"Why didn't you tell me, Draco?"
Draco bowed his head. He ought to have known his father would come to see him after speaking with his Head of House. Or well, he had know, he just didn't have any options to effectively avoid the man.
"I expect an answer," Lucius snapped when he didn't reply. The boy didn't see the point in answering, really. No matter what he said, his father would be just as displeased with him. He could have pretended he didn't know what the man was talking about, but his father knew him too well for that to work. (Sometimes it worked with his mother, but not often.)
"I didn't think it was that important," Draco finally said.
That clearly wasn't the right answer – not that there was such a thing when his father was so annoyed. His father grabbed him by the arm and gave him a small shake.
"You've known that the Boy-Who-Lived is the son of Severus Snape you didn't think it was that important?" the man hissed. "Clearly, you didn't think at all. At least, now, I know why you behaved like some mindless Gryffindor. I've a mind to let you continue to endure the punishment your godfather assigned to you."
Draco had remained silent throughout his father's rant, gaze diverted. At this, however, the thirteen-year-old looked up sharply. "What?"
"Honestly, Draco," Lucius scoffed, releasing his hold on the boy. "You may have behaved in a manner worthy of you idiotic companions, but I'm hardly going to let you live like a second-rate citizen."
The boy had to grit his teeth to keep from snapping at the man for insulting Goyle and Crabbe. That would not have gone over well. He frowned pensively, straightening his robes as he mulled over his father's words.
"You... want to try to get my punishment lifted?" Draco asked slowly.
"Is there a reason it should be?" The elder Malfoy arched a pale brow.
Draco shifted uncertainly. Of course he wanted to be free to come and go as he pleased, to carry his wand everywhere and enjoy Quidditch, and not have his every move monitored. He was a thirteen-year-old boy, after all. But then, he had never managed to get the image of Potter staring down at his crippled hand out of his head. It hadn't been until that moment that he realized what he had really done. His shame of disappointing his godfather had not been true regret before then.
"I deserve it, though," the boy said, looking up into his father's face. Lucius gazed blandly at him. Swallowing, Draco continued, voice almost a whisper. "I could have killed him even though I didn't mean to. And what happened to his hand – because of me. Father... I don't want out of my punishment. Not before I've earned it."
Lucius simply stared at him for a minute or two, as though he couldn't recognize him. A faint sneer pulled at his features, making Draco feel a bit like some repulsive ingredient from one of the jars in Severus' office. He had begun to fidget when the man finally spoke.
"As you wish," Lucius uttered coldly. "See that you keep yourself from further mischief." Whirling about, he left as abruptly as he'd arrive. He didn't give Draco a second glance. The boy felt a surge of rejection.
"Alright, Malfoy?" Goyle spoke up as Draco stepped back inside the common room. He and Crabbed watched him expectantly.
"I'm fine," the blond murmured. In no mood to talk, Draco proceeded to his dorm where he sprawled out on his bed. He wished his father would have yelled at him. At least then, he would know where he stood with the man. As it was, Draco didn't know where he stood at all.
Large paws pranced in obvious joy, causing Harry's grin to broaden. It had been a week since he'd regained a bit of movement in his hand, but his enthusiasm had yet to wane. He knew that Snuffles (as he had christened the dog) was just responding to his own excitement, as he had the first day, but it still almost felt like the canine understood how much it meant to him.
Snuffles barked happily, slathering the boy's fingers with slobber.
"Ew – Snuffles, that's gross," Harry laughed, wiping his hand on his trousers. The boy sat, his robe beneath him to buffer against the cold ground. As the dog settled down next to him, Harry leaned into its side. "You're just an overgrown puppy, aren't you?"
Snuffles, sometimes Nimbus, wagged his tail. It was nearly impossible for him to express how happy he was for Harry while in this form, though he tried his best. This was the only form in which he could see the boy, for now. Even then, he was taking a risk being at Hogwarts when Remus was teaching there. Remus would literally be able to smell him from a distance. The canine couldn't help himself, though. He'd already missed so much of Harry's life. He was loathe to miss any more.
He needed to catch that damn rat so he could stop pretending.
"The professor is really happy for me, too. I told you, right?" Harry was saying.
Snuffles' ears canted back at the mention of the Potions Master, but the boy didn't notice.
"When... when I first saw that I could move my fingers a bit, I was so excited, I called him 'dad' without even thinking," The youth lifted his head from the dog's shoulder, uncertain green eyes seeking out the animal's gaze. "He didn't say anything about it. Do you – do you think that's good or bad? What if he doesn't want me to call him that? When I first found out he was my... you know, I didn't think I'd ever call him that. He was awful to me my first two years. Now, I kinda want to. He's... changed." Harry frowned unhappily and Snuffles licked his face in an effort to cheer him up.
