Scarlet Ribbons Genesis

A superhero fanfiction by Sodoto.

-----

"You haven't been sacked, Hagrid!" gasped Hermione.

"Not yet," said Hagrid miserably, taking a huge gulp of whatever was in the tankard. "But 's only a matter o' time, i'n't it, after Malfoy…"

"How is he?" asked Ron, as they all sat down. "It wasn't serious, was it?"

"Madam Pomfrey fixed him best she could," said Hagrid dully, "but he's sayin' it's still agony… covered in bandages… moanin'…"

Extract from "Chapter Six: Talons and Tea Leaves", from 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'; J.K. Rowling.

-----

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

-----

PROLOGUE

Everybody has a secret.

For some, like Lavender Brown, they are small but to her it feels like the end of the world, like if Seamus Finnigan ever made one bad comment to her she'd die, she'd surely die. Others, like Ronald Weasley for example, hold involuntary secrets, secrets that are spilled to the world and are more than often disbelieved, too often doubted. Other people, like Severus Snape, have shameful secrets in their past that they desperately try to hide but are over and over again present in their mannerisms and are eventually and miserably revealed to the world as someone with bad judgment.

Draco Malfoy has a secret. If you observed him right now, brow furrowed, ash-grey eyes that danced lightly and saw nothing, you might just think that the only secret that this blond, spoiled, egocentric Slytherin held was how much he actually enjoyed his work.

Draco does enjoy his work. He likes finding out about the history of things, why they work and how they used to work, but he can't let anyone know. Letting them know would shatter the pensive shield he has created around himself, making him seemingly invulnerable to emotional pain. Instead he does only what is required to as high a standard as he can get away with to uphold the image, and tries to ignore the throb in his temples telling him that he's doing the wrong thing.

Only Draco's secret isn't some shallow secret like the rest of the Hogwarts population. It isn't some crush, or some fragment of history that has been rewritten for other's comfort, or some hidden misdeeds in his past.

It's a bad one, that is a heavy responsibility and an impossible burden.

Draco is a great watcher of people. That isn't a great secret, almost everyone knows he's an observant person. That isn't bad for his projected persona. He can see the downcast look in Lavender's eyes as Seamus Finnigan ignores her just that one more time, and knows she's close to shattering mentally. Even silly secrets can cause so much damage. He can see how Ron Weasley feels more insignificant by the fact no-one believes him even though he's telling the truth. Draco knows the redhead is on the borderline of lying compulsively because if no one's listening to the truth then he might as well not bother to tell it. He notices the way Severus Snape once in a while clutches his sleeve closed in an attempt to cover up the brand on his arm.

Anyone watching him might, if they watched him for long enough, notice that his smiles are one degree from being authentic, his contemptuous smirks are just that little bit forced and that his disdainful snorts are just that little bit too quiet. Draco Malfoy is an act, a polished act, well-rehearsed and well-constructed and all-in-all completely fake. Draco is also a professional, and no-one has seen through the shield he put up to protect himself. No one but one person who has watched him thoughtfully for a while, trying to ascertain the real reasons for Draco being as he is, and who doesn't quite believe the lie Draco lives.

Draco doesn't notice this person watching him, he is too preoccupied with watching others and pretending to be someone, something, that he's not. He's not properly human. Not in the strictest biological sense of the word. Humans aren't intended to be able to jump like a flying squirrel, or shoot something out of cuts that isn't exactly what it's supposed to be. Humans aren't supposed to be able to change their centre of gravity to be able to walk up walls as if they were just another floor. Humans bleed.

Oh, he knows the story. Ten generations ago, Felixius Malfoy was in a magic-orientated accident. People had thought him crushed to death, until they pulled him out three weeks later, covered in bright scarlet ribbons and barely breathing, but perfectly sound otherwise. There were cuts and scars all over his body, but no signs of blood at all, just those bright red lengths of silk.

Ever since then, every first born Malfoy has had… those talents… and instead of getting weaker, the powers had increased in strength. When a new Malfoy firstborn was born, the powers passed on, so there was only one with the talent at a time.

Draco knows the story, and wonders if he even has the right to ever marry and have a child. He doesn't think he would be able to do that in all consciousness, because the talents are a burden, and who would want their child to be like that, to be in all that danger because of them.

He is in danger. Those of the Scarlet Ribbons have been in danger ever since that first time. Draco has the book, obscured and nestled in his Hogwarts trunk, that tells of the prophecies and legends surrounding the curse. Felixius, the first Scarlet Warrior, used his talents to suppress the Dark Wizards of his time. Similarly, Draco's father Lucius used his talents when he had them against Voldemort, as did his father for a very short period of time. Voldemort never found out that his own cohort was one that damaged him most severely for a short time. A very short time. Lucius only managed to do some damage for a short period, too scared of being found out, and then when it was almost safe to do so he couldn't, for he no longer had the talent. That talent befell his tiny newborn son, Draco.

Draco isn't tiny or newborn any more, thankfully. He is a sturdy sixteen now, as lithe and lissom as he was in his first year days, just somewhat taller. He still matches Harry Potter for height and physique, every centimetre, every angle. That's probably what pisses Draco off so much about Harry. Harry instinctively carries around this burden of always being the good guy, but he gets to wear that weariness on the outside whereas Draco has to carry it all inside. That's why he mouths off so much to Harry and about Harry, he's jealous, but he'd never admit it to anyone. Someday soon, Draco knows, everyone will be able to see the weariness of the Scarlet Ribbons of the generation, but no one will ever be able to know it's him inside that cloth suit of crimson that his mother had made for Lucius, and has now made for Draco.

He's been training of course. The dungeons in Malfoy Manor are good for something. If Arthur Weasley commandeered a Ministry Team to search the dungeons, he'd be sorely surprised. Lucius got rid of most of his Dark Magic stuff years ago, to make room for Draco to train. There's a large basement room, with gymnastic equipment, which Lucius trains Draco to jump, fall, fly over and not harm himself. Lucius even taught Draco how to use his biggest talent, to be able to use his not-quite-blood to swing further, reach higher, carry those through the air that hadn't his talent.

It hurts, every single time. Any cut, bruise, or knock hurts Draco for a very long time. He doesn't have a very high pain threshold. He remembers briefly, painfully, the time when he was bitten by a Hippogriff, and had had to really pretend it didn't much hurt at all so it seemed to Potter and his gang that he was putting it all on. He has to maintain his image. He won't let it down for anyone, not even his father now.

There is one problem with using the last and biggest of Draco's talents. It hurts him, and hurts for a long time. He has to use a knife, a sharp one to lessen the pain, to open his arm or his hand, then he wills it to spray upwards. Then the not-quite-blood arcs to wherever he directs it, and solidifies to the silk spray of a dark red ribbon. The Scarlet Ribbon of his heritage.

Draco holds his arm sometimes, self-consciously, and the person who was watching him before notices that sometimes. The person has also seen the few scars on his arm, in a Potions lesson, where the sleeves of his robes ghosted up, for one second. The person in question has jumped to the wrong conclusion, thinking Draco is harming himself deliberately. If Draco knew this person thought that, he would probably agree in principal, although he is not hurting himself for the reason that this person probably thinks.

He is hurting himself so that, on his seventeenth birthday, as the tradition had become, he can start putting his birthright to some use. Bringing down Voldemort.

There's someone watching Draco right now, as Draco obliviously watches everyone else. The someone watching him is the same one who is concerned Draco is self-harming himself, and this person, over the battlefield that is breakfast, notices that Draco is looking antsy but forces himself to look away and ponder the reason later. He'll come to a conclusion, but it'll inevitably be the wrong one, for who could come to the correct one that Draco is nervous because it's his seventeenth birthday…

…tomorrow.

Scarlet Ribbons Genesis

Breakfast for Draco Malfoy wasn't normally a tiresome affair. Of course, there were the occasional scuffles with the lower Houses of Hogwarts, and sporadically Gregory, Vincent or Pansy would once again show the world their inbred inanity, but more often than not it was a soothing time. A time for him to amass his thoughts and focus his energy on the day ahead.

Today, unfortunately, was one of those bothersome rarities where his brain had seemed to have gone on strike. As he grasped onto his fork and gamely tried to eat some of the sausages nestled unappetizingly on his plate, he kept his head down and tried not to think of the trials ahead of him.

He'd already spent too much of the breakfast time looking around himself at everyone else. He knew he was safe if he knew his enemies, and everyone around him was a potential enemy. Draco didn't refer to himself as paranoid, which would have been the label applied to him if the others took his observational habits as such instead of for the real reason. The real reason was merely care and attention. Being unprepared could kill you. This was the one reason Draco Malfoy had been taught throughout his life, and it was not one he was going to forget easily. Carelessness kills, remember that always Draco. Carelessness kills.

