Changing of the Winds
Disclaimer: This story is all mine, but is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
A/N: So, its been awhile, but I haven't abandoned this story! I just try to stay several chapters ahead of what is posted, and I had RL issues to deal with. Thanks for hanging in there!
Ch. 14 A Mother's Devotion
Severus tried to unclench his jaw enough to sip his tea. Actually eating his breakfast was out of the question. He was so furious, there was no possible way he would be able open his mouth without hexing his employer, which some would consider to be a poor career choice. Normally, he rather enjoyed Saturday morning breakfasts, there being fewer students in attendance, with a resulting lower volume level. However, Albus Dumbledore had just gaily announced to the school that there would be a Halloween Ball this year. As he had not mentioned it in any of the staff meetings beforehand, all of the teachers were stunned. Severus suspected that the reason it had not been mentioned earlier was that the old coot had just come up with the idea that morning. A quick glance over at the Gryffindor table hinted at the reason for the headmaster's ridiculous proclamation.
It was becoming apparent to Severus that Harry Potter was the focus of a number of plans devised by Albus to defeat the Dark Lord, and many of them hinged upon the boy's dependence upon the 'guidance' of his headmaster. It was also apparent that Albus was quite concerned about the influence that the Lady Elëassa had over her son. Severus believed that Albus wanted to restore the primacy of Hogwarts in Potter's life, and thus seemed to take an inordinate interest in strengthening the relationship between the Boy Who Lived and his friends.
Severus wondered how much of the brat's life had been engineered by the headmaster.
From what Severus had seen in Occlumency lessons, the meeting of Harry Potter and Ron Weasley had seemed rather contrived. Why would the Weasleys, a pure blood family, use the Muggle entrance to Platform 9 ¾? It was obvious why Albus would want Harry to become friends with Weasley. The Weasleys were pure bloods, yet die-hard supporters of the Light and Dumbledore himself. What easier way to make sure that Potter was conditioned to trust and follow the head of the Order of the Phoenix than to make sure that he had the 'correct' friends?
If that was the case, then Albus's plan had hit a major obstacle. The Golden Trio was obviously on the outs. Harry Potter was sitting at the opposite end of the long refectory table from the irate Granger and morose Weasley. Severus wondered if the headmaster thought that more social events would restore the friendly dynamic among the young Gryffindors. From what the potions master could see, Potter was less inclined to be led around by the officious Granger chit, nor would his adoptive mother allow him to fall back into the lackadaisical habits of the hapless Ron Weasley.
In a sharp moment of lucidity, Severus realized that the boy had markedly outgrown his old friends. The question was, did he recognize that fact? Clearly, Severus thought, the Potter spawn was striking out on his own, leaving the rather stultifying confines of solely Gryffindor society. While it may have been just due to their relationship with his mother, he had become quite friendly with several members of the Blessed group, often seen joking around with Longbottom, Lavinia Shelton, and Billingshurst. Potter had most decidedly not developed more amicable relations with the Slytherins, though Severus noted that both Potter and Draco Malfoy had become quite neutral in their dealings whenever forced into proximity with each other.
Looking around, Severus noted with a start that several of his Slytherins were missing from breakfast. It was a moment before he remembered that they'd had an early morning Quidditch practice. With the return of Potter to Hogwarts, young Malfoy had been pushing for more field time, reasoning that it was only a matter of time before the Gryffindor regained his position as Seeker. Severus snorted. Draco had been hopelessly outclassed at every match with Potter. Why would he think this year different?
Severus shook his head as he become conscious that his thoughts had once again returned to their earlier subject. Why was he so obsessed with the son of his hated school-time bully? He remembered how he'd felt over the summer when he'd learned that Potter hadn't had the cosseted childhood that everyone (well, to be honest, only Severus himself) had imagined. He also recalled the sinking feeling he'd experienced upon learning how consistently he'd misjudged the brat over the years.
