A/N: A heartfelt thanks for all the reviews and love this story has received and to those who are still following it after such a long stretch between chapters. My muse seems to have perked up now that I am no longer in school, so it is my hope to be able to actually post with some regularity this time around.
Thanks for not giving up on me or this story, yet. Now, without further delay...
"I hear you've been having a fair amount of excitement around here," Healer Garrett Cowan remarked as he ran the usual series of examination spells over Harry's hand.
The boy nodded. "The dog I've been feeding is Sirius Black," he confirmed, "and Ron's rat is an animagus who faked his own death twelve years ago." Harry shuddered at the thought. In the time he had shared a dorm with his friend, he had also been sharing it with a man who had killed a bunch of people. He still didn't have the whole story, yet, although he had asked. He knew that Pettigrew had served Voldemort and framed Sirius Black for the murders he'd committed (as well as his own 'death'), and according to what Sirius had said, Pettigrew had betrayed his parents, but that was the extent of his knowledge.
"Sirius Black?" Garrett echoed, a flicker of alarm crossing his kindly features. "My, that is certainly a bit of a surprise, then. And he's the dog you've been talking about these last few weeks?"
"Indeed." It was Severus who replied. The Potions Master was just making his way into the hospital wing. "It seems there's a possibility the man is innocent. The Ministry is conducting a full investigation." He didn't sound particularly happy about this development.
"Professor," Harry began slowly, pausing to focus on getting his fingers to move at the healer's direction. He still didn't have much motor control or sensation beyond the persistent tingling, but it was there. "Sir, I understand Sirius Black was sent to prison because everyone thought he killed people and worked for Voldemort, but why did people think he would come after me? And why wasn't I told?" Green eyes rose to fix inquiringly on black.
Snape met the boy's gaze. "Quite simply, it was believed that he would seek revenge on you for the Dark Lord's defeat," he replied honestly. "You were not made aware of it because it was believed that you already had enough to deal with. In hindsight, it is a decision I would have made differently." A look of regret flickered across his features.
"Oh," Harry said. He looked down as the healer finished his examination.
"Well, Harry," the healer said. "There's good news and bad news. The good news, of course, is that you've started to get some movement back, even if it's just a little. The bad news is you've still got a long recovery ahead of you. I trust you've been doing your range of motion every day?"
The look Harry gave the man not only confirmed that he was completing the exercises, but also what he thought of them as well. Logically, the boy knew that he had no other choice – not if he wanted to use his hand again. That didn't mean he had to like it. And he didn't.
Garrett gave a soft chuckle. "I want you to make sure you keep doing those," he said. "I'm also going to prescribe a potion that you need to massage into your hand each night before you go to bed. It will help the nerves regenerate a bit quicker. Your father or one of your friends can help out with this, but you can also do it yourself if you want." As he spoke, he rifled around in his bag until he found a small roll of parchment, which he held out to the Potions Master.
"Is this the potion you just mentioned?" Severus inquired as he unrolled the page to peer at it.
"It is. It's a pretty straight-forward recipe and I assumed you'd prefer to brew it yourself, in any case," the man replied.
"You would be correct," said the professor. "Thank you."
"Not at all," Garrett smiled congenially. "Harry, I'll see you in a week, okay?"
Harry nodded. "Yes, sir," he said, "thanks."
As the man left, Snape picked up Harry's arm brace and proceeded to help him put it back on. The boy peered up at him, wanting to ask about Sirius Black but not sure whether he should.
"If you have something you wish to ask, Harry, by all means do so," the man drawled, securing the last of the straps.
"Sir," Harry spoke slowly, "if Sirius Black really is innocent of those things he was imprisoned for, what's going to happen to him?"
"If he is innocent as he claims, which the fact that Pettigrew lives certainly suggests, he will likely be released and the Ministry will award him with some form of monetary restitution," the man answered indifferently. "At which point, he will need to be reintegrated with society, not that Black was all that civilized before." He waved for the boy to follow as he started towards the doors.
"Did he go to school with you and Professor Lupin?" the teen asked, warming up to the topic as they stepped out into the corridor. "It seemed like you knew each other."
Snape's lips pressed into a hard line. "Indeed. He and Lupin were… friends during their time here, along with Pettigrew and James Potter."
"They were both friends with my dad?" the teen blurted, then stammered a bit. "I-I mean-"
"Your step father had a fair number of associates, but Lupin, Black, and Pettigrew were the ones with whom he spent the majority of his time," said the Potions Master, already weary of the subject, although he managed to keep the impatience from his tone. "If you really wish to know about the four of them, the one to ask would be Lupin. Potter and I were never particularly close. We were far too busy firing hexes at one another."
