Draco knocked on the heavy wooden door, opening it and entering his godfather’s office upon hearing the terse “Enter.”
“Hello, Godfather,” Draco said, closing the door behind him.
Severus looked up at his visitor, unsurprised, but still with a look upon his face that Draco couldn’t quite place. Rising, Severus pulled out his wand and cast the expected privacy charms on the office then muttered several additional spells that Draco recognized as detection charms. The boy watched his godfather curiously – the man had never done this before when Draco came to visit – and wondered what had happened recently to make his godfather even more paranoid than usual.
After Severus finished checking his office he turned to Draco. Draco smiled and took a step forward to greet his godfather more warmly only to stop abruptly, jerking back slightly and widening his eyes as his godfather turned to him with a raised wand and a threatening scowl.
“Be still, Draco.”
Draco remained still and silent, blinking in astonishment, as his godfather spent the next couple minutes casting spell after spell at him. Again, Draco recognized some of the spells as detection spells – more complex ones used on people instead of things. He began to get worried when he heard the detection charm for the Imperius curse followed by other charms he didn’t know but could decipher enough of to know were checking for other forms of mind control. A nervous swallow followed this realization.
Finally Severus appeared satisfied, nodded his head sharply, stowed his wand and closed the distance to Draco, enclosing him in a warm hug. Draco hesitantly wrapped his arms around his godfather. Tentatively, he queried, “Is everything…are you…okay?”
“I am well, my son.”
Draco relaxed at the endearment. Severus never called him son unless they were secure.
“What was with the display, then? Impressive, by the way. Will you teach me those spells?” Draco made no effort to leave the embrace, relishing the rare affection.
A warm chuckle was followed by an amused and indulgent response. “Yes, my curious cat, I will teach you them if you wish.”
Draco grinned into his godfather’s shoulder. Severus never denied him when he wanted to learn something, no matter what it was – old or new, physical or mental, legal or illegal, wizardly or muggle. Of course, the last they assiduously hid from his parents, no sense in getting himself murdered before his majority, after all.
“What was with all the detection spells? Do you think someone is watching you? Or me?”
“Not any more than usual, no.”
Draco waited a bit but Severus didn’t seem inclined to comment further or answer his original question. Draco frowned in concern and some frustration. He couldn’t ask again; that was one of his godfather’s rules that protected the both of them. He could ask any question he wished, anything at all, and Severus would respond in one of three ways: answering honestly, refusing to answer, or not answering at all. If Severus refused to answer, he would state why and when Draco could possibly ask again, but if he didn’t answer at all…well, that meant Draco was to drop the subject, completely, for at least one year. No more direct questions. No roundabout questions. No trick questions. It was frustrating for the boy sometimes, even though he knew he was truly better off not knowing some things and trusted his godfather to not keep things from him unnecessarily.
Draco sighed softly, made a mental note of the situation, and tried to put it out of his mind. If he was in danger, Severus would have said.
“Very good, Draco.”
Draco huffed in annoyance. Of course, sometimes his godfather was just testing him.
Severus tightened his hold and pressed his cheek to Draco’s head. “I have a story, a gift. Perhaps…not in that order. Both are dangerous. Neither must be revealed before the appropriate time.” Severus sounded almost distant, distracted. The last statement made Draco curious, more so than the dangerous comment. His life was already dangerous.
“All right. I love stories and you always get me the best presents.”
“A gift, I said. Not a present. This cannot be wrapped.”
Draco furrowed his brow in confusion. His godfather was usually more direct with him than this. What could possibly be bothering his godfather so much to indulge in his usual circumspect speech habits? And employ such high security measures on their meeting?
A quick squeeze and a kiss on the head indicated the end of the embrace and Draco reluctantly let go. He sent a questioning look to his godfather but obeyed the hand on his back directing him to the sofa and the soft commands, “Come. Sit.”
Severus stayed silent while arranging himself next to Draco and summoning tea for them both. Draco sniffed. Chamomile. His godfather really was anxious to be summoning a calming tea. Draco sipped his tea and watched Severus, respecting the silence his godfather seemed to need.
“You will be turning sixteen soon.”
Draco blinked a few times before responding, taken aback by the obvious statement. “Yes, soon,” he agreed.
“Have you considered whom you would like with you during your transition?”