Just then, the object of Severus's reflection surreptitiously slipped out of the hall. He couldn't tell, but after the headmaster's announcement, it didn't appear that the boy had the time to even touch his plate. So why was he leaving? Thinking furiously, Severus quickly placed his napkin on his own untouched breakfast, murmured something about a potion needing attention, and stole out.
Upon reaching the hall, he caught a quick glimpse of color disappearing out the main doors. Since it was the weekend, he was sure it was Potter, wearing his workout clothing. Severus tried to keep himself from dwelling on how the lightweight material accentuated the boy's lean musculature, particularly that of his back and arse.
"Professor!" A panicked voice echoed down the hall. Moving towards the main doors, Severus saw one of his Slytherin second years. Her face was pale and she seemed to be shivering. "Professor," she cried, "Potter is cursing Draco on the Quidditch pitch! He's torturing him!"
Cursing inwardly, Severus's long strides left the girl behind quickly as he shouted back to her to alert the headmaster and made his way towards the pitch. What could possibly be going on? He knew that Potter wouldn't curse one of his mother's Blesseds, so it had to be something else. Besides, the boy had barely had the time to reach the pitch, let alone get into a pissing contest with the Malfoy scion.
Reaching the field, he saw a cluster of students milling around a spot in the center of the pitch, shouting and shooting spells. As he got closer, the cluster resolved itself into the Slytherin Quidditch team. In the middle of the melee, shielding himself from what looked to be several high-powered curses, stood Harry Potter, beside a writhing Draco Malfoy on the ground. The students were shouting to Potter to leave Malfoy alone, to drop his shield, to get off the pitch, but the boy stood firm, maintaining a rather impressive shield that absorbed every spell.
"Mr. Potter, what do you think you're doing? Drop that shield immediately!"
Severus looked back. Coming out of the castle was Poppy Pomfrey, Minerva, and Albus. Pomfrey looked shocked, and her voice quivered with indignation. "What have you done to that boy?"
Potter looked up, aghast. "What do you mean? I haven't done anything to him! My mother alerted me to a potential problem. She is tied up with something and she told me to find him and keep him safe. She said to let no one touch him until she returned."
Looking back at the boy thrashing about on the ground, Potter said, "I ran out to the pitch, and saw him on his broom just as he began to shudder as if he was having a fit, so I cast a cushioning charm and a deceleration spell. I had just brought him down when the other members of his team got here. They obviously thought that I had something to do with his condition, and tried to curse me, which is why I cast my shielding spell." His eyes grew distant as he looked down to where Malfoy was beginning to quiet down. Severus had begun to recognize that distraction as a sign that Potter was silently communicating with his mother.
"Ah, Harry, what a masterful display of quick thinking under adverse circumstances," Albus said, his eyes twinkling. "Ten points to Gryffindor for keeping the situation from escalating. Now, you may release your quite extraordinary protection shield."
"Madame Pomfrey, I think it would be best if—" Albus had turned away, obviously not expecting that response. Taken aback, he looked back to Potter, who was gazing at the professors pleasantly.
"I'm sorry, Harry, I don't believe I—"
"I said, 'no,' Professor Dumbledore," Harry said neutrally. "I believe I told you already that my mother said that no one was to touch him until she returned. I cannot allow you or Madame Pomfrey—" He nodded slightly in her direction. "—to do anything with Malfoy until she says otherwise."
Severus could see a glint of fury in the headmaster's normally gentle eyes, and took a step back, looking to Minerva to intercede with her lion. She shrugged briefly, but stepped forward.
"Mr. Potter, di' ye know what is wrong with Mr. Malfoy?" Her brusque voice had none of the accusation of Poppy's.
Gratefully, Potter looked up and answered, "No, Professor, but it seems to be passing. He's much quieter now than when I got here." His eyes grew distant again and his body stilled, though his shield was holding strong against the sporadic curses the Slytherin students had continued to cast until Severus quelled them with a glance.
Potter nodded decisively and dropped his shield. Holding his wand casually in his hand, he kept his gaze on the Slytherin Quidditch team members, though he turned slightly toward the school matron. "Madame Pomfrey, he's all yours."
