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Draco was concentrating hard on ensuring that he was copying all the notes on the board at the front of his Transfigurations classroom down correctly. After all, this was information that could come up in his NEWT next year, but even still he couldn't fail to hear the echoing footsteps and rapid tapping of a walking cane as someone swept down the corridor outside. He knew it was his father before he had even opened the door, with enough force to bang it off the stone wall behind, and he could tell the older man was not pleased. He surmised that the meeting with Dumbledore to which he had alluded in his last letter, had not gone well. In any case Draco had no great desire to see him at this point in time.
"Mr Malfoy." Professor McGonagall acknowledged him calmly as the door shut heavily again, caught by an icy February draft.
"Professor." Came the equally polite reply, though Draco surmised that you wouldn't need to know the other man well to tell that his anger remained bubbling beneath the polite façade. "Draco." He looked up at him and knew instantly what was going to be coming. "Come on boy! We're leaving. I can think of no earthly reason for you to remain in this farce of an establishment any longer." It was now or never he supposed; he had known this moment was coming as well and though he had hoped that it wouldn't be in this situation - in the middle of a class taught by the head of Gryffindor where he was the only student from his own house
- it was still now or never.
"No." He said quietly. Over the Christmas recess it had become quite obvious to him what his father was planning. Death Eaters were being lost left, right and centre and it seemed only sensible that they would be needing more cannon fodder soon. Draco wasn't sure about a lot of things, but he was certain that he didn't want to be used[,] and that Hogwarts was no doubt the best place to quench his thirst for knowledge.
"Pardon?" He could feel the anger radiating from the other man even from where he sat at the back of the classroom. "No. I'm not coming with you. I don't want to leave." His voice was low but the feeling behind his words clear. He was relieved that his voice hadn't shaken but he could feel the nervousness of his classmates as they all began shifting in their seats. He kept his eyes fixed on his father's and tried not to flinch as the other man swept forward towards him, no doubt planning to try and drag Draco out of the school. He fingered his wand in his pocket but before his father even passed the first row of desks, he was thrown backwards away from the students. He stumbled, only just keeping his balance as the students turned to one and other and whispered in hushed awe at the shimmering barrier that had appeared before them. This incident certainly hadn't improved his father's temper any and that was obvious when he turned on the Professor.
"Lucius." In contra pose to the icy politeness of earlier, these less formal greetings seemed to drip with poison. Draco was further surprised when the Deputy Headmistress inserted herself bodily between the shield and her former pupil. McGonagall had probably been the last person he had expected to help him.
"I suggest you move out of my way." The threat was barely hidden.
"You know, I don't think I will."
"You do realise that Draco is still a child in the eyes of the law and under my protection." The last word was emphasized, but to Draco this seemed almost obscenely ironic.
"And at 17 I think he's old enough to have some say in the matter. I also believe he has made it quite clear that he doesn't want to leave this 'farce of an establishment' quite yet. At least not with you Lucius."
"You can't hope to be successful in this Professor – I'll go to the Wizengamot and have them rule against you!" Draco knew that his father probably wouldn't want to go to the Council, as his chance of success there was probably also limited. Although his father had managed to escape any kind of conviction, or even having charges pressed, after the events at the Ministry before the summer, he had been very vocal in his doubts about Dumbledore and since the huge turnaround in opinion on the matter, his popularity and influence had been lowered significantly.
"That's just fine but until then, unless you have the Headmaster's approval as the school's primary en loco parentis, which judging by your face when you stormed into my classroom and disrupted my class Mr Malfoy," – had the situation been different Draco would have found his father getting such a schoolboy lecture quite amusing - "you do not, then I will not be letting you leave here with Draco."
"Get out of my way!" He ground out the words. McGonagall said nothing but did not move. " I intend to leave this castle with my son and I certainly don't think you are going to stop me."
"That matter may be up for debate, and in any case you'll have to go through me first."
"Well I suppose I could always make time for a little pussy." The innuendo in the older man's voice and the feral smirk that twitched on his lips spoke for themselves. Draco was well aware that the line between anger and lust was, in his father's case, a thin one; hence the fact when his parents argued the end result was usually one or both of them sleeping with someone. But he couldn't believe this was happening here in front of his eyes. He dropped his head to the table as a shocked silence rolled over the room. The change in atmosphere was most definitely noticeable. He looked up at the sound of an insolent 'Meow', if such a sound could be called that. If he stretched upward in his seat he could see an attractive silver Tabby cat standing where his professor had been moments before. The classroom was filled with stifled giggles and snorts of laughter, and Draco had to admit that her response had not exactly been what he had expected from the prim and proper McGonagall; surely this woman must be crazy though. It was never a good idea to taunt his father, certainly not when he was already angered. He was certain that the animagus was not unaware of what he was capable of doing, in which case she must have been insane to act the way she was.
