Chapter 1: Prologue
Carefully unfolding the leather moris-pouch embossed with Hogwart’s Mastery Seal, into his lap, Draco did his best to ignore the headmaster’s commencement speech. Inside the pouch, wrapped in sheathes of acromantula silk, the five specialty wands of his craft gleamed with their high polish and emerald and jade settings. Finally as the loathsome old man finished spewing his inanities and called for everyone to rise to honor the new graduates, Draco returned his attention to the stage and watched as his godfather and great-aunt, Minerva Titiania Black nee McGonagall rose to together to applaud their former students.
Although small and subtle, the distance that they stood from the headmaster was just one small indicator of the division between them and the old hypocrite; Professor McGonagall’s blatantly Slytherin green robes – another. As was their noticeable split in directions as the ceremony came to a close: his godfather and great-aunt turning as a pair and striding to end of the dias while the headmaster slowly turned to the nearby steps down from the stage and aimed his steps to the reception area where families were gathering to greet the celebrants.
Turning his gaze back to the other end of the dias, Draco tracked his godfather’s progress through the crowd by the glimmer of winter sunlight from his close-cropped cap heather blonde and ash-grey. Even with five years to become accustomed to the change, it still surprised Draco sometimes how much of a difference the change in cut and color had softened his godfather’s appearance. Although truth be told, Draco suspected that the softening pf his godfather's manner and appearance was far more attributable to his adoption of Harry than the mere differences in color and length, but the change was, nevertheless, quite dramatic. Judging by the quizzical expression on some the parents his godfather was passing, Draco wasn't the only one to think so.
“Draco,” his great-aunt reached him first and greeted him with a polite hug … a far more public display of affection than he was expecting.
Given her greeting, he elected for the more familial, “Aunt Minerva,” over her title, "You’re well, I hope?”
“Passably well, and yourself? Are you ready to take on the world with your new wands and title, Charms Master?”
“Not quite yet,” he answered cordially, “There are some family matters I’ve yet to deal with.”
“Yes, your father. I understand that he rarely leaves Malfoy mansion.”
Draco nodded slowly, not really comfortable with the topic, but unable to deny that she had earned a measure of his candor with her support. Finally he settled on a superficial truth -socially acceptable given their alliance, but not inappropriately personal for an extended family member: he’s mentioned that world without mother is not worth seeing, but I can’t help but think that he would have liked to see you wearing Slytherin robes.”
“I see that the cheeky young boy isn’t far from the surface no matter how well you’ve matured. Narcissa would be so proud.”
Draco’s voice choked as he thanked her, and he pulled her into a close family hug, like he would have given his mother had she been there.
“I’m so very proud of you, too.” Minerva’s voice was choked and teary as well, and her gaze slightly turned away so he couldn’t see more than the glimmer of tears on her lashes as she tried to regain her composure.
“We both are.” His godfather interrupted.
“Thank you.” Draco answered with a genuine smile, taking his godfather’s hand and stumbling in surprise when he was pulled into another hug.
“Are you staying for refreshments?” Severus asked with an amused smile.
“You must be joking! I get that you had to be up there because of your jobs, but I couldn’t do it. The thought of being up there and not hexing him.... He’s just lucky that we don’t follow the muggle custom of having students ‘walk the stage’ when they graduate.”
“Draco, it isn’t very wise of you to express your disdain for the headmaster so freely.” His great-aunt chastised mildly. “Despite his many failings, the headmaster is still kindly-viewed by much of the wizarding world.”
“With all due respect, Aunt Minerva,” Draco answered gruffly, “Tell it to Millie and my mother. They should have been here for this… For that matter, tell it to Harry, he should have been here, too.”
“He wished to,” Severus agreed, “but he shares your sentiment… for that matter, don’t be mistaken in thinking that Minerva and myself are sanguine about the headmaster coming away unscathed; however, neither are we ready to simply ready to forfeit the welfares of the students who will be in his charge if we were so abandon our positions.”
“I know… I know. I guess it’s just too soon.”
“We understand completely, Draco.” Minerva offered gently, resting a hand lightly on his shoulder. “Why don’t you and Severus recruit a few of your housemates and slip out to hold a true celebration: I’ll make your apologies and if anyone asks remind him that Severus has a son and daughter to get home to. Give them both a hug from me, won’t you, Severus.”
“Of course. Thank you, Minerva. Will you be stopping by for dinner, afterwards?”
“No,” she answered, surprising Draco with a mischievous smile, “I’ve been reminded that some might view the Gryffindor head of house garbed in Slytherin livery akin to an apocalyptic omen. I find myself tempted to visit Malfoy manor simply for the opportunity to view his expression at the sight. ”
Despite himself, dumbfounded, Draco felt the Slytherin mask that he had since first year fall away as his mouth dropped open in shock and another nearly apocalyptic omen occurred when Severus’s staunch expression broke with amused snickers at the suggestion and Draco’s reaction.
Chapter 2: Prologue
The entire Great Hall went silent as the tiny child,in question, with legs almost as spindly as the stool he was trying to climb, settled himself on the stool. When he was finally atop the stool, and the Deputy Headmistress released it, he was practically engulfed by the sorting hat.
To everyone's surprise, instead of placing him almost immediately as it had Malfoy and some of the other children, the sorting hat hemmed and hawed grumbling one house title after another.
"Gryf—" the hat started to announce but abruptly changed it: "Slyt – for Merlin's sake child, make up your mind. Your housemates would like to eat sometime this century." The hat finished- chastising the boy to the shock of the professors and students both, who had never heard the hat taking on such a tone.
Only Severus noticed that the headmaster's bemused frown had broadened into an intrigued smile at the development.
By the time he turned his attention back to the sorting hat and nervously twitching boy, the hat's tone had softened: "You're equally suited to all of them child, and they each have something to offer in return. What is it you want most, boy?"
Strangely the hat's voice hardened again at the word boy and seemed to have a drastic effect on the child.
Shuddering, the boy whimpered barely loud enough for Severus to pick up the sound, then murmured so softly that Severus wouldn't have known what was said if he had not been reading the child's lips.
"Please, I don't … I- don't want to be – hurt – or other stuff - anymore. Where can I stay that I won't have to go back to the Dursley's - ever again?"
Even as the sorting hat was explaining that none of the houses could promise that, the shocked potions professor studied the too-small child, whose robes were barely covering overly large trainers and rolled up jeans. Intensely staring at the child, who was balling his fists into his robes with anxiety as he realized that he was the center of attention for the entire population of the great hall.
Unexpectedly, Severus saw the last person he expected to see reflected of in the child – himself.
Feeling the professor's stare on him, Potter turned his head and cocked it just enough that he saw the man's face as Severus mouthed "Slytherin."
Though the sorting hat pushing against his glasses made it difficult for Harry to appraise the dour-seeming man, what he could see made him feel better when he quietly asked the hat who the man was.
The man looked big enough, dark enough, and dangerous enough to intimidate even Harry's Uncle Vernon, and Harry was willing to bet, based on the solemn frank expression in the man's eyes, that if he was the head of the Slytherin house and said that Harry would be safe there - then Harry felt like he could trust it.
"Slytherin, then." The hat announced with equanimity, despite the shocked silence throughout the hall.
After meditating on the small gold hourglass hanging as a strange charm on a long dangling chain, Headmaster Dumbledore looked up in surprise to find that the last child had been sorted.
Forgetting suddenly the Gryffindor themed speech he had prepared to welcome the chosen one, he mumbled several oddities that even he didn't remember moments later and signaled for the house elves to serve.
Lifting his eyes to watch his potion's master, Albus was relieved to see the man sweeping his eyes across his group of Slytherins… catching their eyes with glances that held a very clear warning – Harry Potter was under his protection. In between his warning glances, Severus shot the boy encouraging glares – if a glare could be considered encouraging – whenever Harry hesitated in reaching for more food or drink.
By the time Dumbledore realized that he had cleared his plate without tasting a single item on it, Severus had laid his napkin on the table and was gesturing to the sated child with a careful head gesture that invited the boy to walk with him.
When the child stumbled over his trainers and fell against Professor Snape, the headmaster watched wryly as the professor shocked the entire staff by bending down to speak with the child for a moment then gently picking the boy up.
Yes, despite the questions it brought, it was a very promising start, indeed.
Chapter 3: What Dumbledore Saw in the Hourglass
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Settling back to his own meal, Dumbledore absent-mindedly ate as he reviewed the results of his meditations on the time turner:
If the time turner was correct, in the first year, Potter would seems to settle well into the Slytherin House with the professor's help. Quite unbelievably - and yet the time turner was quite clear on the subject - with Malfoy's assistance, Harry develops a click easily as loyal and tight as the alternate Gryffindor trio that still forms quite surprisingly around Neville.
The headmaster paused on that thought for the briefest of moments. Had he possibly misinterpreted the prophecy? The word mark could mean a variety of things, including viewing a target. Had Tom considered Neville his equal and sought to change the prophecy? He set his musing aside to consider later, though it would bear well if he paid young Neville more attention as well.
Harry doesn't chase Quirrell in his search for the stone, and the defense professor dies from a backlash of Voldemort's rage when they fail to remove the stone from the mirror of erised. Without having direct physical contact with Potter, Voldemort does not learn of the physical protection his mother's sacrifice gave him.
Certainly it was a protection that Neville would not have, but - studying the frail child that had virtually begged not to be sent back to his relatives, Albus found it difficult to believe that young Harry could triumph against the prophecied foe.
Yet, the time turner's portents suggested that by Harry's second year, he would garner a powerful ally. With his son firmly entrenched in Potter's clique, Lucius Malfoy would develop an odd fascination for the boy that Severus uses to redirect Malfoy's loyalties enough that Lucius pulls strings to enable Severus and Harry to have a private guardianship hearing before three members of the Wizengamot just before the beginning of the second year. The riddle diary is not returned to the school. The beast within the chamber of secrets is not set on the muggleborn students, and no one but Harry's inner circle learns that he's a parsletongue.
"Well, keeping the child out of both Fudge and Scrimgeour's clutches could only be to the good." He mumured softly and waved off Severus's speculative glance. Of course, Severus would have overheard that. Sometimes the man was far to keen, but turned to Harry's benefit...
Severus would finalize Harry's adoption by the beginning of the third year, and Harry would into the dungeons with the Potion's professor. Not taking the Hogwart's express back, Harry was going to avoid becoming the target of the Dementors. On Severus's advice he takes a double of potions instead of Divination, so never hears the second prophecy. When Sirius shows up and still attacks Gryffindor tower, the staff realize that he was looking for something else and – with Remus Lupin's help, sort things out about Peter Pettigrew. Sirius Black's cleared but alienates Harry by criticizing his newly adopted father.
Sirius, the poor boy, was another matter; however, and perhaps it would be for the better if Harry were kept apart from his impetuous and sadly unstable godfather. Thankfully, Albus was relieved to note that he would not have to interfere to arrange the matter.
With a nudge from Malfoy Sr. the Wizengamot denies Sirius a custody hearing until he receives counseling and treatment for the residual influence of his stay in Azkaban.
In fact, Albus was quite glad to see that Severus and Lucius seemed to be taking on a great many matters that he would rather avoid taking a direct hand in - allowing him to work behind the scenes.
In fourth year, fearing that the Triwizard cup would be an ideal opportunity to threaten Harry, Severus would station his fifth, sixth, and seventh years at the goblet around the clock. When Harry's name comes out, their memories are used to prove that Harry did not put his own name in and therefore could not legally or magically be held to the magical contract... Sadly, Viktor Krum does not survive the tournament, and when the revived Voldemort, minus Harry's blood protections, calls for the return of his death eaters, Lucius Malfoy goes with the intent of spying for Severus and Harry as well as locating the other Horocruxes.
Would those tip the balance? The time turner suggested it might, but how could one be so certain. A single word or glance could have the most unexpected ripples on time. Glancing back into the time turner, he spun it again, hoping to coax it slightly further, even though he knew that the further ahead he looked, the less certain he could be.
Staring into its depths, he watched Harry's fifth year with mixed curiosity and disbelief. It followed naturally on what he had seen so far, but was so far from the results of what would have happened if Harry had chosen Gryffindor.
Still, the time turner was quite insistent that in his fifth year, with the Dark Lord returned, Narcissa and Draco would move into Hogwarts under Severus's protection, and give Harry the first experience of being welcomed as part of a family. With Narcissa and Draco to offer Harry support, Severus decides it's time to tell Harry of both the prophecy and the horocruxes, as well as the need to study legillimency. Trusting Severus, and with the Malfoys' assistance, he learns quickly and is easily able to recognize the false visions as well as control his interaction through the link with Voldemort, so that Malfoy is able to give up his spying before they set a trap for Voldemort at the ministry. Harry and Voldemort have their first direct confrontation with Voldemort seriously injured by his attempt to both physically and mentally overpower Harry. Harry on the other hand comes away relatively unscathed, suffering only a scar from a cutting curse that Bellatrix Lestrange cast at him.
The impressions from the time-turner grew vague after that, but it seemed to offer such a promising start… if it was handled right.
Still, while the boy survived the confrontation with Voldemort, others had before. Was it enough to suggest that he truly was the prophesied child? Voldemort knew of the protections, and no where in the time turner's recollections did it show him possessing powers that would tip the balance.
"Ah Well," He sighed mentally; it would be another sleepless night before the pensieve.
Just a small note, not everyone in the wizarding world is convinced of the accuracy of using time turners to scry the future. Whether Dumbledore can see the future this way will be up to you and my muse to decide.
Chapter 4: When Harry Met Salazar
Severus whispered for the boy in his arms to compose himself as he watched the string of his first years approach, led by Prefect Flint.
Potter sat up stiffly in his arms and blinked away a gloss of tears that he had stoically refused to let fall. Though he had hidden it well, their brief interview had clearly frightened the child and disturbed Severus, who recognized from long experience that they had barely scratched the surface of the child's mistreatment.
When Flint and the curious string of sharp-eyed suspicious children finally reached the formal entrance to the Slytherin House, Severus reached down and gently plucked the over-sized trainers off of the child he carried and banished them with a flick of his hand as he set the child down. Potter blushed fiercely but seemed to realize that he was less likely to fall in his ratty socks than if he were in his cousin Dudley's shoes.
"Parkinson?" Severus questioned softly.
"Here Sir," a flouncy blonde spoke up.
"Step in behind her, Mr. Potter."
"Yes, Sir." Potter answered quietly and shuffled quickly to the indicated spot behind the girl, not daring to look up as he passed his classmates. As soon as he reached the spot, the professor turned to face the alcove they had been standing in and hissed.
When he turned back, intricate snakes - lining the outside arch framing the alcove- seemed to come alive rolling and hissing at each other in excitement as they slid into a new pattern framing a door that had materialized as they watched the writhing forms.
"You are formally welcomed to Slytherin: the living legacy of Salazar Slytherin, one of the four founders of Hogwarts. Whatever your lineage and background, half-blood, pure-blood, or ancient blood, wealthy or impoverished, foreign or native – it matters not. Within these halls, within this school, you are of the same family, of the same lineage, of the same blood and status: you are the heirs of Slytherin. You will be treated as such and expected to behave as such."
He paused scanning over the children, who looked back with varying degrees of disbelief, some with disdain and some with awe.
"You will find that, due to misconceptions that are too long held to be disproved, the other houses will hold you in suspicion and treat you with animosity. It has been this way for several centuries, for reasons that will be explained shortly. If they believe that any of you are weak and stand alone, they will pick you off as quickly as they can and use your weakness as a starting point from which to gnaw away at your year mates and house mates. For this reason, once you leave this hall, you will be united in thought and purpose – to bring pride and accomplishment to your house. Any discord you may have with any other member of your house will cease to exist when you step past this threshold and only resume when you are once again within its confines. Is that understood?"
"Yes, Sir!" the string of children chorused brightly.
"Very well. Enter, take a seat on the benches facing the founder's painting, and we shall begin. From this point onward, do not speak again until your name is called. Is that clear?"
Stepping out of the way, Severus offered them a thin-lipped smile as they nervously marched forward. One by one, they reached the arch, eyed the snakes who were still hissing excitedly as they passed, glanced at him for reassurance, and stepped through… until Potter approached. The child had kept his head down the entire march forward and only lifted it in response to the snakes increased hissing as he reached the door.
"Lift your head little Slytherin," One stone snake called.
"You've nothing to fear here, even one as small as you. Asps can be as deadly as Boas." Another reassured.
"We'll let no one in who would harm you," A third snake boasted
As he reached the door, Potter glanced at Severus uncertainly before he seemed to make a decision. The professor had said he couldn't speak, but…
"Thank you!" Potter hissed quickly and stepped through before the Severus and the snakes could get over their shock.
As the last student, Blaise Zabini was stepping through, the snakes finally erupted – frightening the child so badly that he tripped on the door frame and was only caught by the quidditch sharp reflexes of a startled Flint.
