potter, boy wizard and so much more. The air around him sizzled with a suggestion of fire. Draco wondered if Potter even knew. If not, it probably wasn't Draco's business to tell — he may have been taken out of Slytherin but that didn't mean he hadn't kept a Slytherin's instinct to hoard information.
Then he raised his own hand and his eyes widened in wonder.
The skin was translucent, as if it had become part of the dream and was now fading away. Through it he could see, not muscle and bone and connective tissue as expected, but...
Slowly he turned his hands, one by one touching fingertip to fingertip, watching bluish shadows ripple in waves through them. Draco had no words for what he could see. Maybe there were no words.
"What is this?"
He hadn't realised he'd spoken aloud until Potter replied, "You mean you don't know?"
The spell, if that was what if was, broke. Draco scowled at Potter. "No," he snapped, and tried the blinking again. All he succeeded in doing was going cross-eyed. He glared ferociously at the other boy, who may have been laughing but seemed to be coughing now. He stood up and brushed himself off fastidiously, cat-like in his need to be clean and unrumpled.
"Maybe you should ask someone."
Draco sneered — old habits die hard. "And who should I ask, pray tell?" He immediately wished he hadn't said that. It sounded as if he didn't have anyone to turn to for help. Draco didn't mind so much that it was true, but it hurt that he'd become so weak as to admit it. Merlin help him, he'd be joining a mutual support group next. When he found himself crying into group hugs there'd be nothing else for it but to point his own wand at his head and mutter a quick Avada kedavra....
Potter either had the stupidity not to notice or the tact not to point that out, because he said, "Talk to Snape. Or Professor Lupin."
Draco stiffened his spine. "If you think I'm talking to a werewo-"
"If you think you're over your pompous self enough to talk to someone who knows a hell of a lot more about the Dark Arts than you do, then yes, talk to a werewolf. You could always talk to your father, of course; I expect he knows exactly what's going on. But seeing as how you're not terminally stupid — and I'm being optimistic here — then Professor Snape would be better to talk to than your father. He always tends to know more than he lets on."
Draco was tempted to hex Potter into next week for being such a big-headed egoist as to tell him how to run his life. Calling Draco "pompous" was definitely a pot/kettle situation. But Potter was the Golden Boy, and Draco knew that antagonising Dumbledore right now wouldn't be smart. The Headmaster would favour one of his Gryffindors over an ex-Slytherin any day.
"Professor Snape is leaving tomorrow."
"So talk to him before he goes. You should at least tell him what we did today — yesterday," Potter corrected himself. "He might want to know."
"Might want to know what, Mr Potter?" came a silken voice from out of the shadows.
Draco had occasionally wondered what it would be like to die of a heart attack. Now, after Snape had stepped out of the shadows like some sort of vampire, he knew. First you go cold, then you go hot, then you go cold again and clutch at your chest because you think your heart is about to leap out your throat like a salmon going up a waterfall.
He was having a great deal of difficulty regaining his composure, too. Being dragged through Hogwarts by an infuriated Snape tended to do that to one.
He and Potter were currently in Snape's office facing Snape over the large desk.
The situation was not novel.
What was a new experience was the depth of rage Snape was currently directing towards his erstwhile favourite pupil. Draco could feel the waves of fury radiating out from the Professor like a living thing. A vein throbbing in Snape's temple made Draco worry that the man was going to have an aneurysm. "It was meant for the best, sir," he tried to explain.
Muttering something about paving stones and the path to Hell, Snape was far from being mollified by this show of good-will. "I hardly see how advertising your presence to two Death Eater families is 'for the best'." His voice was at its softest and most deadly. This was the first time Draco had had it used against him. It was not an experience he was going to treasure, he just knew it. "Or," Snape began again, "did you in some inconceivable fit of naivety suppose that they don't know smarter people like, say, Lucius Malfoy, who is capable of adding two and two and coming up with five?" His voice rose a notch. "And did it never occur to either of you that, as you were seen in company of a woman unknown to the wizarding community and I was in London on the same day and — and this, apparently, is well known — have become recently married to a woman unknown to the wizarding community, you might be traced back to me and my wife?
"And," Snape continued, his voice now so low that either Draco had began to shake or the Hogwarts foundations had, "don't you think that certain Dark wizards who have ministry officials in their pockets might just know how to track me?" He stood, looming over the trembling boys. "I can take care of myself. I am used to the reckless stupidity of students — certain Gryffindors in particular — putting my life in danger. But what I will not countenance —" and here he took a deep breath and leaned on the table so that he was eye to eye with Draco and Potter "— is cretins like yourselves putting my wife in danger. My pregnant wife, may I add."
This, Draco realised, was what was making the whole scene so scary. Snape was frightened. It was the root of his anger. Had he, Draco, really endangered a pregnant woman?
Potter in his ineffable stupidity, spoke up first. "Sir — wait until you hear what —"
"Silence!" Snape roared. Next to Draco, Potter quivered back into a miserable silence. Draco realised that he and Potter were a couple of inches away from huddling together against the wrath of Snape. Normally that would be untenable, but right now any comfort was good comfort.
"Sir, it was my fault," Draco said quietly, stunning himself with the admission.
Snape seemed stunned, too. That might have been why he said in a faint voice, "Continue, Mr Malfoy."
Draco took a deep breath. This was his one shot at convincing Professor Snape that his intentions were the best. Typical, he thought sourly. I have the purest of motivations and get it in the neck. There's a moral in there somewhere... or there would be if I believed in such superstitions as morals. Aloud, he said, "There are rumours that you betrayed Voldemort. Any Death Eater, even those who didn't lose family or are about to lose money over the Ministry enquiries, are going to be out for your blood." And various parts of your anatomy. "I know what they're like as well as you do — remember I was brought up in that environment with that revenge ethos fed to me before I was on solid food," he added quickly, making sure he kept eye contact with Snape. Not that that was easy — those jet eyes were spitting hot black sparks. "If I was still part of a Death Eater family I'd have killed you myself. Suspicion is as good as fact as far as they're concerned, and if you were a double agent then you must have made people suspicious. Lu- my father told me that after Voldemort's first fall quite a few people thought you'd played on your ambiguity too much. Lu- Father was one of those who voted against having you taken out all those years ago. I don't know what hold you had on him, but he wanted you kept alive. Now... I don't know. But I do know that with Voldemort gone he's the major player, and I honestly don't think you've got the same hold on him that you used to." Snape didn't blink, so neither did Draco. "I overheard someone say that Lucius was participating in the enquiries, so that told me he hadn't died along with his master. When I heard that, I knew that you were in trouble. I also know that you don't know quite how vindictive he can be..."
"I may have some idea," Snape murmured, but he motioned for Draco to continue.
"So I decided that, Death Eater politics being what it is, a little counter-information would be useful. If I could keep enough people guessing on your motives... maybe even hoping that you would be instrumental in Voldemort's recovery, then Lucius would be voted down on any plans to have you assassinated."
There was a long pause.
Then: "And didn't you think me capable of creating my own screen of lies?"
His expression was unreadable. Draco answered stolidly, "Sir, I had an opportunity you didn't. Maybe someone would suspect Deacon of being Draco, but a Deacon with a twin brother Bob? That'll confuse them, and when they get confused without a clear target they withdraw. Especially when the only target available to them — you — has just been described as the potential source of Lord Voldemort's resurrection." Draco paused, wetting his dry lips as he realised by Snape's flash of irritation that calling Voldemort "Lord" had been a mistake in rhetoric. "They know that if there's anyone who can bring him back from the dead, it's you, Professor."
The silence creaked with the attempts of two boys to breathe silently.
"Are you trying," Snape asked softly, "to appeal to my professional vanity, Mr Malfoy?"
The smile was as brief as it was unexpected. Draco wondered if he'd imagined it. He decided silence was currently his best option, and took it.
Snape sat back and steepled his long, yellowed fingers before him. With the candles either side of the desk casting dense shadows where Snape's eyes were, Draco could believe Potter's crazy tale of Snape being descended from some monstrous daughter of Death.
"Get out. Both of you."
By some unspoken commonality of feeling (fear of Snape), Draco and Potter walked shoulder-to-shoulder up the stairs in silence. They separated where the sleeping staircases split Hogwarts' paths to the separate towers. "Malfoy," Potter called when they were at the first turn of their respective staircases.
"What?" Draco was tired. He was also feeling very, very ashamed at how he'd put Snape and Helen in danger.
"I just wanted to say... I still think that it was a good plan."
Draco mulled this over for a few heartbeats. He nodded. "Thanks."
He must have been extremely tired.
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.
Chapter Nine: Colder
Maybe it was the disappointment. Maybe it was the stress of travelling from one side of the world to the other. Draco didn't know. All he knew was that he was brutally exhausted. He napped after lunch and then went out to lie in the snow and stare up at the grey sky that seemed close enough to touch while snowflakes delicately blanketed him. When Helen became nervous at his blasé attitude to hypothermia he went back inside.
Luckily Professor Snape seemed to understand his need for sleep. The Potions master seemed to be the only one of the trio whose internal clock readjusted itself automatically. Draco and Helen, both of whom seemed to be experiencing what Draco had heard described as "jet leg", took a nap in the afternoon as well, Helen disappearing into the bedroom while Draco, who had only closed his eyes for a moment, fell deeply asleep on the couch. When he next woke it was to see Snape reading by a lit fire.
