Disclaimer: I own none of the Harry Potter ideas or characters or plots, or anything else thought up by the amazing author of the series.
"Did it work, at least?" she asked.
"It did," the professor affirmed in a voice a bit too kindly for its maker.
"Worth it, then," she whispered, drifting off to sleep in the cradling, worn armchair.
Soon as Harry left the room, Draco hesitantly crept closer to the professor, who closed the tome he was currently reading.
"If I can help, sir, I'd – "
"No!" Snape said quite ferociously as he turned, quick as lightening, to the boy. He immediately regretted doing so when Draco recoiled. More softly, he continued, "That is . . . kind of you, Draco, but the answer is no. Perhaps you could . . . cover Miss Granger?" It seemed for a moment as if he would say more, but didn't. He waited until Draco was far enough from the desk to read anything lying upon it, then went back to work.
The professor and Draco were both startled violently as Hermione awakened, screaming. She refused another calming draught, expressing rabid hunger.
Draco took up the abandoned chair and fairly stared at the professor, wanting so to have his suspicions … Actually, her realized he fervently wished them to be denied. He acknowledged he was beginning to feel a sort of kinship with Granger, and Potter as well. Since his new guardian was – not encouraging, exactly, but certainly condoning the interactions, he was not going to curb them. Unless bid to do so, of course.
"Do stop staring and do not even contemplate asking, Mr. Malfoy!" Snape's excessively gruff tone yanked Draco from his musings.
When Snape turned precipitously, Draco could see the professor was affected emotionally nearly to the point he'd been the evening they'd brewed the internal healing draught.
Snape took all he'd been working on, thrust it in a lower drawer of his wardrobe, then warded the entire piece of furniture.
"Dinner shall be served shortly," he announced in a quite condescending, terse manner just prior to wrenching the door open and slamming it shut.
Even though both were occluding quite efficiently, Severus could read the fledgling couple as deftly as any proverbial book. It was quite clear Potter was concerned but rather unable to reason out the entirety of the situation, and that Hermione was trying much too hard to be cheerful.
Hastily, the professor gathered a plate of leftovers, deposited it in front of Draco, and left without a word to apparate a moment later.
Recognizing Hermione wished to speak of anything but her own situation, Harry broached a subject he'd been staunchly disregarding.
"The hearing's tomorrow," he said, just above a whisper.
Instantly, Hermione focused, offering copious comfort and sympathy.
Upstairs, Draco cleaned his plate, his worries flitting between the spectre of upcoming punishment and concern for his newest friend.
Next morning, once Harry had left for the Ministry, Hermione hesitantly knocked on the professor's door. When nobody answered, she breathed a sigh of relief, shyly intoned the password, and let herself in. She was rather startled as she set eyes on a snoring professor Snape, quite soundly asleep at his desk. Draco motioned for her to be silent and quickly shut the door.
After an awkward moment, Draco declared the professor was unlikely to awaken if the conversed quietly, and Hermione filled him in on Harry's hearing. If possible, Draco was even more indignant than she. He described innumerable times pure-blooded children used magic at home with no consequence. They agreed this was just another of the ministry's ploys to deny the continued existence of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
At the first lull in their conversation, Hermione brought up the subject in which she held the most interest with Draco – the circumstances which had brought him to live with the professor on a seemingly permanent basis.
After a lengthy pause, Draco glanced at his guardian, swallowed, and said, "Perhaps it would be best if we wait for Professor Snape to be involved in the explanation. I would not wish to . . . misspeak."
Hermione grudgingly accepted this, although it only fueled her suspicions of abuse. She glared at a somewhat more quietly sleeping Snape, and, for the first time, noticed the titles of a few of the open tomes strewn about the grand desk. She noted that many of the books that bore the Hogwarts Library seal she'd never lain eyes on; one in particular caught her attention: 'Medicinal Potions: Detrimental Interactions in Rare Treatments.' Ever in her highly agitated state, it took mere seconds for the girl to puzzle out the plan.
"He was gone until five this morning," Draco murmured.
Hermione's awareness snapped back to Draco as he finished the statement, but she hadn't comprehended it.
"What?" she asked, dazed.
"He was gone until five in the morning."
After a moment, Draco continued, "I think he'll begin brewing soon," and he hesitated.
Very carefully, earnestly, he finally reassured the shaking form beside him, "I know he'll help you."
