He would never have found out at all, if it hadn't been for Snape's odd behavior at dinner. He would have minded his own business if his Potions master hadn't been behaving so peculiarly... so suspiciously. That's what he told himself, anyway, as he stealthily slipped through the darkened corridors on his way to the dungeons.

It was well past midnight and he was half expecting to meet Snape himself, lurking somewhere in the corridors, just waiting for an unwary student out past curfew. It was very annoying that the Marauder's Map has been taken away; with it, Harry would have known exactly where Snape was and was not. As it was, he was forced to wear his Invisibility cloak and hope he didn't careen right into the man. Snape seemed to have an uncanny sense for catching Harry Potter, visible or not. Except for recently, now that he came to think of it.

And that was suspicious, too. Harry hadn't seen Snape out prowling the halls in weeks. He was barely visible at all, except during classes and mealtimes. In class, he merely sat behind his desk and snapped out orders or corrections. No more stalking around and sneering into students' cauldrons. At meals, he ate very little and seemed to have nothing better to do than stare at his hands. Correction: hand.

Snape had come back from the spring holiday gaunter, more silent and wearing a black leather glove on his left hand. No one had seen him without it since. No one had the guts to ask him about it, not even his beloved Slytherins. Harry had seen them watching their Head of House worriedly and that made him even more suspicious. Slytherins were supposed to be sly and cunning; instead, they looked frightened. Those that had come back after the holidays, that was.

The final battle would come soon, Harry knew. Voldemort had begun to move more openly and his followers barely bothered to conceal their movements now. Several of the pureblooded Slytherin families had pulled their children out of Hogwarts this spring, no doubt to initiate them as Death Eaters. The disappearances from Ravenclaw and Gryffindor had stung even more because they were so unexpected. But Harry knew he had merely been naively hopeful; after all, hadn't Pettigrew been a Gryffindor? The headmaster had merely looked grave and said nothing in reply to his questions.

The Slytherin he hadn't expected to see ever again except at the other end of his wand was still there, though. Draco Malfoy had returned from the spring holidays paler and quieter. It was hard to even get a snarl from him anymore. He looked lost somehow, younger and smaller, without Crabbe and Goyle hulking beside him. He sat by himself at the Slytherin tables and in classes and he didn't pay attention to anybody except Dumbledore. And Snape.

Harry's foot slipped a little on a damp stair tread and he snarled out a Muggle curse before realizing. Fortunately there was no one to hear him as he made his way down the corridor toward the Potions classroom. Swearing had rather come into fashion amongst the Seventh years; as long as they weren't too loud about it in front of the younger students, the professors tended to turn a deaf ear. All except for Snape, who routinely stripped them of ten points for each infraction and made the drawling observation that it was a pity that their literature courses hadn't inspired any creativity in their language usage at all.

"Shit," he whispered again, relishing the coarse perfection of it in his mouth. It suited his mood exactly. Snape was acting weird, Malfoy was acting weird, Dumbledore wasn't answering any questions and Voldemort was definitely not behaving strangely at all and that just made him want to swear again. Loudly. It was all of their faults that he wasn't happily in bed; instead, he had to trudge all the way down to the slimy, dank dungeons to spy on his Potions master in his stocking feet and try to figure out why everyone was behaving so strangely.

The Potions classroom door was open about a foot and there was torchlight pouring out into the dim corridor. It wasn't quite enough to slip through, but Harry had finally learned to plan ahead and take precautions. Earlier in the day, he had snuck into the room and carefully oiled the hinges of the classroom door, just in case. There would be no squeaks to betray him if he needed to sneak in. He had also tried to oil the hinges of Snape's office door in preparation, but the man was either in the office or kept it locked and the damned hinges were on the inside. Harry had shrugged and decided that planning would only take him so far and he would rely on luck and courage if he needed to get into Snape's office tonight.

It looked like luck was on his side and Snape was in the classroom. Which was, when he thought of it, another strange thing. Through the filmy haze of his invisibility cloak, he saw Snape working at a student table in the front of the classroom. Harry carefully eased the door open enough to slip into the room. He crept up the aisle, wanting to see what Snape was working on so diligently. A potion, of course. The steam rose silkily from the beige concoction within, smelling sweet for a change. Harry took up a position against the wall and settled down to watch Snape carefully, looking for any signs of strangeness.

