Chapter 51 : The Snake Pit
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He’d bathed, trying not to feel to miserable about the situation; Padfoot was alone again, with the Dementors and Harry was stuck here for ten days with no company but the Malfoys and McKinnon, who Padfoot had been decidedly cold towards lately. But, this was all necessary, Harry reminded himself as he sorted through the clothes he’d been given. If he wanted to go home, to Grimmauld and Kreacher, and be able to talk to Padfoot and Moony without being listened to by Aurors, Padfoot needed his trial and there was no point putting it off.
Harry discarded one set of robes – proper ones, that were like dresses, instead of ones that just rested over the top of clothes – and reluctantly pulled on a pair of formal black trousers and a shirt. There was a matching waistcoat, but he discarded that and pulled robes – in the style he was more accustomed to – on over the top. He tucked his wand into his pocket – Rattler had returned it to him before he’d left the Ministry – and had a look in the mirror. He thought he looked like a bit of a prat. He turned, intending to swap his trousers for his jeans but his old clothes had vanished.
“Brilliant,” he muttered darkly. He suspected a house elf – the Malfoys seemed the type to have one in their employ – had probably magicked them out and burned them. Sighing, he unlocked the door and stepped out into a wide hallway.
“Well that’s better,” a haughty portrait said, eyeing him. “Much better, now that you’re in proper clothes and not those rags you were wearing before.” Harry thought, ruefully, that those rags had been his favourite pair of jeans. “Although you could have tried to comb your hair. It looks absolutely horrendous-”
“Thank you, Emilien,” Mr Malfoy said, striding through a door almost opposite the bathroom. “Better?” he asked Harry.
“Thanks for the clothes, sir,” Harry said, not wanting to be rude. Mr Malfoy looked pleased and he gestured with his cane to Harry’s right. They walked down the hall. Harry could see a room at the end of the corridor but Mr Malfoy guided him through a set of double doors on the right before they reached it.
They were back in the foyer again, at the bottom of an enormous marble staircase. Two almost identical boys – who looked a lot like Mr Malfoy - around Harry’s age were with Mrs Malfoy. They too, were dressed rather extravagantly, which made Harry wonder if this is what they always wore. Harry also wondered how long the three of them had been standing there, waiting for him to emerge from the bathroom.
“Hydrus Malfoy,” said the slightly taller one, in a voice uncannily like Mr Malfoy’s.
“Harry Potter,” Harry said, shaking the offered hand a little reluctantly.
“Do you think we’re stupid?” the other one asked, shoving past his brother. Mrs Malfoy made an odd sound. “We know who you are.” It was almost what Ron and Ginny had said, but they’d been much nicer about it. The boy stuck out his hand. “Draco Malfoy.” It was only the fact that they’d be living together for the next ten days that made Harry shake his hand. Otherwise, he’d have refused. Harry let go as quickly as possible, and Draco turned to his father. “I’m hungry.”
“We had to wait for you,” Hydrus told Harry in a lofty voice.
Not ten minutes later, Harry found himself in a very fancy dining room, at a large dinner table, between Draco and Hydrus – and he’d forgotten which was which. There were two yards between each of them – at Grimmauld, he and Padfoot and Moony generally sat all together at the end of the table, but the Malfoys were spread evenly around – and Mr and Mrs Malfoy were opposite him.
A house elf dressed in a grubby pillowcase ran around the table, snapping his fingers to make food appear on their plates, and to refill their goblets.
“Dobby,” drawled the boy on Harry’s left, “this is Harry.”
“Dobby is so pleased-” Harry was momentarily startled – the elf had such a high voice compared to Kreacher’s croaking one – but hid it and offered the elf a smile. “- to have Harry Potter in the house of his Masters and Mistress! Dobby has heard so much... such an honour it is, sir!”
“Er... thank you,” Harry said, embarrassed and not sure what else to say. He felt like he’d been put on the spot, and it didn’t help that both Malfoy boys were sniggering.
“Harry Potter thanked Dobby!” Dobby exclaimed. “Never has Dobby- Dobby has heard of Harry Potter’s greatness, sir-”
“Harry’s fine,” Harry told him, uncomfortable. Dobby’s enormous eyes widened and he opened his mouth to say something but Mr Malfoy cleared his throat. Dobby snapped it shut and sent his master a terrified look before snapping his fingers at Harry’s plate and vanishing.
“Mr Potter,” Mr Malfoy said, reaching for the butter, “Dobby is a house-elf.” Harry opened his mouth to say he knew that, but realised he wasn’t supposed to know what a house elf was.
“He seems nice,” Harry said instead. A moment after he said it, a loud wail echoed up through the floor, which the Malfoys all ignored.
“Nice?” the boy on Harry’s left said, snorting. “Potter, he’s a servant, he’s supposed to be nice.”
“Doesn’t mean he has to be,” Harry said.
“Of course he does,” the other one said dismissively. “He’s a servant, Potter.” Harry thought of the way Kreacher had been for the first few months and almost argued. He managed to keep his mouth shut, though. “If he’s rude, he’s punished.”