~~~He's a speaker. A speaker in the house. How long has it been? Who is he, Housemaster? Who is the new speaker? Does he have a familiar? There are many fine snakes in the forest, who would bond themselves to have a speaker as a familiar. There is another who has been waiting for a speaker for many years. She has served long and loyally, but wishes for her release. Speak to the child for her.~~~
The stone snakes rushed furiously towards Severus hissing explosively until he answered them softly, "You know that I can not understand you beyond the few words I have been taught. After the ceremony send a single representative to the portrait of Salazar in my office and I will answer what questions I can."
Hissing disappointedly, they nevertheless settled down and allowed him to follow Flint through before they obediently crawled into a third pattern that erased any trace of the entry into solid stone.
As he stalked down the long walk, past the anxious rows of first years who were trying not to quail under the grim calculating eyes of the second through seventh years students that surrounded them – lining the head of the room like a student wizengamot, Severus had to force himself not to study Potter. Reaching the head of the room, he stepped into the only empty area in the room (an inlaid silver circle twenty feet in diameter that stood just before a taller-than-live-sized portrait of Salazar Slytherin) and cleared his throat.
The older students quickly quieted, though Flint's report of the alcove snakes' odd behavior was clearly buzzing around the room. Their glares at Potter were somewhat harder to quell, but several well-placed glances and his on-going stiff silence soon had their attentions focused completely on him as he began.
"From the time of our founder, represented by the portrait behind me, Slytherin house has maintained a longstanding tradition that has never been broken from his day to ours – the Slytherin pact. The pact was initiated to initiate your integration into a new family with whom you will spend the majority of your magical development – your Slytherin family. In the old tradition of magical fostering – noble pure blood and ancient blood families required the children they received to cut their ties with their former families by revealing the family secrets that they held to demonstrate that there would not be a conflict of interest. We continue in this tradition – not asking that you renounce your first family; but demanding instead that you start afresh – having no secrets from those with whom you will share this next step towards adulthood and full wizardry."
"However, as secrets are held to protect others, every member of this house will take and refresh – each year - a binding oath that nothing shared today will be spoken of to anyone in the outside world – with the necessary exception of revelation to protect the confessor's life and family. Salazar, if you would?"
Making it clear that they would have no option, Severus paused to glance quickly at the boy who lived. As expected, the child was almost bloodless with panic as the portrait lead the room in the oath. The room glowed amber as each child's magic rose to meet and blend with the others before returning to its respective child. Watching carefully, Severus waited with concern as Potter seemed to hold back from the process. From their brief discussion, he understood why the boy was hesitating, but several students – having finished their own oaths were now watching him hawkishly – and it would not be good for the boy to delay much longer. Finally, the child seemed to slump in on himself and a broad field of amber circled him expanding outward briefly before returning quickly.
With the oath taken and their attention on 'him', the portrait cleared its throat.
"In interests of fairness, and as is traditional, I shall go first. Each of you, to be chosen for this house, have shown some measure of cunning, craft, ambition, and resilience. These traits were among the traits valued highest by Salazar Slytherin of whom I am only the merest shadow. I am, however, a shadow that Salazar, himself, endowed with certain knowledge. During the founder's time, Salazar began to recognize several distressing events occurring that threatened the future of the wizarding world and magic itself. These primarily rose from the rapidly increasing spread of the muggle religions. Before that time, Salazar held nothing against muggles and believed that those gifted with magic should share equally in their training – regardless of their background.
As muggle religions, which tended to cast wizards and witches as poisoners of the mind and corrupters of the innocent, spread – their persecution of magic and magic users also spread. Over time, Salazar began to notice that as the wizarding world's interaction with the muggle world increased – magics that had been respected, taught, and put to benign use since the time of the ancients were being re-classified as dark because they used ingredients that were superstitiously feared by these muggles. Spit, saliva, hair, or blood; fairy tears, devil's claw, or witches trumpet; unicorn horn, hoof, or tears; phoenix feather, dragon's blood, and griffin claw … these items, often enough, were all that were necessary in many cases – to define a spell or potion as dark, regardless of the purpose and intent of the wizard. Salazar feared that, in time, the muggle incursion – particularly of very religious muggles – would eliminate magic itself and tried to persuade the other founders of his position. He was unsuccessful and eventually left.
Do not think, though, that you will not be welcomed in this house if you are muggle – you will be. Indeed, you would not have been chosen for this house were it not for your most important criteria: a willingness to evaluate objectively each material, tool, ingredient, and person that you come into contact with on the basis of their own qualities rather than the superstition of others. Remember this always, for you will hear many times before you graduate that Slytherin has produced many 'dark wizards'. By the current classification of magic, that is true, but do not confuse this with evil. Many light charms such as wingardium leviosa have been used cruelly and with more viciousness than the killing curse which kills painlessly and instantly, yet the wizards who used them have not been labeled dark if the classification looked at the purpose to which they were put – such as allowing an invalid wizard to have a dignified painless death. Regrettably, this degradation of magic continues and every year, an increasing number of benign spells are being labeled dark – sometimes simply by the association of who favored its use (as opposed to considering the majority and common purposes that it has been put to).
That is the secret I hold – the secret that binds us - that and the fact that within this castle lies a storehouse of ancient wisdom, which Salazar preserved until the heirs of Slytherin can reverse the degradation of magic."
In the silence that followed, Severus was pleased to see several pensive faces relax. It happened every year. After a moment, Severus stepped again into the circle and faced the first years, knowing the later years had already heard his participation in the pact.
"As mentioned previously, I am your head of house, or traditionally, your housemaster. Due to my other duties within the school, I have received permission from the previous head of house and Salazar's shadow to limit my 'confidences' to those which I had when I entered this house as a first year student – to do otherwise would require that I divulge the circumstances of other students, instructors, and administrators whose confidences you have no compelling right to know."
He paused for them to digest that then began again: "when I started Hogwarts, I hated myself because I had been trained to by my father. My mother was a pure-blood witch, and when my father found out, he hated her for it. He was part Romani- a gypsy, but he trying to get away from that life and had idealized her as a well-to-do gentile, whose property he could control through her and ultimately inherited. The reverse was true, and both my mother and I suffered for it until she attempted our escape when I was seven. For five years, we lived impoverished, but in relative safety, until he employed the services of a Romani seeress to discover that my mother and I could be found at Platform 9 ¾'s at the beginning of the summer in my second year. During the time of our safety, I was tutored by my mother in potions, charms, and transfiguration as well as Defense against the Dark Arts. By the time I reached here as a first year student, I had learned almost an entire text of hexes, spells classified as Dark, and many classified as light with a single-minded focus on how they could best be used to protect my mother and myself.
Those are the secrets that I held when I entered this house as a first year."
When he looked up, Severus was not surprised to see tears streaming down their faces. It more or less happened every year. While he was by, all accounts an intensely private man, experience had demonstrated that Slytherin often drew an inordinate number of abused children, who were much easier to counsel when they knew that he had similar experiences. Potter did surprise him, though, when his gaze finally fell on the boy. The child's large green eyes were filled with pain and empathy, but the rest of his expression was crafted with intense determination and anger at what had happened to Severus. While the child might do little to protect himself, the professor suspected that if his own father had been there at the moment, the child might have launched himself at the man with his bare fists. As he studied the child's tiny face, making a note to himself to discuss with the boy his need to disguise his emotions and suppress any of his more Gryffindor urges should they arise.
"Mr. Lukins, come up here."
When the large-for-his-age boy joined him at the front of the room, Severus pulled a vial from his pocket and raised it for the room to see.
"To ease the process of confiding in your house, each of you will be given a single drop of veritiserum, a potion created to gently compel individuals to speak truthfully. The common dosage is three drops for children twelve and older. It's given as a crutch to overcome undue anxiety. When you have taken it, simply step into the circle and answer Salazar's questions."
Lukins nodded nervously, opened his mouth for the drop, stepped into the circle, and tried to find a place to start.
"Mr. Lukins, what are you most afraid to tell us?"
"I-I," Lukins paused for a second to swallow as the drop took effect and began again, "I tried to kill myself last year."
"I … My father told me if I didn't get into Hogwarts, he would disown me. My tutors think that I'm not smart enough to learn magic."
"Do you have any other secrets to share?"
"Yeah," Lukins whispered. "M-m-my mom d-drinks an awful lot when dad goes on business trips."
"Thank you for your confidence."
Lukins wiped his eyes on his sleeve and turned to go back to his seat, but Flint caught his arm and gently guided him to an empty bench at the end of the second year's benches.
"Greengrass," Severus called name above Lukins.
The girl's confession was a minor note on stealing money from her sister's pouch, but Severus managed to suppress his sneer.
Malfoy's was to be expected, at least to Severus, who long had watched his former housemate pressuring his son to become a miniature clone of himself.
Dolohov's was rather surprising, if only for the fact that Severus rarely encountered eating disorders in male students.
"Nearguard," Severus paused as he noticed how badly the mousey young man who had answered his call was trembling.
"Nearguard," he murmured softly again as the boy opened his mouth reluctantly. "There are virtually no secret's that haven't been shared here. We will not judge you."
"Why?" Salazar asked gently.
"I killed my brother."
Once the confession was out, the floodgates opened and the boy poured out a rather depressing anecdote describing how his younger brother had died after being thrown out of a tree by a burst of the first-year's accidental magic.
The girl's confidence caught Severus by surprise because it so rarely occurred in recent years: her parents had entered her into an arranged marriage with an adult business partner, and the girl was planning on running away from home as soon as she thought she could get away.
Salazar's questions had changed slightly with each child based on some nuance or other that he saw in their posture, but when Potter approached, took the drop, and stepped into the circle, the founder startled Severus with an almost harsh command.
"Remove your glamours, Mr. Potter."
"Glamours, Sir?" The boy asked in confusion.
"The spells disguising your appearance."
"I haven't … cast any spells."
"Don't mince words with me, Little Snake. It is contrary to the pact to hide even your true image from us. End the glamours that your family has cast." The portrait chastised irritably, ignoring Severus's quick headshake. Even as the boy turned his eyes to the professor.
"Salazar, the child's surviving family are muggles; they could not have cast a glamour."
"Be that as it may, his appearance is disguised, and it is a mockery of the pact to accept him into Slytherin in this condition."
"Finite incantatem," Severus ordered softly – to no effect, and he arched his eyebrow at the portrait.
"The boy's appearance has been changed, I'm sure of it."
"Well, Mr. Potter, can you explain?"
The child looked up at him with panicked consternation that suddenly cleared as he offered a timid, "Maybe."
"Either you can or you cannot, Mr. Potter. Explain yourself, or you will indeed find yourself looking for a new house without even the memory of why this house found you unsatisfactory. We, however, will remember."
As his warning sunk in, the child grew considerably paler and his eyes widened in alarm as he answered: "It's-happened-before-but-I-don't-know-how-it-happened. I-I-I cha-cha-nged the w-w-ay I lo-ok." Potter's rapid response turned into a frightened stutter as he scanned the portrait's disbelieving expression. "M-my a-au-n-t c-cut my h-hair off – chunks of it, and it look-ed so ugly. I hated it so-o m-uch and sh-e – she – she d-id it on purpose, I know she did so no one here would like me. I didn't even know what my letter was about, and she was already trying to make sure I didn't have friends here."
"And how did your appearance change after she did that?" Severus interrupted the boy before he could get into the matter of his confession.
"I do-don't know." Potter answered in an anxious voice, but it was clearly the truth. "When I went to bed that night, I just didn't want to look …" his voice dropped into a half heard mumble.
"You didn't want to look like what?" Severus pressed.
"A freak. I didn't want to look like a freak in Dudley's used clothes, huge shoes, and sprouts of hair sticking out of my head." Potter answered with anger and hurt thick in his voice as his small fists clinched by his thighs. "I went to bed praying I wouldn't look like one, and whe-n I w-oke up…they got awfully mad at me. Aunt Petunia said I had done something to change my hair, but she wouldn't let me look in the mirror and called Uncle Vernon."
Potter broke off in a shudder, staring at the ground as he heard the other students snickering and gossiping about him looking like a freak in someone else's clothes – certain that now they knew, they would send him back. Hadn't the professor just suggested that he would be looking for somewhere else to live. But would anyone want him when he had been kicked out on the first day?
He failed to hear the intense discussion going on over his head. If he had, it might not have made much sense to him, but the intrigued tones that both the professor and the portrait were using might have made him feel less insecure of his welcome.
"Wish magic?" the portrait suggested.
"Possibly, but I suspect a traumatically triggered metamorphmagus."
Salazar studied the child carefully. The boy was so tiny for his age, with a definitely underfed look to him… and the way he shuddered. Yes, that was a possibility.
"We must know."
"Agreed. Mr. Potter." Severus called for the child's attention, but soon realized that the discussion had stirred up the exact fears the child had expressed on the sorting stool – no doubt causing the child to panic about his future as a result.
"Mr. Potter." Severus called again, more softly without response, then knelt in front of the tiny boy. Even kneeling, Severus seemed to loom over the child as he reached out and caught Potter's clinching fists.
"Harry…" Startled bright green eyes shot up in awed reaction. Severus wanted to inquire why using his name would cause such a reaction, but there would be time enough for that later.
"Sir?" the Potter asked hesitantly.
"Harry…" Severus paused momentarily as the child's eyes widened again, "It is understandable that you are reluctant to expose yourself to ridicule for your appearance, but many of your classmates have exposed far more personal details about their life. It would not be equitable to allow you to continue to disguise yourself so."
"I understand." Potter answered with an air of finality and took a step towards the door with his head downcast. Only Severus was positioned to see the child's unshed tears begin to roll down his cheek.
"No! That's not what I meant." Severus caught his arm as he passed. "Close your eyes."
"Sir?" confusion laced the child's question.
"Close your eyes and concentrate on looking as you actually are. Try to remove your emotions from the question for a moment and simply be as you are. If this is wish magic, I can guide you in making a wish to cancel the other wish, but let's try this first."
"Yes, Sir." Harry was willing to try anything. The professor seemed to want him there, and Harry wanted that more than he even wanted a safe place to live. Even if everyone else thought he was a freak, it could be okay. He was used to that, but no one had ever wanted him before – not enough to use his name anyway. So Harry closed his eyes and concentrated as hard as he could on not thinking about how the others would look at him, and on being how he was – just how he was – even if he was a freak.
His task became twice as difficult as the other students gasped at his real appearance, but he just kept on thinking as hard as he could that he would do exactly what the professor asked no matter what. He waited what seemed like a very long time with his eyes closed waiting for the professor's response.
Finally, Severus caught his breath and forced enough of it through his throat to murmur "Very good."
As the child opened beaming eyes, Severus tried to force an encouraging smile. It was difficult as he stared at the scarred, bruised, burned, and obviously starved frame of the beaming child, but whatever weak smile he was able to muster must have been enough because Harry's eyes lit up so brightly that for a brief second the dark bruised rings beneath his sunken eyes seemed to disappear in the happy glow.
When Potter turned to the portrait and asked if he could share his secrets now, even the shadow of Slytherin seemed caught off guard.
Finally, the portrait settled on a simple statement: "Mr. Potter, begin."
Chapter 5: Madam Pomfrey's Special Interest
When Professor Snape favored Harry with what was clearly a welcoming smile (even on the Professor's grim features), Harry's breath seemed suddenly as if it had been stoppered in his lungs with only the tiniest hiss of air barely supporting the sobs that shook his delicate frame.
Harry's eyes widened in surprise at the new and overwhelming feelings that tightened his throat. The room seemed somehow more gray than it had been a moment before, making it harder to find his way to the first year bench the professor had directed him to. He stumbled a bit bumping first into the sullen girl that their housemaster had called Bullstrode and then into the blocky brunette that that had quietly introduced himself as Barian Bledsoe, when Harry apologized and turned to sit.
"Professor!" The sullen girl called out in a shocked voice that caused Harry to wonder what could have happened even as he realized that he was on his knees instead of on the bench where he'd meant to sit.
That didn't make sense, though, he shouldn't be on his knees; no one else was.
Reaching behind him, Harry tried to grab on the bench and pull himself back up, but only succeeded in pushing his arm at an awkward angle – reminding himself that he had wanted to remember to be careful with that arm. It hadn't felt quite right for the past few weeks since his uncle used it to drag him up the stairs while his aunt and cousin were at Piers something's birthday party. Getting hurt had been his own fault because he knew better than to fight his uncle when the man had been to the pub. He didn't know why he had, but for one brief moment, he had thought that his uncle was drunk enough for him to get away – so he tried.
Shaking his head woozily, Harry tried to focus on the voice calling his name. Even though his eyes were too bleary to discern the dark figure standing over him, his mind easily recognized who it had to be.
That was odd, his mouth wasn't working right.
"Lukins, Bulstrode, Goyle, Malfoy, Dolohov, Nearguard remain where you are. The remainder of you, follow your prefects to be assigned your suites. I would suggest that you retire early. There will be a house meeting at 5:30 a.m."
As the Slytherins filed out, none of the older students were really surprised that Professor Snape had asked those particular others to stay behind. There had even been a silent betting pool on who the seven would be, which Prefect Flint won, yet again.