"Very droll Professor, very droll." Draco watched his teacher, in her cat form, saunter past the other man, tail upright, and with a graceful leap [land] on her desk. The tabby watched his father's next actions with understated curiosity as she sat and preened herself. She didn't flinch as he turned away from her and threw several curses at the other half of the room. Luckily for them McGonagall's barrier still remained intact and showed no signs of weakening. Draco suspected that if the other man thought about what he was doing, he could come up with a counter spell that would have a significant impact on the witch's defensive one, but as was ever the case with his father when the red mist descended, logic was the last thing on his mind. After a few further attempts, Lucius turned back to the cat.
"Oh for Circe's sake woman! Would you at least talk to me?!" Why he wanted to speak to the Gryffindor was beyond his son's ken, considering it was hardly likely that he was going to be able to 'talk her round'. Again the cat just ignored his impatient demands and continued to clean her tail. Draco watched as his father pivoted again and momentarily the two of them locked eyes before the elder threw another, far darker curse at the invisible wall. Though his attempts to penetrate the shield were no more successful than they had been previously, he seemed to be on a roll as he immediately spun back around in a swirl of fabric. His wand arm still out stretched, when he came to a halt it was pointing directly at the cat. Before she, or they, could react, Draco was suddenly aware of a darkening of the magic that continually flowed throughout the castle. He recognised the feeling as that which filled his home on the occasions when his father and his friends 'practiced' and researched some of the more powerful spells he knew they cast. The entire room seemed frozen, powerless to help as they watched what went on before them. He only just managed to catch the words his father spoke and they sent chills down his spine.
"Retro Animagi!" Draco knew enough about animagi that he was more than aware that the animagus transformation was fundamentally different from other forms of human transfiguration. Although one could, with the correct skills, return any object or animal to the individual it had been morphed from quite easily, the same did not go for animagi. He didn't dare think of what could happen if you tried…
He had never heard anything like the sound that filled the classroom as his father continued to manipulate his incantation. The cat's shriek of abject horror and pain morphed into a far more human scream. Draco couldn't help the way his stomach turned as he watched as his own father wrenched the atoms making up the cat apart and forced them to rearrange back into the form of a woman. Drenched in cold sweat, his eyes closed tight, he only thought to think that it was over when an eerie silence blanketed the room.
"Professor?" Came the anxious call from one of the Gryffindors that had congregated near the barrier that separated them from their head of house. He followed their gaze but instead of finding a crumpled heap on the floor, the woman was standing head bowed, leaning heavily on the table behind her. Again his father turned and fired another spell directly at the group standing there and although they flinched they didn't move back. He supposed that his father had assumed that with the Professor's attention distracted he might have more luck, but it seemed that was not to be the case. Looking back to their protector, Draco saw for the first time that there was blood dripping steadily from her hidden face but it wasn't until she reached into her pocket and withdrew a neatly folded handkerchief that he was sure that she was conscious. As she slowly lifted her head and tried to staunch the flow of blood from her nose, the other man tried once more to break through the barrier.
"It would seem that you've been practicing your transfiguration Lucius, but it's plain to see your temper is as short as ever. Perhaps a little time out is in order?" Her voice was icy but that was nothing compared to the restrained anger he could see in her eyes. His father went to turn back around towards her, but before he was successful McGonagall had her wand out and, having obviously discarded of the blood soaked linen, she was suddenly holding a blond mouse by the tail. His father on the other hand had disappeared. Draco couldn't help but let his mind wander back to the 'amazing bouncing ferret incident' of two years back, and his stomach dropped ominously.
"Perhaps we could use this as an extra credit assignment, what do you say Mr Malfoy?" Draco was momentarily confused until he realised that she was still talking to the elder Mr Malfoy, who was struggling and squeaking to no avail. "I'm going to let you go now, and we'll see how successful you are at sorting yourself out. I might, however," she continued, her tone low and voice still hoarse, "suggest that you leave the castle first before I feel up to changing back and chasing you out!" With that she lowered him a little before simply letting go of him. The mouse showed perfect comprehension as, as soon as all four paws hit the ground, it took off in the direction of the door and quickly squeezed its way under the threshold. Draco wasn't sure quite what to think – he may have no desire to be used by his father, or even to side with him but that didn't mean he wanted him to spend the rest of his life as a rodent. He could only imagine what his mother would think.
