August 19th 1996, Day 1

Harry awoke on the morning following his first chemo treatment completely miserable.

Flat on his back, he tried to concentrate on a single stone in the ceiling, hoping that the room would stop wiggling around and making him dizzy.

Cold sweat tingled on his forehead and upper lip, but his body felt strangely heated. His mouth was dry and cottony, but even the thought of moving to get a drink made him queasy.

Harry couldn't have been awake more than 10 minutes when there was a quiet knock on his door.

Should he bother to say come in?

If it were Snape, he'd come in anyway. If it was Malfoy, Harry didn't feel very up to company just now.

The door creaked open, and Harry rolled his head towards it as Snape entered. He was dressed in grey slacks and a dark green button down today, and Harry didn't think he'd ever seen Snape wearing so many different outfits that weren't dark and billowy.

Snape drew near the bed, "How are you feeling this morning?"

This new concerned Snape would take some getting used to, but Harry had made a pact with himself to stop stressing over every little change in his life. There were far too many now to cope with anyway. He'd deal with the abnormalities later.

"I think I'm dying," Harry croaked, his voice raspy and parched.

Snape picked up the cup on Harry's bedside table, pulling his wand from his pocket. "I suppose I should have left a pitcher in here," he mused tapping the cup with his wand.

Harry turned his face away. Did Snape have to use magic in front of him?

Out of all the things he'd dealt with -was dealing with- not being able to use magic was positively the worst.

He could take a considerate Snape, a loving Aunt Petunia, even a less than obnoxious Malfoy, but he'd never accept his inability to use what had saved him all those years ago. Magic had made him feel like he'd belonged. Now he had to let it go, at least for a while, lest it kill him.

Snape held the glass over his face for Harry to see, and Harry gingerly lifted himself on an elbow to take it from him.

Harry managed to drink a gulp before he tried handing it back to Snape, only his arm was so weak and shaky, he spilt half the drink down his front. Harry blinked down at himself bemusedly.

Snape tutted, taking the glass from Harry's grasp, and drying his shirt with his wand.

"Breakfast is in twenty minutes, Mr. Potter," said Snape, returning his wand to his pocket, "I am sure you are hungry after fasting yesterday."

Harry looked up at Snape, "Actually, I'm really not. I just feel really…" he paused. Really what? Was there even a word to describe how crappy he felt? Yes. There was. But 'icky' might not be in Snape's vocabulary.

Snape seemed to get it without Harry having to say anything, for he nodded. "Terrible as you may feel, I must insist you eat at least a small amount. We must also take your temperature, and you need to be drink more than just water."

Harry groaned. Whether in pain or in protest, Harry wasn't sure.

He didn't feel hungry. In fact, food sounded entirely unappetizing just now.

"Alright. Just, give me a minute." Harry shut his eyes, listening to Snape's footsteps as his professor left the room.

Harry turned onto his stomach, shoving his hands beneath his pillow, and burying his face in the soft cotton case.

He'd get up in a minute.

0000

12 Days Left

Draco brushed his teeth vigorously in the loo one door down from his own bedroom. He found it unfair, initially, that Potter got the room with the loo inside, while he had to contend with this one.

It was good enough, he supposed. Small and cramped, but he wouldn't be down here for much longer anyway.

He suspected Snape let Potter have the private lavatory because of how ill he was supposed to get. Draco could understand that, especially after seeing Potter yesterday.

In a way, Draco was glad he was going back to classes soon. Watching Potter weak and defenseless wasn't nearly as rewarding as he'd once imagined it'd be. In fact, it made a strange feeling claw at him. A feeling Draco wasn't accustomed to having very much, let alone for Potter.

He felt sorry for Potter, yes, but more than that, Draco felt sympathy for him. Like he ought to stop harassing him, or that he'd feel bad if he did.

Draco spat in the sink, rinsing out his mouth as he stared at himself in the mirror. Surely there must be something drastically different about him on the outside if he was having such a turnabout within.

Draco examined his face, pale eyes and skin, white blonde hair and eyelashes, thin pink lips, and a pointed chin.

The only difference seemed to be the bluish smudges under his eyes.

He didn't sleep very well anymore. Too many nightmares.

Too much guilt.

Draco dried his face, forcibly pulling himself from such thoughts. If he let them wash over his conscious mind the weight of his grief would be too unbearable for him to function properly.

Puffing out a sigh, Draco smoothed his hair down, double checking that his shirt hadn't been flecked with toothpaste foam, before he left the lavatory.

