A/N: Oh, my. It is so good to be back. I apologize for not updating sooner, but I just didn't have the time while I was in Denver. I hope you aren't angry with me, lovies. Oh, and before I forget—I wanted to clear any timeline confusion you might have. The story starts off the summer after fifth year but Harry's flashbacks/memories will sort of be all over the place (and years/ages won't necessarily be made clear). Does that make sense? If not please let me know.
About the chapter now. It's still mainly Harry-centric but future chapters will address both Draco's and Snape's shadows. Harry is also a bit, well, "unsound" in this chapter (just to warn you). I think that about covers it, so read on and enjoy! And please review!
Shadows of an Angel—Chapter Three
The house was quiet. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had taken Dudley to the zoo, leaving Harry at home with a list of chores: clean the dishes, vacuum the carpets, scrub the kitchen floor, wash the sheets, dust the furniture, prune the garden, mow the yard…
Harry liked working in the garden. It was the one thing at number 4 Privet Drive that he could call his own. He had planted every seed, tended every flower. His blood and sweat and tears had gone in to cultivating that garden, the loveliest garden in the neighborhood. Harry was proud of his floral masterpiece, even if Aunt Petunia did take all the credit herself.
The afternoon sun hung high, its warm rays bathing the back of Harry's neck. Privet Drive was silent but for the muffled yapping of the Edmunds' bull terrier and the occasional twill of a passing bird. It was a beautiful summer weekend. No one was home. Families were all out enjoying the day.
Harry sat back on his heels, squinting up at the clear, blue sky. He wiped his brow with the back of his hand. The Dursleys wouldn't be home for a few hours yet. Plenty of time to clean himself up and take advantage of the empty house before he needed to get supper ready.
"Hey there, Potty Head," a voice sneered from behind him.
Harry stiffened, forcing down the instinctive panic as he turned around slowly. "Dudley's not here," he said, proud of himself for sounding so boldly defiant.
Nelson Snidal laughed nastily, a cold glint in his mud-colored eyes. "But I'm here to see you," he replied, crossing the yard with hands tucked casually in his pockets, an arrogant swagger to his steps. Nelson was two years older than Harry and Dudley's bullying idol.
"What do you want?" Harry asked with a shaky voice, stumbling backward as Nelson stalked closer.
"I haven't seen you in a while. Thought I'd stop by and see how you were," Nelson said with a malicious grin.
Harry reached for the doorknob, his palm sweaty and trembling. The last time Nelson had "stopped by" he'd broken Harry's nose and fractured a rib.
"Inviting me in?" Nelson smirked, jumping onto the porch with all the grace of a deadly predator. "How kind."
"No need to be shy, Potter." Nelson forced Harry into the house, locking the door behind him. "I've been waiting a long time to get you alone."
Harry's heart was pounding in his chest. This was wrong. Nelson was an exhibitionist. He liked to be watched while he beat his victims senseless. Why would he wait till Harry was alone in the house?
"What do you want?"
"What are you now?" Nelson asked, ignoring Harry's question. "Eleven? Twelve?"
Harry swallowed. "Fourteen."
Nelson frowned, casting his gaze over Harry's too-thin frame. "Scrawny thing, aren't you? No matter," he shrugged. "Doesn't really matter how old you are."
Scrounging up every last drop of Gryffindor courage he could find, Harry squared his shoulders and said, "You have to leave, Nelson. The Dursleys will be home any minute."
Nelson only smiled, that cold glint returned to his dirt-colored eyes. "Nice try. But it's hardly a quarter past three. The Dursleys won't be home till at least five thirty, which means I have you all to myself for a good two hours."
He was trapped. "What do you want?"
"You know," Nelson replied thoughtfully. "I never noticed before but you're a rather attractive bloke, Potter. Much too skinny, of course, but still surprisingly easy on the eyes."
