A Good Day
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This little follow-up to Survivors (which really should be read first) is dedicated to, in no particular order: Whitehound, Duj, Jenonymous, JustJeanette, Bene Gesserit Witch, CareBearErin, Anne-MCN, excessivelyperky, Shiv5468, and all the other early and frequent feedback-providers for 'Survivors'. :) Given all the times I squealed aloud 'I love you guys' and how disgraceful I am at actually answering feedback... well, you deserved something!
It wasn't easy, pretending that someone wasn't clutching your arm bruisingly hard. It was even less easy to ignore the ragged edge to his godfather's breathing, or the snaillike pace that he was setting, inching along propelled more by force of will than anything else.
But Draco had a lifetime of skillful pretense under his belt, and he made casual conversation as he pretended that Severus Snape was walking entirely unaided towards his own front door. For the first time in five years, Severus had gone to a symposium on the art of Potionmaking. He had left the house, without his wife's assistance and support, and although he wasn't allowed out quite by himself yet, this was very important and Draco wasn't going to spoil it for him now by hinting that he needed help to walk, whether he did or not.
They reached the door, which Draco unlocked, and then it was only a few steps to his godfather's armchair. Severus sank into it, his face drawn with pain but triumphant. "I told Hermione she was fretting unnecessarily," he said smugly. "I managed perfectly well." Then he raised his voice imperiously. "Winky! Where's my tea?"
The small house-elf appeared seconds later, with an enormous tray held above her head. "Tea has been waiting only for Master Snape's presence," she chirped. Then she jumped to one side, jostling the teacups only slightly, as a small being with dark curly hair charged through the room's other door and made a beeline for the armchair. "Daddy home!" Helena crowed, clambering up onto her father's lap and hugging him tightly. That done, she spared a beaming smile for Draco. "Hi, Uncle D'aco!"
Severus showed no sign of the pain his daughter must have caused him, jumping on weary and overworked legs. Instead he smiled, gathering her affectionately into his arms. "Did you miss me, then?" he asked in the special gentle tone reserved only for his family.
"All DAY," Helena assured him, snuggling close. "Daddy's never gone 'way for the whole day before," she informed Draco solemnly. "He gets tired."
"That's why I went with him," Draco reminded her, smiling. She was very much like both her parents - a very determined little personality who delighted in imparting knowledge. "Is your mother in the laboratory?"
"Yes. She said to call her when Daddy gets home." Helena looked at her father, clearly torn between staying on his lap and fetching her mother as ordered.
"I'll go call her. You stay and tell Daddy what you did while he was out." Draco slipped out, glad to be away for a moment.
He'd known, intellectually, that his godfather suffered more or less constant pain. Sometimes it was just a few aches and twinges, sometimes it was worse, but it was always there. But watching the lines around his mouth get deeper and deeper during the day, watching him slow down and have to rest more and more often... and in a way, the fact that Severus was clearly enjoying himself immensely had made it worse.
"Hermione?" he called as he reached the door to the tiny shed that housed the spacious lab. He opened the door, and peeked in. "We're back. And in time for tea, as promised."
She looked up, and his heart (inconvenient organ, why on earth wouldn't they let it remain dormant?) twinged again. She looked exhausted and unhappy - it must have been incredibly difficult for her to let her adored husband go out without her, knowing how hard it would be for him. She mustered up a brave smile, though, for Draco's benefit. "Good. I take it reminding him that Helena had never been away from him all day before and would be upset if he was late worked?"
"The only thing that got him moving." Draco returned her smile, hoping his looked more convincing than hers. "He was having the time of his life. He made three former students start stuttering in sheer panic, left all his contemporaries writhing with mortification and jealousy, and he made the new Headmaster of Durmstrang cry out of sheer fury."
"It sounds like he had a lovely time," Hermione said fondly, her anxious look fading a little. "How many potions did he need to take?"
"Only two... an Energy Elixir and one Oxygenia. And it wasn't a serious siezure, he just got carried away shouting at a Swedish Doctor of Potions and started wheezing a bit." Draco grinned. "Apparently they're old friends."
"Oh, Professor Ostegren?" Hermione smiled again, more genuinely this time. "They're very fond of each other... I think. They start bickering every time they see each other, but Severus assures me it's friendly."