"How do you feel?"
Draco rubbed his eyes. "Better, I think."
Draco considered this. "Yes." He was. He felt as if he'd had to play Quidditch without a broomstick and then sit two exams.
Snape blinked his onyx eyes that were eerily similar to the flat black water of the Taniwha's Pool. "You've earned the right for some rest. Spend as much time as you want sleeping."
Draco lowered his gaze. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be a bother."
Black eyebrows arched and lowered scornfully. "Honestly, Mr Malfoy. Self-pity doesn't become you." When Draco opened his mouth to protest the injustice of this, Snape added more gently, "Neither does low self-esteem. Helen and I are not at all discommoded by your presence. In fact, Helen is so far over the moon at your company you could use her to look for intelligent life on Mars." He smiled. "I had planned on you staying at Hogwarts. I believed it would be safer for you there than here. Helen was, to put it mildly, less than happy at the prospect of returning without at least one Hogwarts student tucked firmly under her wing. You've saved me several nasty arguments. The very idea of having Harry Potter ensconced here until term started was not a welcome one, not for me, nor for Mr Potter. Helen was foolish enough to announce her plan that he would be calling me 'Dad' before his sixteenth birthday. The look of horror on Mr Potter's face was only eclipsed by my own."
Tentatively grinning, Draco asked, "Did she really say that?"
Snape looked sour. "Oh, yes. Helen feels that she has several years and several chicks — ah, children, to make up for. I'm hoping Dumbledore will honour my request for a sabbatical — probably not this year or the next, but definitely the year after. It's proving difficult to find a suitable teacher to take over the classes, unfortunately, and for some reason no-one wants to take on my duties as Head of Slytherin."
"Have you tried telling them that I was sent to Durmstrang?"
Snape's harsh features eased into one of his almost-smiles. "Somehow that wasn't enough. You aren't the only problem student I've had, I'll have you know."
Draco, knowing he was being teased, said, "I'm crushed. Did you really have students who were more trouble than me?"
"Believe it or not, yes. Last year Slytherin House was traumatised by the Sorting of triplets. Thankfully I wasn't there for most of the second half of the year."
By the way Snape's eyes suddenly emptied of emotion, Draco wished he hadn't asked. "Voldemort was expressive when it came to telling me of his displeasure. I... underwent several stringent tests of my loyalty that left me unable to fulfil my teaching duties."
Draco went cold. From hints dropped by Lucius he knew exactly what Snape was talking about. He wished he didn't. "I'm sorry."
Snape shrugged. "It served its purpose. I managed to get out enough information to save several lives."
Draco looked at him, wondering how he'd ever missed seeing this side of Severus Snape. The man had raised pragmatism to frightening new heights. "I'm sorry I didn't trust you enough to come to you when I left Durmstrang."
The twist of Snape's thin lips was wry. "If you'd known to come to me for help then I would have known that I wasn't doing my job properly."
"Um. I guess so. But thank you for finding me."
"It was the least I could do."
Funnily enough, Draco felt Snape meant more by that than he was saying. But he was too Snape-wise to say anything more. To get information out of the Head of Slytherin you had to be patience and guile combined. Even Lucius had remarked on that, although he hadn't said it in an entirely complimentary manner. Draco, son of Lucius Malfoy, had spent his life working on both patience and guile, and had decided at the age of eleven to take Finding Out About Snape on as a pet project to hone his abilities.
Truth to tell, he hadn't found out much, and quite a bit of that had been discovered in one five minute conversation with Harry Potter.
That, more than anything, was galling.
Change of subject... change of subject... "Good book?"
Snape angled it so that Draco could see the cover.
"Does it have any of the old spells? Professor Binns said Voldemort destroyed them all so that if there were any ortho-elementals left then no-one else could control them."
"Is that what he said?" Snape was wearing one of his almost-smiles that could mean anything. "No, no old spells, I'm afraid, Draco. But I'm always curious to see if anyone has rediscovered one."
"I suppose an ortho-elemental would be useful for Potions," Draco pried.
"Hmm. I suppose."
"Did Voldemort really destroy all the spells?"
"I doubt it." Snape waved a dismissive hand. "He didn't have that kind of link with the elemental world that could allow him to draw the spells to him and then bind them and lock them away. That's something not even Dumbledore is capable of. Disposing of spells is a momentous task and the idea of a single person actually doing that has been dismissed as pure hokum."
"But someone managed to destroy all the spells," persisted Draco. "Professor Binns can remember when they were still in the books, and now all there is are blank pages where the spells used to be."
"That, of course, raises the possibility that a group of people disposed of the spells. Documentation pertaining to the existence of the old elemental binding spells is certainly not a rarity, and what isn't in dispute is the fact that there are no longer ortho-elementals roaming the world. I imagine that would be seen as quite a boon for the human sector of the magical world — no longer does it have to worry about upsetting local creatures when practitioners need raw magic for their spells. It must have been quite terrible in the old days," Snape added wryly, "when you had to check under the foundations of your new shop before you started your sales pitch in case there was a narwulf hibernating there."
Draco smiled. He'd had a picture of a narwulf in one of his nursery books. The beast had been half a ton of fur and fangs and long, spiralling tusks. For three years running Draco had asked his parents for one as a birthday present. "I read in History of Magic that it was only after the orthos were got rid off that you had the rise of wizards like Grindelwald."
"That's a plausible theory," Snape agreed. "It seems a little too coincidental for my tastes that the abolition of the higher elementals corresponded closely to the beginnings of excessively powerful magic users."
"Why do you think that is?" Draco asked eagerly. He'd always wondered how Grindelwald and Voldemort had become so powerful.
Snape stretched out his long legs, looking foreign to Draco in the Muggle clothing of black Levi's. The woolly socks with little yellow smiley faces must have been a Christmas present from Dumbledore. "The orthos were said to be attracted to large vortexes of power. That's according to Pipstock the Elder, of course, and he was notoriously unreliable in his studies thanks to overindulgence in kneazlenip. But as he's the best source I have, I'm forced to rely on his findings when I postulate that after the orthos were removed from the equation human magic-users were able to accumulate large, mobile, personal quantities of magic without having them sucked dry by a passing quattrain. Given the huge body of spells in the literature that were developed to exorcise elementals — above and beyond banishing Cornish Pixies — I'd add that as evidence towards supporting my theory of orthos destabilising the power bases of the more ambitious Dark wizards. Those who never made it into the history books."
Draco tucked his knees up towards his chest. "Have you ever seen an ortho-elemental?"
"How could I? They are, as you yourself pointed out, extinct. The Aurors did an exceptionally thorough job of removing them at the end of the Goblin Rebellions."
As so often with Snape, Draco had the feeling that there were extra layers of meaning unsaid. Comforted by the familiar, he dozed, dreaming in strange chunks of images containing moving rivers of ice and a wind that never stopped.
It was the middle of the night. Maybe it was the Portkey-lag, because Draco was wide awake. But the potion Snape had given him should have had him sleeping until the morning.
Sighing, Draco sat up. He'd left the window open and frost was crawling over his pillow from where the moisture of his breath had settled. He brushed it away and crawled out from under his blankets to see where the moon was.
There was no moon.
Instead, glowing brightly, was a small white horse. It pricked up its ears as it looked up at him with wise, milky-blue eyes, and tossed its mane, fluttering its nostrils in an equine whisper.
Draco sat back on his heels.
Was this the pooka Potter had told him about? There was something demanding in the way it was looking at him. Almost as if it was ordering him down from the window. But why hadn't it woken Snape? Wasn't it meant to be the Professor's horse?
It stamped a forefoot.
Draco came to a quick decision. Quietly, he slipped into his clothes; boots, woollen trousers spelled to resist water, flannel shirt and his Hogwarts robes. He threw his black travelling cloak down to the ground before climbing out the window.
He spared a brief thought to the little handholds encrusted with lichen. They were so old that the boy Severus must have used them for sneaking out at night. Draco couldn't help a smile. The idea of Severus Snape, stickler for the rules, once upon a time being a wayward child who ran around barefoot was a hard one to imagine.
He pushed away the last few feet and dropped lightly into the snow, falling backwards so that he was sitting at the pooka's hooves.
It whickered softly and lipped his hair.
"It's not hay, you know," Draco grumbled. He'd had this trouble before with equids. They all seemed to think that his hair was edible.
He was answered by a snort that sounded almost like a chuckle and a hefty nudge between his shoulder-blades.
Draco stood and picked up his cloak, swinging it around his shoulders before turning to the pooka. "Solomon, I presume. Well, what are you doing here?"
By way of an answer, the pooka turned to present him with its shoulder. When Draco hesitated, it nipped him lightly on the hip.
"Ow... Oh, okay..."
All the stories Draco had read about pookas told of how they were traps for the unwary or just plain stupid. They carried unsuspecting heroes to the death, generally by drowning, because once the luckless hero was astride the magical creature he would be stuck fast.
Draco wasn't unwary and he certainly wasn't uneducated, but his life had become unstuck and he was clinging to it by a thin thread. This pooka belonged to Snape and Draco's trust in Snape was that thread.
