A/N: Still not mine.
Sorry it's been such a long delay. Thank you, as always, for your patience! I hope this chapter is satisfying, and look forward to reading your reactions. Next time: Hogwarts!
Damn and blast. Snape crossed the room with surprising speed, first putting a hand against Helena's forehead and then murmuring a charm to measure her temperature. He frowned. "You're running a fever," he stated, then continued, voice resigned. "Go on up to bed—there's no point keeping you separated at this juncture. Get settled. I'll be up shortly."
The girl nodded slowly and stood, slowly gathering her bedding and moving towards the concealed door leading the stairs.
# # #
Snape appeared in the children's bedroom about fifteen minutes later, armed with another cauldron and water glass for Helena's bedside. Mercifully, Hadrian stayed asleep as Snape arranged them and sat at the edge of the girl's bed.
"How do you feel?" he asked her.
"Awful." Helena's voice sounded small, even to herself, as she struggled not to cry. "My stomach keeps churning and I ache—all over. And it's like I'm hot and cold all at once, in the most peculiar way, not pleasant at all."
Snape sighed. "I'm not surprised. Try to rest. I will return to check on you in an hour or two. Aim for the cauldron when you vomit, and try to drink some water if you can."
Helena tried to sleep, but nausea and misery kept her awake. Every so often she sat up slightly and took a sip or two of water, marking time by the diminishing water in the glass.
She wasn't sure how long it was before Snape returned—it felt like an eternity—but by then she was down to the last two centimeters of water in the cup. He frowned at her thoughtfully, glancing at the water glass and peering into the cauldron before sitting again on the edge of the bed.
"You haven't thrown up at all?" he questioned.
"No." Her voice was flat and listless.
"And you managed to drink all that water?"
He reached out, first feeling her forehead (presumably warm, for his hand felt so cool) and then gently placing his hand over her stomach as it continued its acrobatics.
She stared up at him. It had been one thing to see him with Hadrian after they returned home from the Malfoys', and to see him unbend slightly with her since then. But this… Snape was being gentle, mellow, … attentive. It was surreal.
He sighed. "Under the circumstances, you have a choice. If you wish, you may try a stomach-soothing potion. This has not been an option for Hadrian so far—potions are not a viable treatment for home use unless the patient is capable of holding down a certain quantity of water—so we don't know whether it will work. If it's a non-magical strain of norovirus, the potion will make you feel much better."
"And if it's a magical virus?" she asked.
"In that case it's harder to predict," he answered. "Potions are effective against some magical strains, but comparatively few. Alternatively the potion might have no effect at all. Or, at worst a magical virus could cause you to reject the potion, making you feel worse for a short period of time."
She grimaced slightly, weighing the possibilities.
"It's your choice." For once Snape did not sound judgmental or impatient.
"I'll try it."
He nodded once, then stood and walked quietly from the room.
He returned perhaps a minute later, a vial of potion in his hand. Placing it on the bedside table, he helped her sit up, then removed the cork and handed her the vial.
For a few moments, nothing happened. Then her stomach gave an almighty lurch and promptly vaulted up her throat.
Had she understood what was happening, she could have aimed the contents of her stomach into the cauldron, but she did not. She did not even manage to turn her head in the vague direction of the cauldron. Instead, she threw up all over herself and her blankets.
Waving his wand, Snape cleaned up the mess, sighing softly to himself.
Helena took a steadying breath. Oh God. It was happening again. She tried to aim this time, spattering vomit across the blankets before some of it made its way into the cauldron.
Snape waved his wand again, then hoisted the cauldron and set it on her lap.
The third time, she managed to use it as he had intended.
"I would have expected you to have better aim," he commented dryly.
Tears sprung to her eyes, and she felt blood rushing to her cheeks. "I— I've never thrown up before," she confessed. "Not that I can remember, I mean."
Snape looked shocked at this admission.
"Is it—is it always like that?" she asked hesitantly, embarrassed by her ignorance and overwhelmed by the awfulness of the sensation.