Hermione promptly broke down sobbing.
Snape awakened, startled violently, and was about to say something extraordinarily harsh out of embarrassment. However, he just couldn't bring himself to do it. Stalking to the loo, he looked almost sheepish as he scrubbed his face, only to find drool on his chin.
Draco tracked the professor's movements with a beseeching look upon his visage. Severus shrunk the books, folded the parchments, and fit everything he'd been working on into hidden pockets of the robes he donned. Snape ignored Draco's pleading countenance, opting to hand the boy a Calming Draught, then a handkerchief, before rolling his eyes theatrically and leaving again.
Hermione refused the draught, but calmed, claiming she was only startled.
The pair passed a quiet morning reading – Hermione devouring Draco's textbooks, simultaneously worrying she'd no means to purchase her own, Draco perusing anything but school texts.
Harry returned, triumphant, and Draco shooed Hermione off to celebrate with the greater household. Snape returned a few hours after, and proceeded to unshrink what looked like hundreds of galleons worth of potions ingredients. As he began brewing, his mood seemed greatly improved, to Draco's relief. He decided to speak woth the professor at the first lull.
"Yes, Draco?" quite kindly, for a Snape.
"Hermione asked about my … situation … while you were out, and I was uncertain what to tell her."
Running stained fingers through long, lank locks, the professor sighed. "As I'd assumed she would, at the first given chance. What do you wish to tell her?"
"Well … most everything I may, which I know does not include mention of the potion. I don't really know what that was anyway." He hoped for more information on that, himself.
"I think a nearly true account of events will suffice. We shall act as if the first agreement of custody, which truly hinged upon the servitude of my elf, was agreed upon at the mere prospect of summer tutelage, and the more recent, full release of your person to my care was due to the sacrifice of my servant. Passable?"
"Yes, sir. But what if she figures out the truth?"
"The entire situation will again be contained with Fidelus," the professor assured, although he did not sound entirely convinced of his own assurance.
After more brewing, Draco got up the nerve to ask his other question.
"Yes, Draco?" delivered in a manner not so congenial this time.
"Sorry, sir. Never mind."
Snape gave the boy, who'd ducked his head in shame, a withering look. He procured a Firewhiskey for himself and a butterbeer for his charge, before pulling a chair to the bedside.
"Out with it." He thrust the drink into Draco's trembling hands.
"Am I – I mean to say when – am –" Draco took a deep, shaky breath, and started again. "When am I to be punished, sir?"
Snape gave him a blank stare, knocked back the remaining crimson liquid, and after checking the potions, began writing furiously at his desk. Draco fought off a panic attack.
The piano was playing a lively, major-keyed tune at full strength, with a violin and flute accompanying it, sans players. Every few minutes, Tonks would flick her wand at the trio and change up the tune, never looking away from Remus. Albus and McGonagall conversed quietly in a corner sharing tea, while Snape sat near enough to where he should be paying attention. He wasn't. The younger Weasleys were in full blossom, making such a racket Molly feared the muggles on the street would hear through the silencing charms. She'd not the heart to squelch any gaiety, however; this was her Harry's night to rejoice.
Extra candles and torches were lit all over the downstairs of Grimmauld Place in a dazzling array of colors. Order members wandered in and out all evening, at Molly's request. All of Grimmauld's sometime inhabitants rejoiced over the outcome of Harry's hearing. An even greater feast that what was normal was gleefully shared by all – even the boy-who-lived ate a lion's share.
Draco found himself wishing the silencing charms kept out noise as well as they kept it in. He was quite accustomed to crushing loneliness during summers at the manner, but that was always rather overshadowed by pain and panic. He also couldn't recall a time his friends had celebrated within earshot at the Malfoy Mansion. Just as he succumbed to heavy guilt – really, the professor had sacrificed so much to keep him here he'd absolutely no business feeling anything but gratitude, Hermione peeked in holding a plate of cakes and pies.
"I'm sorry, I can't stay. I couldn't think of an excuse if anyone . . ." She stopped as she noticed tears glistening in her ally's eyes.
She began again, "Draco –"
But he cut her off.
"Go!" He hadn't meant to be so forceful. Quieter, "You're right. We're so close to start of term, it'd be a shame for anyone to get suspicious. The professor . . ." He shook his head. Holding up the plate, he said, "Thanks, now you should go."
She smiled thinly and left, vowing to return as soon as possible.