Wondering absent-mindedly if he should get the phrase branded on the inside of his eyelids, Draco gamely attacked the sausages on his plate and instead moved his gaze to glance wearily at his housemates.

Pansy Parkinson, perched on the end of her seat and looking windswept, had already finished her bowl of muesli and was now earnestly waving her spoon in the face of a very startled Malcolm Baddock. The third year in question was looking very apprehensive as Pansy expounded on the issues of the Witch Burning Trials, and Malcolm glanced helplessly at Draco as he realised the sixth year was looking at him. Draco shrugged at Malcolm with a fake smile of sympathy on his face, before turning his attention back to the sausages congealing on his plate.

Abruptly realising he had no stomach for anything, let alone dead chunks of grilled pig swimming in a coagulating lump on the plate in front of him, Draco pushed it away slightly and wrapped his hands around the goblet of milk alongside it. Pretending to sip at it, he looked up to see Professor Snape narrowing his gaze at him from over at the teacher's table, and Draco frowned. Hurriedly taking a gulp from the goblet, and trying not to cringe as the insalubrious tepid fluid coursed down to his stomach, he stared unequivocally at Professor Snape until the hook nosed professor turned pointedly away. Professor Snape had a proclivity to be too protective of his students at times, and Draco reminded himself sharply to be cautious.

Not wanting to draw further unnecessary attention to himself, Draco vaguely picked up an apple from one of the bowls in the centre of the table and fingered it slowly, feeling the reassuring weight in his hands. Looking up again, he noticed Malcolm with his head in his porridge and Pansy looking infuriated and severely wound up. She brushed one manicured hand through her hair, only serving to mess it up even more, and she uttered a low growl as she caught Draco's eye.

"You try offering to help coach a third-year," Pansy snapped irritably, her dark blue eyes narrowing into a miniature maelstrom.

Draco dropped the apple into his pocket and held up his hands in a defensive gesture. "Unfortunately, I'm not quite that desperate yet."

Pansy looked as if she was going to explode, before sighing crossly and yanking Malcolm up from his porridge by his hair. Draco sniggered and caught Gregory's amused glance. The hulking Slytherin guffawed loudly at Malcolm's appearance and grinned inanely at Draco for a moment. Draco got the hint and pushed his plate over to him. Draco didn't mind passing his food to Gregory or Vincent if he wasn't hungry. It didn't happen all that often, only when his mind was fixated on something worrying, but when it happened he didn't begrudge them that small a token. They were his friends, despite everything. Misguided, yes, stupid -- Draco allowed himself a small smile -- perhaps, but they were also fiercely loyal, which was everything the terms Slytherin and friend entailed, despite the Hufflepuffs' claim to the word. Loyalty, intelligence, courage and shrewdness were the aspects of a Slytherin, and no one could take that away from them. No one.

Fingering his goblet lightly, and trying to drown out the noisy sounds of the other students bellowing excitedly at each other, Draco realised he wasn't hungry in the slightest. The only thing he felt at the moment was a faint sense of disquiet and unease. Hurriedly gulping down the rest of his warm milk more to appease the dark glower coming from the teacher's table, Draco pulled away from the table as soon as the rules allowed and set off at a clip to get out of there, fast. Draco wouldn't classify himself as claustrophobic, but every so often, particularly when anxious, he would get this overwhelming wave of fear which wasn't so much claustrophobia, it was more like being scared of who he was. What he was.

Ignoring the other classmates currently clamouring for his attention, and the annoying first years whom Draco could almost swear to the fact that they multiplied in front of your eyes, Draco kept his gaze down and swept quietly out of the main hall, his satchel, bulging with textbooks for the next lesson, knocking against his right leg. It was probably, Draco thought with a wry irony, bruising the apple he'd put in his pocket earlier.

Careful not to keep his head down, and forcing himself not to stomp down the hallways, Draco made it half-way to the Defence Against the Dark Arts classrooms up on the fourth floor before his usual entourage caught up with him. It wasn't a particularly formal group, more the people who wished to have Draco's status in his year group that seemed to cling to him like moths to a flame, for want of a better cliché. It was one of the things that annoyed Draco. An introvert at heart trying to play an extrovert in life, surrounding by chatting and giggling people he barely knew but who thought they knew him, when in fact the only person in the whole world that may understand him, to put it mildly, didn't exist. Or might as well not exist for my accessibility to them, Draco thought wryly.

Glancing around at his classmates wearily, Draco forced his face into a neutral smile like his father had taught him over the years and tried not to let his mind wander too much, but still the niggling thought remained; a brief, almost intangible, spark of curiosity that asked how he could be so alone with so many people around. Forcibly telling himself not to be so idiotic, power like his could only be held in isolation lest it hurt someone else, Draco focussed his attention on the mindless jokes filling the air around him. Goyle was talking, it seemed, in his senseless sprawling way.

"..and so I said if she wanted to go jump off the astronomy tower, I'd give her a hand! Don't want her failing at everything, I said."

"Good. You tell 'er, Greg," Crabbe grunted in response to Goyle's ramble of speech.

Goyle's face twisted into what Draco thought might have been a smile. "Yeah, that's what I said." The tall, hulking Slytherin twisted to face Draco. "Here, Draco, what do you think?"

"Hm?" Startled, Draco resisted the urge to sneer disdainfully at Goyle. "Oh, yes, Goyle. Fantastic job."

Goyle grunted in what was probably appreciation, and turned away again, probably to brood in silence for the rest of the day. The entire group seemed to grind to a halt outside the classroom, and Draco flickered an uneasy glance upwards as it appeared no one had any intention of going inside.

Sighing irritably, Draco refrained from his instinct to push one hand through his hair, not wanting to mess up his carefully constructed handiwork, and pushed forwards. "Ah," he muttered under his breath, lifting up one hand and pulling down the scrap of parchment tacked to the door. "All students to the Lecture Hall for a school assembly on the Dark Arts. Professor M. Brown."

"Couldn't they have told us before we trooped up here?" Draco carefully raised his voice so everyone in the corridor could hear him. "Probably think it's funny to see us tramp around school like half-witted squibs. I'm not standing for this, after this assembly I'm writing to the governors. They shan't treat us this way."

"Yeah!"

"You tell them, Draco, they can't get away with treating us like muggles!"

Draco smirked, tilting his head confidently. "Let's go. We might as well make our dissatisfaction clear from the outset." He strode confidently down the corridor, the entourage moving slowly with him.

"Uh, Draco? Aren't you going to put the notice back on the door? What if…"

Draco narrowed his eyes at Blaise, and Blaise winced.

"Oh. Sorry." Blaise blushed to the roots of his hair and shuffled to the back of the pack. After a perfunctory smirk of success, Draco resumed his position at the head of the crowd and moved confidently through the corridors to reach the lecture hall.

The lecture hall was one of those things which wasn't heard of much, if only primarily for the fact that firstly it was in a relegated area of the school and secondly because it wasn't used much. It was on the third floor, and often smelled of a weird combination of damp, hippogriff dung, and if Malfoy had been more involved with muggle peculiarities he may even have dubbed the smell as a cross between cat piss and turps. It was a nice enough room, but with its high ceilings and murky arches that spun away into the dark voids of the corners, it gave many of the students a shiver. Dark stains splattered the wall, of which the teachers proclaimed mould but of which everyone else was certain was blood. Blood that couldn't come off the wall, no matter how much you scrubbed at it. Underneath the oaken stage that spilled across one of the walls were shattered remains of a large chess set, and muted whispers around the school proclaimed it a graveyard. Rows of wooden benches span around the room in a dizzying circle, broken by towering stone pillars, leaving a small snatch of stone floor in the centre. The chairs were said to move, too, and Draco wasn't surprised by this at all. Sometimes the large wooden stage would be in prominence, and other times the benches would be in a circle, like in an amphitheatre, so that the centre of the hall was the stage.

The rumours about the lecture hall flew fast and thick. Many said it hadn't always been a lecture hall, and the seating was brought in to hide the fact of what it used to be. Some of the Hufflepuffs were certain someone had died here, someone important. A few whispers even declaimed the place as the battle place where Professor Dumbledore had brought down the terrifying Dark Wizard Grindelwald, over fifty years ago.

Draco wasn't one to really add fuel to the fire to rumours, although he'd been tempted earlier in the month to spread something juicy around the school involving the Gryffindors, but this year he'd opted for a slightly less involved demeanour. Being in the limelight was as much of a hindrance as a help.

