A/N: Here's the next installment, which is a little longer than the last two (though you may hate me for where it ends). Thank you as always for your patience with the long gaps between updates. I can't promise to write faster-I have too many competing obligations in my life-but I can promise to keep writing. Reviews are always welcome, and provide excellent motivation.
As usual, Harry = Hadrian and Hermione = Helena
Reminder: Not my sandbox, I just play here.
Over breakfast the next morning, Snape informed the children of their upcoming engagement at Malfoy Manor.
"Narcissa Malfoy has invited all three of us to dinner at Malfoy Manor tomorrow night. You will both be going—I don't want to hear any excuses or arguments, is that clear?"
Both children nodded, though Hadrian looked mutinous—a look which was by no means lost on Snape, who continued speaking.
"You will be gracious and polite. You will not remark on Lucius's absence or draw attention to it in any way. Narcissa will be kind to you. Try to return that kindness."
Snape paused and frowned at them before continuing. "It is likely that Draco will be unkind to you, since he is currently rather displeased with me. Do not antagonize him, whatever he says or does. Remember that you supposedly have no history with him. You may respond with confusion, hurt, or indifference as you see fit, but do not react in anger.
"In all likelihood, he will view you as younger children and beneath his notice. Do nothing that might interfere with this conception, lest he transfer his current antipathy for me to you. Have I made myself clear?"
Helena nodded first, murmuring "Yes, Sir" and looking thoughtful. She wondered what was going on between Draco and Snape, never having noticed even a hint of conflict between them before. But she thought better than to ask, realizing that she and Hadrian would play their roles better not knowing—and that Snape would never give them information if withholding it would help them play their part.
Hadrian said nothing, opting instead to stab viciously at his sausage and glare down at his toast. Snape frowned at him, and Helena realized how very alike they looked in their frustration with each other. She fought back the urge to giggle at the situation, but couldn't help smiling slightly at the sight. Predictably, both of them transferred their glares to her, clearly outraged at her levity, causing her to dissolve into laughter. Her sense of self-preservation was sufficient that Helena did not attempt to explain the cause of her laughter, but rather finished her last piece of toast as quickly as possible and then escaped from the table.
As Helena left, Severus frowned after her in irritation before turning back to Hadrian.
"I know you are not fond of Draco, but self-restraint is necessary. I am not asking you to befriend him—" Snape sneered at this notion and Hadrian sighed slightly, clearly relieved. "However, he holds a powerful position in the social world you now inhabit, and it would be most unwise to antagonize him. Not only would it make your life unnecessarily difficult, but it would garner attention and foster speculation of a nature that would be detrimental to your role. This is a matter of your safety… and, I might point out, your sister's, since you appear to possess a modicum of sense when it comes to protecting others, and none at all when it comes to protecting yourself."
Two bright spots of color appeared on the boy's cheeks at that, but he said nothing, instead staring down at his plate.
"I will not have you endangering yourself—or the rest of us, boy. And that means I expect you to be polite to Draco Malfoy. I assure you, I will make your life significantly less pleasant if you do not. Do you understand?"
"Yes," Hadrian muttered his response sulkily, barely loud enough to be heard. The boy's cheeks were still flushed, and he looked mortified.
Good. "Very well then." Snape nodded and stood up, carrying his empty plate to the sink before leaving the washing up to the boy still sitting at the table.
# # #
That night Hadrian slept fitfully as usual, troubled by unpleasant dreams. For once he slept until dawn, though as always he woke well before Helena. He woke with his stomach fluttering, much as it did before a Quidditch match. Well, facing Malfoy on the Quidditch pitch would be vastly preferable to facing him over a formal dinner, so perhaps it wasn't so surprising.
He didn't speak much to Helena as the morning went on, but both had been lost in their thoughts since their discussion after breakfast the previous morning. When he had joined her over their books after Snape's lecture and humiliating reminder of his past mistakes, Hadrian had asked his sister what she had found so funny.