Most of the seven had been obvious, but the choice of Malfoy came as a surprise. To many, his issues had not seemed quite as bad as the others; but, as Flint pointed out, more than a few had been warned by their parents to be careful around the seemingly haughty blonde because of his death-eater father – making his inclusion suddenly more logical as it occurred to some that disappointing a self-obsessed, death eater father might have serious consequences.
As soon as all of his students - aside from the six other first years that he had summoned - had disappeared down the hall through a hidden door in the wall just behind Salazar's portrait, Severus picked Harry up and ordered the six others to follow them to his office.
"There are introductions to make."
Wondering why their Professor wasn't trying to ease their housemate's attack, Malfoy and Bulstrode took the lead. Behind them, Nearguard and Dolohov stepped into line after sharing a concerned glance. They knew why they had been chosen to stay behind, but that was in no way comforting.
It was well known that Slytherins were expected to maintain a strong, almost untouchable front, yet they had just confessed in front of their entire house exactly how weak they were. It wasn't even like Potter, their shared glance seemed to agree. Neither had expected that, but why should they? For years, it had been rumored that the boy-who-lived was being raised in the pampered comforts of doting relatives, instead of the hell that he'd been inflicted with.
"Severus! What on earth are you doing, allowing a child to hyperventilate like that? For Merlin's sake, set the child down and give him a calming draught."
"Madam, the potion interactions if …"
"Will not matter a single whit if he continues to panic so much that his magic interferes with my scan." She chastised Professor Snape as though he were a first year. "Now put him down."
To the surprise of his new Slytherin nestlings, the dour professor nodded solemnly and laid Potter out on his office couch.
When he offered the child the calming draught, however, the boy turned, glaring defiantly at the Mediwitch, whom he had not even been introduced to yet, and struggled through his gasping to ask: "Do… you – think I – hhhh – hnh … should ta-hhh-ke – it, Sir?"… making it clear that he would not take it unless Professor Snape approved..
"Can you calm down without using it?" Professor Snape asked smugly, enjoying the fact that the tiny ill-used child still had enough spark not to be cowed by the abrasive Mediwitch, and further seemed to already desire his advice.
It would make the coming months and years to come far easier if he could nurture and strengthen the boy's quickly given trust – an asset he had not expected to receive so quickly.
Not responding immediately, the child held himself perfectly still on the couch, clinching his fists as he caught his breath and held it between lips that paled at the effort.
After a moment, the child released his breath in a slow rasped, "whoooo" then clutched his fists tightly again and caught a second breath. Clearly familiar with recovering from panic attacks, the child held it until he could let it go in a smooth exhale, and repeated it a third time.
Harry didn't really understand why he had panicked earlier, but he knew how to deal with a state of panic; his uncle had forced him to learn that and had given him a lot of practice in doing it. After a moment, he finally opened his eyes and nodded at his professor – ignoring the Mediwitch entirely.
"Very good, Harry." Professor Snape complimented the child – barely able to contain a surprised breath when the child's eyes seemed practically to grow luminescent with emotion.
Madame Pomfrey looked down at the ragged child with confusion. She had read the entire list of incoming first years and knew that there was only one Harry, but this emaciated, nearly starved, scarred creature in front of her with deeply bruised eyes and nappy patches of hair that made him look more like the hairy kin to a house elf than a human child – this boy could not be Harry Potter.
She had seen Harry Potter at the welcoming feast – the first welcoming feast that she had attended since her own years as a student – for the very purpose of seeing the Boy Who Lived welcomed back into the wizarding world.
From the entrance behind the staff table, she had watched the small for his age child being sorted into Slytherin. A surprise that, but not too great of one as the child would definitely need Slytherin skills in the future. Though small, he had appeared to be relatively healthy and Madam Pomfrey was not able to be fooled by glamours. Her long experience with the stubborn Slytherin head of house had taught her how to recognize glamours – particularly when they were being used to camouflage injuries and illness as the professor often did.
"He wasn't wearing a glamour, of that I'm certain." She protested.
"No." Professor Snape agreed, his expression suggesting that he wished she would just get on with her task.
"I am a meti-phor-phus-magis." The child impatiently mispronounced the word, clearly sharing the desire for her to move on with as few questions as possible. Poppy suspected that he would have, normally, never consider being so rude as to speak without being spoken to (or ordered to) first, but it was heartening that he'd remained possessed of at least that much spirit.
That little bit of spirit gave her hope that the acceptance of his professor and his house work wonders in helping him find his way. If it had been any other Slytherin housemaster - she might have had her doubts, but she had seen Severus guide others sadly even worse than this. Their cases had been few and far between but not irrecoverable - thanks to Severus.
Squirming under her silent contemplation, Harry reminded himself that the Professor had seemed to want him to stay, even to go so far as to argue with the portrait over it. Why, Harry didn't really understand, but as long as Professor Snape did seem to , it should be good enough for the school nurse – shouldn't it.
He wasn't at all comfortable with the thought of giving her any information that might hurt his chances of staying.. Harry knew though that other people might recognize he was a freak and want send him away. He had seen it happen to another classmate at his … muggle (that was the word that Hagrid had used) at his muggle school. A girl at school, Mercury, seemed to be quite a bit like him: small, quiet, always pale, and teary. Not that Harry cried, but she was a girl, and he expected that maybe girls would cry when they knew they were freaks. Anyway, the teacher, Ms. Montague, noticed that Mercury came in with bruises that she said were from falling down stairs; neither Harry nor the teacher had believed that though, and something happened because of it that Harry was still scared by.
One day, after Mercury showed up with a bruise on her forehead and acting strangely, Ms. Montegue used the intercom to call the school nurse who came and collected Mercury. Harry didn't see his classmate again, but his cousin Dudley had explained that evening that the school nurse called the freak squad to come get the girl. Harry didn't believe his cousin until he went back to school the next day rumors were going around school about how angry the police had been when they saw Mercury and how she was taken away in the back of their car. He didn't think she had done anything wrong, but from the way his aunt and uncle yelled at him, Harry knew that being a freak was bad. He had just never realized that it was bad enough to be taken away. From then on, Harry had tried as hard as he could not to be noticed – and Ms. Montegue soon stopped paying any attention to him at all.
Caught up in his memories, Harry wasn't aware of the mediwitch finally beginning her assessment of his medical history, nor did he see the tears rolling down her face as the witch's wand exceeded its spelled memory three times, having to be discharged on the self-lengthening roll of parchment before it could continue to record his body's testimony of past physical injuries. Nor did he notice that her hand was shaking by the time she touched her wand to the scroll a fourth time, then looked up to the Slytherin with a solemn comment, "and that's merely the physical."
Harry was drawn back to the present by Professor Snape's firm hand on his shoulder in time to hear the man compliment, "you handled that well, Harry."
"Is she finished?" Harry asked in surprise, not remembering feeling any of the things that doctors did on the tele, but thrilled that Professor Snape was again smiling slightly at him.
"Well, Madam Pomfrey is never quite finished with anyone that she takes a special interest in," the professor commented with a sheepish smile that caused Harry to chuckle without knowing why, "but once she does take a special interest in you- it's like having a hurricane on your side."
"Do you think she'll take a special interest in me?" Harry asked nervously.
"Oh, I guarantee it." The professor spared the mediwitch a thin-lipped barely-there smile that, nevertheless, seemed to communicate unfathomable measures of warmth. It was quite probably the first that she had seen him wear in years.
Chapter 6: The Slytherin Seven
As the Slytherins filed out, no one was really surprised that Professor Snape had asked those others to stay behind. The professor had been unusually temperate this year, and now that they had seen some of the first year's secrets – or more to the point, Potter's swoon - no one was going to question why.
Over time, the head boy and older prefects had recognized over time that Professor Snape, surreptitiously, took additional time throughout the year with housemates, who came from difficult circumstances or whom were expected to follow a little too closely in their parents often long shadows, and over time, they had begun to do what they could to make it easier on their Housemaster - taking the initiative to lay down and enforce the house's usually unspoken and unbreakable codes for dealing with the seven to firsties, and reminding the rest of their obligations.
Leading the remaining first years to their dorm, the prefect adopted his most stern and imposing manner as he gestured for them to take a seat at one of the tables in the hall between the suites that acted as the first year's common room and study hall.
"Sit and listen carefully. When I call your names, you'll come up and grasp this key. When you do, the door to one of these four suites will chime for you. That's where you and your team will be lodged up at for the rest of the year. The people in your suite are your team; you'll sleep, eat, walk with, and study with 'em for the next three years. Your teams will compete for inner house points, too - by studying together and making sure that all of your team mates are getting their work done for classes, by grades, prefect's reports, and other acknowledgments. Mind you, there will be other challenges too, puzzles, and scavenger hunts to sharpen your wits. The teams that are ahead each week get the choice of eating, socializing, with whatever other table and group your welcomed at – though I wouldn't bother with trying the Gryffindors; they're bloody self-righteous snobs when it comes hanging around with Slytherins. Anyway, that's only if your team is ahead of the others.
Keep thought on the fact, though, that you'll suffer with your team as well, if they fail. The house elves will keep this common hall moderately clean for you as well as the girl's facilities on the right and the boy's facilities on the left; but, your private rooms and suite are you and your teams responsibilities. You let 'em get dirty and you'll be stuck doing weekend detention with me or Grace Parkinson, the girls prefect – cleaning all of the Slytherin halls and common rooms. Get caught twice, and it's the potions classrooms, too. Too, if your grades sink, or you let any of your teammates fail – you all get to take the tutoring together, instead of doing the things you'd want to do."
Hoping to give the housemaster time to get the fifth group sorted out and introduced to Madam Pomfrey, Flint got waved them all to silence and began to explain:
"Okay, you lot, sit down and listen carefully. You won't hear this bit again unless you are called to task by a council of upper years, or worse yet, if you're standing in front of Professor Snape. Course by that time, he'll be saying it to explain why your on your way out. So, listen up. That lot, the ones who stayed behind, they're a special matter – aren't they? You've got to realize that from hearing their secrets. Especially Potter's…" Flint paused for a moment, before shaking off the discomfort that Potter's pact had caused him and continued, "though this doesn't apply just to him – it goes for all of them.
You heard the kind of crap that they've been through and know they've been tested in ways that you lot haven't… And, they've survived it. Cor knows how they did, but they did. Any of you that don't respect that best hope that you're not put in the same spots they were cause you don't have a clue how bad it can get. Anyway, they did it, but surviving doesn't always come that easy or leave the survivors with their lives as neat and tidy as they should or could be, so when they get here – we give 'em time and help to tidy things up. Otherwise, those cracks in their armor can become liabilities not only for them but for all of Slytherin. Because of that, they are going to get some special training to give them some of the things that most of you have probably taken for granted most of your lives.
This training can load them down, make 'em miss class, and other things, but don't dare think they aren't pulling their load. And, don't dare think you have a right to ridicule them for that or anything else you heard today. Inside Slytherin, things can get pretty competitive, nasty, and blood thirsty – you all 'll be tempted to have a go at each other with what you just learned, and for the most part, you're allowed to – with one exception: That lot – or more precisely – what that lot told you about their lives is absolutely off limits. Any of you who think otherwise will find yourselves in front of Professor Snape so quick you'll think they were portkeyed there, and when he hears what you did, you'll be expelled without recourse. And, I'll tell you something else, you get expelled for this and none of the other big schools will take you, and most of the small ones won't either, cause it's oath-breaking isn't it?
Now, with that said, while they're with the Professor, it's probably a good time to go into any questions that you may have about what they said or about anything else you'd like to ask."
Parkinson raised her hand nervously …
At the beginning of her question, a good number of the other hands dropped – obviously having been held up to start the same question. After all, to everyone's knowledge, the boy-who-lived was being raised in the pampered comforts of doting relatives instead of the horrible muggles they had heard about.
"What about him?" Flint asked anxiously, knowing that there were very few answers he could give on that front.
"His clothes…" She gulped in a way that made him think that she was going to ask an entirely different question, but had lost her nerve to continue in a less delicate one: "we're not going to let him go around in those, right? We can get him some others, right?"
When the boys around her rustled uncomfortably, Pansy insisted: "For the good of the house, you know, so it won't look like he's slumming with us right?"
Flint grinned slightly at her hammer handed way of handling it, but nodded: "Yes, I'm certain that Professor Snape will arrange something. Anything else?"
Tillotson raised his hand next, "Will he have to go home at hols and the like? Isn't there anything we can do about it?"
"Frankly, I don't know."
"Wasn't anyone keeping an eye on him?" Another first year asked not bothering to raise his hand.
"They were supposed to be, but it doesn't look like a good one." He answered glancing at the clock in hopes that his housemaster would soon walk in before the questions went beyond him.
"Can't the ministry do something?"
"Can't Professor Snape tell the aurors about this? It's wouldn't break the oath because you can just see by looking at him that those dirty muggles would have killed him if he were there much longer."
"It's not quite that simple." Flint tried to mitigate as the questions about Potter's situation flew faster and faster until they had completely exhausted every possible answer that the prefect could have given them.
Staring at him, irritably dissatisfied, the first years were trying to think of other questions – ones that he could answer- when the doors opened and six of the seven other first years and their head of house walked in. Flint was eager to leave the little snakes to Snape until he saw the unsettled expression on Potion Master's pallid face. Anticipating the Professor's desire to avoid a flurry of artless questions, Flint stood up quickly and ordered, "Okay, you lot. To bed, there will be a house meeting at 5:30 tomorrow, so get to sleep."
When Professor Snape didn't countermand Flint and glared at the slowest to move, the first year scattered quickly to their rooms. Flint turned to leave, pausing only a minute when he worked up the unexpected nerve to question his mentor.
"Sir, he won't be going back there, will he?"
Caught in a moment of unexpected weariness, Professor Snape answered honestly, "The Headmaster wishes for him to, due to protective family wards" and paused to acknowledge the ironic arch of Flint's brow as he continued, "but, I intend to be certain that the muggle scum who hurt the child, will not even consider laying a finger on him while he is in their custody."
Nodding at the Professor's slip in discretion, Flint quickly left the first year hall as Professor Snape went to settle the fifth team, but instead of heading to bed, he slipped into the seventh year's common room, where there was a meeting well in progress.
"Did you hear?" Flint asked hurriedly as he took a seat.
"Yeah, It changes things a bit. Blast that barmy old man for even thinking of sending Potter back there. In any event, okay we can't kill those rotten old berks, and we have to be careful about getting caught, but …"
Just outside the door, Professor Snape smirked as he listened to his little snakes plot, and revised the schedule of potions that he was going to instruct in his (thankfully all Slytherin ) Newts potions class. The emetics – used in the infirmary to cause projectile vomiting after poisoning – and the diuretics - used at St. Mungo's to insure that patients don't go into renal failure –( as well as the diarrheatics- used to purge patients intestines before more complex spells) usually weren't demonstrated until close to the end of the year so that Severus would not have to deal with the disgustingly pungent pranks that resulted from them. But, under the circumstances, he could easily shift his schedule to present them in the weeks before Christmas. There were a handful of others that he could also hint at for his more enterprising snakes to experiment with, but they would have to be veiled references during his private tutoring sessions - as Dumbledore certainly would not approve.
Chapter 7: Settling into Slytherin
Noticing her suitemate's difficulty, Millicent marched over, impatiently slapped his fluttering hands out of the way and quickly sorted his tie out for him.
"Boomslang," she muttered softly, half under her breath. "Calm down. There's nothing to be worried about."
"Why can't it be Potions, Daboia?" Harry asked also using her Slytherin chosen name as he proceeded to pull at his collar, trying to loosen it so he could breathe better.
"Stop that!" His hands were smacked away again, and his collar re-straightened. "It's not Potions, so you just have to roll with it."
"Couldn't I?" He almost begged for a reprieve.
"No! Flying's first up. No choice about it." Feeling uncomfortably inadequate to lighten the fear glowing in his Slytherin green eyes, Millicent threw up her hands, stalked to the entrance of their suite, and slammed the door open – immediately drawing everyone's attention to her.
"Dray, get over here, will you, and sort Potter out."
Sighing as he folded his hand and tucked it back into the exploding snap package with a rueful grin, Draco gestured to his suitemate that he would be right there. He had suspected that it would come to this, but had hoped that Millicent could learn to deal with their suitemate. To his surprise, it hadn't been Harry that was the problem either. If anything, Harry did everything he could to make certain that he didn't let their team down or disappoint Professor Snape.
The problem lay with Millicent, who had realized, at some point during the weeks that Harry had been confined to the infirmary, that Harry might be her way out of the marriage contract that her parents had forced on her. If she could convince them that she had a reasonable chance of catching him, they were very likely to back out of the arrangement in favor of Potter's potential prestige and social cache - if he should decide to take up the unclaimed role as head of the ancient and noble house of Potter.
