Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter. I don't make money from this story.

This is my first and only story I've ever posted so far. Please, be gentle about my English, because I'm not a native speaker.


ATTENTION! This story has been edited to avoid problems with MA content!


To find the missing lifeline

Prologue

Draco's life had changed out of all recognition. He made a decision to go back to Hogwarts to finish the last year of his education. At first he was sure he wouldn't be able to make it, as his only wish was to hide himself from the world and never show up again. But, in the end, he decided to go through it, though he couldn't count how many times he had changed his mind. It was necessary for his future; but, for the most part, it was necessary to outdo his spiteful critics and haters, not to let them know how broken he really was. He'd been living in fear for too long and wanted to change everything. Anything...

All the horrors of the time that he had spent among the Death Eaters disturbed his dreams almost every night. Screams of Voldemort's victims, tortures and murders; Nagini, gorging their dead bodies, or sometimes even those, who had still had a glimmer of life, - that was the most horrifying show. Draco had known that it had only been a matter of time for him to join those numerous victims.

The first time he had failed the Dark Lord when he couldn't bring himself to kill Dumbledore (not that he'd really thought he had been able to kill the headmaster). It had been nothing, but a mockery to send a boy to kill one of the most powerful wizards. It had been nothing, but a mockery to send a boy to kill...

And then he couldn't raise his wand against some muggle-born woman to cast a killing curse on her 'in the name of his Lord'. It was his last chance, but he refused to do it. He just said a quiet 'no', and condemned himself to a horrible death. His father turned his back on him immediately. Before facing his death, the traitor had to be punished first; to pay for his disobedience and, probably, to make the others see what was waiting for those, who were thinking about disobeying their master. Therefore, Draco endured almost three weeks of appalling tortures.

Lucius was more than eager to punish his son, and the Dark Lord himself didn't stand aside of it. Draco wasn't allowed to die or lose his mind. Again and again the broken boy begged his tormentors to stop, but it was only making Lucius even more mad and cruel. It was an affair of honour for him, and he spared nether time, nor strength. After all, his son was just a pathetic, worthless disappointment and a wimp. He'd brought an awful shame upon his family and had to pay. The torture stopped only when he needed healing desperately and his tormentors needed their rest, or when the Dark Lord had more important matters to attend to. And then they started again, and there were countless hours of shocking pain. And finally Lucius dragged Narcissa into the chamber where Draco was kept. Lucius blamed her for giving birth to a disgrace, for raising him like that; so, because of them, the Dark Lord questioned Lucius' own loyalty. The woman cried in misery, seeing her son's battered and worn-out body. Sometimes Draco hadn't been sure if his father was entirely sane, but his doubts dispelled when Lucius killed Narcissa in front of him. He never faltered, casting a curse on her, looking into his son's eyes, full of tears, shock and pain, which was so deep that Draco couldn't scream, no matter how much he wanted to. The cold-blooded murderer left her dead body in the chamber. Injured and completely exhausted, Draco mourned for her and desperately shooed the hungry rats away from her body. Sometimes he pressed his face to her cold shoulder and fell asleep or just fainted when he was given time to rest. He imagined that she was warm and alive, and it was the only comfort he could have.

One night he was awoken by someone, who was touching him through his tattered clothes. Draco was lying curled up on his side next to Narcissa's body. The way he was touched left no doubts about the person's intentions. Draco opened his eyes in fear and saw a big man above him. He recognized him; it was one of Greyback's lackeys. The blond tried to push the man away, but the bastard was much stronger and quickly broke the boy's weak resistance by slapping him harshly across the face. He ordered the boy to look into his mother's lifeless eyes, while he was molesting him. Draco couldn't. But every time he tried to close his eyes or turn his face away, the bastard slapped him hard and turned the boy's face back to Narcissa's, yanking his hair so forcefully that Draco thought that the man would undoubtedly break his neck. When the werewolf started to tear his clothes away from his terribly aching and violently shaking body, Draco cried and begged him to stop. His heart clenched. They had already taken everything from him, but this was simply too much. Thankfully, his cries were heard by someone, who immediately informed the Dark Lord. The beast was cruciated, since it wasn't his place to punish Draco and it didn't befit the Dark Lord's followers to 'taint' themselves by copulating with the traitor. At least, Draco had avoided the unbearable humiliation of being raped.

