The Search for Life and Death

The Rescue

In the previous chapter, Hermione and Arthur Weasley end up in Dumbledore's Office at the same time as Remus Lupin. Between the three of them, they convince Dumbledore to allow Remus and Sirius to go check on Harry. Meanwhile, Harry makes a decision to spare Hedwig her suffering, and bears more guilt and pain down upon himself in the process.



The Rescue

Sirius had been anticipating Remus' return from Hogwarts. The werewolf had said he would talk to Dumbledore, then bring back a vial of pain relieving potion for Sirius' headache. He refused to have Kreacher make him anything. No doubt the little rat-faced house elf would poison it to please Sirius' dear ol' mum.

He had been expecting Remus' return, but he hadn't anticipated the werewolf to storm into the house in a rage that rivalled the anger he had been feeling after The Prank (also known as James' Major Fuck-Up).

"Remus?" Sirius asked, coming into the kitchen.

"Get your cloak," Remus snarled, golden eyes flashing in a way that left no argument. "We're going to Privet Drive."

Sirius obediently grabbed his cloak and threw it over his shoulders, as he moved swiftly toward the door. He knew not to defy Moony when he was acting like this, but he also knew what lay on Privet Drive, and so, as he walked briskly to the door, he dared ask, "Why?" He didn't look away when those golden irises focused intently upon him, still set in a fierce glare, and it was a testament to their friendship that Remus did not attack him outright for their eyes locking.

"Something's happened to Harry," Remus said, and then apparated away.

Something was never a particularly descriptive word, and the only thing it managed to do was start Sirius worrying. He had never been a particularly careful person, as a child or as an adult. He was reckless and foolish, he was told, and the things that he did often put him into danger, but he didn't worry about himself.

When it came to people he cared about, however, worry was a frequent visitor. Sirius was on a first-name basis with the emotion, and it came knocking on the door at those words.

"Something's happened to Harry."

Tracing Remus' signature, Sirius narrowed his eyes in concentration, not having done this at all recently, and apparated only a step behind the werewolf.

Transformation-Apparation was something that Sirius had become well-practiced in over the years. Not many Animagi were able to turn into their animal forms while they apparated. Sirius was the one who had actually invented the technique, but people were unaware of this, as he published the idea under the name Orion White. Asides from inventing the technique, Sirius had also perfected it, and there was no one better than he at performing it. Damn good thing, too, considering they appeared in a familiar alley on Magnolia Crescent, Surrey.

Remus hadn't even paused in his steps, but had continued walking toward Privet Drive. Padfoot trotted to catch up to him and peered up at his face, noticing the tightness of his jaw and the flashing golden eyes. He whimpered softly, tilting his head to the side.

Remus' eyes roved over to meet him, and he let out a soft sigh, before slowing mildly. "Hermione Granger," he began, looking at Sirius to make sure he knew who he was talking about, though how could he forget, "flooed into Dumbledore's office while I was there to meet him." Remus didn't know that a dog could lift a sardonic eyebrow, but apparently, it was possible. "Arthur Weasley flooed in at exactly the same moment, and we had a very interesting conversation."

Sirius huffed in that way that only dogs could manage, giving Remus a look that demanded that he not act as though Sirius was stupid.

"Perhaps interesting isn't the appropriate word," Remus admitted. "Enlightening suits it better, I suppose, but not in a positive manner." Sirius whimpered softly when Remus stopped in the center of the street, his thoughts whirling. He looked down at the onyx-furred dog beside him, and wished he didn't have to say what came to his lips next. "Hermione and Arthur both seem to believe that Harry is undergoing the same treatment from his family… as you did from yours," he admitted softly.

Remus didn't know quite what to expect from Sirius at that. One anticipated reaction was for his fur to bristle, his hackles raise, and for him to emit a growl to rival the greatest demons of Hell. It was, however, the other anticipation that came to pass, when Sirius' ears flattened on his head, his tail dropped between his legs, and he pulled into himself tightly, whimpering at the memories and implications.

"I know," Remus muttered. He had assumed that reaction was one of the possibilities, but it still hurt him to see it – the pain in Sirius' eyes. He reached out and rubbed one of Sirius' pointed ears gently. "That's why we're going to check on him. Come on."

