CHAPTER 15

Harry tried to keep his breathing under control as the rest of the class filed out behind him. He couldn't bring himself to meet his father's gaze, and fiddled tensely with the straps of his bookbag.

What was making him feel so on edge?

And then he remembered: Malfoy had been harassing him before class. And Snape had completely backed him up while also publicly humiliating Harry. Just like old times… And then, when Snape had aimed his wand at him at the end of class… Harry hadn't meant to send such a forceful attack. He'd simply reacted as the vision of Snape had flickered between that of Dudley, then Malfoy, before wavering back into reality.

When they were finally alone, his father waved his hand in a bit of wandless magic, and the massive door behind them slammed shut while the lock slid firmly into place. The unexpected noise made Harry jump.

They stood in uncomfortable silence for a long moment, Snape standing a dozen feet away behind his desk, and Harry still refusing to look at him.

"Would you like to sit down?" his father asked after a moment.

"Oh, um… Yeah. S-sure," Harry stuttered, sliding into the seat closest to him. Unfortunately, it was nowhere near Snape's desk. So, after an awkward moment, his father stepped around his own desk and made his way towards him.

Once more, Harry couldn't bring himself to meet Snape's gaze. He could feel his father's eyes boring into the top of his head. The feeling made him anxious and uneasy. It was exactly how he used to feel when the Dursley's would glare at him.

"Could you quit doing that?" he suddenly burst out.

"Doing what?" Snape asked quietly.

"Just… looming over me," he pleaded as he met his father's gaze through his fringe. He couldn't help remembering how Snape had loomed when he found Harry in the Pensieve. Harry had been scared for his life that night, even more so than when Harry had caught his father cutting himself over the summer. It was as if the terror from Harry's recent past was forcing him to forget all that had changed between he and Snape.

"It's just… I can't… You're making me really nervous," he admitted in a trembling voice.

His father immediately took a step back. Harry gasped as if he was breaking the surface of the lake like he had during the Tri-Wizard Tournament. With a little bit of space between them, he finally felt like he could breathe.

"Harry," Snape muttered, the worry clear in his voice. "What's wrong?"

"N-nothing. I just don't like it when you hover."

Snape was silent for another long moment before he asked, "Does this have anything to do with Draco?"

"W-what? No!" Harry denied, but for some reason his pulse increased tenfold at the thought of the silver-haired bastard.

His father was quiet for a long time as he examined him. "Please don't insult me by lying, Har–"

"Just drop it, ok?!" Harry snarled. He wanted nothing more than to flee the confines of the classroom, feeling as if the walls had suddenly started moving in towards him.

What the hell is my problem?! Dad would never hurt me! He frantically reminded himself, trying to breathe through the unreasonable fear but finding it difficult to fill his lungs with air. He wanted to apologize to Snape, but strangely, the words refused to come. Instead, he allowed his head to fall heavily onto his folded arms as he tried to push down the panic that was attempting to overwhelm him.

"You said you wanted to talk to me?" he asked, the words muffled by the fabric of his robe sleeves.

His father cleared his throat, and his words sounded strangely unsure. "I wanted to relay a message from Professor Dumbledore. Your first session with him will be tonight at 8 o'clock."

"Ok. Was that all?"

"Harry…" Snape muttered anxiously. "Look at me."

Harry turned his face just enough that he could clearly see his father with one glassy green eye. He wanted so badly to reach out. But for some reason he couldn't understand, in that moment all he could think about was the many times that Snape had taken Malfoy's side.

His father looked desperate. "Talk to me, Harry. Please."

"I can't."

"Why? Did something else happen with Dra–?"

Harry exploded out of his seat, adrenaline suddenly coursing through his veins. He couldn't stay still as the fight or flight response warred within him, and he paced like a wild animal before his desk.

"This doesn't have anything to do with Malfoy!" he spat, running a frantic hand through his hair and making it stick up even more than it normally did. He turned on his heel and paced in the opposite direction as he ground out, "I mean, yes it does, but – but I… I don't know, ok?!"

He grasped his temples between his fists as he continued pacing like a madman."After everything that happened this summer, after Uncle Vernon and… Dudley," he flinched at the name, "I felt safe! I could sleep at night without waking up screaming!"

He spun on his heel to face Snape, gazing at him with painful desperation. "But after Malfoy attacked me on the train, it's like… Like I've forgotten where I am – and when I am. I… get confused. He makes me feel like it's happening all over again!"

Snape looked stricken by his words even as he reached to comfort Harry. "It's ok. You know I'd never let –"

"Do I?" Harry demanded, slapping his father's outstretched arm away. Snape looked slightly wounded by his rejection, but Harry was suddenly too livid to care. "Ever since the end of summer, you've been weirdly protective of that slimy git!"

"Harry, I –"

"He assaulted me! Abused me! He's just like Dudley!"

"Harry please, you don't understa–"

"No, YOU don't understand!"Harry yelled. Spinning on his heel, he flew to the door. In his desperation to flee, he threw it open hard enough to bounce off the classroom wall, refusing to stop even when he heard his father calling after him.