Instead of answering him, Helena had asked him, quite seriously, if he really wanted to know.
Given the distinct feeling that she had been laughing at him as well as at Snape, Hadrian had decided he didn't want to know, and said as much. The awkwardness had lasted only a few minutes, but he had found himself thinking about how much less they seemed to share as Hadrian and Helena than they had as Harry and Hermione, especially in the oppressive atmosphere of Snape's house.
At first Helena's relative reticence had been a relief, especially given Hermione's usual badgering to talk about his feelings. He had wanted the space, even craved it. And then… well, it was hard to know what to say about Madam O'Malley's decline and death, or about living with Snape. Hadrian was certainly too overwhelmed by it all to have words, and it occurred to him yesterday that Helena might be finding it overwhelming in her own way. Well, her reaction at breakfast had seemed a lot like nervous laughter to him—really, what on Earth could she find funny about the prospect of dinner with Malfoy?—and it would explain a lot about her recent behavior.
Caught up in these ruminations, Hadrian was still unusually quiet by lunch that afternoon. He forced himself to eat heartily, hoping it would settle his stomach. Neither Snape nor Helena remarked on his ongoing silence, so the meal was even quieter than usual. Well, Snape seemed to prefer silence as a natural state, and here was more evidence—at least in Hadrian's mind—that Helena was also struggling with their situation.
By early afternoon Hadrian sorely regretted his hearty lunch, as his stomach had moved from fluttering to churning to roiling in short order. But Snape had scheduled a short afternoon of studying and no brewing, so that they could prepare for the evening.
The middle of the afternoon found Hadrian slipping off to the toilet and revisiting his lunch. No one noticed, and he was glad to keep it that way. He felt a bit better afterwards, which was a relief.
It didn't occur to Hadrian to tell anyone that he was sick. He knew Helena would fuss and hover if she knew, and he didn't want to deal with that. The Dursleys had never cared if he was ill, and he didn't think Snape would be any different. Besides, the man had clearly told him not to make excuses to get out of dinner at the Malfoys. He had been taught to view illness as an excuse from a very young age.
So he took a shower, washed his hair, and then brushed his teeth extra carefully before heading back to his bedroom to dress.
Helena, for her part, had simply assumed that Hadrian was brooding over the prospect of a formal dinner with Malfoy. Sensing that Hadrian didn't want to talk—she was trying to be better about giving him space, having noticed that he didn't get irritated with her nearly so often when she didn't press him—Helena had taken the opportunity to subsume herself more completely in her studies.
Limiting her summer assignments to fit Snape's specifications had been a painful exercise, but the silver lining was that (after three rounds of criticism and deletions on her transfiguration essay) she had finished all of her assignments rather quickly, and received approval of them from Snape. Hadrian still hadn't finished his assignments—and didn't appear to realize that she had finished hers—but she was happy to use the extra time to study both warding and potions.
Warding was fascinating, and she felt a deep sense of gratitude to Madame O'Malley for introducing her to the subject. When she stopped studying, the sight of her books on the subject made Helena sad, reminding her that the source of such generosity and kindness was gone. But when she studied warding, she felt closer to Madame O'Malley, remembering her comments, insights, and enthusiasm for the subject. It hurt, but it was also a source of comfort.
Helena didn't think she would ever love potions in the way she loved transfiguration, arithmancy, and charms, but Professor Snape's summer assignments were giving her a new appreciation for the subject. The modification exercises he set her had forced her to revisit her knowledge of potions in a new light, and she was pleasantly surprised by the quality of insights she was gaining. She was beginning to see subtleties in potions much like those which she saw so naturally in her three favorite subjects, though she had to work much harder to see them.
Academic pursuits had always been an escape for Helena, from a very young age. Books and intellectual puzzles had provided a respite from a singularly lonely childhood, providing a sense of accomplishment and the chance to get away from her feelings. She was conscious of grieving, both for her old self and for Madam O'Malley, but the routine of studying helped steady her, giving her hours each day in which she forgot her sense of grief.