“Punished?” Harry asked. He’d seen Kreacher punish himself once or twice – generally he knocked his head against a wall a few times – and Padfoot had given him boils once ages ago, but it happened rarely. Now if Kreacher did something wrong, Padfoot told him off verbally, or forced him to sit in his cupboard. Knowing that Harry and Padfoot were preparing their own dinner and washing their own dishes was often punishment enough.
“He irons his hands, or closes his ears in the oven-”
“That’s horrible!” Harry said, aghast.
“-He’s a servant, Potter, honestly. You’re worse than Mother. She only tells him off.” Harry felt his estimate of Mrs Malfoy rise a bit. “I personally think-”
“Hydrus,” Mrs Malfoy said quietly, but the boy on Harry’s right stopped talking immediately. “Why don’t you find a topic more familiar to Mr Potter. I think he’s feeling a little overwhelmed.” Harry didn’t think he liked Mrs Malfoy, but he didn’t dislike her anymore either; he wasn’t feeling overwhelmed – he’d been angry, and trying to control his temper. Hydrus had been beginning to remind him rather strongly of Dudley.
“Are you going to Hogwarts?” Hydrus asked.
“Of course,” Harry said.
“I thought maybe Durmstrang,” Hydrus said, shrugging. That made no sense to Harry, but Draco sniggered until Mrs Malfoy shot him a look. “What House then, Potter?”
“Gryffindor, hopefully,” Harry said.
Mrs Malfoy was the only one that didn’t seem revolted; Mr Malfoy’s lip had curled, Hydrus was pretending to throw up and Draco looked scandalized.
“But- but you’re supposed to be the next-” Mr Malfoy cleared his throat.
“I’m supposed to be what?” Harry asked, frowning at Draco.
“-member of our family,” Draco said, shooting Mr Malfoy a look. Harry might have believed that was what he really wanted to say if he hadn’t looked at Mr Malfoy. “That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?” Draco continued, glancing at Harry. “To join us? And our family’s always been in Slytherin.”
“I’m only here until Sirius’ trial,” Harry said. Draco didn’t look surprised, which made Harry even more suspicious. He’d definitely changed what he was saying. What was Harry going to be the next of?
“What about after it?” Hydrus asked. “They wouldn’t let you live with him in Azkaban, would they?”
“He won’t be going to Azkaban, because he’s innocent,” Harry said, gritting his teeth. Draco frowned at Harry.
“Hydrus,” he said finally. “You’ve offended him.” Mrs Malfoy nodded and Draco smiled at her.
“How?” Hydrus asked doubtfully, looking at Harry for answers. “Black will go back to Azkaban.” Mrs Malfoy cleared her throat, smile gone. “You’ll be better off if you accept-” One of the lanterns on the wall shattered and everyone at the table jumped. Thankfully, a bell echoed through the house at that exact moment.
“The wards must be interacting with each other again,” Mrs Malfoy said, fixing it with a wave of her wand. She offered Harry a small smile. “I suspect that’s Auror McKinnon.”
“Who else would it be?” Mr Malfoy muttered.
“No!” Mr Malfoy said. “I’ll get it myself.”
“How chivalrous of you, Lucius,” Mrs Malfoy said, sitting down again, as Mr Malfoy stalked out. Mrs Malfoy turned her blue eyes on Harry and offered him a bread roll.
“Why didn’t Father send Dobby?” Draco asked at once.
“You’ll have to ask him yourself,” Mrs Malfoy replied. And Draco did, the moment Mr Malfoy returned with McKinnon.
“I thought she’d appreciate a personal greeting,” Mr Malfoy replied stiffly. Draco didn’t look convinced but didn’t press the matter.
“I’d have liked to see Dobby,” McKinnon said, smiling at Mr Malfoy, who looked irritated.
“I’m sure you’ll see him at some point,” Mr Malfoy said. McKinnon’s smile widened and she set her suitcase down in the corner of the dining room.
The uncomfortable silence that followed continued for all of the next day. Harry’d been up for most of the night dreaming about Voldemort and his parents – thankfully, he hadn’t woken any of the house’s other occupants – and he’d cracked the window, but not shattered it. He’d pulled the curtains back across and gone back to bed. No one had disturbed him until lunch time, when Mrs Malfoy invited him down to eat.
Harry did come down – in the silk pyjamas he’d been given to wear – and Lucius was so shocked to see him still wearing them that he and McKinnon stopped hissing veiled insults at each other across the table and went back to eating. Draco was out, apparently, and Hydrus, who was lonely, coaxed Harry into a game of chess. Harry lost spectacularly all three times – though he firmly maintained his pieces were against him (except the king, who was a bit of a coward in Harry’s opinion), and every bit as Malfoy-ish as the blond, pointy-chinned boy sitting across from him.
“It’s a good thing you’re not aiming for Slytherin,” Hydrus drawled, as his knights dragged Harry’s sobbing king off the board. “You’re nowhere near cunning enough.”
“You don’t have to be good at chess to be cunning,” Harry told him. Hydrus looked doubtful. Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes and started to set the table up for whoever used it next.
“Of course you- What are you doing?” Hydrus demanded.
“Cleaning up,” Harry said.
