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Chapter 22 : Embracing the Child Within
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Embracing the Child Within
Draco Apparated the three boys just outside the manor grounds, since Narcissa's peacocks roamed the grounds at will and one could, accidentally, Apparate into one and the result would be disgusting, at the very least. Malfoy Manor was a grand house in the old Elizabethan style, with towers at either end and mullioned windows on the upper stories. Decorative columns flanked the front entrance, engraved with carvings of serpents and dragons.
Draco led the way through the wrought iron gate and up the driveway, which was flanked by an enormous yew hedge on both sides. The drive ran straight up to the house, but gaps in the hedge contained pathways that led to the gardens and lawns. Severus had been here in his former life, and he still remembered it, but he soon discovered his memories did not quite match the sheer scope of the place when seen from the height of a five-year-old. The manor had been impressive when seen through the eyes of an adult, seen from his child's perspective, it was like entering a fairytale village complete with a castle.
Alby's eyes were wide with wonder and he kept pointing at various things. "What's that?" he asked, pointing to a short path of cobblestones that led to a thick hedge with purple flowers. It had been a long time since he had come and visited Malfoy Manor, over a year, and he'd forgotten what it looked like.
"That's Grandma's garden," Cory said. "It's got lots and lots of flowers and a fountain with a unicorn statue in it. And some benches and you can sit on them, but you can't run around or pick the flowers. It's sort of boring. Grandma brings her old lady friends there and sometimes Mummy goes there too."
Draco had to fight to keep from snickering at Cory's description of Narcissa's "old lady" friends. He could just imagine the expression on her face if she had heard what her grandson had said. Still, the four year old couldn't be expected to be enthused about a place where he was to "sit still and behave".
They continued walking up the drive, Cory prattled excitedly to Alby and Severus about his swing set and his playroom. Suddenly an albino peacock raced by, followed by several more. The big birds were Narcissa's pride and joy, dazzling white feathers with bright silvery "eyes" in their tails and they had brilliant violet, sapphire, or ruby eyes. Draco paused so Alby could see them, and warned, "Don't try and pet the peacocks, Alby. They don't like little kids, matter of fact they don't like anybody except my mother and they'll bite if you get too close. Especially that one," Draco pointed to a large male with a gorgeous tail spread and ruby eyes. He pranced about, eyeing his peahens possessively. He turned and gave Draco a haughty look. "That's Lucifer and he's the devil incarnate. The bloody bird bit me when I was little and I still have the scar on my calf. Only reason Mother keeps him around is because he's a good breeder. I would have stuffed him with chestnuts and cranberries and ate him by now."
Lucifer turned and hissed at Draco, his head snaking out, ruby eyes burning with malice.
Cory whimpered and hid his face in his father's shoulder. "Lucifee mean!"
Draco kicked out at the feathered menace. "Get, you featherbrained devil! You even try and bite me and you'll be tonight's dinner, got me?"
Lucifer screamed at him, then turned and strutted away, nipping at the peahens to get them moving across the lawn. When he had gone a far enough distance, the peacock turned and gazed arrogantly at the wizard and the three children.
Draco snorted. "Yeah, devil bird, keep looking at me. I always said you weren't worth the time and Mother should have plucked your tail feathers out and made you into a hat. You would have been a damn sight more useful."
Draco led the way into the house. The entrance hall to Malfoy Manor was made of fine tile and marble pillars. There was a large staircase of fine golden oak polished to a high gloss, it had a runner of emerald green and a lovely twisting banister. Directly across from the entrance way was a large drawing room, where Lucius and Narcissa entertained guests. Off to the right was a small door that led to the basement; it was kept locked because of the potions lab in it. Several other doors to the left led to other rooms—a conservatory, a large kitchen, two guest rooms, Draco's study, Lucius' office, and Cory's playroom.
"Father, we're home!" Draco called.
"An' we brought Alby and Sevvy to play with me, Grandpa!" Cory added.
Lucius emerged shortly afterwards from his office. He was wearing, for him, casual trousers in a dove gray color with a green collared shirt and soft Italian loafers. His long platinum blond hair was pulled back in a neat tail. A smile brightened his normally serious face when he saw his grandson and his two playmates. "Draco, why didn't you tell me you were bringing guests home? I would have had Jinxy prepare lunch."
Cory launched himself at his grandfather. "Grandpa! Guess what? I'm havin' a sleepover!"
"Oh, really?" Lucius caught his small grandson and picked him up. "And who said you could do that?"
"Daddy," Cory informed him. "Sevvy an' Alby can all share my bed, it's big enough!"
Lucius chuckled. "They could, but . . . we can always conjure a few extra beds. How was your Uncle Harry?"
"He was good. He really liked my drawing."
"I'm not surprised," Lucius said, putting him down. He knelt and said to Alby gently, "I'm sorry to hear that your father was hurt, Alby. I hope he's getting better. Welcome to Malfoy Manor."
Alby shook Lucius' hand. He had only met the Malfoy patriarch a few times. "Thank you, sir. Daddy's getting better, 'cause of Sevvy's special potion he made. Mummy says he can come home in a week."
"That's good to hear. Cory, why don't you show Alby your playroom?" Lucius suggested.
