It looked like a mausoleum, anyway. White sheets shrouded the furniture and curtains were open only a slit to show that the sun was still up. Snape was still leaning bonelessly against Harry.
With the strange sucking static he'd felt after touching a TV screen on one of the rare occasions Dudley Dursley turned if off, Harry took his hands away from the Ice Dragon. It twitched a little and moaned, but seemed to be otherwise unconscious. Harry took that as a good sign. Given the agony the creature had been in before, unconsciousness would be a blessing. He just hoped it wasn't actually dying... His mind veered away from that thought. Instead, he put his arms around Snape's shoulders and eased him back to see how he was. Snape's head lolled back in a way that couldn't have done his neck any good and his breath came in harsh whistles as if his lungs had been damaged. Maybe he was dying like the Ice Dragon.
Was that Harry's voice? It sounded too high and weak. And surely it had stopped cracking like that two years ago?
Harry started to tremble.
Of all the people he'd been afraid of getting killed, Snape had been last on his list. The Slytherin was just too cunning and stupid self-sacrifice was a Gryffindor trait. Of all the people in the world shouldn't Snape have been the safest? Bastard. He should have been safe. If he wasn't then it was Snape's fault, not Harry's. Harry wiped at his eyes. "Professor?"
"Ngh." Snape's eyes slitted open. He went cross-eyed trying to focus on the face in front of him. "Potter? There's a werewolf down there." His voice was as harsh as it had been after Voldemort had tortured him with Crucio last summer. "Lupin's down there, too... gotta get him out..."
Snape was lost somewhere twenty years ago. Harry bit his lip. "Professor Snape, it's me, Harry."
Oh, Merlin; Snape had left his mind behind somewhere along the way. Not that he could be blamed for that -- Harry had felt like he had been coming perilously close to that lately. I can't break, not now. I've got to stay strong until this is over and maybe then I can rest. He tried to support Snape's head on his shoulder before Snape could drop to the floor and stun himself even more; cupping the back of Snape's head and ignoring the greasy feel of the black hair. It didn't help matters the way Snape was twitching like a new-born centaur foal with an inner ear infection. He shook Snape gently. "Professor," he said softly but urgently, "it's Harry. Harry. Can you understand me? Professor Snape? Come on, Professor. Don't... don't leave me alone to deal with this... wake up... be okay, come on..."
Snape closed his eyes.
Not good, not good, not good... Pleasepleaseplease don't die... It was as if Snape was slipping away just like everyone else who had ever defended Harry. Trying not to vomit out of terror, Harry wrapped his arms around Snape like he'd wanted to wrap his arms around that big soft warm teddy bear Dudley had been given for Christmas one year, and hugged him as hard as he could. "Wake up, wake up, wake up..." Harry muttered in a soft litany of panic. He squeezed harder and shook Snape. "Wake up... come on... don't bloody well leave me alone here..."
Snape wheezed and rolled his head to the side. His lips had gone paler and Harry realised that he was squeezing him so hard that Snape couldn't breathe. He should let go before Snape asphyxiated but his arms were locked and he couldn't let go because if he did Snape would die like everyone else and he really wanted Dumbledore or McGonagall or his godfather or Remus or especially his parents but all he had was Snape and Snape was dying because he couldn't breathe and all Harry could hope to do was hold on hold on hold on hold on hold on...
"Don't you die. Don't you dare die. Don't you dare die. Don't die. Don't you dare die."
Maybe there was some magic in Harry's words. Or maybe Snape came out of his daze on his own. With a sudden, strong twitch of his shoulders he struggled against Harry's grip and managed to break not only the lock but Harry's spiralling loss of thought as he sat up, staring around the room wide-eyed with bewilderment. "Mr Potter? Where -- ?"
"I don't know," Harry replied unsteadily as he helped him sit up and lean back against a huge four-poster bed. Snape was breathing and awake; that was all that really mattered. And Snape was asking questions. Five-plus years of being a Hogwarts student kicked in and he searched his splintering mind for the answer. "But your Grandmother sent us here, I think. Do you remember? The three of us -- you, me, and the Ice Dragon..." Three as one...flying through the overlapping spheres of the world... one purpose, one goal and a strength that equalled more than the sum of its parts... "Don't you remember?"