Harry felt his blood run cold. He didn't like that look in Nelson's eye or the way Nelson had him pinned against the back of the couch. Something was very, very wrong here. He thought about pushing Nelson away—but what if he broke something? He thought about using magic—but what if the Ministry found out? He wasn't strong enough to fight back and was too afraid to try. Uncle Vernon would skin his hide if he broke something or bruised one of Dudley's friends. The Ministry would take away his wand and expel him from Hogwarts if he used magic. So he just stood there, waiting and terrified.
"Not even gonna try and fight me?" Nelson asked, a slight curl to his lips. "Good boy. Now take off your clothes."
Harry flinched, eyes wide. "What?"
"You're filthy," Nelson replied reasonably. "You need a shower."
"I'm fine, thanks," Harry said with a trembling voice.
Nelson scowled. "Don't make me get nasty, Potter. Take them off yourself or I'll do it for you."
Harry shook his head, his cold terror giving rise to a sudden spark of self-preservation. He'd swallowed a lot of abuse over the years but what Nelson was implying… "No," he said. "I won't let you."
"Won't let me what?" Nelson asked, placing his arms on either side of Harry. "I wasn't aware I'd given you a choice."
"I said no, Nelson. Now get out."
"It doesn't work that way, Potter. I came here for something and I'm not leaving till I get it."
Harry stared at him, panic threading through his veins. "You can't."
Nelson grinned dangerously. "Trust me. I can."
Harry pressed himself further into the corner, eyes red and swollen, his bottom lip chewed raw and bleeding. His body ached. His veins burned like fire beneath his skin yet his teeth chattered. A hundred terrible visions flashed through his mind and he flinched at every one.
He had stopped sleeping because of the nightmares. He had stopped eating because the thought of food made him sick. He hadn't left his room in days nor uttered a single word to anyone. He had turned away every visitor, refusing even to open the door. He had withdrawn completely and no one seemed to know how to help him.
There was a knock at the door. Harry froze, arms wrapped tightly around his legs. If he pretended to be asleep they'd go away. They always went away. Please, he thought desperately, miserably. Please just go away. His fingernails, blunt and ragged, bit sharply into his palms. The pain distracted him from the terrible memories knifing his heart.
The knock sounded again, harder this time, sharper. Harry squeezed his eyes shut. The stone wall pressed awkwardly against his spine but he refused to move; refused to shift his tired, aching body in search of comfort. He didn't deserve comfort.
"Potter, open the door." A voice rough with irritation, thick with impatience.
Harry twitched, his hand suddenly itching with the urge to grasp that cold handle, to open the door as told, to let him in…He curled his fists tighter, felt the skin tear. "No one in," he muttered softly. No one to see how far he had fallen.
"Alohomora!" The door quivered on its hinges but remained firmly shut. "Damnit, Potter. If you make me knock down my own door…"
"Let me try." Another voice, this one soft with arrogance and cool assuredness. "Potter. Get off your useless, whiny ass and open this door."
Harry felt a scowl darken he features. He knew that challenging tone, that condescending drawl—and it set his blood boiling. "Malfoy."
Feet shifted outside the door, a note of smugness in his voice as Draco replied, "What was that? I couldn't quite hear you through this ridiculous cloud of self-flagellation you've churned up."
A growl rose up in Harry's throat, a wash of icy emotion flooding his system. How long had it been since he'd felt anything but pain and fear? This new emotion felt heavy in his chest—familiar somehow but still so terribly awkward. He wanted to balk at that lordly tone; wanted to snarl and rage and fight back with everything he had. But that would mean letting someone in, letting someone see how wretched and weak he had become. And he would never do that. What he suffered, he suffered alone. He had to. How could he, in good conscience, ever subject someone else to horrors of his life?
But that voice…
"You're being pathetic, Potter. Locking yourself in a room for days on end isn't going to solve anything. Neither is starving yourself for that matter."
The door rattled again, and this time it had nothing to do with someone trying to open it.
"Now that's more like it," Draco said, his voice laced with self-satisfaction. "Perhaps there's life in there after all."
Harry reined in his rampant magic. He refused to be drawn out like this. "Go away," he croaked, his throat raw and parched.