He vanished the contents of the cauldron, placed it back on the floor, and helped her lie down again. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Snape rolled her onto her side, facing the wall, and began gently rubbing her back before he quietly answered. "Sometimes. Sometimes it's worse."
# # #
The girl fell asleep as he rubbed her back, just as he'd hoped she would.
He was still stunned by her admission. Well, at least that explained why she'd looked at him so blankly the other night. But still.
Severus knew himself to be unusually sensitive to stomach ailments. (He would have blamed being a teacher, but none of the other professors at Hogwarts got them with such horrible regularity. Half the time he didn't bother taking them to Poppy, not wishing to deal with her fussing unless it was strictly necessary, and even so she commented on how susceptible he was.) He could not imagine going more than a decade without one. But the horror and confusion on the girl's face had been real, and he did not think she was lying. Curious.
He wasn't sure why he'd comforted her, except that he felt responsible for giving her the disastrous potion. Not that he'd known it would have that result, of course, but he'd never set much store by intentions. Well, and the physical comfort had helped her fall asleep, so it had also been expedient.
The boy was still sleeping, as well, which boded well for his recovery.
Thoughts centered on getting back to his course planning, Severus checked his pocket watch and bit back a curse. There was an Order meeting at Grimmauld Place in twenty minutes, and Albus expected him to be there.
So much for getting more work done this afternoon. Carefully, Severus cast comprehensive monitoring charms on both children which would alert him if they became distressed, even if he were out of the house. That done, he summoned parchment, ink, and quill, which he used to write two notes, hesitating slightly before signing them. The first note read as follows:
I am attending a meeting with Headmaster Dumbledore, and should be back within a few hours. Should you truly need anything, I will know and return. Rest as much as you can.
The second note was identical, except that it was addressed to Hadrian. Severus placed the notes on the appropriate nightstands before quietly leaving the room and apparating to Grimmauld Place.
# # #
Hadrian woke slightly over an hour later. He still didn't feel good, but he felt considerably better. Gingerly sitting up, he noticed Helena's sleeping form in the other bed and the cauldron on the floor beside it. He grimaced in sympathy, considering whether he dared try some water.
Thirst overriding his caution, Hadrian turned to his nightstand, noticing the folded note next to his water glass for the first time. After slowly and carefully taking a couple small sips of water, he unfolded the note and read it.
Blinking, Hadrian read the note a second time, then a third, not quite believing it. Merlin, coming from Snape, it was downright gentle.
In fact, Hadrian reflected, Snape had been surprisingly decent from the moment he had puked all over him. Rather than yelling, or cursing him, or any number of Snape-like things, the man had been surprisingly kind. Hell, the man had helped him into his pajamas and into bed, if Hadrian was remembering right, though admittedly his memories were a bit blurry. Actually, if he wasn't imagining things, Snape had been there an awful lot.
Hadrian cautiously took another small sip of water and was immensely relieved when it stayed down. Lying back down, he considered the strangeness of Snape's behavior. He was still pondering it when sleep claimed him once more.
# # #
In the kitchen at Grimmauld Place, Severus Snape's patience had worn thin at least half an hour ago. He had listened to nearly an hour of proposals for safety from people who didn't believe the Dark Lord could or would take control of the Ministry of Magic. He had glared at Albus the entire time, fully aware that the headmaster agreed with his assessment of the situation but believed these discussions were "good for morale." Then there had been maybe 10 minutes of useful discussion about which potential targets should be protected, and how.
And now… now they were blathering on about Potter, peppering Albus with questions about the boy's wellbeing, how he was handling the isolation, the security of the boy's location. Merlin, the maudlin sentimentality was more nauseating than the children's vomit.
He cut in, interrupting Remus Lupin. "The headmaster has assured us all that the boy is safe. I fail to see the need for all this discussion."
Everyone but Albus turned to glare at him. The headmaster just looked amused, damn him.