Hadrian's quiet over the past two days had registered on her consciousness first and foremost as a chance to escape more completely into intellectual pursuits. Undisturbed by questions or complaints, she had found her work the past two days unusually relaxing, offsetting the trepidation she felt about that night's formal dinner.
She was not terribly worried about Malfoy or his mother, per se. After all, she had put up with the boy for years, and Helena Snape had two magical parents, so they would undoubtedly be more pleasant than she was accustomed to.
Rather, Helena was worried that she would embarrass herself by demonstrating her ignorance of pureblood social etiquette. Intellectually, she knew her ignorance would not be suspect, since Madam O'Malley had lived so retired and been so uninvested in pureblood customs. But after years of success at showing herself superior to Malfoy in the classroom, she found she was nervous about the prospect of embarrassing herself in front of him. She did not like the idea of his winning in any respect, even if he did not realize he was competing against her.
She did not discuss her anxieties with Hadrian, knowing that he would either laugh at her or feel even more nervous, since he knew even less about pureblood etiquette than she did. Instead she smiled at him as he entered their room smelling of toothpaste and obviously fresh from the shower.
After taking a quick shower and brushing her teeth—thank goodness Snape hadn't thought to forbid her from looking after her teeth properly!—Helena used a surreptitious charm to pull her hair into a French braid, grateful for the advantages of living in a magical household.
She pulled the dove grey linen gown over muggle undergarments, impressed by how well it fit her. The dress was deceptively simple, with a conservative scoop neck, tight-fitting sleeves ending two inches short of her wrists, and French darts at the waist. While not particularly voluminous, the skirt fanned out from a low waist, falling in folds that would drape beautifully when she sat. Over the gown went the overrobe, made of the same dove grey linen fabric, with wider, shorter sleeves and an open front, falling to the middle of her calves.
She did not have a full-length mirror, but she felt beautiful in the robes. Or at least stately, which was probably the best she could hope to achieve.
From her reading, Helena knew that the shorter outer robe marked these robes as less formal; with formal dress robes, the outer robe would also fall to her ankles, like the gown beneath it. The shorter sleeves on the outer robe did not reflect formality, but instead indicated that the robes were intended for summer. She had read up on dress robes before buying her gown for the Yule Ball, and was grateful for the knowledge, as it told her something of what to expect from the evening.
Having donned her outer robe, Helena frowned as she considered her choices of shoes. None of them were really right for these robes, but Snape hadn't considered footwear and she hadn't thought of it either. After some thought, she put on her black leather Mary Janes and charmed them to appear white. They still weren't quite right, but they would be largely hidden under her robes, so they should pass casual inspection. She hoped.
The bottom layer of Hadrian's outfit looked a lot like a formal muggle outfit from the turn of the century. He wore a white dress shirt with a high collar, with a vest, jacket, and slacks made of the same dove grey linen of her dress robes. The set had come with a silk tie in the same pale grey, though the shirt was still informal enough to have buttons on the cuffs. Helena wondered what Hadrian's reaction would be when he realized that true formal robes required cufflinks. Curiously, Hadrian's outer robe was very similar to hers in cut and length, except that his sleeves were slightly longer.
Helena noticed with some irritation that her brother's black leather loafers were perfectly adequate to his ensemble. Well, that explained why Professor Snape hadn't thought to get her dress shoes. Bother.
Hadrian looked unusually pale, his freckles standing out much in the way Ron's did when he was particularly nervous. Helena eyed him with some concern. "I'm sure it won't be that bad," she coaxed him. Smiling mischievously, she continued. "We may even get the chance to hear Malfoy insult Professor Snape."
Hadrian smiled wanly at that. "Well, that's something to hope for." He paused, clearly uncomfortable, before continuing. "Er, I suppose we ought to head downstairs. Bad enough without him getting hacked off because we're late."
# # #
Under Professor Snape's power, the group arrived in the Apparation Foyer at Malfoy Manor. The room's floor was polished marble, and it was completely empty except for a massive magical painting on the wall opposite the door.
