Disclaimer: I do not nor will I ever own the Harry Potter story, characters, villains, heroes, and creatures. I also sadly do not make any money off this story. Trust me; my bank account cannot lie about that.
A/N: A little ditty that I'm posting to tide you all over until I post the next chapter of FOB. Real life has been getting in the way, plus I'm having...(gasp) writer's block on FOB.
Summary: Harry watchedfrom the back of the courtroom as Draco Malfoy was convicted for the murder of Ronald Weasley
Harry watchedfrom the back of the courtroom as Draco Malfoy was convicted for the murder of Ronald Weasley. He stared at the terrified blonde-haired boy, trying to feel satisfaction as his best friend's killer was sent to Azkaban. He felt nothing; no satisfaction, no betrayal, no anger, nothing.
His best friend was gone -- murdered by a wanna be Death Eater -- and nothing would bring him back. He had been the one to find the body as it hung from the Astronomy Tower. He could remember the frozen feeling he had felt when he realized that his friend was dead. In a daze, he walked down the tower steps and made his way towards the headmaster's office.
Professor Snape had stopped him in the hallway. The Professor had begun his rant only to stop at Harry's expression. Something of the horror he was feeling must've shown as the man gazed at him with some concern.
Staring up at the Professor, he told him in an emotionless voice about Ron's body hanging from the Astronomy Tower. The Potions Master looked horrified and raced down the hallway, making his way towards the Tower. A few seconds after he left, the Headmaster had come down the hall, his expression grim. He stopped as he saw Harry, standing helplessly in the darkened corridor.
"Harry?" Dumbledore called out, his expression concerned.
Harry looked up at the headmaster and replied, "He's dead."
The Headmaster's eyes closed, his expression drawn. "Who, Harry? Who's dead?" he asked.
"Ron," he whimpered.
McGonagall had come up behind the Headmaster in time to hear his answer and gasped with shock. Stepping around Dumbledore, she made her way over to Harry and put an arm around him. Harry was unaware of the comfort, his mind still on the hanging body of his friend. It had been swaying in the soft breeze, the expression on his friend's face terrified.
"Where is he?" Dumbledore asked.
"Astronomy Tower. He was just hanging there," Harry replied flatly.
Dumbledore looked at McGonagall, his expression grave. "Take care of Harry."
She nodded and the old wizard took off down the hall. "Come along, Mr. Potter. We need to take you the Headmaster's office. I'm sure there's bound to be questions."
Harry nodded distantly and made his way to the Headmaster's office. What was he going to do without Ron? How was he going to get along without the friend who had made him laugh, who had given him a family, who had made the last six years worth while? How were he and Hermione going to cope?
Harry stopped in the middle of the hallway, his expression horrified. He looked at Professor McGonagall, his expression urgent. "Hermione, you need to find Hermione. She needs to know. She needs to know that Ron is dead," he said as his face crumpled with grief. Agony welled up in his chest as his friend's death was beginning to hit him.
The Professor patted him on the arm. "I will, Mr. Potter. Let's get you to the Headmaster's office and I'll find Miss Granger," she told him.
Harry nodded, tears falling silently down his face. Ron was dead.
Memories from that point on were chaotic. He remembered when Hermione had walked into the Headmaster's office, tears falling down her face, the wail of grief as she saw Harry sitting in the chair, agony written on his face. He knew then that she could no longer deny what she had learned.
He remembered the Weasleys as they entered the Headmaster's office, the look of trepidation as they saw Hermione and Harry crying softly. He could still hear the scream of denial Mrs. Weasley gave as Dumbledore informed them of Ron's death. The once joyful family was destroyed by the death of one of its own.
Luckily, Harry's fear that he would lose the family that he had grown to love, was alleviated. Harry had been included in everything that had happened -- the funeral arrangements, the family memorial, and the family meetings to share the grief. Mr. Weasley had taken him aside and told him that the family considered Harry as one of their own and as such, he would always be part of the family. Harry was relieved to hear that he wouldn't be losing his adopted family.
A week after Ron's death, Draco Malfoy was arrested for his murder. The spell that killed Ron had been traced back to Malfoy's wand and the magical signature that was on the body matched his as well. There were also flakes of skin and hair that were found around the body, and when compared to a fresh sample from Malfoy, they matched.
Malfoy had claimed that he was innocent, but no one believed him. Everyone knew of the hate that Malfoy felt for the deceased. They knew that Malfoy was a Death Eater, just like his father. Even later, when no Dark Mark was found on his arm, the Ministry and those at Hogwarts believed it would have been only a matter of time before he had taken the Mark.