Narcissa's body was there with him for almost five days. And when they dragged her away, Draco had a fit of hysterics, finally accepting the fact that she was really dead and he'd truly become an orphan. So many things that he had feared for years had finally happened. For so much time he'd been living with the foreboding of some terrible end; with fear, clenching his heart with its iron and cold hand. But all his fears had come true and he had nothing left to lose, so he was waiting for his death as a welcome visitor and a desired deliverance. He even begged to end his life, but that luxury he still wasn't allowed. Many times they drove him to the very edge, and the piercing cold replaced his unthinkable pain. He even saw his mother's face once and thought: 'This is it... My escape...' But every time they brought him back in the nightmare, which his existence had become. His bloodcurdling screams and cries amused Voldemort. But later Draco's voice was lost and all he could do was weep silently and wheeze, opening his mouth in silent screams and shuddering in pain, which he hadn't thought could exist at all. He knew it wouldn't last. His heart was aching frequently, he was coughing up blood and sometimes he could hardly breathe. The one, who had been ordered to heal him, couldn't (or already didn't really want to) do anything about it, so Draco concluded that he didn't have much time left to live, and the thought was comforting. He forbade himself to hope.

He didn't know he still had a hope, and his salvation carried the face of a man, whose hands were clenching in fists every time he heard his godson's agonizing screams and saw his unbearable sufferings with his own black eyes. He had a plan, but he needed time, and in his thoughts he prayed gods that Draco had enough time to wait.

Severus had finally picked the right moment and entered the chamber. The boy was lying on the cold floor, dressed in his tattered, long, black robes. He appeared to be asleep or unconscious. Snape approached him and kneeled. There were two small flasks in his hand. One of them was empty and the other one was filled with the light-blue liquid. Draco stirred and winced. He definitely had a high fever. His hazy eyes looked at his godfather and then at the flasks in his hand. Severus knew that the boy was already on the threshold of death, and his torturers had already stopped healing him properly. Draco couldn't even recognize the man at first, due to the damage.

"Are you here to... end..." the boy whispered weakly. His breathing was hard and painful.

"You have to drink this," Severus said almost softly, opening the flask with blue liquid.

"Will that... hurt much? I'm so tired..." the younger wizard murmured, aside from something incoherent that made no sense. He whimpered quietly in the end.

"You won't feel anything and it won't take long. You're just going to fall asleep," Snape assured. Draco didn't believe that Voldemort could really take pity on him, letting him die like this. He wasn't that merciful. Perhaps, it was his godfather's idea, after all. But Draco couldn't bring himself to ask, and, not only was it too hard to speak, but thinking and formulating the words seemed to be beyond his strength. In fact, it hurt so much to think that his mutilated mind was shutting down. Severus lifted his head carefully and helped him to drink the potion. The blond boy drank it willingly, though it was unbearably hard and painful to swallow.

"Thank you..." Draco whispered and a single tear escaped one of his eyes before his heavy eyelids closed. He inhaled convulsively. Severus put his head back on the floor gently and waited.

"Draco, be strong," he whispered. The broken boy shivered slightly and his lips moved just a little. Severus took his godson's wrist in his hand to be able to feel his pulse as much as to comfort him. His hand was covered in dried blood, like most of his body, but Snape tried not to think about the damage now. Draco was falling asleep; his heartbeat was becoming slower and weaker, as well as his breathing. He was motionless now, but, from time to time, his body shivered faintly. It didn't last though. In a few minutes his heart stopped and Draco emitted his last weak breath. He was dead. Severus placed the empty flask near the boy's face and quietly cast a wandless spell in some forgotten language. When he finished, the light-blue streams of smoke started to escape Draco's mouth and nostrils, and it was thin and weak. Its colour resembled the potion that Severus had given his godson earlier. The smoke slowly moved itself inside the empty flask. When it subsided on the bottom of it, Severus corked it up and put it into the pocket of his robes. The flask felt comfortable and warm near his body. Draco's essence of life was inside of it. He took the other flask off the floor and left. He knew that the other man was about to enter Draco's chamber.