Cory eagerly seized Alby by the hand and walked towards his playroom, which was next to Draco's office.
Lucius turned to Severus and said, "Hello, Severus. So it seems you still have all your old skill, eh, old friend?"
"Of course I do, Lucius," Severus said. "I have most of my memories from my former life, and I would never give up my knowledge of potions. But this burn salve was new, I'd been working on it for awhile before I died . . ." Severus went on to explain what he had done.
Lucius seemed delighted that his former friend still recalled all of his potions skills and knowledge. "I hope that Harry sees your new potions get patented, so someone unscrupulous doesn't try and steal them."
"I think he will, but I can remind him," Severus said. He knew Lucius was making sense. Many new spells and potions had been stolen from their inventors before by unscrupulous colleagues and even family members. Severus wasn't going to let that happen to him. "So, what are you doing these days, Lucius?"
Lucius smiled. "I haven't retired yet, if that's what you're getting at. I still work for the Ministry, I'm Kingsley's advisor on pureblood affairs and also policies involving ancestral magic and bindings. I don't have the level of clearance I once had, but such comes with the territory. Some still have not forgiven me for what I did during the war."
"Sometimes, Lucius, it's hard for people to trust," Severus said gravely.
"Yes, well, there is a price for everything." Lucius nodded.
"I'm going to put your things upstairs, Severus," Draco broke into the conversation. "Would you like me to take Mimic upstairs?" He indicated the raven which Severus was holding.
Severus shook his head. For some reason, he wished to keep Mimic close.
"All right," Draco said, than he Apparated upstairs.
Lucius coughed and said, "Well, I won't bore you with all the ins and outs of my job. This is, after all, your second childhood, so to speak. Why don't you rejoin my grandson and young Albus? I need to finish some correspondence I was working on."
Severus frowned. He didn't understand why Lucius would dismiss him like that. "I don't mind talking with you," he began.
"I know, but . . . Draco brought you here to have fun, not to waste time discussing my career. Go and enjoy yourself, Severus. Forget what you used to be and just let yourself experience things like the child you are now."
"But . . . Lucius, I'm not just a child . . . I'm still Severus Snape!" Severus protested. "I still have most of my memories. I can still talk to you like I used to. I haven't forgotten what we shared together, old friend."
Lucius sighed softly. "Maybe you should, Severus. Those times are past, and I have no wish to relive them, even in my own memories. You should make the most of this second chance you've been given. How many of us are ever given what you have?"
"Lucius, I never asked for this."
"I know. But you were given it for a reason. You should embrace it. I would give almost anything to have a second chance. Go and play, Severus. I shall see you in awhile." And with that, Lucius turned and strode off, back to his office.
Severus stood staring after him, thinking irritably that Lucius didn't understand at all how being a child again limited your options. He didn't like being vulnerable or defenseless. He didn't like always following other people's rules. He wanted to be able to use his magic again. But at the same time he had to admit that being Harry's ward had its advantages. He liked this newfound closeness with Harry, it was something he had not been able to cultivate in his former life as the greasy dungeon bat and spy. He liked the feeling of belonging and family that came with living with Harry and Ginny. He liked how Harry defended him from those who would mock and harm him, like Sirius and the centaurs. He also liked the fact that once Lily returned from the Veil, they could have another chance to live their lives over, and this time he wouldn't make the same mistakes.
He supposed he would just have to take the good with the bad and make the best of it. But a part of him resented Lucius for treating him like a silly little boy. He might be five, but he was still capable of understanding and reasoning. He wasn't even sure what Lucius meant by enjoying his second childhood.
He hugged Mimic to him and walked slowly down the hall, following the sound of the boys' voices. He paused before the half open door of the playroom and bit his lip. Why is it that Black doesn't have the same problem I do? Why is it so easy for him to regress back to his childhood? Why can't I seem to let go? The cynical part of him sneered, You know why. Black has never really grown up, so how hard can it be for him to revert? But even as he thought that, he knew that was too simplistic of an answer. Perhaps it was because Severus had never really had a childhood. His experiences at the hands of Tobias had destroyed his innocence, had stolen the joy and wonder that should have been his. Sirius, for all of his complaints against his family, had still been allowed to be a child. Severus had not.
Perhaps he should have just removed all his memories and placed them into the Pensieve? But no, he knew when he had returned that the memories were important. He had been left with them for a reason, removing all of them would be wrong. He knew that instinctively. Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat history's mistakes over again. He could remove some of the worst memories, but at the same time he could not remove all of the memories of Tobias, since some of those were linked to Eileen. Eileen Prince Snape, for all of her faults, had loved him deeply, and she did not deserve to be forgotten. She had been a good woman, and had tried her best to be a good mother to him. It had not been her fault Tobias had been such a bastard, though Severus knew that some would judge her because she had not left the man. Severus, who knew the pain, degradation, and hopelessness she had dealt with, knew how hard it was to find a way out of that prison of despair. The school had provided him with a sort of refuge, a chance to see a way out. Eileen had sacrificed her own happiness for him. Severus knew that as surely as he knew how to stir a potion.