Hurrying down the long corridor, lit by wavering flames set on rigid stone pedestals, the sixth-year Slytherins unconsciously bunched together as they moved through one of the large oaken doors, and hurried down some steps. Even Draco was a little unnerved at how recent the steps downwards were, and many a first year was terrified by the thought of the terrible drop that must have once been there.

Feigning impatience at the muted mutterings of the intimidated girls amongst the group, Draco made a clucking sound of impatience and swept through the chambers leading to the lecture hall. Pushing through a door which looked as if someone had jabbed it with something sharp one too many times, Draco slid into the chamber nearest the lecture hall with impatience. Many other groups of students were gathered there, and Draco smirked to see all of the first years huddled together in an alarmed clump.

Casting about, and feeling irritated at his housemates that clung to him like toilet paper clings to your shoe in one of those embarassing social events, Draco strode impatiently to where Professor Brown stood, chatting lightly with an annoyed looking Professor Snape.

"All I'm saying is -- oh, hello, Mr. Malfoy. What can I do for you?"

Draco flickered a glance up to the brown-haired professor, and cast an askance glance to Professor Snape. Snape nodded slowly in understanding. Neither of them particularly liked Professor Misha Brown, with her cheery attitude and theory-then-practise approach to everything, and Professor Snape had been granted an extra year to practise a scowl of intense hatred on someone other than James Potter's unfortunate son.

"I was wondering about the delay, and as to why we were not informed of this change in schedule."

"Ah, the ever vigilant Prefect." Professor Brown chuckled heartily, patting Draco mildly on the shoulder. Draco winced tightly. "It was a surprise! Don't you like surprises?"

Draco refrained from snapping back the answer that instantly came to mind, and instead chided himself for his immature trains of thoughts. "Not at all," Draco said smoothly, sweeping away in a flurry of black cloth and leaving the Professor in a state of confusion and knowing Professor Snape was smirking even though he didn't dare turn around to see.

The door shuddered open with a creak, making the first years squirm in terror. One petite brunette, a first year Hufflepuff, fainted to the ground in shock. Draco recognised her as that idiot Longbottom's little cousin, and scowled contemptuously. A slow smile spread across his face as he realised it was the Gryffindors who normally shared their Defence classes, masking the brief twinge of disappointment at their arrival. He'd been hoping they'd be hideously late, and suitably chastised.

Sweeping quietly to join his housemates, Draco watched the hall. It seemed as if the building itself was holding its breath, and with good reason. Terrified second years peered through their fingers, and the teachers bristled to attention. A very red-faced, clearly annoyed Harry Potter was storming across the hall to Draco Malfoy. Professor Snape had surreptitiously pulled out his own wand, anticipating trouble.

"Malfoy."

"Potter," Draco returned, his voice level and composed. The angry green glare he got in return was almost enough to make him care that his actions often hurt others, but caring killed as well as carelessness. Draco steeled himself and held Potter's gaze. "Having a little trouble breathing?"

Potter's eyes narrowed, his fingers digging nervous semi-circles into his hands as he restrained the obvious urge to lash out at Draco. Disinterestedly, Draco glanced across at where Professor Brown was standing by Ron Weasley. The Weasel looked as if he was going to suffer an aneurysm, right on the spot, but Granger was holding him back with a nervous look in her eyes. 'Good gust of wind would blow her right over,' he thought wryly. Granger might have been placed in Gryffindor, probably because she'd talked the Sorting Hat to sheer boredom, but courage was not one of her virtues. A blind stupidity she possessed, that transcended her scholastic intelligence. With Granger, common sense wasn't as common as it was popularly made out to be.

Realising with a jolt that Potter was still glaring at him, Draco flickered a slow glance at him. Instead of retorting to Draco's curt, acerbic comment he jerked forwards, snatching the parchment out of Draco's fists.

"Forgot to leave it where it was, Draco?" Potter asked, looking at the parchment in disgust. "You know, if the third years hadn't of gotten lost, we might have been late."

"A distinct shame," Draco countered, realising people were edging closer, eager for a fight. The anger that tended to bubble up in his chest when Potter tried to be better than all of them flared up for an instant, and Draco was tempted to lash out, but he'd resolved to keep a lower profile. Unfortunately that resolve meant hitting Potter with a conjunctivitis curse was out of the question. "Must have forgotten. Sorry, Potter."

Potter floundered in disbelief for a second, eyes narrowed behind his thick NHS lenses. "Right," Potter said, sounding as if he didn't believe Draco. Potter did technically have the right to think Draco was lying, since he was, but that was beside the point.

"Do you disbelieve everything I say? Quite an attitude for an upstanding member of society." Draco lifted his left hand, languidly inspecting his nails as if there was something interesting about them.

"Not everything," Potter remarked. "I'm not quite sure that you're even worth listening to." Potter looked for a lingering second on Draco's left forearm, covered up in the thick ruffle of cloth, before turning on his heel and stalking off to the rest of his classmates, muttering under his breath.

Draco looked up for a second, masking the alarm at the glance. So he had seen something… Allowing his classmates to congratulate him on the way he'd dealt with the Potter situation, the compliments falling on deaf ears, Draco tightened his robe around his left arm, making sure it wouldn't brush up again so easily, like it had in Potions. Underneath the heavy material of his robes, he made sure his sleeve cuffs were buttoned tightly. He'd been unsure of that, last Potions lesson, when he'd scraped his arm on the table, but the pain had clouded his vision for a moment and Draco hadn't been sure if Potter had seen the scars or not.

'He probably thinks I harm myself deliberately…' A wide smirk on his pale, pointed face, Draco allowed himself a small glance to where the indignant Gryffindors complained loudly about Slytherin manners, and caught Potter's cool gaze. Draco held it defiantly, a spark of the same anger held imprecisely in the met glare, and felt a small sizzle of triumph as something flickered over Potter's gaze and the pint-sized hero of the wizarding world turned obstinately away. The triumph faded slightly as Draco translated that emotion, having felt it so often himself. Pain. Confusion. Exasperation at the world.

He knew why he felt it, because he was what he was. Because Lucius Malfoy had married through no desire for it, had fathered a child, just because he'd wanted to get rid of the blasted Scarlet Ribbons legacy. Because he felt pain more acutely, and joy less so. Because he'd been dealt the worst hand of the game. Potter, though, had survived a curse he knew nothing about, lost parents he knew nothing about, and had been pampered all his life. So how did Potter know how it felt?

And why did he even care?

------

"Assumptions."

Professor Brown had that kind of voice that entranced students, held them on the edge of their seats until the pinnacle of the sentence when she let them go. She was motivational, and whether it was because she was a teacher, a mother, or a travelled Vampire killer, no one knew. That one word, after a honeyed explanation that they were having a joint practical lecture that Dumbledore had thought appropriate to the whole school, was crisp. Sharp. Delivered in a haunting monotone that hung, quivering, in the still air.

"We all make assumptions." Pacing forwards, arms free to gesture, Professor Brown started to walk away from the table. Professor Snape stood behind the table, his back facing the gap in the row of chairs that spun around the room in a circle. Rows of students, almost a thousand in total, looked down, enraptured. A few of the older students looked a little bored, if truth be told, but apart from that the rest were a captured audience.

"Assumptions, as the muggles say, are the mother of all failures. We all assume things, and these things, however small sounding, can lead to ultimate disaster."

She stepped backwards, and settled on the table, amber hair glinting in the flickering lamplight, brown eyes that emulated her name glittering in anticipation.

"I'd like to do an experiment, if you'd like to watch. But I'll need some volunteers."

Hundreds of hands shot into the air, the first years bouncing to their feet in excitement.

"Uh… Malfoy, Granger, Green, Cartwright, Creevey Junior, Potter… Come down here a second."

Sounds of disappointment echoed around the hall as the six victims crawled reluctantly down to the ground, stepping over their fellow seated students and hurrying down to the ground. Draco smirked as he watched Potter exchange a questioning glance with Granger.

"I didn't even have my hand up," Davy Green muttered, a first year Ravenclaw with sandy coloured hair.

"None of you did!" Professor Brown exclaimed cheerfully. "That's the point. Right, step on up, Green."

Davy pulled a sour face at the middle-aged professor behind her back, and Snape, seeing it, just grinned. Snape had taken to grinning recently, but it didn't settle anyone's nerves at all. Instead it had unsettled them even more. Snape grins tended rather on the morbid side.

The Defence professor tapped her wand on the table, and it shimmered slightly. As if coming from nowhere, there now sat an object on the table. A silvery bowl, white and delicately carved, filled with a shimmering liquid.

"Pensieve," Potter hissed to Granger.