The signs came pretty quickly. Snape's knife didn't flash in the torchlight the way it usually did. Instead of the patter of the blade mincing something small and squirmy into perfectly sized fragments, there was a dull thunking rhythm that reminded Harry more of his aunt pulverizing some innocent green thing before cooking it into mush. There was no complicated interweaving of Snape's hands between wand, board and cauldron in the way Harry had grown to admire, even if he sometimes suspected Snape of showing off. Snape put down the knife before slowly stirring the potion with his left hand, wand in his right hand. His grip on the stirrer looked awkward to Harry and his whole left arm moved jerkily, splashing a little of the brew over the rim of the cauldron. Those three spilled drops unnerved Harry. Snape was being... well, clumsy. Snape was never clumsy when brewing.

Then Severus Snape, Potions master of Hogwarts School, threw his wand across the room. He swept his right arm across the worktable and sent the board, the cauldron and a dozen small vials, jars and bowls crashing to the floor. He slammed his fists down in the tabletop and there was a hollow thump! that made Harry wince without knowing why. And then Harry raised his eyes to his Potions master's face and gasped.

There was an expression on that face that should have been accompanied by a long scream of rage and sorrow. Instead, there was just that terrible dull thunking noise as Snape beat his fists again and again on the table, teeth clenched tightly on that scream, eyes hollow with its echo. In that moment, Harry Potter would have done almost anything to ease Severus Snape's pain.

"Severus?" came Albus Dumbledore's soft voice from the doorway. Harry startled badly and nearly let the cloak slip from his head. Snape stopped his pounding, letting his hands fall to the table before him. The spilled potion steamed on the floor and wall and Harry desperately wished he were somewhere else entirely.

"Severus?" the headmaster tried again, this time, standing directly behind Snape and laying his hands on the younger man's shoulders.

"I cannot do it any more, Albus." He shook the headmaster's hands off with a desperate shrug. His head drooped alarmingly. "I am... not able."

"Now, now, Severus, I am sure it will just take some time and practice..."

Dumbledore's soothing tone was drowned out by Snape's shout. "No, it won't, you old fool! Don't tell me it will just take time! It's been a month and I can barely cut my meat. There is no spell in the world that can make *this* work for me." Snape shoved his gloved fist into Dumbledore's face and Harry wondered if he were about to watch Snape hit the headmaster. Instead, Snape's voice dropped to a hiss. "Look at it, Albus! Look carefully!"

And Dumbledore did that, gently taking Snape's left hand between his own and inspecting it silently. From where he huddled against the wall, all Harry could see was the black leather glove, slashed and cut, but nothing of the hand beneath it. Snape jerked his hand back and met Dumbledore's sorrowful look with a snarl. "See? I can't do even the most mundane tasks with it." He stripped the glove off and Harry heard himself whimper as Snape brandished his now bare hand.

Snape's left hand was... gone. In its place was a thing of bone and gold. It was hand-shaped. The fingertips and joints were all golden and made no sound as Snape flexed them slightly. "That is as much movement as I can coax from them. The wrist," Snape said in a very quiet tone, "doesn't bend at all."

Dumbledore said nothing, but reached out and cradled the false hand in his own again. Harry could hear Snape's breath catch weirdly as he tried to speak. He swallowed and said in a flat tone, "Let us not deceive ourselves, Albus. There are only two things in this world that I am any use at; spying on Voldemort and brewing potions. I have managed to fuck both of those up in one night. What the hell am I supposed to do with my life now?" Snape's voice had grown tighter and tighter and was barely a whisper at the end.

If Harry had been shocked to hear his professor swear, it was nothing compared to seeing him gathered against Dumbledore's chest. The headmaster gently rocked the grieving man back and forth and murmured soothingly in his ear. Harry couldn't hear what he said, but he could see the older wizard's hand tenderly stroking Snape's dark hair. And he could see Snape's remaining hand clutching at the back of Dumbledore's robe until the knuckles were white and bloodless.

