Author's Note: Whoo! Thanks to those of you who have reviewed so far!

Chapter Four – New Problems and Unexpected Difficulties

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Draco asked Blaise, as he flopped next to him on the couch in the Slytherin common room.

"Ah Draco; always so eloquent and subtle in all of your interactions," Blaise replied sarcastically.

The blond haired teen made an unpleasant face at him.

"I can afford to have an off day once in a while," Draco groused.

"Then by your reasoning," Pansy said, wandering over into the conversation and depositing herself on the couch opposite them, "you've been having an off day every day so far this year."

"Who asked you?" Draco bitched at her.

"Me actually," Millicent stated covetously as she too wandered over and sat next to Pansy, flinging an arm around the other girl as she did so.

"Can we stop talking about me and turn the focus back on the mess that Blaise is slowly turning into before our eyes?" Draco said, turning everyone's eyes back to the boy who was now cradling his head in his hands in mortified embarrassment.

"Thanks a lot Draco," he muttered.

"No problem," Draco said with a sharp grin, slapping the other boy on the back as he did so.

"For real," Pansy said, sounding honestly worried.

Blaise looked up at her, the confusion clearly visible on his face.

"Why are you staring at me like that Blaise?" Pansy asked, scooting closer to her girlfriend.

"You sounded really human just then," he said, breaking into a grin as the two girls began scowling fiercely at him. From beside him, he heard Draco snort his opinion of the situation, and he leaned back satisfied.

Later, after the girls had departed off to do things he didn't really want to know much about, Draco turned to him, a concerned expression on his face.

"Okay, spill," he demanded seriously.

"Say again?" Blaise asked casually.

"What's wrong?" Draco asked, pushing past Blaise's denial easily.

"Nothing," Blaise said with a shrug, looking away from the piercing quality of the silver eyes that were now staring at the side of his face.

"Bullshit."

"Trust me; you don't want to know," Blaise said, still speaking calmly.

"You're my friend."

"I thought that you didn't have friends," Blaise said, turning back to look at Draco.

"I'm a dumbass."

"Can I have that in writing?" Blaise retorted, raising an eyebrow.

"Git," was the response.

"What made you change your mind?" Blaise asked.

"My father did, actually."

Blaise looked at Draco in surprise. Publicly, the Malfoys got along perfectly, as any high upstanding pureblood family ought to, but in private it was a different affair. Draco despised his father with a loathing almost as vehement as Blaise's own, although he was fairly positive that the reasons were not the same.

"How did he do that?" Blaise asked curiously.

"He said that he approved of my behavior."

Blaise looked at his friend in disbelief before snorting in amusement; the sound soon leading to full out giggles that he had trouble reigning in.

"Only you, Draco," he said breathlessly, wiping his eyes with a handkerchief carefully.

"Such is the life of a Malfoy," Draco answered smoothly, sending them both into long peals of laughter that time.

Finally they both calmed down, after getting the attention of nearly the entire common room during their impromptu laughing session.

"So as my friend, I can tell you what is bothering me without fear of reprisal, repercussions or being committed to the crazy ward over at St. Mungo's?" Blaise asked carefully.

Draco nodded seriously at him, his gray eyes never leaving Blaise's worried face.

"Let's go to your room. I don't want anyone accidentally overhearing anything," he said with a sneer around him.

Draco, being a prefect that year, was blessed with his own room, which also came with a bathroom. Blaise was more than a little envious; especially since he had gotten stuck with Theodore Nott as a roommate that year. Crabbe and Goyle's parents had taken them out of Hogwarts, and they were now supposedly attending Durmstrang. However, Blaise's contacts at that school had yet to actually see the two boys; meaning that while their locations were anyone's guess, it was still most likely that they had just joined the ranks of the Death Eaters.

The thought of which still made him sick to his stomach.

Ted was okay as a roommate, but the two of them weren't particularly close. They were, thankfully, both fairly studious individuals—something that made sense to Blaise, especially as they were still both there at Hogwarts.

Draco waved a hand towards one of his two armchairs and Blaise sat down while Draco did the same in the one opposite him.

"I became really close to someone over the summer, and now I'm worried about him."