With her being one of his suitemates, it was a reasonable assumption, but her reaction to that had been to immediately start trying to mold Harry into the perfect pureblood heir. And, little Harry was so willing – no not willing … desperate… Harry was so desperate to be what everyone thought he should be that he happily complied, studying whatever materials she brought for hours on end even after being tutored by Professor Snape in the courses that he was missing out on, and spending the whatever time was left catching up on the assigned homework. No matter how hard Harry tried, Millicent refused to be satisfied, and nothing that Draco or their other suitemates said seemed to get through to her. He was seriously beginning to believe that they were going to need to take the matter to Professor Snape.
"Hey Boom, what's up." he asked softly as soon as he stepped into their private rooms.
"Naja… is-isn't there some way, any way at all, that I could skiv out of first hour today?" Harry almost pleaded – guiltily ignoring Millicent's glare.
"Don't be a hufflepuff, Boomslang." She snarled fiercely before Draco interrupted.
"Daboia, enough. Go make sure our bags are all ready."
"No, either see to the bags or go get breakfast, either way leave us alone."
"Fine, fine. But, you get him sorted, you understand."
That was it - he decided - he was going to Professor Snape the first chance he got.
Glaring after her until the door shut and they had privacy again, Draco finally turned to see Harry miserably pulling the shoulder strap of his book bag over his shoulder.
"It's okay, Naja, I'll go. I don't want to cause any trouble, and we've kept up so far – even with me being in the infirmary."
"Boom, put your bag down."
"I said it's okay." His suitemate sighed despondently – very much not okay.
"Boom, put your stuff down and let's talk."
Harry shrugged, slipped his bag back into the cubby that he'd requested for his book shelf, and turned to their study table.
"Don't you ever get tired of sitting there?" Draco asked half curiously, half hopefully. Professor Snape hadn't needed to tell him that Harry needed to be encouraged to make some of his own choices and learn to relax from his rigid obedience to any and all rules that he came across.
"It's okay," Harry answered with little enthusiasm. "Where would you like?"
"How about my bed?"
"I couldn't…could I?"
"It's made already and you put so much attention in to making it perfectly."
"And can do so again, sit."
Harry cocked his head at an odd angle as he asked, "Are you sure?"
"Boom, do I ever offer anything that I'm not sure about?"
"Oh, okay." Harry gingerly sat, folding his hands in his lap as Millicent had said was more dignified than allowing them to 'loll about'.
Draco's sudden whoop and bounce on the bed came as a complete surprise and caused Harry to giggle in nervously before he clamped his hands over his mouth.
Ignoring the disconcerting look of shame that quickly followed, Draco dropped back and threw his arms out as if he'd never laid on a bed before.
"Okay, now that Daboia's gone to scowl at the rest of us, tell me what's going on. Why don't you want to go to go flying? I would have thought you'd have been looking forward to it."
"What if I can't do it?"
"Do you know for certain that you can't?"
"No, but what if…"
"Well, you tell me, what do you think will happen if you can't?"
"I don't know."
"Boomslang... talk to me." Draco insisted.
"Well, witches are supposed to fly, aren't they? Even muggles know that. A broom's even part of their Halloween costumes. If I can't fly, will the Headmaster let me stay?"
"Boom, No!" Draco hushed him but suddenly realized what his mate thought as the tiny boy's shoulder slumped and rushed to correct his response: "Wait... That's not how I meant it. I meant: 'No, you have the wrong idea'. You can't rely on muggles about anything having to do with witches and wizards. Sure a lot of witches and wizards do fly on brooms, but not all of them by any means. If they did, we wouldn't need port keys, floos, and the knight bus would we? But it's would seem a little odd to carry a mini-knight bus with you as part of a costume, wouldn't it?"
"So, if I can't fly, it's alright?"
"Sure, but there's no reason to think you can't. Heck even Crabbe can fly. Besides, you're dad was a pretty decent flyer, judging by an award I saw when I had detention with that creepy berk and his cat."
"Really, you think so?"
"Sure, and anyway, if you can't you just learn to make sure that you always have one of the other ways to get around, like using floos, port keys and apparition."
"Are there any other's that can't fly? In our year?"
"Sure there are, Granger for one. Her broom won't even twitch an inch."
"The one you call a hyped up know it all?"
"Okay, I guess that makes me feel better then." Harry's color had evened up slightly and he looked almost normal despite his still pallid complexion from being in the mediwitch's care for so long. Nodding his thanks, and starting to rise, Harry was surprised when Draco suddenly spelled his shoes off and pulled him back on the bed.
"As long as I have to remake it anyway…" Draco explained enigmatically as he pulled Harry to his feet – on the bed – and suddenly… jumped! When he landed, the impact of his greater body weight tossed a very shocked Harry almost a fair foot or two in the air.
"Come on Boom, live up to your namesake." Draco urged, jumping again.
"What?" Harry gasped as he landed a second time.
"Boomslangs are arboreal snakes; they are supposed to be in the air."
"I thought you picked out that name because my eyes are green like boomslangs and they are used in that potion that helps people do what I can do naturally."
"I did. Daboia wanted to name you for a tiny viper called a bitus, but it was grey and scaly and just didn't fit. Boomslang was my idea."
"Oh, thanks. What did the others want to call me?"
"Ehh, just don't let them name your first born, okay? Goyle's was the worst. He wanted to name you little hissy."
"He didn't!" Harry erupted completely scandalized as Draco broke out laughing and jumped yet again. When Harry realized he was being teased, he decided it was his turn to do some jumping and before he realized what was happening both he and Draco were bouncing around the soft packed bed as if it were a trampoline – totally unaware that Professor Snape and two prefects were standing just inside the doorway trying to stifle their amusement. Unfortunately, Millicent chose that moment to return, shouting loudly, "Harry, Draco, by the seven wands of Merlin, what do you think you are doing?"
Startled by her shriek, Harry tripped over Draco's feet as his suitemate came to an abrupt stop. An unfortunate pitch had him tumbling - head first towards the cold stone floor just as Professor Snape scowled at the girl who had pushed in beside him. His scowl only deepened as he was completely pushed out of the way by Lukins and Nearguard pushed by him to dive for Harry before he landed. Of the suite mates, only Dolohov had retained the presence of mind to cast a leviosa spell on Harry while Prefect Flint cast a cushioning charm and Prefect Parkinson summoned pillows from the bed.
By the time that Goyle stumbled in trying to illicitly sneak in breakfasts for Harry and Draco, Harry had scrambled to his feet and Draco had jumped down beside him. Both were staring at their stockinged feet and studiously avoiding the eyes of their suitemates after remembering that their rooms were to be inspected today.
Prefect Parkinson clucked her tongue as she inspected the room finding very few problems until she reached the bed.
"Unmade bed, five point demerit. Cast off shoes, two point demerit." She announced before handing her tablet to Flint. A quick scan produced no other demerits until he heard the plates clink as Goyle tried to push balance them together behind his back.
"Food in the common rooms, five point demerit. Professor, do you have anything to add.
"Quite." The Professor answered sternly as he stepped forward to stand between the two boys, "However, before I say anything else, would either of you like to explain yourselves?"
Both Draco and Harry were silent for several seconds causing Severus to sigh before he turned to walk back to the door way. He hadn't moved three inches though before he felt his cloak caught by a small hand.
"Yes, Mr. Potter?"
"Please Sir, don't take points from the whole group. Isn't there anyway that you could take them away from just me, because Draco was only trying to cheer me up after I told him that I was worried about flying lessons today and didn't want to go before he explained to me that some of the muggle ideas I've been raised with are wrong."
"Very well. I'll take that into consideration. Flint calculate this for me. First, with respect to Harry Potter, for completing one of the goals on his monthly goals list by participating in an activity that was not related in anyway to chores, studying, or satisfying another's whims fifteen points to his favor. Further for acknowledging his anxiety regarding an activity and reconsidered the his participation in light of that activity- also a monthly goal: fifteen points. With regard to Draco Malfoy, for providing adequate support and information to his teammate: twenty points. Total and placement, if you would Mr. Flint?
"Sir, their total is thirty eight points to the positive, bringing them into first place in their year and fourth overall."
"Very well, keep up the progress you Seven and get to the pitch, Madam Hooch is notoriously impatient to get in the air.
"Yes, Sir." Everyone rushed toward the door, but Harry who felt as though he still owed his head of house an apology and a thank you for mitigating the points. Before he could speak, though, Professor Snape's hand closed on the shoulder.
"Very well done, Harry. Very well done. Now off with you." He cast an amused smile around the room before pushing Harry out the door ahead of him. "We can take lunch in my offices if you still feel such an urgent need to confess whatever activity might have led up to this morning's display"
Chapter 8: Food for Thought
Draco grimaced as he saw the clutch of first years waiting for his group at the Slytherin entrance and he realized what their burst of points really meant. His group had to go first. More than that, as the highest point scorers of their team, he and Harry had to go first. Normally, it would have been a matter of pride, but Draco knew that it would practically be torture for his friend. Despite his friend's fame, Harry hated being watched, and this was going to put him right at the front of the lines of Slytherin walking to the great Hall – right after a very noticeable month and a half long absence.
He could already hear his friend's breathing rate pick up with anxiety and glanced to their head of house hopefully.
Catching his godson's significant glance at Harry, Severus could have cursed himself for his indulgently added points.
If he had realized beforehand how close they were to the lead, he would have withheld Draco's points – even though he wanted to encourage more shows of humanity from the young Malfoy heir, but there was no recompense for it now. As much as he wanted to drag Harry's group to the anonymous safety of being in the middle, it really wouldn't help. Anyone in the Great Hall, who was paying the slightest bit of attention, would recognize that Potter had 'returned' to his house and most would likely put on idiotic displays of immaturity – pointing and whispering and generally making the boy too nervous to even consider eating. And he was helpless to prevent it.
If he pulled the group back after they had been announced to lead the first years, it would have been too obvious why and Severus had been striving to balance his attentions to Harry so that his seeming favoritism would not make more enemies for Harry in his own house than there were likely to be in the children of loyal death eaters. Nodding that he understood the issue, Severus did the only thing he could think of and stepped in front of Harry after glancing back to be certain that all years had taken positions then pushed through.
As they walked through the dungeon's, Draco practically grinned. By walking behind Professor Snape and trying his keep up with his pace, Harry was being both distracted and obscured by the Professor's snapping and billowing robes.
"Naja, how does he get them to do that?" Harry's tiny voice floated up to Severus's ears and almost caused him to lose his glare in an amused smirk.
"Shhh." His godson answered quickly, catching the quirk of his godfather's lips from the side and recognizing that Severus's attempt to distract the hall would not be half as effective if he was smiling. If anything it would draw more attention. What they needed was for him to glare like he did at the stupid gryfs. As he thought about it, a solution and another problem came to mind at once.
"Professor, will Harry have to partner with Longbottom today?"
The question worked fabulously- bringing an angry glare to Professor Snape's scowl as the man cursed himself again for not foreseeing this difficulty when he had partnered Crabbe with the Granger chit. At the time, it had been necessary. Crabbe was almost hopeless in potions and was only making strides due to the girl's seemingly unending thirst to teach someone something she understood. Additionally, Longbottom – while he seemed to understand the materials – judging by his essays, was a walking time bomb when put in front of a cauldron. But yet again, it was something that he couldn't change without showing obvious favoritism.
"For the time being" he acknowledged his godson's speculation while gesturing subtly for the lines to split with Harry closely following him on the outside of the row, furthest from the other tables, and Draco's line taking the inside of the row – leading up to the head of the row and gestured for the others in his group to stand close so no one would notice as Harry slipped into his spot. The child was quickly seated with only a minimum of notice (the Headmaster's of course), and Severus swept across the front of the drawing as many eyes as he could by his sharp glare at the other tables.
The Professor watched the child nervously pick at his food until his suitemate's encouragements calmed him enough to eat almost half of a first year's normal potion – more than enough, in Severus's opinion, given the fact that it had taken almost the full month in the infirmary to accustom the child's system first to eating on a daily basis and then to eating more than one meal a day of any portion much less the quarter portion and nutrient potions that Madam Pomfrey currently hoped the child could manage. Waiting until Harry looked to him for approval, as the child always seemed to do, when he caught the boy's eyes, Severus subtly inclined his head and cast a significant glance to the point counters. As soon as he verified that Harry's gaze had followed his own, Severus quietly murmured "five points to Slytherin" and watched with amusement as the child's eyes widened – watching five green jewels trickling into the collection of Slytherin points. After a moment, Harry glanced back with the slight smile that Ms. Bullstrode had been coaching the child on – even in the infirmary – after it had become obvious to all that the child seemed to wear his heart on his sleeve.
Just as he was set on returning his attention to his own meal, Severus noted Harry's eyes sharpen with an idea as he stared pointedly at Severus – waiting for his Professor to feel his stare. The professor intentionally held a pretence of ignoring the boy's stare – curious what the child's response would be- and turned back in amusement when he somehow felt the child's gaze intensify, as if Harry were thinking 'look at me' over and over. The child's relief at being studied turned quickly to knowing amusement as if he suspected that his professor was playing a game with him then to a clear question as he turned from his mentor's attention to glance significantly at Dolohov's plate.
The little Slytherin!
'Yes,' Severus nodded after a moment's thought, 'yes' if Dolohov managed to eat the quarter portion that he was currently mincing into an unpalatable mess that not even a house elf could find appealing, then 'yes' Severus would add further points.
Eyeing Dolohov stuffing the disconcerting mash into his mouth in a quick attempt to earn points, Severus struggled to suppress a smirk as he turned back to nod at Harry. The morning's humor died abruptly as his watched his godson jump from his seat and fold himself in half over the big table trying to reach something on the far side. At an angle across from him, Miss Bullstrode was staring down at something beside her in dismay as she pulled her hands up from behind the edge of the table. As her hands rose into sight, Severus realized that they were gripped around a very familiar spindly wrist so tightly that, even from the head table, he could see the white rings of pressure left by her fingers. Glancing back to Draco, he saw a matching spindly hand begin to show from behind his godson's tipped head as Draco and Millicent pulled their suite-mate back onto the bench and leaned him forward over the table that the others had rapidly cleared. Severus was already standing when Draco looked over his shoulder, staring urgently at his godfather with a panicked gaze.
Potter seemed entirely unaware of Draco's hand shaking his shoulder as he clawed at his scar. Beside the boy, young Miss Bulstrode was hissing for Draco to return to his seat despite the fact that she was still holding Potter's hand in a near death grip. On her other side Lukins glanced up quickly – seeming to recognize Severus's hesitation to be seen worriedly rushing toward their table – in public no less and calmly stood. By the time he approached the table, the boy had settled a firm jawed mask of arrogant determination on his face that was echoed in his almost insolent tone as he drawled, "Professor Snape! My group is debating several matters. Could you come and tell them I'm right?"
Ignoring Professor McGonagall's smirk and the open chuckles coming from the Professor Sinistra and the Headmaster, Severus sighed as though he were being put upon and made a mental note to add points at the earliest opportunity for Lukin's intervention and acting. For effect, he scraped his fork around his plate – seeming to search for any last morsel to stall his departure – then answered with false irritability, "as it appears that I have finished my repast, I see no reason not to intervene before your supposed debate devolves to such cogent statements as "am not" and "am too". I'll be there momentarily."
Gesturing for the boy to return to his table, Severus paused by the headmaster's chair to complain weakly, "I suspect I will be craving intelligent conversation very shortly. You'll be in your office later?" – causing the rest of the staff to break into hearty chuckles if not outright laughter at his seeming stall as the headmaster tutted "Yes, yes," and gestured him on to his Slytherins.
Stalking up to stand behind Lukins and Malfoy, Severus leaned slightly into the table and whispered quickly, "Mr. Potter, do you need to be escorted to the infirmary?"
Severus was startled to see a glaze of blood smeared across Harry's forehead and coating his small fingers as they clawed almost frantically at his scar. Despite the obvious pain implied by his actions and his weaving form, the child had yet to make a sound and Severus was almost certain that his return to the table was the only thing causing any curiosity. As he spoke, the child gasped softly and shook his head.
"Nooo." he breathed out on a shuddering breath and slowly eased his clawed fist open.
"No… I-I think I'm okay."
The child's accompanying shudders made his response far from convincing, but Severus chose not to refute the child's notable attempt to maintain a strong facade. It was an attitude and skill that all of his Slytherins had needed to develop over their years, and of them – Harry more than most. With that in mind, he quickly used wandless and soundless magic to cast disillusionment, silencing, and levitation charms on the boy making him invisible and mute to anyone else who might have been watching as the professor gestured for them to stand and depart.
They were barely out of the hall when he heard the child's breathing steady and Potter's tiny invisible hand reach out to clutch his robe.
"I think I'm okay now."
"I believe you said that a minute ago." Severus murmured softly, but nevertheless gently ended the levitation spell and lowered Harry to the ground while he asked, "Would you care to explain what is causing your team such concern?"
Harry caught a painful breath that was almost a sob, swallowed tightly, and nodded as he looked up into his professor's gaze. Taking heart at the staunch encouragement his professor's study, Harry nodded again and, still clutching Severus's robes, walked back to the Great Hall's entrance, confident that the disillusionment charms would keep him from being seen as he scanned the crowd of students and staff.
