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Warning(s) for: explicit language, mild/ referenced violence

Next Update Saturday: July the fourth


Chapter Ten: The Pure Simple Truth

"The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple."

― OscarWilde.

...

All his life, Harry felt as if he was standing on the edge of a roof overlooking the entirety of his life, looking down at the passing crowd, feeling the high wind musing his hair, hearing the commotion, even though he's not a part of it, inching closer past the ledge, year after year after year.

Harry's roof is a source of comfort, something stable, something that doesn't move unless he wishes it to, the roof stays and so does he, his breathing and the whistling wind are the only sounds in his ears and the pounding in his heart the only feeling in his chest. His arms are extended by his side, not to imitate flying, but to allow the wind to consume him, comfort him as he looks down and mourns the fact that he will never walk down a myriad of stairs and join other people, normal people who didn't sway on the edge of a building, or alternatively, hurl himself off the ledge, close his eyes and just wait until the end comes for him. Harry's whole life has been on a standstill.

As he walks out of the bathroom, partially leaning on the walls for support, Harry feels as if he's been shoved off the ledge of that roof instead of leaping himself, because just a few minutes ago, he had woken up to Draco Malfoy poking him in the shoulder, looking him in the eye, and demanding who carved words into his hand.

People don't do that.

Ron and Hermione… are another matter completely, they're not on the roof with him, they're only in the throes of Harry's game, where Harry's roof doesn't exist and he's normal.

They give him his boundary, they give him his roof. And let him be when he seems as if he needs loneliness more than the company.

Harry's scarred hand is on the roof with him, something to be kept out of sight, something to be forgotten after the turbulence passes… something that the wind might take away from Harry eventually.

Draco Malfoy isn't supposed to be on the roof with him.

Harry doesn't think he was there, not in the literal sense of the word, because, in his head, there was nothing but him and the roof up in the sky. But he felt something, and that something propelling him outwards, off the ledge and into the air.

Draco Malfoy, his childhood bully, ripped up his robe for him, wrapped his hand, and stopped the bleeding, manipulated Harry into telling him who did the unspeakable to Harry's hand… and then he offered to help him.

People don't do that. That's the exact reason why Harry didn't tell his friends the moment he got out of Umbridge's office that first day, the same reason why he never told anyone. Some things are up there on the roof with Harry, others are not.

It's bothering Harry, how Draco Malfoy is privy to a rooftop secret.

He walks to the moving stairs and he waits, gazing down at his hand, unwrapped, but clean, not bleeding, just… there.

Only when he makes his way through the Fat Lady's portrait, does Harry finally dare to release the tension from his shoulders and drop his Invisibility Cloak. He spares a glance around the common room, which is predictably empty except for Ron and Hermione, both dozing against each other in front of the fireplace.

Harry moves and stands in front of them, staring at the sleeping figures with heavy eyes and bated breath. They must have been waiting up for him. In Harry's game, Ron and Hermione don't need to stay up until nearly midnight on the couch for him. They would already be dating too. Harry needs to do something about that sometime.

Slowly, Harry reaches for Hermione's arm but then stops himself at the nick of time. They would question him staying out this late, they would see the scars on his hand, the one he hadn't had time to glamour yet, and then they would be dragging him to McGonagall's office like a naughty child to help him tattle on Umbridge.

Harry frowns. He cannot just let his friends sleep on a couch like that, for him. And then lie about it later. It's not fair on them.

Harry's hand is already fishing out his wand, and he quickly mutters a spell under his breath, glamouring his hand into the smooth surface it was before. Then he looks over at the desk clock and rolls his eyes at himself before adjusting it to a few hours prior.

"Harry?" Hermione mutters once Harry shakes her arm. "What,"

"You guys fell asleep on the couch," Harry explains as he reaches to jostle Ron, who was heavily snoring, his head tilted back against the head of the couch. Ron wakes with a start as Hermione runs a hand through her hair, grimacing as she stretches her sore muscles.

"We were waiting up for you," she says, watching as Ron blinks his eyes open and yawns.

"What time is it?"

"Ten thirty," Harry hopes his reply is smooth enough that they won't feel tempted to check the time themselves. Hermione's eyes narrow, and she looks around the darkened room in confusion.