He was distracted from these thoughts though as he was quickly surrounded by the sound of scraping chairs, as all those who had remained seated thus far stood and rushed towards the barrier. Draco stood but hung back, able to see over the heads of his fellow students. He watched as their teacher retrieved her hanky from up her sleeve and wiped away the river of blood that had once more formed. She seemed entirely unaware of the other inhabitants of the room until Weasley called out, when she looked up and then spoke to them.
"Yes Mr Weasley, I can hear you all too well in fact." And with a gesture from an empty hand, the shield dropped and as if one, the rest of the class surged forward.
"Are you alright Professor?" He heard Granger ask, her voice full of concern. He refrained from pointing out quite how ridiculous the question was though.
"Someone should…" Began another voice lost in the din as everyone began to speak at once. He watched as Longbottom fished about in his robes before producing a rumpled if clean looking handkerchief and offered it to her. She accepted it with a gracious, if small, smile and replaced her own with it, as that one now seemed to be dripping on its own. After another moment she raised a hand and quickly the commotion died down.
"Yes, that was the first time anything like that has happened to me, and no, I have no desire to repeat the experience anytime soon. However," she continued forcefully, "I am perfectly fine and there is no need for any of you to be concerned." Draco noted that she was only managing to say this as she was still taller than most of them and could keep her head bowed slightly when she talked, thus avoiding choking on her own blood. They didn't look too convinced in any case. "I do think perhaps that after the somewhat unusual events of this morning, we could call an early end to this morning's lesson though." Nobody moved. "Well go on then." She shooed them away with one hand, sounding a little irritated at their reluctance. Slowly they began to filter back to their seats and the noise of quiet whispers increased as they collected together their things and eventually made it out of the door. Eventually he was the only one left apart from the Professor, and having packed away his belongings, he picked up his book bag and made his way forward.
"I can assure you Mr Malfoy, that as soon as you're father crosses the boundary-line of the school he will return to his original form." She told him when he paused in front of her desk where she still stood. Instead of sounding irked though, now she sounded tired, and up close he was now far more aware of why his classmates had been less than keen to believe her platitudes to good health. Her skin was pale and he could see she was not only leaning on the table behind her but also gripping it with one hand, so firmly that her knuckles were white. The other hand was still holding Longbottom's hanky up to her face, and although he could see she was pinching the bridge of her nose in order to try and get it to stop, it was still bleeding heavily, having already saturated the white cloth.
"Can I do something else for you?" She asked after a moment when he hadn't moved.
"I just…" He began, not entirely sure of what he wanted to say. "I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate what you did today Professor. There aren't many people who would stand up to my father for their own sake, let alone…" He said quietly trailing off and looking downwards, hoping to hide the blush he was sure was spreading across his cheeks. He couldn't believe he was doing this. Putting his hand in the pocket of his trousers he quickly located his carefully pressed handkerchief and handed it over. "Sorry." He muttered, realising too late that there was a rather obvious Slytherin emblem embroidered on the corner.
"You should never be ashamed of your House, Mr Malfoy, or even what it ought to stand for. There is nothing wrong with ambition, only perhaps, the extent some people use it to justify their actions. But then again the same can be said for bravery." She finished with a smile as she took the gift with a quiet 'thank you' and exchanged it for the old. "As for your previous statement, it may restore your peace of mind somewhat if I tell you that I would do the same for any of my students no matter what their House. I would also point out that what you did was far braver than any of my actions." Draco really wasn't sure what to think of this compliment coming from a most unlikely source. "But I would also warn you that just because you have made one hard decision doesn't mean that it will all be plain sailing from here on in." He might have questioned her words but at that moment he heard another series of hurried footfalls coming down the corridor. He could honestly say he was quite relieved at the prospect of the arrival of someone else as during their discussion, her pallor certainly hadn't improved and he was certain the hand at her face was shaking more than it ought to.
"Here comes the cavalry then." She said moments before they entered, and Draco couldn't help but smile. He wasn't at all surprised to see Albus Dumbledore run through the open door, but was a little shocked when his own Head of House followed him in.
"In Merlin's name woman, what were you thinking?!" Was the Headmaster's greeting for his Deputy. Draco caught sight of Professor Snape's smirk out of the corner of his eye.
"Nice to see you too, Albus." She replied thickly. "I am however a little intrigued as to why you're here."
"Serverus and I were discussing Lucius' visit, when a rather distressed group of sixth years appeared on my door step along with Mr Potter. This was followed shortly by an owl from Fillius who was trying to reassure his first year Hufflepuff class that you were not, in fact, being torn limb from limb by a pack of werewolves."
The Potions master cut in with another smirk. "He was quite unnerved. Believe it or not, it's not every day we hear you screaming your lungs out." The other man continued, and Draco supposed that the charms classroom was probably the only one within hearing distance. McGonagall rolled her eyes at her Slytherin counterpart.