"Him?" Draco repeated. "Friend or more?"

"Friend."

"Does he know this?" Draco asked in concern.

"Very much so," Blaise reassured him.

"Just checking," Draco said, raising his hands in defense of himself.

"Yeah." Blaise said quietly.

"So you're concerned about a friend from this summer," Draco prompted. "Why?"

"He's—," Blaise trailed off, looking at his hands. How could he break Harry's confidence like this?

"Do you want to swear me to a Wizard's Oath?" Draco interjected suddenly.

"Would you?" Blaise asked uncertainly.

"I swear on my magic that I will not speak of anything Blaise Zabini might tell me about his friend," the other boy said formally as a golden sheen lit the space between the two of them, before quickly disappearing; leaving Blaise with a much more secure feeling in his heart.

"He's got it really rough in his home," Blaise said, finally continuing his earlier thought. "He takes a lot of crap from his relatives, but it's more than just emotional and physical abuse. His guardian rapes him three or four times a week." Blaise told the grim faced teen across from him.

"Motherfucking bastard," Draco spat, while Blaise nodded his agreement.

"Not only that, but the fuckers starve him and beat him and generally work him to death; all while telling him he's worthless and how much better off they'd be if he were dead."

Blaise looked back up from the floor to see Draco staring at him with shock clearly etched across his face.

"Why doesn't he complain to someone?" The blond boy whispered.

"He's tried. People don't listen. They only see what they want to see. You know that," Blaise said with a bitter laugh.

"But," Draco said, running his hands through his hair, "fuck! That's just some sick twisted shit," he exclaimed emotionally.

"And you're the only one who he's been able to really tell about what's going on, right?" Draco added after another painful expanse of silence.

"Yeah," Blaise said, grunting another bark of laughter at the ironies of his life that continued to make themselves known. Blaise knew from his own experience that asking for help was just about the most terrifying thing you could do, especially when it came to being safe from sexual abuse in your own home. His mother took on lovers about as often as he changed shoe sizes; and for a teenage boy, that was pretty frequent.

Some of his "dads" had been bearable in nature, but others had stolen into his room late at night, intent on stealing his innocence away from him piece by piece until he felt like he was just a hollow shell instead of a real, breathing person.

And out of all people, Professor Snape had been the one to help him. He had noticed how Blaise couldn't seem to relax around other male teachers—including Snape himself. He also had noticed how Blaise had kept sleeping in the common room and how bad his night terrors were.

Professor Snape had noticed and he had helped.

In turn, Blaise felt like he ought to be able to help someone as well; which he had been doing fine with until the beginning of the school year. Somehow, seeing the results of the devastation from that summer in his friend's changed face and demeanor had made it all come crashing back down on him, and he knew that he couldn't possibly hope to hold it all in on his own for another year.

It only made it worse knowing that he would get no help from Dumbledore, since it was the old man's fault that Harry was in that place to begin with. And as much as he liked and trusted his head of house, he knew that Snape would never listen to him regarding the seriousness of Harry's predicament. His issues with Potter senior simply ran too deep. Blaise knew that it would take some kind of life changing event to occur between the two of them before they ever got over their issues with one another—particularly in regards to Snape. Harry was willing to try, but Severus was another story altogether.

All of this frustrated him so much that he was the bearer of so much painful knowledge, and yet he still couldn't do anything about it!

"Would Severus be able to help the situation any?"

"Probably, if he wanted to," Blaise hitched a breath in.

"Why wouldn't he want to?" Draco's voice was hard, his eyes calculating.

Blaise knew that Draco saw Severus very much as a mentor and also as a father figure. To Draco, Severus could do anything, and if he couldn't—or wouldn't, as Blaise suspected would be the case here—then there had to be a very good reason for it.

"Well, for starters my friend isn't a Slytherin," Blaise stated tentatively.

"I didn't think he could be. Severus would have found out about a situation like that eons ago," Draco reasoned out, his eyes shining with admiration.

"But Severus would still help a student in trouble, regardless of house affiliation, provided that it wasn't Pot—," Draco trailed off as Blaise looked at him directly, before turning away with a hysterical laugh, his throat catching as he started to cry.