Harry could feel the tears slipping down his own face now. He let himself slide down the wall until he sat with a soft thump on the floor. He clutched his knees to his chest and laid his damp cheek against them, shutting out the terrible vision of Severus Snape's grief. But he could still hear and he listened helplessly to Snape's sobbing breaths and Dumbledore's gentle, sad murmurs and the whisper of hands moving across cloth again and again.

"Severus, there is more to your life than potions and spying. I swear I will help you believe this. Trust me, dear boy, please. There is more."

Snape made no reply that Harry could hear, but something made Dumbledore say, "All right then. It's time for you to get some sleep, my boy. Let me help you." At the sound of movement, Harry lifted his head. And met Dumbledore's ice blue stare. The headmaster pressed Snape's head more firmly against his chest and he said, still holding Harry's not-so-invisible gaze, "It's time for us all to be in bed, I think. A good night's sleep might give a bit of perspective." His raised eyebrow warned of dire things should Harry think of reporting anything that had happened tonight.

"Fuck perspective, Albus," Snape growled damply. Dumbledore chuckled quietly and patted Snape's hair again.

"Bed," he ordered gently and led the younger man away, leaving Harry to put out the torches and clean up the spilled potion and scrub out the cauldron. He placed Snape's wand carefully in the middle of his desk before dragging himself back to his bed in Gryffindor Tower, where he shivered and sniffled himself to sleep. His dreams were all black and bone and gold.

* * *

He was distracted throughout breakfast, staring into space and making vague replies to anything Ron said. Finally one thing got through.

"Why are you staring at Snape?"

Harry jerked his gaze away to look candidly at his friend. The expression on Ron's face said that he wasn't buying it. Hermione's raised eyebrows told the same story. Harry sighed and wished that he could lie just a little better.

"Does he seem ... odd to you?"

They both stared at him. Snape's oddness had been the favorite topic of conversation in all the Common Rooms for two weeks after term began. It had only been knocked out of the running by the Ravenclaw love triangle of Sixth Years who had managed to each transfigure the other during a spat. It had taken Professors McGonagall and Flitwick three whole days to undo the charms and hexes that had left two purple striped rabbits with poisoned fangs and a single white chicken the approximate size of one of Ravenclaw's best beaters. The quidditch match lost to Hufflepuff the day after the fracas did nothing to sweeten the tempers of any of the Ravenclaws and they were still likely to over-react when teased about it.

"Harry, what have you been up to?" In seven years, Hermione had never been one to beat about the bush.

"Nothing," Harry protested weakly. At the combined glare of his two best friends, he caved.

"I want to know how Snape lost his hand and why. He's miserable and... well, I want to know." He carefully did not try to explain why he needed to know, either to his friends or himself.

Ron's mouth hung open and Hermione's eyes were wide and shocked. "Harry, what are you talking about?"

His turn to be surprised. Hadn't they noticed? No, they had not. And that was even more suspicious.

"Look closely at Snape's left hand. It's artificial. That's why he hasn't been so awful lately. Somehow, he lost it and I think it was during the spring holidays."

Hermione and Ron both stared hard at the Potions master and Harry wanted to melt under the table when he saw the Headmaster's gaze fixed upon them. But Dumbledore just cocked his eyebrow, then turned his attention back to Professor Sprout. After a time, Hermione said, "I think I see something on his left hand... but Harry, are you sure? It looks fine to me."

"I'm sure. Look again."

Ron, who had let his gaze wander away from Professor Snape, suddenly sat up straighter. "There's a glamour on that hand!" he hissed. "Don't look directly at it, Hermione. Look past it," he ordered and Harry reflected that his friend would probably make a top notch Auror someday soon.

When Hermione gasped, he knew that they were both seeing what he had seen. Finally. "It's artificial. I saw it last night for a moment. It's white, like ivory or plastic."

"Dragon bone," Hermione corrected absently, still staring at the wall to Snape's left. "They use dragon bone for wizard prosthetics. It's tough, it takes movement and transfiguration charms well, but it doesn't bleed off magic like a wooden prosthetic would. They found that the wooden ones acted like an extra wand... Wait a minute!" Harry sighed internally when her sharp glance snapped back to his face. "How did you see it?! That's a very good glamour cast on it. Even knowing it's there, I have to really concentrate to see anything but his regular hand."