“Potter,” Hydrus said, rolling his eyes. “You don’t have to clean up. Dobby’ll do it later.” And before Harry could say anything else on the matter, Hydrus had grabbed his wrist and dragged him from the room to meet Bosworth the rat. Mr Malfoy intercepted them on the way to Hydrus’ bedroom however, and insisted on giving Harry a proper tour of the grounds – after he’d changed out of his pyjamas, of course.
“That’s the pond, Mr Potter,” Lucius said, pointing to what Harry thought was actually a small lake. “I would not advise going too close,” he said, as Harry bent down to peer at a weed he was pretty sure had gone into his Form-Revealer.
“We’ve got a Kelpie,” Hydrus boasted. Harry didn’t know what that was, but he assumed it was some sort of magical water creature. The Malfoys didn’t seem like the type to keep toads and goldfish in their pond. “Mother thinks it’s dangerous, but I don’t see why. It never comes out.”
“What does it look like?” Harry asked, hoping he wouldn’t be taunted for that. He looked around for anything unusual, but all he spotted was McKinnon sitting underneath a large tree, fulfilling her guard duty.
“Sometimes it’s a dog, or a horse or a lion, but mostly it’s a snake.”
Of course, Harry thought, darkly amused. “I’ll keep an eye out, then,” he said.
“Don’t go swimming out to look for it,” Hydrus added, as Mr Malfoy led them into the broom- shed was the wrong word, since sheds were generally small in Harry’s experience. “I know your Gryffindor side must be tempted, but that’d just be stupid.”
“I’ll keep it in mind,” Harry said tonelessly, and then glanced around. There were three brooms on hooks on the wall opposite them, the wall on their left was dedicated to equipment. The rest of the room seemed to be a Quidditch shrine of sorts; there was a glass case containing a set of emerald green robes emblazoned with ‘Malfoy’ and two large, overlapping ‘K’s in yellow. There were also several photographs of someone who greatly resembled Mr Malfoy in a team dressed in the same robes, and alone, in clippings from the Prophet.
“Who’s that?” Harry asked.
“My grandfather Casius,” Mr Malfoy said, swelling with pride. “He was captain of the Kenmare Kestrels for five years and won them the league twice.”
“He was a Seeker like me,” Hydrus said, and it was the closest thing to a smile Harry had seen on him so far, though it was still more of a sneer.
“You play?” Harry asked.
“Obviously,” Hydrus sneered. “This is where my broom sits,” he said proudly, gesturing to an empty hook. “I took it inside to polish it,” he said. Mr Malfoy sighed loudly, and Harry followed his gaze over to where a large broom maintenance set rested beside a spacious bench.
“I set that up at Christmas and I don’t think it’s been used yet,” Mr Malfoy told Harry.
“Old habits die hard, Father,” Hydrus drawled. “You should’ve put it in sooner. This is Draco’s.” He pointed to a sleek broom. It looked heavier than Harry’s Galaxy, but Padfoot had said Harry’s wasn’t game-worthy. Harry suspected this was. “It’s a Comet Two-Sixty. That’s the same as mine.” The other two – which he suspected belonged to Mr and Mrs Malfoy – were the same make. “Do you fly?”
“I’ve been once or twice,” Harry said, noticing Mr Malfoy’s eyes had sharpened; he’d be listening, waiting for Harry to give something about his life with Padfoot away. After a few subtly probing questions – which Harry just shrugged in response to – Mr Malfoy and Hydrus led Harry out of the broom shed and took him to see the peacocks that lived on the Manor grounds.
“So what do you think?” Hydrus asked, as the three of them – McKinnon was still trailing them – made their way inside, through the corridor and upstairs.
“Big,” Harry said. McKinnon snorted and Mr Malfoy turned to glower at her.
“Bigger than what you’re used to?” Hydrus asked, and Mr Malfoy perked up, apparently listing intently. McKinnon looked interested too.
“Much,” Harry said innocently, and Mr Malfoy’s eyes glinted. “I mean, I’ve been in a cell for the past two weeks.” The light in Mr Malfoy’s eyes dimmed and McKinnon sighed. “It was tiny.” Hydrus opened his mouth and Harry braced himself for what was surely going to be something inadvertently offensive or arrogant. Hydrus never got the chance to say it though; Dobby and a scowling Draco appeared at the top of the stairs which startled Harry, who slipped and knocked his elbow in the banister.
“Well that was awfully graceful of you, Potter,” Draco said scathingly, but to Harry’s surprise, Draco came forward and helped him up. McKinnon, who’d been about to do the same, stepped back. Hydrus was sniggering – the git – and Mr Malfoy merely watched.
“Thanks,” Harry muttered.
“Are you all right, Mr Potter?” Mr Malfoy asked. Harry really was fine – he’d probably have a bruise, tomorrow, but that was hardly debilitating – but he saw a chance and took it.
“Actually, sir, I’m really tired,” he said quietly. If Padfoot or Moony were here to see this, they’d have laughed at him and called his bluff at once. Mr Malfoy didn’t seem to realise, however. “All that walking after being in a cell for so long... would it be all right if I went to bed?”
“Dinner’s in an hour,” Mr Malfoy said uncertainly.