"Fuck." Draco said, realization dawning. He stood up and turned away, his hands crossed behind his head.

"FUCK!" He yelled at the wall, before dropping into silence only tempered with the sounds of Blaise's ragged breathing and occasional sniffles.

Draco turned back to his friend a few minutes later and pulled him out of his chair into a hug. Blaise really lost control then, and bawled like a baby instead of the fifteen year-old he was. Draco had taken on the problem. Draco could work miracles. Draco could fix things.

Blaise wasn't alone anymore.

"Well, Severus is always telling us that our point of view isn't the only right way of looking at the world," Draco whispered into Blaise's ear after he had calmed down enough to listen.

"I guess we'll just have to make Severus see that now, huh Blaise," Draco said, escorting the worn out boy to his room and even tucking him in.

"You are a good friend, Draco," Blaise said as Draco spelled off the lights and set the wards against anyone entering the room besides Ted.

Draco tipped an imaginary hat to him and grinned, but didn't say anything as he finally left Blaise to his own tired thoughts.

HS

Harry stood just inside the door to the Gryffindor tower with a thoughtful look upon his tired face. He knew that if he wanted to get a restful night, then he couldn't sleep in the tower. However, on the other hand, he knew that if he didn't want to get into any more trouble, or reduce Professor Snape's opinion of him any farther, then he'd have to stay in the tower.

Maybe I could do homework first and then sleep?

It wasn't the most pleasant of concepts. One of the things he needed to do soon was to perfect his use of wards to use to protect himself while he was unconscious. He'd have to see if he couldn't grab a chance to speak with Blaise the next day—or as ludicrous as it sounded, maybe just write him a letter via owl. It seemed insane that even though they were technically at the same place, he still couldn't speak to him face to face.

And then a thought dawned on him, nearly causing him to laugh out loud with the relief of it. Thankfully, it was after midnight and the common room was already empty for once.

Probably because it's so early in the school year; people haven't gotten so behind on their homework yet as to need to stay up all hours of the day just to get it completed.

He quickly cast a scouring charm over himself first; lest he attract attention by the rank odor still emanating from his body and clothing. Speaking of clothing—he looked around once again to reassure himself that he was actually alone, before taking out his trunk and unshrinking it. He grabbed a set of clean clothes and quickly changed right there, before stuffing his dirty ones back in and pulling out his invisibility cloak.

He then shrunk his trunk once more, slipped it in his inner pocket, and put the cloak over his head. He took a moment to revel in the feeling that he was safe when he was invisible, before quickly looking for a spot out of the way that he could call his home for the night.

Ah, there, he thought with a grim smile of satisfaction as he spotted a far, out of the way corner away from both the girl's and the boy's staircases. He made his way over there—having to climb over an armchair in the process, before finally hunkering down on his side, his arms covering his mid-section protectively, with his back to the wall. He cast a few warming charms and the strongest silencing charms he knew, before setting an alarm to wake himself at five o'clock that morning.

It was just barely more than four hours of sleep, but he'd take what he could get if he knew that he could be safe while getting it.

Besides, a short restful sleep is better than a long worried one, he reasoned out to himself as he closed his eyes.

It wasn't long before he was completely unconscious.

HSHS

Severus wasn't expecting to be woken early the next morning by two of his Slytherin fifth years.

He especially wasn't expecting one of those fifth years to be his own beloved godson, but when he opened the door, that's who it was, along with an unusually dour looking Blaise Zabini.

"Come in boys," he said, looking curiously at them.

They were two of his better potions' students; particularly now, with so many of his upper years openly defecting to the Dark Lord's side by transferring to Durmstrang—something that he found himself blaming Albus for more and more as time went on.

After offering them tea—as was his custom for his colleagues and students of his own house—which they both accepted, they took seats and Severus asked them what was wrong.

For it was clear that something was wrong; something he could see in part from their expressions, and partially because neither boy—so far as he knew—had ever voluntarily been up before 6 in the morning.

He saw Draco glance at Blaise with a questioning expression, and he noted Blaise's subtle nod in the affirmative.

How odd it was for his godson to be looking to another student for permission, he mused to himself.

"We have a problem," Draco said, speaking slowly, moving his eyes back and forth between Blaise and himself.