Time to confess. "I happened to be in the dungeons last night when he took off the glove." OK, half a confession. He wasn't going to tell them about Snape's frenzy or his breakdown in Dumbledore's arms. Snape would hate anyone knowing about that.

"Happened to be in the dungeons, huh? And why didn't you invite us along?" Ron's tone of betrayal would have rung just a bit truer if all three of them hadn't known exactly why Harry hadn't invited his two best friends along. Ron and Hermione had been conducting private explorations of their own in the Astronomy Tower at midnight.

Hermione's blush was really quite pretty, Harry thought, as she thumped Ron on the arm, hard. "Let's pretend we've already had that argument and move on to the important questions: Why? and How are we going to find out?"

Harry and Ron grinned a little at each other as Hermione swung into full investigation mode. By the end of breakfast, they had outlined a reasonable campaign of action. Ron and Hermione were to take the first two shifts of Snape-watching. It was Harry's job to tackle Draco.

As Hermione had pointed out, there were two other people who had begun behaving strangely since the spring holidays -- Dumbledore and Draco Malfoy. They knew they weren't going to get many answers out of the headmaster, but Malfoy was another story.

It didn't take Harry long to find his sometime nemesis. Malfoy had taken to brooding in his free periods and most weekend mornings. When the weather was cold or otherwise inclement, he sulked in the library. When it was pleasant, Malfoy would invariably be found lurking somewhere on the Quidditch pitch. It was a briskly sunny day, so Harry headed out for the field. He found Malfoy sitting alone in the Slytherin stands. He sat down beside the other boy without a word, although prudently out of range of sharp elbows.

Malfoy didn't even blink to acknowledge his presence. After what felt like a very long five minutes, Harry gave up. "What's wrong, Malfoy?"

"Nothing. Go away," Draco Malfoy said flatly, gaze never shifting from the middle of the pitch.

Harry blinked. That was it? No drawling insult? No sly look, disparaging remark or smugly superior smile? He felt weirdly slighted. Then he realized that he was feeling irritated at Malfoy's neglect and couldn't stop himself from chuckling aloud.

"Potter, would you and your invisible friend mind having your little laugh somewhere else and leaving me in peace?"

Harry almost smiled. That was more like the Malfoy they knew and loathed. But there was no snap to the words, no bite to the tone. Malfoy sounded tired and ill. Come to think of it, he looked terrible. He had always been pale, but now he was bone-white. There were dark circles beneath his eyes, making him look wan and scared. His wrists seemed so thin that Harry felt as if he might break one when he lay his hand on it. Malfoy jerked beneath his fingers but didn't pull away.

"What's wrong, Malfoy?"

Harry felt as surprised as Malfoy looked at his gentle tone. But he had grown up some, they all had. Malfoy might be a shit, might have treated Harry and his friends like shit, but now he looked like someone who needed to talk. And Harry wanted to listen. His conscience grumbled that he merely wanted to hear Malfoy's secrets for his own purposes, which he freely admitted. But Malfoy wasn't exactly being swamped with concerned well-wishers, was he?

"What do you care?" Malfoy asked in that same sullen tone. But Harry had learned some strategy from playing chess with Ron for the past seven years; he simply refused to let Malfoy deflect him into empty protestations and accusations. Keep your eye on the snitch, he told himself.

"What happened during the spring holidays, Draco?" he asked quietly.

Malfoy's wrist jerked under his hand again. "N-nothing."

"You went home for the holidays, Malfoy, and something happened. Something happened to Professor Snape, too, didn't it?"

Malfoy's stricken look of wonder would have been almost comical, if he hadn't managed to look so completely miserable. And nauseated. Harry barely managed to get out of the way before Malfoy was folded over being quietly and thoroughly sick just where his feet had been.

Harry waited until Malfoy's shoulders stopped shuddering before silently offering his handkerchief. Malfoy pushed it away and Harry sighed. And people thought *he* was stubborn. Remembering one of Professor Sprout's lectures, he transfigured his handkerchief into a mug of steaming chamomile tea and held it out. This time, his offering was accepted grudgingly. While he had his wand out, Harry said a simple cleaning spell and the stinking mess disappeared, allowing him to breathe freely again.