Draco stiffened, gritted his teeth, and resolutely kept himself from sniping at his godfather. What kind of idiotic question was this? Severus knew this was a big sore spot for him, one of the biggest, right after the issue of Death Eater initiation and his parents’ loyalties to the Dark Lord.
“Of course not.”
“You have not considered it at all?”
“All has been arranged.”
“That is not what I asked.”
“All has been arranged,” Draco ground out for a second time.
“Have you considered whom you would like with you during your transition? This is not a rhetorical question, nor one to remind you of your father’s arrangements. I want an answer,” Severus demanded firmly.
Surprised at his godfather’s pressing on this topic, he took a deep, hopefully calming, breath and let it out slowly. His answer still came out strained and bitter, “Whenever I catch myself thinking about it, I stop myself. No good would come from me contemplating a choice I do not have.”
“And if you had a choice?”
“I do not.”
“If you did?”
“I do not have a choice! Why are you asking me this?!” Draco cried out despairingly.
Severus watched as his godson closed his eyes and tried to calm his breathing. The expression of pained resentment slowly left Draco’s face as he regained control. A minute later Draco opened his eyes and glared balefully at Severus.
Severus set his cup and saucer on the coffee table then took Draco’s and did the same. Severus turned towards his now slightly quizzical, if no less angry, godson and gently took pale elegant hands in his own potion-stained ones. While running his thumbs along the back of Draco’s hands, he quietly, solemnly, asked a not so simple question, “If I could give you the ability to make a choice, would you take it?”
A quick indrawn breath and a momentary clench of hands were Draco’s only response for several long moments. Looking at the serious face of his godfather, and recognizing the tone of voice as one Severus used only in the most serious of situations, Draco realized that this was, indeed, a real question. An unbelievably true question. Not rhetorical. One that needed an answer. A considered answer. But…
“I do not want you to take any risks for me.”
Severus rubbed Draco’s hands again in acknowledgement and said, “There is little risk.”
“My alibi is well-established.”
“You can’t just take me somewhere, send me somewhere. I’m being guarded, you know that,” Draco reminded Severus with some exasperation.
“Your guards will be easily eluded,” Severus assured him.
“I cannot use a portkey. The charms father placed on my medallion prevent it. You know this, too, you helped him.”
“You won’t need a portkey.”
“I cannot use the Headmaster’s floo. I don’t trust the old fool not to tell my father where I went,” annoyance now evident in the boy’s voice.
“You won’t floo,” Severus calmly replied.
“I cannot simply walk out of the school! It would be noticed immediately!” Anger and frustration warred for dominance in the young man’s tone.
“You will not have to. There are transition chambers here.” Severus remained impassive and calm in the face of his godson’s temper.
Draco gave Severus an incredulous look. “They are not secure. They cannot be further warded to keep out determined intruders.”
“Some are more secure than others.”
Draco gave a deep sigh. “How can this be possible? Explain it to me.”
Severus again ran his thumbs across the back of his godson’s hands. Soft hands. But not a soft body, nor a soft mind. He had seen to that. He had done his best to counteract Lucius’ lazy arrogance and Narcissa’s spoiled indifference. And he had done well. Draco’s spoiled brat mask was perfect but the truth underneath, that only the two of them saw, was that Draco was a fine young man, intelligent and caring, thoughtful, curious and persistent, loyal, loving, and fascinated with life. His son, not theirs.
He had spent more time with Draco than both Lucius and Narcissa combined. And he had known this would happen. That it would be he that would raise Draco, be the greater parental influence. That Draco would be his son more so than theirs. And he had done what he had needed to do to ensure his son would have a choice, that Lucius could not control Draco’s transition. Severus’ greatest slight of hand.
“Your birthday is not October 19, it is October 12. You could enter the transition chamber on the evening of the 11th and as it is a Friday you could be gone all weekend before someone realized you were missing, especially if you take these next several weeks and establish a pattern of being a recluse on the weekends. By the time anyone hunts for you on Monday, it will be too late. Even if the Headmaster breaks the wards on the transition chamber as soon as he finds outs, it will be too late. You will have a most disquieting and uncomfortable remainder of the week, but you will not be able to form another transition bond.”