"I would hardly think otherwise, given your faces."

His godson smirked a bit at that, but Blaise continued to glower darkly as though he hadn't even heard his head of house speak. It set Severus's gut on edge; something he tried to hide with another sip of tea.

Although he would never admit to having such, Blaise was one of his favorite students—apart from Draco, whom he had known for a far greater amount of time.

Blaise, for all of his deep and concerning home troubles, was typically a bright and energetic young man; seemingly intent on changing the world's opinion of Slytherins as dark and brooding future Death Eaters.

This complete turnabout in behavior reminded Severus greatly of an earlier time in Blaise's school career, when his demons had nearly become unmanageable. It had been that struggle which had brought them together initially.

If this situation was serious enough to warrant that kind of expression on his student's face, then he was prepared to be very worried indeed.

"Blaise made friends with someone outside of the Slytherin house at the end of last year." Draco continued, still speaking very deliberately. "And managed to keep up a correspondence with this friend all summer," the blond haired young man paused, looking at Blaise once again. And again, Severus saw Blaise give that small nod.

Severus couldn't help but be intrigued.

"Well," Draco paused, looking down at his tea, before setting it down on the small table in between them. "Blaise has learned some stuff about his friend's home life that has caused him to worry about his friend's safety there and now here as well."

"Is that true Blaise?" Severus asked, putting his now empty tea mug down as well, and turning to the black haired young man.

"It's a bloody understatement," Blaise muttered, before looking up at Severus apologetically.

"I'm sorry sir. Yes, it's true."

"No need for proper etiquette in here, remember?"

"Yes si—Severus," Blaise said with a small grim smile.

"Have you thought about going to this person's head of house?" Severus asked calmly.

"Thought about it, but I—well, neither of us thinks it will do any good," Blaise said, speaking again with no interruptions from Draco.

"Why not?"

Again, the two boys in front of him exchanged glances. He was beginning to wish that they'd just come out and say it, but he knew that they couldn't if they wanted to be careful about the student's identity.

"Because it's been going on for quite a while, and she—er—he or she has yet to do anything about it. Sorry Blaise," Draco said with a chagrined look. Blaise merely rolled his eyes and waved him off, before turning back to Severus.

She? The mystery student's head of house is female? Blaise made friends with a Hufflepuff or a Gryffindor?

Severus knew that his snakes made friends outside their own house from time to time, but rarely with either of the two houses mentioned, especially the latter.

"Would you classify the student's situation as an abusive one, Blaise?" Severus asked, his face becoming very serious.

Blaise laughed a hysterical sound, causing both Severus and Draco to peer at him in concern.

"He's trying to help, Blaise," Draco said soothingly, scooting close enough to Blaise to squeeze his shoulder gently.

Severus was very worried now; not only for the mystery student, but also for his own student. He knew that only very serious situations caused Blaise to react in such a way; usually indicating that Blaise felt the situation to be hopeless or too far out of control to be fixed.

"Draco is correct," he found himself murmuring softly to the increasingly distraught boy in front of him. "I need to know how serious this situation is before becoming involved in another house's affairs."

Blaise put his head in his hands and rolled it from side to side.

"Would you help even if it turned out that you disliked this student?" He burst out suddenly, staring Severus in the eye with a piercingly hard glare.

"Abuse is abuse, Blaise. I should think you would know my feelings on that," he said, ignoring the sudden confusion that appeared on his godson's face.

Blaise looked away, staring at a spot on the far wall that presumably only he could see.

"It's abuse all right," he whispered, still staring intensely at that far spot. "Every kind possible, plus some," he continued quietly enough that Severus had strain to hear him, even though he was sitting within arm's reach of the boy.

"Every kind, Blaise?" Severus asked sharply, feeling sick to his stomach.

Blaise turned back to look straight into Severus's face.

"Every kind, Severus; including the worst kind," the boy spat out bitterly.

Severus sat back in his chair, steepling his fingers as he did so, and thought about what he had been told.

A student—in either Hufflepuff or Gryffindor—has been experiencing untold amounts of abuse for the past four years and no one has done anything about it. Plus, Blaise indicated sexual abuse of a serious level as well; so why has no one noticed?