Then he sat patiently as the other boy sipped listlessly at his tea and blinked his reddened eyes, staring at the grass again. Without warning, he said, "Last Christmas, my father told me that I was to be inducted as a Death Eater during the term holidays."

Harry sucked in his breath. He wondered if he were sitting beside his assassin, then wanted to shake himself for being an idiot. Malfoy certainly wasn't the picture of a confident young Death Eater on his way to fame and glory by ridding the world of one Harry Potter. His shoulders were hunched and he clutched his mug in both hands.

"Don't tell me I've shocked you, Potter!" Malfoy sounded a little more like himself, the tea must be helping.

"I'm guessing you weren't quite as thrilled as your father expected?"

"Five points to Gryffindor, Mr. Potter," Malfoy drawled in a passable imitation of Snape. "He thought I was merely overwhelmed by anticipation." Malfoy took a long gulp of tea, then said flatly, "I was terrified."

"Why?" And Harry really wanted to know. He had always assumed Malfoy *wanted* to follow in his father's footsteps.

Malfoy's bitter laugh said otherwise. "Potter, it can't have escaped your attention that Voldemort is barking mad. He's just as likely to kill his own followers as he is Muggles or anyone who stands against him. The only safety is in licking his boots and I will not do that!"

"Like your father?" Harry asked, then winced at his own tactlessness. However, Malfoy only grunted in agreement.

"My father is almost as mad as his master. A Malfoy has pride and ambition; we desire to rule, that is true. But not the kind of world Voldemort promises. If he has his way, there won't be anything worth ruling over. Or anyone."

"Go on. What did you do then?"

"I smiled like a jackal until I got back to school, what do you think? Then I went to see Professor Snape." Malfoy put down the empty mug and rubbed at his eyes. Harry spoke a short spell and refilled the mug. Malfoy didn't acknowledge the gesture, but a shaking hand picked up the mug again. "I told him everything. I begged for his help. You would have loved it, Potter. I was on my knees, crying and clutching his robe like a house elf."


"No, what?" Malfoy asked without much curiosity.

"No, I wouldn't have loved it. I would have hated it. No one should have to feel that way."

"Stupid Gryffindor," Malfoy said without heat, looking at Harry for the first time.

"Slimy Slytherin," Harry retorted comfortingly. "What did Snape do?"

"He said he'd find a way to help me. That I would take the Dark Mark over his dead body."

"That's... reassuring," Harry grimaced.

Malfoy blinked and stared at him suspiciously. "Why am I telling you this?"

"Because I asked." And no one else seems to even give a damn, Harry wanted to say, but didn't. They were quiet for a time, the only sound was the tea splashing in Malfoy's cup as he swirled it in his hand.

Malfoy started speaking again with a gasp, as if forcing the words out. "Snape tried a lot of things, I know. He talked to my father. And my mother. He even told me to start failing at my classes. Nothing worked. I even wrote home and told my father that I didn't want to leave school yet, that there was more to learn..."

Malfoy took a shuddering breath. "On the last day of classes, Father came and got me himself. I've never seen him so angry in my life. He told me that it was time 'to stop my foolishness and get ready to take my rightful role'."

"What about Snape?" Harry asked. The Hufflepuff team had come out onto the pitch to practice and Malfoy's eyes tracked the seeker blankly. The thin shoulders shrugged.

"Nowhere. I knew he'd tried and failed. My father was going to get his way and I'd wind up caught up in Voldemort's madness and probably get hexed to death in his idiot war or wind up leaking out my brains in Azkaban. Either way, not how I planned to spend my life.

"So I went to my first Death Eater meeting, dressed in a stupid white robe and wearing a glass mask. I wasn't the only initiate that night. You can probably guess who else was in line with me."

"Crabbe, Goyle, Bulstrode, Parkinson, Cameron," Harry recited the names of missing students from Slytherin House.

"And Ames and Devantry and Shay," Malfoy intoned the names of students from the other houses who had disappeared. "And a couple more that I didn't recognize. Twelve in all."