"But- but," she exchanges a look with Ron. "The common room is empty."

"The first Quidditch match is tomorrow. I think everyone needed a good night's rest."

Ron hums, but Hermione keeps on looking at Harry. "Harry, what's going on?"

Harry stares at her for a bit, then at Ron who's starting to catch on, his brows knitted, Ron looks from the clock to Harry and then back again. "Harry?"

Harry realizes how idiotic it must have been to tinker with the clock. He's not trying to fool children, of course, they would know something is amiss. Even the clock seems as if it's scoffing at him.

"I'm really tired," Harry mutters. He wants to go on his rooftop again, detached, unconcerned. Harry yearns to observe, from above, not get stuck in the middle of this presumably messy conversation. "I'm going to sleep. You guys should go to bed too. Don't fall asleep here,"

"Harry, what the hell," Ron says as Harry tries to make his way past him. "Mate,"

Harry tries stepping back from them, he longingly stares at the staircase that leads to his dorm, but Hermione cuts in his view. "Where were you Harry?"

There are some points in Harry's life, where his head feels like a heated boiler, foaming and whistling as it's goaded on with one mess after the other. He desperately wants to avoid Hermione's turn, lest the boiler exploded. He just needs today to be over.

"Let it go, Hermione."

Hermione, very characteristically, doesn't let it go and takes Harry's wariness as a cue to continue the beginning of her passionate abstract of the coming argument. Harry knows how this is supposed to go too well.

"You've been acting oddly since the start of the term," Hermione starts. "Don't think I haven't noticed. You're skipping meals, you're sneaking in and out at odd hours, we couldn't find you after Umbridge's detention for at least an hour, and then you claim to be in the kitchens-" Harry wants to sleep. He is so tired, and his mind is spinning, and even imagining such a scene makes him so unbelievably dizzy that the urge to sink down and fall asleep on the spot is nearly unavoidable. Most of his spinning thoughts are occupied by Malfoy and Umbridge. And the rest of his attention is drawn to his still throbbing hand.

"I missed dinner," he says wearily. Kitchens? That's what they were talking about.

"While you were scarfing down a turkey sandwich! What is going on?!" He knows that Hermione cares for him, that Ron did too, they'd shown it time and again. But sometimes it feels like they are trying to force entry into his rooftop, an entry he doesn't want to grant. To anyone.

Every year that passes, it seems to be getting excessively harder to keep people out without stepping on any toes. The toes in question seem to be very mad at the moment. Hermione sure rants a lot when she's enraged. Harry thinks that she would make a terrific spokesperson if she put her mind to it.

Hermione goes on some more and Harry tunes her out, just a bit, and turns his eyes to stare at a small rip on the sofa's cushion, right above a roaring lion's shoulder. Wounded in battle, Harry thinks in distant amusement. Everything always seems a bit dulled, like a dimmed flickering light when he's tired.

A wounded cushion lion. Harry wonders whom he battled. Probably a hoard of second years with too much fun time on their hands. Maybe a pillow fight.

Ron's voice filters into Harry's thoughts, jostling him in his place.

"Hermione," Ron says warningly. He gives Harry a look that he gives Harry sometimes when he notices Harry's eyes glazing. As if he knows exactly what Harry finds more entertaining than what's going on in the real world, and as if he wishes to be there, in Harry's head with him.

Hermione finally turns and stares at Harry before whirling to face Ron. "No, Ron," she says with a shake of her head. "I know you said that we need to go easy in him because of-"

"Because of what?" Harry cuts her off and Ron noticeably pales. Harry's eyes narrow. This conversation is officially entering the murky lake of the 'I don't like this' territory. Not that murky lakes are likable by themselves in the slightest. Maybe to frogs. Or merpeople? Harry shakes his head before that train of thought dispatches him from the argument.

This is important. He has to pay attention. They've been talking to each other. Behind his back. Worrying on him. Harry needs to know why.

"Nothing. It's nothing," Ron clears his throat, tinkering with the front of his sweater. Harry's eyes shoot to Hermione, looking beyond frustrated and concerned. The concern is warming, but his limbs feel heavy and he is sure he is going to pass out again. Something about frogs… or Ron and Hermione.