Snape started and looked around. When he saw the Ice Dragon sprawled on the other side of Harry he exhaled sharply in relief. "I -- we -- I was aiming for the clearing..."
"Yes," said Harry quietly, desperately wanting to keep Snape calm. If Snape panicked, then maybe he would Apparate away from here and leave Harry alone with the dead Ice Dragon... "But the taniwha said that the Ice Dragon --" ("Little cousin," she'd called it -- him) "-- would fight to get away from there. So she sent us to..."
"...A neutral ground," Snape finished. He rubbed his hand over his face, which looked older than it had in Antarctica. "Yes. I remember, now. Damn," he added with feeling, and ran the hand back through his hair.
Harry kept quiet, watching as Snape came back up to speed: for Snape that was a base of brassed-off with a back note of bitterness topped with strongly astringent sarcasm. As soon as Snape demonstrated some capacity for sarcasm Harry would know things were under control again. There would be someone to help carry the load. Someone to pick up the pieces when the inevitable happened and Harry snapped like his Nimbus 2000 when the Whomping Willow smashed it.
But currently Snape seemed too exhausted to do much more than blink.
"Are you all right?" Snape asked.
"Yes," Harry lied. "How about you?"
"Tired. Used up too much energy in the transfer. He was fighting me." For a moment Snape's expression revealed a bone-deep shame.
"The dragon?" Harry couldn't understand the shame. Snape was hiding something -- not that that was unusual, but hiding something about the Ice Dragon? He thought of how the Ministry had wanted to enlist the Potions master in the Ice Dragon's capture and added it to the taniwha's reference of "little cousin." Maybe it was Snape's long-lost brother or something. Just what was needed right now, Harry decided with a mental eye-roll.
"Mm" The tone didn't encourage questions and suggested that any speculations Harry Potter might have should be kept private.
Harry didn't care. He wasn't in the mood for questions right now anyway. "Can you stand up?" he asked.
Snape tried to pull himself up using one of the bed posts. He didn't do too bad a job of it, but Harry, worrying that the man would fall and hurt himself, scrambled to his feet to support Snape.
It was a measure of how badly off Snape was that he didn't snarl at Harry for his getting in the way and instead gripped the boy's shoulder for balance. Harry kept one hand under Snape's elbow to steady him. He also kept his silence except for one hurriedly muttered "Sorry," when, on touching Snape's lower back, Snape flinched so violently that they both almost fell. Harry's hand felt sticky and he recalled that just before they had Apparated (or whatever spell it was Snape had used) he'd thought Snape had been hit by a curse cast by one of the warders in Antarctica.
Snape's back was warm and sticky and Harry couldn't think about that no he had to think about keeping Snape upright because Snape was fine he was walking so he was fine so if Harry didn't touch the blood (*not blood nonono it can't be blood*) then everything was fine.
Together they stood and gazed down at the Ice Dragon.
"Is he dead?" Harry whispered.
Snape shook his head slowly. "No. Not yet. Help me down."
It was awkward because Snape, skinny though he was, still weighed considerably more than Harry and his long legs kept buckling at awkward moments. Harry accidentally brushed his hand over the wet, bloody (don't think about it!) patch on Snape's back and Snape dug his fingers into Harry's shoulder so hard that Harry had almost cried out. At least the pain had the advantage of keeping him anchored in reality, Harry realised. If his body hurt then it focussed him away from... all the other stuff.
Once he was kneeling on the rug next to the broken wing, Snape put his hands over the shattered bone. "Still asleep," he grunted with satisfaction. "Let's hope to whatever god you pray to that he stays that way. Now, pay attention here, Potter. I'm going to check those dunderheads shifted the bone into the correct position and then set it. You need to hold it motionless for the time I cast the spell."
Harry frowned. "Spells don't stick to it."
Snape gave him the ghost of his usual sneer. "Standard spells, no. Stop questioning me, Potter, and let me do my job. Just make sure you do yours."
Harry considered getting angry but was too happy that Snape was feeling well enough to be a git again. Besides, he was also relieved that someone in the room (wherever the heck this was) was capable of taking charge. He decided to risk another question. "Is it enough just to hold the bones together with my hands? I can't lift the entire wing and hold it steady."