The painting showed an ornate pleasure garden with white albino peacocks strutting down the various lanes and paths. An enormous manor house was visible in the distance. The garden looked quite lovely, in Helena's opinion, but the peacocks rendered the painting ridiculous rather than beautiful. She suspected the absurdity of the painting was rather lost on the Malfoys, but cut her thoughts short at Snape's preemptory summons and followed the irritable man through the door.
Helena registered a brief impression of a marble entryway, sweeping staircase, and massive chandelier before her attention was captured by Madame Malfoy, who stood waiting for them.
Narcissa Malfoy wore icy blue robes made of watered silk. Her ears and neck glittered with pearls and aquamarines, setting off the effect of her elegant coiffure. She was as distant and refined as she had appeared when Helena had seen her at the World Cup two years before, but she greeted them with a graciousness utterly at odds with her behavior then.
"Severus!" Her voice was soft and melodious, effortlessly patrician. "How delightful of you to come, to be sure. And these must be your children?"
"Indeed." Professor Snape inclined his head in a slight bow before gesturing the children forward. "Narcissa, Hadrian and Helena. Children, this is Madame Malfoy."
Helena curtsied slightly, since that seemed to be the thing to do, while Hadrian stood dumbly before belatedly nodding his head.
"Charming," proclaimed Madame Malfoy. She examined them closely, but spoke with a distinct lack of emotion. "The resemblance is quite remarkable, Severus."
Professor Snape murmured something unintelligible while Helena struggled not to grimace and avoided looking at Hadrian.
Madame Malfoy smiled gently at the children, though Helena could not help noticing that the smile did not reach her eyes. "My son Draco is waiting in the small parlor. You must come meet him."
The small parlor was decorated entirely in muted blues, purples, and greys, creating the perfect backdrop for Narcissa's robes.
Draco unfolded himself from an armchair and lazily stood as they entered, nodding gracefully to his mother and ignoring Professor Snape completely. His dress robes were very like Hadrian's, except that they were navy blue rather than pale grey.
"Draco, my darling," fluted his mother, "Come meet Severus's children, Hadrian and Helena."
Draco nodded coldly to Hadrian before turning to Helena.
In the space of an instant Helena discovered a hitherto unsuspected advantage of being Hermione Granger, muggleborn witch: Draco Malfoy had never looked at Hermione Granger with the appraising eye he was now casting over Helena Snape. Over the years plenty of other Slytherins had looked at her like she was a piece of meat on display at a butcher's shop, but Draco was far too much a pureblood snob to even look at a muggleborn in a sexual way.
She suppressed a shudder as his eyes raked up and down her body and he sneered. Ugh! No wonder Ginny hated Malfoy so much, despite not having to put up with him in classes. And no wonder Ginny had never explained—Ron would go ballistic if he knew!
Hoping that her distaste was not apparent on her face, Helena selected a seat as far away from Draco as politeness allowed and settled in to listen to the conversation between Narcissa Malfoy and Professor Snape.
For once even Helena found the adults' conversation painfully boring. While Professor Snape and Madame Malfoy discussed the state of Madame Malfoy's garden, she worked to keep a look of polite interest on her face. Both Hadrian and Draco's expressions betrayed undisguised boredom, which Narcissa politely ignored while Snape frowned periodically in Hadrian's direction.
Eventually the adults' conversation turned to the children and their upcoming school year, and they attempted to draw the younger generation into the conversation. Narcissa asked what year they would be in, what electives they would be taking, and which courses they found most interesting.
Hadrian left Helena and Professor Snape to answer these questions for him: his sole contribution to the conversation was to ask directions to the toilet and excuse himself. Helena understood his desire to hide from such an awkward and formal setting, but thought it childish of him to indulge in it.
Hors d'oeuvres were served in the parlor not long after Hadrian's return from the toilet. Helena was delighted to see that they were beginning with oysters on the half shell, and began to hope that the quality of the food might compensate for the wretched conversation.