"Miss Granger has apparently gone to get Madame Pomfrey, but you really ought to be on your way to the hospital wing Minerva. Do you think you'll manage to walk?" Dumbledore asked, and not for the first time did Draco wonder if they had even noticed he was there with them.
"Oh, for heaven's sake would you stop over reacting – I have a nose bleed it's not serious!" She protested vehemently.
"You have lost quite a lot of blood though Professor[,] and you really don't look that hot at the moment." Dumbledore was giving her a very reprimanding look and McGonagall was scowling at Draco fiercely when he finished.
"I think that's our signal to leave." Snape told him as he placed a guiding hand on his elbow and steered him towards the door. They walked in silence for a moment before he got up the courage to speak again.
"Professor? Do you think she'll really be alright? I mean I saw what father did and…"
"Minerva McGonagall would argue she was 'fine' if she had just been attacked by a pack of werewolves." He recognised his teacher's tone as the one he used when talking about the other Slytherins. The one that Draco had learned long ago signalled that he really did care for him in his own way. That revelation though didn't make this situation any clearer to him. "However, if there's anyone who's going to ensure she gets the care she requires it's the Headmaster." He only just managed to finish his sentence before a familiar, if still slightly distorted voice from behind them interrupted.
"You know you're right Albus; my head's killing me, I've obviously lost enough blood that I'm seriously dizzy, I'm fairly certain I'm going to throw-up in the near future and yes, if I wasn't holding onto the desk top, I probably wouldn't be standing right now! Happy?" Snape smirked again before continuing.
"See? She's out of denial. He might actually get her to go see Poppy before she passes out this time." His tone was definitely lacking in its usual acerbic edge, even if he was still being distinctly sceptical. Draco had always found it hard to decipher his Head of House. Snape was not exactly what one would expect of a Head, at least not of any other house, but he did the job well. But somehow, he always managed to keep them all guessing; even him. There was no doubt that he was a menace to the pupils in other houses when he taught and he was very hard on the Slytherins out of sight of the rest of the school, but there was something about him… Draco knew for a fact that he was a Death Eater, it would have been impossible for him not to notice or recognise him when he appeared at the manor during the holidays, but he had never been acknowledged openly by him and he didn't behave towards him like the other followers did. Certainly not like those whom his father socialised with publicly. This brought him back to thinking about the Head of Gryffindor and what she had said to him.
"What's on your mind?" The question startled him out of his thoughts as they turned to descend a flight of stairs.
"I was just thinking about something that Professor McGonagall said." He told the other man, not lying really.
"And what was that Draco?" He gave Snape a summary of the conversation that they had had just before he had arrived with Dumbledore. After he was done the other man said nothing for a while, and he was concerned that he had said something wrong, but eventually Snape did speak.
"Don't get me wrong," he began. "Professor McGonagall is Gryffindor to the bone, and what she said about standing up for any of her pupils is probably right – I've been trying to convince the Headmaster for years that that woman either has a seriously over-done martyr complex or a death-wish, though which I'm not sure, as witnessed most recently by her actions at the end of last term and today. But behind brash actions she usually employs good logic and reasoning and what she has to say is always worth listening to. This time she's certainly right. You pointed it out yourself. It took, and takes, guts to stand up to Lucius, and it took more from you than most. But if you have truly decided that you don't wish to follow your father, wherever that may lead, then you must already be aware that he won't make it easy for you. It won't be an easy decision but that's what life is all about – decisions."
He was right. Draco knew that his father could and would make his life hell, but where his Professor was taking this he wasn't sure. "That's where your father and I have always disagreed Draco." Snape stopped walking just before they turned to descend into the dungeons. "They're your decisions Draco not your father's and whatever people may say, it is never to late to change your path in life." He was shocked by the intensity in the other man's voice and in his obsidian eyes when he turned those on him. "And be rest assured that if you do decide to follow your own will and not his, I… we will all be here for you if you need us." He was so shocked and yet touched by this, that he couldn't speak for a moment and when he did it was hardly eloquent.
"Thank you Sir." He stuttered looking up at him and trying to drink in what he thought he was seeing in his eyes. But within a second it was as if the shutters rolled back down.
"Well, I could hardly be outdone by a Gryffindor, could I Malfoy?" He replied with a trademark sneer.
"No Sir." He replied firmly before following the billowing cloak down the cold stone steps and into their natural habitat.
A/N: I know this isn't my usual style but it came on in a fit of….. well something anyway *grin*. Please review now that you've taken the time to read. And thanks to both my betas Gem and Maria – as ever.