Another black-robed man entered the chamber and found the boy dead. He wasn't only a Death Eater, but he was also a mediwizard, and, therefore, he often was the one, who took care of the prisoners to extend their lives when the Dark Lord ordered him to. He cast a spell only to find out that Draco was dead for about fifteen minutes, so there was no way to reanimate him. It wasn't surprising after almost three weeks of severe torture. A mediwizard and a human inside of the man felt relieved somehow, but the Death Eater was concerned that he had displeased his Lord. He left the chamber and headed to the others. The Dark Lord and some Death Eaters were away after their meeting, but some people were still there.

"The boy is dead," he informed the small group, but they didn't seem to care.

Severus was among them. He approached Lucius, who was about to leave.

"Lucius, your son is dead," he said calmly. It was the last chance to see any regrets.

"I have no son. That pathetic boy was not a Malfoy, and he will not be buried as one. Let anyone leave his corpse in the forest, so it would be eaten by animals. At any rate, I have no time for this nonsense," the blond man answered with the cold voice and disapparated. Severus was stunned for a few moments.

Draco's body was wrapped up in black robes. Severus held him in his arms and carried him away from his hell. He apparated to his own house and brought his godson into the guest bedroom. Carefully he put him onto bed and took the warm flask out of his pocket. He opened it and placed it on the nightstand next to bed. The blue smoke looked disturbed inside of the flask when it was taken away from Severus' body. It desperately tried to reach to him, but couldn't leave its glass prison, and moved somehow frustrated and confused inside of it. Snape chanted the incantation, and it was longer than the one that had imprisoned Draco's life. The blue smoke calmed down and began to get out of the flask slowly. The light, pale stream reached Draco's face and disappeared inside his nostrils and mouth, finding a very narrow way between his dry and injured lips. Severus was almost enchanted by the sight of life, returning into his godson's body. The black-haired man sat down on the edge of the bed next to Draco and pressed his fingers to the boy's neck, quickly finding the carotid artery. With fingers of the other hand he carefully lifted Draco's eyelid to watch his still lifeless grey eye closely. All he had to do was wait. The life had to become attached to the body again, and it usually took about twenty minutes. And finally Severus' fingertips felt a small and weak beat. And a few seconds later he felt another one. Slowly Draco's heart came back to life, and he made a small inhalation. His pupil moved slightly and the eye watered. The more normal colour returned to the ashen skin and it warmed up a little. He was alive again. His breathing was shallow and his pulse was still far from normal, but it wasn't Severus' ritual to blame, - the boy's health was undermined by tortures. Draco was shivering slightly; the pain had returned along with his life, but he was too weak and not entirely conscious to react. Severus cleaned his body and tended his wounds. He knew that most damage was internal; however, there still were several burns and cuts, and numerous bruises on his skin. He gave his godson some potions. Draco couldn't swallow, so he managed to do it only with the help of the spells. It made his body relax a little. Severus scanned him with diagnostic spells and found out that most internal organs were damaged; four ribs and left arm were broken. Some fractures had been healed before, however, the bones knitted in the wrong way. They had to be broken again to heal properly. Every time Snape cast a breaking spell, he could hear Draco's small whimpers. Obviously, the boy could feel his bones breaking and heard the cracks through the veil of his semiconsciousness; he winced every time, though he had been stuffed with the strong pain-relieving potion. Severus was utterly careful and concentrated, breaking the bones exactly where they had to be broken with minimal damage to the soft tissues.

It took him about four hours to take care of the damage to the best of his ability. And then he left the blond boy to rest after wrapping him up in two warm blankets that he'd enchanted to keep the comfortable warmth constantly.