“I’m not that hungry,” Harry said. He was a bit, but he intended to sleep pretty much straight away, so he’d be able to wait until morning.
“I’ll go with him,” McKinnon said.
Mr Malfoy’s expression soured and he continued upstairs with a, “Sleep well, Mr Potter.”
“Oh, does she tuck you in as well as guard you?” Harry glanced at Hydrus, annoyed, and then realised it had been Draco that said it. He was surprised – Draco’d just helped him up – and then realised he probably should have expected it.
“Night,” he said stiffly, and walked past them.
“Night,” Draco called, sounding perfectly pleasant again. Harry glanced back, confused and then shook his head and walked the rest of the way upstairs and entered his bedroom. McKinnon didn’t follow him in straight away – she gave him a few minutes to change – and then she came in and sat down at the desk chair.
She didn’t try to make conversation and Harry wasn’t exactly sure what to say to her. Instead, he left the room and went to brush his teeth. She was still there when he came back, though she didn’t seem any more inclined to speak to him than she had before.
McKinnon’s distance was the beginning of a very lonely few days; Mr and Mrs Malfoy were perfectly friendly, and very accommodating, but Harry got the impression that despite that, Mrs Malfoy didn’t like the fact that he was in her house, and that Mr Malfoy was up to something. Some of his questions were a little too probing to make Harry entirely comfortable.
Harry had managed to offend Hydrus on the second day of his stay; Hydrus had dragged Harry outside to go flying. They’d raced, and had competitions to see who could pull off the best manoeuvres and they’d even played a game of ‘Bludger’ and Harry had won all but one of the races. Hydrus hadn’t spoken to him since, unless it was to insult him, which horrified Mr Malfoy and made Mrs Malfoy quite smug.
Draco was regularly out of the house. He disappeared for a few hours each day – usually in the afternoons, or early evening, though occasionally he’d be out in the mornings - and Hydrus didn’t seem to know where he went. Admittedly, Hydrus probably wouldn’t tell Harry anyway, but neither Draco or the adults would give Harry a straight answer when he asked either.
Even more mysterious than Draco’s excursions, however, was his behaviour. One moment he was perfectly pleasant and trying to explain his theory about the magic of hugs to Harry – Harry couldn’t quite work out if he was joking, or if he was being serious – and the next moment, he was insulting Harry’s personality or appearance or intelligence, or bossing Harry around or bragging. And when Draco was in one of those moods, he was even worse to deal with than Hydrus. Harry’d decided he didn’t like Draco all that much, if only because his polar personalities were impossible to keep up with.
As a result, Harry found himself spending a lot of time down in the kitchen with Dobby. Mrs Malfoy didn’t seem to mind that he went down there, and neither did Mr Malfoy – who was willing to let Harry do whatever he wanted if it kept him happy – it hadn’t occurred to Hydrus that a house elf was worth spending time with – actually, Harry wasn’t even sure that Hydrus knew where the kitchens were – and Draco was afraid of the cellar and rarely ventured down anyway.
Harry missed Padfoot and Moony so much it hurt, and no one in the Manor was anywhere near as much fun to be around, but Dobby was decent company at least. He was better at holding a conversation than Kreacher was, though unlike Kreacher, Dobby had a strange habit of bursting into tears whenever Harry thanked him for anything, and he was also a lot freer with compliments.
“Harry Potter sir is too kind to Dobby,” Dobby said, presenting him with a plate of biscuits.
“Thanks,” Harry said, grabbing one. Dobby’s eyes filled with tears.
“So kind,” Dobby said shrilly. “Dobby does not deserve Harry Potter-”
“What did you put in these?” Harry asked, flushing. Dobby sniffled and began to list ingredients with increasing enthusiasm; Harry was just pleased that he’d managed to avert another tearful display. Dobby sent the plate upstairs – where it would inevitably find its way to each member of the Malfoy family – and would probably end up with Hydrus or Draco, depending on what sort of mood Draco was in.
Dobby suddenly straightened and vanished with a crack. He did that regularly – obviously someone had called him – and Harry was too used to it to be surprised anymore. He returned a moment later, quaking and wringing his filthy pillowcase.
“Why do you wear that thing, Dobby?” Harry asked, wrinkling his nose. Kreacher didn’t wear clothes either – but Kreacher had several pillowcases and tea-towels to choose from, and all of which were clean.
“Tis a mark of a house elf’s enslavement, Harry Potter sir,” he said, averting his eyes. “Dobby knows his place, but Dobby is forgetting it sometimes, sir-”
“Forgetting-” Harry paused before he started to talk like a house elf. “You forget?” Dobby looked terrified and was shaking all over.
“Dobby mustn’t- Dobby shouldn’t- Dobby’s-” Suddenly he let out a shriek and ran over to the sink. Harry recognised the look in his eye and hopped off the bench at once. He wasn’t quick enough to stop Dobby from ramming his large head into the soapy water, but he was quick enough to stop him from repeating the gesture.
“Stop!” Harry said, tugging him back. Dobby struggled – if Harry’d been any smaller than he was now, Dobby would have broken free. “Dobby, stop!” Dobby went limp and Harry hauled him over and sat him down in one of the chairs at the little kitchen table.
