Finding a Home

Harry pushed open the door and entered Snape's quarters. In the sitting room in front of him, he could see Hermione and Neville working on the latest Transfiguration homework, while Ron and Draco faced each other across a wizards' chessboard. Noises from beyond the far door indicated that Snape was getting something from his potions supply room. It was such a comfortable, normal scene that it made the Headmaster's recent words all the more intolerable. Rage battled despair, was fueled by frustration and betrayal, and went looking for a target. Any target.

"Potter!" Draco saw the dark haired boy come through the door and was eager for a witness to his checkmating Ron. "About time you got home – you're just in time to - oof!"

The word "home", though for once not meant as a taunt, was all it took. Harry stopped dead, then took one giant step forward, punched Draco square in the nose, spun on his heel, and left. He didn't even wait to see the effect of the blow, nor could he have – if pressed – identified his target. He had simply exploded in blind rage then fled, less to escape the consequences than out of fear of what else he might do if he stayed around other people.

Draco meanwhile had been taken completely by surprise. Blood spurted from his nose as, with a howl of pain and astonishment, he fell over backwards, toppling off the footstool on which he'd been sitting and clunking his head against the dungeon's stone floor. Ron leaped up with a cry of alarm, while Hermione and Neville spun around in time to see Draco fall and Harry depart. "Harry!" Hermione shouted, her cry mixing with Neville's yell of "Draco!" and Ron's "What the bloody hell?"

Snape, naturally, came running, but by then Harry was long gone. Draco was in tears of mingled pain and fury, and the three Gryffindors were incoherent.

"SILENCE!" He snapped into ogre mode without hesitation, and instantly silence reigned. Even Draco's sobs were muted to whimpers.

Snape took out his handkerchief and began mopping the blood off Draco's face and inspecting the damage, even as he snapped, "Miss Granger, an explanation if you please."

"I – I'm not sure, sir. Neville and I were studying while Ron and Draco played chess. I heard the door open and I assumed it was Harry. Draco said something and the next thing I heard was the sound of someone getting hit. By the time I looked around, Draco had just fallen and hit his head, and I caught a glimpse of Harry as he left."

Having satisfied himself that his godson's nose was not broken, Snape left it to the boy to keep the handkerchief pressed to his nose while Snape examined the back of his head. There was a tender area, but no lump. "What did you say?" Snape asked sternly, resigned to yet another round of Potter vs Malfoy. The truce had been nice while it lasted, but it had been foolish of him to imagine it could be permanent.

Draco's indignant eyes regarded him over the handkerchief. "I diddit say adyting!" he protested thickly.

"Sir, he didn't," Neville spoke up, frightened but resolute. "I mean, I heard him. He didn't say anything wrong, or even use a nasty tone. Harry just punched him for no reason."

Both Draco and Snape stared at the blond Gryffindor in shock, though for different reasons. "Weasley?" Snape came out of it first and turned to the other witness for confirmation.

The redhead hesitated a moment, clearly unhappy at fingering his best friend, but in the end he nodded. "It's true. Harry walked in, punched Draco, and left. Draco didn't do anything to provoke him."

Snape gritted his teeth. Something must have happened to make Harry act this uncharacteristically, and he was not looking forward to puzzling out what it was. Why couldn't that blasted brat just come and tell him when something went wrong? "Get your things together; you'll need to return to your dormitories while I locate Mr Potter."

The Gryffindors exchanged miserable looks at the thought of what would happen to Harry immediately thereafter, but they knew better than to argue. Snape looked down at the Slytherin and was surprised to see Draco's eyes were still streaming with tears. Even with the punch in the nose, he would have thought the boy would have been able to stop crying by now. Out of a desire to spare his godson embarrassment, he ordered, "Come with me, Draco. We need to fix that nosebleed."

Leaving the other students to see themselves out – they were in his quarters so often that the thought didn't disturb him – he guided Draco down to his bathroom. After mopping the boy's face with a cold washcloth, he pinched his nose with one cloth and put another against the back of his neck. He waited while Draco's silent sobs became hiccups, then eased.

"Are you all right?"

Draco nodded, as best he could when his professor was holding his nose in a firm pinch. "Why did dey say dat?" he finally asked.

"What?"

"Aboud Harry. Dey had to dow dat dey were gedding hib idto trouble!"

"Yes?"

"So why did dey tell you? Why diddit dey protect hib?" That was what was bothering Draco so much. The bloody nose had been painful, but when first Longbottom and then the other lions had actually defended him, a Slytherin, he had been stunned. He had expected them to lie in defense of Harry, not to protect him.

He knew full well that they didn't like him at all; they only tolerated his presence because he was Snape's godson, and he only came here to Snape's rooms because he knew it annoyed them. It wasn't like he enjoyed hanging out with a bunch of Gryffindorks, playing chess with the Weasel or going over homework with the mudblood or helping that pathetic Lardbottom figure out which end of his wand was which. He only did those things because he found it amusing to crash their little party and watch them have to grit their teeth and be polite to him. He would have been just as happy back in the Slytherin common room, surrounded by other purebloods. So what if Goyle and Crabbe couldn't manage a coherent thought between the two of them? That didn't mean he wanted to be around a bunch of would-be heroes. He'd much rather hang out with other Slytherins, although after his recent experiences, he was understandably apprehensive about running afoul of the plots and subplots that constantly swirled throughout the House.