Molly Weasley took advantage of the break in conversation to press her own question. "Albus, has Harry even been told about Hermione's death? Ron received a letter from him about a week afterwards, and Harry didn't mention it at all. Ron and Ginny are so worried about whether Harry knows and how he's taking it…"
Albus smiled sadly, and responded. "I can assure you that Harry is fully informed, Molly, and handling the situation about as well as can be expected."
Severus snorted. Truthful words, but utterly misleading. Albus played them all like puppets.
Everyone turned to glare at him again, undoubtedly convinced that he was reacting to the Potter boy given their obliviousness to the headmaster's machinations. His reputation as a heartless bastard was further cemented. Severus smiled sourly, grimly amused.
Albus continued. "Out of an abundance of caution, our method for transmitting letters to and from Harry is rather slow. Harry must have written the letter before he received the news, Molly." She nodded, still glaring at Severus. Some evil genius must have prompted the headmaster to continue. "Please try to make allowances for Severus. Both of his children are ill, and he's quite concerned about them."
Molly's gaze immediately softened, disconcerting Severus, who in turn channeled his discomfort into glaring at Albus. "Can I tell Ron and Ginny that the letter was delayed?" she asked, turning back to the headmaster.
"I don't think that would do any harm, Molly. Go ahead."
Severus' stomach lurched, and with sudden clarity he realized that it was not reacting to the conversation. He was going to be sick. He stood and strode quickly across the room with as much dignity as he could muster, glaring at everyone to discourage comments. As soon as the door shut behind him, he sprinted for the nearest toilet, making it just in time.
Albus found him there sometime later—Severus had no awareness how much time had passed—and gently brought him home.
# # #
Hadrian woke again as dusk deepened into night. Sitting up in bed, he registered faint sounds of retching. He grimaced and looked across the room to Helena. She was also sitting up in bed, pale and miserable, but obviously not the source of the sound.
Merlin. It must be Snape. He'd gotten Snape sick. That was worse—much worse—than getting sick all over Snape.
Snape was going to kill him.
Hadrian braced himself, waiting for the man to come in and yell at him, much as Vernon Dursley would have. The sound of retching stopped, and he tensed in anticipation. Minutes passed.
The man did not appear. Gradually, Hadrian felt himself relax.
He looked over to Helena and found her watching him passively, misery clear on her face. She didn't seem angry at him, at least.
Gingerly, Hadrian climbed out of his bed and crossed to hers, finding a seat on the edge of her bed. She smiled at him wanly.
"Sorry for getting you sick," he mumbled.
"Don't, please!" she responded. "It's not your fault. And anyway, I feel pretty awful, but I don't think I'm as sick as you were."
"Well, that's good at least," he responded awkwardly, unsure of whether he should accept her assurances.
"I'm sorry I didn't realize earlier that you were sick," she offered her own apology. "I thought you were just nervous about Malfoy, and I didn't want to press you."
"It's okay," he reassured her. "I was trying to hide it from you. I was afraid you'd fuss, and, well…"
"He's been really decent," she commented, clearly discerning the main source of his discomfort.
"I was amazed when he didn't murder me for sicking up all over him," Hadrian admitted. "He didn't even finish telling me off, from what I can remember. I think he even helped me up to bed, though my memories are a bit fuzzy."
"He did," Helena confirmed. "He's been really… well, gentle. I was feeling really awful earlier, and he sort of turned me on my side and rubbed circles on my back. It was really unexpected, but it really helped. I fell asleep pretty fast, and I hadn't been able to before that."
"Do think it'd help if I did it now?" Hadrian asked, anxious to make her feel better since he still felt guilty for making her sick.
"Maybe? You really don't have to, but if you're offering… I'd really like to just sleep until I feel better, if I can."
He smiled, glad to have found something he could do. "Lie down and roll over on your side, then."
She did as he asked, and he started rubbing slow circles on her back. His motions were tentative at first, but he soon settled into a rhythm. Helena's eyes drifted closed and her breathing evened out, but Hadrian continued for several minutes, overcome by a rare feeling of comfort.