"All you need to do is absorb any vibrations that run through the healing tissue. The bone matrix won't be capable of doing that yet -- the cellular lattice needs to form some semblance of crystalline coherence before it will be able to absorb stress for itself. The splint --" Snape almost managed his best sneer "-- will give it the necessary gross support but as for stopping the effects of the finer diffusion of the harmonics set up by the magic I'll be utilising... well, I don't know a spell for that. Just keep your hands on the wing over the break and your own osteotic tissue and personal magic stores will do the rest."
Harry nodded. He wasn't quite sure what Snape was on about -- his teacher seemed a little muzzy-headed still, and Harry hoped that so long as Snape could operate on the magical level (even if he wasn't quite up to his full communicative ability) then he, Harry, would only have to follow some basic instructions.
There were some nasty, wet grinding noises that echoed in Harry's sinus cavities. For a moment he thought he'd vomit. He shut his eyes so as not to look at what Snape was doing, but the pictures he saw conjured up on the backs of his eyelids from the sounds had to have been worse than whatever his open eyes could have seen... Please let it be unconscious...
The sounds stopped.
Harry opened his eyes again.
"Get out of my way, Potter." But Snape was too tired to put the usual venom in. Harry moved without bothering to glare back. On his knees, Snape shuffled to the ortho's head. From out of his robes he extracted a small shell that spiralled to a point and glowed with a faintly pinkish glow in the dully lit room.
"Hands on the wing." Snape placed the shell between the dragon's closed eyes and spread his hands over the scaly forehead, then half-closed his own eyes and began to hum. Harry ignored the sticky feel of the almost clear blood seeping from that compound fracture and thought about keeping his hands steady.
That hum was becoming distracting, though. And when Snape modulated his voice down into the lower registers Harry felt the hairs up the back of his prickle with the sense of tapped magic. There were words in there, Harry was sure of it; but they were words that tickled at the back of his mind as if they hadn't been invented by anything human. This magic was not like what he'd ever felt at Hogwarts, though, except for maybe once... and Harry couldn't quite remember what that time had been. Had it been when he'd met the taniwha? Maybe. Memory was a tricky devil.
And then he nearly bit through his tongue as an expanding fuzz of energy oscillated out of Snape's hands and into the dragon. It set his teeth to itching. Harry wanted to ask what was happening, but Snape's fierce knitted-brow expression of concentration warned against questions.
The vibration travelled up Harry's arm and into his teeth. It kept going, soaking into the bones of his skull.
There was one appalling moment when Harry thought every fibre of his body would blast apart.
Then it stopped. Snape opened his eyes and said, "It's done. You can let go now."
His body still vibrating to that alien frequency, Harry was more than pleased to do so. "It'll be okay now, wi-?"
The Ice Dragon heaved itself sideways. It lifted its head and swung the pointed nose around to see what was next to it.
Its eyes fastened on Harry and Snape and it bared its teeth.
The first snap of its jaws would have been Harry's last moment, but an arm was thrown across Harry's chest and it pushed the boy backward.
"No," Snape growled, and from Harry's position next to Snape he could see that Snape had managed to make eye contact with the creature. "No."
The Ice Dragon hissed but didn't strike. It didn't blink and neither did Snape. Harry held his breath.
Apart from the long, slow snake-like hiss from the ortho-elemental, the room was as silent as a morgue at midnight. And as cold. Snape's breath hovered in a faint mist to show he was breathing faster than normal. But he didn't blink.
If the Ice Dragon breathed, there was no vapour to show it. Or maybe it couldn't exhale warmth. It hissed again.
Snape didn't blink.
The Ice Dragon raised its head to stare down at Snape. It tilted its head, and still neither of them blinked. Then the healed wing stretched up and out over Harry's head until it brushed against Snape's side close to where he had been hit by a spell. There were scorch-marks surrounding the spot on Snape's robes that glistened with blood, Harry noticed for the first time, then wished he hadn't. He still felt ill.
Snape winced as the wing touched the wound.
The Ice Dragon struck out with its claws.