Harry had never seen such hate on Hermione's face as he had when she watched Malfoy as he was dragged out of Hogwarts. The blonde-haired boy had turned to Harry and pleaded his innocence. Hermione slapped him for his audacity. Harry looked the young man in the eyes and said nothing. He just turned and walked out of the Great Hall.
Now, a month later and a sham of a trial later, Malfoy had finally been convicted. There was no use in using Veritaserum as all the evidence pointed towards Malfoy as the killer. He would serve a month in Azkaban before receiving the Kiss. A true punishment for a wanna be Death Eater.
Harry rose from his seat as Malfoy was dragged out of the courtroom, kicking and screaming. He stepped forward as the guards got nearer. They stopped as they saw Harry and the courtroom became silent as they watched the Boy Who Lived confront the killer of his best friend.
Malfoy's eyes grew wide when they saw Harry. "Potter," he pleaded. "Please, I never killed Weasley. I didn't like him, but I never killed him. I was framed. Please, you have to believe me. Please! Help me!" the blonde-hair boy begged.
Harry stared at him intently, looking into the blonde's eyes, trying to find whatever he was looking for. A moment later, he leaned forward and got into Malfoy's face. "Burn in hell, you bastard," he snarled. With that, he turned and stalked out of the courtroom, his face stony, ignoring Malfoy as he screamed Harry's name.
Several days later, he lay on the bed in his dormitory and his mind raced. Malfoy killed Ron. He did it. There was evidence; the skin and hair, his wand, his magical signature. It was all there. So why was he having doubts? Could it be that he believed Malfoy's cries of innocence? He couldn't get the look of terror and fear that was in Malfoy's eyes out of his mind. There was no look of guilt in Malfoy's eyes, no smirk, no smugness, nothing but fear.
With a sigh of disgust, he rolled over on the bed, trying to dispel the images that raced through his mind. Malfoy was guilty! Everyone knew that. Wasn't he? he wondered skeptically.
Growling with frustration, Harry got up from the bed and stalked out of the room. He knew that if he didn't check this out, he would regret it. Ron was dead yes, but could he live with himself if he allowed a man to die if he really was innocent? Remembering the horror that Sirius had gone through while in Azkaban, Harry decided that he needed to make sure.
Making his way out of the common room, he decided it was time to talk to the one person who might help him with this, the one person who would want to see Malfoy out of Azkaban, the one who would want to prove Malfoy was innocent in all of this.
He was going to talk to Professor Snape.
Harry knocked on the door to Professor Snape's room. He waited patiently as he heard noise coming from inside. The door opened and the dark-haired man stared down at him, a sneer on his face.
"Potter," the dark velvety voice snapped. "What do you want?" he asked.
"I need to talk to you," Harry explained.
"What could you possibly want to talk to me about?" Snape asked maliciously.
"Malfoy," Harry replied as he walked pass the confused Professor and entered his room.
Snape closed the door and turned to look at him curiously. "What possible reason could you have to talk about Malfoy?" he asked.
Harry sat down on the couch and sighed. "I'm having doubts about his guilt," he answered. He almost laughed as he saw the shocked expression that graced the dark-haired man's face. "There is just something about this that is all wrong. There is the convenience of the evidence, the sham of the trial, and the fact that Malfoy is adamant that he is innocent. His story never changed, not from the time he was arrested to the time he was sentenced. You would think that someone who was going to die in a month would gloat for killing Harry Potter's best friend," he said bitterly.
"The convenience of the evidence?" Snape inquired.
Harry smirked. "I would've thought a Slytherin would've covered it up better if he were going to murder someone. A Slytherin wouldn't have been caught that easily. Yet everything pointed to Malfoy. As I said, convenient," he remarked.
Snape blinked before sitting down. "I'm surprised that you even care. I figured that you were happy with how things were considering your little performance in the courtroom."
Harry leaned back against that couch. "I stared him in the eyes, Professor. I was looking for any sign of guilt. Just an ounce. It didn't matter how small it was, I just wanted to see it. But all I saw was terror and fear. They were not the eyes of a killer, but of a terrified young man. It took me a while, but once I got past the anger and grief, it was all I could think about. There is just something not right about this whole situation," he stated.
Snape looked at him thoughtfully. "You know, if you start looking into this, not many people are going to be happy. The Wizarding World believes Draco to be a Death Eater. They want him in Azkaban. You're friends won't understand why you're trying to help a Slytherin, not to mention your best friend's killer," he said.
Harry shrugged. "Maybe, but they don't have to know right away. In fact, I think its better that everyone believes that I think Malfoy is the killer. It would help whoever really did kill Ron to lower his or her guard. I just want to make sure that Ron's killer is really caught. I don't want to send someone to prison only to find out that he was innocent and I did nothing to help him. I couldn't live with myself," he explained softly.