Severus closed his eyes and tried to recall Eileen's face. His memory was slightly hazy, but he could recall a thin woman with his raven hair, a thin face, and large dark eyes. She was not beautiful, not in the conventional sense, but she was striking and in her eyes was a keen intelligence. There you are, Mum, he said to himself. Is Lucius right? Should I try and embrace this second childhood? I don't know what to do.
As if from far away, he heard her voice. Severus, do what seems right to you. Do what makes you feel safe and happy.
Her son smiled. That was as good advice as any. Thanks, Mum. Tucking Mimic under an arm, he pushed open the playroom door.
"Sevvy!" Alby exclaimed upon seeing his brother. "Where were you? Look at this! Cory an' I are building a castle!" He waved at the selection of toy building blocks scattered about them.
The playroom was quite large and contained shelves, a child-sized table and chairs, a bookcase, and several chests of toys. A rocking horse was in one corner, and there was also a child-sized broom. There were two large windows that let in the sun and overlooked the fish pond and the playground.
Severus came and sat down beside his little brother. "Here. Let me show you," he said, taking a block and putting it on top of another at a slightly different angle.
Draco came into the playroom, and stood by the door, watching the three boys playing silently. While at first it had seemed extremely odd to see his former mentor and teacher as a child, Draco had come to the realization that Severus needed this, even deserved this. Draco knew that Severus' former life had been one of unending sacrifice, loss, and hardship, more than any man should have been expected to endure. This second chance at a normal happy life was a blessing in disguise.
"Ahem! Sorry to interrupt, but I just need to go over a few things with you," he waited until the boys were paying attention and looking at him before continuing. "First off, there are a few rules I have, and one of them is that Lucius' office and my study are off limits to you. Second is that if you're going outside, don't go anywhere near the peacocks or the koi pond. The peacocks will bite and the koi pond you could fall into. But feel free to enjoy yourselves on the playground or in the garden. If you'd like to swim, there's a pool, just let me know and I'll come with you. If you're hungry, just tell me, Lucius, or our house elf Jinxy, and we'll prepare lunch. Dinner's usually at seven and bedtime is somewhere around eight-thirty. Other than that, have fun!"
He didn't bother to tell them about the basement, as it was locked, or that the pool was warded so no child could go in without an adult.
"What's a koi pond, Uncle Draco?" asked Alby.
"It's my fish pond, Alby. It has large Japanese goldfish in it called koi," Draco explained. "I'll take you over there after supper, you can feed the fish some bread crumbs. I don't want you near there because the pond is pretty deep, about three feet and if you fall in there you might get hurt or hurt the fish. But there's another, shallower pond near the playground that you can wade in if you're hot and that one has toads and frogs in it."
"Cool! Can we catch some?" asked Alby eagerly.
"If you're quick enough," Draco laughed. He conjured several long nets and a bucket. "Here. You can put them in there, if you get any."
Both Alby and Cory looked enraptured at the thought of hunting for frogs and toads. Severus knew how to hunt for them, as frog and toad skin were components in some potions. But right then, the five-year-old potions prodigy was thinking about something else he could do. He walked over to a corner of the playroom and whispered to his stuffed raven, "Mimic, talk to me."
"I love you, Sevvy," the raven cooed in Harry's voice. Harry had magicked the raven to say certain phrases to the boy when he was feeling sad or lonely, but the raven could also repeat phrases as well. Severus smirked. While he had forgiven Lucius for the past, he still felt he was owed a little payback . . . in the form of a type of haunting.
"Mimic, repeat after me . . ." he began, speaking slowly and clearly, but not in his own voice. One of his little known talents as an agent was his ability to change his voice and sound like a variety of people.
Lucius returned from a quick trip to the bathroom and resumed his seat at his desk. He picked up his latest correspondence from Tharion Talonbaum, an old friend who had once been a Death Eater. Like many of his old acquaintances, Tharion wanted either a loan or a job, neither of which Lucius was willing or able to give him.
He scowled down at the parchment and muttered, "Merlin's hairy ass, Tharion, must you importune me like a beggar?"
"What do you expect, Lucius, from those who kissed the hem of Voldemort's robes?"
Lucius whipped his head around fast. "Albus?" he called, his eyes wide. But there was no one there. No ghostly old man behind him. "Dumbledore, show yourself!" he demanded, waving his wand about. "Revelaro Magus!"
But the spell fizzled and died.
Lucius sighed and shook his head. He must be losing it. "The stress must be getting to me. Because I could swear . . ."
He picked up his quill and began to write.
"Poor Lucius! No rest for the wicked, eh?"
Lucius almost fell out of his chair. "This isn't funny, old man!" he half-shouted, slamming his hand down and making his inkwell almost spill. "Stop playing games, dammit!"
"But I enjoy playing games, Lucius. All of life is a game, and we but players upon the board."
Lucius gritted his teeth. "I am not a piece upon a chessboard. Quit bothering me and go back to where you came from, ghost!"
"Lucius, Lucius. Don't tell me that like your former master, you fear death too? Death is the last great adventure."
"I don't fear death, you bloody nuisance!" Lucius snarled. "All I want is for you to leave me be! Go and haunt someone else and leave me in peace!"
"Very well. No need to shout."