Remus found that his temper had lessened slightly. He wasn't certain if this was because of his taking the time to speak with Sirius and trying to forestall his concerns, or if his own concern was simply outweighing his anger at the Dursleys for what Hermione had told him.

It didn't take them long to reach Number 4 Privet Drive. The driveway was empty and the house was dim inside, boasting that no one was home. Remus' frown deepened. This early in the morning, that seemed off. Something felt incredibly wrong, though it probably didn't help that, within his soul, he could feel the wolf tense up, as though preparing for an attack.

Remus shuddered convulsively. He had lived with the wolf for decades, but it was often still disturbing to feel the emotions of a creature that was both him, and yet… separate.

Remus was pulled from his thoughts when they reached the step. Drawing his wand, he did not concern himself with the idea that he was breaking and entering, or using magic in the middle of a muggle neighborhood, as he cast the unlocking charm and opened the door.

The smell that hit him when the door opened was enough to make his heart pound in utter terror. He could smell blood. It was thick in the air, both sweet and revolting. Beyond that, however, he recognized the scent. It was distinctly Harry's.

As a werewolf, Remus never forgot a scent, and even now, years later, he could recall the scents that would announce the arrival of two of his best friends. Lily smelled like sugar and flowers on a rainy spring morning. He remembered James even better, having shared a dorm room with him for seven years; the boy smelled of sweat, dirt, and, oddly enough, black cardamom.

Harry's scent was a mixture of these, born from genetics and a similar disposition, crafting his own unique scent. Harry smelled of rain. Not a gentle spring rain, but the drenching downpour of a raging thunderstorm. He smelled of dirt on a hot summer morning, but also of mud as it was pounded mercilessly by a monsoon. When he was a baby, Remus remembered the spicy scent of his magic, like crushed red peppers and cinnamon, but that scent was nowhere to be found now. He hadn't smelled it, either, at school during the boy's third year. Instead, the smell was replaced by a soft smell – almost more of a texture than a scent – like tissues or feather down, and only now that he was considering it did Remus wonder what could possibly have happened to change the scent and intensity of the boy's magic.

The scent of the blood was strong against his senses, however, and he could not remain in the doorway, contemplating. He stepped into the house, though his stomach churned in revulsion. Trying to ignore his body's reactions to the overpowering scent, Remus set his keen werewolf senses on discovering where exactly Harry was located.

He moved up the stairs slowly. He wanted to hurry through the house to find Harry and stop whatever had caused the blood he smelled to flow from him so freely, but he couldn't risk letting down his guard. The Dursleys didn't appear to be home, but that didn't mean that someone else wasn't here.

As Remus continued to reach out with his other senses – listening for another person breathing, sniffing for a stranger's scent, looking for something out of place – Sirius slipped into the house behind him and transformed silently back into his human form. He moved in the opposite direction of Remus, his wand in his hand and his eyes alert. His feet carried him into the living and kitchen areas to check for other signs of life.

Remus, noting absently that Sirius had the rooms behind him covered, moved up the stairs, following his senses. The blood smelled still thicker as he reached the landing and his eyes, keen even in the darkness, took in the hall and the closed doors, no doubt leading to bedrooms.

He wanted to bypass these doors but didn't dare. Although he could not smell the presence of Harry from beyond them, there was a chance that someone else lay in wait.

The floorboards behind him creaked too softly for a human to hear, but his keen hearing – a blessing amidst the curse of Lycanthropy – caught the sound and had him glancing behind him.

His golden eyes met the grey gaze of Sirius. The man's eyes were scanning the hall, taking in the sight of the doors as Remus had done only a moment ago. He met the werewolf's eyes again and leaned his head gently to the right, indicating that he would take the two doors on that side.

Remus nodded and moved to the door on the left. He placed his head near the door jamb, breathing deeply, taking in the scents available to him.

There were two prominent scents overlapping each other, so much so that Remus could almost not tell where one began and the other ended. The smell of ground metal was common near, yet a complete contrast to, the scent of fine linen. A grainy scent met his nostrils, and he could also smell cosmetics.

Not everything that he took in matched another scent. Some things weren't definable in comparison to flowers and foods. Some things belonged in the scent of a person, but the specific smell was not a smell, but almost a personal observation – Remus could know something about them, without ever knowing them.

