A/N: Thank you for waiting so patiently for this chapter. I hope you find it worth the wait. As always, reviews are very welcome… and happy holidays, whatever you celebrate.
Remember, Harry = Hadrian and Hermione = Helena. And as always, none of this is mine. I just play here.
Much to Hadrian's surprise, Snape did not scream at him. In fact, Snape did not say anything at all.
The force of Apparation had released the floodgates. Hadrian's stomach kept heaving, and he continued throwing up over and over again. Once the initial force was gone, he mostly spewed over himself. Or at least, he could feel warm and damp globs of vomit all down the front of his robes.
He closed his eyes, intent on pretending to himself that this wasn't happening, not in front of Snape of all people. Tears leaked down his cheeks, no more controllable than the contents of his stomach.
He swayed, and a pair of strong hands grasped his forearms, holding him steady. He leaned into them, eyes still closed, gasping as he continued helplessly to produce tears and vomit, both in seemingly limitless quantities.
After some moments, the boy's vomiting turned to dry heaves, then subsided. Hadrian opened his eyes and realized he was leaning against Snape's chest and had left a second stream of vomit down the man's front. Moaning, he closed his eyes again.
A cool, long-fingered hand rested briefly on his forehead.
"Evanesco!" Hadrian opened his eyes just enough to see that Snape had vanished the vomit covering both of them, though both sets of dress robes were clearly ruined. Merlin, he'd just ruined at least 20 galleons worth of robes, more if Snape's had been more expensive than his.
When Snape spoke, his voice was, if not gentle, at least lacking its characteristic harshness. "Come along. Let's get you upstairs and into bed."
Strong arms supported Hadrian up the stairs, then helped him out of his ruined dress robes and into his pajamas. The covers on his bed were peeled back, and he was gently lowered into the bed. In short order a glass of water appeared on the nightstand; a large, empty cauldron appeared on the floor next to the edge of the bed; and a hot water bottle was tucked against his aching, still roiling stomach. The covers were pulled over his shivering body, the lights went out, and he could have sworn a soft voice told him to rest before he drifted off into oblivion.
With the boy tucked into bed, Snape headed immediately for the shower. While he might have banished the boy's vomit, he still felt disgusting.
For the next fifteen minutes, Severus Snape focused single-mindedly on getting clean.
Slowly, his feelings of revulsion receded, and thoughts swirled in to take their place.
First, logistics. The girl would need to sleep downstairs tonight, to minimize her risk of exposure. He snorted to himself. Exposure was such a mild term for what he had endured upon their return home. But the last thing he needed was two sick children to look after, so the girl would sleep on the settee.
Second, everything about the situation felt, well, wrong to him.
When the boy kept disappearing during dinner, it simply had not occurred to him that the boy might be ill. Such stoicism was so far outside the behavior he expected from the child that the possibility had not crossed his mind.
He would have expected the attention-seeking boy to whine and carry on at the smallest bellyache. Especially given the child's obvious objections to attending the dinner, he would have expected the boy to try to get out of it. And indeed, under the circumstances he would have been more than willing to allow the child to stay home in bed. Or so Severus assured himself.
Did the boy really think he was such a monster, that he would expect him to endure a dinner party while sick enough to vomit? There was little love lost between them, certainly, but he'd never before considered that the child could be afraid of him. But if the boy was not afraid, how to explain his behavior?
Severus found himself questioning everything he knew—or believed he knew—about the boy. It was deeply unsettling, to say the least.
He needed answers, and he needed them now. The boy was insensible, but the girl was not. He would start with her.
Clad in his pajamas, slippers, and dressing gown (all in a dignified black, of course), he slipped into the children's bedroom. He cast a monitoring charm on the boy, which would alert him if the child's fever spiked too high or the boy became too dehydrated. Silently he crossed to the girl's bed and gathered up her coverlet, pillow, pajamas, and robe. Folding them neatly into a pile, he clasped them with one arm, gathering her slippers with his other hand, and slipped back out of the room.
When he returned downstairs, he found the girl in the armchair with her knees pulled up in front of her face and her arms wrapped around her legs. She looked shaken. Well, he could hardly blame her for that.
"Hadrian is sleeping now," he reported, surprising himself by using the boy's name. "All things considered, it would be best for you to sleep down here tonight," he continued, placing the pile of bedding and nightwear on the settee.
The girl did not protest. If anything she looked relieved. Sensible of her.
"You might as well get changed," he added. "No reason to be careless with your robes just because your brother's are ruined." And mine, he thought, though he didn't say so.
The girl nodded and uncurled herself from the chair, making for the pile he had left on the settee.