The pooka wanted Draco to go with it.
Draco sprung onto the pooka's back.
Despite it being winter the pooka had shed its winter coat and had its sleek, slippery summer coat. Draco slithered a little before he found his balance. It had been a long time since he'd ridden a horse, and that had always been with a saddle. Now he didn't even have a bridle. He hoped the pooka knew what it was doing because Draco didn't have a clue. Long-ago lessons resurfaced in his memory and Draco lifted his toes and pushed his heels down, straightening his back and relaxing his shoulders, all the time remembering that his centre of balance did not, as his fear of riding a pooka with no means of control kept screaming at him, reside in his throat, but about two finger-widths beneath his belly button.
Draco realised that the pooka was waiting for him to get comfortable. He took a deep breath. "Okay, Solomon. Let's go."
The pooka dipped its head and raced away from the cottage at a full gallop.
About a mile later when Draco managed to release his death grip on the silvery mane and started to relax into the ride, he realised that the pooka was incredibly smooth-gaited. Sure-footed, too. Surely there were a myriad of gullies and frozen streams in the landscape — he could've sworn he'd fallen into every single one of them when he'd gone walking with Snape that day — but the running pooka seemed almost to be flying arrow-straight over the snowy hills. Unless this was a pooka's idea of a joy-ride, it had some destination in mind. When it pranced into a steamy clearing surrounded by ancient trees Draco knew what that destination was and his brief courage trembled. He would have known this place even if he'd had his eyes shut just from the power it contained.
Grandmother Taniwha's Pool.
The scent of an elemental of great power was thick and carried to Draco in wafts of steam that made him choke.
Was he here to be executed as a threat to the Snape line? Draco fingered his wand through the thick wool cloth of his robes and nudged the pooka with his heels.
Solomon shook his head.
"Off?" Draco guessed. Solomon lowered his head, snorting great gusts of steam that merged with the mist from the Taniwha's Pool and rolled away into the louring trees.
Well, if a pooka wanted Draco off its back then there wasn't much Draco could do about it. His riding lessons hadn't covered this. He lifted his leg over the white rump and slid down. Solomon whuffled in his hair again, a rather friendly gesture, Draco hoped.
After hesitating just long enough for the pooka to give him a gentle if decisive nudge in the direction of the pond, Draco started towards it.
The only light seemed to be cast by the pooka. Steam swirling up from the black water caught the thin light and amplified it until, as Draco walked through it, he appeared to be surrounded by a miniature galaxy of water droplets. They settled in his hair, on his robes, misting his eyelashes and tickling the back of his throat as he breathed them in.
At the lip of the pool he crouched in the ferns. "Hello?" he called softly. "Is there anyone there?"
The power that emanated from the pool whispered around him. When it caressed his cheek he thought it felt like the loving touch of a mother's hand, or what that should feel like, Narcissa never having been that indulgent with her son. Helen's hand, then. It was like having Helen stroke his hair when she thought he was sleeping.
Draco blinked the mist away from his eyelashes.
When he could see again there seemed to be something floating across the pond towards him. Something that sparkled like the mist, and spun slowly as the water carried it towards Draco.
He reached out and took it.
It was the wreath of roses and ivy. Warm water dripped from it and ran down the inside of his wrist like silk until it soaked into his sleeves. "You don't want it?" You don't want me?
The power brushed his cheek again like lips whispering a kiss. He thought he heard words, but not with his ears; these words were absorbed through his skin and went straight to his heart. The words said that Draco had to take the wreath. It was necessary that he give it to someone special.
He jumped at a loud snort from the pooka. Solomon. Solomon knew where Draco had to go.
The mist gave him a gentle push back towards the pooka although, Draco darkly suspected, if it had wanted to be less than gentle the power behind the mist could have picked him up and thrown him all the way to... to .... to whatever the capital of this country was.
Draco backed away from the pond and bowed, feeling somehow that this was appropriate. Then he vaulted onto the pooka's back. "Okay, Solomon. Let's deliver this thing."
Solomon pricked up his ears and swished his tail as he trotted out of the clearing. Once out in the open and away from overhanging branches that could concuss a rider he broke into a smooth canter.
Draco, cloak flying out behind him in the freezing wind, gloried in the speed. He'd missed this... without quite being aware that there was anything to miss. But now he had to admit that, though backpacking through Europe sounded exciting, it was nothing to the thrills that could be found in this world. His world. He could never be a Muggle...
Blowing great plumes of steam, the pooka slewed to a stop.
The same could have been said of Draco's heart.
"That would be me, yes," said the tall, silver-blond man who had stepped into the pooka's path. Idly he prowled around the pooka, keeping care not to get in range of its hooves. "Well, well. Look at you. All grown up and riding around in the middle of the night on a little pony." Lucius was dressed in black, as usual, but instead of his sliver-headed walking stick, from his gloved hand dangled a carved wooden flower on a string. The moon must have risen, here seemed to be some sort of opalescent inlay in the centre that caught the moonlight reflecting off the snow as it swung from side to side, always swinging a little stronger in Draco's direction.
Draco bit his lip and held his tongue. Lucius in a quixotic mood... this couldn't be anything other than bad.
"Do you have nothing to say to your father?" Lucius purred. "An apology, perhaps?"
Without moving Draco managed to assure himself that he still had his wand. It was tucked into his robes right next to the wreath.
"Time to come home, my boy. Your mother has missed you."
Draco wanted to say that Narcissa hadn't looked excessively perturbed when he'd passed her out shopping, but his tongue seemed to have cleaved itself to the roof of his mouth.
"You've had your little flirtation with the Bohemian life and now it's time to return to who you really are."
Why have you only decided to come for me now? But his tongue wouldn't move.
Come here, Draco," his father commanded. When Draco, who was frozen with terror, didn't budge from the pooka's back, Lucius' handsome face turned ugly. "Are you deaf as well as stupid? I said Accio —"
He didn't complete the spell.
From somewhere in the darkness a voice said: "Petrificus totalus."
The spell narrowly missed Lucius, who ducked as he spun, cursing. "Snape! I might've known you'd stick your big ugly nose in where it would get cut off."
The darkness didn't reply.
"Lumos!" snapped Lucius Malfoy, and a bright light illuminated the snowscape. Plumes of crystals flew as he spun around looking for this new adversary. "Snape..." he growled. "Show yourself, you coward!"
Draco, who knew Snape wasn't a fool to be suckered in the way a Gryffindor would be, wasn't surprised when no gullies or mounds of snow sprouted an early blooming Snape. He was, however, a little embarrassed that Lucius would think Snape could be brought out by such crude means. Lucius must really have been stressed out by Voldemort's defeat.
Lucius changed his tone to a purr. "Come now, old friend. You and I both know Draco's destiny. That was, after all, why you helped me select him... Did you think I would forget your kindness? Your help? If not for you... why, Severus, I would be a much sadder man. Narcissa and I would never have been able to raise our wonderful son. We would have had to settle for a much more inferior child."
Huh? thought Draco. He was getting some fairly wild mental pictures here.
"Come, Severus." Lucius' voice was silken and persuasive. "We've had our differences, particularly those when it comes to raising my son..."
A bottle landed at his feet and exploded into purple smoke which crawled up to wrap around Lucius' throat. Lucius yelped and leaped back, batting at the smoke with his wand and falling into a snowdrift. The wood flower flew up and was instantly hit by a fireball from Snape's wand. There was a howl of fury from Lucius.
A dark shape crawled out of one of the gullies and crawled on knees and elbows towards Draco's fallen father.
He ducked as Lucius threw a fireball at him, throwing up his cloak to ward off the heat.
A split moment was all it took.
Lucius held something small, round and metallic in his hand: Draco could see the gleam of it between his fingers. "Idiot," he spat. "Oh well, I'll just have to get him again without you. I'll manage somehow... but first..."
He vanished with a pop.
Draco's wide eyes met Snape's. "Helen," they both said at once.
Pookas were rumoured to be able to travel anywhere...
Draco kicked Solomon in the ribs and shouted, "Follow Lucius!"
Solomon gave a terrific leap over a snow bank and then stopped dead.
Draco kept going, minus pooka.
When he hit the ground the first thing he thought was that Solomon could have had the decency to throw him into a nice, soft pile of snow. He'd landed on dry grass and knobbled, dirty ground that had frozen enough to give him bruises while still — amazingly — managing to muddy him all down one side.
His second thought was that either his eyes were getting really good again, or the sun was rising.
The third thought was the frightening one: All the snow was gone.
He sat up, wincing. A quick check for wand and wreath ... Oh, the roses were okay. Better than his ribs, anyway. That was good, he realised dimly.
What wasn't good was that he seemed to be somewhere else. Somewhere without Professor Snape, although on the plus side he couldn't see Lucius anywhere.
But there was Solomon. The white pony's legs were shuffling in front of him, as if the pooka was nervous. Probably embarrassed, Draco reasoned. Embarrassed about chucking me over his head. Although... How come the pooka was on the other side of him? Shouldn't he have been over there?
And where was the snow?
"Hey, Solomon," he managed. "Where did you bring me?"
A low, frightened, female voice demanded, "Who the hell are you?"