"This is a pensieve," Professor Brown said, her voice still projecting magically to fill the room. "But a different one to the usual. For those who haven't heard of this curious magical artefact, a pensieve can be used to help sort out your memories. You can place a memory in the pensieve, and relive it, if you wish. This pensieve, however, can be set to take a certain memory from an individual, and project the image for all to see.

"For the older students, especially those taking Ancient Runes, I have a list of books that may help some of you more competent students to comprehend the subtle runic differences between this pensieve and another."

Granger looked as if she was going to die of excitement, and Draco glanced lethargically at the pensieve. The runes looked close to the ones of a normal pensieve, but included a string of subsets that defined the intended memory.

"Step on up, Green."

Trembling, the sandy haired Ravenclaw approached the pensieve.

"I'm going to take a memory from when you were seven years old," Professor Brown said. "Is that all right?" Davy nodded shakily, and his eyes widened in terror as Brown lifted up her wand, placing it to his brow. A shimmer of light bounced at the edge of her wand, and the Defence professor cautiously flicked it into the pensieve. A warm beam of light shot upwards, a blur of white, and then an image started to spin lazily in the air. A bedroom, small, cluttered. A bright blue duvet covered a single bed next to a large window covered in stickers. Toys, broken and abused, littered the carpet, covered by clothes, and a narrow trail of uncluttered carpet lead to the door. Davy flushed and muttered unintelligibly under his breath, mortified. Laughs broke out amongst the first years.

"They're showing our bedrooms?" Dennis Creevey asked, looking a little nervous. "Cripes."

Davy Green, after a disconcerted glance at the Professor, ran back to his seat.

"Malfoy?"

Draco glanced up at the teacher, and, plastering a knowing smirk on his face approached the pensieve. Professor Brown reached her wand up to his brow, flickering the bead of light into the pensieve. Green's clutter of a room was replaced by a light room, flooded with light. A simple bed stood in the centre, and rows of bookcases lined the walls. A wardrobe and chest of drawers were set near the door, and a comfortable looking black armchair complete with side table and lamp occupied one corner.

"Tidy," Professor Brown commented. "I'd expect that from you."

From the murmurs in the hall, it seemed like people agreed with her. Draco quirked one eyebrow up in agreement, and swept off to his seat, his robes bustled around him. He took satisfaction in the fact that Potter looked white. Maybe his room when he was younger was a tip, like Green's room. Potter being embarassed, and him not having to lift a finger or be unnecessarily accused, it was brilliant. Life certainly was obliging, sometimes.

Dennis Creevey's room was a shared room, with Colin, and the room was taken up mostly with photographs and cameras and tennis equipment, and the diminutive Gryffindor had fled to his seat with his ears pink as he realised now the whole school knew he used to have Thomas the Tank Engine bed sheets.

Draco curled his lip in contempt as he watched Granger's bedroom emerge shakily into the air. 'Pink. How contrite.'

"How very Granger-like," Pansy snorted derisively, sat to his right. Draco snorted in what was possibly agreement, but in all honesty he'd never spent the time to wonder what Granger was really like. Brash, and too stuck up for her own good. That was all he knew, and all he wanted to know.

"Hey, look at Potter," Gregory said, chuckling under his breath in that inane and slow way Draco was almost used to. Six years of Gregory Goyle wasn't enough to get used to all of his weird and abstract habits. Draco had discovered soon after meeting the hulking Slytherin in London, a few weeks before school, that a lifetime would be needed to puzzle him out. Gregory was more of a puzzle than anyone gave him any credit for. Crabbe was the uncomplicated one, going for the plainer things in life. Fun, the occasional bash up, food, and those not in any particular order.

"He looks like he's going to be sick," Pansy said, a queer note of excitement in her voice. "Wouldn't that be something?"

"It'd be something weird," Vincent commented, craning forwards to get a better glance.

"Potter?" Professor Brown looked inquisitively at the teenager, and Potter shook his head back at her tersely. Muted whispers started running around the hall, and Potter clenched his fists.

"Bet his room was huge and messy," a fourth year Hufflepuff commented, two rows below the sixth year Slytherins.

All eyes were now trained on Potter as he stepped forwards, avoiding the glances from the teachers - Brown's glance of worry, Snape's of pure derision - and Brown carefully extracted a small point of light from Potter, placing it delicately in the pensieve.

The neat image of Hermione's bedroom disappeared, replaced by a sight that was obviously familiar to Potter by the way his gaze remained unsteadily on the floor.

"Is that a cupboard?" Pansy stared in morbid fascination. "Harry Potter was raised in a cupboard? No wonder he's so short!"

"Talk about stunting someone's growth," Blaise hissed in agreement. "By Morganna herself, I thought he of all people would have lived in the lap of luxury."

That seemed to be the general consensus around the hall. Muttering filled the halls, and Potter's gaze remained fixed obdurately on the ground before he lifted his head and directed a purely Gryffindor stare to those looking at him with a mixture of shock, compassion and disdain.

Even Professor Brown looked moved, and nothing much ruffled her, not even last week when Neville's Bogart turned into a transvestite-Snape, complete with red handbag and vulture-topped hat.

"Is that-" Professor Brown started, quailing under Potter's flushed expression. "Well, it completely proves my point… Right, you all sit down." She indicated the other students waiting to be put through the pensieve, and they took flight immediately. An embarassed flush on his wind beaten cheeks, Potter scurried back to his seat, arms folded across his chest. By the way his friends were reacting, not even they had known that much of the truth. Draco was intrigued despite himself. Potter didn't seem the most reticent or retiring type.

"Assumptions can govern our lives, colour our judgements. The point I was intending to illustrate was that sometimes those you might consider tidy may have been a messy devil at home, but this -- This puts the point across far more succinctly." Professor Brown moved forwards to where Green was sat in the front row. "Green, when you were seven, did you ever go to your friend's house?"

Mystified, Davy nodded.

"Go in their bedroom?"

Again, Davy nodded.

"What was it like?"

Davy flushed. "Tidy," he said.

"Tidy." A small smile crossed the Professor's face. "You were embarrassed?"

Davy nodded. "I-- I thought everyone had an untidy room. I didn't know --"

"Exactly." She clapped her hands together, moving towards the centre of the room again to address the students. "When you're small, you assume everything is the same for you as for everyone else. It's only when you experience more, realise things aren't the same for everyone else that your assumptions begin to be replaced by the truth. Potter, can I make an assumption?"

Potter looked up tersely, pale, and nodded once.

"I assume that you didn't know that other children had bedrooms. Did you think everyone slept… like you did?"

"No," Potter said softly. Professor Brown must have extended the field of her Sonorus charm, as his voice echoed around the hall quietly. "I knew. They… made sure I knew."

Professor Brown gestured softly, her wand in her hand, and the sonorus contracted again, so that the muted mutterings wouldn't be projected to the hall.

"You see, children, assumptions can be terrible. I, like many of you, I'm sure, assumed that no one could be as vindictive to bully someone, especially a boy whose history means they still exist. I'm quite sure you assumed Potter there had had a bedroom, like the rest of you."

Nodding ghosted around the room like a Mexican wave.

"I'm quite sure you all assumed he was treated like we know him, as a hero, and the sad truth is that he wasn't. He wasn't subjected to wizards fawning over him day after day. He wasn't even allowed the childhood he deserved, the childhood we all assumed he'd led. Now, because of my assumptions, I've caused him additional embarrassment, and for that I can only apologise." Professor Brown's expression softened, her cheeks tinged with pink. "But that's the point, isn't it… Assumptions can cause pain, and sometimes assumptions can be so ingrained in our lives - such as when we were children and assumed all of the other kids lived like we did - that we don't even know when we're hurting someone or placing ourselves in danger by our lack of knowledge."

"She recovered from that nicely," Draco commented lightly, shocked despite his guards.

"Sssshh," Pansy hissed, digging a chubby elbow into his ribs. Draco winced, clenching his hands into his robes, the pain blurring his vision for a second and winding him. Pressing his lips together tightly, he folded his arms across his chest in a position that unconsciously mimicked Potter's stance, and tried to ignore the pounding in his head.

"The Ministry assumes that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named has not had time to gather a large force. We, thanks to extra proof gathered at a huge risk, know otherwise." Professor Brown's gaze lingered a bit too long on Professor Snape, and the Potions professor shifted uncomfortably, leading Draco to assume maybe the rumours of what happened to Snape over the summer were not rumours and were actual truth. Snape must have gone into you-know-who's inner circle again…

Feeling more awed of his head of house than ever before, Draco listened to the lecture intently.