What he smelled on top of the fine linen and cosmetics was a talkative sense of distrust, the latter on his own end. There was a sense of falsehood around the scent that made the hair stand up on his neck as the hackles would have raised on the werewolf.

Beyond the ground metal and grainy scents there lied a manipulative scent. Remus curled his lip at this. It was, unfortunately, not a partial scent that he was unaccustomed to. He had received a similar level of scent from politicians, ever since he had suffered the honor of meeting the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge. It caused, like the other scent, a sense of distrust within Remus, though this one was even worse, because the reason was worse.

But he hadn't the time to contemplate that now, and he could smell no physical being beyond the door, nor hear a heartbeat. Glancing behind him to see that Sirius had already entered beyond the first door, Remus turned the knob and quietly slipped inside.

The first door led to the restroom.

Sirius pushed open the door and, thankful that it didn't creak, slipped inside.

He kept his back to the wall as he made his initial observations. The room wasn't overly large, but it was decent in size, and there were places enough for people to hide. He scanned the room to see if there were any spells recently cast, but found nothing that hinted at magical foul play.

His eyes screamed in protest that he still remained among the banana yellow walls and bad fruit decoration, but he opened the cupboard beneath the sink and checked. It was, although an unpopular place to hide, still large enough to house a human, and easily large enough for an animagus to hide in. All he found, however, were bottles of shampoo and bubble bath, still opened, some lying on the sides and spilling their contents on the floor of the cupboard. No wonder it smelled overwhelmingly wonderful in the bathroom.

On silent feet born of years of Auror training and even more years as an amimagus, Sirius moved to the opposite end of the room. He opened the closet door with a spell to keep silence, and found nothing but towels, toiletries, and a plunger within. He sniffed and turned away, closing the door behind him in disgust. Harry's cousin was clearly not the cleanliest person.

Sirius crept to the shower. The curtain had been drawn and, having spent too much time in muggle move theatres enjoying horror films, Sirius had saved this part for last.

He supposed that he could have pushed the curtain aside, but he could only imagine something leaping out at him and attaching onto his face, trying to suck out his eyeballs. That image happily pervading his mind, he raised his wand, and simply banished the shower curtain.

His lip curled back at what he saw. Soap scum, and loads of it, forming a film over the bottom and sides of the tub. Petunia Dursley desperately needed to clean.

The bathroom successfully checked, Sirius crept back out into the hall and closed the door silently behind him. He locked it, to ensure that no one could sneak into it while he wasn't looking, and moved down the hall to the other door.

It had five locks on it, and he had a fairly good idea of whose room this was. With a dreading heart, he cast the unlocking charm five times, turned the handle, and pushed the door open.

The first room had contained no living people, but there was enough within it to cause his anger to rise as high as his fear. A baseball bat with blood on it leaned against the wall in the closet. A hamper next to the television held towels covered in blood. Remus felt a growl rising in his throat and bit it down. The blood was Harry's and there was so much of it in this room that he both hoped they found Harry soon, and dreaded it.

Having found no one within the room or nothing that could help him now, Remus moved toward the door to go and search the room next to this one. As he left, he raised his wand and cast a spell on the master bed, before shutting the door behind him and locking it soundly.

The second room smelled like dirt, varnish, and cruel laughter. Remus knew whose room this was and entered it without much hesitation. He could handle a fifteen year old bully.

The room, however, was empty, in a fashion. There were no people save himself within the confines of the four walls, but there were broken toys, half-eaten food, empty candy wrappers, and garbage thrown all over the room. To a point, it almost made Remus ill.

Despite his certainty that he would find nothing of use – even less so than in the other room, he checked the closet (nearly getting crushed by a broken television in the process) and under the bed (those dust bunnies had rabies!). There was trash everywhere, broken games and unwanted toys, but not a single book. The teacher within Remus' soul wanted to cry, or assign detention, but he ignored it. Instead, he raised his wand and cast a spell on the room that would, hopefully, give this boy just a small bit of hope.

Sirius choked when the air hit him in the face, and nearly collapsed to his knees. He could smell the blood as keenly now as he had when he was in dog form, but other scents were mixed in now that he hadn't noticed previously, though he didn't know how he had missed them.