Chapter Ten: At Death's Door
Draco sat bolt upright. Sitting on Solomon's back as if she owned the pooka was a woman. A pregnant woman, he mentally added, a very, very pregnant woman. Women couldn't get any more pregnant than that, surely.
Her black hair was tousled as if she'd been in bed recently — fair enough, so had Draco — and lines around her mouth told of some great strain she was under. She had one arm wrapped protectively around her — very pregnant — belly. And this wasn't Solomon.
"Um... Sorry," Draco said. One of his best first lines ever, he told himself caustically. "I thought this was Solomon. But he's not, because Solomon isn't all shaggy like your... pooka."
The woman narrowed her ebony eyes at him and pointed her wand. "I should kill you now."
"Hey! I'd rather you didn't!"
"Can you give me a reason why not?"
"Well, not really, except that one of my professors would be really mad at you." Weak, Draco... really weak...
She peered closer. "That's a Hogwarts crest on your robes."
"Um. Yes. Slytherin, actually. Ah... can you tell me something?"
She snorted. "Speak quickly, Slytherin boy. I'm in a bit of a hurry."
"Where's all the snow gone? One minute I was on a pooka called Solomon in the middle of winter and the next minute I was sitting here." Draco did a quick mental revision on what he'd just said. Yup. Just as he'd feared. It'd come out a bit crazier than he'd intended.
Her eyes widened and she raised her wand. Not enough to remove the threat, but enough to tell Draco that she wouldn't hex him quite as quickly as she'd first intended. "What did you say to your pooka?"
"Uh, well, this is the strange bit..."
Her mouth lifted slightly in a grim smile.
"I was having a bit of a... discussion... with my father and then he disappeared. I was worried that..." Draco drew in his breath, not knowing why he was trusting this strange woman, except with her black eyes and grim set to the mouth she reminded him of Professor Snape. "Okay, I was worried that he was going to go and hurt someone I care about."
"Your father does this on a regular basis?"
Gosh, even the sarcasm was Snape's. "No — but only because there's hardly ever anyone he lets me care about."
"Your father sounds like a piece of shit."
"He is, actually," Draco confessed. "Have you passed him? He looks like me — except that his hair's longer and he looks older, of course."
"Please, I have to stop him!"
Draco nodded, unable to admit to a stranger that yes, his father was several razor-cuts above the average psychopathic murderer.
The woman's mouth, thinned by pain, twisted humourlessly. "I saw him. I... Oh!" She leaned forward, clutching at her pooka's mane.
Disregarding her wand, Draco leaped forward to lift a hand to her knee for support. The idea of this woman falling from her pooka made his gut churn "What's wrong?"
She snarled at him, then, as if realising he hadn't harmed her and didn't intend to, she pushed away the black strands of hair that were covering her eyes. "What's your name, Slytherin boy?"
"And... a pooka sent you here?"
"Yes, ma'am. But the sky looks like the sun's setting... and it should be winter..."
She shivered. "Feels like it to me."
Draco took off his cloak and slung it carefully over her shoulders. "I don't feel the cold," he told her when she frowned.
She nodded her thanks.
"I... I want to stay and help you, but I really need to find my father before he..."
Draco nodded, ashamed.
"I don't think you — oh... Oh!"
Her face contorted and Draco, terrified for Helen as he was, realised he couldn't leave this woman out here on her own. "Let me help."
She grimaced. "What about your father?"
"Solomon sent me here. Maybe he knew that Helen and Severus would take care of Lucius for me." He shrugged. "Besides, I'm only half the wizard my father is — he knows more about the Dark Arts than anyone other than Voldemort. And maybe Severus."
"Lucius... Lucius Malfoy?" She rolled the name on her tongue as if tasting it.
"Um. Yes. Do you know him?"
In answer the strange woman tucked her long fingers under his chin and tilted his head up against the fading light. "You look like a Malfoy," she said slowly. "You look like Cuthbert did when he was a lad."
Her eyebrows arched. "Really. Well, well, well. And a pooka called Solomon sent you here."
The pooka snorted and twitched his ears. The woman stroked his shaggy neck and whispered words in some other language. Then she sighed, and Draco realised that, despite her haughty air and the lines on her face, she wasn't very old at all. Maybe only in her twenties.
"Did you say Severus? Not Severus Snape, surely?"
"You know him?"
"You could say so." Her smile was grim. "Your father came to visit my husband. The wards... there are wards around my house that didn't like him. But my husband..." she grimaced again, a bewildered expression made up of pain and love. "He invited him into the house. And then your father hexed me. I managed to block the worst of it, and the wards themselves, they..." She doubled over again, groaning. When she propped herself upright on the horse's neck again there were beads of sweat dotted around her hairline and on her upper lip. The lines on her face were deepening, too, or perhaps that was the effect of the fading light. Her eyes held pain and anger and a deep, primeval fear. "He was going after my baby," she whispered, as if unable to believe such an atrocity.
Draco could hardly believe it either. He wanted to be sick. As if in a dream he heard himself say, "You need to be somewhere safe. Can you go somewhere to stay for tonight?"
She shook her head. "I can't go home... I was going to... Uh..."
"I know a place near here. It's got a warm pool and it's terribly hard to find. I'm sure I could find my way back, though..." He had his hand on her wrist and was willing his warmth into her. "Please. I don't want... I can't let..." Words failed him.
Somehow this strange woman understood. "I know where you mean," she said. "It's sacred for my family. But aren't you afraid of the monster there?"
"Terrified," Draco admitted. "But I've got worse monsters in my own family and besides, she's the one who called me out tonight. I'm pretty sure she was the one who sent the pooka, anyway."
The woman nodded. "That sounds like her style. She's got a strong connection with pookas. God knows how. They're hardly native to New Zealand. Okay, Draco of Slytherin House. Lead the way."
The landscape had changed. Draco wondered if Solomon had sent him astray in time or sideways into a different dimension. By the colour of the grass and the few deciduous trees he could see, it was late autumn. So could he find his way back to the taniwha? He slitted his eyes, trying to see nothing and everything.
Ah yes. There was that strange tang of wild magic. He could smell it.
As he was at a loss for anything else to do, Draco of Slytherin House followed his nose.
By half-stripping the clearing of fern fronds and throwing his cloak over top of the pile Draco had managed to make a bed of sorts. It was under the cliff wall across the pond from the flat rock where Snape had tried to introduce him to Grandmother Taniwha.
The woman smiled a little. "Looks like a five star hotel from where I'm sitting," she said. She was leaning back against her pony for the warmth. Draco helped her up as carefully as he could.
"Uh oh." Running down the insides of her legs, liquid was splashing down into her boots.
"Um," Draco said, trying for tact. "What was that?"
"My waters just broke," she snarled, but not at Draco's lack of knowledge. At his continuing look of incomprehension, she added, "My baby's decided to come early."
Draco felt the blood drain from his face. "Um... ah... I... Do you want me to... Um."
The woman bit her lip, torn between laughing and crying, by the looks of her. "Help me to the lovely bed you made," she said at last, kindly and without sarcasm. She whistled and the pony went and lay down on the cliff-side of the bed.
"Neat," Draco admired. "Instant headrest."
"Family heirloom," she grunted as she lay down, puffing, so that her back was leaning against the pony's ribs. The pooka whickered and lipped her hair. "Uff. Stop that, silly. In my family we only keep what's proven itself useful and this old throw-rug —" she patted the "throw-rug" indulgently "— has certainly proven himself useful today."
He must have looked as downcast as he felt, because the woman reached out and clasped his hand. Her grip was very strong and warm. "Stop that," she commanded. "You're not your father."
"Thank God," Draco muttered. "What can I do to help?"
"Talk to me."
"Huh? What about?"
"Anything. It's going to get painful, so I'd like to keep my mind off the pain. Tell me about yourself. Your school... I bet Hogwarts has changed since I was there."
Draco shrugged, still holding onto her hand. "Probably not. Um, I expect Dumbledore was there...?" She nodded. "McGonagall?" Another nod.
"Does she still do that cool cat-animagus trick at the beginning of her first-year Transfigurations classes?"
"Yeah. It's not bad. She's Head of Gryffindor. Flitwick is Head of Ravenclaw, of course — I sometimes think he was employed by Rowena Ravenclaw herself. Professor Sprout is Head of Hufflepuff."
She laughed. "Is Hufflepuff still a bunch of dullards? By the look on your face I'd say yes. Speaking of dullards, how about Professor Binns? Does anyone manage to stay awake in his classes?"
Draco sneered. "Hardly. Dust is more interesting."
"Pond scum psychology."
"The social diary of an amoeba."
"The — Oooh." Her face contorted. Draco hoped he was going to get circulation back into the fingers she was gripping some day soon. Her breathing resumed and so did Draco's. "What about your Head of House?"
Draco raised his eyebrows. "I thought you said you knew him? Professor Snape. Wasn't he there in your day?"
"Professor Snape? Professor Severus Snape?"
Draco was having horrible thoughts. "How far in time have I moved?"
"Quite a bit, I imagine. If Severus is Head of Slytherin House I'd say Solomon threw you for quite a chronological distance."
"You know him?" Draco persisted.