Muttering under her breath, the nurse cast several diagnostic spells before she levitated Malfoy and headed toward the school. She looked back and raising her voice, snapped, "I want Mr. Potter and Miss Higgs to come with me. I need to know everything that happened to Mr. Malfoy!"
"I think that this would be a good time for us all to adjourn to the school, hmm?" Albus said jovially to the team members, who had been glaring at Potter. "If you trot along, I believe that you can still catch the end of breakfast." The headmaster's statement was punctuated by growls emanating from the stomachs of at least two students.
Severus just barely refrained from rolling his eyes, but merely said, "Make certain that you've put away all of your equipment, then hurry along." Nodding, the Slytherins made quick work of clearing everything away and began to head up to the castle in twos and threes.
Keeping a wary eye on the rest of the Slytherins, Potter turned with the second-year and followed Poppy. He was stopped by a slight gesture from Albus. "Mr. Potter, there still remains the need for a discussion to address your disobedience of a direction from me."
Severus watched carefully, and caught the slight narrowing of the headmaster's eyes when Potter responded calmly, "Of course, sir. I will be in the hospital wing. You can reach me there."
The Lady Elëassa arrived soon after, bringing with her Narcissa Malfoy. The blond witch, usually quite reserved, took one look at her son and burst into tears, gripping the youth's hand so tightly it was bloodless white.
Dumbledore had not come back to the infirmary, perhaps sensing that trying to interact at that point with Potter would only result in further public loss of face. The arrival of the two women, however, was followed so rapidly by his appearance that Severus wondered if Albus had set some sort of signal ward.
Elëassa whispered a few words to Narcissa Malfoy, and had just exited the infirmary doors when Dumbledore said, "My dear Madame Malfoy, perhaps you could shed some light on your son's health? He had quite the turn, and if it weren't for the quick thinking of Mr. Potter, things could have gone quite poorly for him." He waited, the silence building.
Madame Malfoy had been wringing her hands, her son's clasped between them. Pulling herself together, she took a shuddering breath, and glancing thankfully at Potter, said quietly, "I am afraid that I cannot say, Headmaster. It is tied into some family health and genealogy issues that are not for the ears of outsiders."
At Pomfrey's mutinous glance and opening mouth, Lady Malfoy said hurriedly, "However, I can tell you that the situation is now under control, and I assure you that this will not happen again." Her adamant, set mouth and the force behind her words underscored her conviction. She turned away from them, focusing on Draco and shutting out the rest of the room before the conversation could continue.
Severus watched them, eyes narrowed. He'd often felt that Draco Malfoy was going to waste his quite considerable potential by emulating his father, becoming a pretentious, power-hungry nobleman with little true nobility about him. In the few weeks since he become Blessed, however, Severus had noticed the beginnings of a quiet dignity about the Malfoy heir that was heartening. The boy seemed to take more after tranquil, gracious Narcissa at those moments. If for no other reason than that, Severus rejoiced in the return of Harry Potter—with his elemental, adopted mother—to Hogwarts.
Severus ignored the slight lurch in his belly, followed by gentle warmth that suffused his body, which had recently accompanied any thoughts of the Potter spawn. Though this had happened frequently of late, he was still alarmed by his body's reaction to the presence of a student, and drew up his Occlumency shields to forcefully control his thoughts. He studiously did not look over when Potter turned to Albus, asking quietly, "Headmaster, you said that you wanted to discuss my disobedience with me. Is this a good time?"
Albus looked thoughtfully at Potter, rather taken aback, Severus thought, at the idea of a student initiating a disciplinary lecture. The boy was standing easily, seemingly unaffected by his professor's disappointed gaze. The silence grew and Severus thought that Albus would wait forever if he thought to unnerve or guilt the new Harry Potter into fidgeting or speaking first.