Eventually he stood, adjusted Helena's blankets so she wouldn't get cold, and crept back to his own bed. He still didn't feel well, precisely, but he felt warm inside. For the first time since Madame O'Malley died, he felt like he had a real family. For the first time, he didn't see Helena just as the best friend who'd abandoned her life so he wouldn't be left alone with Snape. He saw her as his sister.
# # #
The next morning, both Hadrian and Helena felt considerably better, though neither had much interest in eating or even really getting out of bed. Snape had not made an appearance, though they occasionally heard retching and muffled cursing from the direction of his room.
Helena was trying to work up the courage to ask Hadrian if they should check on Snape when a knock sounded at their door. Seeing the anxious expression on Hadrian's face, she quietly called out, "Come in."
Molly Weasley's face peaked around the doorway. Helena felt her jaw drop, and saw Hadrian looking equally gobsmacked.
"Hello, dears." She greeted them. "I know we haven't met before, but I'm—that is, my husband and I are—friends of your father's."
Helena wondered whether this declaration would be news to Snape, but said nothing. Did Mrs. Weasley know about them? Was she just being friendly? She didn't dare speak for fear of saying the wrong thing.
The older witch continued, "I'm Molly Weasley. I heard you've all been ill, so I wanted to stop in and check on all of you."
"Oh," responded Helena, rather weakly. "I… that is, we're both feeling much better, thanks, if not ready to eat much." Hadrian looked dazed, perhaps even more surprised at this show of Weasley generosity than she was. He simply nodded in agreement.
Mrs. Weasley beamed at them. "How about some plain toast, then, hmm? And perhaps some nourishing broth?"
"That'd be really nice," Hadrian answered for both of them, speaking for the first time.
"Thank you, ma'am," added Helena.
"Aren't you just lambs!" she beamed at them. "I'll be back in a trice."
When she returned perhaps five minutes later, Helena found that the tray of toast and broth was exactly what she wanted to eat. Hadrian clearly felt the same, and they both thanked Mrs. Weasley profusely.
The older witch smiled and fussed over them as they ate, clearly determined to give them some mothering. Helena found herself profoundly warmed that Mrs. Weasley would still show them such kindness, even without knowing she knew them. It made her hope that perhaps attending Hogwarts as Snapes wouldn't be so bad, at least in terms of how people treated them.
When they had finished, Mrs. Weasley collected their trays. "Well, now that I've seen to you, I'd better go check on your father." She smiled shakily, betraying nervousness for the first time.
Helena was torn between amusement and horror. She nodded weakly, not daring to look at Hadrian until Mrs. Weasley had closed the door behind her. Then they stared at each other, silently bracing for an explosion.
Snape did not disappoint. There was a lot of shouting, in which the phrases "meddling old coot" and "interfering Gyrffindors" featured prominently, punctuated by the sounds of retching and Mrs. Weasley fussing.
"Well," Helena remarked after a few minutes, "far better her than us." Hadrian's fervent nod was all the answer she needed.
# # #
Snape seemed to keep to his room for most of the next week—the last week before their return to school—clearly quite sick and then slow to recover. Mrs. Weasley kept them supplied with bread and soup suitable for convalescents, much to the children's relief. Neither Hadrian nor Helena was terribly keen on returning to solid foods, even once their energy returned.
Hadrian focused on finishing the last of his summer homework and struggling with Ancient Runes while Helena frantically practiced transfiguration. When he asked her about it, she said something about needing to make her transfigurations less distinctive, which didn't make much sense to him.
"Didn't our magical signatures change?"
"Well, yes. But my transfigurations are still… well, still obviously mine."
She huffed. "I'm not sure of the theory, really—I tried to look it up, and I think it might be a precursor to this really advanced phenomenon called imprinting, but I couldn't find anything specific explaining it. But I know that if I don't figure this out, Professor McGonagall will look at anything I produce and immediately associate it with Hermione Granger. She said something to me, back in 4th year—our original 4th year, I mean—about how my work was becoming really distinctive."