He was sitting in his study. It was only then when he finally let out a breath of relief. Draco was saved. Severus found the most harmless way to get the boy out of the Dark Lord's hands. His heart had been bleeding for his godson. It had never showed, since he had almost perfectly trained himself to hide his true emotions behind the mask of the indifference. But he couldn't remember how many times he'd had the intention to send his spy career to hell and just disapparate them both out of there to stop Draco's agony. That would have been most unwise, however. Even if Severus had managed to disapparate with the boy right from the one of the Dark Lord's hide-outs, it wouldn't have taken long for the Death Eaters to track them down and capture them both or just kill them. For now Severus was nothing but a traitor to the Order after he had killed Dumbledore, and they wouldn't be helpful in giving any sanctuary to him and his godson. Besides, they already had enough troubles themselves. And Snape still had his role to play in this war. He'd already sacrificed enough in his life to give it up now and to reduce to zero everything he had managed to achieve with such great efforts. He couldn't allow all of that to go in vain. All he could have really done was make the others believe that Draco was dead, so no one would have tried to find him or make Snape look suspicious in this matter. He'd found a ritual that allowed to take a life away for two hours, or even a little more than that, and then return it into the body safely without harming the health, since Draco's health had already been too weak, and he simply hadn't been able to survive any other similar magic. The problem was that it had taken more than two weeks to prepare the potion for the ritual and the required ingredients were rare enough, not to mention that he'd had to pick the right moment to act, when the Dark Lord had started to lose the interest in his 'toy'.

Draco slept for the next two days, and Severus visited him often to check his vitals and heal him without waking him up. But the next week was nightmarish for both of them. Draco was coughing up blood violently, and he could hardly sleep at all because of it. He suffered from severe headache and heartaches. He was dizzy and drowsy all the time and could hardly realize where he was and, sometimes, who he was. His mind was almost ruined. And, what was more, he couldn't speak. Severus was by his side most of the time. The boy could only stay asleep for an hour or two with the help of sleeping potions, and then he was waking up, because he could hardly breathe, and was coughing up blood again or he was doing it in his sleep. Occasionally, the cough was so severe that he ended up vomiting. Snape did everything he could, and he knew that no real mediwizard could do better. He had no choice, but to be one, because there was no way to take Draco to hospital, - too risky. Some spells and potions were taking effect gradually, so, he hoped, Draco just needed time to respond to treatment properly. During the next few weeks he was sleeping most of the time, he coughed sometimes, but no blood escaped his aching lungs anymore. Severus forced him to eat every day, but still had to spoon-feed the boy, who was too weak even to hold the spoon in his hand or sometimes even to remember how to eat. Draco was still half-conscious. He recognized the man, who was taking care of him and trusted him entirely, though sometimes it was hard to remember who the man was to him. He just knew that he was some kind of a relative and someone trustworthy. Draco's mind was damaged, he could hardly understand the speech at first (not that he heard it a lot, since Severus was taciturn most of the time). He often felt as if he was eviscerated mentally. Sometimes his mind became clearer, but he was convinced that he was going insane, seeing and hearing things. It didn't happen often, fortunately. That was his past laying itself right over his present, so his head was in a muddle, and he was almost in panic or, at least, confused, trying to decide what was real, what was past and what was present. Memories were mostly unclear, fragmentary, desultory; some were just the angry shadows and the incoherent sounds. The thought of losing his mind forever was more than frightening.

When Draco had become stronger, Severus used his knowledge of Legilimency to heal his mind and to help him to find his way to reality. It took many days, but it worked. The recovery was painful and hard for Draco, both mentally and physically. Finally, he was allowed to get up. He had a bad coordination of movements, so for some time Severus was guiding him about his house, holding his arm safely, to prevent him from falling and hurting himself.

