Whelp -- Chapter 17

By jharad17

Disclaimer: I'm not blond, nor rich. 'Nuff said.

Longer than normal A/N at end. Apologies in advance.

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Severus sat at a small oblong table – small, in the Malfoy sense of the word, anyway, meaning it could only seat 12 – in their open air garden and sipped at his pre-tea tea. A susurrus of falling water from a nearby fountain was the only sound aside from the clink of spoons on china and the occasional bird call from the rows of trees that formed the west wall.

Narcissa watched him with cold indifference, but her aloofness was more than made up for by Lucius' close attention. The head of the Malfoy family was relaxed, for him, dressed in robes so dark green they were almost black, but with none of the elaborate piping or ribbons he often wore when he was out of an evening. And, for a miracle, his silver tipped cane was nowhere in sight, which only meant his wand was probably up his sleeve, as Severus' was.

Sitting back in his chair, Lucius turned his teacup around on the saucer, as he'd done three times already – Severus was nothing if not an inveterate watcher of other people's nervous habits – then let it go, reluctantly and gave Severus a knowing smile. "I hear you have taken a position at Hogwarts."

Though there was no particular inflection on the name of the school, Severus knew how Lucius liked to spar, and he would listen to Severus' response very carefully, for any sort of feelings Severus might project. He wasn't too worried; Lucius was a terrible Legilimens, and Severus' Occlumency was among the best in Britain. Still . . . it would never do to be foolish. "Indeed," he said blandly. "As Potions Master."

"Ah, finally got that Mastery, did you?"

"Yes," Severus said, and tried not to let the barb touch him. It had taken more funds than he was ever liable to see in one place to do the necessary practicals, and thus he'd needed to stretch them out over the course of several years. He very nearly could have made all the requisite potions in his sleep whilst still a student, but each had to be done in front of the review board. Of course, Lucius knew that. Money was just another tool he used to get what he wanted from people, and he hadn't wanted anything from Severus. Not then. "A year ago, now."

"Surely you remember, Luc darling." Narcissa smiled coolly over her own cup at her husband. "There was an announcement at Draco's birthday last fall."

"Ah, yes." Lucius smiled. "Of course. I must have given you my congratulations then."

Severus inclined his head.

"And a son! My, my, haven't we been busy."

Baring his teeth in a semblance of his trademark sneer, Severus said, "Harry is adopted, by blood rite."

Lucius' white-gold eyebrows rose and his hands fell to the teacup again. "Is he now. I imagine one must do all sorts of things to secure a position at Hogwarts."

"Indeed," Severus acknowledged. Let Lucius think he adopted the boy under duress, if he liked. It would be safer for Harry that way.

"And Dumbledore should prove an . . . interesting master."

He already is, Severus thought. Certainly as manipulative as the Dark Lord, Lucius, but not quite as mad. "I have no doubt."

Lucius graced him with a low chuckle, and moments later, a pair of house elves popped in with little trays of cucumber or watercress sandwiches, biscuits, and sliced fruit. They laid out plates and more tea, removed the old pot, and arranged the table with a speed that bespoke a well trained staff.

"Dobby," Lucius said. "Let the boys know tea is ready."

The house elf popped out after bowing and squeaking, "Right away, Master Malfoy, sir!" and the other finished fiddling with the silverware before it vanished, too.

Severus was glad the boys would be rejoining them; no matter that Draco was just a boy, he was Lucius' son, and Severus wanted to be sure that his son was safe. He'd warned Harry of things he was not to talk about, and told him to be on his guard, but, well, he was only seven years old. Anything could happen. And as they waited, and waited, for the boys to show, Severus became more and more convinced something had gone horribly wrong.

---

Frowning at the Wizard chess board, Harry asked again, "How do the knights move?" and was immediately sorry for doing so. The pieces – not just the knights, but the queens and half the pawns, too – started shouting at him to "Get on with it!" and "Over two, up one!" and "Lemme take him out; oh, please, I've always wanted to take a knight!" Also, Draco rolled his eyes again.

Harry hated that. "Sorry," he muttered.

Many of his pieces were gone, already, and he'd hardly taken any of Draco's, so he knew he was going to lose. Well, now he knew. At the start, he'd rather liked the way the pieces crashed into and smashed each other to dust, so he'd deliberately set up pieces to be destroyed, until Draco had caught on and made him stop, saying, "You're only s'pposed to kill my pieces," in a slightly whiny voice. "You're not even trying."

Well, Harry had been trying. He'd just not been trying to win. And now, there was no point to doing so. Chin cupped in one hand, he glanced up at Draco through his fringe. "Can't we just make 'em smash again? That was fun." With an almost sly smile, he added, "You've won anyway. You can smash up my king if you want."

Draco stared at him for a minute, and Harry thought the other boy might refuse, but then Draco nodded. "Well, all right. I did win, really."

