Severus didn't kill Ron, no matter what the rumors circulating around were. In the first place, it was Harry who ran away, not Ron who abandoned him. In the second place, Ron quite honestly hadn't known that what he said would make Harry blow up like that. So Hermione called Ron six different synonyms for 'idiot', Severus gave him a detention out of principle for losing Harry, and Harry was assigned a mandatory nap time in the afternoon for the foreseen future, under the theory that he was not nearly as recovered from his ordeal that Summer as he would have liked people to think. A search was made, led by Severus, for the monster Harry spoke of but nothing was found. Once the Gryffindors were taken care of and new security measures set in place around Harry, Severus began the truly formidable task that day; he told Harry about Draco.
It wasn't that Severus meant to hide the fact that he had a godson whom he was rather close to. Not even that said godson happened to be the same Slytherin Harry had been fighting with since first year. It had just never seemed the right time to bring it up. First there was the clan to introduce and sphinx culture, then he was getting used to the idea of being a very young, somewhat troubled child's guardian. The other child, one that was nearly grown and to whom he had never played more of a role to than favored uncle, had simply seemed unimportant. In hindsight, and coming on top of the child's obvious insecurities about his place in Severus's life, he should have mentioned this sooner.
"Is that why you always favored him in class?" Harry demanded, his arms crossed as he glared at the man. In perhaps another regrettable decision, Severus had come to tell him right after he first woke up from his nap. Severus gave him a look that had been known to make first years burst into tears. Harry seemed rather immune though he did momentarily look away, biting his lip, before he remembered to glare.
"I favored all Slytherins because of my role as spy," Severus answered patiently, "And Draco in particular because, believe it or not, he is rather gifted in Potions." Then, in the face of Harry's obvious insecurities (Severus could have read them even without an empathic link between them, they were that obvious) he thought to add, "Of course, no more than you are at Defense." Harry perked up slightly at that.
"So he isn't going to come and live with us?" Harry asked, moving slightly closer to the other man in spite of himself, "Will he become part of our clan like you did?"
"Draco has his own family to go home to," Severus answered, "And in any case he is seventeen years old. Even if his father hadn't managed to get out of being sent to prison, he is old enough to live on his own. As for joining our particular clan, that is extremely unlikely; he isn't a panther. Though it isn't unheard of, it is rare for tribes to intermingle; different types of cats prefer different types of environments and feel more at ease around their own kind." Harry frowned, finding that a bit too close some of the racist ideology Muggles had used in the past.
"It isn't simply a matter of having different colored fur," Severus added after reading his expression, "And we don't live separate lives. Nor is it forbidden for tribes to intermingle. In fact, intermarriages are common. Because of the rarity of children, which is in fact partly caused by such intermarriages, it is also common for close friendships to be forged between tribes simply because of age proximity. Our family is that of panther; this is our species. More specifically, we are of the Jaguar variety which in the wild is commonly spotted, though rarely among the Sphinx. Draco is a tiger, albeit a rare one with white fur. Tiger sphinx, in general, have different preferences to panther sphinx. And I will admit, some division is encouraged for the furtherment of the species; friendship is never discouraged."
"Are all sphinx decided by the hair color?" Harry asked, suddenly curious. He had never really thought about it before, but everyone in his clan, regardless of their skin color, eyes, or other character traits had black hair. And Draco, who was blond, had become a white tiger. Severus didn't answer for a long moment, as he searched for the words to explain.
"One could just as easily say you have black hair because you are a panther sphinx," he said at last, "But black hair alone isn't enough to decide. Somewhere in your ancestry, someone either was born or lived for some time in South America, enough so that the sphinx form awakened would connect to that particular strain and take form as a cat of that region. Draco, likewise, must have some Asian roots." Harry looked confused at that.
"So, if someone like Cho Chang became a sphinx, she would become a tiger?" he asked. Severus pinched his nose for a moment as he worked out a better way to explain.
"Unlikely," he answered, "Because most of tiger blood turn out to have red or blond hair. She would more likely be a panther of the leopard kind. Though I have seen a few tiger sphinx with black hair so it is possible; they are rare and have rather striking black stripes. But you must understand, most sphinx are not made, as I was or as Draco was, nor are they usually awakened as you were. They are born as sphinx, having the characteristics of their parents, and hair color is closely tied to fur color, just as eyes hardly change in transformations and never in color. The fact that you awakened into your sphinx ancestry indicates that you have always had panther sphinx blood in you, and that may very well be why your family line has led to you having black hair. In fact, if you had originally been born with your mother's red hair, it would probably have changed to black when you awoke on your seventeenth birthday."
