33 : Morning After
His tail lashed from side to side like a velvet whip as Horris tried to decide what to do. He had either overestimated the broadness of the forest or underestimated his speed and strength. The run he had figured would last at least until sunup only took a few hours. He felt restless but worried, subconsciously choosing the shortest route home. He hadn't enjoyed his play-hunts or acrobatics; his mind constantly focused on other matters. He felt like going home, but home presented a problem- Draco. Draco may not know everything about him, but he knew enough. If he, Horris, came back right now he'd undoubtedly receive a million questions; in the morning if not right away. Waiting for sunrise was worse. To tell the truth, about an hour after he left, Horatius Ferox Snape realized he didn't even know if his father had made it home. Draco wouldn't wait, not knowing when the man would finish speaking with him, nor would he sound the alarm if his dad wasn't back by dawn… for the same damn reason. What if Voldemort had taken him? If the old Malfoy had tattled that Horris had threatened him… he knew his dad had stayed, they would surely take him, demanding to know what went on. Then again, hadn't Horris' threats stayed well within his jurisdiction? Wouldn't the old madman like seeing Horatius put an inferior in his place? Especially if all that bull Voldemort kept rambling on about the 'ultimate heir' to rule by his side held any truth in it. He licked his nose, jumping gracefully off of the tree limb he had been lounging on. No, the dorm was out of the question, but he still had to be sure his dad came back. As much as he could predict the actions of the Dark Lord after their 'time together', he would be damned if he left this to chance.
About half way down to the castle, Horris knew what to do. His father had told him the password into his chambers, 'just in case', and he was sure the man wouldn't mind if Horris 'borrowed' his couch. Hell, he'd probably be glad, not having to worry about his welfare till noon. Horris tried to smile, an action that looked foolish in this form. Yes, he knew very well his father was worried, the man worried about him constantly actually, but at least he cared. It wasn't something Horris was used to, not by a long shot, but he loved it. Merlin had he been surprised at first, unsure of the man's reasons and actions. He had almost lost his cover when Draco asked why he was so shocked after living with his mother. Horris eventually covered by saying his 'mother' had a different approach to it, but he doubted the blonde fully bought the excuse. Horris pressed himself into a dark alcove in the dungeons, turning human and invisible in one fluid and easy (for him at least) step.
"Roaring Serpents." He whispered, stepping back to allow the door to open. He liked how it wasn't hidden like those to the rooms of the other professors. No portraits, no bookcases, no walls and no statues; just a sturdy wooden door. 'Hidden doors are the most often opened…' his father had once explained his actions, insisting that the occupant was enough to scare away any intruders and that he'd hate to have someone open a hidden entrance to his rooms by mere chance.
True, Horris figured, I doubt even Fred and George would go after his rooms… they're crazy, not suicidal!
The lights were on, definitely a good sign… at least Horris knew his father was here, he wouldn't have left them burning before he went for a meeting… no need to really check the bedroom, he'd hate to wake him, invisibility being a far cry from silence. Besides, he was exhausted… mentally if not physically, and that couch sure looked comfortable. His dad must have brought it from home, their crest visible on the armrests. It was a three-seater, made of a right reddish-brown leather and pillows that looked ready to burst. It was finished in a deep cherry wood, visible on the front armrests and legs. Horris actually contemplated whether it would prove more comfortable than the bed in his dorm, having once slept briefly on a similar couch last fall. Oh how he missed the manor! The manor, the grounds, Alex, he missed them all.
"Are you trying to give me a heart attack?"
"D…dad?" Horris asked wearily, opening an eye. "You're up?"
"Evidently. I believe you said you would return by noon…"
"It's before noon, isn't it?"
"Why are you back this early, Horatius?" His father asked, sitting on the edge of the couch, "And why are you not in the dorms?"
"Draco." Horris said, but immediately rephrased his answer at the worry in his dad's eyes. "He'd bug me, I'm never back this early. He's been trying to figure out where I ran off to for months and he wouldn't pass up a chance like this… ever. It's hard to lie to him too… with Lea I can at least use 'It's an Asp thing' in tough spots, but he'd see right through that. We don't get tired, we can both go at least a few days without any problem so ' I'm tired' wouldn't work either…"
"Why are you back?"
"Would you believe I just didn't wanna be alone?"
"Is it the truth?"
