When Helen finally let go of her husband, she turned to hold out a hand to Harry. "Harry-chick..." she whispered, and Harry saw the dark circles under her eyes. "You're safe?"
He nodded, still unused to having someone other than Ron and Hermione care for him for no other reason than that he was Harry.
Then she tilted her head sideways the same way she'd done when she was a bird, and studied the Ice Dragon for a long moment. "Hello, sweetheart," she said in a thick voice. "I've missed you." She walked up to the ortho and pressed her hands either side of its fearsome jaws, then leaned forward to plant a light kiss on the tip of its nose. "It's good to see you again."
The Ice Dragon blinked in confusion several times, then the eyelids drooped and it lowered its head to butt her shoulder in a friendly way. Helen chuckled and hugged the cold, scaly, fuzzy-with-magic head, and raised a hand to ruffle the spines behind its ears. It whistled huskily and Harry could feel its happiness like it was his own.
Helen let it go after one final peck on the nose and went back for another hug from Snape. "Are you well?" he whispered.
"Apart from being sick with worry because my husband has disappeared with one of my friends and there are all sorts of rumours about them being in league with dark forces or eaten by some monster, I've never been better." She stepped back and gave him a punch in the gut. "Don't ever do that to me again."
Snape winced -- the blow hadn't been damaging, but it hadn't been light, either. Helen wasn't playing. "I'm sorry. I couldn't think of how to get a message through to you. Ah... how did you know to come here, by the way?"
"Grandmother, who has more sense than to upset a pregnant woman, brought me."
"How? Oh -- I should have known." Snape put two fingers to his mouth and whistled.
A couple of thuds sounded from outside the door and a sleek, grey head pushed the door wider. Its ears pricked up when it saw Snape, and it whickered.
"Come here," Snape sighed.
Solomon the pooka pushed the door open with a flick of his head and walked into the bedroom, tail a-swish, with that same strange ripple in the doorway that Helen had caused. The pooka walked up to Snape, ignoring everyone else in the room including the Ice Dragon, and allowed its master to scratch behind its ears. "I suppose he just showed up," Snape said, his mouth drawn down in displeasure. He hated anything from his private life being involved in Hogwarts business -- Harry never had found out what Helen had threatened Snape with to let her come to the castle.
"Right in the middle of breakfast," Helen said happily. "He trotted into the Great Hall and up to the High Table. Well -- he tried to. That silly little bugger Colin Someone-or-Other tried to take a picture and the flash gave poor old Solly a fright. He jumped over three trestle tables pop-pop-pop, just like that, and charged off down a corridor."
"Was anyone hurt?"
"No, although I was tempted to give that boy a thick ear for frightening a poor, dumb animal like that. We found him in the kitchens, in the end. The house-elves were in a panic wondering if they were meant to cook him."
Snape's eyes suddenly sparked angrily, and Helen hastened to add, "But don't worry, that funny little chap who wears all the socks said that the animal was probably a Transfigured student. So they started giving him sweets."
Snape looked even more alarmed and he ran his hands over Solomon's belly. The pooka didn't seem to mind, and tried to scratch its head on Snape's shoulder until Snape pushed it away. "He's fine," Snape said softly. "Only had a couple of apples, and he can digest those. Greedy old nag."
The "nag" shook out his mane and snorted, spraying Harry and the Ice Dragon with a light shower of snot.
"Eeyew," said Harry, and noticed the Ice Dragon looked less than delighted, too. It wiped its muzzle on one of the discarded drop-cloths.
Helen watched the Ice Dragon fondly. For Harry, she was the last piece of the puzzle. And now he was fuming over Snape lying to him.
"Draco's grown since the last time I saw him," Helen said.
Snape drew himself up rigidly, and Helen put her hand to her mouth. "Was he... not meant to... um... not meant to know?" she said timidly.
Before Snape could reply in the firm negative, Harry said coldly, "It's okay. I worked it out for myself. I know he's Draco." He didn't look at Snape. Snape had lied to him. He could understand that Snape would want to protect Draco by not telling Harry that the Slytherin was still alive, but that wasn't the lie that stung. Of all the people in the world, Harry had thought Snape the absolute last to keep something like this from him: the fact that becoming a phoenix wasn't impossible. Because if Draco Malfoy could turn into an Ice Dragon then Harry Potter could learn to become a phoenix; other people might lie to protect him, but Harry had thought Snape would've had more respect. He'd thought he had earned that respect.
He was angry and hurt. Snape was still treating him like some sort of preadolescent nightmare. What the hell else was Harry meant to do to prove that he wasn't a walking charity-case to be pitied and protected from himself?
Snape frowned, but not at Harry. The Ice Dragon -- Draco -- swivelled his head on his long, sinuous neck and whistled uneasily.
<???> he asked: he was picking up on Harry's anger.
Harry forced himself to be calm again, but it was hard. He'd let himself open up to Snape and now he found just what he was worth... Calm down, he told himself again.
Helen may have been sensitive to the mood. She cleared her throat. "I brought food. Is anyone hungry?"
It was an odd sort of picnic. Solomon wandered around the room sniffing at the books and the few strange ornaments and pieces of furniture left behind when the Malfoy Mansion had been shut up. The Ice Dragon munched on some old Sneakoscopes and a book of spells with the appendix missing. Madam Pince would have burned it, Helen had explained, but she'd had a strange feeling she should pack it in with the Sneakoscopes and the various sandwiches and delicacies she'd asked the house-elves to stuff a picnic basket with. She didn't say why just why she'd had that impulse to put a basket of food and assorted magical items together and then jump on a pooka bound for who-knew-where, but Snape didn't seem surprised about Helen's near-psychic knowledge of what he needed, and Harry supposed Grandmother Taniwha had had something to do with that, too.