Catching sight of whatever he had been searching for, he reached up for Severus's hand without looking, but knowing nonetheless that it would be where he expected and used his grasp to pull Severus down to him as he explained softly:
"When you were watching Risgyii, I felt like I was feeling someone stare at me the way Mr. Dursley does."
Severus glanced down from his study of the hall's occupants to smile at the use of muggle's surname. Harry was showing surprising progress in distancing himself from his family's seeming authority – twice in two days calling them by their formal names instead of their familial titles.
"How is that?" He could only hazard a guess at how the boy's uncle had looked him but if it was in either of the manners that immediately came to mind, Severus could think of several nasty spells that would insure that the man would never look at anything again - the least painful of which was a retina eating hex.
"Like he was doing things to hurt me just behind his eyes."
Chapter 9: In the Mind's Eye
Severus stared down at his charge in absolute shock – hardly giving credence to the stunning thought that had just occurred to him. It was highly unlikely, but then what wasn't with this amazing child.
"Harry…I think I understand, but could you explain that statement?"
"Uhhh…" Harry sighed softly, and looked up at Severus with nervous eyes, giving the professor the impression that the child felt was trying to work up the nerve to confess something, which given the confession already made – could only be something remarkable. Perhaps something even as remarkable as Severus's suspicions… but after a second glance it seemed the thought had put that whit-too much-attention on Harry and the boy's expression closed up into a guilty, but uncertain frown as he shook his head.
"Very well. On with your report." Severus answered quickly, knowing that Harry had already extended him more trust than he should have reasonably expected… on very little grounds to boot…
"Okay," the child sighed with relief, "when I looked up to see who it was, Ron was standing up staring at me, and talking to that man in the funny looking cloth hat like the sheik in Aladdin. Then everything started to hurt, but my scar…"
"Weasley!" Draco hissed with a significant glance at his mentor. "I told you he would do it. I told you!"
"What? Ron didn't hex me. He wouldn't…"
"How would you know?" Draco's jealous voice cracked, almost reaching the hall, and stirring Harry's irritation at his suite-mate over his memory of how Draco had acted on the train.
"I slipped in! That's how. I slipped in and he's mad, sure, but he doesn't want to hurt me." Harry confessed without realizing, in his pique at Draco, that he had confirmed his professor's suspicion until he caught the sharp calculating look in his professor's gaze and winced as his professor whispered: 'legillimens'.
Severus did his best to ease into the child's mind, admiring as he did the child's natural occlumancy shields and well defined mental declensions. Whether it was due to the years of abuse or his natural make up – the child's mind appeared to be well structured and compartmentalized. It reflected a mental preparation that Severus had taken years to set up in his godson's mind, and the fact that Harry, for whatever reason, was so far along would mean that he could begin occlumancy lessons at the exact same point for both boys and allow them to develop and work on their shields together – a factor that was known to be far more favorable than the often overpowering influence of a trained occlumancer/legillimancer on an untrained mind. Given their growing friendship, such a bond could only help Draco escape his father's path while giving the fragile child a more self-oriented perspective of what his life should be like.
'Harry' he called in the equivalent soft mental whisper and smiled softly at the child's quick response.
'Sir?' The child's questioning recognition was accompanied by a surprising stiffness in the child's form that worried Severus.
'Child, are you well?'
'You can slip, too?'
'Yes, I can also 'slip' into others' minds.'
'But, you're not evil!' The child protested mentally and vocally with a certainty that Severus found both touching for the child's faith and enraging for the obvious belief ingrained into the child that he was evil because he possessed a rare and delicate ability.
'No, Child,' he answered then gently withdrew from Harry's mind before continuing in a soft tone so that his godson and their suitemates could hear the remainder of his answer. "Occlumancy and legillimency are delicate and difficult arts that take a great deal of training to wield correctly, not a signs of darkness."
"But, Uncle Vernon said…" Harry trailed off wincing as he realized that he had once again slipped back into the use of his uncle's familial title when referring to a matter of his abuse ingrained authority (as Professor Snape described it).
"Child, what have I stated repeatedly about Mr. Dursley as an arbiter of wizarding knowledge?"
"The man…" Harry responded with a sneering tone so like Severus's that Draco's eyes widened as his friend continued, "has so little knowledge and understanding of the wizarding world that the wizengamot would have little difficulty sentencing him to a lifetime stint in a remedial facility for mentally challenged squibs."
Inside the Great Hall, everyone stilled as they heard a sound that no one was familiar with- Professor Snape's hearty baritone laughter. At the staff table most of the Professor's shared bemused glances then turned back to their meals, but there were two sets of eyes that were decidedly not lit with amusement: the headmaster's, which stared at his latest hire with concern, and the new Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor, whose eyes almost seemed to glow red with rage.
"Uncle Sev! They'll hear you laughing," Draco warned sharply causing Severus to quickly regain his composure with a grim nod.
"I'm sorry, Sir." Harry blurted – his eyes, once again, solidly anchored to the floor.
"For what are you apologizing, this time?"
"Making you laugh, Sir. I make everyone laugh at me."
Severus was glad, for once, that the child's eyes were glued to the floor, for he was almost certain that the child would have flinched at the stark anger crossing his and Draco's faces.
"Harry, Child, my anger was neither derogatory, nor directed at you but at the fact that for the first time in over a decade, I have a student who actually pays enough attention to my statement that he can accurately repeat them, verbatim to tone and intonation, even weeks later."
"Hey!" Draco protested, "I always listen."
"Yes, Draco, I know; however, I would have thought that you would realize that I hardly consider you a student first… but instead as family first."
"Of course, I knew that. I just wanted to remind you that I do listen, too." Draco retorted but clearly seemed mollified.
"Now, Harry, how are you feeling? It goes without saying that I expect an accurate report. Flying can be dangerous –particularly the first time you are on a broom. If you are in any doubt about your physical state, It should be divulged immediately."
To Harry's credit, he paused thinking about the question carefully, but giving Severus a response without realizing that he was doing so. During his weeks tutoring the child in the hospital wing, Severus had observed and catalogued over two dozen tells and was hard pressed not to sigh as he watched the child.
Harry's delicate hands flickered and fluttered over his robes straightening their folds and cuffs with quick care. The child's pale countenance warmed to an almost healthy peach tinged skin tone with a silent breath of the child's wish magic. His posture straightened and his eyes sharpened in focus so that he would appear to be the eager but sober, model student that he and his housemates were being taught to project.
To anyone, unfamiliar with Harry, the child's appearance would have been flawless, but Severus saw the reddening vessels in Harry's eyes that spoke of still intense, but slowly receding pain. His quick, impersonal scan of the child's face caught the faint bite marks on the child's lips where he had bitten to keep from crying out. The child's chest heaved like a sparrow's caught under a cat's keen eye.
Given the choice, Severus would not have allowed the child's release from the medical wing, much less his return to classes, but the headmaster and mediwitch had prevailed upon him to let the child return to even a half-schedule of his classes. Their arguments, while sound, had not won him over so much as Harry – sitting up, dwarfed by the youth bed and pale by the glaring white infirmary linens – doing just as he was now: attempting to convince Severus that he was in a better condition than he actually was.
And, just as Severus had then, he waited until Harry took the extra step of making his wishes known. In the potion master's opinion, the child's most basic wishes had been ignored and overridden for so long that he was virtually owed a choice in almost every matter that he had the ability to understand. To that end, Severus had not intention of riding rough shod over a single of the boy's choices without compelling or life threatening justifications.
"Professor, I'm not feeling all that great," the child began, not even attempting to lie as they had quickly learned that he had pitifully little talent in the skill – particularly when it came to attempting to fool the potions master.
"But…it really is getting better, and I think that I can try Madam Hooch's class and Draco will be there."
Severus pressed a rather obvious, if tight, smile on his lips and studied the boy who seemed to bloom under it as he nodded encouragingly. He would not coddle the child when and where it was not needed or wanted, but he would certainly be there to insure that the child's well-being was guarded, even if the boy would have no knowledge of it.
"Very well, Harry, but you are to take lunch in my offices today so that I may assess your status."
"Yes, Sir." Harry's tiny pearl-like teeth worried his lips to a bruised mauve before he finally worked up the nerve to blurt out: "Sir, may Draco come, too?"
"Do you feel comfortable discussing your matters with him?" Severus asked cautiously suspecting the child was still trying to appease his godson for any time that they spent away from Draco.
"Yes, Sir." Harry answered with far more confidence than Severus had heard from him, "Naja's the best friend I've ever had."
Chapter 11: A Lion's Prideful Ways
"Well if it isn't the pampered prince himself." A sneering tone drew Harry's attention as Ron Weasley broke from the clusters of Gryffindor first years waiting for their flying practice as the lines of Slytherin first years approached lead by Harry and Draco.
"Hey Potter, glad to see you finally show for class. How many points did Snape have to give you to finally get you up off your lazy arse?" Weasley jeered.
"None, Ron." Harrry answered with a troubled sigh as he gestured for his suite-mates to stay out of it when he heard their affronted grumbles, knowing Professor Snape wouldn't be happy with them if they got into a fight. "That's not how Professor Snape awards points."
"Oh, that's right, Snape's a real git with the points. We have to get our potions perfect, or he doesn't even notice, and the questions he asks cant bloody well even be from the same book because only Goody two shoes Granger can answer them, but you – you just slurp up a bit of cereal and the bloody git practically showers you with points."
Paling as Weasley's comment drew glares from a number of Gryffindors, Harry stared at the angry redhead in bewilderment.
"Ron, why are you acting like this? I thought you wanted to be my friend." He immediately regretted the question though as he watched Draco stiffen out of the corner of his eye and heard his suite-mate's grumblings. He must have sounded so pathetic. He was already letting everyone down on his first day of classes. If it Millicent hadn't repeatedly scolded him for looking weak by staring at the ground, Harry would have locked his eyes on his feet to avoid Weasley's.
Flushing at Harry's comment, Ron growled, "I did before you decided you wanted to be a slimy snake in the grass."
Harry could almost feel the entire line of Slytherins behind him stiffen angrily at his comment and knew that he had to do something, but he had no idea what to do. Both Draco and Millicent had told him that objecting to name calling only let an opponent know that the names were hitting their targets, but he couldn't think of any other response. He had chosen the Slytherin house and didn't understand why it was supposed to be the wrong choice. Everyone in the house had been so nice to him and had really helped him.
Before he could figure out a response, a plump Gryffindor with ebony hair and flashing brown eyes came up and caught Weasley's arm and chastised, "Ron, stop. You know the sorting hat put him in the Slytherin house for its own reasons."
"No, it didn't. He asked for it. The hat said so." Weasley retorted sharply, glaring at Harry as he continued, "I asked the sorting hat why he was put in the same house as a bunch of death eater's kids. You know what it said? He chose it. He wanted to go there. He wanted to go into the same house as the bastard that killed his own parents. How sick is that?"
Behind him, Harry heard curious murmurs as his year mates heard that he had chosen their house, but the murmurs quickly turned to angry growls as the Gryffindor continued.
"So?" asked the pudgy Gryffindor that Harry remembered being introduced to on the train, ""What if he did? He probably had a good reason to, and I'm sure that the hat wouldn't have put him in his house if he wouldn't do well there."
"You're blinking mad if you think any good will come of him being a snake." Weasley's face grew red faced as he practically yelled at his housemate.
"Looks to me like goods already come of it; he's a lot less tense than he was on the train, and if his professor gives him points for eating – all the better. He could use a bit more substance to him by the looks of it."
Harry was torn between being embarrassed that the Gryffindor, Longbottom – if Harry remembered correctly, felt he had to stand up against a housemate for Harry and relief that Longbottom had – because he would have probably messed it up. His relief immediately evaporated, though, as he glanced sideways to Draco and realized that his friend was adamantly avoiding his eyes with an angry expression.
"Naja?" he whispered urgently.
"Not now." Draco answered icily and pushed by Ron as Madame Hooch approached. It took a push from Millicent to get him walking beside Draco in shock and shame when he realized that he had already messed things up. He should have stood up for his house and told everyone that he was glad to be there instead of waiting for a Gryffindor to do it for him. By not doing so, it must have seemed like he agreed with Weasley's comments.
He hadn't realized that tears must have come to his eyes until Draco hissed, "Blink your eyes and, for Merlin's sake, don't sniffle. Here she is."
"Ah, Mr. Potter, how good of you to join us." Madame Hooch greeted Harry bluntly and glanced about oddly as several of the Gryffindors broke out laughing.
Worried by Draco's brush off and still angry expression, Harry chewed his lip nervously hoping that he wouldn't embarrass his house further with a poor performance when he got on the broom. As if she read the anxiety plainly on his face, which she probably did because Harry still hadn't managed the untouchable expression they were supposed to be able to put on at a moments notice, the flying instructor shooed him out of the way like a kindergartener and explained, "Well, Harry, let me get this lot up and running their drills, then I'll be back to tell you how to call your broom up."
"I can, Madame Hooch." Longbottom offered before any of Harry's suite-mates could, and Madame Hooch nodded quickly, clearly pleased not to have to deal with Longbottom in the air.
"Thank you, Neville. Just remember the extra sessions that we had if there's any difficulty."
As his housemates passed, Harry tried to meet their eyes hoping to see how many of them might be mad at him, but none would look his way. Instead, their eyes were focused on the intricate obstacle course that the professor was explaining as they walked away.
"Hey," a gentle hand on his shoulder drew Harry's attention back to the present. "Don't worry about your mates. They'll get over it quick enough when they realize you weren't doing anything wrong. Now, Gran says you were raised by muggles. Have you ever been on a broom before?"
Harry shook his head and studied the brooms that Longbottom was laying out parallel to them.
"Okay then, we'll start from the very beginning. It can be pretty spooky to be on a broom the first time, but our first year brooms are spelled to help us stay on and to read our skill so it keeps us at a safe distance from the ground. The first time I went up, though, I had a bit of a wonky broom and ended up falling off and hurting my wrist but Madam Pomfrey fixed it all up. I think you were asleep when they brought me into the infirmary."
Harry's head shot up at Longbottom comment. He hadn't been wearing his glamours in the infirmary, so the Gryffindor had to know. When their eyes met, the increasing anxiety tightening his chest eased at the glimmer of acceptance and concern in the boy's gaze. Something in the expression made Harry think that Longbottom wouldn't tell. That was one blessing at least.
"Uhhh…" he paused, not quite knowing what to say.
"Sorry, I forgot, we really didn't have a proper meet and greet on the train did we? My name is Neville Franklin Longbottom. Technically, I am the Head of the Ancient and Noble Longbottom House, or at least I will be when I reach my majority, but in reality my gran runs things, and I really don't think I'll want to take over things any faster than necessary. She has this way of getting people to do what she wants that I just don't have, and besides I'd like a few years after school to do some things that I'd like to do before I have to take on the headaches."
"Hi. Neville, or is it Franklin? Millicent told me that there is some tradition about the names of head of house holds, but I can't seem to remember it right now. Anyway, hi." Harry answered shyly extending his hand before he remembered how he was supposed to answer, "I mean, hello, my name is Harry James Potter. I will be the Head of Household for the Ancient House of Potter. I can't remember whether Millicent said whether its an Ancient and Noble or just and Ancient house. But, I guess I'll have to take it over when I'm old enough because the goblins at Gringotts are overseeing it for now."
"I suppose you'll have to then. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance by the way and it's Neville. Oh, yes. The tradition isn't that big of a deal, at least not to me. Heirs and Potential Heads of House can't change their names or use nicknames publicly. And your house is definitely both: Ancient and Noble that is. I've a book on family histories of the Ancient and Noble houses that you could read later if you like."
"Thank you, Neville, I would."
"Great, I'll bring it to potions, you can get it back to me whenever you feel like. Oh, by the way, thank Draco for me."
"Okay, I will. Could I ask why?"
"Sure, I doubt he'd keep it a secret from you if you asked him anyway. Gran gave me this rememberall ball that was driving me spare. It fogged up when I forgot something but never told me what I'd forgotten. Anyway, I was whinging about it in the library first week and he told me he'd help me take care of it, and he did."
"Really?" Harry asked curiously, wondering why Draco hadn't said anything to him about it.
"What did he do?"
"Ask him about it, he can give you the full story, but we should really start practicing now. Hooch will be back in a few seconds."
Realizing that Neville had been distracting him until his uneasiness had died down some, Harry flashed a weak smile at the Gryffindor and nodded.
"Good, now hold out your hand like this and …" Neville went on to explain the process then stepped back and let Harry try.
"Up!" the small boy called hopefully then flushed when the broom barely rolled.
"Up!" The half rolled to the side.
"Up!" the half roll diminished to a soft jump as Harry's hope to pull it off quietly died.
"Up." He sighed and shook his head before looking up at Neville.