Severus was seated at the table already, perusing the Daily Prophet, a plate of crumbs in front of him. He glanced up as Draco entered, folding his paper in a neat square. "There is toast on the counter under the tea towel, and eggs in the pan on the stove." he said, nodding in the direction of the kitchen.

Draco removed a plate from the cupboard and served himself, -something he was still getting used to- and took his seat across from Severus.

"I have arranged for an excursion in Diagon Alley on Wednesday." Severus told him, standing and clearing his plate. "I will accompany you myself."

Draco swallowed his bite of toast with difficulty as his mouth had suddenly gone dry. "What about the Dark Lord, and my father, and the other Death Eaters, what if we-" Draco stopped himself. Severus was staring at him as if he were very daft indeed.

Draco took another bite of toast, "Oh," he muttered. Of course they'd be disguised. How stupid of him not to realise.

"Your anxiety over the matter suggests you are much less resigned to returning to school than you would like to believe." Severus commented, leaning against the sink ledge, his arms crossed over his chest. He fixed Draco with a calculating look. "No one will think any less of you if you prefer to remain in hiding. In fact, it would be a very wise decision indeed."

Rolling his eyes, Draco stabbed at his eggs with his fork, "Don't be ridiculous," he scoffed.

Severus sighed, "As I said before, it is your choice. You are nearly an adult, and it would be remiss of me to treat you as a child. However, the danger you may be in is very real."

Trying to appear nonchalant, Draco worked hard to control his shaking fingers as he ate. "You said I'd be safe if I went to school."

"I said we would protect you, but you would not be as safe as you would be here," Snape snapped. "Part of this deal includes your behaviour, I hope you are aware."

"Alright," Draco said grudgingly. He stopped eating and turned towards Severus, "I do understand," he said, hoping Severus would get his meaning without him having to spill all.

Severus nodded, lifting a hand to rub at the bridge of his nose. "We will leave early in the morning. Charms only work so well. It is best we beat the rush and shop as fast as possible."

Draco nodded, returning to his food. "What about Potter?" he asked, surprised at himself for even thinking to ask at all.

Severus turned to the sink, turning on the water and rinsing his dish.

How very muggle, Draco thought, watching him. There were some things he would just never understand about Severus.

"I will speak to the Headmaster later today, and arrange for Potter's aunt to visit."

Draco made a face. "The muggle one with the shrill voice?" He said scathingly.

Severus made a strange noise, "It would do you well not to speak insults so freely." he said indifferently, but with the sort of finality that made Draco think twice about his retort.

"Where is Potter anyway?" Draco wondered aloud. "Still lazing about in bed?"

Severus turned away from the dishes, drying his hands on a towel. "He should be out here by now. He was awake when I went in this morning."

Draco eyed Severus suspiciously. He sounded almost...worried? No, concerned. Worried was hardly an emotion Severus would show.

Troubled, maybe?

Eyebrows drawn together in a frown, Severus turned towards the medicine cupboard, pulling out a thin box, and a bottle. Draco watched as he pulled two pieces of toast from under the tea towel.

"Are you giving him breakfast in bed?" he exclaimed in astonishment.

Severus ignored the question and placed the bread on a plate. He moved towards the cold cupboard, pulling out a pitcher of milk. Draco mouthed like a fish, floundering in shock.

"Close your mouth, Draco. That look is unbecoming."

Severus poured a glass of milk before returning it to the cupboard. Tapping the glass and the plate with his wand, he swept from the kitchen, the food and drink following after him.

Draco shook his head.

0000

Harry jerked out of his sleep to someone shaking his shoulder and calling his name.

Snape loomed over him, his hair less than inches from Harry's face.

Oh, right. He was supposed to be getting up.

Harry let out a heavy sigh, rubbing his eyes and rolling onto his back, "Right. Sorry. I don't know why I'm so tired."

He yawned as if to prove his point.

Snape sat down beside his bed in a chair he must have pulled from Harry's desk. "It is an expected side effect," he commented.

"Yeah?" Harry inquired, squinting at Snape.

"Your doctor informed us both of the possible side effects of each drug they'd be treating you with," said Snape, "Did you not read yours?"

Harry shrugged, "Sort of." In truth he'd meant to read it during chemo… But he couldn't help but wonder if it were better to be ignorant.

Snape must have read into his expression somewhat, for he said, "It is important information that you must be aware of, Potter. You need to know when something is wrong, or when it is merely 'par for the course'."

Harry hadn't thought of it that way. Chastened, he nodded and sat up.

He felt a little less ill this time around. Not great. But he no longer felt as if he'd been hit by a tractor.

"It is also important that you eat and drink, even when you do not feel hungry or thirsty."