Finally, Albus sighed and said, "Yes, this will suffice. I must confess, my boy, that I was quite saddened by your refusal to follow the direction of Madame Pomfrey or me. I would hope that your time away from us hasn't encouraged you to become disrespectful or rebellious."
He waited, but the boy said nothing, evidently in the belief that nothing directly had been asked of him. Albus sighed again, and continued. "I recognize that other lands tend to be more egalitarian and free-spirited, but discipline is important and necessary when staff has the responsibility of the care and safety of a school filled with lively young people."
Severus almost snorted. Even he was becoming impatient for Albus to get to the point, but Potter still hadn't said anything, waiting quietly but unabashed. After another long pause, Albus said, "Ten points from Gryffindor, Mr. Potter, and a detention helping Madame Pomfrey in the hospital wing this Saturday afternoon." The infuriating little beast nodded his head and said, "Yes sir," before calmly moving toward the doors. He neither apologized, argued, nor showed any resentment towards Albus, Severus noticed. It was almost as if it was all rather inconsequential to the boy.
"Oh, one other thing, Mr. Potter," Albus said. Potter halted but didn't turn around.
"Just a small observation. Your friends, Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley, missed you incredibly while you were away. Please, do remember in all of the excitement of new friends and opportunities that the old, tried-and-true friends are often the best," Albus said, his tone cajoling.
Potter said nothing, but dipped his head in acknowledgement. Albus turned back to the Malfoys, and Severus thought he saw a hint of movement around the boy's shoulders just as he passed through the infirmary doors. Was he trying to stifle laughter?
Severus returned to the Hospital Wing the next morning with several potions that he'd promised to brew. Upon his arrival, he was faced with a rather astonishing tableau, but he recovered enough to slip into the shadows cast by the medi-witch's open office door, thunderstruck.
Draco Malfoy was sitting up, though just barely, head bobbing side to side, and mouth opening and closing soundlessly. He looked like a baby owl waiting to be fed, an impression furthered by his wide, staring eyes, ashen cheeks and wild, pale-blond hair flopping in his face.
Potter was standing next to Draco's bed, with Narcissa Malfoy kneeling before the Gryffindor Golden boy. Severus caught only the end of her speech.
"—And swear fealty on my magic to the head of my family. My goods, body, and wand are at your command."
"Mother!" Draco shrieked, finally finding his voice. She ignored him, looking up with shining eyes when Potter knelt down to help her up, then took both of her hands in his. He gazed deeply into her eyes, and then gave her a gentle hug.
"I, Harry James Potter-Black, accept your fealty and promise protection to a precious member of my family. I swear that my goods, the might of the Blacks, and my wand will be the shield and shelter of you and your son."
"Potter, what the bloody hell have you done to my mother!"
"Hush, Draco, and I'll explain." Before Potter could reply, Narcissa had swiftly turned, placed a hand on her son's forehead, and drawn up a chair, settling into it gracefully. "The time has finally come that you can be told of many dark secrets about your father, your very life, and our family. It is an ugly story, but you will sit still and listen quietly, or I will cast petrifying and silencing spells on you. Is that clear?"
At the boy's wordless nod, she glanced thoughtfully around the infirmary. Though she couldn't possibly know he was there, apparently what she had to say was of such import that she didn't want any unwitting eavesdropping. Several muttered spells and waves of her wand later, and not a sound emanated from the little group.
Severus cast just as many eavesdropping spells, which were thwarted by those of the blonde witch. He began running through his library of counters, growing more frustrated with each failure. Finally admitting defeat, Severus waited until he could slip out unnoticed, and thoughtfully returned to his chambers.
Standing as far back in shadowed alcove as was possible without the headmaster lifting an eloquent eyebrow, Severus surveyed the Great Hall. Girls squealed with each new arrival, exclaiming over dresses and hair and jewelry, while their dates stood by their sides, manfully enduring each brain-piercing shriek.