There was a clap of thunder that almost ruptured Harry's eardrums, but through it he heard Snape cry out. All light winked out of the room. A solid weight tumbled back against Harry and he did his best to catch it.
When Harry could see again, Snape was lying across his legs and the Ice Dragon was backed up against the far wall, snarling, terrified, its silvery-blue eyes wide.
Snape clutched at his chest and shoulder. Harry could see where the creature's claws had dug parallel furrows into Snape's flesh. For a moment the cuts were white from the shock of the attack and then the blood began to flow in thick, scarlet rivulets.
Harry started to shake again. Don't have time for this. Gotta keep it together just a little longer... "PROFESSOR SNAPE!"
"I'm all right," Snape gasped, looking around with his eyes wide at Harry's panicked shout. His teeth were bared, but it could have easily been from anger as from fear or pain. "Dra- The dragon...?"
Harry looked over at the creature. It stared back at him with its eyes even wider than Snape's and lifted its forefoot up to its mouth. A dark grey tongue licked tentatively at the claws and its expression became -- Harry would have sworn on his parents graves -- its expression became anxious. It chirruped as if it were calling out for someone.
Snape struggled to sit up. Harry helped as much as he could and managed not to complain when Snape dug a bony elbow into his ribs. "Hush, now," Snape whispered, still pressing a hand to his shoulder, and to his surprise Harry realised he was talking to the dragon. "Hush, little dragon. We're all still alive here."
The Ice Dragon tilted its head and whistled through its nose. Its wings, which had been spreading out as far as injury and the walls would allow -- furled again.
<a man with black hair falling away into the distance. The midnight cloak of power of a taniwha. Sunlight reflecting off a field of ice. A dying woman, her eyes the colour of a starless night. The dark-haired man's pale face wearing a rare smile>
<A warmth in his chest that he'd achieved something that made this man proud. Icy fear of the taniwha's wards. Protectiveness. The incomparable scent of a new-born baby. Determination that no power under sun or stars would harm this baby in his arms. The giddy joy of knowing someone would protect Harry himself>
Harry knew these experiences weren't his own. Could they belong to the...? <hello?>
The Ice Dragon looked at him and blinked. <darkhairedmanbleedingwhy?>
Harry bit his lip. He couldn't help the thought that broke through; the memory of the Ice Dragon lashing out...
<DENIAL!!! NonoNOnotmeI'dneverdoTHAT! neverhurtbabyneverNEVERhurtbaby ... promisedmother!>
"OUCH!" The Ice Dragon's anger hit Harry squarely in the forehead and he squeezed his eyes shut.
"What?" said Snape.
Harry shook his head. "It -- he -- I told him he was the one who hurt you and he got angry."
Snape didn't say anything for a long minute. Then: "Help me onto that couch."
Under the window with its heavy, drawn curtains was a long, low couch. It was covered with a white sheet and looked sad and forgotten, but Harry imagined that it would be upholstered in a cream brocade woven through with green, and a fine place to curl up with some cushions and a good book when the afternoon sun came streaming in, and... And the imagining wasn't Harry's. Almost, he sent out his mind to see if that had been the Ice Dragon thinking that again, but decided better. The Ice Dragon was sniffing at one of the bedposts. It licked at the smooth wood briefly, then wrinkled its nose. With a deep sigh and the groan of the springs it climbed onto the bed. For a moment Harry froze, prepared to drag Snape out of the way should the bed collapse and bring the canopy down on them, but the sturdy frame held.
With the utmost care (this was not the time for another tongue-lashing) Harry helped his teacher up and over to the couch. While still steadying Snape with one hand Harry managed to pull the sheet off.
The couch was upholstered in cream brocade. Lavishly woven throughout the material were abstract designs in a forest green.
Harry shot a look over at the Ice Dragon, but it had curled up on the bed with its snout tucked under its wing.
Snape's legs were giving out and although he did his best, Harry couldn't help jolting him a little as he tried to ease Snape onto the couch. Snape hissed in pain, but thankfully kept any nasty comments to himself.