Harry had a feeling he would never feel particularly hungry.

Snape cleared his throat, "I brought toast and milk, but I must check your temperature first."

Harry looked over at Snape's blurred figure, if he wasn't mistaken, Snape sounded vaguely uncomfortable.

Deciding to overlook the unusualness of this occurrence, Harry merely fixed his pillows against the headboard, sitting up straighter. "Could you hand me my glasses, please?" he asked.

Snape passed them to him, and Harry slipped them on.

Harry spotted his meal on the bedside table as Snape passed him a thermometer, "Thanks," he said, nodding towards the food as he put the edge with the silver tip under his tongue.

Snape nodded, "It will beep when it is finished."

Harry flexed his tongue against the stick, "I thought muggle thtuff didn't work in Hogwarth," he tried to say around it, chuckling at his own pronunciations.

"You'd be surprised what a wizard with enough skill can accomplish," Snape said dryly. Harry laughed again, and the thermometer beeped. He pulled it out, reading the tiny black number on the opposite side.

"98.7," he told Snape, "Sounds normal enough."

Snape took the device from him and stood, "Indeed. Eat your food."

Harry ate his toast and drank his milk in solitude. He wondered if Snape would mind terribly if he stayed in bed all day.

Normally such inactivity would get to him, but he needed to let the food in his belly settle. Otherwise it would surely come back up.

He also didn't believe he had the strength to do anything more today. Not that there was anything else to do.

Harry was just drifting into a light slumber when a knock sounded on his door. Suppressing a groan in case it was Snape, Harry rolled over. Seeing it was only Malfoy, he went ahead and let out his groan.

"No offense, Malfoy, but I kind of feel like shite right now, so I don't really want to argue or hash out how unfair life is at the moment."

That wasn't strictly fair to Malfoy, who, even Harry had to grudgingly admit, had turned out to be less of a pain than he'd anticipated.

"I didn't come in here to talk, Potter," said Malfoy, clearly affronted, "Severus says we're going for a walk."

Harry pulled his sheets over his head.

"Very mature of you," Malfoy sneered.

Two seconds later, the blankets were yanked back down.

"Hey!" Harry cried, "What're you playing at?" he demanded.

Malfoy folded his arms over his chest, "Severus says we're going for a walk, and that's exactly what we're going to do. So quit your whinging and get dressed. You may be perfectly content to stay cooped up in here, but I'm not." And with that, Malfoy swept from the room, slamming the door behind him.

Harry moaned piteously. Did they not understand how dreadful he felt just now?

With great care, Harry dragged himself from the comfort of his bed, and shuffled gingerly into the loo.

He did need to go, actually. And brushing his teeth sounded very refreshing.

Maybe a walk, (if it were short) would do him some good.

Harry washed his face, and brushed his teeth after pulling off the bandage on the back of his hand, careful not to look at the spot where the IV had been.

It was probably healed by now, but Harry didn't want to look at the spot.

Feeling a little less miserable, Harry dressed and pulled on his shoes. He'd had to sit down to pull on his jeans, and he'd ended up lying flat on his back for five minutes, but the end result was victorious.

Slowly, he shuffled from his room to the living room, one hand on the wall, the other clutching his stomach. Sweat had already begun to bead at his hairline already by the time he'd reached the sofa.

"We better not be going far," he muttered, lowering himself on the cushions.

"You are not," Snape said from behind him.

Harry craned his neck around as Snape entered the room.

"We're going outside," Draco said, a pair of trainers in his hands. He sat in the armchair to put them on.

Harry grimaced, "This is the dungeons though," he pointed out, "Sounds far to me. Unless we're flooing."

Harry wasn't sure which option horrified him more.

"There is a short cut, I assure you," said Snape. "Draco, fetch the bag from the kitchen."

Draco finished tying off his laces, hopping up to do Snape's bidding. Harry's eyes followed him as he went.

"He's cheerful," he said. A little resentful.

Snape offered Harry a hand to pull him up, "Draco doesn't do well with forced captivity," he said.

Harry laughed a little, and then stopped. Did Snape just joke with him? How utterly strange.

"Alright, let's get out of here," said Draco, holding a black pack on one shoulder, "I'm already frightfully pale as it is, my skin needs some bloody sunshine."

Snape raised an eyebrow, looking at Harry.

Definitely joking with him than.

Harry took a deep breath, let it go, and grinned back.

0000

The shortcut, it turned out, was a short flight of stairs and a dark passage that existed on the side of the castle facing the black lake. The walk wasn't more than 5 minutes, but Harry was panting and sweaty by the end of it.