"That's why Professor Dumbledore has authorised a demonstration of the three Unforgivable curses. Despite the fact some of you are a lot younger than we would normally expose to them, because now-- Now we're at war. And you have to be ready." Professor Brown's demeanour projected a grim confidence, but Draco noticed the small glances she shifted up occasionally to her similarly petite daughter, Lavender, and knew their teacher was just as terrified as the rest of them.

-----

"That was so cool, the way the spider just snuffed out, man, like a candle!"

Harry focussed his gaze on the wall as the fifth years filed out from the rows beneath theirs, chattering and enthusing about the display as they went. He felt Ron rather than saw him, and knew how the redhead was sat rigid, almost as if Petrified. He turned his gaze to look anyway, and his gaze softened when his prediction proved true. Hermione was sat on the opposite side of Ron, alternating between shooting concerned glances at Ron and angry glances at Harry.

"You said they treated you badly. You didn't say that badly," Hermione hissed, her voice low and she gently bounced one of Ron's hands between her own. Harry didn't blame her fervent attempts to calm Ron down, enlarging the spiders to that size was completely unwarranted.

Harry just shrugged. "Yeah, and Malfoy would have taken that sob story well. Poor Potter, raised in a cupboard. Sob, sob." His voice was heavy with irony as he mimicked Malfoy's slow, pronounced drawl exaggeratedly.

"Actually, all I was going to say was that it explains your height."

The sound of that drawling voice so close to them woke Ron up from his frightened stupor, and all three looked at Draco with an expression that could only be termed 'askance.'

"But thanks for the suggestion," Malfoy continued coolly. "Poor Potter- Ooh, look at me, using alliteration. Very smart really. Raised in a cupboard." He lazily forced his voice higher. "Sob, sob."

They could all hear the irony present in his voice.

"You come over here for any specific reason, or just to practise that constipated expression on your face?" Harry felt himself snap inside, anger flushing his face, and for once didn't force it down. He had managed to control the urge to snap at everyone and everybody, but Malfoy - as usual - brought out the worst in him.

Malfoy smirked, as if the insult had just slid from him. "No. Just had a polite question to ask, is all."

"Look, Malfoy-"

"Uh-uh-uh," Malfoy broke in, wagging his pointing finger at Harry in an exaggerated manner. "I have quite a few witnesses here you will testify that I have not provoked you."

"All right Malfoy," Harry said from between clenched teeth, wondering for a second why Malfoy was even considering being polite to him, especially considering he'd been singularly responsible for putting his father in prison. "What do you want to ask?"

"If that broken chess set underneath the stage is Weasley's doing," Malfoy said, fixing an almost genial look on Ron. Harry took in Malfoy's expression, the silvery eyes seeming blank and unforthcoming. "They say you got past McGonagall's giant chess set. Never believed it myself until now." He grinned suddenly, fiercely, showing his canine teeth. "So?"

"Yes, Ron did beat McGonagall's giant chess set," Hermione set, her voice brittle and standoffish. Harry didn't blame her. All of them, including some of the other Gryffindors starting to amass behind them protectively, fully aware of Malfoy's antagonistic history.

Malfoy let out a low whistle. "Impressive." He smirked, the expression suddenly seeming a little alien on his pointed face. He turned to leave, then paused as if something struck him. He turned his head to glance at them over his shoulder. "Still waiting for me to pull something, right?" He shook his head, laughing to himself as he walked away in a sweep of material.

Disconcerted, Harry pulled together his books and started to file out of the room with the others.

"What just happened?" Ron asked, dazed. "Did he just…"

"Compliment you," Hermione breathed, her eyes widened slightly. "Was that really our Malfoy?"

"Our Malfoy?" Harry queried, the same unsettled feeling sweeping low over his stomach. Hermione flickered a two-fingered gesture at him as he remembered seeing Malfoy's scarred arm in Potions, and felt that thrill of mystery again. Thinking deeply about Malfoy's sudden mood change and what he had witnessed of Malfoy over the last few months, Harry's brow furrowed. "I think," Harry said slowly, neglecting to mention he'd already begun, "we'd better keep an eye on him."

-----

Draco did a graceless belly flop onto his bed, startling several rolls of parchment onto the floor. Sinking his head into his elbows, he tried not to notice the pile of presents on his pillow. He'd awoken at midnight to find them at the foot of his bed, somewhat expecting to feel different. Everybody expects to feel a little different on their birthday, Draco reasoned, disappointed when he didn't. And I'm not everybody. I really am different.

He supposed it would feel different to actually use his newly advanced powers, but had neither the opportunity, nor the inclination, to really test it out. It hurt. Sure, it was rather exhilarating, but when it was your own blood to spill to do it…

He had awoken hours before his room mates would even think of stirring, and had decided to go get washed up while the bathroom was still empty. He knew sleep would be elusive this day, if not the rest of the year. Ignoring the fact that there was an inordinate amount of educational pressure on them this year, Draco gave up on trying to study (which was why the parchments and scrolls had been on his bed) and turned his attention instead to the pile of presents.

Draco had the sinking suspicion that at least one of the presents was from his mother, meaning he shouldn't open it in front of his friends. He read the labels and felt the packages, a small grin crossing his face despite his earlier grumpy resolve. There wasn't anybody in Hogwarts who didn't like opening nice presents. Draco, while an exception to a lot of things, was not going to be an exception in this case.

There was a selection of adequately wrapped parcels from his room mates, and one that was definitely from his mother. He supposed he would get more presents later in the day, from the owls at breakfast or his other friends. He pushed the presents from his room mates to one side, knowing they'd want to be awake to see him opening, his gaze alighting on the large, soft parcel from his mother.

He knew what this was. He'd known what he would get for his seventeenth birthday for as long as he knew about his heritage. Pulling almost reluctantly at the parcel, the red uniform tumbled into his lap, and he stared dully at it, fingering it absently.

As his fingers touched the red material, the traditional outfit of Scarlet Ribbons, he froze. Each uniform was made to fit each new Scarlet Ribbons, and his mother had hand-stitched the whole thing herself, with remarkably even and small stitches. Not out of the thick durable corduroy traditional, that wouldn't wear out easily, but of dragon leather.

Draco wanted to snort with the hilarity of it all, the sheer cheesiness. Not only a crusading hero fighting against Voldemort's wicked deeds, but a cheesy crusading hero in leather to boot. Flying resistance to the wind, Draco bent his head into his pillow and howled gales of laughter, bubbling up through his chest like lava to be muffled by the goose-feather pillow and crisp white cotton. It wasn't laughter of amusement, really, more a release of the tension bubbling up tight in front of himself. An image in his mind of himself, locked up in the tight material, leaping up walls, running across the ceiling, flinging himself through the air, bubbled up, causing the laughter to come out again.

At least it wasn't spandex, he reasoned, but that just caused him to laugh again and again.

He laughed until too tired to laugh anymore, and quietly slid the costume, for costume was the only possible word to describe such a ghastly textile invention, into a safe place in his trunk. Lounging back on his bed, his blond head hit the pillow, his hair fanning out behind him like a halo. The presents from his friends were piled loosely by his feet, glinting in the sunlight that now leapt brilliantly around the room, a graceful and wanted bringer of the morning. They seemed inviting now, the clumsy corners of the paper wrapped with Spellotape glinting in the reflected sunshine.

Draco pushed the negative aspects of his birthday firmly to the back of his mind, and settled cheerily on all the positive things from turning seventeen.

-----

All the positive things. All the positive things. Draco kept the mantra going in his head as he sat there, mouth slightly open in a teeth-clenched smile, trying to ignore the frilly butterflies and frippery circling around his head. A pink frog hopped cheerfully onto his desk, chirping a Happy Birthday Draco! at him before disappearing into a fountain of stars.

It was very hard to be cheerful through breakfast, feeling so tired and having had one hour sleep. Waking up at midnight had been a horrifically bad idea, probably one of the worst he'd ever had. And considering that time with the vampire bats and the pumpkin juice, that was really saying something. He'd gotten a whole bunch of presents, that was kind of cool. Even from some of the cute Ravenclaw girls, who'd swooned after he winked at them. And the socks, well, they were, um, probably not the coolest present. Lots of presents, and Draco's head had felt like splitting all the way through, and was now thumping merrily along to the jingly music Flitwick had Charmed up.

The class cheered as Professor Flitwick dispelled most of the Happy Birthday! charms he'd constructed for the blond Slytherin's birthday.

"Now, calm down, calm down. I know it's such a rare special occasion to be able to celebrate Mr. Malfoy's birthday here for once, but we really do have to get some work done-"

The floor seemed a little unsteady, and Draco frowned. That doesn't seem right... Frowning, he followed the class and levitated a cushion out of the casket, but his gesture, tinged with his sleep surliness, angled too fast. His wrist was cocked at a wrong angle, and it sent the cushion crashing into his forehead.