"I require a cup of tea," he declared. "Would you like one?"
Surprise bordering on shock showed in the girl's face, and he realized it was the first time he had treated her with any sort of familiarity. Well, that would have to change if they were to create the right impression at Hogwarts. And besides, he wanted her insights into the boy.
Ten minutes later found Severus and Helena both returned to the sitting room, each wearing a robe and slippers over pajamas and sipping from a freshly made mug of tea. The girl eyed her adoptive father warily as she sat across from him, clearly unsure what to make of the situation.
"Did you realize that Hadrian was unwell?" he queried, careful to keep his tone conversational rather than demanding.
The girl frowned slightly. "Not immediately. At first I thought he was just brooding about the dinner and anxious about Malfoy—"
Severus scoffed slightly, finding this proposition even more ludicrous than the idea that the boy might fear him.
"No really," she insisted. "Malfoy's said some horrible things to him over the years, whatever you may have chosen to believe. He's always taunted Harry for not having parents, nobody wanting him, things like that."
Severus found himself inwardly wincing at this—mean-spirited, and not even clever—though still puzzled as to why such barbs had proved effective.
"I think he felt nervous, being told he had to spend time with Malfoy and wasn't allowed to retaliate, because in his experience Malfoy always starts something," Helena continued firmly, refusing to back down. "Anyway, at first I thought he was just uncomfortable with the situation. But when he didn't eat dessert, that's when I realized something was really wrong."
Severus took a sip of his tea. "Explain."
"He always eats dessert. He'll pick at other food when he's particularly nervous or unhappy, but in five years of eating together I've never seen him skip dessert when it was offered."
"I see." Useful information for gauging the boy's state of mind in future, if not an answer to his immediate questions. "Are you surprised that he hid his illness?"
The girl grimaced, looking down into her cup. "Not really."
"Would you care to explain?" he asked.
She gave him a piercing look, obviously conscious that he had never shown any previous interest in her thoughts and wary of his newfound interest. "Why do you want to know?"
"Suffice to say that I wish to attain a better understanding of— Hadrian." He did not say that he had been surprised. The gleam of comprehension in her eyes informed him that she understood anyway. Damn. A vulnerability revealed. Oh well. He knew her vulnerabilities all too well. She could not resist the flattery of being asked for her insights, not from a teacher she had sought to impress for the past five years. He took another sip of tea.
"He—may I call him Harry, when talking about the past?"
He frowned slightly, surreptitiously checking the paperweight in his pocket. "In the context of this particular conversation," he allowed, "you may."
She took a deep breath. "He never said anything directly if he could help it, but Harry's relatives didn't treat him well."
Snape frowned. "I was under the impression that they did not get along," he offered judiciously. A hint of impatience crept into his voice.
Helena exhaled harshly, then took a slow sip of tea before responding. "Not getting on is the least of it, Sir. More than once he said his relatives would be thrilled if he managed to get himself killed. He said it often enough and casually enough, I don't think he was joking."
She took another sip of tea, tension evident in the planes of her face. Severus waited in silence for her to continue, scrutinizing her closely.
"I know they made him do a lot of chores around the house. Cooking and cleaning and laundry, I know for sure, but I think more. And I'm fairly certain they withheld food from him. He used to ask me to send him snacks during the summer holidays—not treats, mind you, ordinary food. And he was always noticeably thinner at the end of the summer than at the beginning."
She paused again, taking another sip of tea and then staring blindly into her mug. Snape sipped from his own beverage, watching the girl carefully. Until earlier tonight he would have scoffed at the story the girl was giving him. Potter was simply too confident, too arrogant, too much the center of attention to fit this exaggerated story of neglect.
Except for his behavior today, none of which fit his conception of Potter. Grudgingly, Severus acknowledged to himself that the boy's behavior this evening was conceivably entirely consistent with the … alternative picture the girl was providing. Conceivably. He waited for the girl to continue, withholding judgement.
"I—" she sounded less certain now, more nervous. "I can't say for certain, but I don't think Harry's relatives ever took care of him when he was ill. I know I've always had to badger him into going to Madame Pomfrey when he was sick, and I've never heard him whine or complain when he didn't feel well. Quite the opposite of Ron, really—honestly, you'd think the world was ending every time Ron gets the slightest cold. It's a bit difficult to be certain though, because I've never seen Harry anywhere near as sick as he was tonight, either.
"But no, I'm not entirely surprised that he didn't say anything." She took another slow slip of tea, clearly considering her next words.
"Harry, Hadrian… he's… really different from what you seem to think of him, Sir." Her voice was cautious, but her eyes were challenging. "He hates being the center of attention."