Neville wasn't watching him though; instead, his eyes were focused on his housemates as they swept through the relay portion of the course. More precisely, his eyes were narrowing as he watched Weasley dragging behind in the Gryffindor formation – far enough behind that when he dropped the bludger that he'd been carrying through the course, it fell like a rock directly into Draco's path.
Reacting purely on instinct, Harry grabbed the broom handle and he was barely astride the broom before he was shooting forward. Had it been any other child astride the broom, there would have been no chance of intercepting the bludger barely seconds before it would have struck Draco in the head with a force sufficient to knock him off of his broom despite the safety charms. As it was, Harry only reached the important collision point, barely a foot and a half above Draco's head by wrapping himself in a tight spiral around the broom handle. His small size and unhealthy weight minimized the wind resistance and allowed him to arc over Draco's head like a shield – taking the full force of the charm-enhanced bludger's fall - in the dead center of his spine.
The bludger's impact struck with such force that the sound of his ribs snapping away from his spine echoed across the pitch stopping everyone in their place.
Chapter 12: The Softly Hissing Darkness.
Nodding at Severus's gesture toward the privacy screen at the far end of the infirmary, Lucius suppressed a smirk as his friend led the fuming mediwitch away. There was something refreshing in the knowledge that while others might deny him access to the boy based on his past 'affiliations', Madam Pomfrey was equally inclined to refuse the headmaster's access until she felt the boy was up to the visit. Were it not the reminder that the child was currently unconscious (and therefore beyond troubling) and that he was being attended by Lucius's son, who had refused to move from his friend's side so vehemently that even a calming draught had failed to diminish his persistence, Lucius would have been equally banned. That reminder caused enough doubt that Severus was easily able to bundle her off and send Lucius in search of his son.
As he approached the screen, Lucius was rather surprised to his son's soft distraught voice.
"Boom, you idiot. Why did you go and do that? I was trying to stay out of it so hard when that bloody prat was picking on you because I knew you would be upset if I hexed him, and here you go and make me want to hex him bloodless. I know spells that could do it, too. Things they can't treat fast enough, and I swear I'll use them if he ever hurts you again. There won't be enough of him left to find. But, why did you have to go and do something so stupid."
Beyond the idiocy of his son's foolish nearly-public admission to knowing Dark Arts , Lucius was stunned at the frustration and violence in his son's tone. Draco had been so contained in his bare references to the famed boy who lived that, at times, Lucius could barely credit that they were in the same house. Yet, here, his child, who had not only been raised to cunning and discretion but who had shown a deep talent for the facilities, was sufficiently overwrought to make what might, in other circumstances, be a fatal error. There was clearly more to their association than Lucius had gathered, and he was both proud and irked to discover it.
"Njjaah…" a soft pained groan sounded from within the screen, causing Lucius to pause curiously. Far more could be learned of the boy and familiarity before they learned of his presence.
"Boom!" Draco gasped excitedly.
"Naajjjhh." the child voice sounded breathless with pain as he tried to repeat Draco's nick name.
"I'm here, Boom."
"Hurrrtttt?" The child's comment could have easily been misconstrued as a complaint, but both Lucius and Draco easily picked up the questioning note.
"No. I'm okay, what you did stopped it before it was anywhere near me, but Boom, why would you do that?"
"Huhhh?" The child's honest confusion was almost humorous – coming from a Slytherin. Obviously, his rescue of Draco had not been the basis for future manipulations.
"Boom, tell me why you did that – why did you fly in front of the bludger?"
"Najjahh – you co-uld hhuh-hav-e… unnnhhh."
"Noo- 'ts okk-ay. I-I d'd't cos you'dha been hurrrttt."
Well, that was hardly a surprise. With a Gryffindor diluted heritage, the boy was bound to retain at least a modicum of his parent's wayward bravery, though there had been a fair number of Potters in Slytherin and the boy's father had always demonstrated a delightful sense of cunning and ruthlessness.
"You could have yelled or used a spell to deflect it."
"No-uh. No time. Could-ave missed."
So, there had been at least some thought to the boy's seemingly reckless response. Preferrable, if Draco was to continue in his association.
"Uhhhnnnh… Naj-ja, please get Madam Pomfreeeh," the child broke off in a pained gasp.
Before Lucius could make a tactful retreat, Draco bolted around the corner and straight into his legs.
"F-fa-ther?" Draco stuttered as he realized how much his father might know about their friendship.
"Na…Dra-co? You okay?"
"Yeah. I'll be fine, my father's just arrived, and I didn't quite watch where I was going. Be right back."
Stepping around the privacy screen, Lucius stared at the miniscule figure in shock. The child seemed years to young to even attend Hogwarts, much less barely occupy a bed in its hospital wing after saving an another student from a near fatal attack. The child's wrists were barely as wide as a broom handle and stood out just as starkly. Potter's head was tossed back in a display of fierce effort – his face pale, his eyes clenched tightly, his lower lip trembling between his teeth, his face glazed with a sheen of perspiration, and his breath coming in tiny pants.
This tiny boy, who appeared barely bigger than the pillows placed at his sides to stabilize his back … this was the child who brought ruin on the Dark Lord.
This very small boy, who bore the lacing of long born scars, had somehow rallied the fortitude to inconceivably master flight his very first time on a broom to throw himself into the air from over three hundred yards away and shield Draco at the risk of his own life.
His quiet study was brought to a sudden halt when the child's body seemed to snap free of its effort and collapsed into the pillows behind him, nearly as pale as the sheets beneath him. Caught by unexpected concern, Lucius stepped forward reaching for the boy's wrist when forest green eyes flickered open.
Seeming startled by Lucius's nearness, Potter sat bolt straight as he acknowledged Lucius's presence with a flushed nod. Noticing the hand reaching for his wrist, the boy hesitated then reached out in return and clasped it carefully – surprising Lucius as he leaned his insubstantial weight into the grip for support as he carefully edged off the bed. When Potter was finally standing, though only by somewhat stiffly propping himself at the side of the bed, he released the drip, politely thanking Lucius for his assistance, then pressed his palms flat against his thighs and carefully folded into an exemplary version of the precisely 45 degree bow expected of well mannered young wizards.
"May I introduce myself, Sir?"
Bemused by the child's unexpected propriety in unusual circumstances, Lucius stared at the child in fascination. Only moments before, he had been certain that the child would slip into unconsciousness, yet here the child was greeting him as though their first meeting were at a Ministry fundraiser instead of the child's sick bed. His absorption with the child's manner only increased ten-fold as the child held the even-normally-uncomfortable pose, awaiting his answer with quiet dignity despite the awkwardly cut infirmary gown, the fine trembling of exertion that shook his limbs, and the strained breaths breaking from tightly pinched lips.
"Of course," Lucius murmured as he heard Severus, Madam Pomfrey, and his son approach.
"Greetings, Sir. My name is Harold James Potter. I have been informed that as the future Head of the Ancient and Noble House, in public at least, I must keep my formal name, but in private, Sir, as you are Draco's father, I would be honored if you would call me by Harry."
"Thank you, Mister Potter. It is a pleasure to make you're acquaintance." Lucius paused at the almost uncomfortable realization that it was true. "I regret that, as Head of the Ancient House of Malfoy, I cannot offer you a similar privilege until you reach the age of majority and accept the responsibilities of your house, but I look forward to that day."
"Thank you, Sir." the child responded as he stood from the bow and swayed uneasily.
Any further comment they might have made to each other was swept away by the shocked gasps of his son and the mediwitch as the three came around the edge of the screen.
"Harry…what? How are you… this is incredible…" the mediwitch stared at the child in pure befuddlement as Severus came around her side and scooped his arms beneath the boy's legs and behind his back to lift him carefully into bed. Lucius found himself staring in equal shock at the sight. It was nearly impossible to credit that Severus could be as gentle with anyone outside of Draco- but particularly impossible that he could with Potter's son - the child of a man who had made Severus an outcast even in his own house for no other reason than the enjoyment of another's suffering. His fascination with the boy grew geometrically.
Realizing that he had, quite uncharacteristically, missed an important part of their comments to the boy, Lucius tried to piece together the reasons behind their obvious shock and consternation their from half answered questions.
"Mr. Potter, has something of this magnitude happened previously?"
"Did you simply wish it away this time?"
"Mmmhhmm," the child yawned negatively as he slipped wearily back into the pillows. "Just wanted to be strong 'nuf to make aaaahhh pro-perhhh first mmpresson."
Just before child slipped off to sleep- having exhausted his magic, according to Madam Pomfrey's report- he turned backed to Lucius and yawned, "Auhhhnhhhh, 's very nissse to meeeet you Sirrhh. I-yeee really like Dra-co and hope you'hhll lettt-us be frens… "
Before Lucius could master his surprise and respond, the child's breathing had slowed into obvious sleep. In his respite, the child appeared even more paradoxically fragile than he had appeared before Lucius had seen him set aside great pain to impress his friend's father. He was abruptly drawn from his reverie by Severus's hand on his shoulder.
"Lucius?!?" Severus's tone sounded wary as he met Lucius's gaze, clearly trying to gauge his friend's appraisal of the boy-who-lived.
It was a reasonable concern, Lucius knew. Potter was a half-blood: the proof of a blood traitor's disgusting coupling with a muggle. By all reports, he was virtually a muggle, himself - having been raised by his muggle relatives. He tiny body laced with scars and abuses, demonstrating the very habits and barbarity that muggles should be reviled for. By all of the standards that Lucius held dear, the child should be at best a revolting symbol of the Dark Lord's fall; at worst, a hated enemy to be reviled and hurt in everyway possible. Instead…
"He is quite unexpected."
Glancing around Harry was startled to see that he wasn't in his suit in the alcoves where his suitemates slept. Rubbing his eyes with the palm of his hand, Harry was surprised to see each of his suitemates had taken a nearby infirmary cot. His throat swelled as studied each one gratefully. No one had ever done that for him before – not even when he was in the infirmary the first time. Realizing that they were all well and truly asleep, he tried to identify what had woken him, but nothing had changed. He hadn't really expected them to be up, but then he was certain that he had heard a voice calling him.
"Hello…" he whispered cautiously. "Who's there?"
"Little one…. Ssssssss….I did not wissssh to wake you. Sssssleep, Little one." After a moment Harry recognized the speech was similar to the speech the snakes at the Slytherin entrance. Was there a snake in their room? He couldn't see one.
"A-re are you a snake?" he quietly hissed the question.
"Ahhh, so no one has sssspoken to you of me. No wonder you have not come."
Anxious that the voice would be angry at who ever had not spoken to him yet, Harry rushed to make their excuses, "Please Ma'am," he answered even as he wondered why it sounded like a Ma'am to him. "Please don't be angry with anyone. They may have wanted to wait until they could be sure I was feeling okay. Today was the first day that I was allowed back to classes and somehow ended right back in the hospital wing."
"Hassss someone struck you?" the voice hissed suspiciously. "I have not seen anyone near other than your nestlings near enough to hunt you. Has one of your nestlings hunted you?"
"No, no Ma'am. No one here hurt me … not intentionally." He really didn't want to think about the thought that Weasley had been willing to hurt Draco just because he was Harry's friend –just like Dudley.
"Ahhh, then resssst, Little one. I will guard you and your nestlings while you heal. No one will hurt you – even 'not intentionally'. When you can return to your nest, the small ones who guard your door can lead you to me. I have waited so long for a speaker to release me… please heal soon." The hissing sounded so exhausted and wistful, that Harry couldn't help but worry.
"Ma'am, are you alright?"
"Ahhh, I had forgotten the questionsss sssmall sspeakerssss can asssk. Yesss, little one, I am sssatisssssfactory."
If it wouldn't have been rude, Harry might have disputed her claim because her voice definitely sounded as if she was depressed and possibly in deep pain.
"Ma'am, if you need me to, I can do some magic that would let me come to you now."
"Asssss done thisss afternoon?"
"Yes, Ma'am, I might not be able to stay long, but…"
"Noo. Your generosssity is appreccciated, but there issss time. I have waited agesssss… in comparissson weekssss, even monthssss are meaninglessss..
"If your sure."
"Yesssss, now sssleeeep."
"Yes ma'am. Good night. Thank you for visiting me."
"Ssssleep, we shall sssspeak sssoon. .
Chapter 13: Two Boons and a Pact
"Harry, have you considered what boon you might wish to ask of me?"
Lucius asked as he watched the much vaunted boy-who-lived with thinly veiled amusement. There was a decidedly delicious irony in watching the frail child interact with Draco and Severus. The child's tone was almost subservient to Draco and nearly worshipful of Severus as he attempted to explain himself for both his rash rescue attempt and his remarkable, though ill-considered, attempt to strengthen instead of heal himself with wish magic.
It was probably the deference that the boy was paying Draco (combined with the amusing sight of Severus spluttering every time the boy's parentage showed in blatant admissions and cloying sincerity) that prompted Lucius to give the child a brief respite from their lectures, but the blaze of desperate gratitude that flashed through Potter's eyes as he turned to question Lucius cinched it.
"Sir?" Potter asked with obvious confusion. "A boon?"
"It is not uncommon for the head of a noble house to reward an individual who has performed an act of great benefit to that house. Preventing Draco, the direct heir to the Ancient and Noble House of Malfoy, suffering a grievous and severe injury could easily be defined as an act of great benefit to this house; therefore, you are entitled to request a reward should you desire one."
"A reward, Sir? I wouldn't ask for a reward to keeping Draco from being hurt when I could do something about it. Draco's m… I th-think of Draco as a friend. I'd be a pretty sorry friend if I didn't try to keep him from being hurt if I could." Realizing how pushy, even self-righteous, he'd sounded, the child blushed heatedly at his own impertinence.
Luscious, however, simply smirked - not having expected Potter to grasp the more manipulative opportunity being presented after having overheard the boy's discussion with his son in the infirmary wing. Too many wizards, even in Slytherin, had simply accepted the idea that Slytherins were, by nature, manipulative and opportunistic. Lucius, who had longed –since childhood- for political power beyond the power inherent in being a direct heir to an ancient and noble house, knew better after years spent observing the many the natures of his housemates, whom he deemed to be his most likely competition for such power.
As a result, he could often easily discern the factors that landed a child in Slytherin, as well as the most likely means of exploiting these factors. As Severus had, in his youth, Potter practically radiated with an air of long-suffered abuses, low self-worth, and un-confessed fears, and Lucius had no doubt that, like Severus, the child could be won over quite easily with carefully meted praise and a semblance of concern. The effort had been well worth Lucius's minimal attentions to Severus, and Lucius was quite certain that similar efforts toward Potter could be parlayed into a wealth of benefits for both Draco and himself.
"No, Harry. A boon need not be anything as coarse as money or a similar 'reward' – given as payment for such a service. Friendships would undoubtedly falter if they were reliant on such gifts. Instead, consider it similar to giving a child a confectionery treat in celebration of high grades. The distinction of outcome (between high grades and Draco's health and well being) simply merits a greater show of appreciation in this instance."
When the boy slowly relaxed from the tense position he'd taken since his outburst and began to pensively chew his lips, Lucius coaxed: "Do you have a familiar? Perhaps an owl? They can be quite useful creatures. A broom of your own? You certainly have the skill to make use of one. Is there truly no boon, gift, or favor you would ask of me?"
"Gift?" Harry's eyes flashed with a glimpse of curious anxiety that Lucius could not help but wonder at. After a moment's indecision, the child surprised them all by quietly asking if he could speak with Lucius alone.
Raising an eyebrow at Severus's archey glower, followed by a clearly reluctant nod, Lucius carefully suppressed his smirk at the potion master's clearly protective and possessive demeanor while taking note of how deeply entrenched his old friend's care for the boy must be to display such blatant concern.
Although Lucius had long recognized Severus's connection to his godson, he had never suspected that his oldest associate was capable of shaking loose even a single ounce more compassion, particularly not for this child. Yet, there they stood Severus and his own son – both of whom he had discovered keeping well hidden their sentiments about the boy-who-lived, even from him – clearly very reluctant to even consider leaving the child alone with him. If this was even a hint to the loyalty that the child could engender in others, over so short a time, he was definitely a pawn to have in hand.
If deftly maneuvered, the boy might even be the key to wresting control of his former protégé back from that muggle-besotted loon that the Board of Governors had placed in charge of Hogwarts. Though an intensely proud man, Lucius had never allowed himself to be deluded by his own mistakes, and the loss of his control over Severus had been one of his greatest – perhaps even greater than declaring himself for the self-styled Dark Lord that Lucius had once hoped to use as a camouflage and shield to disguise his own campaign for power. Banking on Riddle's early charisma, Lucius had unwittingly committed himself a madman and had taken a mark that he had not truly understood the ramifications of until after the Dark Lord's first fall had allowed him the opportunity to reflect back on his previous actions – with loathing and disgust.
The mark itself was a corrupting influence that it had taken many years to limit the influences of. But, due largely to the mark's own magic, he had not realized it until its maker was diminished and exiled by this confrontation with the child.
"Sir…" Harry interrupted his introspection nervously.
"There was something you wished to ask of me?" Perhaps, he owed the child two boons for enabling him to free himself from the throes and influences of the Dark Mark.