Snape stared at him a moment, a glimmer of respect shining from his eyes. He nodded. "I see. Very well then, Mr. Potter, I'll help you in any way that I can. I would like to see Draco released as well since I never believed him capable of murdering Weasley."
Harry looked grateful. He got up from the couch and made his way to the door. He stopped a moment before turning to the Professor. "Is there any reason why someone would want to frame Malfoy?" he asked.
Snape snorted. "You mean besides the fact that the boy was an arrogant, bigoted, spoiled brat?" he questioned.
Harry smiled slightly. "Yeah, besides that."
"I can't really think of any reason. I know he was having some trouble recently, but he wouldn't tell me what. I think it's because he knows I'm Death Eater," the Potion Master explained.
"Do you think he was having doubts about serving Voldemort? Could that be why he didn't talk to you?" Harry asked with a frown.
Snape looked thoughtful before nodding. "It could very well be. That might also be a reason to frame him. Killing two birds with one stone," he mused.
"Excuse me?" Harry asked, confused.
"Getting rid of Draco, and delivering a blow to you. He did supposedly kill your best friend," Snape replied.
Harry's eyes filled with pain. "Yeah," he whispered. He swallowed hard. "Why not just kill him instead of framing him?"
"As I said, kill two birds with one stone. He's teaching Draco and all the other Slytherins a lesson. You don't refuse the Dark Lord."
Harry sighed. "You know, for a Dark Lord, he's an idiot. I think it would be simpler to just kill him. I mean if you want to send a message, wouldn't that be more effective?" he asked.
Snape snorted with grim amusement. "What makes you think the Dark Lord is sane? To him, I'm sure it makes perfect sense. Somehow," he said.
"Well, if he is doing this, regardless of his reasons, we need to find the real killer," Harry stated.
Snape frowned. "Mr. Potter, we will find out who really killed your friend, and we will bring him to justice. Just don't do anything...Gryffindorish," he snapped.
Harry chuckled briefly. "I'll try," he said before opening the door.
"Merlin help us all," Harry heard Snape mutter as he walked out of the room.
A couple of weeks had passed and Harry still hadn't found anything to prove Malfoy's innocence. He had two weeks left to find the real killer before Malfoy was given the Kiss. He was beginning to get discouraged as each day passed and nothing was discovered.
Harry had taken to spying on the Slytherins whenever he could. He used the Map and his cloak to listen in on their conversations, per Snape's permission of course. So far, he found out that Slytherins didn't like Dumbledore, him and McGonagall. He also found out that many of the Slytherins didn't want to become Death Eaters. Harry made sure to write down the names of those who he had overheard talking about finding a way out of getting the Dark Mark and gave the list to Snape, letting him know what was going on. The Professor looked relieved to find that some of his Slytherins didn't want to serve the Dark Lord.
It was late and everyone was in bed, sleeping. Harry was roaming the castle underneath the cloak. He was beginning to wonder if maybe he had been wrong about Malfoy's guilt. Maybe he really did kill Ron. He had found nothing to suggest otherwise. He was unable to sleep because of the thoughts racing through his head.
He knew that he was worrying Hermione. She had become so needy and afraid since Ron's death. She always wanted to know where he was at and what he was doing. The fact that he was never around scared her and she was becoming paranoid. Harry knew why she was the way she was, but he was getting of tired of answering to her. He couldn't take a piss without her wanting to know about it.
Harry was brought out of his thoughts by a noise. He withdrew into the shadows, and waited as someone walked down the darkened corridor. He frowned when he saw Theodore Nott ambling down the hallway. Wondering what was going on, he waited until the Slytherin passed him and he followed him. Nott made his way towards a door and opened it quietly, looking around warily. He entered the room, the door closing quickly. Harry raced forward and stopped the door, entering the room quietly.
He stopped and stared at the stairs. He frowned as he realized that the stairs went down. He'd thought the dungeons were the lowest part of Hogwarts. Making his way down the darkened staircase, he wondered what was going on. What was Nott hiding?
Stepping off the last step, he found himself in a small corridor made of stone. There was a lit torch on the wall and the corridor was lined with several doors. He frowned when he realized that he had no idea which door Nott had gone through. He decided to wait until the Slytherin came out of the room before finding out what the he was hiding. Making his way to the darkened end of the corridor, Harry sat down to wait.
An hour later, the door at the very end of corridor opened and Nott walked out, his expression smug and filled with malice. Harry felt a chill creep up his spine. Whatever the Slytherin had been doing, it probably wasn't pretty. He waited until Nott walked up the staircase before moving out of the shadows. He looked towards the end of the corridor, biting his lip thoughtfully. He frowned before sighing with resignation. He made his way up the staircase, opening the door slowly. He peeked out around the door and found the hallway empty. He slipped out and made his way towards Snape's room.