Had he not been so wrapped up in his terror, he would have seen his father double over in pain as he desperately called for him. His father cried out and slapped his hand over the Dark Mark beneath his robes.

Voldemort was calling.

.:HP::SS:HP::SS:.

Draco hissed in pain as he attempted to push his arm into his heavy robes, attempting not to jostle the throbbing bones of his hand. He was sure that he'd broken it while desperately trying to fight back against Avery, Gibbon, and Jugson.

They'd been smart enough to corner him during a private moment in the showers. In a rush before dinner to get to the library to research his mission from the Dark Lord, Draco had decided to use the dormitory showers instead of the Prefect bathroom. A mistake I won't be making again, he growled to himself. He knew he'd be alone at such an early hour, which simply made it easier since he didn't have to hide his Dark Mark from anyone. However, in such a prone position and without his wand, Draco had been forced to defend himself like a bloody Muggle. He hadn't even seen them coming…

Draco realized in surprise that his attackers had also fought like Muggles. It's probably because they are practically Squibs, he thought. That, and the fact that they each had at least two stone on Draco himself.

Avery, Gibbon, and Jugson's fathers were Death Eaters – Draco stood near the men at every meeting. Like him, they had been relegated to the unimportant position near the back. Both in school and in meetings, Draco never mingled with either generation, as the families seemed to have the combined IQ of a cockroach. In fact, only a few months prior, he probably would have lumped them into the same disgraceful category as the Muggle-loving Weasleys. Worse, since they were too stupid to hone the precious gift of magic in their blood.

He realized that it was probably that arrogant mindset that had garnered him these injuries. After all, he thought bitterly, it's no secret how far my family has fallen in the Dark Lord's favor.

No one would have dared touch him in the past. But now…

When the slow, painful process of dressing himself was complete, Draco peered at his reflection in the mirror, turning his face this way and that to inspect the damage.

His eye was purple and completely swollen shut, the bruise harsh against his naturally pale skin. A deep cut near his eyebrow continued to pump a trail of warm blood down the side of his face. His lip was cracked and swollen, the taste of blood coppery and thick within his mouth. His ribs felt especially bruised where he'd been kicked after they'd successfully gotten him on the ground.

Gazing with his one good eye at his battered reflection, he couldn't help being reminded of his mother. I wonder if this is how she feels when the Dark Lord–

He brutally cut himself off, suddenly in a towering rage. Using his good hand, he reached for his wand, gripping the wood hard enough to make it creak within his hand. Determined not to fail his mother again, he whipped the wand to his face and hissed, "Hocsana vulnus!"

He winced from a stab of pain, his ribs protesting the sudden movement. But at that moment he didn't care. It's working! He thought with gleeful relief. He watched hopefully as the bleeding from the cut near his eyebrow slowed, and the cracked lip closed of its own accord.

But after an agonizing moment, Draco realized he the rest of his injuries remained unchanged. He shrank with disappointment, trying desperately to swallow back a lump in his throat. As if my mission wasn't hard enough, he thought bitterly. Like I'm not already crippled by fear for my mother's life… What am I supposed to do now?

The Dark Lord's followers knew of the Malfoy family's fall from grace. But the number of Slytherin students whose parents were actual Death Eaters was surprisingly small – no matter what the other houses thought.

He considered all the awkward questions that would be aroused if he attended dinner looking like he'd been in a fight with the entire Centaur herd from the Dark Forest. I'm supposed to be keeping a low profile, he thought as a frustrated tear slipped beneath his lashes. It's only the first day, and already I'm drawing a dangerous amount of attention to myself.

It was the last thing he wanted to do, but Draco knew he'd have to visit Madam Pomfrey.

He thanked Merlin that it was almost time for dinner and the students would be gathered in the Great Hall. A small favor from the universe, he thought.

Cracking the door to the boy's showers, he listened hard for any sounds of fellow students. Hearing none, he crept out the door and stuck to the shadows. Somehow luck was on his side, and he made it out of the common room without seeing a single person. He took all the back hallways and hidden routes he knew on his way to the Hospital Wing, only once having to duck behind a tapestry-covered alcove when Filtch and his cat crossed his path.

Finally, he was standing before the heavy wooden doors of the infirmary. He went over the story he'd rehearsed in his head, secure in the knowledge that the mediwitch wasn't known for asking many prying questions.

He attempted to replicate his normal swagger as he shouldered open the door. But his confidence deflated like a balloon when he realized that Madam Pomfrey was nowhere to be seen. Instead his eyes fell upon the red-headed witch that Dumbledore had introduced at the feast. He didn't even remember her name.

"Where's Madam Pomfrey?" he demanded in a much more challenging voice than he intended.

But she didn't seem to mind the tone. "She went down to the Great Hall for dinner," she answered politely, not looking up at him as she stood at the foot of a recently used bed and continued folding a freshly-laundered bedsheet. "Can I help you with anything?"