It frustrated him to no end that either Minerva or Pomona had missed such an obvious case.

But you're also to blame. Blaise says that it is a student I dislike; could it be that I dislike this student enough to overlook the signs?

It made his stomach twist to consider that he might have put his personal feelings above the physical welfare of one of his students.

He was not a well-liked man, but was not bothered by that. However, he did pride himself on providing his students with the basic tools to succeed—if only they bothered to try—and one of those tools was allowing them all to grow up in safe environments.

"Damn," he muttered under his breath.

One of their most seriously abused students had gone on to become the Dark Lord; a monster hell bent on taking apart their world piece by piece. One Dark Lord was enough for Severus Snape; he wasn't sure if he could handle two such entities.

Across from him, while he had been thinking, he realized that his two fifth years had been discussing something intensely, given the flushed expressions on both their faces.

"Tell him who it is," Draco whispered to Blaise forcefully.

"None of this is going to matter when he finds out who it is. Come on Draco; you know how much he hates him," Blaise whispered pleadingly back.

Severus pondered that latest slip of information carefully. He couldn't think of a single boy—or girl for that matter—in Hufflepuff whom he despised enough to actually call it 'hate'. There were, however, more than a couple candidates for that description who resided in Gryffindor.

"Blaise, I had thought that you trusted me more than this," he said softly, breaking into their conversation.

Blaise looked chagrined at his words, but underlying that shame, Severus could see a wild desperation attempting to gnaw its way through Blaise's careful control of himself.

"Severus," Blaise said, his voice creaking ever so slightly, "I don't think that I can trust you with this. I'm the only one he trusts and has been able to tell. If you use the information only to make it worse for him, then I think—no, I know that it will push him over the edge. And then not only will you have failed him, but I'll have failed him too."

Blaise stood up, his hands clenched in fists.

"When you say that it 'will push him over the edge,' what do you mean precisely?" Severus asked, as he fought against his inclination to go and embrace the now trembling boy.

"He's not afraid of the consequences of his actions as it is already, Severus. His regular life is too horrible. If he loses what's left of his morality, he's going to start killing people," the boy forecasted; his eyes dark amongst the bitter emotions flickering across his face.

It was a serious judgment on his student's part; worse yet, he knew that Blaise was not one to idly make threats unless he had actually been given a reason—or more—to believe that such things were true.

"Severus," Draco interjected then, as he stood beside his friend. "He doesn't have anything left to lose," the boy said speaking very pointedly to him.

Severus made his decision and stood up, crossing the few steps over to where the two boys were still standing.

"Boys, sit down next to me, please."

It was a voice that allowed for no argument. The boys sat—one on each side of him.

"Provided that you are absolutely certain about the validity of these claims, then it behooves me and this mystery boy that I should listen to your concerns about him. I am the last of the Snape line, and I am glad of it. If the Dark Lord had not murdered my father, I likely would have taken the task on upon my own shoulders."

The boys didn't answer, but he could feel them each nodding next to him. Yes, they knew how one could come to feel such feelings about kin.

"What I'm about to say I had not planned on saying for some time—if ever—but I think that under the circumstances, it is appropriate. I think of you two as my family," he paused to allow the shock to sink in, and then continued. "If this is something that bothers you so very much, then I will take it upon myself not to approach the situation in my typical manner towards this boy."

That was more emotional sentimentalism than he had expended in the past five years. He hoped that his boys appreciated it.

Apparently they did, as suddenly both boys had their arms around him—Blaise hugging him around the middle and Draco hanging onto his shoulders from the other side. All he could do was pat their shoulders awkwardly from the position he was in and wait for their individual storms to pass; so he could get on with his routine of saving the world from whatever tortured soul was disturbing the peace that week.

He scowled at himself for that ridiculous thought, but removed it from his face before the two fifth years sat up.

"My friend is a Gryffindor," Blaise started out softly, hugging himself tightly as he said the dreaded words.

Severus squeezed his shoulders in affirmation that he was prepared to handle the boy's next statement.

"Severus—it's Harry, Harry Potter."

Blaise looked at him with wide frightened eyes as the words sunk in.