Severus gave her a look of patent disbelief.
"Really. He hates it. Ron's the one who loves attention, not Harry. Harry's always been horribly uncomfortable with his fame. The only place he doesn't mind the attention is on the Quidditch pitch. I think that's because he loves flying so much that he forgets about everything else, rather like me with classes." She flushed at this admission, clearly embarrassed. "He's rather shy, really, and he gets nervous about things more often than you'd think…" she trailed off, lost in contemplation of her friend.
Could she be right about the boy? She certainly seemed to believe what she said. But the paradigm shift she suggested was radical. He would have to consider, and observe the boy more closely himself, before he drew conclusions.
"Is he going to be all right?" she asked tentatively, naked anxiety visible in her face and her grip on her mug. "I… I don't think I've ever seen someone be so sick before."
Severus drained his mug before answering. "He's not well. The dinner and subsequent Apparation almost certainly exacerbated his illness, explaining why his earlier display was so… spectacular." He would have stopped there, but the girl still looked anxious and uncertain. "It's almost certainly some variety of stomach flu."
She continued to stare at him anxiously, no spark of comprehension visible in her face.
Surely the girl must be familiar with the stomach flu? It raged through the school nearly every year. The mundane strains of the virus were relatively easy to treat with potions, but the magical strains were just as common and far more difficult to treat. He was particularly susceptible—he had been even as a child—and he almost always seemed to catch it, so he was quite conscious of its prevalence in the school. Surely after five years at Hogwarts she must have experience with the ordeal? Merlin knew he had taught far too many lessons over the years while not-quite recovered from it, using charms to insulate himself from the potions fumes. But the girl's expression was still questioning, so he continued.
"I expect he will still be feeling poorly tomorrow. I greatly doubt that the illness is serious, but it's hard to predict precisely how long it will last. You must know how rare it is for these things to last more than a few days, but surely you also remember that it takes some days beyond that to make a complete recovery."
She finally nodded, though she did not look as if she remembered anything of the sort.
Severus decided that nothing further was to be gained from the conversation. He had finished his tea, and he had a feeling that it would be a long night. Standing, he bid the girl goodnight before sweeping out of the room.
# # #
It was indeed a long night. The boy's fever spiked shortly after 3 AM, and the monitoring charm woke Severus from a restless sleep.
Hadrian proved incapable of keeping down more than a sip or two of water, so Severus found himself casting hydration charms and wiping the boy's face and neck with a damp cloth.
It was obvious that the child was only vaguely aware of his surroundings, but even so he uttered no complaints. Rather, he mumbled apologies. Snape frowned at that. He doubted that the boy was coherent enough to remember the previous night, but perhaps he retained a vague sense of embarrassment? Curious.
The boy's fever receded to a less dangerous level shortly before dawn, and Severus stumbled back to his own bed after recasting the monitoring charm.
It was half past nine in the morning when he woke again. He made use of the facilities and shaved, but did not bother to wash properly or dress. After checking on the boy and finding him asleep, Severus padded downstairs.
Somewhat to his surprise, the girl was sleeping soundly on the settee. Remembering how anxious she had been the night before, he decided to let her sleep and proceeded into the kitchen to cook breakfast.
# # #
Not many minutes later, Helena awoke to the smell of eggs wafting from the kitchen. Waking in the unfamiliar place, it took her a moment to realize that it was considerably later than usual. Well, last night had been taxing for everyone.
Her conversation with Snape the previous evening had been… different. She'd never had an actual conversation with Snape before. Over the years he had lectured her, interrogated her, scolded her, and (most often) ignored her. But he'd never really spoken with her before.
He'd actually asked for her opinion, and then listened to what she had to say! Helena didn't think he'd been convinced, but he hadn't dismissed her outright. That in itself felt like a victory.
Even more astoundingly, he hadn't treated her like an idiot except at the very end. She hadn't had the courage to tell him that she'd never actually had the stomach flu herself. She knew Harry and Ron (and most of the other Gryiffindors in their year) had both gotten it the winter of second year when she was in the hospital wing with cat fur all over her body. Ron and Neville had had it again during third year, when Ron wasn't speaking to her because of Harry's Firebolt. Under the circumstances, she hadn't absorbed many of the details either time. Those were the only years she could remember when her Gyrffindor yearmates had gotten it.
After carefully folding her coverlet and stacking it with her pillow, she made her way into the kitchen, where she found Snape placing two servings of poached eggs and toast on the table. She fetched the marmalade while he made a large pot of tea, and the two of them sat down to breakfast.