Harry glanced up at the man, sensing that he didn't particularly like the subject, not that that came as any surprise. It was already perfectly clear that the professor had never gotten along with James Potter while they were in school and it was only recently that he seemed to get along with Professor Lupin. Nonetheless, he couldn't help but wonder a bit.
"What about you?" he asked softly. "Don't you… didn't you have any friends?"
They slowed to a stop and Snape looked down at the boy, who struggled to keep from diverting his gaze. He reached out, pausing when Harry tensed before gently resting his hand against the boy's unruly black hair. "None whom I should like for you to meet, apart from your mother," the man replied.
Harry thought he heard a note of wistfulness in the Potions Master's tone. He knew what it was like to not have any real friends. All through primary school, no one dared to be friends with Harry because of Dudley. It was largely why the boy had been so happy when Ron and Hermione wanted to be friends with him. He wasn't sure anyone would want to be.
"Come along, now," Snape said, starting down the corridor once more. "If I'm not mistaken, I do believe you have schoolwork to complete."
"Yes, sir," Harry confirmed, falling in step next to the dark-clad wizard. "I was going to try out the dictation quills you got for me to complete my Transfiguration essay."
"Is that so? I'm sure Professor McGonagall will be glad to receive something legible from you, for once," the man drawled.
"My writing's not that bad!" the boy protested.
"It is chicken scratch, Harry, even at its best."
Harry responded with the appropriate amount of grumbling, but it was obvious he wasn't really offended, just as it was clear that the professor had been teasing him. Besides, the fact of the matter was that Harry's handwriting never had been the tidiest – and that was before he had to start writing with his non-dominant hand.
It almost felt anticlimactic, how quickly everything seemed to return to a regular routine. Peter Pettigrew had been tried under veritaserum and found guilty of all the charges for which his former friend had been imprisoned. The sentencing happened so quickly that by comparison, it was almost laughable how long it took to clear Sirius Black of all charges. No one could account for why the man had never received a proper trial to begin with.
Draco found himself rather irked about the whole Black situation. He'd grown fond of the dog he had named Nimbus only to discover he was a wizard in disguise. The Slytherin didn't like that he'd been confiding his thoughts to someone who could repeat them. It made him feel uneasy. He had thought he was talking to a dog all those times, after all.
Dismissing the thoughts for another time, the blond moved among the shelves in the library. While he was searching for some texts to supplement an essay he needed to write, he was mostly just enjoying the luxury of being able to move around the castle as he pleased. It had been something he had just taken for granted before being restricted to his common room. Now, he spent the majority of his time anywhere else.
Draco paused. He knew that voice, but quite honestly, he hadn't expected its owner to be in the library of all places. Granted, that was another thing he just hadn't thought much about before drawing his wand on Potter, or Snape – whoever he was.
"How do I read this, again?"
Leaning around a bookshelf, Draco felt moderately baffled to find not only Goyle, but also Crabbe sitting at one of the tables with Granger and a bunch of books. Granger was explaining something to Goyle, pointing to his book as she did so. On the other side of the table, Crabbe was sitting with his chin propped in one hand, brushing the pages of what appeared to be their Transfiguration textbook with the feather-end of his quill in boredom. He was probably only there because Goyle dragged him along.
The whole scene felt so surreal that Draco could do little more than stare for a moment. That was about when Crabbe expressed his boredom with a somewhat exaggerated sigh and looked up. His squinty-eyed gaze settled on Draco in surprise – except that he wasn't squinting like usual. At least, he hadn't been until he reached up and surreptitiously removed the glasses he was wearing.
Crabbe shifted in a way that suggested he had kicked Goyle beneath the table, which was verified by the other boy's response.
"Ow, Vince, what was that –" He followed his friend's nod to see the blond. "Malfoy," he said. And if the other two Slytherins didn't look for all the world like they'd been caught pilfering his godfather's stores, then Draco was a Weasley.
He'd heard about this, despite everything else that had been going on as well. Apparently, Professor Snape and Madame Pomfrey had gotten the Headmaster to approve someone coming in to test Goyle for a learning disability or something. When it was found that he did have one, all the professors sent in other students who'd been struggling in classes to be screened. The result was that Goyle and a Ravenclaw second-year met individually with a special tutor twice a week while a handful of other students were paired with other students who were willing to help them understand subjects they were struggling in. A lot of professors were also offering remedial sessions on Sundays.