Draco was already turning to leave, but glanced over his shoulder to nervously reply, "Oh… Uh… No, that's alri–"

"Wait a minute!" she suddenly exclaimed, her gracious tone turning into one of alarm as she finally glanced his way.

For a moment Draco thought of bolting. But how far could he get really, looking the way he did? With a defeated sigh, he turned around to fully face her as she hurried to his side.

"My goodness," she breathed, raising her hand to examine his injuries before looking him straight in the eye. "What happened?"

His chin lifted ever so slightly, challenging her to deny it when he explained, "I fell off my broom while I was practicing for Quidditch."

She studied him evenly for a long moment, showing no sign whether she believed him or not. Draco had to struggle not to squirm beneath her probing gaze.

"Follow me," she finally murmured, leading him to a private, well-lit corner that was cordoned off with tall privacy curtains. Motioning to a chair on the other side of a small work table, she softly directed him to take a seat. She pulled out a large medical tome and for the next few minutes, ignored him completely. As ensconced as she was within the pages, the new mediwitch reminded him a little of the mudblood Granger. He tried hard not to sneer.

Draco was grateful for the long moments of silence. It gave him a bit longer to polish the details of his story. As the minutes droned on, instead of feeling like he was being interrogated beneath the bright lights, the tension in his body began to relax into the chair.

Consumed by his own thoughts, he jumped when she closed the thick book with a loud snap! Waving her wand in a complicated motion, a glowing silhouette of a person appeared beside Draco. He noticed that there were glowing areas that corresponded with his injuries.

"So," she announced in a clipped tone as she walked around the desk to sit on a stool before him. "What's your name?"

"Draco Malfoy."

"Nice to meet you, Draco," she smiled. "You can call me Ms. Prewett." But her face grew serious again as she took his chin gently between her thumb and forefinger, once again examining his wounds. "So, you fell off your broomstick?"

"That's what I said," he quipped.

"Mmm." She touched the tip of her wand to the cut above his eye, muttering, "Sigillum. And you landed on the Quidditch pitch?"

"Yes."

She leveled a look his way that clearly asked, how stupid do you think I am?

His stomach suddenly churning, Draco braced himself for the interrogation. But surprisingly, she said nothing more about it.

"Subvenite Tumentes. You're in Slytherin?" She asked, glancing at his robes as she continued her work. Draco nodded, but was abruptly much more interested by the wall over her shoulder. "What? You don't like your house?" she asked perceptively.

"I do!" Draco cried defensively. "It's just that…"

She paused and lowered her wand, giving him her full attention. "It's just that… what?" she posed quietly. "Things are different this year?"

Draco shrugged, unsure of what else to say.

"Draco… Did someone in Slytherin do this to you?"

He gazed at Ms. Prewett for a long moment. Can I trust her…? He wondered. For some reason he couldn't explain, he felt that he could. He nodded slowly.

"I'm surprised. And disappointed," she admitted, the emotion genuine. "I was under the impression that Slytherins tended to stick together here at Hogwarts."

Draco squirmed uncomfortably. "Well… Slytherins aren't exactly known for their compassion and understanding."

"I disagree."

His temper unexpectedly flared. "Yeah? What would you know about it? You've been here for what – two days?"

Her patient smile never wavered. "Fair enough. But you see, Draco, I'm also a Slytherin."

And as fast as his anger had risen, it suddenly disappeared. "Oh," was all he could think of to say.

They sat in silence for a few more minutes, Draco lost in thought as the mediwitch continued to heal him.

"I get the feeling that you are normally not one who is easily pushed around," she murmured after a moment. "Do you care to tell me what happened?"

"They–"

"They?"

Shit, he thought with a sigh. "Yes, they," he snapped. Then a little more quietly, "They caught me in the shower."

Her eyes sharpened, and it took Draco a moment before he understood what she was thinking. "No! Nothing like that. They just… wanted to show me who was boss."

"And why would they want to do that?"

Draco didn't dare tell her the truth, but for some reason, he also couldn't lie. So, he simply stared at her for a long, silent moment.

Instead of being angry, she smiled reassuringly before continuing her work. "You're on the Slytherin Quidditch team?" she asked suddenly.

Draco was taken aback by the sudden change of direction. "Oh, uh… Yes. I am."

Her smile broadened. "What position?"

"Seeker."

"Really? You must be very good. I've heard that is a particularly difficult position to play."

"Yeah," Draco agreed. "Are you going to the first game of the season? I'll look for you in the Slytherin stands."

Ms. Prewett laughed, a little abashed. "Well… I actually made a promise to someone that even though I'm a Slytherin, I would always cheer for Gryffindor–"

"What?!" Draco cried in outrage. "You can't do that! Gryffindors are our house rivals! It's treasonous! The ultimate disloyalty to your family!"

Her face sobered instantly. "Have the Slytherins really done so much to earn your loyalty of late, Draco?"

"I... Well…" he sputtered. "But that's not fair! It was only three of them that attacked me, not the entire house!"

She gazed at him sadly. "And yet you came here alone."

Draco was stunned into silence. A coldness trickled through his body as he sat back in his chair and realized…

She was right.