Knocking on the door quietly, he waited. A few moments later, it opened and Snape glared around the empty doorway.
"Potter?" he asked lowly.
Harry walked into the room and Snape closed the door. Harry took off his cloak and looked up at Snape, a slight frown on his face. "I followed Nott to a door that led to a staircase. Did you know that there was another level to Hogwarts underneath the dungeon?" he asked.
Snape nodded. "Yes, but it's used for storage. No one ever goes down there anymore. Why?" he asked.
"Because apparently Nott does as well. I followed him down the staircase, but I lost him. I waited for him to leave so that I would know which door he went through. I decided to come and get you to help me find out what he was doing. He was acting very suspicious and I didn't like his expression when he left the room," Harry explained. "I'm trying not to do anything...Gryffindorish, and let me tell you, it's hard." He grinned.
Snape rolled his eyes. "Yes, I can see where that it would be. Very well, I'll come with you."
"Thanks," Harry replied and made his way towards the door.
Harry took the last step off the stairs and looked at the impatient Potions Master. He nodded at the end of the dark corridor. "Nott came out of the door at the end of the corridor. There's a torch on the wall that can be lit."
"Lumos," Snape said and the tip of his wand glowed brightly, casting light in the darkened hallway.
"Or we could just use a spell," Harry muttered.
Snape smirked. They made their way to the door. Harry had a bad feeling about this. The Professor jiggled the door handle, realizing that the door was lock. Snape aimed his wand at the door and muttered, "Alohomora."
The lock clicked and Snape opened the door. He entered the room and Harry followed. The dark-haired boy gagged at the smell that permeated the room. "Merlin, what is that smell?" he asked quietly.
"Blood, feces, urine, and fear," Snape replied.
Harry shivered at the reply. Whatever was going on in this room, it wasn't good. The room was dark and he couldn't see anything past the door.
"Come on, we need to find out what Nott is hiding in here," Snape said.
Harry nodded and stepped farther into the room. "Lumos," he said. He looked around and saw stacked boxes. He found nothing that was out of the ordinary. He frowned, what did Nott do in here?
He walked around the boxes, looking at them curiously. He made his way towards the back of the room and stopped when he heard something. Glancing around warily, he crept towards the noise. Hoping it was Snape; he hid behind one of the boxes and peered around it to see what was going on.
He frowned as he saw a cage. What the hell? he wondered. Something was moving in the cage and he heard a whimper. He moved to get closer when a hand grabbed him by the shoulder. Heart in his throat, he turned quickly, his wand out and a curse ready on his lips. He shoulders sagged in relief when he realized that it was Snape.
"A little warning next time," Harry hissed.
The Professor smirked. "Let me go first," he commanded.
"Fine," Harry pouted.
The Potions Master moved towards the cage, his wand at the ready. He stopped and stared, his expression both excited and horrified. Turning towards Harry, his waved him forward. "Potter, prepare yourself," he warned.
Harry bit his lip. He wasn't sure he wanted to know what was going on. He moved towards the cage, his wand glowing. He froze when he saw what was in the cage. A thin, bedraggled figure was lying on the floor of the cage. There was blood pooling under the male figure, but the chest moving up and down showed that he was still alive. What had Harry frozen wasn't the blood, it was the bright red hair sitting on the figure's head.
"Ron?" Harry whispered, his voice filled with disbelief.
"It looks as if Mr. Weasley isn't as deceased as we thought," Snape stated flatly.
"Oh, Merlin. Get him out of there," Harry demanded frantically.
"Potter, the boy is injured. You can't just pick him up and take him somewhere. You can cause him further injury. I need you to go to my room. The password is Graphorn, but be assured, I will be changing it later," Snape said sternly. "You need to floo the Headmaster and Madame Pomfrey. Get them here as soon as possible. I'll stay with Weasley. Go," he urged.
Harry nodded, turned to leave when the Potions Master stopped him. "And Potter, use the cloak. I don't know if there was an alarm on the room or not. Be at the ready," he warned.
Harry left and made his way up Snape's room. He gave the password to the portrait, and the door opened. He entered the room and moved to the fireplace. Grabbing a handful of floo powder, he threw it into the fire and yelled for the Headmaster.
"Harry? What is it? What's wrong?" Dumbledore asked, his face concerned.
"We found Ron. He's alive, but injured," the messy-haired boy explained.
Dumbledore's widened with shock. "What?" he exclaimed.