Dazed, he watched as the cushion dropped to the bench, and he winced up at Flitwick.

"Sorry," he apologised, even as the Gryffindors on the other side of the class tittered. Flitwick jumped down from the desk he was teaching on to the student's desk, and ran over to him.

"Mr. Malfoy, would you prefer to go sit this lesson out?"

Draco screwed up his face, ready to snap something surly out, and then realised he was really tired. "-if it's not too much bother," he admitted. "Couldn't sleep last night."

"Excited, eh?" Flitwick murmured, his voice low so no one heard.

Draco felt a rush of nausea and he clapped his hand to his mouth. Suddenly worried, Flitwick waved his wand a little. A run of figures suddenly flew in the air in front of Flitwick.

"You have a temperature, Mr. Malfoy. You're excused to go to the infirmary."

Draco ignored the concerned looks from his classmates, and the not-too-well suppressed snigger from Ron Weasley.

"Thanks, sir," he whispered, gathering up his bag and wand, and quickly leaving the room. He walked the turn to head to the infirmary, but his slightly dazed vision cleared. Dizzy again, he flung out a hand. His pale hand connected sharply with the sandy coloured stones of one of the outer walls, and he winced with the pain, doubling over into a crouch on the floor. Furious with himself, he forced himself to breathe deeply, not wanting to be caught by anybody looking so weak.

"Shit!"

Draco flung a hand of practise over his mouth, the gesture instinctive to hide his infrequent cursing, and then stopped mid-action as the sound of thundering feet swelled in volume. He realised he hadn't been the one to swear, and he looked up, almost fearful of who was to see him in such a vulnerable state.

He wheezed, hard, and looked up to see Harry Potter. For some reason, he was distinctly unsurprised. The pain cramped across his stomach, and realisation swam. How stupid can one person be, he wasn't born until sometime in the afternoon. This was the power increasing within his body, and deities, it hurt so bad.

"Gotta get you to the infirmary," Potter was saying, and Draco's vision swam again, and he was surely going out of his mind because Potter was helping him to his feet.

"No," Draco ground out, a hand flung awkwardly against Potter's stomach, "no, please, please, don't-" and he forced his mouth shut, because those words that were falling out were not his words, surely they couldn't be his words.

Potter's eyes were blank, unreadable, and then one hand took hold of one of his wrists so gently, Draco was surprised. "All right," Potter was saying, his face muted, obviously remembering the scars that Draco knew by now he must have seen. The Gryffindor had probably assumed Draco didn't want Madam Pomfrey to see them. "If you're sure."

Draco nodded his head sharply, and then his weight was being supported, one arm around his waist, the other holding onto that wrist still, a feather-light touch. Draco wondered if Potter even knew he was doing it.

"Where," Potter was saying, and Draco forced himself to concentrate, even though he could almost swear that he could feel his blood knotting and unknotting inside him.

"Dorm," he breathed, and even the whisper was harsh against his throat. He wondered idly if childbirth was this painful, and he gasped out a short bark of laughter. Potter looked down at him, confused, and concerned, and the concern nearly winded him further, except Potter was like that, would take in a wounded muggle and nurse it to health even if he didn't know them. Then he realised he was likening himself to a random muggle, and wondered what his father would say. Despite having been once a crusading superhero, his father was remarkably narrow minded. But then so'm I, Draco admitted to himself in a sparkling rush of realisation. "Uh, it's down two levels, to the left," Draco forced himself to say.

Potter's face tightened. "I know," Potter said, his voice brusque.

"Oh," Draco said articulately, "know thy enemy, right?"

A taut smile stretched across Potter's face. "Something like that," Potter said, and then it was silence as they struggled down the two staircases and reached the tapestry hanging over the Slytherin dorm.

"Malfoy's old," Draco muttered out, the password amusing them both, and Draco didn't care if Potter knew it, because it was just for today. If anything was sabotaged, they'd know who did it, and Potter would know that, so it was safe.

"Where's your room?" Potter asked. Malfoy grunted, ignoring the crazy looks from some of the fifth years huddled around the Slytherin fireplace.

"Down," he muttered, suddenly ashamed by the scrutiny, ashamed of his vulnerability. His limbs screamed with the pain, and he couldn't see, and he couldn't care less. All he cared about was that it was getting darker, then lighter, which meant they'd reached the room, and then it was soft and he was lying down.

"Um. Right. I'll just pop on back to Charms, then," Potter said, awkwardly. Draco tried to turn, and managed to look up, his face white and taut. "But I can whip you up to the infirmary in a minute-"

Draco barked out a laugh that didn't feel quite right. "My, my, Harry Potter asking me if I'd like to be whipped." And then, seeing the sudden flush of anger on Potter's cheeks, he softened. "No." He forced the words out through an aching throat. "Thank you. For. Um. You know."

"I would have done the same for anyone," Potter said, hands in his pockets, and Draco smiled tightly against the pain. "I've had the most practise with expelling Charms, which is why Flitwick sent me to help you. Um. If you, uh, want to catch up with what you've missed, the next DA meeting is on Friday, and I'd scheduled expelling Charms practise then. If you'd like to come."

The words are rushed and Draco just let himself sink into the bed, almost convinced that Potter is just doing it because it's the Right Thing To Do. Suppressing the snort, he twitched an eyebrow. "That would be great," Draco said, surprising himself. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it," Potter said, and Draco squeezed his eyes shut when a fresh rush of pain sizzled up his spine, and when he opened his eyes, Potter had gone.

The room suddenly felt awfully empty, and, shivering, Draco pushed himself over onto his back, looking up at the ceiling, which shook a little and then rammed back into focus. Unnerved, Draco realised that it wasn't that the room felt empty, it was that the pain was gone, snap, just like that.

Groggily, he lurched experimentally to a sitting position. He still felt inordinately tired, but also he felt alive. He lifted up his hands gingerly, as if expecting some abnormal growth to have appeared on them, but they looked normal. He lifted his hands forwards, causing his sleeves to fall back, and he started.

The scars were... They were there, all right, but they looked to be fading.

The manual had not mentioned anything like this. Draco experimented by hitting his hand against the headboard, and a familiar shooting pain lanced through his entire body, and he curled up on the bed in a fetal position until it dulled to a throb he could almost bear. Obviously the pain was still the same.

He almost wished he had not tested that before the other thing he needed to test. Aggrieved, and horribly aware of his own heartbeat, thudding weakly in his ears, he reached for the knife concealed in the lid of the trunk. Letting the lid fall back shut after he retrieved the blade, he let it stay balanced on one knee for a long time.

Exhaling hard, he picked it up in his right hand and extended it forwards. Facing the biggest blank wall in the room, he twisted his left hand so his exposed wrist was facing upwards. He slashed.

A small whisper of pain, so slight that for once Draco barely noticed it, and he was willing the blood to curve to the wall. It hit and solidified almost instantly, and he pulled on it, testing the elasticity. He pulled back on it, it still attached, and then let go. He flew through the air, and he slashed at the ribbon, cutting it off. He speeded through the air, and it was certain he was going to crash into the wall. Another knife slash later, and he was instantly flying to the opposite fall. Cutting that strand, he sailed over his own four-poster bed. He switched his gravity, and landed cat-like on the wall he was heading towards on all fours. He tensed, switched the gravity again, and fell onto the ceiling.

The fall pained him more than the knife cuts, but exhilaration overruled even that. The blood came out better than it had before, stronger, faster, and it was easier to control. Apparently age did make all the difference, after all, and Lucius hadn't been muttering wild things under his breath due to advanced senility. He wanted to play the game he'd enjoyed when he was four and figured out how to switch his own internal gravity, and started by walking over to the light bulb and walking around it happily. His hair fell downwards, which was normal. Lucius had said that he should really try and control the hair by enclosing it in his gravity field too, but Draco didn't care. It was still nice to have some reminder on where down was meant to be.

He jumped, and switched his gravity again to fall to the floor, but once he'd reached the centre of the room, he played the game. Switching and switching the gravity so that he spun, weightless, in the middle of the room. Falling almost all the way to the floor, and then switching so he fell almost to the ceiling, and back again. Switching it to the corners of the room so he slowly fell and rose and fell closer to his bed, and then he fell to the bed.

That kind of switching took energy and concentration, and was too slow to be used in any kind of combat. It would probably work well if he was trapped, somehow, but all that seemed to fade in the sheer joy of doing it, the sheer rush. It was probably just as well that he was laughing when the pain finally hit, ten minutes later.