"Oh. That'd be bad."
"Yes. Which is why I have to learn to control it."
"Right. Er—do I need to worry about this?"
"I don't think so. She never mentioned anything to you, did she?"
"I wouldn't worry, then."
Grateful for the reprieve, Hadrian dropped the subject and didn't bring it up again.
# # #
Severus studiously avoided the children while he recovered, leaving his room only when he knew they were asleep. Albus had set Molly Weasley on them all—for which Severus half-heartedly damned him—and he was quite certain that she was far better equipped to care for the teenage convalescents than he, even setting aside his own illness. Besides, he was certain that their company would make him feel far sicker. Students always had that effect on him when he was ill.
He emerged from his room mid-morning on Thursday, first going to the kitchen to make a pot of tea. When it was ready, he poured himself a cup and carried it to the sitting room. The children were sitting on the sofa, surprisingly both with books in hand. Both looked up apprehensively at his entrance.
Severus nodded to them before seating himself in an armchair across from them. He took a cautious sip of his tea—Merlin it felt good—and sighed softly.
"I trust you have finished your summer homework?"
They both nodded, and Helena verbalized, "yes, Sir."
He nodded, relieved to have one fewer problem to deal with before term started. "I will look over your remaining assignments after lunch, then. Tomorrow afternoon I will take you shopping."
"Shopping?" Hadrian asked, clearly confused. "Didn't we already go shopping for our school things?"
Severus rolled his eyes. "I had presumed that you would like to have Muggle clothing suitable for colder weather, to wear on weekends and such. Is that not the case?"
"Oh, no, that'd be brilliant, actually," stammered Hadrian, still clearly surprised.
Severus frowned. Surely the boy had gone shopping for Muggle clothes to bring to school in previous years, hadn't he? Merlin, even his mother had managed that, even if all his clothes had been second hand. Helena, for her part, looked slightly bemused, but much less rattled than her brother.
Deciding to let the matter rest for now, Snape broached the topic he'd come downstairs to discuss. "Now, we need to discuss the roles you will play at Hogwarts." Both children looked at him with trepidation. Good. He had their attention.
"First, the rules I provided for your summer homework will apply to all of your assignments for the coming school year."
The children nodded, clearly not surprised. That was helpful. The fewer points on which they fought him, the less exhausting this would be.
"I expect you to be good students, but not outstanding. Showing too little talent will prompt questions, but so will excelling too much. Such questions are to be avoided.
"I expect you to be diligent and respectful students, and to turn in all of your work on time, but you are not to draw attention to yourself in class." He looked pointedly at Helena, who frowned in response. Next to her, Hadrian smirked.
"Nothing will give you away faster than insufferable hand-waving and jumping to give answers in every class."
Hadrian was laughing outright now, while Helena looked equal parts pained and thoughtful.
"What are your favorite subjects?" Snape questioned them.
"Transfiguration, charms, and arithmancy," Helena replied promptly.
Snape inclined his head. "You had better make that charms and potions, given your reputed parentage. People will expect one of you to like potions."
Helena nodded, accepting this stricture.
"You may volunteer an answer once per week in your charms and potions classes," Severus prescribed. "No more. Is that clear?"
She nodded, unhappy but understanding.
"I don't care what you have to do to keep yourself from constantly offering answers in class, so long as you do it. Fake illnesses, gossip with your dunderheaded classmates, anything short of harming your professors or other students. This will be challenging for you, but it is not optional. Do you understand?"
"Yes." She still looked upset, but more disappointed than angry. Well. He could work with that.
"And your favorite subject?" He turned to Hadrian.
Of course it was. "That is acceptable. Though on the subject of defense, both of you should know that I will be teaching it this year."
They both looked genuinely surprised at this news, confirming that they had not managed to get around his wards to poke through his papers while he'd been indisposed.