He fell silent. The snitch hid behind the Hufflepuff beater and the team captain's shouts floated up to them as the second string seeker cruised back and forth in confusion. Malfoy snorted in disgust, echoed by Harry.

Then the Slytherin slid his left sleeve up to the elbow and solemnly displayed his forearm. The skin was so pale that his veins were dusty purple lines beneath the surface, but it was otherwise unmarked. Harry let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding.

"Snape saved you?"

Malfoy nodded once. "He was there that night. He was a Death Eater. He was standing right beside my father." He stared off into the distance again, remembering, and Harry watched his pale throat work and wondered if he would throw up again. "I thought he'd betrayed me. That he meant all along for me to take the Mark and become one of them."

"He wouldn't do that. He'd never do that," Harry said with a conviction he hadn't even known he felt. But suddenly he knew that *he knew* - Snape was a mean bastard and twisted as hell, but he wasn't evil. And he cared about his students.

"No," Malfoy agreed quietly. "My father demanded the *right* of going first for me. And Voldemort agreed. He smiled." Malfoy shuddered, then gulped his tea. "It was awful. There was a black fire burning in the middle of the circle. There were bodies in it and they were still moving... and there was a branding iron heating in it. The smell..."

Harry found himself gripping Malfoy's shoulder tightly as he struggled to continue. "I was called forward and just going to my knees when the fire blazed up and there was another really sickening smell and all this purple smoke all around us. It made my eyes water and when I blinked, I went blind. I think everyone did. There was shouting and screams and curses being thrown and Voldemort hissing orders... it was total chaos.

"I think my father stumbled into the fire. I heard him scream," he whispered.


"Yes. He tossed a potion into the fire. I only found out about that later, though.

"He grabbed me and just started running. You can't Apparate in or out of the Manor; Voldemort's orders. Anyway, Snape carried me a long ways, far enough away that I couldn't hear them screaming any more."

"How long were you blind?"

"I don't know. It felt like hours. Snape put me down, but we kept running. I just held onto him and tried not to cry like a little kid. He didn't say anything except that it would wear off and we needed to get beyond the wards so that we could Apparate. Once we were safe, he had an antidote to drip into my eyes to clear them, otherwise it would be hours before I could see again. He sounded funny, but I thought it was just that he was winded from carrying me so far."

"What was it?" Harry thought he had a good idea.

Malfoy ignored him, and Harry realized that he was completely lost in his memories now. "He Apparated us twice; once, I could smell the sea. I don't know where we landed - it was cold.

"I heard him gasp and then he fell. When I felt my way over to him, he was moaning - I could hear him. And he was writhing and I felt his arm, the one with the Mark... it was on fire, Harry. From the inside. I burned my fingers on it."

The pale boy held up his right hand and Harry could see the shiny burn scars on it. Malfoy's muscles felt like iron beneath his hand, but Harry held on. A bludger hit a beater and the resultant swearing was loud and creative and neither of them heard it.

"There was nothing I could do. My wand was gone; Voldemort had them all. He was going to give them to us again when we bore his Mark." Malfoy spat and Harry wondered that the hatred behind it didn't burn a hole in the floor. "Snape was trying not to scream, but I could tell it was just getting worse and worse. Finally, he managed to get the antidote into my hand and told me to put some in my eyes.

"By the time I could see, Snape had bitten through his lip trying not to make any noise. We were in some forest somewhere. There was a hut, I think it was Muggle. There was snow and a lot of firewood stacked up beside us." Malfoy's voice trailed away and he fell silent, staring blindly again.

After a time, Harry squeezed Malfoy's shoulder gently and said, "What happened then?"

"Professor Snape cut off his left arm with an ax. It just kept burning," Malfoy said dully. "I watched it. It just melted and turned to ash. Even the blood."

And then he was crying, silent tears making silvery tracks on his bone-white face and Harry was pulling him close and holding Draco tightly and Harry blinked, then couldn't see a thing any more, his eyes burning and blind in the noonday sun.

The Hufflepuff seeker finally caught the snitch.