Draco's healing was taking time, a lot of potions and a lot of Severus' patience. St. Mungo's or any other hospital wasn't an option, considering that the boy had to stay hidden. His face was well-known in the wizarding world. Would mediwitches and mediwizards take care of him as good as any other patient? Wouldn't anyone try to harm him? Would he be protected from lynching? Anyway, he would become an object of a great interest for the Aurors. News spread quickly and it wouldn't take long for some Death Eater to inform the Dark Lord and Lucius. Severus also wouldn't trust any muggle healer in attempt to hide Draco in some muggle hospital. There was no other really safe place for his godson, and he had to stay with someone he could trust; it was important for his recovery. However, Snape was exhausted, since he also had other matters to attend to, concerning his job; dangerous enough to become careful as never before, because there was a good chance for him to die and leave the boy all alone. When Draco started to feel better, at least, physically, Severus finally had some time to rest. The boy was still mute. It was some post-traumatic outcome, but Snape didn't know what to do about it. All he could do was give him more time. He once approached the door of the guest room, where Draco lived, and heard the muffled sobs. He thought that, perhaps, it was a good sign, but didn't enter the room, deciding that it was better to leave Draco alone for now.

The blond youth was wondering to himself, why his godfather had never been known as a brilliant mediwizard. Draco received a good healing, he, perhaps, would only have got in hospital. The man knew exactly what to do. It probably had also something to do with Snape's diligence and perfectionism; if he applied himself to something, he intended to gain the best results. Somehow Draco knew that his godfather was hiding him and he knew that he was the one who had saved him from the Dark Lord and his mad father. No... Not father. Just Lucius - the Death Eater, fanatic and the monster's lackey, who had murdered Draco's mother. Mother... He couldn't remember her face without crying.

Draco intended to find out the details of his salvation. Did his godfather love him so much that he had risked everything to save him? Wasn't he loyal to the Dark Lord? Or Draco was just more important to him than serving to a mad, inhuman monster, unlike he'd been to Lucius, who had betrayed his own family so easily? His godfather had already saved him before, killing Dumbledore; at least, he had saved Draco's soul. He wanted to know everything, but he'd found out that he couldn't speak, for some reason, to ask his questions. Also his magic was still low and he found it hard to concentrate. When he was reading, he somehow couldn't understand the text properly and forced himself to pay attention, reading the same texts over and over again.

Once, during their breakfast, he tried to attract Severus' attention with the look of his eyes. Without any words the older wizard understood him, and, once they finished eating, he told Draco everything about his rescue. He also told him about his true loyalty, and let Draco know that he was a spy for the Order, even if the Order itself didn't consider him as one anymore, so he was by himself, though the latter wasn't something unusual. He told him everything about Dumbledore's death. So, no, he wasn't Voldemort's servant. Snape was standing at the window, looking outside, when he was telling his story. When he'd finished, Draco stood up quietly, slowly approached the man and held him tight, closing his eyes. Severus was a little surprised at first, but returned the embrace hesitantly.

And then, later, the war was won. Severus was injured gravely in battle; bitten by Nagini and poisoned, but he was saved by a miracle. When Draco was informed shortly after the incident, he stormed into his godfather's ward in St. Mungo's with choking sobs, thinking that the man was dying. Nagini had always scared the hell out of Draco. The fear had been almost paralyzing when she'd been slithering close enough. That snake gave him nightmares, and, he knew, her venom was deadly; even if it wasn't the most frightening thing about her after he'd witnessed her eating people alive. He cried desperately, thinking that he was losing the only man he cared about, losing because of that terrifying, atrocious creature. He knew what it felt like, - to lose; and wasn't sure he would be able to recover after another loss. He spent four days near Snape's bed. Just sometimes he left the ward to roam about the hospital. Severus remained unconscious. Draco hardly ate at all, and slept, sitting on the chair next to bed, ignoring all the persuasions of mediwitches and mediwizards to go home and have some rest. On the fifth day Snape opened his eyes. His life was finally out of danger, and Draco's heart felt disburdened. The man was told about his godson's excessive anxiety that made him settle down in Severus' ward, where he stayed without eating and proper rest. Despite of his weakness, he managed to give his godson hell, scolding him. Draco's answer was a happy and radiant smile, which could melt anyone's heart, as if Severus' angry words were the most pleasant thing he had ever heard. Actually, it was the first Draco's smile Severus had seen for a very long time, even if the boy's face looked tired. And yet, Snape remained adamant and sent his godson back to their house. When Draco left the ward reluctantly (or, more like, he was turned out neck and crop) and made his way towards the exit, he stumbled across The Golden Gryffindor Trio. Granger was holding a bunch of flowers in her hand. It wasn't hard to guess that they were going to visit Snape. Draco already knew that Severus had given Potter his memories, thinking that he'd been dying when Nagini had bitten him. So now The Trio knew the truth about his true loyalty, too. Just for a short moment the Slytherin stopped in front of them with his eyes looking down, and they stopped as well. Even if he had something to tell them (and he had nothing), he was mute, anyway. Feeling uncomfortable and confused, Draco passed the Trio hurriedly, without even looking at them. However, he could feel their eyes on his back. He smirked to himself at he thought that the Gryffindorks had picked the wrong time to visit Snape, since the man was in a really foul mood. He also knew that Severus hated hospitals, hated to be ill, weak and nursed, so Draco was sure that he would give a very hard time to St. Mungo's' staff. The thought amused the boy. He could finally relax and have some rest.