"We found him in the lower level, below the dungeon, the area that's used for storage. He's locked up in a cage. He's hurt. He needs help. Snape doesn't want to move him or aggravate his injuries," Harry explained.
"Move aside, Harry. I'm coming through," Dumbledore warned.
Harry moved away from the fireplace and the Headmaster stepped through. The old wizard turned around, grabbed a handful of floo powder, and threw it in the fire.
"Poppy, I need you!" the Headmaster called out.
"Headmaster?" Poppy exclaimed with surprise.
"We have an injured student and Severus doesn't want to move him," Dumbledore explained.
"I understand. I'll gather my things and step through," she told him.
Dumbledore nodded and moved away from the fireplace. He turned and looked at an agitated Harry. He smiled gently.
"It's good to hear that we were wrong about Mr. Weasley, but what concerns me is how we didn't know he was still alive," Dumbledore said with a frown. "I knew we should've checked to make sure that it was Mr. Weasley, but his mother refused, too grief stricken I suppose," he sighed. "Did you believe he was alive, Mr. Potter?"
Harry shook his head. "No, I thought he was dead as well. I never saw him anywhere on the map so I'm assuming the lower level isn't on it. It was only luck that I found him," he replied.
"How did you find him, Harry?" Dumbledore asked.
"I followed Theodore Nott. He was acting suspicious. Once I found out where he went, I went to Snape for help. I didn't believe that Malfoy killed Ron," Harry explained.
"Really?" Dumbledore inquired thoughtfully. "And why is that?" he asked.
"Once I looked past my anger and grief, I realized something about the situation didn't make sense. Malfoy protested his innocence way too much. There was a look in his eyes when I confronted him at the courtroom that made me think that he was telling the truth. So, I approached Professor Snape for help. I took to spying on the Slytherins because Professor Snape said that Malfoy was having difficulties a few days before the murder. We think he was having doubts about serving Voldemort and maybe someone wanted to take care of him and have a stab at me at the same time," Harry explained.
"Ah," the Headmaster murmured. "I wondered why I saw you spying on the Slytherins. I'm proud of you, Harry. You saw beyond appearances, you looked beyond your own prejudice, grief, and anger. You saw something that was wrong, and regardless of what everyone thought, you decided to correct it. You've grown into a wonderful young man," he said proudly.
Harry blushed. The floo activated and Poppy came through the fireplace. "Where's my patient?" she asked.
"Follow me," Harry said. They made walked out of Snape's room and made their way to the staircase. After walking down the stairs, he made his way to the room where Snape was. Entering it, he noticed that Snape had found some torches and lit them. He walked towards the cage and saw that parts of the cage were missing. Snape was squatting next to Ron, cleaning the blood of his face. He had gotten rid of the blood that lay underneath the redhead and had placed his robe over the shivering body.
"Oh Merlin, is that Ron Weasley?" Poppy asked, horrified by what she was seeing.
"So it would appear," the Headmaster replied solemnly.
She walked over to Severus and put her bag down. She opened it and began to pull out bottles of potion. "Severus, I'm going to need your help," she told him.
"Of course," Snape replied.
Harry watched anxiously as they worked on Ron. Of all the things he expected when he followed Nott tonight, finding Ron wasn't one of them. He felt guilty. He should've known that Ron wasn't dead, but he hadn't. His friend had been down here, caged, and probably tortured for a month and a half. He felt queasy at the idea that his friend had been here, alone, with no idea if he would be rescued or not.
"He's stable. We can take him to the infirmary. I'll be able to do a full workup on him there," Poppy said.
"All right, Severus, you and Poppy take Mr. Weasley to the infirmary. I'll have to inform the Weasleys of this recent development," the Headmaster instructed.
"What about Nott?" Harry asked. "If he finds out that we've found Ron, he could run. We need him to find out what is going and why he kidnapped Ron and probably framed Malfoy."
Dumbledore nodded. "I agree. Severus, as soon as you take Mr. Weasley to the infirmary, I want you and Minerva to detain Mr. Nott. We'll have to question with him Veritaserum in the morning. I want Amelia Bones here as a Ministry liaison," he explained.
"I understand," Snape replied.
Poppy cast a spell on Ron and floated him out of the room, Snape and Dumbledore behind her. Harry glanced once more at the cage, took a shuddery breath, and followed.
Harry paced back and forth in the infirmary. He was waiting for Madame Pomfrey to finish up with Ron so he could check on his friend. He was anxious to see him, to make sure he was safe, to let him know that he wasn't alone.
"Harry," a female voice yelled out.
Harry turned and saw Hermione running into the infirmary, Professor McGonagall behind her.