After Draco exploded Harry's king in a satisfactory manner, they spent the next little while setting the pawns after one another, until all the pieces were complaining, and both boys were cheering on the combatants, over a table strewn with shards of chess pieces.

Then a house elf appeared beside the table and announced, "Master Malfoy is saying tea is served, sirs. Youse is to be going to the north garden now."

"Thank you," Harry said, standing up and starting to clean up the table.

The house elf's eyes – big, green balls, like ones for tennis – opened wider than Harry could have imagined was possible and then blinked once, slowly. Draco's eyes were wide, too, and he hissed, "You're not supposed to thank house elves."

"Why not?" Harry asked, though he worried his lower lip. Dappin hadn't liked it much at first, but never said he couldn't. And Nelli didn't seem to mind at all. Besides, Harry wished someone had thanked him, even once, when he was house elf at the Dursleys.

Draco grimaced. "It's just not on. My father says so."

"My father says I'm supposed to be polite," Harry countered. "And it's polite to thank people who've done a job for you."

"But house elves aren't people."

"They are so!" Harry shouted. The house elf in question was turning its head from boy to boy, watching them both with a horrified expression.

"Not like us! They're regulated."

"What's that mean?"

Draco face was reddening, and it contrasted quite a lot with his pale, slicked-back hair. "I don't know! But it's bad, whatever it is, and they are it."

Harry couldn't help himself. He laughed.

And as if realizing the silliness of their argument, Draco, too, burst out laughing a moment later.

"Sirs . . ." the house elf ventured after a while, when they showed no signs of calming down. "Master Malfoy . . . tea . . ."

Draco, holding his sides after he'd been practically rolling around on the floor, grinned at Harry before saying, perfectly politely, "Thank you, Dobby. Please let him know we're on the way."

Dobby gaped at them both a moment longer, then jerked his head in a nod and popped out. Then Harry and his new friend raced downstairs.

---

When Dobby the house elf appeared, instead of the boys, and looking a bit wild-eyed, Severus gave the creature a hard look, but didn't immediately jump to his feet and start interrogating it, like he wanted.

"Where are they?" Lucius asked, obviously annoyed by his son's tardiness, but not appearing particularly concerned.

"Th-they is o-on the way, M-m-master Malfoy, sir."

Lucius' eyes narrowed at Dobby; the little elf's behavior did seem out of the ordinary. It was trembling and its eyes, if possible, were even larger than before. "What else do you wish to tell me?" he asked coldly.

"N-n-nothing, Master Malfoy, sir! Dobby is g-giving the young s-s-sirs your message, Master Malfoy, sir, and the young sirs is on their way, now, yes, they are!"

"Very well," Lucius said, though he did not look mollified in the least. "You may go."

"Yes, sir, Master Malfoy!"

True to the house elf's word, the boys tore into the garden a moment later, looking breathless and sweaty and rather rumpled. But both were grinning, and Severus relaxed a fraction.

Lucius, however, pierced his son with a hard look. "What is the meaning of this, Draco?"

Draco stood straighter and adjusted his robes, which were askew, either from their running, or some other activity. The boy then clasped his hands behind his back and jutted his chin out slightly. "Forgive me, Father. Harry and I were finishing a game of Wizard chess."

Severus caught the look that Harry shot at Draco, even as Harry copied Draco's pose, and his straightening, but he wasn't sure Lucius did. Something was off, here . . .

Lucius stood and strode toward the boys. His cane had appeared from no where, and clacked on the ground with each step. "When you are called to tea, does that mean finishing a game first, and arriving when it pleases you?"

Draco looked down briefly, then back up at his father and swallowed hard. "No, sir."

With one hand caressing the silver pommel of his cane, Lucius looked both boys up and down. Severus' gut tightened, but he willed himself to stay his hand . . . unless the elder Malfoy made any kind of move towards Harry. For his part, Harry stared at the cane, and from where he sat, Severus could see the slight tremors in the boy's body. His wand slipped into his hand.

But after another strained moment, Lucius merely said, "Do not force me to remind you of your manners again today."

Face smoothing out, Draco breathed and said, "No, sir. I won't."

"Good boy. Now, come and sit down and tell us all about this game of yours." Lucius was all smiles now, once his control of the situation was acknowledged by his progeny.

For a second, Harry looked like he might fall over from relief, but then he gamely followed Draco to the table, and Severus forbore to draw any further attention to him by rising to assist him. Harry gave him a small, furtive smile, which he returned in kind.

"I beat Harry soundly, Father," Draco boasted. "Got almost all his pieces and his king."

Severus suppressed a snort. How could the boy not beat Harry, if Harry had never played before? But Lucius said, "Well done, well done," and then eyed Harry who was looking at Draco askance, even while waiting for the others to serve themselves before taking anything from the trays. "Strategy not your best thing, is it, Harry?"