"Basically." He nodded, feeling his father study the situation momentarily.
"Well, since you do not wish to be alone, might I suggest you choose to explain some things?"
"Didn't Draco tell you?"
"If you wish not to, I will understand Horatius…"
"Thanks, but I guess I do owe you some explanations…"
"As you wish."
"Yeah." At least you ask first… Dumbledore insists. "What do you want to know?"
"Start with where you ran off to tonight."
"Now?" He asked uneasily, "I went running…"
"Running? For nearly four hours?"
"I told you Asps have lots of endurance, didn't I?"
"And you then proceeded to apparate back? Do you even know how dangerous that is after physical or emotional strain?"
"I'm fine… see?" There was no use telling him he hadn't apparated.
"Are you sure you are not fatigued son?"
"Positive, I'm just sorry I woke you."
"You didn't; I was in the study."
"Then you're tired… if you want me to leave-"
"You are always welcome here, Horatius, no matter what. This you know as well as I since there exists absolutely no reason for me to reiterate the obvious." His father refuted instantly, "I just need to know you are alright."
"Concerning tonight," the man prompted carefully, a tinge of hesitation in his voice, "do you trust Draco?"
"Obviously… don't worry dad, he'd never betray me."
"His answer was identical."
"You're worried about me giving up control." Horris stated, no questioning quality in his voice whatsoever. His father's cause of worry wasn't hard to discern. "I'm sorry Dad, but I had to do it, I had to do it tonight."
"They'll listen to him… they'd follow my orders, certainly, but after tonight I know they'd feel far better listening to him. He won't do anything I wouldn't, honest, I'll be more of a backseat driver than a passenger…and who knows, it might even get Voldemort off my case if he thinks I've lost power because of his- er- lessons." His voice cracked slightly, flaring the ongoing hesitation in his father's eyes. In an instant, Horris knew his mistake; Draco was just background worry. The real thing on the other hand; "He didn't break me you know…" and he hit the bull's eye. "Sorry I couldn't tell you earlier, I hated to do it but I couldn't risk anyone guessing the act."
"Even after-" His father looked around hastily, "Are the wards up?"
"Always." Horris confirmed, brushing the question aside as he pushed to explain himself. "I know what it looked like, but I've been rolling over and playing dead since I was four. Ever hear the phrase 'beat some sense into you'? Well, my uncle lived by it, or rather 'beat the magic out of you'… same thing really. Anyway, that's how I learned."
"So you are not-"
"As much as I wish you would have told me, I must admit your performance was flawless."
"It had to be though, or I wouldn't hear, or rather feel, the end of it. I should have done it immediately, but I once promised myself never to submit to him. I'm not saying his- er- training didn't affect me, it did plenty, it lacked the desired effect though… if anything I hate him more."
"What was real?" Severus asked as the words hitched in his throat. Half of him did not wish to know, the other part dying to find out his son's mental state.
"The pain." Horatius answered flatly, his grip on the armrest tightening, "the bruises, most of my behavior… except tonight. Most of that was pure bull."
"If he thinks I think of him as Master he's got another thing coming. It's better he misjudges me for now though. I'm acting a lot like you are, come to think of it…"
Severus sighed, if that were true then he had failed in the worst way. He looked at the boy before him, seeing the very potential he had once possessed himself, that and so much more. He would not allow him to follow that path, never. It had sucked everything out of Severus and it would suck everything out of his son. Voldemort would suck it all out like a Dementor ate the soul, Severus wondered which was worse. Both condemn you in the end; one quickly, one painfully slow. Horris' eyes already held too many demons in their emerald depths; they could not retain much more. He would have to figure out how to save him from that fate later, right now he needed to take advantage of Horatius' willingness to finally divulge some information.
"No on looks to me for orders."
"Thus I ordered them to follow Draco." Horatius instantly countered.
"They shall still look to you, you realize…"
"And what of Draco? Are you planning to explain the full situation to him?"
"In time, yeah. Right now I need him to get used to the position though."
Severus nodded slowly, seeing the apparent logic in his son's judgments. He did not like it, but given the situation at hand, the move was prudent.
"I do trust him you know…."
"Trust in his loyalties and trust in his actions are two very different things Horatius. I am glad you do not blindly trust his leadership skills, it is very prudent of you to make him test the waters before throwing him in son."