"Yes, Sir." Harry's voice suddenly slipped almost below Lucius's hearing as the child explained in an embarrassed rush: "Sir, Christmas-is-coming-pretty-soon-and-I've-never-been-Christmas-shopping-in-the-muggle-world-much -less-the-wizarding-world,but-Millicent-says-that-the-gifts-I-give,-as-the-head-of-the-House-of-the-
Potter-household,-are-very-very-important-to-making-alliances-and-alliances-are-important-between-houses. One-of-the-account-managers-at-Gringotts-said-I-I-have-access-to-a-special-account-for-"just-such-a-purpose", but-I-don't-know-what-to-get-and-what-not-to…Could-you-please-teach-me?"
Somewhat bemused that he had actually understood the entire explanation, though it was given in a single breath, Lucius took a moment to diminish his smile to a merely humorously tolerant expression before he turned. It wouldn't do at all to let the boy know that he was virtually delivering himself into Lucius's influence.
"You do realize that your request reflects a rather lengthy tutelage; that such lessons are usually carried out in person, by example, over years; and that my duties as the Head of the Ancient and Noble House of Malfoy are not ideally suited to delivering such instruction in a traditional manner."
"Oh, I-I-I had-n't." Harry answered quietly, apparently paled by the thought that his request had been for something far more involved than he realized. "I'm sorry; I really wouldn't have asked if I had."
"Harry, I did not intend to imply that I was unwilling to do so," Lucius smiled graciously – pleased to see that he would take such a small caution so seriously, then continued, "but simply that it could not be done in the traditional manner – the same manner that Draco will learn the subject. What I would propose, instead, is to proceed through the same instruction by correspondence. Perhaps a visit over the holidays could be arranged for us to attend certain functions that will expose you to the alliances you will one day need to make."
Waiting until the child's face regained some color and lit up with understanding, Lucius finished laying the path the first of many steps the child would take under his 'guidance': "We will not have time to address the subject thoroughly by this Christmas; however, I believe that I can assist you in making the appropriate choices this year, and the expectations placed on you for your first Christmas in the wizarding 'world' (as you call it) will not be as exacting as they will be in later years. By this time, next year, I believe we will have covered the material sufficiently that you should be able to make suitable choices without advisement."
"Thank you, Sir. If you're sure you don't mind, that would be brilliant. I didn't know it would take so much time, or I really wouldn't have asked, but … it would be brilliant if you could. … Thank you."
"You are quite welcome, Harry." Lucius's let his smile reflect some of the genuine pleasure he was feeling at Harry's reception. It was so much easier to sway other's opinions when they felt indebted to you simply for discussing the matter with them.
"It occurs to me, Harry, that there are other areas of instruction that you might benefit from as well. While Hogwarts is staffed with excellent and knowledgeable instructors, there are none, to my knowledge, who have the singular experience of being a Head of an Ancient and Noble House. As you are of roughly equal station, already consider yourself Draco's friend, and have proven that commitment with your recent actions, it would not be inappropriate for me to help you cultivate the skills you will need both as his companion and as a head of house, yourself… if you wish to become skilled in these areas, that is."
"Th-thank you, Sir. Thank you. The account manager at Gringott's wrote that there were estate courses I could take in Seventh year, but I'll already be an adult then and 'in control' of the estate. It worried me a bit because it's already obvious that there's so much I could muck up before I learned what to do. I don't know how to thank you."
"Well, there's no need to worry about thanks at this juncture. Once you have a better understanding of your station, I am certain you will be able to conceive of an appropriate recompense."
After a short discussion of what other matters Lucius could advise Harry on, the child began to yawn softly – completely unaware of the unspoken somnolence spell that Lucius had cast moments before. As he left the child to Severus and Draco's watchful eyes, Lucius made a pact with himself: by the end of the school year, he would have the child in his thrall and (with both Harry and Draco in hand) Severus back under his influence not long after. Turning to favor the three with a parting smile, Lucius noted Draco's worried gaze and Severus's grim expression, but gave them little thought.
Certainly, there would be some reluctance, but Lucius knew himself to be a master at manipulation and had no doubt that, before they even realized it, they would be eagerly delivering themselves up – just as Harry had.
Chapter 14: Friends with Snakes
Ahhsitha slithered circles around the basket in confusion. The young speaker's scent permeated the basket, and it was clear that he had brought the acromantula eggs to her chamber for her pleasure. But, that in itself, was confusing.
Her first interactions with the child had reminded her that young speakers were so often delicate unknown quantities: where one might display great bravado to cover intense fear – another might offer great compassion. The last speaker that she had known before this one had been the former while this child had seemed the latter.
The previous speaker, despite all her efforts, had been truly a lost cause. Rather than releasing her from her ancient pact as she had hoped, that child had been so inculcated in fear that he could see no other option than using her to force his own terror on others. In an incident that she had long regretted, he had even called on the pact to demand that she protect the school from muggle incursion. Finding the castle more heavily scented with muggles than it had been in centuries past, Ahhsitha had responded to the perceived threat on instinct and threw herself out the nearest opening that she sensed turmoil near, ending the life of an innocent student before she came to her senses enough to know that the threat he had warned her of was false. Her rage at the deceitful human had lasted several weeks and she had refused to answer his calls after that, knowing that he could not be trusted to release her.
The risk she had taken in doing so had been unsettling when, year after year, no other speaker had come to dispute his claim that he was the last heir of Slytherin.
By the time the little one had arrived, Ahhsitha had resigned herself to spending her long-remaining life trapped in the misery of the castle's stifling, cold, stone chambers. But the little one had been an entirely different kind of being than the other. When Ahhsitha gently explained the life she had lead, confined to the castle's inner recesses, without purpose or distraction – the child had immediately taken it upon himself to release her from the pact without question of what she could offer in exchange.
Unexpectedly freed, Ahhsitha paused to give her thanks and found herself surprised yet again when the little speaker asked after her plans, whether she had a new place to go, and whether she would need any help to leave the castle. His questions were a surprise in more than one way. It had been so long since she had truly credited the possibility of escaping her confinement that she had given up on her expectations even before she felt the distinctive magics of the forest growing more and more distant.
What the outer world would be like, she had no idea. Would there be enough forest left to take shelter in? To hunt in? What beasts were left? At night, she still, on occasion, heard the distant clicking and clattering of Acromantula. But, was she up to the swift and difficult hunts required to bring down the fearsome tree-dwellers? Or, would she find, after generations of surviving on what rats and small creatures she could catch in the few pipes and paths she could travel through the castle, her hunt turned back on her to make a feast for the eight-legged horde? She was uncertain even of whether the caves of her youth remained to shelter her through the winter.
Sensing her hesitancy, the little one had suggested that they look to make certain that she had an exit to come and go as she pleased but that she use the chambers until she found a new home to her liking. Ahhsitha had easily agreed, in spite of her surprise at his generosity, but that had not been her last surprise.
When Ahhsitha had returned from an ill-fated hunt, weakened by and bleeding from centaur's caustic bolts, the youngling had suffered her pain-dirven snappishness to dig out each bolt so that she could heal. Then, in an act that defied explanation, the little one used a detention, with the small giant that roamed the school's grounds, to meet with the centaurs and convince the stubborn half-nags to allow her safe passage through the forest on the sole proviso that she hunt neither them nor the unicorn. Less than a moon's passage later, the little one returned to inform her of a similar agreement with the acromantula. That agreement was what made his current gift so confusing.
Although unused to trusting another being, Ahhsitha had grown to trust the little one and did not quite credit the boy with jeopardizing the truce that he had, quite possibly, risked his life to arrange without asking for anything in return.
"Are the tree-dweller's eggs soured? I had hoped you might like them?" The little one's voice inquired from the shadows.
"Explain. What of the truc-sss-e?" Ahhsitha asked in return, pleased that her recent practice speaking with him was slowly improving her control of her hiss-like speech.
"Oh, no, it shouldn't affect that at all. These eggs did not come from the nearby tree-dwellers. They were…" he tried several words that simply did not translate, but finally found one close to his meaning: "gathered from tree-dwellers far away who have been raised to give their eggs away for poison mixers. The poison mixer who guards my nest helped me… get them for you."
"Ahh, then…" Ahhsitha dismissed her hesitation and swiftly devoured the eggs, turning her head to block his vision as she pierced the larvae with a fang before swallowing them – responding to an instinct, which warned her that, though the little one have gathered the eggs for her, he might not be prepared to cope with the deaths of the infant tree-dwellers. When she was certain that her fangs was free of their ichor, she finally turned back and complimented: "They were rich and filling. Thank you."
"You're quite welcome. I'm visiting my nestmate's home for …" None of the phrases that he came up with made sense, so he finally went on with his explanation, "but I wanted to be certain that you had your gift before I left. I wasn't sure what the castle keepers would do with tree-dweller's eggs if they found them, or how long they took to hatch."
"You will return sssoon?" Ahhsitha asked anxiously.
"Oh, yes, the visit will only be for half-a- moon's passage; the poison maker wants us to return to the castle earlier than the other nest mates so that he can teach me other things."
"Good. Sstay ssafe, little one. Return with a new skin."
"Oh, you too... I almost forgot; my nestmate taught me a new spell." Pulling his wand, the little one softly muttered some of the humans' magic words and smiled as Ahhsitha's chambers began to warm. Silent with amazement at feeling bone-deep comfort for the first time since the pact maker left the castle, Ahhsitha stared at him with fondness as he waved to her before calling "Happy Christmas" in his own language and slipping back down the hall toward the poison maker's nest.
Chapter 15: Time Apart
"And Ahhsitha?" Harry's voice quivered slightly with worry.
"Yes, and Ahhsitha! Of course, I'll look out for your two thousand year old, twenty-nine yard long basilisk and make certain she doesn't come to harm over the summer." Severus would have found his response humorous if the child wasn't looking up at his with such glowing trust.
"And, you'll write every day?"
"Yes, you have the journal. All that you will need to do is moisten your finger with saliva and touch what ever page you want to write on. I have the duplicate, right here in my pocket. As soon as ink touches your page, the duplicate will resize incrementally until I am able to read what you've written."
"And, you'll really write back?"
"Yes. I will 'really' write back to you. It may not be immediately, but I will not let a missive go unanswered… even if only to discuss your potions homework." Even after nearly a year, it almost hurt Severus to hear the eager awe in the child's voice at the thought that he would actually take the time to respond. It was almost as uncomfortable to hear the child's eagerness to delve into long rambling discussions about his potions homework. If he could have been certain that Harry truly enjoyed potions and had a taste for the art, he would have happily fostered the boy's studies. But, when both Draco and he, obviously, had a natural interest in potions, it was difficult to separate Harry's true interests from his desire for their approval.
"And, you'll meet us at Diagon Alley, when I get to visit Draco."
"I will, I have already brewed for the infirmary's needs and can rearrange my schedule to suit whatever date and time Lucius can wrangle out of Mr. Dursley."
"Aghhh," Severus sighed pinching the bridge of his nose as he explained for the second time, "Madam Sprout has already made a spot in her gardens for your devil's snare plant. … Are there any other "And's" you would like to add?"
It was obvious that Harry was skirting around what he truly wanted to say, but Severus had long ago abandoned even the slightest impulse to pressure the child that he had surreptitiously nicknamed "Slytherin's smallest treasure". Severus had said it out loud only once, on returning from a singularly depressing meeting with Madam Pomfrey, after Harry had very nearly frightened both Draco and Narcissa to death when he lost his balance and fell down the Malfoys' mistletoe-adorned, spiral staircase before they could even draw their wands. Following so closely on the terrible break, caused by that wretched red-headed horror that had, very briefly, been the latest Weasley contribution to the chaos of Hogwarts, and the child's ill-thought out attempt to heal himself - the injury from the Malfoy's staircase had marked paid to any possibility that the child would ever play quidditch. Both Severus and Madam Pomfrey were certain that, with extensive treatment, Harry would be able to walk normally perhaps even fly, but his back would probably never be able endure the fierce athleticism required to make the swift dives and sharp turns that quidditch was so rife with.
But, the child's natural stamina and health had to be recovered before the treatments could begin- a fact, which was only complicated by the years of physical and emotional abuse that the child had suffered – years of ill and failing health that might take years to over come, despite Severus's best potions and the mediwitch's best therapies. As it was, the child was leaving Hogwarts strapped into a muggle back brace beneath his robes to support him once he crossed into non magical London.
Severus had dreaded breaking the news, certain that there would have been a time that Harry, like his father, would have wanted to try out for the house team. Also, though he had no evidence to attest to it, outside of Harry's one tragically accurate flight, Severus had been equally certain that the tiny child would have done his house proud, perhaps as a seeker or a chaser. He had barely been able to meet Harry's bright eyes when he finally broke the news. But, Harry, ever the surprise, had quietly informed him that he'd watched a few of the quidditch matches from the infirmary windows and the fighting and cheating that went on in them was a little scary to him, besides – other than the one scary dash to protect Draco – he didn't have any pleasant memory of flying to miss.
It was later that evening, during a conversation with Albus about Harry's remarkable attitude, that he had first mentioned the nick name, in front of Albus no less. For days on end, the doddering old administrator had twinkled as if he had jewel encrusted eyes, until Severus had finally ventured an attempt to keep Harry from going back to the Dursley's. The twinkling had ended then and there as the headmaster insisted that Harry had to return, if only for a portion of the summer, which was why Severus was now reluctantly carrying Harry down to the express.
"And…" Harry finally interrupted his reverie, blushing with embarrassment as he gestured to some trees and asked, "Could we step over there?"
"Yes, of course." Severus sighed followed the gesture until they were hidden by enough trees to give the child his privacy. When he settled Harry gently to the ground; however, instead of turning to the bushes as Severus expected, the child threw himself around Severus's waist and hugged him tightly.
"I'll miss you, Sir. Thank you for doing everything…for just everything… for me this year. I really, really appreciate it and wanted to tell you so, but I can make it from here… and … and … it would be easier to keep my Slytherin face on if I say goodbye here. If that's okay."
Swallowing a lump in his throat, Severus smiled softly and nodded before reaching down to wrap the child in the first hug that he had given in over twenty years. Breaking from his arms with a sob, Harry clumsily rushed toward the train, but despite Severus's worry that the child was pushing himself, he held himself firmly to his early in the year decision to honor as many of the child's wishes as he could and waited where he was –watching until not even the high plumes of steam from the express could be seen in the distance.
Chapter 16: To Your Station
Draco smirked at the completely gobsmacked expression Harry wore. His friend's mouth worked incredulously – alternating between a gaping chin drop and lips snapping shut over words he couldn't quite get out. It had been obvious that Harry had been just dying to ask why Draco had kept his school robes on until they had reached the train station. But even after an entire school year as Draco's friend, Harry still carefully avoided doing anything that he suspected might upset his first real friend.
"You're … You're…"
"Yes?" Draco's smile stretched even wider.
"Naja! You're dressed… like a muggle." Harry practically hissed in alarm.
"Well, so are you." Draco teased.
"But," Harry struggled for the subtle, political phrasing that Severus was painstakingly teaching Draco's small friend. Finally after an unfortunately long pause, Harry flushed and finished, "I thought your father preferred for you to dress in accordance to your station."
Stifling a sigh at his friend's hesitant manner, Draco complimented gently: "Now that's a nice turn of phrase, Boom, you've really been paying attention."
"Yeah, your comment could have as easily implied that my parents simply wanted me to appear the upstanding wizard as it would have implied, to someone who knew them well, that they may feel that muggles are of a lower station. Very nice."
"Thanks, Naja." Harry relaxed under Draco's praise for a second before he realized that he'd been maneuvered and distracted.
"You're parents are waiting the station waiting. How are you going to explain the way you're dressed?"
"I don't think there will be anything to explain." The blond looked like he was about to break into laughter into laughter as his gaze followed Harry's wide green eyes to rest on the sight of his parents through the train window.
Not fifty steps beyond their compartment's window, Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy stood amiably chatting with Harry's aunt and uncle. More surprising than that, while Lady Malfoy was neutrally gowned in a dress suit that could have been a muggle or wizard made but was definitely a designer original, Lord Malfoy was conservatively attired in a sleek slate grey business suit that might have been straight off a mannequin on Savile Row if it weren't so obviously bespoke and customized so narrowly to his specifications that Harry couldn't help but wonder if the Prime Minister had anything quite so nice.
What caught Harry's attention even more than that, though, was Lord Malfoy's hair.
The aristocrat's once curtain of almost glowing platinum locks had been sheered and dirtied to a glimmering ivory tone cut a conventionally business-like, muggle style.
"His hair…" Harry's voice sounded simultaneously shaky and awe-filled at the same time.
"Y-your h-hair." His diminutive friend stammered in shock forcing hearty laughter from Draco.