“Thank you, Harry Potter, sir,” Dobby said. Soapy water dripped off his pointed ears and puddled on the floor. Suddenly Dobby tensed up again and Harry forced him back down. “Bad Dobby!” Dobby wailed, punching himself in the face. “Bad Dobby!”
“Stop!” Harry yelled. “I forbid you to punish yourself while you’re around me! And no Apparating away to do it either!” Dobby’s ears drooped. Harry loosened his hold on Dobby’s wrists and when Dobby didn’t attempt to hit himself again, Harry let him go completely. Dobby looked up at him with baleful eyes; Harry wasn’t sure whether it was detergent that was making his eyes red, or tears.
“Dobby is a bad elf- Dobby almost spoke ill of his family! And then Dobby is not punishing himself!” He let out a wail and Harry sighed.
“I think you’re a brilliant house elf,” Harry said.
“If Harry Potter sir knew...” Dobby mumbled. “Dobby forgets, Dobby is a bad house elf! Dobby keeps secrets for Dobby’s Masters and Mistress-”
“Well you’re supposed to,” Harry said. Dobby looked afraid.
“Dobby also- Dobby-” Dobby edged closer to Harry, as if he feared being overheard. “Dobby also dreams, Harry Potter sir. Dobby makes wishes of being a- a-”
“A what?” Harry asked curiously. He’d never met an ambitious house elf before – unless Kreacher’s desire to conquer dust bunnies counted – but he figured if he was ever going to meet a house elf with a Slytherin trait, it’d be in the Malfoy home.
“A fre-” Dobby let out another shriek and threw himself out of the chair before Harry could stop him. Then he ran straight for the oven, which had bread baking inside it.
“Stop!” Harry said, stepping toward him. “Dobby, no punishment, rememb-”
“Petrificus Totalus!” McKinnon said from the doorway, and Dobby dropped with a squeak.
“You attacked him!” Draco – who was behind McKinnon – said. Harry couldn’t decide if he looked awed or horrified.
“We heard shout-”
“I heard shouting,” Draco said.
“He heard shouting,” McKinnon sighed, and Draco looked smug. “Are you hurt?” Harry shook his head and pulled out his own wand.
“I’m going to release you,” Harry said, going to crouch by Dobby. “You’re going to lie there and not try to punish yourself at all.”
“Harry,” McKinnon said, “perhaps it’s best if I-”
“Finite,” he said, waving it at Dobby, who started to wail. McKinnon stared at Harry for a moment and then looked at Dobby.
“Out,” she said, gesturing to Harry and Draco. Harry wanted to stay and help, but Dobby seemed to be set off by his mere presence.
“You can’t- Draco began.
“Come on,” Harry said, dragging him out.
“What did you do to him?” Draco asked, as they made their way upstairs.
“We were just talking,” Harry said. He didn’t think telling Draco about Dobby’s dreams – whatever they were - was a good idea, so he didn’t.
“Clearly you’re a terrible conversationalist,” Draco sneered. Harry scowled. Draco scowled back and then said, “Come and race rats.”
“I don’t have a rat,” Harry pointed out. Nor did he particularly want one – Peter had ruined the animal for him, he thought.
“You can watch then,” Draco said loftily. Harry sighed and followed him through the drawing room – Harry hated the drawing room, because it made his skin prickle – and through the rest of the Manor. Hydrus was waiting by the pond and scowled when he saw Harry.
“What are you doing here?” he asked. Bosworth, who was perched on his shoulder, squeaked. Draco pulled Roquefort out of his pocket and put him down on the grass. He promptly went to smell Harry’s shoe.
“I invited him,” Draco said, sitting down. Hydrus set Bosworth down as well and went to sit ten yards away. “Do sit down, Potter.” Harry sat down awkwardly, beside the plant he’d inspected on his first day at the Manor.
“Are they lined up?” Hydrus asked, as Draco grabbed both rats and held them in front of him.
“Yes,” Draco said.
“Then go!” Hydrus called. Draco let them go and both rats took off toward Hydrus; obviously they’d done this a few times. One of them was squeaking madly, but Harry couldn’t tell which rat the sound was coming from. Harry couldn’t honestly say it was very exciting, but Draco and Hydrus both looked eager.
Eventually, the winning rat – the other was a few feet behind it – reached Hydrus, whose face fell. Draco let out a triumphant sound, and hurried over to give his rat something to eat. Roquefort scurried away to eat it – drawing nearer to Harry – and Bosworth followed, squeaking. Roquefort squeaked in response – which was weird, because Harry got the impression that they were actually talking – and then Bosworth darted forward, bit him and stole whatever it was that Draco’d given Roquefort. Roquefort let out a distressed squeal and scurried back toward Draco and Hydrus, who were bickering.
Bosworth made his way past Harry, to the edge of the pond. Harry reached for him, to try to get whatever it was the rat had stolen, but Bosworth evaded him and hid in a clump of weeds. Harry could only see two gleaming eyes and hear nibbling sounds. He sighed – it seemed the rat was a git like its owner - and went back to listening to the Malfoy brothers argue.
“I say best two out of three,” Hydrus said.