Helen sat next to Snape on the couch. Occasionally she would break off a piece of food to feed to her husband, but only when Harry was studying the Ice Dragon; at other times she would put down whatever she was eating and wipe her hands so that she could stroke his hair out of his face and tuck it behind his ears. Snape allowed this, and sometimes even ran his fingers through Helen's brown hair when Harry pretended not to watch.
Despite Helen's cheerful face it was clear that she had been extremely worried. Harry thought of a time when she had still been a kea and Snape had lost his temper over something Harry had done. Burd Helen had tried to perch on her wizard's shoulder and preen his hair. And there had been another occasion, too, when Harry had seen her try to put food in Snape's mouth with her beak. There seemed to be some characteristics she'd carried over when Grandmother Taniwha had turned her into a woman. She stroked Harry's unruly hair, too, after she poured him a steaming hot cup of chocolate, and Harry smiled at her tiredly, glad of her caring but not sure how to tell her with Snape in the room.
Harry wanted to yell at him and demand the answer to why Snape had lied. He wanted to shout at the greasy git about the way he continued to treat Harry like an imbecile.
But he couldn't do that with Helen here. The last thing Harry wanted was to upset her any more than he'd already done by dragging her husband off to Antarctica where Snape had been wounded because Harry had made another mistake in judgement...
And there it was. The dread that Snape was right to treat Harry like a child, because Harry was nothing more than some stupid, snot-nosed brat who didn't have the sense of a headless chicken.
Ouch. Harry realised, after a particularly nasty little pain in his finger, that he'd been picking at the skin around his nails again. One spot was oozing blood. He put it in his mouth, grimacing a little at the metallic tang of the blood.
Harry wanted to know if he was really that pathetic. But he couldn't ask, because that would just invite a row and upset Helen.
Ironically, it was Helen who gave the spark. "How long have you known that Draco is an Ice Dragon?" she asked over ginger cake, batting Solomon away. The pooka was very interested in the picnic, but, as Snape said, the little horse had had enough rubbish to eat for one day.
Harry couldn't help glaring at Snape, who was watching him with that cold, inscrutable expression Harry knew so well. "I didn't think I was right until you came in and he decided you were his friend. Sn- Professor Snape" -- Harry forced himself to be polite while Helen was here -- "said that Draco was dead and that it was impossible for a wizard to transform into an Animagus form if that animal was a magical one, like a phoenix."
"Ah," said Helen, frowning as if she didn't know what else to say.
He couldn't look at the Ice Dragon now -- not now that he knew what it really was... a repulsive Malfoy. Draco Malfoy, son of Voldemort's right hand man Lucius Malfoy.
Merlin, I'm in the same room as... as that.
And he'd actually cried when Snape had told him that Draco was dead. Harry looked into his empty mug, feeling his face flame with embarrassment and his heart burn with jealousy. Why the hell should Malfoy get to have a magical Animagus form? Did he buy it? A crash from the bookshelf made him look up. Solly and the Ice Dra- Solly and Draco were investigating the books. Draco had eaten the Sneakoscopes and the book and was still hungry. Now that he knew about different food sources the one-time human boy and now ortho-elemental was giving the room a through going-over. The pooka and the ortho appeared quite fascinated by each other; after eating the Sneakoscopes, Draco had engaged the pony in a spot of mutual grooming, where the pooka had scratched at the Ice Dragon's neck with its teeth and the Ice Dragon had reciprocated by licking the pooka's smooth, pale coat with his rough tongue. Now they had found an old Charms textbook. Solly watched as Draco carefully gripped the book in his talons and shredded it with his teeth.
"Now there's someone who needs to learn foraging skills from an expert," Helen announced. "And who better than an ex-kea to teach him?" She stood up, cracked her knuckles, and went over to the pair of quadrupeds. "School time, Draco. Let a professional show you how to really rip things to bits."
And that, Harry realised, was her tidy little attempt at leaving him and Snape alone to sort out their problems.
The trouble was Harry didn't want to talk to Snape about their problems. It should be up to Snape to tell him that he'd lied.
"I didn't lie to you, Mr Potter," Snape said in a low voice.
Oh, Merlin -- was Snape reading his mind? The way those black eyes were studying him made Harry think that Snape was.
Harry glared. "You told me Draco was dead. You told me that because my Animagus is --"
Snape silenced him with a curt wave of his hand. "Draco Malfoy never properly existed. And I told you the truth about your Animagus powers."
"I went to school with Draco Malfoy. He tried to get me expelled more times than I can remember. You must remember him -- he was the blond kid in Slytherin you always favoured despite his lack of talent or, in fact, any positive personality trait."
The flash of anger in Snape's eyes warned Harry against continuing. You didn't use sarcasm against a master -- not if you wanted to escape with your self-respect intact, anyway.
"I told you," said Snape quietly and slowly, "that Draco Malfoy was a construct of his father's. I also told you that he never properly existed."
Harry frowned, angry and distrusting. He shook his head. "I can't believe that."
Snape's mouth thinned in annoyance. "Then I'll show you," he said. "Find that link you have with the Ice Dragon. I'll meet you through that." And he half-lidded his eyes.
Harry looked at the blank expression for a long, astonished moment. Then he firmed his own mouth and reached out with his mind.
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