* * *
Lunch had just begun by the time Harry had managed to get himself together and get Malfoy off the Quidditch field. The other boy had fallen silent after crying himself out on Harry's shoulder. He stumbled twice on the stairs down to the field; the third time, Harry just wrapped an arm around Malfoy's shoulders and half-carried him into the school. The Slytherin looked truly ill now, dazed and weak. He flinched from the muted roar coming from the Great Hall and Harry just kept them walking right past the doors and heading for the Infirmary.

Everything would have been fine if Ron and Hermione hadn't chosen that moment to come trotting around a corner. When they saw him, they both stopped dead and stared. Harry winced at the picture they must make - he and Malfoy, barely standing, Malfoy looking like a pet rat, all white with red eyes. He didn't even want to speculate on how he looked himself; his cheeks were gritty with dried tears and his face felt numb. His lips were too stiff to even smile at his friends.

"Harry? What's wrong with Malfoy?"

Harry just shook his head and held up a hand, silently asking his friends to let it go for now. He really wanted to get Malfoy to Madam Pomfrey; the other boy could barely stand now and Harry's shoulder was aching with the strain of holding him up.

"OK," Ron said. "Want a hand getting Malfoy wherever?"

"That won't be necessary, Mr. Weasley," a hoarse voice said from directly behind Harry. "But I would be most interested to hear Mr. Potter's answer to your first question." There was an all-too-familiar swish of robes and then Professor Snape was standing directly in front of him, glaring.

Harry tried to glare back, but his heart wasn't in it. His gaze brushed
over Snape's left hand and he could feel his face tighten but wasn't certain what expression he wore. Whatever it was, it made Snape stop glaring and stare in consternation, head cocking a little to the side as if he had never seen Harry before. Harry stared back silently.

The tableau only broke when Hermione coughed nervously. Snape wheeled and made a dismissive motion with his right hand. "Miss Granger, Mr. Weasley, go in to lunch. Now," he added firmly, when they hesitated. "Unless you wish to be responsible for losing more than the twenty points Mr. Potter has already lost today by cutting Potions class?" They went, Ron giving Snape a rather weak glare as he passed.

When they stood alone in the corridor, Snape asked in a quiet tone, "Are you all right, Mr. Malfoy?"

"Don't call me that!" his student shouted, making Harry start with shock and volume. "I'm not a Malfoy any more! You know that - he disowned me. Dumbledore got the letter. I don't have a name!" Draco straightened up and shook off Harry's supporting arm. As suddenly as it had come, his strength faded and he stumbled. Snape caught him and Harry felt his eyes burn again as he watched Draco press his face into Snape's chest, burrowing as if to hide from the world.

"What did you do to him, Potter?!"

Finally! Harry almost smiled when he heard Snape hissing out an unfounded accusation; at least this was familiar. He had just started to say, "Nothing, sir," when the world tilted again and Draco Malfoy said in a muffled tone,

"He didn't do anything to me. I ... don't feel well, sir. Can I go to the Infirmary?"

Snape frowned down at the platinum head against his chest. "Very well, Draco. I will take you to see Madam Pomfrey." Then he glared at Harry again. "You, Mr. Potter, will report to me after dinner this evening. I will expect a full explanation at that time."

Harry stood and stared after Snape as he carefully led Mal- Draco away. The sheer unfairness of being given detention when all he was trying to do was help... Harry stomped off to lunch grumbling to himself. The rush of self-pity was dammed when he looked back over his shoulder and saw Snape swing Draco into his arms, carrying him as if he were a much younger child.

The thought of the last time Snape had carried Draco robbed Harry of whatever appetite he had had. Ron found him in the lavatory 20 minutes later, red-eyed and splashing handfuls of water on his face.

* * *

Ron and Hermione's horrified reaction to Draco's story made him feel like less of a prat for crying about it. It really *was* that horrible. The three of them sat staring into the fire, sitting a little closer together than they had for a while.

"Poor Professor Snape," Hermione said after a while.

Ron took a deep breath, then said, "Never thought I'd agree with you, but yeah. Poor git. It had to have hurt like nothing else on earth."

"It's not just that, Ron. That's why he hasn't been demonstrating anything in Potions class!" Hermione exclaimed.