Harry straightened up and shivered. The room could have been used as a freezer -- it was big enough to hang carcasses from, although they would have looked a little out of place under the chandelier (small though it was) and next to the books. A quick glance at the bookshelves showed that the person who had once inhabited this room liked Quidditch as well as magic. Several of the Hogwarts textbooks Harry knew were on the shelves, alongside others he was sure would never have been allowed on the syllabus... well, Snape might have allowed them... Poisons for Beginners; Hexes Hexes Hexes; The Illustrated Necromancy Reader for Children; So You Want to be an Evil Overlord? (2nd Edition); The Dark Arts for Dummies...
Nope. Nothing there that would be on the syllabus. Harry shivered again, but not so much from cold this time... Whose house was this? And what would they say when they saw their new house guests? Harry just hoped it wouldn't be Crucio...
"There should be blankets over in that wardrobe," said Snape as he watched Harry from behind the lank curtains of his hair.
Harry looked over at the wardrobe: it was a huge, oaken monstrosity carved with grinning basilisks and frolicking bubotoads on its double doors. This was either Voldemort's childhood room or the bedroom of some other seriously deranged kid. Harry couldn't imagine being able to grow up sane in the kind of house where bubotoads were considered happy nursery pictures, and he'd been raised by the Dursleys.
Harry wasn't even sure he wanted to open it -- freezing had distinct advantages over what he might find in there. But when he took another look at Snape, who was looking pale and unhealthy even by Snape standards, he saw that he was starting to shiver, and he couldn't let Snape freeze, not after all the trouble he'd gone to to help Harry save the Ice Dragon.
When he tried the wardrobe doors neither would budge.
"Locked. I've got my wand, though..."
"Don't use your wand, boy!" Snape snarled.
"Huh? Sorry? Why not?"
Snape pushed himself up against the arm of the couch and sneered. "Because, idiot child, there is an ortho-elemental in the room. Did you pay any attention in your History of Magic classes, or were you just as inattentive there as in my Potions classroom?"
Why was Snape choosing now of all times to go on the attack? With no little effort, Harry kept his temper. "Possibly," he replied evenly, trying not to notice that his hands were shaking worse than ever.
"Well if you had you'd have known that the reason orthos were so feared was because they are thaumovores -- that means that they eat magic, in case you missed that in your DADA classes..."
"Yes, I know what a thaumovore is."
"Don't interrupt, Potter. I need to explain this to you in simple terms to aid your understanding..."
Harry's vision was turning red. Snape normally wasn't this bad even in Potions class... "We learned about thaumovores in DADA."
Snape continued. "Bravo -- I'm pleased to hear there is at least one class you are using your ears in. I hope for the sake of whatever poor soul takes over from that werewolf next year that you will at some stage connect said ears to that under-utilised organ you like to call a brain."
Harry's brain was telling him to push a pillow over Snape's ugly face and make him shut up once and for all... How dare the greasy git address Remus Lupin as "that werewolf"?
"I will say this slowly to make sure you understand," said Snape, enunciating each word carefully in his silken voice. "Do not use magic. The nasty dragon will want to eat it. You use magic -- it will eat you. You no use magic, it no eat you. Hopefully." Primly, he folded his hands in his lap. "It's a rare species and digesting a Potter may damage it. So again I urge you: do not use magic."
If I lob a spell over at Snape and it sticks in his robes will it eat him? Harry hoped Snape didn't know how close he was to finding out.
"Open the wardrobe and get out a blanket, there's a good boy."
"It's locked," Harry said in a small voice that wobbled like a Boggart in a closet.
"Oh. And is the Boy Who Lived unable to open doors? Really, given all the sneaking around that you and your ghastly little friends have got up to in the past, I'm surprised a silly old wardrobe should give you so much trouble. Can't you do it without the know-how of that annoying little busy-body Granger?"
"Don't you talk about her," Harry growled to the wardrobe. "Don't you even mention her name." He was so angry he could hardly see. His whole body was trembling. Everything was tinged in red and there was a loud thumping in his ears that still wasn't loud enough to drown out the soft, malicious voice of Severus Snape.
"Open that door, Potter!" Snape barked. "Or do you need me to do it for you?"
"I DON'T NEED YOU FOR ANYTHING!" Harry roared, and hurled himself at the wardrobe.
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