"I hate keeping him in the dark though…"
"Whom is it easier to keep in the dark, Horatius, Mr. Malfoy or Miss Granger?"
"To make up stuff, Lea… to lie to, I honestly don't know. Draco and I need to trust each other or we'll both end up dead, but Lea doesn't need to trust me and still she does… it's frustrating, you know, lying to either of them."
"No one told you this would be easy… quite the opposite."
"I know." He mumbled back, wondering if he'd ever be able to tell either of them the entire truth… he doubted it. "Doesn't make it any less painful though."
"Now, about that uncle of yours…"
"With all due respect, I'm not telling you where he lives."
"You do realize, Horatius, you may have just saved the man's pathetic hide…"
"Basically, yeah." He answered, nodding as he smiled.
"And you are positive you are alright child?"
"Yeah." He agreed for what felt like the billionth time. He didn't mind, not really. Sure, it was becoming quite an annoyance, but it felt nice to have someone worry about you. Lea and… and Weasley had worried about him before, certainly, but this was different; this was a parent. This was concern on a totally different level.
" 'Night dad."
"I do believe you had told me Asps did not tire for weeks on end…" His father commented sarcastically, smirking with sly humor.
"You're exhausted though, and I've never actually tested how long we can last…"
"Will I find you here in the morning?"
"I don't plan to get off this couch dad, ever… well, at least not untill noon." He rephrased, as his father sent him a mock-serious glare. "Night."
"Sleep well son."
"Dad?" Horris called back, "Don't kill my uncle…"
"As much as it pains me, I shall attempt to avoid reverting to destructive measures."
"That's all I ask.""Professor!"
"What, Draco, requires you to bang on my door on a Sunday morning? There had better be a stampeding herd of centaurs out for virgin blood out there or I shall make sure you would have wished to be caught by one." Severus snapped with obvious fatigue. Alas, the blonde had entered a most dangerous situation; a grumpy Severus too early on one of the days he reserved for a much-needed lie-in in a pupil-free environment. A thing he especially needed today. He had spoken at length with Horatius, even after they had thought to go to bed, and he was fighting sleep for the unwelcome intruder. Why sleep simply eluded him last night was a mystery to him, though it did prove an ample time to enter into a discussion deeper than their original chat. Now at least, Severus was almost certain Horatius was not lying about the health of his mental state… the boy seemingly had put on an extremely convincing show for Voldemort. He did not doubt the boy, but he had to admit he would not have expected so convincing a show from a man twice Horatius' age. Then again, Horatius was not ordinary in any sense of the word.
"It's Horris sir, it's well past noon and he's still-"
"Was." A groggy voice commented from behind him, "Mornin' Draco."
"Er… morning Horris, I-"
"Yeah, yeah… you didn't know." His son mumbled, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, "I'll be up in a min."
"You do not have to-"
"Nah, couldn't fall back to sleep if I tried. You go on dad, you must be exhausted. I'll see you at supper, okay?"
Well, he was tired… Severus rationalized as he nodded
"Good day Draco, Horris."
"Sleep well dad."
"Sorry to wake you professor…"
"Come on Draco." He heard as the door shut, this time finding sleep easy to catch.
"Lea's been worried about you… I've been hearing ' Draco Salsus Malfoy' all morning, it took all my self control not to slap a silencing charm on her! Thanks for letting that slip by the way, truly appreciate you using it within her hearing range…"
"You were being difficult." Horris rationed, smirking as he knew just how annoyed the blonde was,
"Remind me to plaster 'Ferox' on your forehead next time she's around…"
"How about I'll remind you of what would happen to the blonde that did that?" Horris asked mock- seriously,
"How about you forget I said that and I'll just let you deal with Lea?"
Now Horris was confused. "You hadn't-"
"No, I just said you needed to cool off and that you'd be back by noon. The explanations are all yours Snape."
"Some friend you are Malfoy…" Horris bit back, both smirking. "She in my room?"
"As usual." Draco droned, "when'd you get back?"
"And you didn't come to the dorms because?"
"I needed to talk to dad."
"And fell asleep?"
"Right…" Draco commented sarcastically, acceptance missing from his voice. "You ready to face the Lioness?"
"Funny, Draco, Funny."
"What? I'm serious, she's worse than a mother!" The blonde defended himself, "She nagged me for almost two hours on how could I have let you stay behind!"