Soon. Soon, he would prove his innocence and take Harry away from that greasy fraudulent bastard. How could Dumbledore have let such a thing get so out of hand? Or even Remus, for that matter? He would fix it, though, once he was able. He couldn't just leave Harry with that snake. Merlin only knew what Snape's motives were for pretending to be Harry's father.
"Thanks, boy," Harry said, giving him an appreciative smile.
He was James' boy. The dog was going to prove it.
Snape leaned against the front of his desk, arms crossed over his chest as he silently regarded the boy in front of him. The teenager sat rigidly in his seat, visibly trying not to fidget under the professor's intent gaze. After a moment, the boy spoke up.
"Am I in trouble, sir?" Draco peeked up uncertainly at the man, trying to figure out why he'd been called into his office.
The Potions Master elevated a brow. "Should you be?"
"No?" Draco hadn't meant for it to be a question. He really had done his best to behave the last several weeks, especially after his father had show up the previous one.
"Relax, Mr. Malfoy. You are not in any trouble," Snape drawled. "In fact, you have adhered to the conditions of your punishment remarkably well since our last discussion. Apart from being tardy to a couple Herbology lessons."
Draco ducked his head as a flush spread across his face. It figured that Sprout would mention that to his Head of House.
"Frankly, I hesitate to return any privileges to you so soon after you father's not so unexpected visit for fear you believe he might have influenced my decision."
"Honestly, professor," the boy spoke quickly as his head shot up, "I find it hard to believe anyone could influence you."
The corner of Snape's mouth twitched slightly. "You are no longer confined to your common room," he told the boy. "Furthermore, your detentions are now reduced to five days during the week. The rest of your punishment still stands."
"Does that – can I go outside, now?" Draco asked hesitantly.
"On the grounds. You are still banned from Hogsmeade and Quidditch," said Snape, watching the boy jump to his feet.
"Starting today? Right now?" he queried. The professor inclined his head. "May I be excused, sir?"
"In a hurry to go somewhere?" Severus questioned in vague amusement.
"There's been a big stray dog coming around. I see him on the way to Herbology, sometimes."
"Is that why you've been sneaking food from the table?"
The boy blushed again. "Uh... yes, sir," he admitted. "May I be excused?"
"You are dismissed. Oh, and Draco?"
The boy, already at the door, paused to look back.
"Be sure you continue to behave yourself," his Head of House cautioned.
"Yes, sir," Draco responded. "Thank you, sir."
Snape couldn't help but smirk at the boy's antics. He hadn't forgotten what he had done – not in the least. In fact, it still made him furious at times. Draco had shown some growth, however. The man hoped by returning a small portion of the boy's freedom, he would encourage further development. With any luck, Draco's temper would never best him again.
Having decided to put of his grading off until later, the Potions Master left his office. He wended his way to the staff room, intent on relaxing and enjoying a cup of tea. The room was already occupied when he arrived, but for once that did not dissuade him from staying.
It should have seemed odd, his willingness to remain in the company of Lupin, of all people. Mere months before, the werewolf's very existence grated on his nerves. Now, he was taking a seat across from the man, tea cup in hand.
"Severus," Lupin greeted.
"Remus." He could not have said when he started addressing his colleague by his given name. It must not have been very long, though already it felt almost natural.
They sat in that manner, mostly in an easy silence only occasionally disrupted by conversation. Remus asked about Harry's progress and Severus told him. A while later, they discussed classes and some of the more troublesome students. Finally, they had both finished with their tea and rose to leave.
"The potion I've been brewing for you," Severus said as they stepped out into the corridor, "It's still working effectively? No unforeseen side effects?"
"None that I recall," Remus replied. "It's been working as it should. I'm very grateful to have it. I'm curious as to why you ask, though. You haven't been experimenting with my potion, have you?" His tone took on a note of playful suspicion.
The Potions Master made a noncommittal sound in the back of his throat. "Just be sure to let me if there is anything of note," he responded, matter-of-fact. They turned their separate ways, which partially accounted for why Snape failed to noticed how abruptly Lupin had frozen as Harry walked towards them along the corridor.
"Hello, sir," Harry greeted Snape.
"Hello, Harry," the Potions Master returned. He was about to say something else when Lupin suddenly interrupted.
"Harry," Remus said. The other two looked at him, surprise on Harry's part, though it was possible that perhaps Snape hadn't realized he was still there, as well. The werewolf drew in a slow breath through his nose, but didn't feel the least bit heartened. "Who were with, today?"
"When?" Harry asked in confusion.
Remus turned around, quickly closing the gap between them. "Just now," he said a bit sharply, startling the boy and earning a speculating look from his colleague.
"No one..." the thirteen-year-old began, brow furrowing as his Defense professor grabbed the edge of his cloak and pulled it his nose. "I mean, I was with Snuffles, but-"
"Snuffles?" Lupin echoed, having dropped the cloak again.