Lucius heaved a sigh of relief when he could no longer hear Dumbledore's voice. "Crazy old coot! Why would he come back just to annoy me? Then again, there was never any understanding his reasoning." He began to write a reply to Tharion, his pen scratching across the parchment, when he heard a terrible hissing voice, one that he hoped he would never hear again.
"Lu-u-ci-uss, my faithful son . . ."
Lucius almost fell over backwards, his face pale as a sheet. "Bloody damn hell! You can't have returned!" he bellowed. "Harry killed you for all of time!"
The next thing Lucius heard was a soft maniacal laughter.
Lucius, by now panicked, launched a bolt of wizard fire at the wall behind him where the voice was.
It blew a small hole in the wall, but that did not stop the terrible voice of the Dark Lord from hissing, "Lucius . . . Lucius . . . do I have your allegiance?"
Lucius started sweating, then howled, "Never again, you crazed bastard!"
"Father?" Draco burst into the office, his wand drawn. "What's wrong? Are we under attack?" He glanced rapidly around the room, seeing nothing to alarm him.
Lucius gasped, struggling to get himself under control. "I . . . I . . . thought . . .well, first I thought I heard Dumbledore . . . I was sitting at my desk trying to write a letter when he started speaking to me, the old fart! I told him to go away, and then . . . then he came . . ."
"What do you mean, Father?" Draco frowned. "There's no one here but you and me."
"The Dark Lord came and asked me if I was still loyal to him . . . I swear it was he, I would know that voice anywhere!"
"Father, are you saying that Lord Voldemort and Dumbledore came to you . . . like a visitation from their spirits?" Draco repeated, staring at his father.
"Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying," Lucius snapped. "And don't ask if I'm crazy, because I'm not. I heard them, plain as day!"
"And did you see them as well?" asked Draco.
"No. But I'd know their voices," he told his son.
Draco moved to put a comforting hand on Lucius' shoulder and it was then he noticed the stuffed raven lying on the floor; it had fallen off of the shelf it had been hidden behind. Draco bent and picked up Mimic. "Father, I doubt if you are being haunted."
"Think what you will, boy, but I know what I heard."
"Oh, I don't doubt you heard the voices," Draco began, trying to smother a laugh.
"Draco, this is no laughing matter," Lucius scowled. "If Riddle has somehow managed to return from hell . . ."
"He's dead, Father. No worries." Draco sniggered. "You've been had, father of mine. By a talking stuffed raven." Draco showed Lucius Mimic, then doubled over laughing.
Lucius stared at the raven, poked it a couple of times. It looked familiar. Lucius tried to recall why, and then it came to him. He had first seen this toy clutched in the hands of . . . "Severus Snape! Get in here!"
Two minutes later, Severus found himself standing before a rather irate Lucius, who looked a bit frazzled. "Yes, Lucius, what is it?" he asked innocently, looking up at the blond patriarch with wide dark eyes.
"Don't you play innocent with me, Severus!" Lucius blustered. He took the raven from Draco. "Is this yours?"
"Yes. Why are you playing with my raven, Lucius?" inquired Severus slyly. "Aren't you a bit old to be playing with toys? Or are you trying to relive your childhood too?"
"Why . . . you . . . little . . . cheeky . . ." Lucius sputtered. "How . . . how dare you prank me like that?"
Severus arched an eyebrow. "Lucius, you were the one who told me to embrace my inner child. I'm simply doing what you told me."
Draco nearly collapsed on the floor, he was laughing so hard.
Lucius glared at the small boy. "Damn you for a conniving little rascal!" he swore, flushing. "I ought to give you a few good ones with my cane!" He then turned and glared at his son. "And you too, Draco! It's not funny!"
Draco looked up, tears running down his cheeks. He knew a bluff when he heard one. Lucius had never used his cane on a child, not even when Draco had been at his worst, and he wouldn't start now. "On the contrary, Father, it's hilarious." He wiped his eyes. "Think about it. You, the Minister's advisor, reduced to a screaming maniac by a five-year-old and his stuffed raven. Oh, if that isn't a Slytherin revenge, I don't know what is!"
Lucius was still indignant. "How could you, Severus? I nearly had a heart attack thinking he had returned."
Severus gazed at his old friend, and his gaze suddenly hardened. "I forgave, but I don't forget. Payback's a bitch."
"Damn you, Severus!" Lucius said, then he gave his former friend a rueful grin. "I suppose I should have expected that. Once a Slytherin, always a Slytherin."
Severus nodded. "Quite."
"But I'm keeping this until your bedtime," Lucius said with a smirk.
"But . . . that's my raven!" Severus whined, suddenly feeling lost without the stuffed toy.
"You'll get him back . . . later at night. That's what you get for being a sly little serpent," Lucius told him firmly. "Now run along and play, little imp."
Severus pouted and glared at the tall wizard, his arms crossed. But what used to terrify students had no effect whatsoever on Lucius.
The elder wizard simply waved him off.
His lower lip jutting out, Severus turned and stomped off. Maybe that prank hadn't been such a good idea, he thought. Then again, the expression on Lucius' face had been priceless.