Harry's brows drew down briefly, and Severus wondered if he even knew what strategy meant, but then the boy just said, "No, sir," and he knew Harry was falling back on what he knew best when speaking to adults.

"Ah, well. We can't all be gifted, I daresay," Lucius murmured, with a smirk in Severus' direction.

Severus wondered briefly how far off the grounds he could get if he were to wipe that expression off Malfoy's face permanently. But all he did was smile lightly back and take another sip of tea. To Harry, he gave a nod, silently reminding him that he was allowed to take what he wanted from the trays, and he was amused to see that here, too, his son copied Draco's mannerisms as much as possible.

Perhaps some good would come of this, after all.

---

Right after they got home – the Hogwarts home, not the Spinner's End one – Harry was surprised when Father asked him, "What really caused you to be late for tea?"

He didn't bother to ask how Father knew Draco had been lying, but he did think about how best to apologize for not correcting Draco at the time. Nibbling his lip, he tried to think about it, but his hesitation must have made Father really angry, 'cause his tone was very sharp a second later. "It's a simple question, Harry! I won't allow impertinence."

"I'm sorry, sir," Harry said quickly, and managed – just – to stand his ground. "I didn't want to lie."

"I did not accuse you of lying. I asked you what you were doing." Father's gaze was as sharp as his tone, and Harry nearly flinched from it.

"Yes, sir. We were playing Wizard's chess. At first. But then we had a fight about the house elf."

Father frowned. "Why would you quarrel about such a thing?"

"Well . . ." Harry tried to recall exactly, and stared at his shoes.

"Harry . . ."

Harry jerked his head up to look at his father again. He knew Father disliked it when he couldn't see Harry's face when they talked. It was just so hard, sometimes, especially when Father was angry. He took a deep breath. "Yes, sir. Sorry. Erm, well . . . I said 'thank you' to Dobby for telling us to come to tea, and Draco said you don't tell them 'thank you,' and I asked why not, and he said they weren't people, but they are, and then he said they were regular, but didn't know what it meant, so I laughed at him, 'cause that's stupid, to not thank someone, and you don't even know why, really, and then he laughed, too, and then we were late."

When Harry finished and took another breath, he noticed Father wasn't frowning anymore, but his eyes were still narrowed. "And you didn't correct his account of the reason for your tardiness because . . ."

"I didn't want him to get hit, sir," Harry said very quietly. He swallowed again, still holding his father's fathomless gaze. "Canes hurt."

Father sighed and now gave Harry that almost sad look he sometimes wore. "Yes. I guess they do. I must apologize, Harry. I was worried that something had happened that you were afraid to tell me, and in my concern, I have once again given you cause to fear me."

"No, Father, really. I'm not—"

"It's all right," Father said. "I have a . . . temper. I know it. I shall work harder in the future to modulate my tone."

Harry gave him a small smile, which he returned, though his was still awfully sad. But then Father crouched down and opened his arms, like he'd done a few times before. This time, for the first time, Harry stepped into the hug he was offered, and when his father put one hand around his back and another on his head, patting his hair gently, he didn't even flinch. He rested his head on Father's chest, listening to his heart beat, and the arms squeezed him a little tighter, making all the sharp words fall away.

"Perhaps we can have Draco spend some time here," Father said after a few minutes. "Would you like that?"

A friend, at Hogwarts! And with no silver canes around at all. He still needed to watch out for Mister Filch, but with Draco here, he would have someone to play dragons with, and they could watch out for the mean man together. "Yes, sir. I'd like that."

"All right then. I'll send a note round tomorrow, and we'll see if he can join us next week for a couple of days."

Harry leaned back and looked into his father's face. "Thank you!"

"You're welcome. Now, go get changed into something suitable for outdoors, get your broom, and I'll take you out flying, all right?"

Squeezing his father in a excited hug, he shouted, "Yes, sir!" and ran into his room to do just that.

---

TBC . . . with more Hogwarts, more Draco, and more . . . trouble?

A/N: For anyone who was confused about the punishment Filch met with – and whose questions I've not already answered in response to reviews – Severus cursed him by removing his arms. The spell has a month-long duration, unless Snape reverses it, which he has intention of doing at this time.

I hope this chapter answered most concerns about why Snape would divulge to the Malfoys that he's adopted Harry Potter. If not, let me know and I'll try to make it clearer in the future.

Once again, I want to thank the reviewers who give of their time to let me know how much they're enjoying this story. I try to respond to everyone, especially if you have specific questions that haven't been addressed adequately in the text, or things that need correcting (like what kinds of snakes are in Britain thing, or how to spell Narcissa's nickname; D'oh!). Also, if there's something you want to see that I haven't covered, or plot bunnies I might be able to tackle in the future, please let me know. This story is pretty open wide to future ideas! And thanks, too, to all other readers, even if you don't have the time or inclination to review. Hits (now at over 60,000) are very cool, too!