“No,” Draco said hotly, “you lost-”
“Then I’ll probably lose again, won’t I?” Hydrus sneered. “You’re just scared you’re going to lose-”
“I am not scared!” Draco said furiously. “You’re the coward.”
“I am not a coward!” Hydrus bellowed, his pale cheeks turning pink.
There was a shrill, piercing squeal on Harry’s left. His head snapped over in time to see Bosworth trying to squeeze out from inside the weeds he’d taken shelter in. The reason for the squeal quickly became apparent; a large, turqoise snake was coiled in the shallows, only a few inches from where Harry sat, and its bright blue eyes were fixed on the rat. Hydrus let out a shriek and ran back toward the Manor, shouting for his father. Draco just stared, and Harry sat very, very still.
Bosworth’s whiskers twitched and he looked, almost desperately at Harry. Harry shifted, trying to inch his wand out of his pocket, but the snake turned to look at him. Harry slowly put his hands up.
“Better,” it said. Harry blinked and the snake turned its attention back to the Bosworth. “Ssqueeze and sswallow,” it hissed, moving toward the terrified rat.
Did that snake just talk? The snake’s tail twitched and it lunged forward. Bosworth tried to move but the snake darted forward and before Harry realised what had happened, the snake had him wrapped in its coils. The rat was squeaking madly now.
“Stop!” Harry said, as the snake cocked its head and opened its mouth.
“Did you just sspeak?” the snake asked, looking at Harry curiously. Its large blue eyes watched him with more intelligence than he’d expected, and its tongue – a deep purple colour – flickered out to taste the air.
“I was going to ask you the same,” Harry said, and thought this must be one of the strangest things he’d ever done.
“Interessting,” the snake said. “But why sshould I sstop?”
“He’s a pet- the boy that ran away before, he owns him.”
“And?” the snake asked, but Harry noticed it had stopped squeezing. Bosworth was panting, and still wriggling, but had calmed down, almost as if he knew he was safe for the moment.
“And if you kill him, they’ll be angry- you’d er... lose your home.” He didn’t doubt Hydrus and Mr Malfoy would be set on revenge if anything happened to the rat.
“My home?” Those enormous blue eyes widened and the snake let out a little unhappy hiss. Then the coils loosened and Bosworth shot free, right into Harry’s hand. Harry stuffed him into a pocket of his robes for safekeeping.
“Thanks,” he said.
“It’ss not for you, little sspeaker,” the snake said. It slithered forward and reared up suddenly, so that its head was level with Harry’s. Its turquoise scales glinted in the sun. “It’ss for me.” It slid into the pond and vanished in seconds. Harry stared at the rippling water and a hand grabbed the back of his robes and yanked him to his feet. Draco was extremely pale and all but dragged Harry away from the pond.
Mr Malfoy – who had his wand out and looked panicked – and Hydrus hurried out of the Manor and came toward them.
“Are you hurt?!” Mr Malfoy demanded, looking at both of them.
“No, sir.” Harry pulled Bosworth – who was shaking – out of his pocket and offered him to Hydrus, who snatched him up and ran back inside.
“What happened?” Mr Malfoy asked.
“Well,” Harry said, still reeling, “it grabbed Bosworth and then-”
“Potter hexed it,” Draco interrupted. He met and held his father’s gaze. “And it let go and went back into the pond.” Mr Malfoy turned to Harry, who was staring at Draco; not only had Draco lied about what had happened, but he’d also blinked several times as soon as Mr Malfoy’s attention was off of him.
“Yeah,” Harry said slowly. “It was lucky, really.”
“And it makes me wonder why you had to defend yourself,” he said softly. “Where is McKinnon?”
“Kitchen,” Draco said at once. “Dobby was upset.” Mr Malfoy swept off toward the Manor again, muttering under his breath.
“You lied,” Harry said.
“Of course I did!” Draco snapped. “You were talking to it! You can’t just talk to Kelpies!”
“What do you mean?” Harry asked.
“Honestly, Potter, were you raised by muggles?” Draco said rudely.
“I know! Shut up!” Draco snapped. “Kelpies don’t talk – they don’t understand us, and we don’t understand them!” Obviously that wasn’t right, because Harry had just held a conversation with the creature.
“You couldn’t understand it?” Harry blinked at Draco, who looked frustrated.
“No! And that’s the way it’s supposed to be!”
“Er... sorry?” Harry said, but he could tell from Draco’s reaction that this was serious. He found himself missing Padfoot and Moony more than ever. They’d have known what to say, and how to explain whatever it was that had just happened.
“Sorry!?” Draco demanded. “You- Potter, I don’t think you understand-”
“Obviously,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “If it’s such a big deal, though, why didn’t you say anything?” Draco looked lost for a moment.
“It’s- I- it’s not something that should be shared. It’s a secret,” he said finally, but he didn’t sound certain. Harry wondered if Draco’s strange behaviour stemmed from not actually knowing what his own thoughts were. “But I still should have said- Father...”
“So you are going to tell him?” Harry asked.
“Absolutely not,” Draco said, looking horrified. “I lied. I’m not about to hand myself in.” His eyes – grey like Padfoot’s, but much colder – narrowed. “So you’d better not say anything either.”