It all started with an innocent game of hide-and-seek. Severus wanted to find the perfect hiding place, and quickly slipped inside Draco's study through the partially open door, forgetting for an instant that the room was off limits. As he started to crawl behind Draco's desk chair, he heard something chuckle darkly.
Now it was his turn to jump nearly out of his skin.
Whirling around, he came face to face with a dragon skull perched atop a shelf.
The skull tittered. "Did I scare you? I didn't know that Master Draco had another youngling."
"A little. And I'm not Draco's son, just a friend of his."
"Oh," the skull seemed disappointed. "Someday, I want to really scare someone. It's what a dragon is supposed to do, you know, and I never could quite manage it while I was alive. And not while I'm dead either." It sighed. "My name is Draconis Imperius. And you are?"
"Severus Snape," Severus told it. This was clearly an enchanted skull. "You must have been alive a long time ago."
"Oh, yes. Centuries ago, Sinjin Malfoy killed me and then he animated part of my spirit to live in this skull. He was in awe of dragons and thought this was the best way to gain our knowledge." Draconis told him. "But he never made sure I spoke the truth, and eventually he was killed trying to harvest scales from a Hebridian Black. But I remained and have seen countless Malfoys come and go. Oh, the stories I could tell!"
Severus cocked an eyebrow. He had been to Malfoy Manor several times and had never encountered this particular object. He wondered where it had been hiding. "Such as?"
The skull grinned toothily. "Oh, let's just say I know a lot of juicy secrets. Like how Mafalda Malfoy used to leave her window open on certain nights when the moon was dark and wave a lantern and her lover, Antonius Potter, used to climb up the trellis and into her bedroom. She was very unhappy, being married to that brute Torrence Malfoy, and her only pleasure was meeting with Antonius, who had always loved her, but they were forbidden to marry due to their families . . .It was like Romeo and Juliette, only without the suicide. Malfalda cuckolded her husband till the day he missed his thrust on a boar hunt and it gored him to death . . . and then there was Cygnus Malfoy, he was born with a lisp and thought an idiot, but he actually survived an assassination attempt that killed all the more gifted males in the family . . .Derek Malfoy was a treasure hunter, of course nobody in the family would admit it, treasure hunting being a vulgar past time . . . it's said he found an ancient spellbook that contained secrets of magic now lost to this world, potions recipes and charms to heal and protect, to guide a soul on the final journey, or to keep it from leaving . . ."
"Is it true?"
Draconis snorted. "Yes. But he hid it away and no one living knows where."
"I might. One night, when he'd had too much to drink, he might have spoken aloud a location . . ."
Severus rolled his eyes. "Oh, right."
"You don't believe me?" Draconis sounded insulted.
"If you knew the location of the book, why haven't you told anyone before this?"
"Because no one ever bothered to ask me. No one speaks to me anymore, except to tell me to shut up! Everyone forgets about old Imperius, who cares about the dragon skull moldering away in some dusty cabinet? The only reason I'm in here is because Draco thought his son might like to see me."
"Have you ever talked to him?"
"Yes. He likes me. But then his father said I was telling him too many scary stories and he hasn't let him come in here since." Draconis sniffed.
"All right. Where's the book?"
"It's fifteen paces to the right of the house, and sixty paces northward, till you reach a pond . . . ."
Severus listened intently to the directions. He was unsure if he believed the skull, but it couldn't hurt to check out the directions. After all, he had nothing better to do.
He bid Draconis goodbye and thanked him before heading out to find Alby and Cory.
Cory jumped when Severus tapped him on the shoulder. "Sevvy! Why aren't you hiding?"
"Because I've found a better game to play. Where's Alby? We're going on a treasure hunt."
Cory found some small shovels in the garden shed and they took them and followed Severus. When Severus thought he had found the spot where the dragon skull said the treasure should be, he drew an X and began to dig. Cory and Alby helped him, and in twenty minutes they had a fairly large hole dug.
"I'm tired of diggin', Sevvy," Alby groaned, tossing his trowel off to the side of the ever growing mound of dirt. "I wanna play in the pond."
"Me too," Cory agreed. "I'm hot."
Severus was hot and sweaty too, and since they didn't seem to be making much progress, decided they all needed a break and he took off his shoes and socks and waded into the pond. "Ahh . . . it's cold!" he yelped, but after the initial icy feeling, the water felt great on his feet and ankles. He rolled up his jeans and waded into the pond up to his knees, the water was no deeper than that.
Soon all three boys were splashing each other and getting wet.
Then Alby spotted a newt sitting on a small stick, and grabbed his net and tried to catch it. They had brought the nets and bucket with them just in case, and now the youngest Potter was determined to catch a few specimens.
Soon Cory joined the hunt, and Severus as well. Between the three of them, they caught several different colors and kinds of newts and frogs. They nearly filled the bucket, and got thoroughly wet and muddy in the process.
"Wow!" Cory exclaimed. "Look at all the newts and frogs we caught. We must have like a bazillion!"
"Yeah, and look how neat they are!" Alby said. "Do you think Uncle Draco will let us keep 'em?"
"Not all of them," Severus said. "Even if some of them are good for potions, like those green and blue ones there."
"Let's show them to him!" Alby shrilled. "Then we can come back and dig for some more treasure." He began to lug the bucket out of the pond and back to the house.