Draco visited his godfather every day, bringing him books and the other things he required.

And then Severus became a war hero officially. Not as famous as Potter, of course, to Draco's frustration. But first there had been a trial. Severus, fortunately, was not only discharged, but he also obtained the well-deserved recognition and respect. His name was completely cleared. In his usual vein, he always tried to avoid any attention and especially the reporters. Even Rita Skeeter gave up after some sarcastic and unpleasant comment, which made even her lose her voice and open her mouth as if she was a fish thrown out of the water. So they just let him be to his relief.

Draco was treated differently, however. But he hadn't expected anything better than that. Some people from The Ministry of Magic would have gladly thrown him in Azkaban, but, since he had never killed anyone and had been just a pawn, they'd just limited his rights. His mind had healed long ago and he wasn't suffering from the absent-mindedness anymore, but he still couldn't speak, so the investigators watched his memories, even the most personal, which weren't related to his case, so he felt naked in front of a crowd of people. They also took his written statements (actually, plenty of them). Some people considered him a victim, but most people saw his father in him and believed that young Malfoy could cause troubles. Lucius had been killed by the Aurors during the battle and now his repudiated son had to pay for his father's sins in some way. People hated Malfoys and they didn't really care that Draco had never even been a real Death Eater. He'd had his Dark Mark before, but that had been some kind of a recruit's mark. The real one had had to be gained after the initiation. Draco had failed most of the Dark Lord's missions, so he hadn't proved himself 'worthy', and then he'd become another victim of Voldemort and Lucius. The 'recruit's' mark could be given or removed by any Death Eater from the inner circle, so Severus had removed it, once his godson had settled down in his house. Draco couldn't go to Malfoy's Manor; the Ministry had warded it as a crime area for the time of investigation. But Draco had no desire to return there, anyway. He preferred to live with his godfather, and his house had become a safe sanctuary for him. He'd got accustomed to consider that place as such. And Severus wouldn't let him go anyway, because Draco could still be in danger. On top of everything, Draco had an unpleasant obligation; every month he had to visit the Ministry to be interrogated by two people, who were in charge with his case. It was just a way to control him and to make sure that he wouldn't make any surprises. In the end, they cast a tracking spell on him to track his every step. It was a hearing in private, so Severus wasn't present. When it was over and he found out about the Ministry's decisions for Draco's case, he was mad about all the ridiculousness and idiocy, but he had no power to repeal the sentence. He promised to escort Draco to the Ministry every month, to make sure that they respected the boy's rights, even if he didn't have many now. He was also concerned about the way his godson had gone through that humiliating process, since he wasn't standing on his feet, literally. He'd already gone through much misery and still couldn't speak, so they could, at least, be a little more tactful.