Yes, they're arguing.

"Because of what?" Harry asks again with a small hint of irritation. He really doesn't like repeating things.

"Because of Cedric," Hermione finally says, in spite of Ron's angry groan.

"Hermione!" Ron exclaims, glaring at her and giving her the look. He does that a lot, Harry has noticed. Ron's the most expressive out of the three of them.

Cedric. Harry lets the name sink in, lying flaccid on the bottom of his mind, festering, before he dares to let it take on the usual effect. Cedric. Dead Cedric. Alive writhing Cedric.

Cedric with a woman's voice.

"Cedric." Harry keeps his voice flat, but clenches his injured hand, letting pain flare up his wrist. Pain is good. Pain is predictable. It's the only thing the body never gets used to. It forgets. Harry likes reminding his forgetful body of pain most times, showing it how it's done, showing it how to adapt.

Adapting is the first rule of survival, after all.

"Harry, mate, we're all tired, let's just-" Harry can see Ron trying to do damage control, but now Harry's attention has been piqued.

So, they're talking about him behind his back. About Cedric. Or not about him, he's dead, most likely about Harry in regards to Cedric. Which isn't much of an improvement.

Hermione sees the look on Harry's face, and the scowl on her face softens. "Ron thinks… that you're affected by Cedric's death," she says. "And the… and with what happened. And I agree with him but- but this is ridiculous! We're your best friends, and we're worried about you!"

"I'm not- Cedric has nothing to do with this." Harry is aware he is sputtering. Only now he's realising how much of an idiot he's been lately. Of course, Cedric's death would be their first conclusion. Of course, they think Harry is stuck in an uncertain, quivering limbo of guilt and undealt grief. Which isn't untrue. Not really.

All things considered, had Harry been in the right mindset, he would have seen this ages ago. They've been too crowded at Grimmauld place, of course, Ron and Hermione quailed at the thought of confronting him then.

Harry is quite sure that Ron doesn't know about the nightmares, not while he can finally have a silencing charm around his bed, instead of using his hand to choke himself into a semblance of quiet. Therefore, their concern regarding Cedric must be in part hypothetical, just a thing that they should logically deal with.

"Harry," Ron starts cautiously, as if afraid that Harry is about to explode, he might, Harry isn't sure.

"We shared a room for a month, and we've been sharing this dorm since… I know you're probably having nightmares." Fuck, fuck, Ron heard him? How had Harry been so careless? Well, there goes his certainty. This wasn't a planned response then, he'd worried them, he's been the cause. Shit.

Ron, apparently unaware of Harry's panic, continued, "You're always exhausted, and your eyes are almost sunken in, have you seen the size of your dark circles? Most of the time you look like you could keel over any second.

"But I didn't tell anyone!" Ron continues, probably upon seeing Harry's expression, "Well, except for Hermione. We were always here for you, to come to us, we've sort of been waiting for you to approach us yourself if you… needed to talk? I don't know how this sort of stuff works."

Hermione nods along. "We thought you might speak to Sirius or Remus or someone about it, but you didn't and we were more worried- and then all this? Harry, what's going on? Please… let us help you." Harry crosses his arms, gripping at the wrist of his right hand as if that would abate the pain. 'Get used to it body, ' Harry viciously presses his palm against the sleeve of his other arm.

'Get used to the pain. Tuesday is going to be delightful. '

He glances at Hermione, then Ron, taking in their concerned, almost frantic expressions. They know he's not pleased, almost half a second sooner than Harry himself comes upon the realisation. He's not pleased. Harry is angry.

"You've been talking behind my back," he settles.

"That's all you take from that?" Well, Harry expected that. He closes his eyes, Hermione continues, heedless, "Harry! You scared us half to death this whole summer, and then the school starts and you're getting worse! We cannot help you if you don't talk to us!"

"Hermione, we're crowding him." Ron intervenes, looking nervously at Harry.

"Well, maybe he needs to be confronted with his problems!" Hermione's voice rises an octave. It's so different from Aunt Petunia's shrill shriek, but it gives him a headache nonetheless. Hermione without a mouth, now that's an interesting twist.