"The fingers barely move at all," Harry reported. "I watched him try to cut some stuff and he couldn't do it."

"What's he going to do now, if he can't make potions?"

"He can't spy for Dumbledore either, anymore." Harry reminded them.

"It's worse than that, Harry," Hermione said. "He can't leave the castle. Voldemort and Malfoy have to know that it was him. They'll be after him. And Draco."

"Fuck. And here all I thought I'd be worrying about this term was revising for exams," Ron said.

"Fuck," agreed Harry.

"Fuck," Hermione summed up primly.

The two boys stared at her in utter shock, then the three of them burst into laughter.

* * *

Harry's lightened mood lasted throughout dinner, right up until the moment that he realized he had to go face Snape. Snape, who hadn't been at dinner, wanted to know about his precious Malfoy, who also hadn't been at dinner. Harry had no clue what to tell the Potions master. On his way down to the dungeons, he concocted and abandoned no less than three completely implausible explanations.

It was only when he was standing in front of Snape's office door, hand raised to knock, that desperation drove him to consider something so bizarre, so daring, so unlikely that he thought it might actually get him out of this in one piece. He decided to tell Snape the truth.

Staring at Snape's cold grimace across his desk, all Harry could remember was that awful, empty expression that had been on the man's face last night. Snape was staring into space somewhere beyond Harry's right shoulder. His yellowed index finger was tapping the desk impatiently, while the man himself seemed content to sit in silence for the rest of the evening. Harry's nerve finally broke.

"How's Draco, sir?"

Snape's distracted stare melted into a cool glare. "He is being treated for exhaustion. I am given to understand that you actually helped him this afternoon." One eyebrow rose, plainly communicating Snape's extreme doubt on that point.

"I guess," Harry said uncomfortably. "He needed someone to talk to. I was there."

"He *talked* to you?" Snape's glare became downright frosty. "About what?"

Harry really wished he'd been able to come up with a better lie. Well, there was nothing for it. He was stuck with the truth, and he knew exactly how much of a defense that was.

"He told me what happened with his father. That you saved him. That you got hurt doing it."

The Potions master stared at him for a long moment and Harry felt exactly like a slug about to be diced. Then Snape said only, "You will keep whatever he told you to yourself. You may go, Mr. Potter."

Harry blinked as Snape picked up a scroll from his desk and gave every impression of forgetting his very existence.

Before Harry quite knew what he was doing, he found himself standing beside Snape. The professor did not look up from the scroll he was reading. Harry watched his own hand reach out and come to rest on the hard mass that lay on the chair's left armrest. The artificial arm felt cool beneath the sleeve of Snape's robe, hard and slick.


Harry raised his eyes to meet Snape's furious gaze. He didn't think he'd ever seen the Potions master this angry, and after seven years, that was saying something.

"Sir, I... I mean..."

Something cold shuttered the anger in Snape's eyes, and that was more disturbing than the hot fury of a moment before. "Don't you dare presume to pity me, Potter."

"It's not pity, sir! It's...respect." Well, he hadn't known he was going to say that.

"So that's what it takes to get your respect, eh? I should have cut something off years ago," Snape drawled and turned back to his scroll.

"Stop that!" Harry half-shouted. In a more controlled voice, he said, "Just... stop it. I know what you did and why you did it and how it makes you feel and I'm sorry!" So much for control, he hadn't meant to say any of that.

"So you know how I feel, eh? Been spying again, Potter?" When Harry said nothing, Snape continued in that same awful, cool drawl, "But I suppose I can't really point fingers any more, can I? Save your sorrow for someone who gives a damn, Potter." Harry could see Snape's lip curl behind the curtain of lank black hair. He shrugged his left shoulder, causing Harry's hand to slide off the bone forearm. "Go away, Potter."

Harry swallowed hard, not really understanding why he felt as badly as he did at being dismissed. After all, he had just provoked Snape beyond anything he had ever done before and was walking away with nothing more than a shortened detention.

He walked to the door and opened it. Then, hand on the latch, he turned back and said, "I really am sorry, professor."

"So am I, Potter. Now go away," Snape said quietly. And Harry did.