That part he'd been semi warned about. Get the hell out of a room if you've been cutting, Lucius had ordered. You've not got long 'til the pain that's stored up is unleashed, so you've got to be fast. He'd practised for hours how to get out of a crowded room and to a safe place before the pain hit, even though before today the pain hit immediately, and somehow not so badly.

Draco shook, and the bed shook with him. Lucius had 'casted intricate Glamours into the practise room to simulate busy situations and different places. The most memorable time had been the reconstruction of Truro Cathedral, and he'd lain in agony inside of the carved circles on the arches. The worst had been in a bland room, filled with doctors with needles, and there'd been nowhere to go. Lucius had snapped at him so badly, saying he should have found a way out, even though later Draco learned there wasn't. The lesson, apparently, had been one of his mother's. You had to learn to deal with the fact that one day, you might just find yourself in a situation you had no control over. No way out, the end, bang, you're dead.

He cried silently into the pillow, bent over with the shame of it, the burning sensation that engulfed his body from the bottom of his toes to inside his head. He felt like he was going to explode from the heat of it, break with the intensity of it. Even though it welled away eventually, his toes still ached, and his heart fought to reclaim a steady beat again from its Reggae syncopation.

This was the price, and oh, what a price. But freedom was the cause, and that was a cause to end all causes.

When he felt up to moving, he looked at his clock in wonder to find it was still two o' clock. The three hour Charms lesson would still be blazing merrily along, and although his tiredness was still there, he could maybe perhaps-

Draco stopped his thoughts there, and looked around. Everyone was in lessons. No one was around. Sweeping up his wand again, he flung a locking Charm at the door quickly. Heart thumping, he reached for the present from his mother. Sore fingers trembling, he opened the parcel, noticing absently that the scar on his wrist from the last cutting was starting to fade. He checked the clock again. Ten minutes after the pain starts, the scars started to go. There may be a time when he needed that information, he told himself, and started on the string again.

The leather costume fell out, but the humour that had arisen last time stayed buried in his aching chest. Shedding his clothes quickly, he clambered into the uniform. It fit snugly, but not as tight as he'd imagined. The joints, where he moved, were layered with leather in an intricate cut-and-sewn pattern, so that he had absolute freedom of movement. The trousers and to-the-waist tunic with long sleeves were two different parts. Socks, red, followed, and Draco hopped trying to get them on, ignoring how undignified a costumed figure would look, hopping and trying to get on deep crimson socks. Boots were next, in the same dark red as the rest of it, tougher dragon hide and yet still so soft, still allowing absolute movement. Gloves, that allowed a gap for the cutting, and there was a compartment in his left sleeve for the knife, that concealed it when he slid it on.

The last part was the mantle, to cover his head and leave room for him to see and breathe. It was sewn exquisitely, to the exact shape of Draco's head. He unrolled it to see it better, and something small and hard fell out of it. Curious, he dropped to a crouching position to pick up whatever it was, quickly marvelling at the amount of movement built into the suit. His mother, bless her cheesy clichéd soul, had spent so much time on it.

His hands closed around the object instantly. It was a small stone, almost flat, and a leather thong with which to tie it. A scrap of parchment was tied tightly around it, and he untied it to read it.

"Happy birthday, son, although I say happy even regardless of the ordeals ahead of you. I can only express pride and sorrow at this point, sorrow that you have to deal with this burden, but pride that you have grown so fast and so far to be able to cope and excel."

Draco swallowed, hard. His vision began to fail a little, although he couldn't chalk that up to the change at all. Touched despite himself, he continued to read.

"You have in your hand right now a charmed stone, the one I used in my short time crusading as Scarlet Ribbons. You have only to put the outfit on once, tie the leather around your ankle, then wave your hand over the stone to switch between whatever you're wearing at one moment and the uniform.

"I apologise for your mother's choice of material. Her comic book days aren't as far enough behind her as most of us would like. It is a hard wearing material, though, and worthy of surviving many trials. Be glad I persuaded her not to choose the spandex.

"I am afraid I must reveal to you the last part of your heritage. The part that was hidden from you. While there was no active Scarlet Ribbons into the full power, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named was able to slumber a bit more peacefully. However, he will by now have sensed your awakening. While you are safe as Draco, he has never known the Malfoys bear this burden, as Scarlet Ribbons you are not. The Dark Lord will know you are in Hogwarts, and from now on, you must protect the building and everyone in it. It is imperative that you finish your education, for that is the only way to topple You-Know-Who, but I feel shame that you have to endure such torment along the path.

"Destroy this as soon as you've read it, and remember, the longer you can hide your identity, the better. Better for Scarlet Ribbons to be retired and not another dent in You-Know-Who's armour to be made, then for there never to be a Scarlet Ribbons to protect the world.

"All our love on this, your special birthday,

"Your mother and father."

A chill ran through Draco's body as he read the words. Suddenly despairing, knowing he could not face what was ahead of him, he nevertheless burnt the letter and fed the ashes to the bin. You-Know-Who knew he was more powerful now. And would send beast, ghost, hell itself after Hogwarts to get to him.

But Scarlet Ribbons couldn't be lost. Scarlet Ribbons had the power to defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Draco had known it and fought for it all his life. Only now the battle was coming closer to home, and Draco was responsible.

The responsibility closed around his heart, heavy and uncompromising. If anyone got hurt, at all, anyone got injured... It would all be his fault. For a moment he felt queasy, as if he'd forgotten all his training, but he shook that away. There was to be none of that. No hesitation. He would fight, because that was all he knew.

Determined, his jaw set mulishly, Draco put on the constricting mantle to cover his head. He walked around the beds to one of the full-length mirror, the charmed stone in his hand, knife in its concealed place, to look. An unfamiliar figure stared back. The red muted his eyes, so you couldn't see the unusual slate grey, instead they flashed black, somehow. A few blond hair had fallen down into the eye part of the mantle, but Draco was unconcerned. They were barely noticeable, and a large percentage of the Hogwarts population had blond hair. And there were easy Glamours to change hair colour. It wasn't a big deal.

He looked more slender than he thought he did, and taller. Serious, he tied the stone around his ankle, it fitting into the small indent on the inside of his right foot. Draco swallowed, trying to ignore that this was real, this was it. He bent down as if to do up his shoe, and waved his hand over the stone. Looking into the mirror, Draco saw the outfit shimmer, and then disappear.

Leaving him stood there clothed only, appropriately, in his birthday suit.

A flush colouring his pale cheeks, Draco swerved and ran to his bed, flinging on his clothes quickly. He'd never quite been comfortable with nudity, but was comforted in the fact that, surely, no one really did. The stone was uncomfortable for the moment around his ankle, almost cold, although he was sure in time he wouldn't notice it. That was just the way things went, in his experience.

By the time he'd flung on his tie, knotting it with the sure touch of a hand that had done this countless times, he tucked it into his jumper, and realised he was still feeling sick.

And that he'd not normally felt this sick after spinning before.

Worried, Draco forced his breathing to calm, and he sat down on his bed, closing his eyes and practising one of the meditations that Lucius was so fond of teaching him. Surely not already, his heart whispered, but his mind knew.

He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had sensed his power increase immediately. And had sent something to find him. To kill him. Something that would be indiscriminate about who it hurt.

Draco kept his eyes closed, trying to focus in on the nausea, see if it was leading him anywhere, and then there, there it was. Fourth floor, there was screaming maybe. The feeling inside of his head jarred uncomfortably as he hit on the right place, and it was all Draco could do not to wonder in surprise at the sudden acuity of his intuitive senses. This was turning out to be all Lucius had said it would be, and more.

Suddenly business-like, Draco ran to the window, flinging a hand over the stone. Resplendent in his Scarlet Ribbons uniform once more, he pushed the window open and leapt out. He changed his internal gravity to an angled one, so he could walk up the wall at an angle. The wind whistling, he ran, suppressing an inner smirk as he ran across one of the Third Floor windows and saw for a flash split second Professor McGonagall's gaping face.

Letting his instincts take over, Draco kept running, pelting across and dodging a few of the ornate buttresses that decorated the Georgian-influenced architecture. He heard screaming, and realised that It, whatever It was, was moving down. With clarity, he heard a piercing shriek and recognised the shrieker.

Pansy. It's in the Charms class I was supposed to be in!

Hoping desperately against every hope that this was just coincidence, he headed for the sound of screaming and magic flying. He saw it just in time, a flash of claws flying, and thanked the heavens that there was no one by the windows. Slashing into his wrist, Draco sent the Scarlet Ribbon up to one of the protruding buttresses, and changed his gravity back to the original direction. Both hands on the Ribbon, he swung with his feet together. They connected hard with the window, and both large panes careened to the ground. Draco whistled through the air, landing in a crouching position to see students flattened against the wall, Flitwick valiantly fighting, and vague aggressive spells flying towards the centre of the room.