"Yeah. He's this big black dog... Professor?"
The color had drained from the man's features.
"What is it, Lupin?" Snape demanded, unconsciously slipping into the older form of address.
"I'm sorry," Remus said very quietly, eyes shutting in self-admonishment. "I hadn't thought – I should have..."
"Spit it out, already!" the other man snapped, feeling a sense of growing dread as the abrupt change in the wolf's demeanor.
"He's here. At the castle. He... I'm sorry. He's an animagus."
"You are certain of this?"
Lupin's eyes opened to meet Snape's gaze. "Severus, I can smell him."
"Stay put," the Potions Master commanded Harry abruptly. Nothing more was said before Snape whirled towards the closest exit, Lupin at his side. At a loss and queries unanswered, Harry paused, then started jogging at a distance behind them.
Despite his intentions, Draco had not been able to go outside right away. Instead, he found himself being detained in the common room, where he felt obliged to tell some of his housemates about his renewed privilege. Pansy insisted that they go to the kitchens to ask the elves for beverages and sweets to celebrate and the boy allowed himself to be coerced into doing so. He figured while they were there, he could ask for something to take out to Nimbus. Draco just hoped the dog was around.
When he had finally parted their company, he hurried up to the Entrance Hall, pocket full of scraps. As he moved down the front steps, he paused. Potter was going the opposite direction on his way inside.
"I'm allowed out of my common room, now," Draco told the other boy as he looked up to meet his gaze.
"I know," Potter replied. "The professor already told me." The blond couldn't tell from his classmate's tone how he felt about this. Nodding wordlessly, he continued out to the grounds.
"Nimbus!" Draco called, seeing the dog partway across the grounds. He appeared to just be leaving. Frowning, the Slytherin shot a glance over his shoulder, even though he could no longer see the doors leading into the castle. Had Potter been with his dog? With a shake of his head, the boy jogged forward to meet the stray, quickly drawing the food offering from his pocket.
"You're really starting to look healthier," the boy remarked, trying to work some of the tangles out of the dog's fur. "I should get you a brush. I reckon you'd be at least somewhat handsome if you weren't matted all over." As he was doing this, Nimbus' head suddenly shot up and the dog tensed to, a low growl rumbling in his chest.
Draco's brow furrowed. "Nimbus? What's wro-" A sharp tone interrupted, causing the boy to jerk in surprise.
"Move away from it, Draco."
The boy scrambled to his feet, turning to see not only his godfather but also Professor Lupin approaching with outstretched wands. Draco moved in front of the dog, arms flung out in an effort to be better able to so. "Don't hurt him!" he exclaimed.
"Mr. Malfoy," Lupin began in a careful tone, "he isn't-"
"What are you doing?" Harry had just caught up to the two professors and took in the situation as quickly as he could. Coming to the conclusion that they wanted to hurt the dog for some reason, he hurriedly protested, "He's just a harmless stray! He hasn't hurt anyone."
"I told you to stay put!" Snape snapped back at his son. "Of all the times to act like a bull-headed Gryffindor... Stay back!"
"Harry," the defense professor spoke again, looking between the two boys as he spoke, "Draco, he is not a dog."
Harry had moved closer to the scene. His face was drawn into an expression of confusion and worry. "But-"
"He's an animagus," Remus declared. "Sirius Black to be precise."
"You mean the escaped convict?" Harry asked as Draco sent an uncertain glance at the dog crouched behind him, although he still didn't move.
"The very same," the werewolf confirmed.
Severus found himself regretting the fact that he hadn't warned Harry about the man. He had thought that with his hand the boy had had enough to worry about without knowing some sociopath was out to get him. Furthermore, Hogwarts was meant to be safe. Clearly, it wasn't safe enough.
"Draco, for the love of Merlin, move away from it!" he demanded.
Remus had started moving slowly around to get a clear aim on the dog. The Slytherin looked torn between obeying his Head of House and trying to keep shielding the creature who they claimed to be a dangerous murderer. And Harry was still moving closer. Letting his attention slip from the canine, Snape whirled towards the Boy-Who-Did-Not-Listen as he came up beside him, reaching out to take him by the arm. The response was instantaneous.
The big black canine shot past Draco, knocking the boy off balance as he hurtled towards Snape. Remus shot off a couple spells that missed their rapidly moving target as his colleague yanked Harry behind him and stepped into the dog's path. A half-spoken spell rose to the Potions Master's lips but would not have been uttered in time. Fortunately, Remus's next spell succeeded in immobilizing the charging dog. After another spell, the two teenagers found themselves looking on in shock as the dog they had each more or less individually adopted morphed into the form of the man whose face had been on the front page of the Prophet.
"Bloody hell!" Draco exclaimed.
Harry felt the other boy had summarized the matter quite nicely.