"Is it true, Harry? Is Ron really alive?" Hermione asked breathlessly.
"Yeah, it's true," Harry replied.
Hermione stared at him a moment before bursting into tears. Harry felt uncomfortable. He wasn't good around crying females, just ask Cho Chang. He looked Professor McGonagall helplessly and the Professor smiled. She put her arm around the sobbing girl and directed her towards a chair.
The doors to the infirmary opened and a group of redheads entered the room. Mrs. Weasley was sobbing, looking around frantically for her son. Her eyes fell on Harry and her face lit up. "Harry," she exclaimed.
"Hello, Mrs. Weasley," Harry greeted.
She pulled him into a hug, sobbing on his shoulder. "Thank you. Thank you for finding my boy," she cried.
"You're welcome," Harry said shyly.
Mrs. Weasley stepped back and smiled at him. "I can't tell you how much this means to us. It's been hard lately, thinking that Ron was dead, but now, to find out that he's alive. Well, you understand, I'm sure," she told him and Harry nodded in agreement.
"Harry, my boy. Thank you, just thank you. There are no words," Mr. Weasley said as he shook Harry's hand. "Now, where's Madame Pomfrey?" he asked, looking around for the Medi-witch.
"She's still with Ron. She had a few more tests to do before she would let anyone see him," Harry explained.
"Very good, very good," Mr. Weasley said.
A small redhead throwing herself into his arms startled Harry. The crying girl hugged him tightly, sobbing with relief. "Thank you, Harry," Ginny cried.
Harry fidgeted uncomfortably. "Er...you're welcome," he responded.
Ginny pulled back, looked up at him with tearful eyes, and grinned. "What is it about you that has a need to save a Weasley?" she asked.
Harry blushed. "I consider you my family," he explained shyly.
"Right that you are, my boy. You are definitely family," Mr. Weasley exclaimed proudly.
"Can I throw myself in your arms too?" George asked mockingly.
Harry took a step back, eyeing them nervously. "I don't think so. Why don't we keep it to manly handshakes," Harry replied.
Fred laughed wickedly. "We'll try," he said before turning serious. "If you ever need anything, anything at all," he began.
"Come to us," George urged.
"And I mean anything," Fred said.
"We'll take care of you," George stated with excitement.
"Welcome to the family, Harry," Fred exclaimed.
Harry grinned. "I might take you up on that."
Poppy came around the curtain that surrounded Ron's bed and smiled at them tiredly. "Hello Molly, Arthur."
"How's Ron?" Mrs. Weasley asked.
"He's malnourished and dehydrated. He has lost a bit of weight, which I'm sure he'll have no problems putting back on. There are lash marks on his back as if someone has whipped him. Those will heal by tomorrow. His leg is broken, and his wrist fractured. There was a small contusion in his brain, but I took care of that. There was severe bruising and abrasions on about eighty percent of his body. That should take a couple of days to heal. All in all, he's in better shape than I would've thought," Poppy informed them.
"My poor baby," Mrs. Weasley wailed.
"He's awake right now and you can see him, but you don't get him overly excited. He's still a little out of it, so don't expect much," she warned.
Poppy pulled the sheet back, and the horde of redheads rushed forward. Harry stayed back, and started when he felt a hand on his arm. He looked over and saw that Hermione had come to stand at his side. He put an arm around her waist and pulled her close as he watched the redheads babble to Ron.
Ron smiled wanly at his family, talking to them softly. He looked around until his eyes laid on Harry and Hermione. They lit up and he smiled, his eyes filling with tears. They smiled back and Ron drifted off to sleep.
"You can come back in the morning. Right now, he needs his sleep," Poppy said to Harry and Hermoine.
They nodded in understanding and left the infirmary, making their way to Gryffindor Tower.
"Where did you find him?" Hermione asked.
"The lowest level of Hogwarts," Harry replied.
The bushy-haired girl frowned. "The dungeons?" she inquired.
Harry shook his head. "There's another level below the dungeons that no one but the Professors know about. They use it for storage and hardly anyone ever goes down there. It's not even on the Map."
"How did you find it then?" Hermione asked.
"I followed Theodore Nott. I was roaming around because I couldn't sleep and I saw him walking down the hall, acting suspicious, so I followed him," Harry explained.
Harry could see as thoughts raced through her mind. It was only a matter of time before she would realize that there was something more going on and demand an explanation.
"Is that all there is to it?" Hermione asked suspiciously.
Harry grimaced. "That's all I'm going into tonight," he informed her.
"Fine, but tomorrow, we're going to talk. You've been acting odd for the last two weeks and I want to know what's going on," Hermione demanded.
"Fine," Harry sighed. "Tomorrow, we'll talk."