The ceiling showed a crisp and clear night, with a few clouds scudding gently across the expanse. In the hall proper, the floating jack-a-lanterns, candles, and bowls of candies kept an unwitting sneer on Severus's face, even as he was soothed a bit by the rather proficient band, which played a wide variety of dance music, popular tunes, and old standards. What made the hall look even better to Severus was his resolute detachment from all of the goings-on.
Unfortunately, while his hidey-hole kept him from the necessity of dealing with dunderheaded students or only slightly less dunderheaded colleagues, it was deplorably close to the refreshment tables, so clumps of the hormonal idiots would gather nearby, and Severus was forced to listen to their inane exchanges. He'd pretty much decided that he would either have to find another guard post or just stab himself in the eye with a roasted pumpkin skewer, when he was joined by Minerva.
He glowered and bared his teeth. Maybe, just maybe, the old cat in her would sense a more formidable predator than herself, and move on to another refuge. Instead, she narrowed her eyes, unimpressed with his display. "Oh, Severus, just budge over, quickly, before Albus sees us!"
"He already knows I'm here, Minerva," he hissed, not moving. He yelped when a pair of deft fingers managed to pinch (all the way through his robes!) the soft flesh below his armpit. She used his momentary, painful distraction to burrow further into the shadows. Growling in defeat, he allowed her to join him.
The predator growing resigned to sharing his den with an older, wilier challenger, Severus allowed himself to relax in a moment of shared, comfortable repose. He followed Minerva's gaze to see the newly fractured Golden Trio and their dates. She sighed, and they stood back and listened to yet another illustration of the brat moving beyond his previous interests and companionships.
"Hullo Harry," Weasley said, as he and Granger moved over to Potter and a Hufflepuff seventh-year.
'This year, at least," Minerva whispered, "Weasley had the brains to actually ask the lass to attend the ball early." Severus nodded blankly, though why she imagined he cared was beyond him.
"Hey," Potter responded. "Do you two know Wallace Kenward?"
Granger smiled and nodded. "You're a prefect," Weasley said absently, looking around. "Oh, yeah! And you played for the Hufflepuff Quidditch team a couple of years back, didn't you?" Not giving Kenward a chance to reply, he continued, 'So, Harry, where's this mystery girl?'
Potter rolled his eyes, and then taking a step closer to Kenward, he said mildly, "Ron, I never said that there was a mystery girl."
Severus froze, eyes narrowed, as he heard Minerva's gasp beside him. His heart began to race, a delicate ribbon of heat uncurled in his groin, and his focus sharpened to a small area of the Great Hall, where Harry Potter was admitting—that he preferred boys?
"Yes, you did! I remember asking you who you were taking, and you said it was a surprise!"
"Right." Potter waited, obviously wondering how his friends would take the revelation of his sexuality.
It was clear when Granger figured it out. Her mouth opened in a small 'O,' and she looked quickly from Potter to Kenward then smiled knowingly. Weasley continued to stare blankly until Potter flung an arm around Kenward's shoulders. It was clear when the penny dropped. The redhead's face paled, and then began to darken, quickly surpassing the hue of his hair.
'Hey, Wallace, you want to dance?' Potter said quickly, hoping to forestall any explosions before Weasley could work himself up.
Severus watched as they swiftly joined the other couples on the floor in a rather slow waltz. Upon rapidly negotiating who would lead—Potter—they began a leisurely circuit of the dance floor. Just as they passed in front of Minerva and Severus, Kenward could be heard murmuring, "In case you're interested, Weasley just stormed out of the hall."
'I am, but not enough to leave you,' Potter replied, looking Kenward directly in the eye.
'Why, you know all the right things to say!' Kenward said, laughing as he was led by Potter in an exaggerated turn.
Severus smirked as Minerva turned towards the doors, her lips in thin line. "I cannot believe that Ronald Weasley! He's left Miss Granger in tears in the middle of the floor. Not only is that boy narrow-minded and rude, but incredibly cruel." She gathered up her robes.
"Isn't that normal behavior for your little lions?" Severus muttered as she left the alcove. He barely restrained a laugh as she threw up her hand in a rude gesture behind her retreating back.