"Me too!" Cory said, not wanting to be left out. He took the handle on the opposite end and began to help Alby carry the bucket.
Severus followed, grabbing his shoes and socks.
But as the little boys tried to carry the bucket, some of their catch started to jump out.
"Oh, no! They're getting out!" Alby cried.
A few small frogs and newts escaped and began to run back towards the water.
"Keep going!" Severus urged. He then tried to capture the lucky escapees.
The jumping and scurrying amphibians also brought something else to investigate.
Lucifer and his flock.
The peacock started chasing the newts and frogs and so did the rest of his wives.
Severus swatted at a particularly persistent peahen, as he bent to grab a yellow newt. "Get away!"
The peahen squawked and backed off.
But that brought Lucifer over to do battle, and he wanted only to bite the child for his audacity in chasing away his hen.
Severus turned upon hearing the threatening scream, and saw the albino peacock coming at him with its red eyes gleaming. No fool, Severus started running, the newt still in his palm.
Lucifer gave chase, hissing and screaming.
When Cory looked back to see what was going on and saw Lucifer chasing Severus, he screamed. "Lucifee! Run, Al! Run!"
The two small boys began to run as fast as they could towards the house, the bucket bumping against their legs, letting more of their frogs and lizards escape.
But Lucifer was twice as quick, and soon the fierce bird had nearly caught up. Its head darted out and it nipped Alby hard.
Alby shrieked and wailed. "Owww! He bit me! Sevvy! He bit me!"
"You stupid bird! I'm going to pluck you and put you in a stew!" Severus cried angrily. He still had a net under his arm and he poked hard at the peacock. "Take that you rotten bird!"
Lucifer squawked and backed away, then he suddenly spun and lunged at Severus. His beak found Severus' thigh and bit down hard. Severus yelled and hit the bird with the net.
Lucifer let go and Severus kept running.
The three reached the house and threw open the door, the peacock hot on their heels.
"Daddy! Daddy! Help!" Cory screeched. "Lucifee's after us!" He was so scared of the peacock that he was practically dragging Alby into the house.
As a result, Alby tripped over the threshold and spilled the bucket of newts and frogs all over.
Soon there were newts and frogs hopping and scurrying everywhere, climbing up the pillars of the entry and across the Aubusson carpet, up the stairs and down the hall.
The enraged Lucifer followed Severus right into the house, still trying to attack the children. He tried to fly after them, hissing and screaming, and his wings and tail knocked over several vases and statues Narcissa had upon two small tables along the entry. They crashed to the ground and broke.
The resulting cacophony brought Lucius and Draco from their offices.
Draco immediately saw the crazed peacock trying to bite the children and pointed his wand at it. "Immobulus!" he cried.
Lucifer was caught fast, frozen as he attempted to bite Cory on the behind.
Draco then stared, his jaw dropping open at the myriad of newts and frogs everywhere and muddy footprints tracked all over the tile and the carpet, and the three boys looking like something the cat dragged in, filthy and soaking wet, and crying. "Great Merlin!" He turned to look at his father, expecting Lucius to blow his stack.
Lucius was standing in the middle of the foyer, and a few crazy newts had managed to climb up his trouser legs. The patriarch of the Malfoy clan had newts clinging to his shirt and a frog had hopped onto his head. Another newt was stuck to his collar and still another climbed his knee. He gazed about at the wreckage of his foyer and said nothing for a few long moments.
Draco braced himself for a tirade and so did the boys, once they realized the peacock had been frozen and wasn't a threat.
"Uh . . . hi, Grandpa!" Cory said, giving his elder a guilty grin. "Lucifee was chasin' us! I think he wanted to eat us!"
Lucius looked down at his grandson and did a very un-Malfoy like thing.
He burst out laughing.
Draco gaped at him. That was the very last thing he had expected from his conservative father. "Father? Are you . . . all right?"
When he could talk again, Lucius nodded. "Yes." He waved his hand and all the newts and so forth climbing him were transported to the floor. "Although, we'd better get this house cleaned up before your mother comes back and hexes us to the moon. She'll never trust us home alone again."
"Can I kill the bloody peacock?" asked Draco menacingly. "It bit Alby and Severus."
"I wish I could say yes, but that bird is your mother's pride and joy. I'd never hear the end of it if something happened to her precious peacock," Lucius scowled. "Just get it the hell back outside."
Draco levitated the frozen peacock out the door and a safe distance away. Then he removed the spell and Lucifer staggered off, looking dazed.
Together, the two men managed to corral all the newts and frogs with a Summoning spell, and clean up the foyer, which had footprints and water all over it. Narcissa would have been horrified.
Once the house was sparkling clean, Draco looked at his three troublemakers and said, "All right, whose bright idea was it to do this?"
"Draco, before you find that out, we should give them a bath. They're filthy," Lucius interrupted.
Draco had to agree. All three were muddy, wet, and both Severus and Alby sported large red bite marks.
He picked up his son and Alby and Apparated upstairs. Lucius picked up Severus and did the same.
"All right, now whose bright idea was this?" Draco repeated.