Then she caught sight of Hadrian's face, which showed mingled horror and revulsion. Helena realized suddenly that while she might love oysters, she had grown up with parents who took her to fancy restaurants, and on holiday to seafood-specializing regions all over Europe, giving her plenty of opportunities to develop her palate. She suspected that Hadrian had never tasted an oyster in his life, and it was clear that he was revolted by the prospect.
Well, she couldn't very well pretend she'd never tasted them, not when she knew exactly how much lemon she liked to squeeze onto them. And oh, how she wanted them. How to explain without seeming suspicious?
An idea came to her, and Helena exclaimed over the oysters as she went to serve herself. "I'm afraid you won't get Hadrian to eat any of the oysters—he had a rather nasty experience with them a few years back. But I love them!"
Hadrian shot her a look of pure gratitude, his face relaxing, while Madame Malfoy made a conciliating remark towards the boy and even Professor Snape shot Helena a look that might have been considered approving.
Dinner was served on the terrace in the fading light of the late summer evening. Helena realized that the painting in the Apparation foyer depicted the ornamental garden beyond the terrace. She wondered briefly whether the albino peacocks were real or a fanciful artistic addition. Her question was soon answered, for an albino peacock came strutting into view. She looked down at her place setting in an effort not to laugh at the pretentious absurdity of the peacocks, knowing she would lose it if she looked either at Draco or back at the peacocks in the garden. Somehow, the ridiculous birds reminded her of the boy.
When she was certain she had mastered herself, she looked up and focused her eyes on the adults as they spoke. Snape glared at her, clearly sending a silent reminder that she was to behave herself appropriately.
The conversation remained agonizingly boring. The adults avoided all discussion of politics, Lucius's absence, or Madame O'Malley's death—in short, any topic with any substance which Helena might have found interesting or meaningful—and Draco replied tersely or sneeringly to all of Professor Snape's attempts at conversation.
Helena had expected to feel mild amusement at hearing Malfoy insult Snape. Instead she found herself simmering with resentment as Snape remained impassive while Draco treated him with a deliberate rudeness that would have been met with a severe tongue-lashing and likely months of punishment had it come from herself, Hadrian, or any of her other peers. If anything, she was shocked at how angry she felt at the pair of them.
She considered engaging more actively in the conversation herself, just to escape from Draco's snide remarks and Snape's calm and impassive responses. But she found herself reluctant to speak for fear of either making a social faux-pas or exposing their charade in some accidental way. So she sat quietly and tried to focus on the meal, which was in fact delicious.
The first course served at the table was a light summer soup with a base of roasted and pureed tomatoes. It was delicious, and garnished with basil so fresh she suspected (correctly) that it had been picked just before the meal.
Madame Malfoy had assured them that their meal would be just a light supper, which Helena quickly realized meant it would only be five courses, rather than the seven or eight which would be expected for a truly formal meal. Hadrian seemed to have caught on, for he ate lightly at the soup course.
The main course was grilled fish, filleted and served in a lemon vinaigrette with summer peas. Light and sweet, the fish was even more exquisite than the soup. Feeling herself on safe ground, Helena murmured polite expressions of delight over the fish, earning her first genuine smile from Madame Malfoy, a sullen glare from Draco, and an approving nod from Professor Snape.
Hadrian ate only a few bites of the fish before quietly excusing himself from the table and disappearing into the house. Helena found this puzzling, but said nothing. She was painfully conscious of Professor Snape's rising irritation, and felt a pressing urge to avoid drawing any further attention to the source of his ire. Besides, the fish was outstanding and deserved her full attention.
Hadrian returned to the table in time to have another few bites of fish before it was removed and replaced with the salad course.
The salad was also exquisite: mushrooms and endives in a tarragon mustard sauce with shallots, delicate and refreshing as all the previous courses.