"Ahhh..." Draco was at a loss for how to phrase the tactful question of her baby's parentage. I mean, she's obviously not Helen...
"Oh, not like that." She slapped at his wrist irritably. "But you seem to have come back in time."
Maybe she was related to Snape's family. With those eyes, it seemed highly likely. "Then what's my father doing back here? And Prof- uh, Severus. How do you know him? And how far back have I come? And —" The questions were tumbling out of him.
"Enough!" she managed to shout before wilting back against her pooka's shoulder. "No more questions... I just can't think..."
Draco, who had sat back and almost bitten through his lip at the outburst, nodded. "Yes, ma'am." He struggled out of his robes (managing to hide the wreath and his wand behind a clump of ferns in the process) and wrapped them around the woman. They were spelled for warmth and she needed them much more than he did."
"Hey, did I give you permission to freeze to death?" she asked.
"No. It's something I decided to do on my own initiative."
She managed a weak smile. "Don't freeze because of me."
"I won't. I'm just not susceptible to cold. There's a bit of Veela blood in me and —"
"Ah yes. The source of the infamous Malfoy charm." But she smiled and Draco smiled back. "I've met your grandfather, you know, and you seem even truer to the Veela line than he was."
"I get it from my mother's side as well," Draco admitted.
"Blimey. I don't know much about Veelas. So if you start to get cold or uncomfortable just tell me, okay?"
Draco decided not to say that right now, having been dragged back with his homicidal father a decade plus into the past, sitting in a clearing thick with the aura of the most powerful elemental he'd ever come across with a cryptic ebony-eyed woman who was about to give birth, he was several miles past uncomfortable and accelerating. "Okay."
"Good. Now, tell me about Severus. I haven't imagined him much past being a skinny little kid with eyes like mine."
"Well, his eyes are just like yours, and his hair is black and he's still kind of skinny, but he's really tall." He continued, telling her about how Snape was Potions master and (in Draco's opinion) the best and smartest teacher in the school. How he hated Gryffindors and Draco's father but cared for Draco enough to bring him home with him and his wife to keep Draco safe. He talked about Quidditch and Potions and the memorable occasion when Snape had thrown the erstwhile DADA teacher Gilderoy Lockhart across the Great Hall in a duel. And how he, Draco, had been flattered beyond belief when Snape had chosen him to stand up against Harry Potter in a duel. Deciding it was too dangerous to tell someone in the past about how Snape had been first a Death Eater then a spy against Voldemort, Draco glossed over that. He told the stories slowly. When the woman couldn't listen because she was concentrating so hard on her baby, Draco would simply kneel next to her and hold her hand. When she needed cleaning, he ripped off a portion of his robe and wetted it in the hot water running down a stream away from the pool. The woman assured him that it was safe. Water coming out of Grandmother Taniwha's Pool was both sterile and magically enhanced for healing. Draco remarked that it was a great cleaning solution as well, and as such could make her richer than Mrs Skower if she chose to bottle it. This made her laugh.
Draco also learned that her family had given birth here for generations. Both her uncles, who had died in World War II (a Muggle conflict Draco had heard of), had been born here. Draco had the image of a succession of ebony-eyed women coming here to birth ebony-eyed babies. The clearing was not only sacred, it was safe. Screened from the rest of the world by the power of a taniwha, very few outside the family found their way here uninvited. Severus Snape himself would have been born here, Draco supposed.
"You like him," she said between one set of contractions.
"Does he have many friends?"
Draco wasn't sure how to answer that. "The friends he has are good ones."
They were quiet for over an hour after that with only the woman's groans and harsh breathing breaking the silence.
She was lying back exhausted. Draco wiped her sweaty hair back off her forehead and wiped her face with the silk sleeve of his shirt. Her eyes slitted open. "Is he happy?" she asked.
That was the one question Draco couldn't imagine anyone asking about Severus Snape. Is he a spy? Is he a Death Eater? Is he alive? Is he dead? Does he really use the blood of failed Potions students in his quill? Does he sleep hanging upside down from the rafters and worship devils? He'd heard all those. But: is he happy?
He looked over at the pond and wrinkled his brow as he tried to think of an answer.
There was a light touch on his wrist. The woman was looking at him with a strange feverish light in her eyes. Draco felt icemelt trickle down his spine and he suddenly wondered how much longer this strange woman had to live. He didn't even know her name, he realised crazily. How can you go through such an intimate process as a birthing with someone and not know their name?
"Well? Is he?"
"I think... he's learning to be happy now." And he told her about Helen and seeing Snape's face when the man had found out his wife was pregnant. He told her about the glimpse he'd had of the couple dancing in the Great Hall. He told her about the fierce contentment Helen wore when sitting next to Snape at dinner and how she'd defended him against Trelawney, and then how after Trelawney had upset Helen Snape had gone and had one of his quiet talks with the Divinations professor and she hadn't gone near either Helen or Severus Snape again.
"Will he make a good daddy?"
Oh, these questions are so unfair! Draco answered truthfully. "I kind of wish he'd been my dad instead of Lucius." There. He'd finally said it. The words he'd hidden under layers of guilt at being a poor example of a Malfoy.
The fingers circled his wrist gently. "I wish he'd been your daddy, too." Her midnight eyes seemed to hold stars. A light was rising in their depths. Draco instinctively feared what that meant. "Help me up."
Draco supported her under her elbows so that she was squatting against the pooka, who had not moved during all the fussing and moaning and twisting and turning of the evening.
She gave him a sly, despairing look. "He's coming."
Draco panicked. "Who? My father?"
"No, dunderhead. The baby."
Chapter Eleven: Death
Draco lost track of time after that. It was both the most thrilling and the most revolting time of his life. Miracle of childbirth? Bah. The miracle now would be if he, Draco Malfoy, was ever so disrespectful to a woman as to get her pregnant and thus force her to go through this appalling process.
"I know some spells to help with the pain..." he offered once, only to have her scream:
"Absolutely not! No! My baby's had enough spells cast on him for one day! Keep your bloody wand to yourself. Honestly." And in tones of deepest loathing: "Men. Argh... All you can think about is foolishly waving your bloody wands around. Where's my bloody husband, anyway. Arsehole of a man. Him waving his wand around got me into this mess. AND letting some absolute shit-head of a man into the house with HIS wand... All men should be castrated at birth..."
Draco kept his mouth shut and closed his ears to her rant at this point. Women were meant to get a bit strange during pregnancy, weren't they? He'd heard rumours about how they liked eating pickles with custard and newspaper. He only listened for the important things she snarled at him, such as, get my cursed hair out of my face, will you? and, grab my arm before I fall over, and then: can you see his head? Oh god, Draco, can you see the head?
Where the light was coming from, Draco had no idea. It seemed to be seeping out of the trees in a warm mist. With it and his enhanced vision combined he could see more than he really wished he could.
"Yes," he said thinly, hoping he wasn't going to faint and disgrace himself.
"Good. You need to support it."
Omigod. If I touch it I'm gonna faint. Omigod omigod omigod.
The baby's head was hot and sticky with blood and birth fluids. Under his thumb it pulsed a little right at the crown.
"Turn it just a little to the side. And get ready... here come the... oooh... here come the shoulders!"
The baby slid into Draco's hands.
There was a long, dark, throbbing cord connecting it from its naval to its mother. "What do I do?" Draco whispered, transfixed by this tiny black-haired morsel of life that opened its mouth and coughed for its first breath.
"Wait a moment. He needs to get enough blood through the cord. Aaand... there. I know that's enough." The woman took her wand out of her sleeve and used it to cut the cord and bind it with a glowing thread.
A thin wail rose from the baby. It was answered by a nicker from the pony.
"Let me see my baby," the woman said. Her voice sounded so strange: a harsh whisper that held such intense emotion Draco felt his heart tremble. He realised his face was wet when a teardrop tickled his nose, but he couldn't remember crying, or even needing to cry.
Wordlessly, Draco shuffled closer and carefully laid the baby in its mother's arms.
"Oh," she said. "Oh. Oh."
She was crying too. Tears streamed down her face as she touched the baby's face with her fingers and her lips. She held up the tiny little starfish hands that grasped at a fingertip, and counted the toes. Then she ran her wand over him and muttered spells in a language Draco knew wasn't Latin. "He's perfect," she whispered, not taking her eyes off her baby's face for an instant. "Absolutely perfect."
Nodding, Draco stayed silent, unable to contemplate interrupting this moment. Never in his life had he come anywhere near this kind of... he had no words. It was a little like the feelings he had inside himself when he felt the cold winds calling him. The closest word he had for what he was witnessing was love.
The light in her eyes blazed.
Then she blinked and the light flickered.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Complications," she groaned, grimacing. Her face smoothed out again as she studied her baby which seemed to be asleep, its scrunched-up face oddly calm considering all the drama it had caused.
"I saw you take flowers out of your robes," the woman said.
Draco was a little disappointed — he'd thought he'd been so careful in hiding them. The shame of rejection by Grandmother Taniwha rose anew. "Professor Snape floated them out on the pond when he asked Grandmother Taniwha to accept me. But..."
"But she gave them back?"
"Sort of." Draco explained about his midnight visit from the pooka who had taken him to get the wreath.