All three boys had been scrubbed and ointment put on the marks left by the peacock and dressed in clean clothing. They were seated on the long brown sofa in the drawing room and Draco stood before them, frowning. Lucius stood behind him, content to let his son handle the discipline this time.
All three boys hung their heads and looked rather ashamed.
Finally Cory said, "We was playing treasure hunt an' frog catching, Daddy."
"Yes, I can see that, Scorpius, but what I want to know is whose idea was it to bring all those newts and frogs in here? Your mother and grandmother would have a heart attack if they found the house full of those creatures. Not to mention the wreck you made of the carpet with your muddy footprints. What on earth were you thinking?"
"It was mine, Uncle Draco," Alby said. "I wanted to show you how many we caught an' all the different ones." Tears pooled in his eyes. "I'm sorry I dropped them. But I tripped. An' that mean old bird bit me."
"Yes, I know and I want to wring that bird's neck," Draco said. "How did Lucifer come to be chasing you?"
"He saw the frogs and wanted some," Severus answered softly. "And after he bit Alby . . . I hit him with my net."
"Can't say I blame you. Where did you find all of these . . . newts?"
"We were by the pond, an' we played in the water and the mud. We were digging for buried treasure, a skull told Severus it was hidden by there." Cory put in.
"I see. And you got filthy. Your mothers would have my head, letting you get like this," Draco said, and his eyes narrowed. "Hold it. You said a skull told Severus about buried treasure? There's only one skull I know of in this house and that's inside my office. It's called Draconis Imperius. Sound familiar, Severus?"
"Yes. I . . . I went in there to hide, we were playing hide and seek," Severus began, sounding defensive.
"And what part of don't go into my office didn't you understand, Mr. Snape?"
"It was only for a moment. I didn't hurt anything," Severus protested, his eyes burning with unshed tears. Even to his own ears that sounded lame.
"That's not the point. The point is you disobeyed me. I keep my office closed for a reason. Imperius is a gossipy bag of bones and what's more, sometimes he lies. That's why I keep Cory away from him." Draco said sternly.
"Then there's really no spell book hidden over by the pond?" asked Severus, dismayed.
"I don't know, but I highly doubt it. Even if there was, how far do you think you'd get digging a hole with a garden trowel?"
"Not very far." Severus felt his lower lip start to quiver. He sniffled.
"I'm surprised at you, Severus." Draco continued. "Thought you knew better than to test me like this. I'm very disappointed in you. In all of you."
Severus looked down at his shoes and whispered, "I'm sorry, Draco." Guilt stung the back of his throat and suddenly the detested tears were quietly flowing down his cheeks, despite his earlier conditioning to not cry.
"You should be. You're the oldest, you need to set the example."
More tears followed.
Suddenly Alby began to cry. "Sorry, Uncle Draco. We didn't mean to make a big mess."
"Sorry, Daddy." Cory was now crying too. It was like a domino effect.
"Uncle Draco, are you going to tell my dad?" whimpered Alby. He didn't want his daddy to yell at them too.
Draco paused, recalling Harry's admonition. "No. Here, in my house, I make the rules and I give the punishment," the blond wizard decided. "I can handle this myself, I don't need to go running to Harry."
Alby and Severus heaved sighs of relief. Then Alby asked, "Are we in big trouble?"
Draco knew what that meant. "No, I'm not going to spank you. I really ought to send you three to bed without supper, but I won't do that either. However, you will all go to bed early, and get a five minute time out so you can think about what you did wrong. Alby and Cory, you both know better than to bring newts and frogs into the house, or muddy feet. Or dig up the backyard. Severus, since you were the most at fault, you'll go to bed the earliest. At seven thirty. I'll tell Jinxy to make supper at six thirty."
"Does this mean you won't take us to feed the fish?" Alby asked.
"No. I'll still let you feed them," Draco said. "But afterwards, I want you all to play quietly in the playroom until supper. Right now, we can eat lunch. Come into the dining room. You must be starving."
The three followed him into the dining room, where Jinxy had made grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for the children and a chicken pit pie for Lucius and Draco.
Alby and Cory fell on the food as if they were refugees, devouring it.
Severus, on the other hand, only picked at his food.
Draco noticed and asked quietly, "Don't you like grilled cheese, Severus? If you don't just say so and you can have something else, like my chicken pie."
The little boy shook his head. "I'm not very hungry." He pushed his plate away.
"All right. But at least drink your juice." Draco said. He knew better than to push food upon a child. His mother always said children would eat when they were hungry and forcing them to eat would only cause problems.
Severus obediently sipped his juice.
Finally, lunch was over, and Draco brought them all back to the playroom. Severus didn't feel like doing much of anything, so he sat on the window seat and looked at some books while Alby and Cory played together. Lulled by the quiet atmosphere, Severus fell asleep. Soon after, so did the other two boys.
By supper, Cory and Alby were their usual chatty selves, asking a million questions. Severus was still quiet, though he ate most of his roasted chicken, potatoes, and glazed carrots. Dessert was apple pie, which he enjoyed, so he actually finished that.
At seven-thirty, Draco led Severus upstairs, had him get ready for bed, and then told him to pick a corner of Cory's room and stand there. "Five minutes. No moving." Draco popped up a large clock as a timer.