He knew that she wasn't going to be happy to hear what he had to say or the fact that he had left her out of whatever was going on. Oh, he wasn't looking forward to tomorrow.
Harry walked into the infirmary the next morning, unsurprised at seeing Hermione in the chair by Ron's bedside. He walked up quietly and heard them whispering to each other in soft voices. He always thought they had something going on, or they would if Ron would get off his lazy arse and do something about it. It looked like that maybe Ron wasn't going to let an opportunity pass him by this time.
He cleared his throat and Hermione's head jerked up, surprised. Her face went red when she saw Harry standing there, an amused expression on his face.
"Morning, you two," Harry greeted as he walked to stand next to Ron's bed. "How are you feeling, Ron?" he asked.
"Better," Ron replied hoarsely. He licked his lips, looked up at Harry and smiled. "I hear that I have you to thank for saving me."
"Yeah, well it was a shock to find you lying in that cage. Trust me; it wasn't what I was expecting to find when I followed Nott down the staircase. I thought you had died as did everyone else," Harry responded.
"Then how did you know to follow Nott?" Hermione asked, her gaze suspicious.
Harry cleared his throat nervously. "I…um…well…" he stuttered before blurting out, "I didn't think Malfoy killed Ron."
There was silence in the infirmary as Hermione and Ron processed what he had said.
"But why?" Hermione asked. "What made you doubt his guilt when everyone was so sure?"
"It was sloppy," Harry stated.
"Excuse me? How? The evidence was right there," Hermione insisted. "It was an open and shut case."
"If you were a Gryffindor or maybe a Hufflepuff," Harry replied as he rolled his eyes.
Ron looked at him seriously before replying. "I think I understand what you're trying to say. If Malfoy were to have killed me, he would've hid the evidence better. He's a Slytherin. There motto is to never get caught," he explained to a confused Hermione.
Her face lit up with understanding. "I never even thought of that. How did you?" Hermione asked Harry sharply.
Harry rolled his eyes while Ron chuckled. "I may be a Gryffindor, but there is a reason that the Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin, you know," he retorted.
Hermione blushed. "Right, sorry."
"So was it just the fact that the evidence was too convenient?" Ron asked.
Harry shook his head. "It was also his claims innocence. I confronted him at the trial before they dragged him off to Azkaban. There wasn't a hint of guilt on Malfoy's face. There was fear and terror, but no guilt. It took me a little while, but I looked past my own guilt and anger and realized that something wasn't right with the whole situation. I asked Snape for help and he let me spy on his Slytherins with the promise that I would never use anything that I found that didn't have anything to do with Malfoy. I didn't find anything, but I did learn that many of the Slytherins do not want to serve Voldemort," Harry explained.
"Huh," Ron muttered, looking surprised. "How did you know to follow Nott then if you didn't find anything?" he asked.
"Pure luck," Harry stated with a wry grin. "I was roaming around last night, after curfew, when I was down in the dungeon, hoping to find something. I saw Nott walking down the hall and something about him just bugged me. So, I followed him and found another level to the castle that I didn't even know about. When I saw what room he came out of, I went and got Professor Snape to help me. I had promised him that I wasn't going to do anything Gryffindorish, as he called it," he explained.
"Merlin, Harry. It was just luck," Ron commented, his voice shaky. "Nott told me that everyone thought I was dead, that he had transfigured a body to look like me. He told me that he left it hanging in the Astronomy Tower for someone to find. I didn't think I was ever going to be found. He told me that no one even knew that I was alive, and no one was looking for me. He told me that he would be killing me in two weeks. I don't understand why he didn't just kill me in the first place," he said, confused.
"Malfoy gets the Kiss in two weeks. He was sentenced with one month in Azkaban and then he would receive the Kiss. He probably wanted to use you as leverage in case something happened," Hermione told him.
"I don't care if it was luck, Harry. I'm just glad you found me," Ron said gratefully.
"Yeah, me too. It makes up for finding your supposedly dead body," Harry replied, a sick feeling in his stomach as he remembered the body that swayed in the breeze.
"You find the body?" Ron exclaimed, horrified.
Harry swallowed hard. "Yeah," he said gruffly.
"Ewww," Ron stated, his face scrunched up in a grimace.
Harry and Hermione laughed at their friend's antics. Harry was glad to have Ron back. He had missed him over the last month and a half.
The door to the infirmary opened and the Headmaster walked in. He made his way over to Golden Trio and smiled at them.
"Morning," he greeted.
"Morning, Headmaster," they chorused.