They were not talkative, speaking only to ask each other for the salt or the milk, but the quality of the silence had changed considerably. The difference was not the absence of tension, but their relation to it. Before, tension had lain between them. Now it bound them together, if loosely.
Snape disappeared after breakfast, and again after lunch. Helena spent most of the day curled up on the settee, reading.
During the remainder of the morning and early in the afternoon she did some reading for her most recent assignment. Over lunch she tentatively asked a few questions relating to her potions reading, and was heartened when Professor Snape answered them without sneering or insulting her, though his replies were brief. It wasn't anything like the easy rapport she had shared with Madame O'Malley, but now he was treating her much as he would a Ravenclaw whom he liked, or a Slytherin who he did not particularly favor.
She spent the afternoon reading over the new defense textbook—the only one of the fourth-year books Helena hadn't used before. Encouraged by her success over lunch, she tried discussing it with Snape over supper. In many ways the result was the same: he answered her briefly but politely, though her queries did not give way into an actual conversation. However, Helena left the meal elated: when she had expressed an interest in studying the NEWT-level defense text, he had not dismissed her out of hand. Granted, he had not promised anything, either, but it was hard for her to imagine Professor Snape making any promise that wasn't also a threat. If she could keep up her studies in defense and also convince him to continue the tutorials in potions, the year wouldn't be a total loss academically.
She continued reading into the evening, and fell asleep for a second night on the settee still warmed by the prospect of educational opportunities during the coming year, even with the anxiety she felt about Hadrian.
# # #
Outside of meal times, Severus spent Saturday alternating between caring for Hadrian and working on the defense curriculum for the coming year.
After years of making only small adjustments to the potions curriculum, designing courses for all seven years was nearly overwhelming. Albus had not thought to give him the defense position until after he had injured his hand—which had dramatically changed the calculus of assigning him the position, since both men were certain that the position had been cursed by the Dark Lord. Seven weeks was simply not long enough to develop seven years worth of defense curricula, even if he hadn't had other demands on his time. Which he very emphatically did, especially this summer.
Given the poor quality of previous instruction, there was considerable overlap in the syllabi for different years, but not nearly enough to simplify his task. For instance, he would be starting both the first and second years from square one given the execrable quality of the previous year's instruction—if Umbridge's bumbling could even be dignified with that designation—but the classes would still diverge quickly because the second years would be far more competent at casting simple spells. It was the same with the NEWT students at the other end: the sixth and seventh years would start in the same place, but the sixth years would have go far more slowly because they would be learning nonverbal casting, with which the seventh years should be far more proficient. In the middle, the level of magical power which students could be expected to harness altered dramatically over the course of the third, fourth, and fifth years, requiring significantly different calibrations for each group.
Despite these pressing demands, he visited the boy's bedside every hour or two. Sometimes the boy was (mercifully) asleep, in which case Snape would vanish the contents of the cauldron by the child's bed and refill the boy's water as needed before slipping out of the room as quietly as he had come and returning to his other work.
Other times the boy was awake, if hardly more coherent than he had been in the middle of the night. These times Severus would stay a while at the boy's bedside, helping him to drink water, if largely because throwing it up again was less painful than dry heaves. It was quite clear that the boy was incapable of keeping it down. Once, after a particularly intense bout of vomiting (mercifully directed into the cauldron), he found himself rubbing slow circles on the boy's back.
Throughout the ordeal, Hadrian occasionally whimpered in pain, and a few times mumbled half-coherent apologies—though for what, specifically, it was hard to say. But Snape found himself most struck by what the boy didn't do: he never, ever complained.
# # #
Saturday night was a huge improvement over the previous night, at least for Severus: the monitoring charm did not wake him, and he was able to get a full night's rest.
The boy seemed slightly better in the morning, as well. Hadrian was still feverish, but his temperature was much closer to normal, and he was correspondingly more coherent. He was vomiting much less frequently, as well, Snape noted with approval, though still not able to keep down more than a few sips of water.
In light of this improvement, Severus felt comfortable leaving the boy alone for the morning, and spent the time productively working on the NEWT-level defense curriculum. The boy was asleep when Snape looked in just before midday, and Snape was nearly in a good humor as he prepared sandwiches and a salad for lunch.
However, his relatively sunny mood ended abruptly when he went to fetch the girl for lunch. Unlike every other time he had walked through the room or come to fetch her for a meal, she was not curled up in the armchair with her nose buried in a book. Instead, she sat on the settee, wrapped in her coverlet and staring blankly into space.
She looked up at him as he stood in the doorway. "I don't feel well," she declared in a quiet, dazed voice.