Where an enraged manticore was lashing out, frothing at the mouth, horribly dangerous.

It stopped its attacks on the helpless desks, though, when It realised just What had come through the window. Draco had just a second before those dreadful claws started to propel towards him. He leaped, angling his gravity so he landed on the ceiling, then he jumped to the ground, switching part way so that he wasn't hurt as he landed. He whipped out the knife again, yet kept it flat against his wrist so that it wasn't obvious that that was how the Ribbons worked.

There was a flash of silver at one wrist, and Draco directed the spray into several Ribbons, that connected with the back of the Manticore, who was confused at how Draco had appeared behind him so fast. The beast turned, and Draco got a horrible full view of it because he set to work, twisting his body and falling in complex leaps and bounds, spraying the Ribbons in a complicated network as he twisted and jumped. He landed on one of the walls, almost perpendicular to a bunch of huddled students, including Pansy. He spared a moment to wink at her, and she looked at him, faint and surprised.

Draco launched himself again, and had to execute a swift dive as the Manticore launched itself in the opposite direction to the one Draco had thought he would move, considering how restrained the beast was. He landed awkwardly, stars bursting into his vision as his shoulder spat fire into his body. The beast was trying to smash through the sticky Ribbons, and managed to get one claw lost. Draco barely had time to move his hand, going for the knife again, and he saw the claw coming at him, the deadly spikes sharp and efficient. He hadn't imagined death would come so quickly. He closed his eyes, but death didn't come. Scrambling to his feet, he saw the Manticore lurch in a different direction again, after a solitary figure wielding a large desk.

Harry Potter, I should have known, Draco thought, before realising that the Manticore wasn't quite as secured as he'd like, even though Flitwick was still somehow able to blast it despite having been hit on the head by some of the flying debris. My fault, his heart sang, even as he leapt into action again to stop it going after Potter.

Three more Ribbons later, and the beast was unable to move. A loud clattering sound came at the door, and Draco, aching, dropped himself and his gravity to the floor just by where Potter had been pushed in the attack just in time to see Professor Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall and Professor Snape all standing at the door, wands outstretched, all yelling the same spell to stun the beast.

The Manticore slumped in its crimson bonds, unconscious after all the attacks, and Draco then realised every eye was on him. He didn't understand why, but when he looked at Potter, the boy's eyes narrowed behind the thick askew lenses he wore. Draco flashed him a smile, pushed a length of Ribbon into his hand, and then leapt out the window.

All the people saw was a flash of silver, a blur of crimson, and by the time they got to the window, they couldn't see a thing. In all the kerfuffle of the Manticore being entrapped in a strange, sticky crimson web, no one noticed the boy called Harry Potter thoughtfully put the length of Scarlet Ribbon into his pocket.

-----

He collapsed to the bed in agony, his hand groping at his ankle. Somehow in the pain, he managed to reach the stone, and his school uniform shimmered on to replace his Scarlet Ribbons uniform. The Charms classroom had been a way away, and he'd barely made it back to his bed. If there were an attack on another part of the school, Draco would have to find a secure place to hide, that was reachable from the outer extremities of the school.

Deciding to research that later, he curled up on the bed, hands clasping his pillow as if it was a direct lifeline to Earth. His body convulsed, and he let it move, knowing to fight it was useless. The pain and shivering didn't stop for a long while, this time, probably from the amount of blood he'd lost. He'd have to make extra sure to drink a lot tonight, and eat plenty of food with iron in.

The pain did stop after a while, but the tiredness set back in, so he was still drowsy when his roommates clattered back in, excitement flushing their faces as they told him what had happened.

"-and it was awesome," Blaise finished. "This figure in dragon leather just tied up that Manticore like in a spiders web, and the teachers are so confused, they have no idea who did it. I can't believe you missed it, man."

Draco forced a scowl on his pointed face. "Pity. Every time something interesting happens, I miss it. Typical. Bet it was one of the Gryffindors. Saw I wasn't there, took it on themselves to rouse up a bit of a storm. Probably let the thing in, too."

"Draco, man," Crabbe exclaimed. "It was so cool. Even you can't be so- so- so-" Crabbe was fighting for the word.

"Cynical?" Draco suggested, a wry smirk to his lips.

"Y-yeah, that's the one," Crabbe said, a little bemused. Probably doesn't know what it means. "This was a Manticore, man."

"A Manticore or a man?" Draco asked, arching one eyebrow as if to say he was confused.

Understanding washed across Blaise's face. "Dude, let's give him some more time to sleep. He needs it." Blaise thumped Draco's shoulder, companiable, and as he was slightly turned away, he missed the wince of agony on Draco's face.

"Thanks," Draco said, honesty shining through his voice. He fell back on the pillow to the sounds of their muted mutterings about what had happened, and when he awoke, only Blaise was still awake. Draco reached for his parchment and quill, resting them on his Herbology textbook. Blaise knew the routine. Draco would start to pen a letter, and would be open to talking during it. It was a sign that it was okay to talk.

"Did many get hurt?" Draco asked after a while of Blaise wondering on who the scarlet figure could be, dropping the quill and picking up the self-inking one he'd been given as a Christmas present from his father.

"None from the class," Blaise said. "Well, Potter got a bit bruised, grazed his cheek something awful, and gashed his leg open too. Blood everywhere."

Draco's stomach dropped. He hadn't noticed that. He forced himself to keep his gaze on the parchment, on the even words he was writing, looping the letters as if his life depended on it.

"Some of the girls got shook up a little, but a bar of chocolate sorted that out in no time. Flitwick got a bit bruised too, but that was it."

Draco felt the nausea finally retreated, and let his senses take control for a moment. Everything was peaceful in Hogwarts as far as he could tell. He tuned back into what Blaise was saying.

"The Manticore tried to smash into all of the classrooms it went past, but thankfully it was the corridors the Fourth and Fifth years were scheduled to be on, and they're both out at the fieldtrip to the Firemarshes of Glenfernan. Smashed up a couple of staircases too, and knocked a couple of first years right down three floors of stairs and all." Blaise shrugged, unconcerned.

Draco felt a throbbing pain start near his temples, and was worried, except when he realised it was his own guilt. "Are they-"

"Hufflepuff, and in the infirmary," Blaise snorted. "One of them shattered their leg, the other her arms. Nothing that can't be healed in a day."

"Oh," Draco said, and his voice sounded foreign to his own ears. "Guess I'm kind of glad I missed it," he said after a while.

"Oh?" Blaise said, returning the non-word as a question.

"There was no other serious injuries," Draco explained. "My luck, I would have been the one who got them."

Blaise laughed. "Yeah. Or Alex."

Draco looked confused.

"Alex," Blaise said. "Slytherin? Quiet Welsh boy? Hell of a schemer? Missed the lesson due to being in the infirmary with a gammy leg?"

"Oh," Draco said. "The one we keep forgetting exists?"

Blaise snickered. "'s not our fault we forgot to bring him on the field trip, and Professor Snape knows it."

They both fell silent.

"Hey, who you writing to, anyway?" Blaise asked, conversationally.

Draco's eyebrows lowered slightly.

"Mother, Father, I know you said not to write to you when it wasn't necessary, and even then just to say something like 'Lessons are good, Potter still annoys me', just to show I haven't changed, but I couldn't not write this letter. I need to get some things down and out and in the open. When I became who I was always destined to be this afternoon, no doubt you'll have heard of the Manticore attack already, I knew that it's already too late. I have changed. This afternoon I became not just an observer, but the observed as well, and I'm not so sure I like it..."

And somehow, the words seem so inadequate. Draco crumpled the paper in his fist, grabbed his wand, and set fire to it. The ash drifted lazily into the same bin as the ash from the other letter.

Blaise reacted, shocked. "Why d'you do that?" He demanded. "I would have taken it up to the Owlery, you know, if you were too tired."

Draco shook his head. "Nah, it wasn't important. Besides, it's nearly time for dinner, and I don't want to miss the surprise cake." He waggled his eyebrows. "Or the surprise party."

Blaise hung his head slightly, busted, then regarded Draco with curious eyes. "You still didn't have to be so melodramatic," Blaise said, confusing Draco until the taller boy indicated the ashes in his bin.

Draco got to his feet, and Blaise followed suit. Draco placed a friendly hand on Blaise's shoulder, lightly. "Sometimes, things are better left unsaid."

Draco turned, pushed the door opened, vaguely aware that Blaise was not following, and aware that he was leaving, alone.

He exhaled hard as he walked though the common room. Somehow, he suspected that that would be the way of things for a long time indeed.

Maybe even forever.

-----