"I heard you have something called… dyslexia," Draco hesitated, not sure whether he had the name right. Granger was studying him carefully, as though she was waiting to see what he'd do. If she thought he was going to be a prat or something of the like, however, Draco was determined to make sure she was sorely mistaken.
"Yeah, I do," Goyle answered quietly. He gave a forced smile. "Guess I'm not as stupid as everyone thought."
Draco opened his mouth to refute it, before remembering all the times he'd referred to both of them as morons. He wished he could claim that he hadn't really thought that about either of them, but the truth was that he really had believed they were both rather slow.
Instead, he turned to Crabbe. "So, you wear glasses, now," he said.
"I've got near-vision or something," the boy mumbled, gaze fixed on his book. "They said part of my problem was not being able to see the board, but mostly I'm just rubbish at school." Presumably, the last part was not stated by whoever "they" were – the tutors or whoever. Granger looked like she wanted to correct his terminology or something, but Draco beat her to it.
"Says who?" he demanded. "Maybe people are just rubbish at explaining it to you."
Now his two usual companions were gaping at him like he had grown a third eye or something. Granger's brows had risen in surprise and the girl was eyeing him more thoughtfully. Draco got the sense that the Gryffindor was maybe a little impressed by his response.
He continued, suddenly determined that he would be the one to help the other two boys with their studying, at least part of the time. After all, his grades were every bit as good as Granger's and he'd known them longer than she had. Crabbe and Goyle were his… they were his friends; perhaps, it was time he started acting like a better one.
"Besides, even if you are rubbish at school, I doubt there's anyone who knows more than you do about Quidditch. And it isn't like you don't have anyone to help you study. You could always ask me." Closing the distance to the table, Draco pulled out a chair to sit beside the larger boy. "I'll help you, now," he declared, pulling the book a little bit towards him.
Crabbe just sat there, staring skeptically at him.
"What are you waiting for?" Draco asked him. "Put your glasses back on. Don't you want to see properly?"
"You call us empty-headed morons," Crabbe stated baldly.
The blond forced back a wince. "Well, you aren't really empty-headed, are you?" he returned. "Then you're hardly a moron."
Crabbe continued to stare at him while Goyle looked down at his book. Granger bit her lip, clearly wishing she wasn't somehow caught in the middle of the situation.
Draco closed his eyes, struggling a moment with his pride. He was a Malfoy, after all. Malfoys didn't owe anything to anyone. Except… all that that attitude seemed to have done so far was alienate him from people.
"I'm sorry, all right?" he said. Grey eyes opened to meet the other boy's gaze. He looked over at Goyle and repeated himself. "I'm sorry. I guess…" His ego was smarting, but he made himself say the words anyway. "I guess I'm just rubbish at being a friend."
"You can say that again," Crabbe muttered after a second. He shoved his chair back abruptly, apparently to dodge a kick from Goyle, whose expression was clearly telling him he was barmy for saying such a thing to Malfoy.
They sat there in silence for a moment, Crabbe and Goyle having another of their silent disagreements while Granger looked like she was wishing to be elsewhere. Draco watched the three of them, wondering when the girl started to seem more at place among the other two boys than he did. Maybe there had always been a division between him and his two housemates. They always had been closer to one another.
"What are you having trouble with?" Draco asked, breaking the silence.
"What?" Crabbe looked at him almost warily, as though he suspected he was about to be ridiculed.
"Granger's helping Goyle, so you get me," drawled the blond. "What are you having problems understanding? I'll explain it to you."
Shooting a glance over at Goyle to assess whether the other boy had plans to try to kick him again, Crabbe pulled his chair back to the table and returned his glasses to his face. "All of it," he said, waving his quill over the pages to indicate that he pretty much meant the entire subject. He pointed with a finger. "But Granger just finished trying to explain that bit. I still don't get it."
"I'll explain it until you do, then," said Draco.
He could feel Granger's eyes settled upon him, but he ignored her gaze. After a minute, she went back to helping Goyle. The blond decided that he would have to make the girl explain to him what he should do to help the taller boy, since he really didn't know.
The afternoon passed quickly and before any of them really knew it, dinner time had arrived. Packing up their belongings, the four of them left together. As they moved along the corridor, exchanging some idle conversation between them, Draco thought that maybe the Gryffindor wasn't as insufferable as he'd always thought.
To be continued...