"The Headmaster decided that it was preferable to other alternatives. He is in agreement with the teaching staff that last year was... counterproductive." He chose his words carefully, allowing the unrelated statements to imply causation, but without perjuring himself. Umbridge had posed a significant problem for the Gryffindor students, though the vicious toad was only a moderate problem in the true scheme of things. Besides, while the political tide had shifted and the Ministry was not a threat to Hogwarts at the moment, the children wouldn't know that—he'd made sure they didn't see the Daily Prophet this summer.
"Potions will be taught by Professor Horace Slughorn, who taught me when I was at Hogwarts. Our relationship is… not close, and I do not expect him to take a particular interest in you—be warned that he chooses favorites, and do not worry if you are not among them. However, it is vital that you both show at least a modicum of ability in potions. We will continue with lessons, likely on alternate weekends, to ensure that you show adequate progress in the subject."
Helena looked delighted at that prospect, while Hadrian looked horrified. It was comforting to see them both acting so predictably, given how they had both unsettled him over the previous weekend. Snape took a long sip of tea, savoring the sensation.
"You will not seek out your former friends. Given that you are now ostensibly two years younger, it is unlikely that they will show any interest in you. Avoiding them should not be difficult." Both children nodded at this, obviously having deduced this much already.
"I expect you to avoid political discussions. If pressed, you will express either neutrality or indecision. You are free to tell people that I have said you are much too young to express political opinions, if that is helpful." Both children looked horrified and outraged. Gryffindors. Sometimes it was so easy to play them like violins. He pressed onward. "It is likely that you will be approached by students with dark leanings, or those with familial connections to the Dark Lord. You would be foolish to trust them, but neither will you spurn them. Be friendly, even if you do not count them friends."
"Do we have to call him that?" asked Helena. "The Dark Lord, I mean. It's just… such a Slytherin thing." Next to her, Hadrian nodded vigorously, clearly revolted at this prospect. The idiot boy probably wanted to keep shouting Voldemort, dunderhead that he was.
"Yes, you will refer to him as the Dark Lord. Perhaps it has escaped your notice, but you are ostensibly the children of a Death Eater. That is your role, and you must play it. No one will expect you to refer to him in any other way, regardless of where you are sorted."
Hadrian looked mutinous. "Can we talk to Dumbledore about that? I just… I really don't like it," he finished feebly.
"Headmaster Dumbledore is a very busy man. I am sure he will arrange a meeting soon after you arrive at Hogwarts, and you can speak to him about it then if you wish. However, rest assured that he is quite aware of this aspect of your current roles, and he does not seem concerned. I remind you that all of it was his idea to begin with."
Snape pushed onward, not wanting to give them time to think through the implications of that statement. "Obviously you are not to share any details that even hint at your charade with anyone. Remember that you stand to compromise not just your own safety, but each other's as well." And mine, he thought. But that wouldn't compel them, so he did not voice the thought.
"The Fidelius charm will keep anyone from discovering your other identities by probing your thoughts, but it will not prevent you from spilling other secrets. Therefore I will be teaching you both Occlumency. We will start from the basics. I expect you to practice."
Hadrian blanched. Obviously the boy had loathed last year's lessons just as much as he had. The girl actually looked excited, strangely enough. Well, it'd be a miracle if that enthusiasm lasted past the first lesson. Of all the specific things Albus was asking of him with regard to these children, teaching these two Occlumency was nearly the hardest—second only to the invasion of his privacy imposed by their presence.
"To facilitate these lessons—and others, such as potions—you will regularly spend several nights a week in my quarters, probably Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. That will prevent people from questioning your absences, and give you time alone together." He couldn't stop himself from sneering a bit at the last statement, revolted by the sentimental drivel.
"The headmaster has added bedrooms for the two of you to my quarters, and a bathroom for the two of you to share. Spending time in my quarters will not require that you spend time with me outside of your lessons," he clarified, knowing they would be as relieved as he was about that. "It is simply a matter of convenience."
The children nodded again, still processing the information. They appeared too stupefied to ask questions, just as he had hoped they would be. Excellent.
Deciding that he'd said enough for now, Severus drained his tea cup and stood. He was more than ready for a nap.