Snape held Harry by his upper arm as they neared a row of birch trees just near the waters edge.

"Lay out the blanket, Draco," instructed Snape, still gripping Harry.

Malfoy set the bag down and pulled out a thick blanket, which he spread out beneath the shade of the tree's branches.

Snape helped Harry lower himself onto the side closest to the trunk, and Harry propped himself against it.

"Lunch is in the bag," said Snape as Malfoy flopped on the other end of the blanket to take off his shoes and socks. "You are not to leave this area. Safe as Hogwarts may be, I expect you both to exercise caution and behave."

Snape's eyes lingered on Harry, then Malfoy.

"We've got it." Malfoy said grudgingly, his cheeks flushed in embarrassment under Snape's gaze.

"You'd better," Snape retorted, "If either of you make so much as one-"

Malfoy stood up, tossing his socks on top of his shoes on the blanket, "Alright, alright. We'll be perfect children, just go Severus."

Harry thought Snape might pack them both up and send them back into the dungeons if Malfoy gave him anymore sass, but Snape merely shook his head irately.

"Mr. Potter, this should be on you at all times." Snape passed him the grey cube he'd left on his bed table last night.

Harry slipped it into his pocket, "Thanks."

Snape gave them both one last look before turning and walking back to the castle.

"What a pain," commented Malfoy, shaking his head. "Haven't been treated like a two year old in years."

Harry pulled his knees up to untie his shoelaces, "I bet he wouldn't have given us the warnings if you hadn't been a prat in the first place."

Malfoy made a face, "Yeah, well. I doubt that."

Harry peeled his socks off, sighing in relief as he did so. "Where'd Snape go anyway?" he asked, lowering himself onto his back on the blanket, and stretching out. The sun peeped through branches and leaves like beaming rays of gold; Harry closed his eyes.

"To see Dumbledore. He said he had to arrange for your aunt to come tomorrow while we're out. Make sure you don't keel over and die." Malfoy laughed at his supposed cleverness.

"Shut up." Harry said, though he didn't really care what Malfoy said either way. He had already moved onto more important things. Like Aunt Petunia visiting, for instance.

He wondered if she might tell him stories from when she and his mum were kids. Normal, untainted stories, without any over exaggerations about freakishness.

Harry sighed. What a strange year this was turning out to be.

"Where are you and Snape going?" he asked idly, opening his eyes to squint at the sun through the leaves. How long has it been since he was last out in the open?

Malfoy breathed out noisily next to him. "To Diagon Alley. For school things."

Harry rolled his head to the side, squinting at Malfoy now, who was lying on his side, propped on an elbow. He was envious, of course. He hadn't realised till now that he wouldn't get a trip to Diagon Alley this year, which was upsetting because Diagon Alley had been his first real venture into the Wizarding World. Going every year reminded him of that day.

The day he'd learned who he really was. The day he'd finally felt like a person, and not a freak or a burden.

Harry looked back up at the sky, no longer thinking it was beautiful, but rather that the perfect puffs of white clouds and the bright blue sky were mocking his misfortune.

"I don't want to go," said Malfoy breezily. "I really don't see why I have to. It's risky enough I'm going back to school at all. Severus should just get my stuff himself. Or make some elf do it."

That got Harry's hackles up, but he was determined to ignore Malfoy and his stupid spoiled comments.

"Actually, I kind of want to get out for awhile. Being cramped up in his quarters, decent though they are, is starting to get to me. He really should let me out more. I'm not the sick one, after all."

"Well, maybe if you hadn't messed with the floo, he'd trust you a bit more," said Harry scathingly. What an absolute tosser Malfoy could be. Harry couldn't wait for September 1st if it only meant getting rid of stupid prats like the one next to him. Harry breathed in and out strongly through his nose, his nausea seemed to be returning now too.

Before Malfoy could come up with a reply, or bother him anymore, Harry said, "Can't you go sit by the lake or something?"

Malfoy made an affronted sound, but Harry could hear him stand and stomp away.

His joy and relief considerably lessened, Harry curled on his side, his arms clutching his stomach. Sleep, he decided, was the only real escape he'd ever have.

0000

Draco stalked off towards the lake's edge, dropping down on his bum to roll his trousers up to his knees.

"Effing Potter," he muttered to himself as he dipped his feet in. Draco had simply been trying to have a conversation with the plonker! And what a bloody wanker Potter was about it too.

Draco slumped over, elbows on his knees, and swished his legs in the water. He wouldn't have any friends at Hogwarts this year.

Surely word would have spread amongst the Death Eaters' families about the Malfoys' disgrace.