"Do you like it?" Draco teased only to feel a sudden lurch in his stomach when Harry shook his head negatively. Clearly recognizing Draco's disappointment, Harry flushed and began to nervously pull at the hem of his cousin's oversized jumper. His teeth worried his lower lip and Draco quickly lost sight of his wide green eyes as they fixed somewhere on the floor between their feet. He could have cursed, but suppressed it into a tolerant sigh – with a reflective thought to how little Harry had changed over the year.
While, in some ways, Harry seemed completely different (having overcome the need to please Millicent Bulstrode at every turn, sleeping through the night without the assistance of a potion, arguing with Hagrid to take him to the centaurs so he could negotiate a deal for his pet (a bloody basilisk, no less) and even speaking up at house meetings, which somehow had seemed harder for Harry to work his way up to than dealing with nags and freaking giant spiders), when it came to either Draco or his godfather's approval – Harry could be turned into an almost shivering wreck by the thought that they disagreed with him.
"Boom, stop that. I was just teasing. I am curious, though. Why don't you like it?"
"It's not you. Your hair shines like a beam of sunlight, but like this… it's… well, it's like…"
"Yes?" Draco smiled softly appreciating the compliment thoroughly. He was rather proud of his hair normally, and if Harry could compare it to a beam of sunlight, in its natural state, all the better.
"It's like putting a lampshade on… and you really can't put a lampshade on sunlight, can you? You shouldn't."
"Thank you. That's a great explanation. I can't help but feel flattered by it and almost wish that I could change it back, but…." Draco stopped abruptly, realizing that he was about to give away their surprise.
"But, they're waiting." Draco answered with a nod to the adults who had located them and were even then staring in at their conversation. Pausing to study Harry's supposed Uncle, Draco almost shuddered.
The man was enormous- truly, unnaturally, enormous- and beside him stood a disgustingly simpering woman, who might have been a house elf for her pandering airs. These were the hateful creatures who had quite literally tortured his friend? His first glance at the man's eyes was almost enough to make him nauseous on its own; there was an atavistic glitter in his eye when he looked at Harry and the primitive emotions showing there could not bode well for his friend. Harry, though, seemed not to notice, or worse, if he did notice it was too familiar with the gleam of brutality to think it odd. As he watched the couple, Draco began to wonder whether his father's plan would work.
Chapter 17: Best Laid Plans
Fingering the gilted tip of the holly wand, tied by only a wisp of a ribbon into the silk sheath ending just inside her cuff, at the pulse point on her wrist, Narcissa mused over how easily she could draw it and nearly unseen cast any one of two dozen hexs to remove the woman's tongue. Really, the way that the woman prattled on and on about her 'charming and talented' son - while totally ignoring the fact that they were waiting for her nephew- was simply infuriating.
The wand's closeness to her fingertips was tantalizing. As was Narcissa's absolutely certainty that anyone forced to spend time in the woman's presence would immediately absolve her of silencing the woman in anyway possible. That the ungainly, horse-faced woman and little Harry were related was nearly unfathomable and if asked by Severus or her husband, Narcissa might have even admitted that there was a bit of a temptation to sever that relationship (given what her son had alluded to) and abscond with the tiny boy back into the civility and grace of the wizarding community. Such a child had never been meant to pander and cater to the likes of the woman, who was even yet lowing her praises onto her absent son, who the woman claimed had been regretfully forced to stay home to continue his studies after being sent home midyear, due to an unfortunately dangerous prank on a smaller schoolmate... that he had nothing whatsoever to do with – according to his obviously biased mother.
Continuing to compliment Narcissa on the quality of her gown with pitifully disguised jealously, the woman simpered and cooed over the clearly pampered and spoiled lout (who sounded as loathsome as the cretin who had attempted to hurt her son) – trying to convince Narcissa that her 'duddykins' would be a much better companion for Narcissa's son than Harry, who had never even been to the Grunning's plant before. The ludicrous woman had not even the slightest concept of how pitifully blatant her machinations were, but the most that Narcissa would hedge was allowing the muggle spawn to attend her tutoring sessions for the boys – at the suggestion of her husband for which he would categorically have to explain himself at their earliest opportunity. Something he could have already done, if he were not avoiding her gaze so intently.
"Cissy," the guilty party broke her revelations in a cajoling tone. "Isn't that Drake's little friend?"
Catching the knowing glint in his eye as he briefly dropped his glance to the fingers slipped into her sleeve, Narcissa quickly pasted on a mindless smile as she scanned the windows slowly rolling to a stop before her. Barely fifty feet away, there they stood: her Draco and his devoted little friend. As she watched the tiny face break into an awed gaze – a warm, genuine smile crossed her lips. It was surprising, even to her, how quickly she had grown fond of the child. But, then, Narcissa suspected that she would favor anyone who was so openly and commitedly devoted to her darling Draco.
The Christmas holidays had been nearly an unending series of revelations for her. Draco, who had left her care, a prideful, often self-obsessed, and arrogant child, returned as a confidant, self-assured, caring young man blossoming into the responsibilities that his position would hold for him – all seemingly due to the influences of one unusually matched friend. The match had been sounded so ludicrous when Lucius first mentioned it that Narcissa had cast every diagnostic spell she knew to determine the unpotioned, sound, and reasoned stated of her husband's mind. Her chuckling spouse had even allowed her a brief legillimency session to be certain that he was neither obliviated nor under any form of external control before she finally listened to his motives for allowing the friendship.
Admittedly, his reasoning had some intrigue; there were quite a number of ways that her darling son could exploit the friendship to his advantage, but while they were persuasive reasons, Narcissa had not been inclined until she and Severus took the boy shopping for Draco's Christmas gift. The trip had lasted six hours while Harry endlessly questioned Narcissa about Draco's preferences down to the minutest details of colors and materials. When she had finally let her impatience slip, in a huffed comment that he should have put even a moment's thought into the gift before they went shopping, she was not only startled by Severus's reproachful gaze but also by the thick roll of parchment that the child produced contain a list that might have taken months to craft.
After reading the list, Narcissa noticed Severus's curious glance and handed it over for his bemused reading. It was a carefully thought out explication (from a child's perspective) of every possible gift Draco might desire- with annotations of how and why one might be more appropriate than another. It could have only been created by someone who placed Draco's interests and preferences before the possibilities of receiving something in return – in short, by someone who truly cared about Draco. The shopping trip had been sufficient to persuade her to genuinely welcome him into her home, but it was Harry's reaction to his injury and his gift to Draco on Boxing Day that truly cemented her fondness for the boy.
After discovering that he would have no hope to play quidditch, in the future, instead of dissolving into self-pity, Harry had spent close to twenty minutes in deep contemplation before asking his Severus to return to the manor and ask both she and Lucius to visit with him at Hogwarts – not realizing that they had never left the infirmary. (What child could think that his hosts would have so little regard as to even leave before discovering the extent of his injuries?) As soon they sat with him, the child immediately apologized for any worry he might have caused them and hoped that he hadn't ruined Christmas – then did an astonishing thing. He asked if he could by Draco a Nimbus 2001 for Boxing Day.
Lucius had immediately been livid – almost roaring at the child that Draco was no servant to anyone, and Narcissa seriously suspected that Lucius and Severus would have come to blows if the characteristically shy child had not intervened- in the loudest tones that his unassuming presence could muster.
"No, Sir, he's not. But, even though he has tutored me and helped me an awful lot throughout the whole year here, that's not why I'd like to give him a present tomorrow. It's the only justification that I think he'd accept for my gift and I really, really think it's important for me to give it to him. Please, Sir. Please, just let me explain, and if you don't want me to, I won't get it for him. Merlin, I couldn't really without your help anyway; it's not like I'll be getting away from Madam Pomfrey before the holidays are over."
"Explain, then," Lucius challenged - still almost seething, more with his own issues than with what the child had innocently suggested- but his anger quickly cooled as the astute child explained that he was worried that Draco would feel conflicted about following his own interests in Quidditch because of what happened, and even if he did try out for the team the following year, Harry was almost certain that the shadow of him losing the ability to play through two incidents that were loosely his cause would impair Draco's performance … unless Harry did something immediate and profound to underscore his support of Draco – something like buying him the best racing broom on the market as well as the young professional training gear produced by Draco's favorite team, the Bulgarian National Team.
Acknowledging several of Harry's points, after insuring that Harry did not, in fact hold his friend as much to blame as Draco, himself, did, Lucius finally agreed and left with a blank bank draft that Harry had arranged with young Miss Bullstrode's assistance and kept on him incase of emergencies. Narcissa was left behind to study the child that she was finding more and more to her liking with every passing moment.
"Very well, Harry, thank you, and yourself? I would offer you a hug, but Severus mentioned that it would not be advisable until you are out of the brace again."
"Okay. Thank you for the thought though. You've spoken with Professor Snape, then?"
"Spoken with? I suspect you could, very loosely, say that we spoke. A more accurate description might suggest that I listened as he set very concise and narrow boundaries and limitations on what he called over-mothering you. I'll have you know that while I am certainly permitted to offer you high tea, I am not, under any circumstances to embarrass you by suggesting in front of any others of your age that you need to tame that ever defiant lick of hair that we should have both realized would not be tamed without a straightening potion and several irons."
"He actually said that?" the surprised tone of his question brought Narcissa's fingers back to the tip of her wand at the thought that he was so unused to such common care. These muggles had no idea how lucky they were that Harry and Draco were present.
"Certainly." She smirked as a realization clicked in his eyes.
"Ma'am, how is it that we are going to see so much of each other that he felt the need to make that comment?"
Lucius had been right, though not as naturally cagey and cunning as Draco, Harry was still not without intelligence.
"Oh, Harry, I would have thought your aunt and uncle would have informed you," Narcissa began, unable to resist that small jibe at his supposed guardians.
"No, Ma'am," Harry responded, without taking the time to glance at his relatives who were eyeing him with barely disguised disgust.
"How forgetful; though, I suppose they might have other things on their minds with your imminent return. In any event, Draco's father represents a party who owns controlling interest in the Grunnings Plant, and will have to be on hand over the summer. Draco and I could have gone on vacation alone, but it has been so long since he's seen his father that he asked to stay with us in Surrey. Your aunt and uncle have kindly acceded to our request that you be freed up from your summer responsibilities to provide Draco some summer companionship. In return, I will be coaching you on the same estate management lessons that Draco will receive. Will that be to your taste?"
While Severus had warned her not to hug the tiny child without warning, there had apparently been no warning to avoid the reverse: as an expression of true delight spread over his face, Harry wrapped his arms around her in a tentative return of her affection.
The gentleness with which he held her was almost disturbing for it clearly spoke of his unfamiliarity with the gesture, but Narcissa enjoyed it as much for the knowledge that the Aunt had, quite obviously, never had the satisfaction of experiencing something so genuine as the child's caring contact.
Harry was just releasing Lady Malfoy's waist with the horrified realization of what he'd done, and in front of his Aunt and Uncle, as if there were any possible way of making things worse, when he was startled from behind by a loud screeching.
Turning curiously, with Lady Malfoy's arm still wrapped across his shoulder (pulling him lightly back against her as her husband pulled Draco to his side), Harry was surprised to see a familiar, large red-haired woman in a dowdy (even by wizard standards) brown and gold robes – wildly swinging and gesticulating toward him while yelling at an also familiar sulking red-haired boy Harry's age dressed in Old World Russian looking brown and gold dueling robes.
"Ronald Bilius Weasley," the angry woman screeched as she dragged the boy forward with one hand and swung the owl cage in her other hand toward Harry again – throwing the already addled little bird from its perch again as she continued, "If you want to step one foot outside of the burrow for the rest of the summer, you will go over there right this minute and apologize to that boy, right now! And, ask him for your forgiveness while you're at it, too. If it weren't for that child's kindness, you would have gone to Azkhaban instead of Durmstrung, and you'd best let him know you're grateful for it, too. Do you hear me?"
Ron Weasley must have answered appropriately because she suddenly pushed him sharply at Harry and Lady Malfoy until he stumbled to a halt barely two feet from them.
Harry tried to step forward to meet Ron but was caught in surprise by Lady Malfoy's arm tightening around his shoulders until he glanced up and met her eyes. To his surprise, when their eyes met, Lady Malfoy was looking down at him with concern. Glancing around her arm at his aunt, Harry couldn't help but wonder if he would see even the slightest trace of concern, but she was clearly far more disturbed by the growing scene than the thought anything might trouble him.
"Harry, would you rather we dealt with this?" Though she indicated his aunt and uncle in the 'we', Harry was certain that she was referring to only her husband and herself. He knew better than to trouble his aunt and uncle with the matter and realized quickly that they would take offense if he let the Malfoys handle it in their place; so –though he really didn't want to deal with the boy he hadn't seen again since he was hurt – Harry shook his head, touched her hand in a polite unspoken request to be released, and replied softly, "No, Ma'am. I think I'm up to accepting apologies."
Before he'd completely turned back, Mrs. Weasley was sharply rounding on her son again, "Just where do you think you're going?"
"He said he'd accept it."
"He most certainly did not, and could not have because you haven't even said it yet. Now you turn back around and don't think I won't drop your trous, right here and now, and use my wand to switch you redder than your hair if I see even a tad more of this nonsense. You apologize to him right this minute and mean it, or so help me, I'll…"
By that point, the rest of the Weasleys had caught up to them and Mr. Weasley had laid a hand on her arm to calm her.
"Okay! Okay! I will." Ron practically snarled as he turned back to Harry.
"Don't use that tone with me, young man. You have no idea how much difficulty you've caused your father and I. The minister, himself, called your father in to discuss your behavior. Can you imagine how embarrassed your father was to have to explain why his child would do such a thing to the boy-who-lived? Can you?" She was off on a rant, again before the others could seem to interrupt her: "And Durmstrung? Do you think they even wanted you after you'd been expelled from Hogwarts? Do you know how many strings your father had to pull even to get you in, not to mention how much more it cost us to buy you a new wardrobe suited to their climate and colors? We would have probably gone into debt to do it, if that child hadn't asked the Headmaster to help us by returning your fees. He didn't have to - you know? Neither did the Headmaster."
Harry winced when he saw her comments hit a sore spot with his potential friend turned rival and the boy's eyes darkened with anger and embarrassment.
"Well, good on him then, but we don't need his charity, he can just…"
Finally seeming to realize how uncomfortable the scene was becoming, Mr. Weasley stepped in and held out his hand to Mr. Dursley.
"Please let me introduce myself, I am Ron's father, Arthur Weasley. I am incredibly sorry for my son's regrettable attitude. I assure you – he has written home many times expressing his regret for injuring your nephew. Why that has suddenly eluded him here, I have no idea."
"Really? Sorry, now, is he? Sorry that he's put an additional burden on our whole family by returning a boy we sent to your kind's school whole and intact, as a worthless cripple. There's no telling how much in medical expenses we'll have to deal with this summer. Not to mention the special modifications he'll need made to his room. Can't very well be walking up and down stairs in his condition can he? How is he going to pull his own weight? Like any boy his age, he has things he's expected to do around the house. Is your son going to come over and do his chores for him? Mow the lawn? Rake the yard? Do the gardening? Paint the tool shed? No. The boy can't do them or his other chores anymore. He's useless now, and those things are bloody expensive to hire out. And, what about when he's grown and can't get a job? Are we supposed to take care of him the rest of his life? Is my Dudder's supposed to throw his life away to care for this little fre--- the boy. I won't have it, but have I heard a single thing about recompense for his injuries? Payment to the family for damages? Not one word, and now, I hear you work for the Minister. We'll see about that. They have barristers in your world don't they? Mr. Malfoy, could you help me find competent legal help to see to it that we've been set to rights."
Harry could hardly breath by the time Mr. Dursley had finished. When he glanced up, Lady Malfoy was wearing a clear look of disgust, and Lord Malfoy was studying his wand idly in a way that almost looked amused but in the same way that Professor Snape was trying to teach them to look when they were perturbed or outright angry. Glancing around at Draco, Harry winced at his friend's aghast expression: an expression that was mirrored on almost all of the Weasley's faces – with two exceptions: Ron and the little girl, who must have been his younger sister Ginny.
On Ron's, there was a dawning horror at the realization that his actions could have caused such terrible injuries, and what they might mean for Harry. Ginny's, however, wasn't touched by her brother's horror at the ramifications of his rash behavior earlier in the year or with her parent's and family's astonished painful embarrassment at the obvious greedy display that his uncle was putting on when it must have been obvious to them that he hadn't even shown up in the infirmary to check on Harry's condition. (They'd been there. The Malfoy's had been there. Harry's aunt and uncle hadn't even sent a reply to the owls they'd received, informing them of Harry's accidents.) Instead, Ginny's face was suffused to a heated salmon pink with anger- directed not at Mr. Dursley, though, but at Harry himself.
As if his anxiety couldn't go up any higher, Lord Malfoy finally responded.
"Yes, Mr. Dursley, I know several and have a close friend who's a doctor, quite popular, but he'll always make room for me. He can give Harry a thorough check up and prepare a thorough report for the wizengamot."
"A full – Wha- why- why would they need a full checkup?" His uncle stuttered as Harry began to wonder whether it was normal for the edges of your vision to go grey.