* * *
“I’ve never met a Gryffindor whose company I enjoyed.”
Draco hesitated and said, “Liar.” Severus’ eyebrows rose.
“Very good,” he said. “I feel ill at the sight of blood.”
“Liar.” Severus inclined his head and Draco didn’t seem to know whether he felt more pleased to have guessed correctly, or if he was still annoyed at Severus. Severus hoped it’d be the latter; he was still hoping to offend Draco enough that he’d stop coming for these lessons. Protecting the boy was important, but Severus wasn’t about to do it at his own expense. Dumbledore could believe what he wanted to, but Severus still thought it was a bad idea to give the Dark Lord a spy that had Severus’ training. “My mother’s name was Eileen.”
“Are you asking me or telling me?”
“I already said true. If you weren’t listening, that’s not my fault.” Draco’s chin had come up and his eyes were flashing.
“Be confident in your answers,” Severus said curtly. “If I doubt them, I doubt you.”
The word doubt seemed to trigger something in the boy. He opened his mouth and then closed it. Severus was moments away from sighing and telling him to say whatever it was that was bothering, when Draco did anyway.
“Can I trust you?” Severus arched an eyebrow and stared at the boy, who stared right back.
“Yes,” he said slowly. Draco stared at him a moment longer and then nodded once.
“That’s true,” he said, looking relieved. Severus wasn’t sure if it was true or not, but at the moment, Draco’s trust was likely a good thing so Severus wasn’t about to challenge his decision. “So does that mean I can trust Mother?”
“Pardon?” Severus drawled.
“Something... happened,” Draco said uncertainly. “It was yesterday. I lied to Father about it.”
“And he believed you?” Draco’s chin came up again.
“I didn’t blink once,” he said proudly. Severus hid a smirk and gestured for his godson to continue. “Once I’d lied, I couldn’t take it back.” Severus suspected both Draco’s pride and his self-preservation instincts were the reason for that, and couldn’t decide if it was more Slytherin or more Gryffindor of him. “It’s a- it’s something that should be a secret... and Father’s always said to keep secrets for when we have to tell them to get something... only that’s not why I did it.”
“You didn’t keep the secret to help yourself?” Severus asked, and Draco nodded.
“I- it was like with Pansy. Hydrus was going to tease her about crying, only that wouldn’t be fair. She couldn’t help it. I’d cry if Mother died. And Potter couldn’t help it either- only- only-”
“Potter?” Severus asked, pinching the bridge of his nose. After his humiliating attempt to protect Potter from Black who now apparently was not a werewolf (and so where on earth he’d got that memory he showed Severus, Severus didn’t know), Severus thought his hatred of all people Potter had reached new heights. Minus Lily, of course, though he couldn’t help but feel slightly annoyed at her for mothering the brat he was now trying to protect.
“Yes, sir,” Draco said. “He’s not my friend, though, but I still treated him like he was Pansy- I-I helped him.”
You protected him. Severus straightened a pile of unmarked essays and tried to wrap his head around the concept. He also wondered what Potter could possibly have done that would trigger this response in Draco; Draco didn’t like or dislike Potter, but whatever it was Potter had done had startled Draco into acting instinctively. And it seemed, Draco’s instincts were becoming more and more Gryffindor-ish by the week.
“Weren’t you telling me you helped him just the other day?” Severus asked. “Something about giving him a hand when he tripped over?”
“I’d do that for anyone,” Draco said, rolling his eyes. “That doesn’t count.” Severus eyed the boy again, wondering exactly how much he’d changed in the last few months. The old Draco would have laughed at Potter for falling even if they were best friends, and most certainly wouldn’t have offered him a hand up afterward.
“And this does?”
“Obviously!” Draco said, looking frustrated. “I went to find Mother this morning to ask her about all this- she told me to come and talk to her whenever I’m feeling confused, so she can make sense of it all-”
“You’ve been relying on her?”
“Mother said it’s okay to ask for help,” Draco said crossly. “Only this time, she told me I shouldn’t tell her, because she can’t be trusted. She said I can love her and we can spend time together and we can still hug and practice magic and she’ll still read to me but that I can’t trust her because she said no one can be trusted.” Draco looked like he might cry, and Severus wondered how Narcissa could go from being so ridiculously subtle to so abrupt.
And why in Merlin’s name would she tell Draco not to trust her?
“Except she said I could trust you,” Draco said. Severus’ mouth fell open before he could stop it. What in Merlin’s name was the woman playing at!? He snapped his mouth shut, but Draco didn’t seem to have noticed anyway. “But if she told me to trust you, and you can be trusted, doesn’t that mean I can trust her?”
“If your mother says you cannot trust her,” Severus said after a pause, “then I’d advise you to listen. In all likelihood, she will not tell you again, but it does not make the warning any less true.”
“And- and you, sir? I can trust you, right?”
“If you’d like,” Severus said. “I cannot promise that I will always make decisions that you agree with, or give you advice that sounds helpful, but I will promise you that I shall not divulge any information you give me without your permission to do so unless it is absolutely critical. And, I can promise that I will encourage you to act in your best interests.” He thought it was the most godfatherly thing he’d ever said to the boy, and that that was rather twisted. He let Draco mull over it for a few minutes.