"Stop—" Harry starts, eyes snapping open, why is this so hard? His head feels fuzzy, if he passed out now, he's sure the glamour would fall too. He really doesn't need to deal with this. He needs it to stop. Everything. He doesn't even crave the rooftop anymore, just blackness.

"Maybe if you actually sat down and talked about Cedric Diggory, his ghost wouldn't be haunting you!" she throws her arms out as if to indicate Cedric's ghost lounging around the common room. Wouldn't that be funny, Harry thinks, if Cedric were watching him, right now? Harry wants to talk to him sometime if he were. 'Sorry I killed you by the way, I'm sure being dead sucks,'

Diggory would probably laugh it off and then they would be champs, having butterbeer and talking Quidditch. How awfully quaint.

He sobers up quickly, stopping that tiniest pull against his lips. It's not funny, it's not supposed to be. Nope. Not funny. He wouldn't even be a ghost if it weren't for Harry.

Ron is staring at him again. Giving him the look again. "Hermione, seriously, look at him." They both turn to ogle him and Harry rolls his eyes. He probably gets the same amount of ogling as the LockNess Monster. "Let's just go to sleep," Ron says. Harry casts a grateful look in his direction. Yes, they all needed to sleep.

"Ron, you're coddling him." Harry's knees feel like they're about to buckle again. He wants to collapse. Preferably on his bed and not on the common room floor. How is he still awake?

"No, you're going on a row again! We agreed to deal with this like adults. I shouldn't be the one telling you this." Harry somehow doubts that even adults would be dealing with this, whatever it is, very well.

"I know what we agreed on, Ronald. I was there. I've also been dealing with Harry for over five years now, the same as you. I know when he needs to be pushed or let go. You're coddling him." That gets his attention and a familiar spark of indignation and anger spikes through him.

"I'm sorry," he starts, "Deal with me? I'm not a child! Why are you talking like I'm a nutcase that needs to be taken care of?!" Is that what they see him as?

"It's Merlin knows what in the morning! And you're shouting at him in the common room, you know how he gets-" Ron starts, trying to placate Hermione.

"How I get?! I'm standing right here!" He hates it when people talk about him like he's not there. It reminds him too much of the Dursleys. Ron and Hermione don't usually do that.

"Yes, Harry, how you get." Ron turns to face him, his face red with exasperation. "Don't pretend like it's not true, because we both know it is. You're not just any normal person to be around, not like Dean, or Seamus or fucking Neville! You're different, we have to be so careful with you, all the damn time because… well because you're you."

"And you have a problem with that," even as Harry says that, a phrase starts repeating itself in Harry's head, over and over again. You're just not any normal person. He has been trying so hard, all his life, tilted on the edge of a building, trying to be normal… trying to find normal, as if being normal is something that people learn to do. All his life, he had been keeping everything that made him any less than desirable up on the rooftop with him while trying to keep everyone out, keep them away, and he still isn't normal. He can't even fake it.

Ron seems to be reading his thoughts again. His eyes instantly soften. "I don't mean it in a cruel way." He says and it's the truth. But so were his other words. "But you have to notice some things too, Harry. I know you do because I know you. The normal approach doesn't work with you, Hermione, and I know that. We respect that… but you gotta give us a break too, mate,"

"A break from me?" The anger is gone from his voice, and Harry speaks flatly, emotionless.

"No." Ron huffs. "A break from figuring things out for ourselves. For fuck's sake, it took me two years to figure out that you hate pork! Because you always kept eating it, and my mom kept making it because she thought you liked it, it turns out you fucking don't… I had to stay up a whole night while you purged your stomach after that whole thing. It's things like that,"

Hermione crosses her arms. "Exactly, Harry. You need to talk to us. We cannot figure things out for ourselves all the time. If you're upset about Cedric, or You-know-who being back, or even the Dursleys, then you should talk to us!"

"But it's not Cedric!" Not just him, anyway. Harry is really, really too tired to deal with this.

"Then what is it?!"

"Are you really upset with me because you cannot figure me out?" They stare at him. "I don't need a minder, you're not my parents," he is not some puzzle for them to figure out, he is a person, however abnormal. They can't get to treat him like a puzzle and then get angry when the pieces don't fit perfectly.