More troubles followed in person of Rita Skeeter and her article. The picture of Draco's sad face was on the front page of 'The Daily Prophet'. Oh, Skeeter had made a perfect job in picking Malfoys to pieces! Apparently, she had her source in the Ministry, which wasn't surprising, of course, and all Draco's confidential information was published with the ridiculous title: 'Mute Malfoy's Confessions'. Of course, she hadn't forgotten to mention the tortures he had endured in Lucius' hands and the hands of fucking 'YOU-KNOW-WHO'! And, of course, she made public the decisions of the Ministry regarding him. There was some hidden implication, which could be interpreted as a question if Draco could become a threat later, after he'd witnessed so many murders and tortures, and had been brutally tortured himself; just like a traumatized child, who had a chance to grow up in a serial murderer.

"Bitch! Bitch!" Draco yelled, tearing the paper to pieces, crumpling it and throwing it into the fireplace. Severus wasn't far when he heard his godson's screams. For months Draco had been mute. It was the first time, since his salvation, when Snape heard something from him. He wasn't pleased with the content, of course, but he also was concerned about the reason that made his godson scream like this, and Severus almost ran into his room right away to see what was going on. Draco sobbed into his palms, sitting on the chair in front of the fireplace.

"Draco, what is it?" Severus asked, sitting down next to a boy.

"...Newspaper..." was all that Draco answered.

Severus sent his owl to bring him the copy of 'The Daily Prophet'. When he'd read the whole front page, his face paled even more, though it seemed impossible, and he seethed with anger.

He blew up the Ministry, demanding an explanation. There was a scandal in the Ministry, and they pursued a narrow inquiry. They traced the leak to a timid (at least, timid in looks) man, who appeared to be Skeeter's source for years. He was fired for the disclosure of the confident information. Not that it helped Draco to stop living the life of a recluse and hide from everyone.

Ironically enough, the emotional shock of reading that ill-fated article had made him start speaking again.

And then Draco's life was rather peaceful. He studied a lot and just tried his best to get back on his feet. And finally, his return to school was determined. It had never been said aloud, but Draco knew that Severus decided to return at Hogwarts for him, and he was endlessly grateful for it. Actually, before that, Snape had had no intentions to teach again. He was free now and desired nothing, but a peaceful and cloistered life, at least, for some time. His mission had been done, and his spy career, with all its life-threatening danger, had been left behind. Nevertheless, he'd never intended to sit in the armchair, doing nothing; he had some unfinished inventions in potion-making, after all. He approved Draco's decision to return to school, however, he was convinced that it would have been wiser to wait another year, until everything would settle down a little around Malfoy's infamous name. But he never insisted, so the decision was made. Snape couldn't leave his godson alone with all the problems that would be inevitable. So for a one more year he had to become a professor again. Headmistress McGonagall was more than happy to find out about it, and welcomed him with open arms as a friend and as a Potions Professor.

And now they were standing at the footsteps of Hogwarts. Draco already knew that most of his so-called friends, ex-friends, anyway, mostly children of the Death Eaters, had refused to go back to school, at least, for this year. It was good in some respect, of course. Most assuredly, some of them would have treated him as a traitor. He didn't know for sure. He only knew that in past most of them had been appealed by the influence of his family, wealth and, of course, his father's... Lucius' place at the right hand of The Dark Lord. And now Draco had nothing to offer and even if he had, he wouldn't. Anyway, they wouldn't come to study this year. But didn't that mean that he would become a scapegoat? There was no one in the entire school he could call a friend. But that was fine, he'd already got used to this thought. He tried to convince himself that the worst things had already happened to him and he had to move on.

The day was warm and beautiful, and the sun warmed his body gently, making him squint at its slightly annoying brightness. Draco had very conflicting emotions about Hogwarts. He remembered his first years in school with a smile. He'd been so naive and carefree. So much ambitions and hopes. Most things had been so easy for him. And there'd been no Lucius around him all the time to say that he was flippant and such demeanour wasn't worthy of Malfoys, or other things to rub his nose into. And then there had been the nightmarish sixth year that had made Hogwarts his personal hell, with no way out, and a trap for his agonizing soul. No, there was no way it would be that bad now.

"Draco?" Severus' voice behind him interrupted the stream of his thoughts.

"Yes," Draco nodded and entered the school. 'Come what may,' he thought, taking a deep breath.