"I wanted to let you know that Nott confessed to kidnapping and torturing you, Mr. Weasley. He also confessed to transfiguring a body of Mr. Weasley and placing it in the Astronomy Tower. He told us that he polyjuiced himself as Mr. Malfoy and due to a rather rare and dark spell, he was able to leave Malfoy's magical signature on the body. He stole Mr. Malfoy's wand and used it. Apparently, Mr. Malfoy never knew it was gone. He then proceeded to take some skin and hair samples, leaving them at the scene," Dumbledore informed them.
"Why did he frame Malfoy? I thought they were friends?" Hermione asked.
"You and Severus were correct, Harry. Mr. Malfoy had decided that he wasn't going to take the Dark Mark or serve Voldemort. In retaliation, Voldemort framed Mr. Malfoy and decided to use Mr. Weasley to hurt you," he said sadly. "The amazing thing is that it would've worked if you had decided to believe that Malfoy was guilty. I don't think Voldemort thought you would see past your grief and realize something more was going on. I'm sure he won't be happy to learn of this," Dumbledore stated with a smile.
"You know how I love making Voldemort unhappy," Harry chirped cheerfully.
Dumbledore chuckled. "Yes, I know. Well, I must be off. I have to go the Ministry and help get Mr. Malfoy free. I'm truly proud of you, my boy," he said to Harry.
Harry watched him walk out of the infirmary, a warm feeling in his chest. He had done good.
"So, tell me what I've missed since I was gone," Ron requested.
"Has Hermione told you about the time that Dean got a hold of Colin's camera and took pictures of Filch dancing with Mrs. Norris?" Harry asked.
Ron gaped at him before laughing. "Brilliant, absolutely brilliant," he crowed.
Harry began to tell him the story, relishing the fact that Ron was here, and alive. All was right with Harry's world once again.
Two weeks later, Harry was walking across the lawn towards the Quidditch pitch to get in some flying time. His mind was on the game that was scheduled for tomorrow against Ravenclaw. He knew it was going to be a rough game as the seeker was good, but he had faith in his ability to fly. But still, he needed to practice his moves just to be sure. He needed to win for Ron.
Things had been rough on Ron. Everyone had been happy to hear that he was alive, but a month and a half of torture wasn't something easy to forget. Ron still woke up from nightmares, and flinched at sudden moves or noises. He had become withdrawn to a degree and Mrs. Weasley decided to send him to a Mind Healer. He needed someone to talk to about his experience, but Harry had faith, that with help, Ron would get better. He wouldn't be the same Ron, but he would be an older, wiser, a more mature Ron.
"Potter," a voice called behind him.
Harry stopped, turned around, and looked at the figure in front of him with surprise. Malfoy had been released the very same day that Nott had confessed. He had recuperated at Hogwarts, as Malfoy manor wasn't safe. He had been released from the infirmary a week ago, but Harry hadn't seen him much.
"Malfoy," Harry greeted him warily.
The blonde-haired looked at him intensely and asked, "Why?"
Harry knew what he meant. Why had Harry believed in him? Why had he even bothered trying to help the person who was to have killed his best friend?
Harry shrugged. "Because you weren't guilty," he answered.
Malfoy frowned, looking confused. "But how did you know? You don't like me, you never have. So, why did you believe me innocent?" he asked.
"Because you're a Slytherin. You would've hid the evidence better. Plus, your eyes," Harry explained.
"My eyes?" Malfoy inquired.
"Your eyes were the eyes of an innocent man. I couldn't just ignore that, despite what the evidence and the Wizarding World said. I couldn't have lived with myself if I found out later that you were indeed innocent and I had done nothing. I needed to know, as much as for me as for you. There's nothing worse than an innocent man going to Azkaban because he was framed," Harry stated firmly, thoughts of Sirius dancing through his head.
Malfoy looked thoughtful a moment before glaring at Harry. "I still don't like you," he said abruptly.
Harry laughed. "I know."
"I'll deny this if you ever tell anyone, but thank you," Malfoy told him sincerely.
"You're welcome," Harry replied with a smile. He turned away to walk to the Quidditch pitch when he stopped and turned back around.
"Hey, Malfoy," he called to the retreating figure.
Malfoy turned around. "Yes?" he inquired.
"You want to go flying?" Harry asked.
There was a moment of silence before Malfoy smiled. "Yeah, I think I'd like that. But it still doesn't mean I like you."
"Oh come on, you're just jealous that I'm a better flyer than you," Harry teased as the made their way to the Quidditch pitch.
Malfoy spluttered with indignation. "You are not!" he exclaimed.
"Am too," Harry taunted and ran to the Pitch. Malfoy followed him, hurling insults along the way.
Harry realized that this might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, well okay, a slightly tarnished friendship, but a friendship nonetheless.