"Ah. It looks like she knew what she was doing."
"What? She knew who my father was, so she gave back the flowers and said 'no thanks'?"
"No, silly. She needed you to play delivery boy. And close your mouth. You'll catch flies in it if you keep letting it fall open every time you get surprised." She looked down at her baby again, her mouth curving into a beautiful smile. "The flowers are for my son. Help me up."
"Don't you 'but' me. This has to be done."
Draco shook his head stubbornly. "You've just given birth. If you move now you could haemorrhage. Stay still and —"
"Draco, I'm already haemorrhaging. Do you think this much blood is normal for a birth?"
"How the hell should I know? But I do know that a little blood goes a long way, and —"
"Listen to me. Listen to me! Draco, I'm dying. I need my baby to be acknowledged before I go. No! Listen! Oh, Draco, I'm so sorry you had to be dragged into this..."
"Me dragged into this? I'm the one who dragged you into —"
"Hey! Enough. Right now it's not important who did what to who. What is important is my baby. Now either help me up or I'll levitate myself over there and with my current ability in wand-work I'll drop myself and die as soon as I hit the ground."
Accepting defeat, Draco helped her up. He tried to ignore the blood that was running down her legs, and the way that her pale face went grey and she had to clutch at his arm so tightly it bruised him. She was determined to walk. He bobbed to pick up the wreath on their way to the flat rock.
She hesitated. "I'm not steady enough," she said, her breath hissing angrily through her teeth. "You'll have to do it."
"Take him..." She carefully nestled the newborn in Draco's arms. "Go and kneel on the rock. Put the roses in when I tell you to."
In silence Draco obeyed.
As he knelt on the flat slab with the black water lapping against it and the steam swirling in great, thick streamers around him, he heard the woman say:
"Grandmother, hear me. See my son. He is your child, too, through my line. I ask for you to accept him as your descendant. He is Severus Obadiah Snape, son of Sylvia Emily Gibbons. Watch over him as I will be unable to do. Let him grow strong and smart. Let him find happiness. Give him people to love and people who love him. Most of all, let him be a good man. Let him..." There was a pause as Sylvia clutched her abdomen and staggered to her knees. "Let him be a good man worthy of our family. Draco..."
Draco, who had nearly fallen off the slab and into the water in shock at hearing the baby's name, managed to turn his head in the woman's direction.
"Draco, put the wreath in the water."
Draco nodded and did as he was told.
The flowers seemed to hang in the night sky like stars, so dark was the water. They flickered for a moment and then in the blink of an eye they were whisked into the centre of the pond.
They disappeared with a faint slurp.
Draco could feel all the hairs on the back of his neck standing up in terror.
"Now put Severus into the water."
"Are you kidding? Did you see what just happened to those flowers?"
"Do it," the woman snarled, sounding very much like Severus Snape.
The habit of years had Draco dipping the baby into the pool before he could think any further. The water was warm and flowed around his fingers like the finest silk. It —
It slid the baby out of his hands. The baby's head disappeared beneath the surface.
"Sylvia! The baby! The water took him!"
"Did it? Oh, that's fine."
Draco turned to scream at her — dying woman or not — that no, it wasn't bloody well fine when babies drowned, when his clutching hands found something solid. He pulled it up.
"Oh, thank God." It was the baby. Draco started breathing again. But as he took the baby out of the water something followed it. Thick, black material dotted with white flowers or stars, Draco couldn't tell, was wrapped around the baby like a christening shawl. When he lifted the baby up he expected the material to be sopping wet, but it was dry. There was a slightly fuzzy warmth to it and Draco had never touched cloth so soft. "He's okay, Sylvia. Sylvia?"
She had collapsed. Draco clutched the baby to his chest and hurried to check Snape's mother. Her eyes fluttered open when he knelt next to her. "Did you do it?" she asked.
Draco held out the baby for her inspection, careful to support the head.
Severus yawned without waking up.
Sylvia chuckled weakly as she took him into her arms. "All this drama is beneath you, isn't it? Yes it is... whosieliddle dramababby, den? Whoosa dramababby? You are! Yes you are..."
The baby yawned again.
Draco rolled his eyes. Baby talk. All this for baby talk. "Is this Severus Snape? My Severus Snape?"
"I believe so. Whoosa woosie? Whoosa woosie, den?"
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Sylvia looked up at him, her eyes — carbon copies of Snape's — suddenly serious and dark. The light in them, Draco saw, was guttering out.
"How could I trust you?"
"But you did. You let me help you and..."
"I needed help. If I had still thought by the time Severus was born that you meant him harm I would've killed you," she said in her matter-of-fact way.
Draco nodded. He believed her, and didn't take offence. "How did you know that I didn't?"
Sylvia smiled tiredly. "I'm good at spotting liars. I'm hoping my baby will be, too. I'm pleased he's going to be a teacher. And that he's going to research Potions. We're skilled at that in my family... I want him to be a blade cutting the truth out from the rubbish. I want him to find the diamonds in the mountains of rock... But he'll need to be tough — truth isn't easy to find. Severus... Her face softened as she gazed rapturously at her sleeping son. "Severus." She pressed her lips to his forehead and inhaled his scent. "I want him to know the truth.
"Draco..." Her eyes sharp again and focussed, she looked up. "Draco. Thank you for telling me about him. You don't know... I pray to God you can never know how much this means for me, to know that my son will turn out all right. That he'll grow up to be wise. Maybe it'll take him some time and pain to get there — oh yes, I can listen between the lines of a story as well as I can read between the lines, and I heard the parts you left out — but wisdom only comes with time and pain. And from what you've told me he is becoming wise. My son will be a wise and a good man. He must be a good man if someone like you can wish that Severus was his father."
Draco tried to look away but her eyes held his. "Does this make you my grandson?" she said mischievously, wistfully. "Come and help your old granny up and over to Solomon."
Unable to trust his voice, Draco did as he was told.
When they reached Solomon he eased Sylvia down so that her back was braced against the pooka again. "Are you okay?" Draco asked.
She gave him a Look.
"Okay, okay... dumb question... Are you about as okay as you can be at the moment?"
Sylvia gave him a lopsided smile. "Yes, thank you, Draco."
"Can't I Apparate or something with you to a hospital?"
"No. The spell your — that man put on me made it impossible to move except via Solly. And I can't ride any further. Dying here is as good as any other place."
"Draco. Most of the people I love are dead. I've never seen it as an end... or a punishment. The only thing that scares me about death is that I won't be here for my son. If there was any way I could live for him don't you think I'd take it?"
Draco lowered his gaze and bit his lip. There was no reply he knew how to make to that. He knew she wasn't being a defeatist. He had never seen love like he'd seen blazing from the eyes of this woman when she first held her new-born child.
She patted the "bed" next to her with a smile. "Find a clean spot and sit next to me."
Privately, Draco thought it unlikely he would find a seat that wasn't smeared with blood, but there were worse things in life as he, a Malfoy, was highly aware of. Men who would hex pregnant women to get at their unborn babies, for instance... He shivered.
"Thinking." But he didn't object when Sylvia tucked a corner of his robes over him. He leaned up against her and put an arm around her shoulder. She snuggled into him and loosened the buttons of her thick cashmere shirt and held the baby to her breast. Instinct was an amazing thing, Draco reflected, watching the baby Severus nuzzle his mother's breast. Sylvia was humming under her breath, smiling as the baby found the nipple and began to nurse. All the pain and blood and stress of birth. Being ripped away from your mother... and then feeling in need of a quick snack. There was a special smell to the baby, too. Something that stole Draco's thoughts away from him and replaced them with a warm happiness completely inappropriate to the situation. He relaxed as he watched mother and child and was delighted by the entranced smile on Sylvia's face. He didn't even bother wondering if Narcissa had ever looked at him like this. There had been a wet-nurse or something after he'd been born. It was enough that he, Draco, was here now with Sylvia and her new-born son Severus. He felt like he belonged. He mattered. In spite of all the bewildering things that had happened to him in the last few months, Draco knew that he had a purpose here.
A little fluid escaped the baby's mouth.
Distracted despite himself, Draco frowned. "I thought milk was meant to be white?"
Sylvia's smile widened without her looking away from her baby. "Not for the first day or two. His first drink is colostrum. Antibodies to help his immune system. Now that he's away from my body he has to fight his own battles. This is the last defence I'll be able to give him." She winced and started humming again. The same melody, over and over. It was hypnotic.
Draco found himself falling into the sound.
He jerked awake. "Hn?"
"Promise me something."
A Gryffindor would have said: "Of course; anything." Draco was a Slytherin and knew that you can only promise that which is in your power to do. "What is it?"
"Take my baby to a family that lives near here. Solomon knows the way. Protect Severus."
Her eyes met his. Draco couldn't have said what he saw there. It was beyond Gryffindor and Slytherin. Beyond magic. It went beyond words and it gave him a pain in his chest.
"Yes," he answered, not looking away. "I promise. I won't let anyone or anything hurt him. I give you my word."
"Thank you." She bent her head back to her baby.
At some point the song changed. Sylvia's voice stuttered and lost the rhythm. That change brought Draco out of his light doze. "Sylvia?"
He touched her face. Her skin was grey and her midnight eyes were becoming glazed. The light that had burned in them was flickering out.