Severus couldn't remember ever getting a time out in his former life, only the back of his father's hand. He soon discovered why little children hated it. Not only did it seem endless, it was boring, and thinking about how stupid he'd been only made him feel more ashamed. He forced himself to stand still.
When the clock finally rang, Draco returned to the room, Mimic under his arm. "All right, Severus. You can come out now. All's forgiven."
Severus turned around and came over. Draco hugged him, then picked him up and carried him to Cory's huge bed. "Here you go, Sev." He handed Mimic back to the little boy. "Would you like me to read you a story before you go to sleep? I always do that with Cory."
Severus hugged Mimic to him hard, and the toy whispered, "I love you, Sev," Usually he drew comfort from that, but tonight it made him homesick.
After all the stress of the day, getting in trouble, and now being made to sleep alone in a strange place, even if it weren't for the whole night, caused Severus to burst into tears. He felt overwhelmed and his five-year-old self didn't know how to handle it, except by crying. He buried his face in the stuffed raven and sobbed as if his heart were breaking.
"Severus, what's wrong? Why are you crying?" Draco asked, alarmed. He reached out and cuddled the little boy on his lap. "Hey, Sev. You're not in trouble anymore," he said, trying to figure out why the child was suddenly bawling his head off. "Are you sick?"
A head shake.
"You want your brother?"
Another head shake.
"Then what's wrong?"
Severus himself hadn't known what was wrong at first, only that he was miserable and crying seemed the best way to express that misery. But as Draco held him and rocked him, he realized he was waiting for a familiar voice and hands. "I wanna go home!" he sniveled. "I . . . I miss H-Harry and G-Ginny!"
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Severus realized they were true. He missed the room he shared with Alby at Godric's Hollow, with all of his toys and kits in it, he missed Ginny's soft voice reading to him, her hand smoothing his hair,and Harry's arms about him, holding him close. He missed snuggling against Harry, listening to his heartbeat and smelling Harry's unique smell of Aqua Velva and chocolate chip biscuits. He just plain missed Harry, who hadn't been home to tuck him in at night since the accident. He felt safe with the Potters, safe and wanted. And even though he loved Draco, somehow it wasn't the same.
Draco was floored by the small boy's admission. He had never expected Severus Snape, of all people, to get homesick. Severus had always struck him as being self-sufficient, not needing anyone. Even at five, he was mature for his age. It had been easy for Draco to forget sometimes that his professor was no more, that his Severus lived now only in memories. Only now did he finally see that this Severus, despite his prodigious memories, was truly a child, a child who longed for the comforts of home and family.
Draco rocked the little boy back and forth, whispering, "Sev, please don't cry. You'll see Harry and Ginny tomorrow. I promise, I'll bring you right back after breakfast." He felt his heart go out to the child, and yet at the same time there was a small kernel of jealousy within him. Who would have thought Severus would grow so attached to a bunch of Gryffindors? Especially Harry Potter? I'm your godson! Draco longed to cry, before he stopped and thought about how dumb that sounded. He knew Severus still loved him, had always loved him. Why should he care if Severus loved Harry too? Severus should love his guardian, after all, he had to live with Potter.
Even so, Draco couldn't help being a tiny bit jealous that Severus was crying over Harry, that he didn't seem to feel comfortable with Draco. An instant later, he chided himself for being petty and selfish. It was a good thing that Severus missed Ginny and Harry. They were like his parents now, and what little boy didn't miss his parents the first time he spent a night from home? He recalled Harry telling him the first time Cory had stayed over Godric's Hollow, his son had cried this same way for him and Astoria. It was normal. Severus was, at long last, acting his age.
Draco continued rubbing and patting Severus's back and murmuring to the child, letting him cry himself out. Finally the tears slowed to a trickle and then stopped. Draco turned to look at the dark head resting on his shoulder and saw that Severus had cried himself to sleep. "Oh, well. Guess I should have expected that," he said ruefully. He shifted the boy in his arms, tucking him into bed. As he moved to set Mimic beside the former professor, the raven said, "I love you, Sev."
Draco chuckled. "Yeah, and he loves you too, Harry. More than he knows." He rose and stood staring down at the sleeping child with tenderness and love. Then he bent and kissed the boy on the forehead. "We both love you, Sev. Pleasant dreams."
As he made his way down the stairs, he wondered if Alby would also have a bout of homesickness. Until he remembered that Alby had stayed here before, and was used to the manor, and liked sleeping with Cory in his big bed. Alby also now had his brother and Bucky as well.
Lucius looked up when Draco entered the dining room again. "I sent Cory and Alby to play for a bit until you're ready to call them for bed. You look . . . a little frazzled. Did he give you a hard time?"
"No. But he . . . started crying for Harry and Ginny. Said he missed them and wanted to go home. I didn't realize he'd grown so attached to them."
"That's as it should be," Lucius said quietly. "A child should miss his parents. When I was a prefect, I comforted many a first year who was homesick their first time away from home. But you know something, Draco? I never comforted Severus, he didn't need it. Because he never had a loving home or a father. But now he does, son. And I say, it's about time."
Draco simply nodded and wondered what Harry and Ginny would say when he told them. He had a feeling they would be just as surprised as he had been.
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