"Why don't you make me."
"Go away, Malfoy."
"Open the door and I will."
What do you want from me? Harry asked silently. Why won't you just leave me alone?
"Come now, Potter." The door creaked as Draco leaned back against it. "If you open the door I promise to leave you alone."
Harry almost laughed. What was it everyone said? You can never trust the word of a Malfoy. "Liar."
Draco chuckled. "You're right," he said. "I am lying. But you still need to open the door."
"Because you haven't bathed in a week and you're starting to smell up the place."
Harry's lips twitched with faint amusement. He relaxed his clenched fists, a tiny drop of blood rolling down his wrist. He straightened his cramped legs and shifted away from cold, stone wall. What's the harm in a hot shower? he thought.
His body was stiff and sore as he crawled his way up the wall, his legs shaky beneath him. He released the wards with a wave of his wand and shuffled forward clumsily. The handle was icy beneath his hand, the door impossibly heavy.
Draco stood there with arms crossed casually over his chest. He looked pale and exhausted, a wry twist to his lips. "Welcome back."
"He's barely spoken all week, Severus. He hardly eats and, far as I can tell, he doesn't sleep either."
"I'm well aware of that, Draco," Snape replied more harshly then intended, pitch-black eyes narrowed just so as he watched Harry flip uninterestedly through the latest issue of Witch Weekly. "What would you like me to do about it?"
Draco frowned. "You can start by pulling the stick out of your ass."
Snape sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I apologize," he said. "My tone was…unwarranted."
"We're both a bit on edge," Draco conceded. "And rather out of our comfort zone, I should think."
That was an understatement. A huge understatement. They were floundering in a sea of uncertainty as alien to them as muggle physics. Neither was a particularly nice person and neither had the faintest idea what to do with Harry. He was slowly and silently drowning in his pain; withering in the dark shadow of memories that refused to sleep. He was gaunt and wan, his eyes haunted with ghostly melancholy. He had withdrawn entirely to a place no one else could hope to touch.
And that irritated the hell out of Snape and Draco.
They wanted to reach out to Harry; wanted to pull him away from those cold, dark shadows and breathe life back into the barren, lifeless shell he had become. Only, they had no clue how to do that. The concepts of compassion and kindness and gentleness were not familiar to them, nor was patience. They demanded a level of indifference and brusqueness of themselves and of everyone around them (and frowned upon those who failed to meet their expectations). But with Harry it was imperative they not push, not expect too much too soon lest they do more harm than good.
The only problem being their mirroring inclinations to sneer at the slightest display of weakness. Draco tended to taunt, ruffling feathers until he plucked just the right one, sending his prey scuttling away in a fountain of tears and humiliation. Snape tended to mock, dark eyes narrowed dangerously, scathing remarks rolling off his tongue like silk, sending his prey cowering in fear and disgrace.
Why Dumbledore considered this arrangement conducive to Harry's recovery was a mystery to them both.
"This is ridiculous," Draco muttered, combing a hand through his hair. "We're acting like sods, I'll have you know. And we're doing him no good by treating him like a porcelain doll."
Snape hummed in agreement, his expression clouded. It galled him that he was all of a sudden unable to provoke a reaction from Harry. Every sneer, every snide comment, every derisive arch of his brow—all ignored with an indifference that astounded him. Harry would merely blink at him, cool emerald eyes as hollow as a dream. It was terribly unsettling.
"He has to eat," Draco declared. "I mean…look at him. I've seen skeletons with more meat of their bones."
"And how do you propose we do that, hmm? Tie him to a chair and force food down his throat?"
Draco shrugged as if to say, Well, why not?
Snape gave him a dry look. "Oh, yes," he drawled. "Let's traumatize the emotionally unstable wizard, shall we?"
"I don't hear you offering any brilliant ideas," Draco replied churlishly.