But he was suddenly finding it hard to convince himself that he hated them as much as they hated him, when they weren't acting as if they hated him very much at all. In fact, they were treating him a lot better than any bunch of Slytherins would have treated a lone Gryffindor in their midst.

Draco was familiar with duplicity, contempt, hatred, and fear. But kindness and respect were strange and confusing. He wasn't sure why he felt such a warm, safe feeling deep inside himself. Surely he should be feeling nothing but scorn for the other students' actions. Right?

"I assume they told the truth," Snape said carefully, "because they did not want to see you unjustly blamed."

"But why would dey do dat?" his godson demanded, his voice shaking. Snape looked into the boy's eyes and saw confusion, doubt, and a tentative, almost frightened gleam of hope. Draco had been ruthlessly schooled since infancy in a code of eugenics which made Darwin's concept of "nature red in tooth and claw" seem positively benign. He had been told over and over again by Lucius that a Malfoy was to be feared, not liked; that other children were either worthwhile associates who should be cultivated as valuable contacts for later life or inferior drones who were to be exploited and/or insulted.

But now, thanks to his godfather, he found himself amongst a group of children who lived by a very different set of beliefs, and he was beginning to hope against hope that they might actually like him for himself. Despite his best efforts to convince himself to the contrary, Draco found he did enjoy the company of people of whom he knew his father would disapprove. If Lucius found out that Draco were hanging out with Gryffindors, let alone these Gryffindors, he would make his displeasure very, very clear. Yet Draco was, despite himself, having a good time. He found himself beginning to question his father's pureblood beliefs and struggling to convince himself of their value. He reminded himself that the others hated him for being a proud pureblood as much as he despised Granger for her Muggleborn status. But now… he wasn't able to convince himself of their hatred anymore.

Snape's Slytherin heart rejoiced. It had worked. The boy might yet have a chance to escape his upbringing and not end up as a mere extension of Lucius. If Sirius Black could break with his family, why not Draco Malfoy? If Snape had anything to say about it, the Dark Lord would not be getting his godson without a fight. "You will have to ask them that question," he replied calmly, not letting his exultation show, "but it would appear that they consider you one of their group and therefore entitled to the same protection and consideration as the rest of them."

"But I'b a Slydderid! Dey ratted out Podder to you – I dow dey like hib bore dan me."

"Yes, I'm sure they do, but that doesn't mean they will allow him to treat you badly or protect him if he does so."

Draco didn't know how to feel. On the one hand, he was immensely gratified that the other three students had stuck up for him, but on the other hand, he was well aware that his own behavior back in Slytherin was in direct opposition to the ideals the Gryffindors had just embodied. As the unofficial "Prince of Slytherin", Draco routinely protected people he liked and harassed those he didn't. It was just part of the life his father had taught him: take what you can, however you can. As a pureblood and a Death Eater, Lucius used the power and influence at his command to promote his own interests; his son was already doing the same thing in miniature at Hogwarts. But here were three Gryffindors who were doing everything wrong, at least by Lucius' standards, and yet it felt awfully good to be on the receiving end.

"Do all Gryffindors act like dis?"

"More or less," Snape agreed.

"Dey're stubid!" Draco announced, a bit desperately.

"Mm. Many in this House think so." Snape refused to be drawn.

"Whad do you dink?"

Snape released his godson's nose but didn't relinquish his firm grasp on the back of his neck. He locked gazes and said gravely, "I think that's a question you must answer for yourself. There are certainly a multitude of Gryffindorish tendencies that I would not encourage you to emulate, and their fairness and willingness to do the right thing regardless of personal cost are foreign to many in our House. But our House was never meant to be a haven for Dark Wizards – we symbolize cunning and stealth, the ability to think our way around and over obstacles. All ideals which are incompatible with blindly following anyone, be it a parent, teacher, or leader. You must choose your own path in life, Draco, and you must realize that your path will be much smoother if you have friends to guard your back. Not merely allies who are at your side so long as it is expedient for them to do so, but genuine friends who will remain with you no matter the odds. Harsh times lie ahead, and you must make your own decisions where your loyalties lie. Tonight you have seen that no doors are yet closed against you. Even Gryffindors will call you friend if you wish it. It's up to you."

Draco pulled away, abruptly uncomfortable. If his father knew what he was thinking… he shuddered. "What are you going to do to Potter?" he demanded, turning to what seemed a safer topic.

"You know perfectly well that he will be punished for his actions," Snape replied firmly. "I assume you are not asking for details of that punishment?"

"No, no!" Draco hastily backpedaled. "I just was wondering why he acted that way. I mean, he seemed fine in class, and none of the others said that anything seemed to be bothering him, so what do you think happened?"

"I don't know, but I plan to find out."

TBC...