Because there are a lot of missing pieces that Harry cannot find himself, and nobody, not even Ron and Hermione, are as frustrated by this as him.

"Isn't that funny?" Hermione huffs. "Because sometimes we have to act like we are, don't we? I'm not saying that it's a bad thing, or I'm tired of doing it, I'm not complaining." That's exactly what she seems like she's doing."We take care of each other, exactly the way the other needs to be taken care of. That's what friends do. So if you need someone to make sure you eat, or do your homework or don't get locked up in your head all the time…. Is it a bad thing?"

"What are we arguing about right now?" Harry asks, all and any fight draining out of him. It's with sheer force of will that he stops himself from swaying on his feet.

Ron finally seems to have enough of this, he steps between him and Hermione and then grabs Harry by the shoulders. "I think we should go to sleep," he says. "Right now." He stresses when Hermione half-heartedly glares at him. "Before we make this any worse. Please. Come on Harry."

Hermione holds Ron's gaze for a delayed beat and then sighs. "Yes, good night Harry," she finally concedes, rubbing her forehead and leaning down to grab a fallen book.

Harry knows it's wrong, he knows he's not really helping his case, but he can't not have the last word. Even though he's tired and swaying and almost delirious with the need to sleep.

"Why, because you think I've reached my limit for the night?" he jeers at Hermione who just shakes her head.

Ron answers for her. "No, because I'm fucking tired." The redhead rolls his eyes and grabs Harry's elbow again, groggily pulling him to the staircase. "Go to sleep, Hermione," he calls over his shoulder. "We're not dealing with another ' Hermione overslept ' scenario."

##

"There you go, Severus. One cuppa, no sugar." A steaming mug of tea is placed in Severus' hands, warming them up.

"Thank you, Molly."

"I don't know how you drink it that bitter, Severus, I'll be honest." Molly shakes her head as she bustles around the kitchen, preparing more mugs of tea, tailored to everyone's tastes.

"His tastes are as bleak as his soul," Severus grits his teeth when he hears Black's voice from the doorway, refusing to turn to look at him.

"Sirius Black!" Molly's voice is stern as she reprimands that mutt.

"Oh, come off it Molly. Let me have my fun," Black says, giving a long-suffering sigh as he saunters in the kitchen, plopping down on the chair next to Lupin.

"It's alright, Molly. I believe Arthur is calling for you?" he says smoothly, Black's impertinence isn't worth his time anymore.

"Oh yes, that man… I swear. It's like I'm raising eight children." The fondness in her voice is hard to miss.

"Molly, dear?" comes Arthur's call again.

"I'm coming, love! Enjoy the tea before it goes cold, Severus," he most certainly would not.

"Again, an accurate representation of the man's entire life. Bitterly cold. You're on fire tonight, Molly," Severus turns his eyes to Black, keeping his face blank, lest his murderous intent be clear.

"Sirius," Lupin says, somewhat unsurprisingly. He had always acted as a mediator. Mild and completely in contrast to the beast he turns into without the consumption of Wolfsbane.

"Moony,"

"You're as much a child as you were thirteen years ago, Black. Doesn't it get tiring?" Severus tilts his head to the side as if asking seriously, merely out of curiosity, but with a mocking curl of his lips that not even an idiot like Black could miss.

"About as much as you get tired of avoiding a mirror, Snivellus." that name sends a bolt of rage through him, which he quickly suppresses. That's what Black wants, to provoke him. Well, they aren't children anymore. At least, Severus isn't.

"Boys." The wolf says again, putting a warning hand on Black's arm. He sneers at Lupin, the only 'boy' here is Black.

"Yes, Lupin, leash your boyfriend before he mucks up anything." This time Severus makes no attempt to hide his contempt.

Something flashes in Remus's eyes, dangerous and lurking, even as the man smiles kindly. "Severus, I think we should all take a moment to calm down here." his smile turns into a long stare at Black. "We're grown adults."

"Some of us are," Black snorts, tapping his fingers against the table. Severus regards them both with cooled eyes and a quirk of his brow.

"I fully agree, Black." He says with another sneer and tears his gaze away, glancing down at his steaming tea. He has no inclination to drink it when it's this hot. He's always been quite wary of hot beverages.