The smell of blood and sweat hung heavily in the air like mist over a swamp, but the scent of urine and feces burned his nostrils and there was a sweet scent in the air that made him choke and start coughing. He could barely hear the footsteps of Remus on the stairs, as the werewolf made his swift way up to the second landing. No doubt his keen senses had caught Sirius' distress, and Sirius was proven right. Not a second later, Remus appeared beside him.

"My God," Remus whispered, his voice weak with disbelieving horror.

Sirius, gathering himself, glanced up to see what Remus was looking at, and felt his insides turn to ice.

The werewolf had stepped into the room, heading toward the far corner, where a thin mattress lay on the floor. It was what lay on top of that mattress, however, that called their attention.

Or rather, who.

"Harry," Sirius whispered.

He stumbled to his feet and dashed into the room, only to collapse again to his knees beside the bed. Harry was lying on top of a thin, threadbare sheet, his eyes closed. His face was extremely pale, even his lips were near white, except for where they had cracked open and begun to bleed. His skin was stretched over his skull, making him appear even smaller than he had seemed last Sirius had seen him.

There were bruises all over his body. His left arm was twisted at an unnatural angle at his side, while his other was held over his chest, as though he had passed out while attempting to defend himself. His thin shirt hung off one shoulder, the collar stretched from years of use. The fabric was torn in places, stained in others, and the shirt clearly should have been disposed of years ago. The pants, too, though clearly made from someone much larger than Harry, hung loose around his waist.

"Harry," Sirius whispered, reaching out a hand but hesitating. He wondered, if he touched his godson, would the boy shatter? "Oh, Merlin, Harry…" He finally brushed his fingers against Harry's forehead and felt the heat of his skin – a high fever trying to burn through his flesh. There was sweat coating the boy's skin, slick on Sirius' fingers.

Behind Sirius, Remus was standing with his wand raised, casting a series of diagnosis spells on the young boy. He swore deeply, causing Sirius to spin around. Remus never swore unless something was horribly wrong.

"What is it?" he asked, even as Remus shoved him out of the way. "Moony!"

"Sirius, move!" he snapped, causing the dog-animagus to leap out of the werewolf's way and stand, reluctantly, away from his godson. "I have to heal some of these wounds now. Most of them were inflicted recently and he's lost a lot of blood." He grit his teeth and waved his wand in a series of complicated motions, casting spells silently, as he wasn't sure he had enough willpower to speak the complicated Latin words correctly. He hadn't told Sirius that the wounds weren't the worst problem, nor that Harry's heart had already begun to fail.

It was obvious that Harry had been beaten severely, but what wasn't as readily apparent was that he had been starved. There was no way that anyone could have thought that the boy wouldn't die without serious medical attention, not with the state that he was currently in. Remus had done a quick diagnostic scan, not having time for a full one, but even that gave him a dangerous view of Harry's present state. He feared that his meager knowledge and ability with healing spells wouldn't be enough to stop Harry's body from completely shutting down, but he knew that unless he acted immediately, the boy would be gone within minutes of arriving to the hospital wing. That was if the Portkey didn't send him into shock.

Oh, God, no! Remus begged, as he felt Harry's heart give out. He heard Sirius give out an abrupt cry, halfway between a scream and a sob. Snarling, Remus grabbed a broken piece of glass off of the floor and nearly snapped his wand over it as he barked, "Portus!" He grabbed Harry, then Sirius, and activated the portkey. There was a jerk behind his navel, and they were whisked away.

Ginerva Molly Weasley was the youngest member of the Weasley brood, and the only girl child. Blessed (and equally cursed) with six older brothers, she was accustomed to loud noises and having no privacy or peace, which was probably what made this all so surreal.

The Burrow was quiet.

The Burrow was never quiet.

Even the twins, Fred and George, were unusually subdued, which was a terrifying thing to witness. Not only was it completely out of character, but usually when they were acting innocent, it meant you had something to fear from them. Except this time, they weren't acting, and Ginny was afraid.

She was afraid for Harry.

Ron was up in his bedroom with Mum. He was still shaken up about the dream, and Ginny couldn't blame him. She had been awake, writing in her diary, when she heard his screams and had run to get Mum. She'd stood in the doorway and listened for a while, watched, until the twins, in a frightening act of maturity, had led her from the room.