Snape remained silent. What stunning leaps of insight could he possibly offer? He was so far out of his depth he was drowning. His first inclination was to glower and seethe, to swear irreparable damage and threaten to take an inordinate amount of House points. But with Harry that course of action would be most…unwise. One push too many could very well send Harry tumbling over the edge—and Snape did not want to find out what would happen if the Boy Wonder went cart-wheeling past the brink of insanity. Dumbledore, for one, would not be happy.
Harry coughed, drawing Snape's sharp regard. He had folded himself into the corner of the couch, legs pulled tightly to his chest, magazine lying open on the side-table. His face was pale and drawn, eyes deeply shadowed and half-lidded. He looked as if Death was riding his coattails.
Something had to be done, Snape decided. Harry could not continue to refuse to eat. It was simply unacceptable. But how to get food into him without traumatizing the poor boy?
"Draco, fetch me an Invigoration Draught, a Pepperup Potion, a Draught of Persuasion and a large empty vial."
Draco gave him an odd look but disappeared into the supply cupboard nonetheless. He reemerged a minute later with four vials, a curious arch to his brow. "What are you doing?" he asked.
Snape poured two-thirds of the Invigoration Draught into the empty vial, adding one-fourth of the Pepperup Potion and one-half of the Draught of Persuasion, shaking well. "I'm encouraging Mr. Potter not to starve himself," he replied with a viperous smirk.
The Invigoration Draught Draco understood, and even the Pepperup Potion seemed a logical choice considering Harry's poor health—but a Draught of Persuasion? That was strange. Draught of Persuasion was a powerful narcotic potion used mainly in hospitals to "encourage" stubborn, unstable patients to eat or take their potions. Its base ingredient was opium, which, combined with other ingredients, dulled a person's awareness just enough to allow Healers to feed and medicate their patients without hassle.
"You're drugging him?" Draco asked with a touch of disbelief.
"Did you have a better idea?" Snape returned, lifting the vial up to the light to ensure it was properly mixed.
"Uh…no, not really."
"Then be useful and have one of the house-elves bring up a plate of food."
Harry never so much as flinched as Snape approached him. His dull emerald eyes never flickered from the article in front of him. His breathing was still fast and shallow from the lingering traces of pneumonia Madame Pomfrey assured him would fade in time. There was a thin sheen of sweat on his neck and brow (a clear sign of a lingering fever, as well). Stubborn brat must be feeling wretched, Snape thought irritably. Damn Gryffindor pride.
Finally, Harry appeared to notice his presence. His eyes stopped scanning the tiny print. His breath caught a ragged edge. He seemed to draw into himself, that haunted look once more clouding his face.
Snape had to quell his urge to snap at the boy, to demanded he stop wallowing in a past he could no more change than he could the color of the sky. "Drink this," he said instead, his voice rough with poorly concealed impatience.
Harry blinked at him with eyes as lifeless as a corpse. He hesitated before grasping the vial. "What is it?"
"Something to help ease your fever," Snape replied (which wasn't a complete lie).
Harry stared at the vial for a moment more before swallowing the pale-yellowish liquid. He grimaced at the taste, handing the empty vial back to Snape.
Draco reappeared then, followed by a nervous-looking house-elf carrying a plate laden with food. "Set it there and go," he ordered, nodding to the coffee table. The house-elf did as instructed and vanished with a pop!
"Now, Potter," Snape said, noticing with satisfaction the newly-acquired flush in Harry's cheeks and the subtle spark of life in his eyes. It wouldn't last, of course. Once the potion wore off so would his sudden vitality. But it was a start. "I want you to eat."
Harry looked as though he wanted to argue, a stubborn glint in his now vibrant eyes, but the Draught of Persuasion had already begun to work its magic and instead of fighting he picked up a sandwich and ate. Though he looked none too happy about it.
"You know," Draco said. "He's going to be right pissed when that potion wears off."
"Presumably," Snape replied with a decidedly self-satisfied smirk. "But he won't be cowering in a corner, will he?"
A/N: How very Slytherin of Snape, no? I hope the chapter was okay. Please review and tell me your thoughts.