The fireplace flares behind him, just as Severus is tempted to raise his cup for a hesitant sip. His eyes narrow, and he lowers his cup, his mind perfectly blanks as he straightens his back. He doesn't rise but Black and Lupin do, looking over his shoulder and nodding greeting as Albus fully steps into the kitchen.

"Dumbledore is here," Kingsley says, rather unnecessarily, knocking the table as he rises from his chair, sloshing Severus's tea, and Severus watches as it stains the hardened wood, sinking into the table.

"Gather the guys," Arthur calls over his shoulder and exchanges a firm handshake with Dumbledore.

"Hello there, Albus," Molly says, patting the old purple-robed man on his arm.

"Hello Molly," he smiles at her. The ever-present twinkle in his eyes had diminished drastically ever since Potter had appeared with Diggory's dead body.

"Charlie, be a dear and call for Bill," she orders her second eldest son, and Severus flicks his eyes to Charlie Weasley. He remembers teaching the boy —now a twenty-something-year-old man—only a few years ago. He was quite adept at Care of Magical creatures if Severus isn't mistaken. He works with dragons now, Molly has mentioned that in passing.

Severus watches him go, and then finally swipes his cup for a sip. It's lukewarm now, the only way he likes it. The members slowly start filtering into the kitchen, some taking their seats and a few standing in the corners. Moody in particular, looks grouchy as he glares at Severus. Bill Weasley, also a former student, settles by his left, Tonks sits by his right.

Severus stifles a jeer at close proximity to the others. He remembers Tonks's disastrous presence in his Potions classroom quite vividly, and by the looks of things, she hasn't seemed to be cured of the clumsiness in the slightest.

"If everyone is settled?" Albus asks, arranging his robes as he sits down, Molly puts another steaming teacup before the old man, followed by a levitated tin of lemon drops.

"Nearly everyone, sir," Bill says, reaching over Severus to snatch a butter cookie from a stacked plate. Severus shrinks back in his seat with the tea held tightly in his hand.

Severus glares at the whelp, "Who is left?" he asks.

Tonks shrugs. Her shoulder-length pink hair shift with the slight movement. "Fletcher," she says. "No idea where he is."

Albus nods and picks a lemon drop. "We shall have to proceed without him then. Remus?"

Severus leans back in his chair, crossing his arms. It's time to observe.

"I negotiated with the London pack via letter during the last two weeks," The wolf exchanges a look with Black. "I'm supposed to meet them at the next full moon,"

Minerva frowns. "During a full moon?"

Severus inwardly hums at that certain bit of information. Of course, they want to meet during the full moon, on their own terms and territory. They're not desperate like the Order is. They don't need them as much as The Order needs them. It would have been surprising if they hadn't been asking for such conditions.

"They won't meet as humans." Lupin says, confirming Severus's inner drawl.

"It's one of their only conditions."

"That doesn't seem safe at all Remus," Molly frets, frowning. "They might not take the Potion themselves… and if you're going alone -"

"That's exactly what I said," Black grumbles, his face darkening. "You cannot face a whole pack alone, Moony. I think we should forget about the London pack. There should still be plenty left."

Lupin turns to him with an exasperated sigh. "The London pack is the biggest in Britain." He explains with a huff. Severus's eyebrows rise as he sees Black's shoulders slackening.

Interesting, Severus thinks. "They have seventy-five active werewolves. And that's not even taking the mates and the children into the count. The largest pack after them, is the Exeter Pack… with only ten active members. Only four of them have werewolf mates."

Black makes an irritated growl. "Better ten, than none and dead." But Lupin isn't even looking at him anymore.

"This is our best chance, Albus." Albus gazes back at Lupin with a perfectly blank expression on his face, his hand thoughtfully running down his beard in silent contemplation. "Seventy-five werewolves on our side is a strategic win. Seventy-five against us… is catastrophic."

Black still looks highly disagreeable. "You shouldn't go alone,"

Lupin groans. It's obvious that they've had this argument before. "What else are you suggesting?" he asks and Black scoffs. "They want to meet during the full moon. You already know why, because they need to make sure my intentions are sincere. The wolf cannot lie to them. If they see that I'm on their side they won't have a reason to attack me."