Truthfully, she had wanted to argue against them treating her like a baby, until they closed the door behind them, leaving only Mum, Dad, and Ron in the room.

The living room abruptly became Brood Central. Ginny had opened up a book, but was unable to concentrate on the words. She had finally slammed it shut with a huff that reminded the twins so much of Hermione in a tizzy with Ron that they looked up in slight fear.

She hadn't said anything to them. She couldn't think of anything to say. She knew what Ron's dream was about, for the most part. She had heard him crying out Harry's name in fear, before she ran to get Mum. So she knew that there was something about Harry going on in Ron's mind, but he had never screamed or thrashed around like that before. Not after his first year when he remembered about being caught in the Devil's Snare, or the Chess Game that he had told Ginny about, but made her swear to never tell Mum or Dad. His nightmares about spiders, both before and after his second year – Ginny's horrible first year – had never been so horrible.

Nothing had compared to this. This wasn't like Ron. This was like… like what Ginny had gone through, in a way, after her first year. Not just the nightmares about remembering flashes of a giant snake, or spiders, or a boy that wasn't a boy, but the memory of simply… fading away…

That had been more than a dream, and Ginny was pretty sure that this was, too.

She had opened her book again and simply sat there, staring at the pages but not really reading. Fred and George were nearby, eerily quiet, and they were all waiting for someone to come downstairs and give them some sort of information. Her father had only passed through quickly, however, on his way to Hogwarts, unable to tell them anything at the moment. So Ginny made tea for her Mum and took it up to her, and then went back to the living room to sit and wait.

She was still sitting, still waiting.

Ginny's mind wandered from Ron to Harry. She was worried about them both. She and Ron didn't always get along; he was always nosy about what she was doing and who she was with, when he thought she couldn't handle something. When she wanted him to know what she was doing, he could really care less, and he didn't give much stock to her opinion when it came to Quidditch. She was a girl, after all, and his little sister. Apparently those were the two qualifications that, if found together, meant a person was incapable of playing Quidditch.

She found herself getting angry and forced her temper into check. This wasn't about Ron's faults; it was about Ron's dream that was surely more than a dream, and Harry.

Ginny's foolish crush on the Boy-Who-Lived had faded years ago, thank Merlin. She still felt foolish at times for having one. She had thought that she was in love with a hero from story books, but she hadn't ever stopped to consider that he was more than a slayer of evil. He was a boy, only a year older than her. He was just another student at Hogwarts, but one cursed with a fame born of death, and hunted.

Her first year of Hogwarts, he'd saved her life.

She got a glimpse of the real Harry Potter that day. Sure, she had watched him all during the year, but she had only ever seen the Boy-Who-Lived.

It wasn't until after he had saved her life in the Chamber of Secrets did she realize that he wasn't some storybook hero. Oh, he was a hero, of that there was no doubt. He had saved her life, nearly at the cost of his own, but he hadn't done it for glory or because he knew he would be recognized for it – he had done it because it was right, and that made all the difference.

So no, Ginny didn't have a crush on the Boy-Who-Lived anymore. She had a crush on Harry Potter, and she was worried.

Severus Snape was not a happy man.

Now, most people would tell you that such a thing was a given for the Hogwarts Potions Master, Head of Slytherin House, Potions Professor, former Death Eater, and spy for the Light.

The truth was that Severus had, only just that morning, been in a stunning mood. He had been at his summer cottage, free of horrible Potions students, whining Slytherins, goodie-goodie Gryffindors, and one hated Harry bloody Potter.

He'd woken up that morning next to his wife. Oh yes, snarky Professor Snape was indeed married, though he didn't allow that fact to be well known. Not only would that forever damn his image of being an evil, unlovable, vicious git, but his House especially was home to children of Death Eaters, and he didn't want it getting back to the Dark Lord that Severus Snape had a lover. Merlin knows what that vicious, snake-faced bastard would do to her if he found out.

But Snape's day had been ruined, his chance to spend the summer with his wife stolen away.

And by whom, you ask?

Harry bloody Potter.

Snape had been making breakfast for his still-slumbering wife when the crazy house elf appeared, wearing seventeen hats and two mismatched socks. He said that Dumbledore needed him at Hogwarts, for Potter.