Unfortunately, the other aspects of the meal only became more agonizing. Snape was now shooting withering glares at Hadrian while continuing to ignore Draco's flagrant rudeness. Somehow that made everything worse, and Helena felt herself fighting the urge to cry. Hadrian showed relatively little appetite for the salad, despite having eaten so little of the fish. But Helena could hardly blame him, given the weight of the glares Snape was sending in his direction. She thought she would lose her appetite too, if she were on the receiving end of those looks.
Narcissa Malfoy floated above it all, politely oblivious to all of the tension around the table. She made light conversation with Snape, clearly attempting to soothe him, at least half in apology for her son's behavior. Snape ignored these attempts as completely as he ignored her son's alternating nasty remarks and stony silences.
It was getting dark by the time dessert was finally served. Candles came to life all over the table and terrace, creating an effect as beautiful and magical as the floating candles in the Great Hall at Hogwarts. Helena would have loved it if she had not felt so tense and miserable.
Dessert was berry tart, juicy and sweet. Helena ate hers greedily, glad she had paced herself through the previous courses. She was certainly full, but still able to enjoy the treat. The excellence of the meal from start to finish was a consolation for the otherwise miserable nature of the evening.
She looked over at Hadrian, intending to share a smile over the dessert. Helena felt the first prickles of real concern when she noticed that he had barely touched his tart.
After sharing meals with him for six years, she knew his eating habits. Unlike Ron, Hadrian was not a bottomless pit, and did not always eat big meals, particularly when he was feeling stressed or upset. But Hadrian loved dessert. Treacle tart was his favorite, but in six years she had never seen him turn down dessert, not even the pink heart-shaped biscuits that had been served one year on Valentine's Day. Ordinarily, Hadrian would have eaten every crumb of the berry tart on his plate. Seeing him eat only a few bites and push the remainder around his plate suddenly convinced Helena that something was seriously wrong.
Hadrian was miserable.
He had thrown up twice now, three times if he counted earlier in the afternoon, though thankfully each time he'd felt it coming on with enough warning to be discreet about it. Each time he had felt slightly better for a little while, but as the evening wore on he felt worse and worse—much worse than he had in the afternoon. The meal was pure torture.
He had no energy to even think about Malfoy, much less pay attention to the conversation. All of his attention was focused on controlling his roiling stomach while he prayed for the meal to end.
He had been relieved when Helena had given him the excuse to avoid the oysters, as he was very sure he would not have managed to swallow even one of the slimy, unappetizing things without sicking up then and there, in front of everyone.
But his relief had been short-lived. The soup had tasted just like the acid that kept burning its way up his throat. The fish—well, better to not even think about the fish. The salad, with its creamy dressing, had been hard to distinguish from the chunks of vomit he had repeatedly swallowed down out of sheer willpower. And the tart—well, any other evening he would have eaten every morsel, but tonight it had taken everything he had to swallow three bites.
Worse, Snape had been glaring at him murderously for the past half hour, clearly furious over the time he had spent in away from the table. At least the Dursleys had never made him sit through a meal when he felt like this—not that he could remember feeling this bad more than once or twice before.
Finally the interminable meal was over. Hadrian barely processed the goodbyes, standing stiffly and moving gingerly while trying to appear as normal as possible. From the concerned look Helena gave him, he could tell she had noticed that something was amiss, but no one else seemed to be paying him close attention.
The hallway passed by in a blur, and finally they were back in the Apparation Foyer, and Snape was taking their arms, glaring furiously all the while.
With a wrenching pop, the three of them apparated back to the sitting room at Spinner's End. Hadrian screwed his eyes and mouth shut, attempting to hold himself together.
When he opened his eyes, Snape was looming over him.
"What in Merlin's name were you thinking, boy? I told you to be polite—polite!—and avoid antagonizing Draco. Your little disappearing act was exceptionally rude, I don't know what I'm going to tell—"
Despite his best efforts to hold everything in, Hadrian lost control of his stomach. He vomited spectacularly, all over the front of Snape's dress robes.
Hadrian's consciousness narrowed to the heaving of his stomach and a single, overwhelming conviction: Snape was going to kill him.