“Is what I did wrong?”
Trusting me? Severus wondered. Time will tell – for both of us. “Pardon?”
“Should I have- is it wrong to help Potter, when he’s not my friend?”
“That’s not for me to decide,” Severus said, wishing, just for a moment, that he had Dumbledore or Narcissa’s insight. Both of them would be much, much better at answering a question like this. He couldn’t even use his usual morality test – what would Lily say? – because in this case, it’d probably be biased. “We should always do our best to help people-” A lie, because Severus himself didn’t believe that, but Draco wasn’t looking for lies right now. He was just listening. “-but you should also be careful not to let people take advantage of your... goodwill.” Draco looked relieved.
“That’s good,” he said.
“I don’t think Potter’s the type to take advantage of people,” Draco mused. Severus – very, very, very grudgingly – had to admit he was correct. Even the elder Potter – for all of his many, terrible personality flaws – had been... reluctant to take advantage of people. It was probably the nearest thing to a good trait the man had possessed.
“How long have you been here?” Severus asked, abruptly bringing Draco’s attention to their lesson.
“An hour and twelve minutes,” Draco said confidently.
“One hour and twenty nine,” Severus said, and Draco’s face fell. “But your conviction was good.” He offered Draco a small, not-quite-smile. “I almost believed you.”
He had Draco try to work out when he was lying and when he was telling the truth for a further few minutes, and then set Draco to memorising twenty objects on a tray. Draco managed nineteen, and then Severus sent him to rearrange the bookshelf – Draco looked furious at that and stomped over.
“Do be careful,” Severus said, wincing, as Draco shoved a heavy volume on rare potions into the shelf. “Most of those are worth more than your broomstick.”
“Sorry,” Draco muttered. “Sir, why can’t I just call Dobby and have him do this?”
“Because Dobby will not learn anything from the exercise.”
“Neither will I!”
“The more you protest, the longer it’ll take,” Severus warned. Draco stuffed another book into place, scowling. He was already learning; if there was another nine year old with organisational skills anywhere near Draco’s level, Severus had yet to meet them. Draco routinely reshelved books, potions ingredients, potion phials and even the records of Severus’ Slytherin students. He was becoming efficient at sorting through lots of information, and was learning to take notice of the things he sorted; Severus would often ask him to locate several things afterward, and Draco would have to use his memory, and his organisational system to do so.
Severus sat down, intending to mark essays, but instead found his mind wandering. He’d had a lot to think about; Black’s trial was only four days from now, and old articles – about that night, and about Pettigrew’s death - had been reprinted and were on the front page of the Prophet most days. According to Dumbledore, of course; Severus still refused to read that rubbish. Even Greyback – who’d died, and good riddance – had been second page news.
Severus wasn’t going to testify, of course, but guilt was starting to gnaw at him; he knew where Pettigrew was. He could give Black his freedom. Black would be forever indebted to him – and that was a nice thought – and it would also mean Potter got to stay with Black. Severus wasn’t convinced that was a brilliant idea, but if Black lost his case, Potter would almost certainly end up with Lucius and Narcissa, and Severus didn’t think he could deal with a Slytherin Potter anymore than Narcissa could.
Of course, arranging for Pettigrew to be found was far too risky; Severus had prepared potions to regrow his finger. Severus was involved. And, while Severus thought everyone would be better off if Lucius went to Azkaban for harbouring the rat, Severus was one of four people – himself, Lucius, Narcissa and the rat himself – that knew where Pettigrew currently resided. It’d be obvious that he’d told and Severus wasn’t prepared to trade his life for Black’s.
He wondered if Narcissa herself was going to do it. Perhaps that’s what she’d meant when she’d told Draco not to trust her. Perhaps she was planning something. Perhaps she was planning to frame Severus. The thought sent chills through him. Narcissa wasn’t as cold hearted as her husband, but she had no limits when it came to keeping her family safe. She’d already proven that. Or, what if Narcissa had no plans for Pettigrew at all? What if she’d resigned herself to raising the Potter brat? If that was right, though, then why would she have told Draco to trust Severus, and Severus only?
She didn’t know that he was a spy for Dumbledore; she’d have confronted him about that before now, and put an end to Draco’s lessons. Was she turning sides, and wanted to ensure that Draco didn’t follow her over to the ‘good’ side? Or was it just a warning, years before Draco’d ever need it, telling him that as a spy, he wouldn’t be able to trust anyone, except for his teacher? Severus shoved those thoughts into a room in his Occlumency dungeons, shut the door, and locked it. He didn’t understand Narcissa any more than he understood Dumbledore. They were insane, both brilliant in their own ways, but absolutely mental.
And, what was it that Potter had done? Had he perhaps hexed Hydrus, or revealed a secret about Black to Draco? Could he possibly have revealed the ‘power the Dark Lord knows not’? Severus eyed his godson, who was holding two books up, and staring between them.
“Draco,” he said.
“What?” Draco asked irritably. All of his gentle, uncertain trust was gone.
“What did Potter do?” Draco glanced at the half-full bookshelf, and then back to Severus. His lip curled.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” he drawled.
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