Draco's eye twitched as Crabbe and Goyle chatted a bit loudly back and forth, their conversation stilted. Why they thought he would need or desire their attention now was beyond him. As far as he was concerned, the two other boys had already made it clear that they cared nothing for him as a person. Fine! He had thought. Malfoys don't need friends, anyway.
Shoving away his breakfast plate, he grabbed up a couple slices of toast before rising from the dining table and departing without a word. He made his outside and across the courtyard, his shoulders hunching against the cold. The occasional snowflake fell silently from the sky, adding to the blanket of snow covering the grounds.
The boy didn't go far. He stopped just outside of the courtyard and brushed the thin layer of snow off a large rock before sitting down. His fingers were already beginning to turn red with cold. Draco had more than one pair of perfectly serviceable gloves, of course, but they were all in his dormitory. All his classes were inside the castle that day, so he hadn't planned on going outside at all.
A low growl drew the boy's attention to a large black dog standing a few meters away from him. It was far too thin, with matted fur; it certainly was not a handsome dog by anyone's standards.
Draco sneered. "What are you growling at, you mangy mutt?"
Another growl was his only response as the animal seemed to glare at him. The teen glared back.
"Emaciated mongrel," he muttered. "Maybe if you weren't so ugly, you wouldn't be a stray." He looked down at the cold toast he held in his hand before casting another glance at the dog. Stretching out his arm, he tossed the food towards it.
The dog watched the offering land in the snow with great interest, ears pricking forward, nose sniffing the air. Cautiously, it moved forward until it was close enough to scarf down the two pieces of toast. It looked back up at Draco, who scoffed.
"You don't really believe that I keep food in my pockets, do you?" The dog looked affronted at his tone, causing Draco to laugh. "And to think you growled at me. Now, you expect me to feed you!"
The bell warning that classes were about to begin sounded and the dog turned and trotted away. A small smile found its way onto Draco's face. "Good dog," he whispered.
Harry silently cursed Garret Cowan for a sadistic bastard whose ready smile and genial manner were clearly a cover for the fact that he was well-educated in the art of torturing patients under the guise of 'recovery'. What was more, the man didn't even have to be present. He'd recruited Madame Pomfrey to assist him in ensuring Harry continued his torment daily. Snape, too, for that matter.
The boy knew the reason for the exercises, of course – the healer had explained it very clearly. Harry did want his hand to get better, so keeping the muscles and tendons from atrophying made a lot of sense. Logic further dictated that if anyone was to blame, it wasn't Healer Cowan but Draco Malfoy.
Presently, however, Harry had his hand soaking in a basin of warm water waiting for it to stop aching so much and Garret was the one who had prescribed the exercises which had caused his discomfort in the first place. At least, he supposed, his hand wasn't entirely numb. But then, he wasn't entirely convinced he believed that was actually a good thing.
"How's the hand, Mr. Potter?" Madame Pomfrey asked sometime later as she moved back towards him.
Harry considered it for a moment. The pain had finally subsided, even though it had seemed to take forever to do so. "Tingling," he finally responded. He took his hand from the basin as she held out a towel to dry it off.
"Well, Mr. Potter," she said briskly, banishing both basin and towel. "How would you like to get out of the hospital wing?"
The teen looked up at her, eyes wide in alarm. "I don't want to go back the tower."
Poppy looked mildly surprised, but started to reply, "Mr. Potter, you-"
"I just can't!" he insisted. "I don't want them all staring at me and feeling sorry for me. Please, I..."
"You won't be returning to your dormitory, just yet," a third voice cut in. Snape made his way across the room to join them.
"I won't?" Harry questioned.
"As I was trying to tell you," the mediwitch uttered dryly.
"No," the Potions Master told the boy. "You will be staying in your bedroom. I feel – and Madame Pomfrey and your healer agree – that someone ought to oversee your physical therapy. Furthermore, I wish to assist you in leaning to do things left-handed. That will easier to do without the entire castle separating us."
"Oh," said Harry. "But..."
"Is there a problem?" Snape raised a brow as the boy trailed off.
"Won't that just be a lot of trouble for you?"
Silently, the man cursed the Dursleys, yet again. "Are you implying that I am incapable of fulfilling my professorial duties while caring for my son?" he inquired aloud, allowing a hint of amusement to color his tone.
A shy smile stole across his son's face. "No, sir," the boy answered.
"Poppy, when may he leave?"
"Let's say after dinner," Pomfrey answered. "That'll give me time to give him one more exam and anything else he might need before he goes."
"Before dinner," Snape bartered with her, then addressed the boy. "We can go collect your belongings from your dormitory and eat in our quarters."
"Fine," the woman agreed, "before dinner."
"Thank you, Poppy. Harry, I'll see you at dinnertime."
"Yes, sir," Harry replied.
Pivoting neatly, the Potions Master left the ward.
Draco grabbed up several drumsticks and placed them atop a napkin, before folding the cloth around them and tucking them into a large pocket in his robes. Without a word to anyone, he left the Great Hall and made his way outside. His companions shared a look, but did not call out after him, quietly eating their own meals, instead.
Quickly, Draco made his way outside to the rock he had been at breakfast time. The boy looked around, disappointed when he didn't spot the object of his search. Just as his shoulders began to droop, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Something large and black was skirting the edge of the forest.