Draco was silent for several long minutes. To say that he was stunned would be a vast understatement. How had Severus fooled his father about his birthday? He couldn’t see any way that that was possible. But his godfather never lied to him. If he said that Draco’s birthday was October 12, then it was October 12. This…could work…for him, anyway. He didn’t see how Severus would be anything but dead from this deception, however.
“Father will kill you.”
“No, he will not.”
“How could you possibly explain this away?”
A sly smile came over Severus face. “Ah, well, you see, I get so engrossed in my potions that I forget about such trivialities as date and time.”
“And Narcissa came to my manor on Sunday, I am sure of it because I was in the entrance hall inspecting my weekly delivery of potions ingredients when she unexpectedly appeared. She can confirm this herself. It was she, after all, who threatened the delivery man with castration if he did not leave immediately. The baby came only minutes after I had her settled in a guest room. Then she was so weak and became so ill and I had to make and administer several different potions on different time cycles and I just focused on that and let the house elves take care of the baby.”
“When Lucius showed up Tuesday he relieved me of my duties and put me to bed and I slept for over thirty hours, a sure sign of extreme exhaustion. When he asked me when the baby was born I told him Sunday at 2:17 pm. Is it my fault he assumed two days prior instead of nine? Really, he should have known it was not just two days. I have gone longer with no sleep and not been nearly so obviously exhausted. He had seen this numerous times since school. And just how was I to know which Sunday it was? All I know is that it was Sunday. It could have been September still for all I knew or cared.”
Draco was again silent. That was actually a pretty good story. Severus’ inattention to time whilst brewing potions was practically legendary. He himself teased his godfather about it. So did his father. And his mother. And several other people, some of them Death Eaters. Yes, this was a very good story.
“And how did I find out the real date?” Draco asked curiously, knowing that his godfather would have thought this out and come up with the best possible answer/alibi for him to use.
“The first potion your class will be making is the paternity potion, an appropriately difficult potion for 6th years, useful in and of itself when there is question as to the child’s father or the mother’s fidelity, but also used as a base for several other potions. Theory will be covered on Tuesday, the brewing will be done on Thursday, and a three foot essay will be due on its uses and the uses of its derivatives on the following Tuesday. In the course of your research you will have accessed the book Lifecycle Magics by Edmond Edgecomb which, in addition to discussing the potion as a means of verifying paternity, advocates the use of several other potions and spells to determine a child’s heritage, health, power, and possible destiny. One such set of spells, unoriginally called The Arithmancy Series, when combined with a potion keyed to an individual with their own blood, are used to determine the absolutely exact time and location of a child’s birth. These numbers may then be given to an arithmancer for the development of a completely accurate astrological chart. You, being schooled in arithmancy and the creation of astrological charts, thought it would be interesting to see if there were any significant differences in your chart if you used such precise measurements. Plus, brewing the appropriate potion presented a challenge. Therefore, you brewed the potion and cast the spells and revealed the truth.”
“And I, of course, immediately saw the advantages to this because I hate Pansy and everyone knows it. So I cunningly started my recluse habits to hide my actual disappearance in October,” Draco smirked at Severus.
Severus smirked back. “Exactly. Also, you figured out what must have happened. You have heard the story of your birth several times. You know Narcissa had been ill, Lucius had been away, and I couldn’t be bothered for any time or day that was not Sunday at 1:30 to inspect my delivery of potion ingredients. That, in fact, during the summers, I still cannot keep track of any other time. It is always you who watches it when you are there, otherwise you would never eat if left up to me.”
“And I will tell father this so it makes your story all the more believable.” Draco nodded his understanding.
“You don’t really lose track of time during the summer, do you?” Draco asked suspiciously
Severus gave an indignant snort. “Of course not!”
“This…this could work.”
“Yes.” Severus was silent a moment. “It is my transition gift to you. Choice. The option to choose your own partner. Of course, I’ll give you a nice pretty knife officially.”
Draco gave a shaky laugh. “Of course.” Draco swallowed hard, trying to keep his suddenly rising emotions in check. “Thank you.”
“You are welcome, my son.”
Draco gripped Severus hands tightly trying desperately to slow his breathing and calm his racing heart. It wasn’t working. When his godfather moved closer and placed an arm around his shoulders, Draco, for the first time since he was eleven and been rejected by Potter, lost control of his emotions. But he was too immensely relieved, too incredibly grateful, too wonderfully safe in his godfather’s embrace to care that he was sobbing like a child.