"I'm glad." She groaned softly as she shifted. "Take Severus. I need to lie down."
Draco took the baby as tenderly as he could. Wrapped up in the taniwha's cloak of night, Severus slept on, tiny face scrunched up. Draco shifted a fold of the cloak to keep the warmth from escaping from around the baby's face.
"Up, Solly," Sylvia commanded weakly.
The pooka snorted and put his ears back mulishly, but obeyed.
"Severus belongs to you, now," Sylvia whispered. Draco wondered if she was talking to him before he realised it was the pooka she was addressing.
Solomon shook his mane and sighed.
"You'll need your robe..." she said to Draco.
Putting his hand on her shoulder, Draco told her to stay where she was. "I don't need it. It's better if you stay warm."
Sylvia's grin was frightening. "I've lost so much blood I feel like I'll never be warm again. Take the robe."
Draco's answer was to tuck it around her. "Part-Veela, remember?"
"And the rest stubborn mule. You're just lucky I'm too tired to argue with you."
"Yes," he agreed, smoothing her hair away from her face.
"Talk to me. Tell me about my son. Tell me again how he's your favourite professor."
Draco spoke softly. He told her things she'd already heard, but she didn't complain. She just listened, her eyelids drifting open and shut.
The sun was rising when Draco realised she was dead.
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.
Chapter Thirteen: The Dream In Flight
Draco stood there for a moment with his mouth open in shock.
But when he finally pushed his rubbery legs into movement and stumbled forward to rescue Severus he was blocked by Solomon. The pooka shook his mane and snorted. Draco tried to dodge the white pony, but Solomon wasn't having any of that and Draco found himself shepherded out of the clearing by a patient but determined pooka.
When Draco finally did manage to dodge Solomon, it was to find that the clearing with the pond had disappeared. "Shit."
The pooka laid back his ears and Draco found himself apologising for his language. Then wondering if he was insane, apologising to an animal.
Maybe Solomon accepted the apology. He presented Draco with his shoulder.
Wishing he didn't have to, as the pooka felt so hot he feared the pony was about to spontaneously combust, Draco clambered onto its back.
And they were off.
No wild ride this time — Solomon glided through the falling snowflakes like a ghost. Draco certainly felt as washed-out as a ghost. With every mile he felt more and more as if he, Draco, were becoming less of a person and more a passing phenomenon shooting back and forth through time like some shuttle in the loom of the Fates. How was time travel even possible? He'd never heard of anyone being able to physically travel in time more than the few hours granted by a time-turner. Oh, sure, there were pensieves that could take you back centuries, but you were like a ghost in those. Not only was Draco able to interact with the people in the different times but he seemed to be integral to the smooth running of history.
Accepting the fact that he was tired and his brain was shutting down, Draco concentrated on staying on the pooka's back until the inevitable twist of the pony beneath him and the...
... free-fall through the air and...
He'd hit a snowdrift this time. "Good shot, Solomon," said Draco. He rolled over onto his back and spat out a mouthful of snow. He was exhausted. Even making snow angels seemed like too much of an effort.
Solomon, from whatever time this was, lipped at Draco's hair and snorted at the ice in it.
With a resigned sigh, Draco sat up and looked around to get his bearings. The snow had a lovely rich golden tint to it and the shadows were royal blue. By the way the sun was low on the horizon opposite the mountains, he decided that it was very early in the morning. He wasn't sure, but the landscape seemed almost like what he'd left behind the first time Solomon had sent him through time.
"Well?" he addressed the pooka. "When am I?"
Solomon-of-Now flicked his ears and nuzzled Draco's face. Draco flinched. The pony's breath was hot enough to warp paint.
From over the shoulder of the hill was the fizz-whoosh-bang! of a fireball.
Lucius Malfoy's spell of choice when he felt like inflicting maximum damage.
Funny, Draco thought muzzily, how some people just like blowing things up. At a glance, Lucius didn't seem the type as fireballs weren't noted for subtlety, but at heart Lucius was just a big kid who liked making things go boom. A big, overgrown, bullying brat of a kid who needed a good spanking. Or, seeing as how spanking had probably been trialed unsuccessfully in the past, decapitation. Draco frowned as he pondered the nature of fathers. It was a shame Draco hadn't had a chance to visit with Snape's father. Now there was a man who had needed tips on parenting. But never mind: Lucius was nearby and perhaps it was time for him to hear a few home-truths from Draco.
Another fireball exploded somewhere out of sight.
Draco rolled onto his belly and looked up at Solomon, who was swivelling his ears to triangulate the positions of the combatants.
"Let's go and find Daddy Dearest." And Draco grinned like a shark.
It wasn't hard. Just follow your ears and avoid the misfires. Draco crawled on his belly over the top of the ridge and peered down into a gully so filthy with warped magic that gorse bushes were running for shelter.
Disgusting, was Draco's first thought. It was revoltingly un-Slytherin the way Lucius and Snape were slugging it out. Draco knew Lucius' temper could let him down and the man would resort to pure machismo, so the way Lucius was hurling the biggest fireballs he could manifest wasn't extraordinary. Snape was the surprise. Draco suspected that his Potions master had a lot of pent-up aggression he was letting out, the way he was lobbing spells at Lucius.
It was a straight-out grudge match with the two men standing facing each other, throwing curses at each other and blocking the other's hexes and countering with whatever they felt like, so long as it made a good explosion.
Lucius' mouth was open and he was panting between incantations, his platinum hair flying around his face and his legs splayed for balance. Pure malice was keeping him from falling to his knees. His face was puce and his eyes in the pre-dawn light were crazed.
Snape looked beyond angry.
By the way he kept deflecting his opponent's spells, Draco wondered if the Professor was playing. If so, it was a deadly game. Neither man looked capable of being rational.
Draco ducked as a stray fireball bounced off Snape's quick fend and went wailing off over the hill.
It startled a rabbit. It jumped sideways towards Draco.
The rabbit startled the pooka.
Draco jumped out of the way as the pooka shied towards him. Unluckily — "Damn!" — he tripped and went sprawling down the hill.
There was a pause in battle in which could be heard the strained gasps of the two exhausted wizards as they looked at Draco.
Draco sat up and brushed the snow off his shoulders. "Hello. Glad to see you two are getting along famously without me."
"Draco." Lucius was trying to sound kind. The red lights at the back of his eyes belied the tone and hinted at the violence Draco knew Lucius wanted to visit on his son. "You can still come home with me."
"No," Draco stated. "I can't."
Snape was staring at Draco, a Draco without a shirt and with ice flaking from him.
Draco saw the moment when recognition sparked in Severus' eyes, and he nodded. "Yes," Draco said. "I'm the Ice Man."
"I thought I dreamed you." Snape sounded dazed.
"Dreams are tricky things," Draco replied.
Then Lucius bared his teeth in a rictus of a smile.
"You want him?" he rasped at Snape in a voice roughened from screaming hexes. "All these years you've been trying to take him from me, haven't you?! Here! He's yours!"
"NO!" roared Snape, throwing a sheet of light from his wand to deflect the fireball.
Lucius' first spell bounced off.
The second tore through the shield.
In the gully the snow was thick and it dragged at feet. And after all the strains of carrying babies and children and being thrown through time Draco's reflexes weren't very fast. He started to roll sideways but his muscles, screaming from exhaustion, were too slow to dodge Lucius' final curse.
As if watching it in a dream, he saw the fireball come towards him.
He saw the anguished rage in Snape's face.
The vicious triumph on Lucius'.
And then the fireball exploded in his chest and so did the dream.
Like an unfolding flower of ice and flame the dream woke.
Draco threw back his head and howled as the fire roared through his veins and turned his whole body to flame. Blinding light burst skyward from his mouth and ate his last scream as it burned away his voice. For a moment he blazed to rival the rising sun.
The fire ate Draco Malfoy whole.
Then came the ice.
The unstoppable force of glaciers ripped the husk of his body apart fibre from fibre. Then it remoulded it. To the broken music of the crackle of tearing ligament and breaking bone the spine whipped forward, doubling the carcass over. There was a loud tearing sound as the skin along the back split. The arms stretched and twisted, as did neck and face. Then the spine was wrenched and lengthened and sprouted a tail. Silver talons ripped their way out from beneath nails and clawed the last of the burning skin away to expose gleaming silver-green hide.
Wings, glistening and fresh, unfurled to catch the first rays of the sun. They swept forward experimentally.
The first breath of icy mountain air was taken and exhaled with a roar of triumph and Draco Malfoy was no more.
The creature that had hatched from him blinked with three pairs of eyelids and looked around, yawning and licking its teeth with a long steel-grey tongue.
There was snow. That was as it should be. Two — no, three creatures, two of them with two legs and one with four, were nearby. The quadruped was... the creature sniffed carefully... it was Not Enemy.
The bipeds, however...
The creature growled, smelling magic that had been squandered and misused in the fight between these two. It was rank and hovered bitter in the creature's nostrils until it cleared its nose with a sneeze. The magic was inedible now.
And the creature was so very, very hungry.
The two bipeds were wizards and still had enough magic in their bodies to give the creature the food it needed from its hatching, however, and it crouched, hissing, as it prepared to pounce. It swished its tail, trying to decide which wizard to eat first.