Stalking down the dungeons, his robes billowing out behind him, Snape glared at anything that dared to get in his way. He had flooed from his house to the fireplace in his office, as they were connected, and he'd grabbed a box of potions on his way into the corridor. The box was levitated behind him and following at the same brisk pace that he had set. He was almost to the Infirmary when Dumbledore appeared.


Snape sent a narrow glare in Dumbledore's direction, which would have continued if not for the weary look on the Headmaster's face, as well as a darkening bruise. It appeared as though someone had punched the Headmaster, but that curiosity was cast aside for another time.

"You called for me, Headmaster?" Snape drawled, keeping the concern out of his own voice at what could possibly cause such a dark, worried look in the Headmaster's eyes.

"That I did, Severus. I'm sorry to take you away from Elena, but your skills are needed desperately."

"Yes," Snape said, his voice unable to hide the contempt he felt, "I was told. Potter."

Dumbledore sighed, his eyes dim and without their customary twinkle. "Yes, Severus. I'm afraid Harry is the reason you're needed." He met the Potions Master's gaze with a pleading one. "I would ask you to please put aside your hatred for the boy long enough to help him. I realize that you do not enjoy his presence-"

"Headmaster, I loathe that boy's existence," Snape corrected sharply.

Dumbledore cast him a very sad smile. "You know, Severus, James said the same thing about you, though with differing words."

Severus reared back at the gentle accusation, recalling the memory. It's more that he exists, really.

"You hate the boy for what his father has done to you," Dumbledore continued in his soft voice, "but you treat him the same way that you were treated. Only in this case, Severus, I feel that it is worse, because you're his teacher." He sighed softly, bowing his head in what seemed resignation. "Right now, Severus, you may be the only one able to keep that boy alive."

Severus refused to let any manner of emotion beyond loathing and annoyance to show, but he couldn't hide them from himself. "Headmaster?"

Those blue eyes met his, dark and full of regret. "Follow me, Severus." Dumbledore turned and stepped into the Infirmary. With a step of hesitation and a world of reluctance, Severus followed behind him.

They moved through the Infirmary until they reached a bed near the back. It was surrounded by a privacy curtain, which Dumbledore held aside so that Severus could pass beyond it. He did so, and Dumbledore followed, letting the curtain fall closed behind him.

Severus stood at the side of the bed, staring down at its occupant. His immediate reaction was to ask if Death Eaters had somehow gotten past the wards on Privet Drive, but he knew that wasn't possible. Voldemort didn't even know where the boy lived, and if he had found out, there would have been a great deal of gloating on the part of the Dark Lord, and Severus would have known, of course. Something would have been asked of him.

No, Death Eaters didn't do this to Potter. But who-

"I'm sorry to say that I have made a grave mistake," Dumbledore said quietly, his voice burdened by weariness and pain. He placed a tired old hand on Harry's forehead, rubbing his finger over the scar. Potter didn't react at all to the touch, but remained with his eyes closed, his face deathly pale only where there were no bruises marring his skin. "I placed Harry with his relatives, believing that the Blood Magic would keep him safe from Voldemort."

"It did," Snape said, glancing up at the Headmaster. "The Dark Lord has no idea-"

"I know, Severus," Dumbledore interrupted, nodding slowly. "I know, the wards worked perfectly to protect against Voldemort, and no one, save a select few, knew where Harry was staying." He met Snape's eyes, and the level of pain within the Headmaster's deep blue eyes was almost painful for the recipient of the gaze. "But I wasn't willing to listen to Minerva that first night, or any complaints thereafter, or even to Harry himself – though he never spoke aloud. Only his eyes..." He looked back down at the pale boy lying on the bed, his mouth spelled with a Breathe-For-Me charm. "I didn't want to believe that his relatives were unfit to care for him."

"His relatives did this?!" Snape asked sharply, his eyes narrowing.

Dumbledore nodded sadly. "Yes. His uncle was the one who caused the physical damage, if what Arthur told me is true." None of the Dursleys were innocent of what had been done to Harry. Vernon was the one who had physically beaten Harry, but Petunia had been passive toward her husband's actions and even raised a hand against the boy at times. They were both equally guilty, however, in not giving Harry enough to eat. Or anything to eat recently, if what Poppy suspected was true.