Crabbe and Goyle would know, for certain. They were never really what he would call friends, but they were the closest thing to it.

Pansy would probably drop him the second she saw him in the most dramatic way she could come up with.

Maybe Zabini, but he never seemed to care particularly for anyone.

He'd be an outcast. An example of what betraying the Dark Lord came out to.

Draco would never, ever admit it to anyone, but more than anything he feared in this world, it wasn't death, or even torture. It was solitude. Complete and utter solitude of the involuntary variety.

Essentially, being alone.

He'd been cast aside all his life, put in the back of his parents' heads, for they had only cared when he was doing to deliberately draw their attention.

He was a child with no one but house-elves for company. Those terrible, little creatures had fed and clothed him when he could not, taken him outside to play, took care of him when he was sick, and had done every single thing Draco had spent years wishing his parents would do.

Oh, his mother had been decent enough. She'd given him the occasional hug and kiss. Came up to his room once or twice while he was ill, but Draco was painfully aware of how little he mattered to his parents beyond being the completion of their perfect, pureblood family.

Without realising it, Draco had begun to cry. He wasn't sobbing like a girl or anything, but tears were dripping down his cheeks in rapid succession.

He'd been sure Hogwarts would be his escape.

At Hogwarts, he'd have friends who wanted to be around him. People who actually cared about his interests.

He had known Crabbe and Goyle from pureblood dinners and social gatherings, but Draco had wanted a confidant… an equal.

Potter had cast him aside just as everyone else he'd wanted to cared about him.

And Draco had hated him for it.

Draco scrubbed his hands over his face, scoffing at himself. All this time away from his father, and his harsh ideas of upbringing, and now Draco was going soft.

Kicking his legs in the water roughly, Draco exhaled heavily, wiping his eyes again to clear the evidence of his tears.

"I can't do this alone," he whispered to no one.

0000

If possible, Harry felt even worse just now then he had all day. His back hurt from the uneven position he'd fallen asleep in, his stomach roiled, and his body ached.

He had a runny nose now too, and his hair was plastered against his sweaty forehead.

Harry moaned a little as he turned over.

"So you're awake then," said Malfoy, sounded much more subdued.

Harry grimaced in response.

"You look terrible. We should go back."

Harry nodded, afraid that if he opened his mouth, his guts would come spilling out.

Malfoy sighed loudly, "Well, squeeze that cube thing he gave you," he prompted impatiently. "No sense waiting around for him to come back on his own."

Harry dragged one arm from his belly to fish the cube from his pocket. "I just squeeze then?" he whispered.

Malfoy rolled his eyes, "Give it here," he said bossily, snatching the cube from Harry's hand.

Too weak to protest, Harry let his hand fall back to his stomach and closed his eyes.

He was practically dizzy with nausea.

How in Merlin's name would he walk back?

Suddenly, his stomach gave a horrifying lurch. Harry's eyes popped open, and he sat up, quicker than he should have.

He barely had time to say, "Malfoy-" before he keeled over and threw up in the grass beside the tree trunk.

"Cripes, Potter!" He heard Malfoy yelp, but he was too busy dry heaving to respond.

He hadn't any food to vomit, only bile and water.

It seared his throat and nose as it came up.

"Get Snape," Harry groaned between dry heaves, his arms and knees shaking as he held himself up.

His eyes stung with tears and his nose ran.

He dry heaved twice more before his stomach stopped jerking. Harry sat back on his heels, swiping at his face with the bottom of his t-shirt.

Carefully, he crawled away from the sick, Malfoy must have run off towards the castle because he was nowhere in sight now.

Harry curled into a ball and waited for Snape.

He needed water to wash the taste out of his mouth or he might be sick again.

0000

"Severus! Severus!" Draco shouted in a panic as he ran towards the castle. The man in question seemed to have already been on his way toward them, but his pace quickened at Draco's call.

"What is it, what is the matter?" he asked urgently, grabbing Draco by the arms.

Draco gasped for air, winded by all the running he'd done, "It's Potter. He started sicking up all over the grass out of nowhere!"

Later, Draco would realise how frightened he must have sounded.

Later, Draco would watch Severus help Potter to stand, and support most of his weight all the way back to the dungeons.

Later, Draco would bite back his scathing remarks and make his most concerted effort to be nice to Potter yet.

Later, he would acknowledge how much he'd changed in such a short amount of time.

But for now, he would accept the fact that he truly did not, could not, despise Potter.

A/N: All I can say is that my Beta is amazing, and that my followers lift my heart. Thanks so much everyone!