"But you weren't born a sphinx," Harry said, "And you said Draco wasn't, but you made yourself one. So why does your hair color match?"
"We could not have done what we did if we had no sphinx blood within us at all," Severus answered, "We took our animagus forms and they happened to be a jaguar and a tiger. It is partly because of our sphinx blood and partly because of our hair color that the animals became black and white, not spotted or orange striped. If I had red hair I would probably still have become a panther, though I cannot say what color I would have been."
"So Cho could become a tiger," Harry said, "You said it was unlikely."
"I think it is unlikely she would become a feline animagus at all, let alone a tiger," he answered, "And I was in fact thinking from the perspective of a sphinx, not a half blood, I will admit."
"Just how many different clans are there?" Harry asked suddenly. Severus had to think for a moment.
"I assume you mean tribes, as in different species? Not every feline strain equals a sphinx tribe," he said after a moment, "For instance, I know of no sphinx house cats. And a few have even died out completely over time, except in the occasional pop up of those like yourself." Harry shuddered at the thought; what if he had become a sphinx to a tribe who was dead. Severus reached his arm out absently while he spoke, drawing Harry in closer, "Roughly eight who regularly meet in Europe," he said at last after mentally counting in his head.
"What about nubis'wi?" Harry asked suddenly, unable to resist saying the dreaded name in a whisper as he huddled closer to his phiter, "How many of them are there?"
"Roughly the same, though many of the different types fall under 'wolf'," Severus answered after a brief pause. They sat in silence for a long moment before Severus, reluctantly, brought them back to the topic that had started everything.
"Draco is coming down soon," he said, "I am going to be binding his tongue in the same manner I did to your friends. Do you wish to talk to him?" Harry sat squirming in his seat a moment, his face scrunched up in a way that a different sort of person than Severus might have dared call cute.
"Did I really cling to him after the monster chased me?" he asked suddenly, "I don't really remember that. I just felt someone who felt safe."
"It could just as well be said he clung to you," Severus pointed out, "You'll notice he didn't drop you. And he is quite as confused as you are about it. He wasn't expecting that."
"If he doesn't join our clan, will he be joining a different one?" Harry asked, suddenly worried, rather unexpectedly, for Malfoy. After all, Harry couldn't even imagine being left alone by Severus, never mind having no clan at all."
"He is a grown man, for all he is still a child," Severus reminded him, "It will be his decision, of course, but I'm sure a clan somewhere would be willing to take him in, delighted even. I told you; children are rare among sphinx, they would welcome new blood."
"But he won't be joining us," Harry stated, but looking to Severus for confirmation.
"If he does join a clan and receives his own phiter, it won't be me," Severus agreed decidedly. Harry nodded slowly, then sat back to wait for Malfoy to appear.
Author's Note: I know, a short chapter and half history lesson as well. I just thought it a good point to explain a few things about the sphinx, especially after actually bothering to read up on different cat species and learning there is no distinctive group called 'panther' but in fact that is the name given to any number of different species. Plus, I, like Harry, was beginning to get rather alarmed by the way the Sphinx tribes insist on segregating themselves by species and wanted to try and explain that there is a practical reason for that. Mainly it is that clans are made up of family groups, and as intertribal relations don't tend to produce children, even when it happens there are no children to further the intermingling process. That Severus might not have explained this clearly is in part because he probably never really thought about it before. He had existed among them long enough to recognize there is no animosity between tribes and often deep friendships, but has had no reason to delve deeper. I might also mention, but couldn't think of a way to work it into the explanation without it getting even more preachy and long winded, that they are no more panthers than they are humans. Just as Harry now has pointed ears and a youthful stature, his panther form had distinct differences from real panthers aside from long life spans. For one thing, most species of feline are not, by nature, pack animals. Sphinx, however, do tend to live in 'clans' even if they enjoy their solitude. At any rate, wild panthers are animals, civilized sphinx, even in cat form, are intelligent creatures.
And for those who think Ron got off too easy, I would point out that I never said how severe the detention will be, as well as the fact that I honestly don't think Ron is completely responsible for Harry's reaction. He hasn't had the same opportunity Harry has had to turn his opinions of Snape around, and he also had no idea about how his choice of words might play so close to Harry's own insecurities. The Slytherins have said much worse, sometimes within Severus's hearing without any real acknowledgement on his part (at least right at that moment, in front of Harry). And I really do think a good deal of the argument came from Harry being tired. And it's not like Ron just let Harry run off, nor could either of them have known there was any sort of real threat within Hogwarts.