Dumbledore turned to Snape, his weariness and regret taking a backseat to the determined gleam in his eyes. Severus knew what it meant before the Headmaster opened his mouth. He would have been willing to offer Severus anything to help Potter, or to take anything away – even his job as Potions Master, or as spy. "I know you hate the boy, Severus, but please…"

Severus stared down at the boy lying pale and still on the sheets. The blanket was only pulled up to his waist and his shirt had been removed. Severus could see every rib the boy had through skin pulled taught across his bones. Had he been wearing robes or even muggle clothes, Severus might have ignored the sunken features of his face. With his bruised and battered chest bared, black, blue, purple, and a sickly yellow array of bruises decorated across it, there was no passing off how hollow the boy's face had become, how thin his arms were, his wrist bones clearly visible. The boy had always appeared small, but he looked disturbingly young now. He looked like a twelve year old, or younger. And damn the Sorting Hat for ever deciding to place the boy in Gryffindor.

Severus had made his choice even before Dumbledore had opened his mouth. "Of course, Headmaster," he said softly, and turned back to the old man before him. "What do you need?

Being a Malfoy takes a certain degree of skill.

One has to know how to act like a Malfoy, walk like a Malfoy, talk like a Malfoy, and, of course, look like a Malfoy. It took years of training to make the transformation from just another kid to Malfoy, but all members of their family had accomplished it, save a few.

But no one ever spoke of them.

The Malfoys were a well-known pure-blood family. If you held that name, no one questioned you. No one turned you down if they knew what was good for them. No one defied you. It wasn't smart, and it wasn't safe. Even for another Malfoy.

Draco Malfoy was not just another Malfoy. He was the son of Lucius Malfoy, a powerful pure-blooded wizard and Death Eater. A man with a mean-streak and an even larger cruel-streak. Blood meant everything to Lucius, as did appearances and obedience.

So when his son chose to defy him, he got angry.

Very angry.

Draco Malfoy was hiding in a secret passage in the wall of his mother's bedroom. She had pushed him there when his father went on a rampage through the house, blowing up random objects and a few house elves. Banishing spells were foregone in the face of cutting hexes and implosion curses. Bureaus, candles, chandeliers, china cases – nothing was safe from his wrath save the walls, spelled for such occasions of anger and venting.

Narcissa Malfoy, Draco's mother, was a smart witch, though she hadn't always been. She had, after all, married Lucius Malfoy, which had proven to be a grave mistake. She was realizing this now more than ever. Her son, her dear boy who she loved so much, was not his father, though he had tried for years to be. Narcissa knew that Draco had done all that he could to make his father proud; to make his father love him.

Unfortunately, nothing short of killing a god – and perhaps not even that – could appease Lucius Malfoy fully. She had learned this years ago and had taken precautions for such an incident as this. Draco was fifteen now; he would be expected by his father and others to take the Dark Mark and join the ranks of the Dark Lord.

The difference between Lucius and his son was that Draco didn't want to.

In the privacy of Narcissa's room, spelled with silencing charms as it was, Draco had spoken to his mother. He had confided in her despite his fear that she might turn him over to his father. She hadn't, of course. She loved her son more than anything. She would give him anything he desired.

All he wanted was freedom, and she couldn't fault him that.

He didn't want to take the Dark Mark and become a slave to the Dark Lord. He didn't want to go around killing people and pretending to enjoy it. He didn't even want to be a Malfoy anymore, with its expectations and its curses disguised as blessings. He wanted to be normal – a boy that could go to school and have friends, people who cared about him and not his status or money.

He knew it would never happen, of course. People would never see him as just a boy, even if he did renounce his family name. He was a Malfoy, by name, by birth, by blood.

And by curse.

But Narcissa wanted to help him, however she could. This was her boy, her son, her little dragon, and she would do everything she could to protect him, no matter the cost.

So when Lucius went on a rampage, destroying the house, killing house elves, wrecking the mask that they wore to disguise the nature of this horrid family, she pushed Draco into a secret passage in the wall that she had made, one that her husband didn't know about. She hid him so he would be safe. She hid him so he wouldn't have to take the Dark Mark and become a slave. She hid him so he could be free.

She hid him so that he wouldn't have to watch her die.

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