The biped with hair like weathered snow shouted something and threw a spell.
The creature snapped the fireball up in its teeth and swallowed it.
There was screaming from the wizard.
Bite, rip, tear.
This was good. This was wonderful. This was right. The creature put one forefoot on the struggling legs of the human and closed its jaws around the torso and pulled. Blood poured hot and thick with magic into its mouth.
There was a brief squishy tearing sound and the screams stopped.
The creature fed, swallowing the wizard in chunks, joyfully salivating in great, bloody streams onto the ground. It wasn't the blood it wanted so much as the magic it carried. Then it turned to the one with black hair.
This one was quiet and watched the creature with careful, hooded eyes.
The creature tried to remember... something... something important.
It growled and lunged at the second wizard but pulled up short as wards smacked it across the snout. This wizard was protected by an elemental. Dimly, the creature remembered that there was an elemental near here. An immensely powerful one. This wizard was hers, then. Not for eating.
And... there was something else. Something about the wizard personally. A thin waft of scent that scratched the surface of thought.
The wizard was speaking to the creature. He advanced a few steps across the blood-splattered ground and held out a hand. The wizard spoke softly. A name. Words in a silken voice. A voice that could shred but right now was gentle.
Something stirred at the back of the creature's memory. A tickle of a forgotten personality. Someone the creature had been.
Impossible! The creature was what it had always been! It was a trick!
Kindness was always a trick.
Snarling and hissing, the creature shied back from the wizard and raised its sharp, silver claws in warning. The wizard stopped but didn't back off. He continued to hold out his hand.
Was the wizard not frightened?
Shouldn't the wizard be frightened?
The wizard should be frightened, yes! That he wasn't meant that he was stronger than the creature. Thus he was a threat. And the hatchling didn't know how to fight this threat. The creature swayed from forefoot to forefoot uneasily, grumbling low in its throat. The wizard spoke more urgently and held out both hands now, as if asking for something.
The creature hissed again. When the wizard tried to come closer, sharp teeth snapped at him and he stopped.
More words, faster and silkier. The mask of kindness.
The morning breeze blew up from the valley. Unlike this black-clad wizard it spoke in a language the hatchling could understand. There was nothing kind about the wind. Nothing of false gentleness. It simply was; it was to be taken or left and it wouldn't change for anyone's benefit. It couldn't lie. It could maim and kill, but it couldn't lie to the creature. But for now its words whispered sweetly of high, cold winds that could carry an adventurer for miles. It tickled the creature's nose with fragrant ice crystals. Stretching out its great, semi-translucent sail-like wings, the creature caught the wind, and with a powerful kick from its hind-legs it was airborne.
The first clumsy flaps of its wings were to feel the currents of the airstream. The rest was taken care of by instinct. This was even better than killing and eating. This was the dream come awake.
The creature soared up and up and circled, hearing the calls from the wizard grow fainter as the wind carried the creature further away from him.
The wind came from the south. The smells it brought were salt-laden promises that the creature snuffed at eagerly.
It turned its nose southward and swept its wings down in the long strokes for the height it needed to begin the long flight. It didn't even notice how the wizard's figure dwindled to a small, black speck on the mountain slope and disappeared into the distance.
The creature didn't care about what it was leaving behind.
It was going Home.
To: Dermus Dryskull, Lt-Col Unspeakable
From: Badger Tumbledown, Unspeakable
Subject: Latest Chi Scroll: Malfoy, L.: Demise of
Upon reconnoitre of the situation many factors made solid conclusions impossible to achieve. I found the remaining participant, a Professor Severus Snape (about whom I have amassed quite a dossier), resident of the area, to be particularly recalcitrant to the point of churlishness. When I advised him that co-operating with me was in the best interests of the wider community, he had the effrontery to stare at me down his nose and inform me that my idea of community was not his. Keeping in mind my suspicions of his involvement with the Death Eaters, I decided not to continue with this in view of my personal safety (see scroll Chi-beta-7-7-35: Snape, S, evidence of being a Death Eater). I then tried to persuade him that as he was a respected pillar of the community it was his duty to help. When he stopped laughing he told me he still couldn't help.
At this point his wife tried to give me another cup of tea. My nerves were already twanging thanks to the thirty-seven cups of undiluted caffeine she had already forced upon me and Snape was giving me looks that might have been easily interpreted as murderous every time she came near me, so I excused myself and went out to look for evidence and a toilet.
By using some spells for elementals that I have modified according to the book of spells left to me by my father (as you know, he was abducted by elves ? see scroll Chi-alpha-0-0-19: Tumbledown, B. Snr, disappearance of) and using one of the only remaining pictures of a divination curler remaining after the Great Ortho-Spell Purge of '81 (Scroll Chi-kappa-6-8-3) I was able to isolate the fragments of what appears to have been an amulet for the control of an ortho-elemental. The charred wooden shards, when pieced back together, resemble the flower edelweiss. By dint of careful searching in the area I was able to find tiny pieces of shell. I believe these shell fragments to have come from the egg of the purportedly extinct Ice-Dragon.
I also believe Severus Snape to be hiding much more than he is letting on. I went back to confront him about it and showed him the wooden amulet. He first accused me of having carved it myself and then announced that he would prove that the eggshell was nothing more than the shell of the Antipodean Opaleye, a local species of dragon, and proceeded to demonstrate this by dropping the pieces into a cauldron with a solution that turned green. To my mind this proved nothing, and merely served to destroy the evidence. When I pointed this out to him, he folded his arms and glared at me, taking me right back to my Hogwarts Potions classes. I was surprised when he did not take points off Hufflepuff for my impudence. Then I remembered that I am one of the forces that protects this world and straightened my spine and told him he had only succeeded in obfuscating my investigation.
At this point he commended me for having read a thesaurus between leaving Hogwarts and the present date, and suggested I leave before he made me spell some of the long words I had been using.
I told him that the truth was out there and he couldn't hide it forever.
Raising one eyebrow, he replied, "The truth? You can't handle the truth."
I told him that I rather thought I could, thank you very much, to which he said I was boring him and his dinner was ready, so if I didn't leave he'd set one of the local elementals (scroll Chi-gamma-6-6-88, Taniwha) on me.
By the nasty way he was flaring his nostrils I deemed a retreat to be wise at this point.
I am requesting resources to reopen Ministerial enquiries into his:
- teaching methods
- personal habits
- close acquaintances suspected of being Death Eaters
- close acquaintances convicted of being Death Eaters
- providing elementals illegal magical powers
- extracurricular research
- ties to Voldemort
- parentage and genetic non-human heritage
- corruption of Muggles
- Potions developed by him that may have application as addictive narcotics
- the rumour of his patent on Fizzing Whizbees
- undue and uncalled for use of sarcasm in a classroom setting that can result in an unnamed student requiring therapy later on in life for emotional scarring
- the way socks keep disappearing from the Hogwarts laundry. Elves can't be responsible for taking ALL the socks people keep losing.
To: Badger Tumbledown
From: Dermus Dryskull
Subject: Here is the Truth.
Re. Subject: Latest Chi Scroll: Malfoy, L.: Demise of.
Stop wasting time and resources with your ridiculous Chi-Scrolls. Professor Snape is a respected member of the Hogwarts faculty and internationally recognised for his skills in Potions. If he says your evidence was a piece of shell from an Antipodean Opaleye, then your evidence was a piece of shell from an Antipodean Opaleye. He is also a recipient of the Order of Merlin, First Class for his role in the defeat of Voldemort and has the backing of most of your superiors, myself included. And that is the truth. I only hope you can handle it.
Furthermore you are to cease and desist in your persecution of this man, under order of the Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge. The Headmaster of Hogwarts has also been informed of your propensity for harassing his staff and suggested you fill in for Rita Skeeter while she remains on her extended holiday.
The cases of the unfortunate death of Lucius Malfoy and the disappearance of his son, Draco, have been satisfactorily closed. Further investigation will only distress his widow, Narcissa Malfoy. I have faith in our Autopsy Wizards, enough to accept their diagnosis that Mr Malfoy was torn apart by an Antipodean Opaleye when he inadvertently stumbled upon her nest during the breeding season while out tramping in the Southern Alps of New Zealand. It is a mistake that could happen to anyone.
This scroll is now closed. I hope I make myself clear. Because if you continue to disturb the Snape and Malfoy families you will go from Unspeakable to Unmentionable.
Personal log of Badger Tumbledown:
It is my duty to expose the truth of matters deemed inexplicable or swept under the magic carpet by people whose interests it serves to have the truth obscured by lies. My superiors have declined to give this case the proper attention it deserves. There are many unexplained phenomena in this world of ours and I suspect that, of those, a great proportion are intertwined. Severus Snape, the death of Lucius Malfoy, the disappearance of Draco Malfoy, the mysterious shards of Ice-Dragon eggshell... these are all pieces of the same puzzle. There is a pattern in there that will become clearer to the patient examiner. I will not rest until I have brought to light the Truth.
Author's note and apology: Sorry but I couldn't resist doing that epilogue. Self indulgent OTT twaddle, I know...
For more information on keas, go to: New Zealand Birds: Kea
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