"Here, boy!" he shouted, hoping not only that the animal could hear him, but also that it wouldn't turn out to be Hagrid's boarhound. Not that Draco disliked Fang, but he already belonged to someone. A stray, however...
The creature had heard him and was currently trotting his direction. As it drew nearer, Draco was pleased to see that it was the stray, after all.
"I thought you might still be around," Draco said as the dog slowed to a half a couple meters away. His tone was a bit supercilious, but a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. Digging the napkin from his pocket, he unwrapped the chicken inside it. "It's obvious you haven't been finding enough food," he explained, "so I decided to bring you some."
He tossed one of the drumsticks to the dog, who made short work of it before looking back up at him. "Good boy," Draco murmured, throwing another. "At least, I assume you're a boy." Once the second piece had been devoured, the thirteen-year-old threw another so that it was closer to him.
"Y'know," the teen said thoughtfully as the animal crept cautiously forward to at the food. "If we got you fattened up and your coat brushed, you probably wouldn't look half as bad. You might even be a handsome mutt, I bet." He dropped the next piece of chicken near his own feet. There was only one other left.
"It's alright," Draco crooned, taking a half-step back as the dog eyed the food warily. "I brought it for you, y'know." Finally, the canine moved forward to eat it.
"Good boy," the young wizard uttered again, voice soft. Taking the last drumstick in his hand, he extended it towards the dog, grinning when he took it after a brief hesitation. Slowly, he reached forward until his fingers brushed against the fur on the animal's neck.
With a vicious snarl, the large dog snapped at him. Draco jerked back, falling in the snow. The boy gave a somewhat forced smile, hurt lurking in his gray eyes. "Well, perhaps another time, then," he said.
"I don't know if I'll be able to bring you anything tomorrow," the boy continued after a moment. "I'd like to, but I'm not really supposed to be outside. I got in a lot of trouble. I..." he bit his lip. "I hurt someone. Badly. I could have killed him, even. I didn't mean to... I mean, I suppose I did, sort of. I just – I lost my temper and acted without thinking.
"Anyway, I'm on restriction because of it. I suspect my Head of House will lecture me about coming outside when I'm not allowed. So, I might not be able to come anymore. I might be able to get Crabbe or Goyle to bring you food, though. Goyle has dogs at home. You'd probably like him better than me, anyway."
The dog sat back on his haunches as he listened to the boy. He was undoubtedly Lucius Malfoy's brat, what with the white-blond hair and aristocratic air about him. Yet, the boy had gone out of his way to bring him food, even though he knew it would get him in trouble. Then there was the hurt and longing that colored the boy's tone when he told the dog that he'd probably like the Goyle boy better.
In that moment, the kid somehow seemed human in a way his father never had. The dog had no doubt the boy was a typical snake with a head full of pure-blood arrogance and superiority. Just then, however, he was a vulnerable young man confiding in a stray dog.
Draco looked up in surprise as the dog pressed his snout against his hand. The creature had settled down on his belly beside him. Draco tentatively began to stroke the large, black head. Suddenly, everything that he'd allowed to build up over the last several days – the last few months, really – overwhelmed him and tears stung his eyes.
"I really messed up," he murmured thickly. "Nothing I can do will fix it. Nothing. Wh-when I thought I'd killed him, I... I felt so – I never want to feel that way again. I don't want to be that sort of person. I don't!"
Quietly, the boy continued to cry for a few brief minutes. The dog remained at his side. He was keenly reminded of another boy whose actions had nearly crossed that line; a boy who hadn't felt half the remorse presently exhibited by this dark wizard's heir. It didn't leave a very good taste in his mouth. Not at all.
"Hey, where's Malfoy?" one of the sixth-year prefects asked as he entered the Slytherin common room. "Dinner's over. Shouldn't he be back here by now?" His gaze was focused on two rather bulky boys sitting in one of the study nooks.
"Dunno where he is," Goyle answered, his best friend nodding in agreement.
"What did he do to get slapped with restriction, anyway?" asked a fifth-year girl who was sitting sideways in one of the armchairs.
"I've heard he got a tracking charm cast on him, too," chimed in someone else.
"Well, he was the one who attacked Potter, wasn't he?"
"Yeah, I heard that, too. Though, you'd almost think Malfoy'd get points for that rather than punishment."
Crabbed snorted quietly. "Like Snape would even let his godson get away with almost killing his own kid."
Greg elbowed him sharply in the ribs as all eyes in the room turned upon them.
"Ow!" Vince exclaimed. "Bloody hell, Greg! What was that... oh. Shite."
"What was that you said?" the prefect asked in a pleasant tone, eyes sparking dangerously.
"Loud-mouthed moron," Greg hissed under his breath. At the time, with their Housemates bearing malevolently down upon them, Vince couldn't have agreed more.
Snape stared thoughtfully into the fire as Harry put away his belongings in his room. Even with the fact that Harry needed a bit more one-on-one supervision that he'd receive if he returned to his dormitory, it would be a bit of a stretch to use it as the sole explanation for why he was now staying with the Head of Slytherin House. The man would have claimed his son, of course, were it that simple, but it wasn't, and Harry didn't need the scandal and speculation that would inevitably erupt upon the revelation of his true paternity. In fact, Snape would have really preferred to put it off for as long as possible.
As he moved to his study to grade papers, making a mental note to speak to Draco about his failure to return to his dorm immediately after dinner, little did he know that any decision he had in the matter had already been taken from him.