"Given that his preferred method of amusing himself is frightening former students into fits, I can certainly imagine that he'd like someone who can give him that good a fight." Draco grinned. "He had a great day, Hermione."
She nodded. "How badly did he overtire himself?" she asked quietly.
"He was still on his feet when we got back... just," Draco admitted. "He was in a fair amount of pain by the time we got here, but he was walking."
"He always is, and he always tries to do too much." Suddenly her face crumpled, and she started to cry, covering her face with her hands.
Draco reached out a bit tentatively to put an arm around her shoulders. They'd long ago moved past their childish enmity, but he was never sure just how far her acceptance of him went. At least this far, it seemed, as she immediately buried her face in his shoulder and sobbed. "Oh... Hermione, he's fine, he really is..."
"No he's not!" she wailed. "And he's never going to be! I hate this, Draco, I hate seeing him in pain all the time, I hate seeing him wince when he picks Helena up, or flinching every time someone jostles him..."
"I know," Draco said helplessly, holding her and rocking a little. "I'd hate it too. I wish I could help..." It sounded so stupid, but what else could he say?
"I know," she gulped. "I just... it's never going to get better than this, Draco, he's never going to get any better, the Healers didn't think he'd even recover this much... and there's nothing I can do! I'd give anything to help him, and I can't!"
"Well, that's stupid," Draco said honestly. She leaned back, giving him an outraged look, and he shrugged. "Well, it is! You've done more to help him than anyone else in his entire life. You didn't let him pine away and die, you've gotten him closer to well than anyone ever thought was possible - not to mention the little business of making him happy."
"Hermione, if he had to choose between being a semi-invalid for the rest of his life and having you, or being perfectly well and being alone, I know what he'd choose." He paused, and gave her a rueful smile. "Hell, I know what I'd choose, were I presented with that kind of choice. It probably wouldn't feature you - you scare me - but someone who loved me as much as you love him? What's a leg or two, I'd never miss them..."
That got a watery giggle out of her. "You pay the oddest compliments, Draco." She made an exasperated noise, still sniffling, and fished a handkerchief out of her pocket, dabbing at her eyes. "I'm sorry for falling apart like that... blame it on the hormones."
"You might kill me if I did," Draco said, relieved that the emotional crisis seemed to be past. He didn't really like talking about that sort of thing, although he was willing to make the effort if he really had to. "Do you know if it's a boy or a girl, or are you planning to let it be a surprise?"
Hermione smiled, patting her decidedly rounded stomach gently. "Another little girl. Neither of us is particularly fond of surprises."
"I've never understood why people do that," he agreed. "It's ridiculous. It's not as if it's going to come as a bigger surprise during the birth than if you found out earlier."
"I agree." She wiped her eyes, sniffed one more time, and lifted her chin. "Come on. Tea."
Severus looked up as they came into the room, his daughter still curled up on his lap as she gnawed her way through a biscuit. Draco felt an oddly choky sensation at the adoring expression on his face as he gazed at his wife. Then his eyes narrowed. "You've been crying," he said sternly. "Why?" Hermione smiled fondly at him. "Draco told me that he considered me worth at least moderate loss of limb to attain," she said, leaning down to kiss him gently. "You know what I'm like when I'm pregnant."
"Sentimental," he sniffed, giving her bulge a very gentle pat. "Before Helena was born, as I recall, you once cried for two straight hours because you'd lost one of your shoes."
"They were the only shoes my incredibly swollen feet still fitted into, it was a tragedy," Hermione said firmly. "And I notice you haven't poured. I have to do everything domestic around here." She moved over to the table where Winky had left the teatray, tossing Draco a smile over her shoulder. "You'll stay for some tea, won't you?"
Draco nodded. "Please. It's been a long day of listening to other people getting shouted at." His opinion of Hermione's sneakiness went up another notch. It was a perfectly plausible explanation for her crying, one that wouldn't worry Severus at all, and it was almost entirely truthful.
"Then sit down." She waved him to a chair, smiling as if she hadn't a worry in the world. "Biscuit?"
"Thank you." He looked over at his godfather. He was pale with exhaustion, probably still in a fair amount of pain, and he had crumbs all over him. "I hope you realize how lucky you are," he said lightly.
"Luck had nothing to do with it," Severus said loftily. "I dazzled her with my intellect."