Black, like a stubborn hippogriff, remains corrected, shaking his head and refusing to look at the other man, "I'm not willing to take the chance, it's seventy-five against one."

As if it's his choice, Severus sneers. Black has least amount of the decision making around here, the mutt isn't even allowed to leave the house, not when he's too tight on Dumbledore's leash. If Albus gives the 'Yes' now there's nothing Black or Lupin could do about this.

Instead of a firm rebuke, Black should have gotten, Albus merely hums with an indulgent smile.

"We shall discuss this extensively at a later time."

Severus refuses to sigh. If this is their only hope of survival, the only face of the war effort, then they're doomed. Severus is quite aware that Albus isn't divulging most things with the order members, nothing that would compromise his own plans anyway, and in a way, Severus is relieved that the man at least has some sense of logic left in him. He hates admitting it, but Albus Dumbledore was never the same after Grindelwald's defeat and imprisonment. Severus knows that even though he hadn't been alive to make the evaluation himself.

He is the best showcase as to why 'love' is the most severe form of disadvantage.

"Sir, has there been any news from Argent?" Bill. Severus's eyes flicker over to him, before he lifts his cup to take another sip.

"None that I'm aware of yet. How was your mission in Devon, Douglas?" Smooth deflection, he thinks, watching the headmaster speak.

##

When Severus gets up to leave, his back slightly hurts, and his shoulders are tensed. Molly tries persuading him to stay and have some meat pie but Severus sneaks past her into the fireplace, muttering a polite farewell. He has had enough of these fools already. He needs solitude.

His fireplace blazes silently, by Severus's own design. He steps out and brushes his robes with both hands before flicking his wand to clean his face of soot. His eyes fall upon the cushion on his chair and Severus stills.

Something isn't right.

Severus knows it almost instinctively, his eyes dart from his slightly shifted chair to his ajar office door and his wand twitches. He casts a nonverbal silencing charm on his boots, and pushes his robes out of the way, and slowly, meticulously starts approaching his office.

Out of his list of expected burglars, the person he finds is second to last, with Granger being the last person herself. Severus leans against the frame of his doorway and exhales an inaudible sigh of relief, staring at the back of the blond hair as his godson rummages through his personal Potions kit.

Before he's seen what Draco is doing, for a very small, split second of irrationality makes him wonder if Draco has finally let go of his bitter resentment and come to talk to him. But it doesn't last long.

After a few moments, Severus pushes himself away from the doorway and flicks his wand, lightening the fireplace and his torches, which startles Draco into almost dropping his armful of vials.

Essence of Dittany, Salamander's numbing salve, and more than a dozen vials of blood replenishing Potions, all clink against each other in the boy's arms as he whirls to turn Severus. Severus knows each and every one of them by a simple glance, he's made them himself.

"The Anise drops are in the other drawer, Draco,"

"Godfather," Draco doesn't look panicked or even peeved at having been caught, only startled.

"Are you having fun, raiding my supplies?" He asks, crossing his arms.

"No, as it happens. I found it particularly stressful," Draco also straightens up further.

Severus hums in mock sympathy, narrowing his eyes to survey the calm grey eyes that regard him with a coolness that could only be the result of Narcissa's upbringing. Like cold fire, blue and blazing.

"I see you've found what you were scavenging for," Severus nods at the vials in Draco's arms. "Are you opening an infirmary?"

"I was going to leave you a note with the costs later, I'm not daft, Severus. I knew you would notice the missing items."

"I see. And whilst knowing that I would know who the culprit was at first glance you decided to sneak in here instead of asking me for help." Draco was never one for foolishness. Far from it.

"I don't need help,"

"Are my snakes giving you trouble? Did they attack you? You should know that you must report any injuries inflicted by other housemates to me immediately." Severus wouldn't be surprised if the students had been attacking Draco, but he would be surprised if Draco was injured enough to require all these potions. Draco was well enough equipped with both knowledge and power to defend himself. And he has no reason to restrain either and take the heat from a bunch of sheep minded students.

"Severus…"

"Draco." Severus says without a beat.

"Drop your attitude, Godfather, we're both familiar with the amounts of fucks you give." Severus sets his jaw at Draco's words.

