Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter etc. They belong to J. K. Rowling and the other lucky bastards who were in the right place at the right time. As a fan of popular culture, there may be references to it as well. For more information, check the bottom of each chapter.

Rating: M (R), for slash and some coarse language. A NC-17 version can be found on aff.

Warnings: HPDM slash (boy on boy) and a character death. Not in the darkfic genre, though.

Before Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Despite all my rage I'm still just a rat in a cage

Harry Potter stepped on the platform at Hogsmeade Station feeling the cool September wind hitting his face. He made his way slowly through the building to the road where the carriages were waiting. It was already packed with students trying to find an empty coach to share with their friends. Harry stopped at the doors and took the sight in.

He was having extremely mixed feelings about coming back this year. Hogwarts was still his home, nothing had changed that. He still took pleasure in arriving at Hogsmeade on the Hogwarts Express and seeing Hagrid herd the first years. In the same time he was feeling a good amount of dread about the coming school year. Last year had successfully destroyed Harry's illusion of the school as an undisputed safe haven. Now, looking back, he had to wonder how he had managed to hold on to that illusion for so long. Hogwarts had never been safe.

Harry was startled from his musings when he felt a smaller hand slipping into his. He looked to his left to find Ginny Weasley smiling back at him before she turned her attention to the carriages. It had never been safe for Ginny either. She had almost been killed in her very first school year. Ginny squeezed Harry's hand once before letting go. Harry watched her make her way to Dean Thomas, who was waiting for her on the bottom of the stairs. He gazed at their retreating backs for a moment before heading for the carriages.

Harry had just found an empty coach and was staring at the Thestrals with a vivid interest when he heard someone calling his name. He turned around to find Ron Weasley jogging to him. Hermione Granger was not far behind.

"Where did you run to?" Ron panted. "One minute you were there, and the next you were gone."

Harry frowned a bit, but answered then evenly "I didn't run anywhere, I just came here. I thought that maybe you had some Prefects business to attend to, or something."

Harry was finding Ron's question a bit irritating. Surely he had the right to walk a bit by himself without having to give a bloody report about it to Ron? He turned back to the carriage with a sigh. He didn't know why he was so irritated. All thoughts of Ron were quickly forgotten when he was once again fascinated by the winged horses-like beasts. Last year he had been afraid of them because he didn't know what they were, but now he felt like there was something comforting to them. Almost like an old friend. Harry couldn't help but wonder why he felt that way. The beasts did have something extremely sinister-looking about them, for Merlin's sake. And they had played a key part in the events that had lead to his godfather's death. Harry crossed his fingers and placed his palms on the top of his head. He drew a long, shaky breath as unwanted memories started flooding back to his mind.

"Oh, Harry" Hermione said sympathetically from behind him.

"Hermione, don't" Harry said to her without looking back. "I'm fine." He knew that Hermione's eyes were filled with empathy and concern right about now. He was annoyed again.

Draco Malfoy was looking at the exchange from close by. His attention had been caught when Ron had shouted Harry's name. He couldn't help it, he always became a little more aware of everything when Potter was around. He carefully observed as the Golden Boy turned away from his friends and started looking in to the distance, like the tragic hero that he was. Then followed the well-rehearsed and nicely executed play that Draco liked to call "The Martyr Act". First the Boy Who Lived broods and then his friends ask him what's wrong, to which the hero answers forcefully 'nothing'. That way he plays the part of the lonely martyr while being at the center of attention all the same. Perfect.

Draco chuckled a bit as he saw the Weasel looking confused. Evidently he hadn't been let in on what was the source of Potter's constipation this time. He saw Granger silently wording 'THES-TRALS' behind Harry back. A look of understanding dawned on Ron's face.

Draco immediately turned his attention to the point he presumed Potter was looking at the front of the carriage. He had forgotten about the Thestrals. It was obviously hard to remember something you couldn't see. Draco had to admit, he was a tad curious about them. Especially since Potter could see them and he couldn't. Well, he'll probably be seeing them sooner than later.

Draco was brought from his musing when he felt somebody staring at him. Slowly his eyes left the carriage and landed on Harry Potter. Harry was looking at him in an unfriendly, yet not an aggressive way. He was obviously waiting for Draco to start the inevitable fighting.

'Well fuck if I'm going to promote your squeaky-clean image by allowing you the position of the innocent defender' Draco was fuming in his mind. 'You're no better then the rest of us.'

So the two boys just stood facing each other, glaring, but neither of them said a word or made a move to get their wands. A crowd was starting to gather around them, waiting for the fight to break loose. Finally Ron noticed to staring contest that was going on between the two rivals, and decided to add his share to the mix.

"What are you looking at, Malfoy?" Ron demanded spitefully.

Draco let his stare linger on Harry a bit longer before he turned his attention to the red-head.

"Nothing" he answered just as viciously. "And before you ask, yes, that means you." Without glancing back at Harry, he turned away from the trio and made his way through the crowd to the closest couch. A violent 'OUT!' was heard from inside the coach and two seconds later two frightened second-years came tumbling out.

Ron was as red as his hair and fuming. "He can't do that! That bloody bastard..."

Harry left Hermione calm the boy down and stepped in to their coach ready for the trip to the castle to begin. He really couldn't care less.

Title of the chapter from Bullet With Butterfly Wings by Smashing Pumpkins