"Which doesn't add up to the amount that goes to your crudeness, Draco. Must you really?"

"No, but I know it pisses you off,"

Severus rolls his eyes. "Put away your precious bundle, Draco. I need to make sure you aren't injured."

Draco raises his eyebrows, regarding his godfather with a raised chin. "I'm fine, Severus." He says, in that pompous tone of voice that both know Severus hates.

"No need to break a sweat. I shall send the money to you with Zabini's owl tomorrow. Or you could send me a list."

"Draco, don't make me." He keeps his voice only mildly threatening.

"Make you do what?" There is a knowing glint in Draco's eyes as if he's challenging him. Naive boy, Severus thinks.

"I suppose it is in our best interests if we don't dwindle enough to find out. If you're being harassed, I need to know."

"Oh," Draco starts, and the glint in his eyes becomes something more, "So, you would go through the same trouble you went through when my mother was being taken care of? Come off it, dear Godfather. You're being positively hilarious tonight."

Severus just stares at him, pointedly ignoring the boy's sneer and his own twitching wand in his hand. He wouldn't stun Draco, if at all avoidable. He's taking the preemptive measures already, Draco isn't careless or a brute. He knows how to play the way only Slytherins do.

There's no need for messy wand waving.

"Maybe I wouldn't care enough," Which is a bold face lie, Draco knows that as well, but they both know what the boy needs to hear. "Your father entrusted your care to me regardless and I shall not betray his trust. Put away the vials, Draco."

"They're not for me," Severus has already suspected as such. His godson wasn't one to put up with pain for long, some would call on his spoiled childhood, others would fault a weak backbone, but Severus knows better, it's not about aristocratic upbringing, it's only just… Draco. Nonetheless, Severus sighs.

Interesting. A mysterious friend in need. Draco wouldn't risk his neck for just about anyone. Not by choice, anyway.

"They blackmailed you into stealing?"

Draco throws him a look of loathing and utter contempt. "Have you known me to be blackmailed by anyone, Severus?"

"It's not too far of a stretch."

Draco tears his gaze away and stares at an invisible point over Severus's shoulder, "I'm helping them." He says.

"So they are in need of medical help,"

His godson smirks, his gaze turning back to him. "Oh no, not at all. We're just doing this for shits and giggles. Tomorrow night we're raiding Flitwick's office."

"Sarcasm is the lowest form of intelligence, Draco."

"Says the pot to the kettle."

Severus cannot resist rolling his eyes again. "Your tongue is too sharp for your own good. Haven't you heard about the green tongued wizard? A crimson head is what he got in the end. In case you haven't figured the double meaning since your toddler years, it means that chatty brats get bloody necks."

"Or a severed head," Draco adds, his voice smooth.

"I'm not too keen on the details. We both know you're not going to tell me who is this friend in need of yours. I wouldn't waste my time on that,"

"That's a smart choice."

Severus narrows his eyes, but continues, "We both also know that if they had been able to show their face in the infirmary, you wouldn't even be here,"

"Then as you see, the purpose of this conversation has been rendered redundant. Good night, Godfather and may you have the most pleasant dreams." The sarcasm, if possible, has been upped a notch. Severus would almost be impressed if it were not directed at him.

"You will be careful, Draco," Severus doesn't bleed a shred of softness in his tone. The boy needs to be ordered, not advised. "If I find you tangled in an undesirable situation, which puts you in danger, be it physical or mental, I will not hesitate to put a stop to it."

Draco's eyes widen in artificial amusement, one so faked that the boy's face dramatically shifts features. "Yes Severus, you are very good at interventions," he exclaims "The last one delighted my mother so much she died on the spot."

"Regarding Narcissa—" This can't wait any longer.

"Do not speak her name." Draco cuts him off, and Severus is able to see the first dredges of real emotion in the boy's eyes and he spits venom, his expression once more cold and distant. "You're not allowed to do so." He turns away from him, the vials clinking again, "Good night Severus."

"Don't break in like a hoodlum the next time, Draco," Severus isn't happy about how this conversation is ending, but he's aware that Draco isn't in the best position right now. "I shall provide the Potions if only you ask,"

"Goodbye." Draco doesn't grace him with a second glance as he leaves.