The Redemption of a Snake
Chapter 1 - Just Under Our Noses
"Hi!" a child saluted.
Remus looked at the little boy, then at the place surrounding him. The past night had been a full moon. From the half-conscious state he was in when the wolf took the upper hand in his body, he had witnessed his escape from the room he had locked himself in. The wolf had run at random for hours in a neighbouring forest then finally reached a small borough. The sunrise had surprised him at this point of his tour. Surely some kind people had found him lying on the dusty ground and taken him in. The boy ought to be their son... Except that his features were strangely familiar...
"Hello," he said back.
An aged woman entered the room. "You're awake? How fare you?"
"Fine, thank you."
The woman explained what he had thought: in the morning, they had discovered his unconscious body in their garden. She brought him a breakfast and cookies for the boy then left them together.
"My name is Draco; I will be six in a month." the child said while crunching his cakes, "And you?"
Now, he understood: he was on the Malfoy's lands. The boy was Lucius Malfoy's son. His aristocratic features and light blond hair were like a mini version of his father's. No doubt he would be well educated the 'Malfoy' way by the time he entered Hogwarts. "My name is Remus," he answered.
"Great! As in the story with the wolf?! D'you have a twin?"
Remus smiled at the eagerness in the voice. "No, I'm an only child."
"Oh... I s'pose it's better for you. He won't kill you this way. I also am an only child. Mum says one monkey is enough in her house. She thinks I can't understand her but I do. I hate her. Why do you smile? You think I don't hate her? I know you think that, many people think that. They say: 'Of course you hate her. And tomorrow you'll declare how much you love her'. I won't. I hate her. And that's no problem because she hates me too. You see... Every afternoon, when I have to do my homework, she brings me cookies. She says she baked them with love and all, but I know it's a lie. The elves did the cookies. She doesn't know how to cook. Well, about the cookies, I noticed something: when I eat a cookie before doing my homework, I do twice as much. So, there is something in the cookies that says to my brain: 'Do homework'. But then I work so much that I don't have time to go out and play quidditch. I tell you: she hates me. I don't know what she puts in the cookies. Maybe a potion. My dad has a friend who's a potions master! He says when I'll be older, he'll teach me to brew incredible things! Potions really are the best! Dark Arts are great too, but they can't rival with potions. You won't repeat it to my dad, will you?"
The boy had recited his long speech and eaten cookies at the same time. He was amusing to listen to, not at all the kind of person Remus had imagined the Malfoy heir to be. A true child. Still unstained by Life. "No, don't worry. I will repeat nothing." And as Lucius Malfoy never approached him and would never if he could escape it, this promise wouldn't be hard to keep.
Draco smiled in thanks. "Because my dad wants me to be the strongest in Dark Arts when I go to Durmstrang. He says potions are second only. You like potions?"
"Not really," Lupin recognised.
"Why is that?"
"I had a hateful teacher back when I was in school. He disgusted me."
"Oh..." The child contemplated what he was told. "You shouldn't mix a teacher with a class. My tutor is an old goose but the classes she teaches are great! I'd really like to have a little brother," he returned to his previous subject. "None of my friends want one. I wonder why. Dad doesn't care. He says he has one heir and doesn't need another. Still, I'd very much like to have a little brother... Maybe a little sister too... I'm not sure about that. Girls are dangerous: they hit you and you can't hit them back! You have to look at them and act as if it didn't hurt. It's horrible! You have children?"
"No, I don't."
"Will you have children?"
"I don't know, maybe."
"You will present them to me? So that I can play with them. I'll teach them magic and to ride a broom! I'm the best at quidditch!"
Remus chuckled. "I will."
"Well, Remus, I have to go before I'm late for lunch and Dad gets angry. It was a pleasure meeting you. Bye!"
The boy exited the room, and Remus wondered how he could still be hungry for lunch, what with the atrocious number of cookies he had just eaten.
End of flashback
Wednesday, September the 1st
Remus went up the train's stairs. He was just in time for the departure. Immediately, he went in search of Harry. The poor boy had spent horrible holidays. Him too. At the end of the past school year, his best friend, Sirius Black, had died at the hands of his cousin Bellatrix Lestrange. During a month, he had searched for all the ways to avenge him. But then, in August, as he was observing an altercation between Harry and Snape at Grimmauld Manor, he had thought again of his hatred.
He wondered: what had nurtured Severus into joining Voldemort? Why had he gone, and why had he come back? As the concerned one had refused to answer, he had finally gone to Dumbledore. The old man ought to know at least one of the two reasons. But the headmaster hadn't revealed the secret and had only asked in return: "Can you imagine Severus killing?"
Remus's personal reply was no. But then, there were many people he couldn't imagine killing. Most of them were students. Then he thought: why did Severus become a death-eater? Did he truly have a choice or had he been pushed by his parents? Sirius's parents had never forgiven him for getting in the Gryffindor house, and the proximity of his friends had saved the now dead man from following Voldemort. But Severus? He had death-eaters parents too. He had been in the Slytherin house, full of children with death-eater parents. Besides, no sooner had he arrived than he had become the scapegoat of James and Sirius. Of course, he got even with them, but still...
Then he tried to put himself in Snape's place.
'If I was a pureblood, educated in the way of the old families, if my parents were death-eaters, would I follow them? To kill is bad, whatever reason you give for... But if I thought muggles were inferior, if I had been told from the very beginning of my life than I was superior to others, how would I currently be seeing them? If Sirius hadn't been put in our house and hadn't met James as a friend, would he have been a true Black? He was cruel back in school, the way of a Slytherin, except that he was in Gryffindor... What if... What if these children only needed to find a friend as Sirius had? What if we had been wrong from the beginning? Many think we have to break the confidence and pride of the Slytherins in order to deviate them from their initial way. But what if it was the contrary? What if...'
He couldn't go on with his reflections as the noise of a skirmish caught his ears. He moved toward the racket. A group of students were observing a moving mass of green and red on the floor.
"Mr Malfoy! Mr Weasley!" he shouted, "Control yourselves!"
Noticing the teacher, the two students stopped their fight and redressed. Their robes were in a pitiful state, and what to say about their faces... Noses bleeding, eyes that would soon turn black... If not for the professorial presence, they would continue till fainting, or worse... Remus sighed and speculated on what the young Malfoy could have insulted them of this time. Realising his automatic thought process, he caught himself in the act. Was that the good conduct to adopt? The good conduct to have? What had happened to his resolutions? He looked again at the children. From only their appearance, no conclusion could be deducted, one way or another.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Malfoy attacked me!" yelled Ron.
"Weasley attacked me!" yelled Malfoy.
Understanding he wouldn't have a good narrating of the affair by these two, he turned to the witnesses.
"Malfoy attacked us!" said Seamus Finnigan.
"You're mad?" sent back Parkinson, "Weasley launched at him!"
"Weasley mocked Malfoy, Malfoy mocked Weasley, they attacked," denounced a seventh year Ravenclaw.
Remus nodded. This version seemed nearer to the truth. But it was strange: usually, Malfoy began the remarks. Ron had surely wanted to make use of Lucius Malfoy's current residence being Azkaban...
"Ten points from both houses and two days of detention for each of you. I will give you the hours later."
"What?!" shouted the Gryffindors. How could their favourite teacher take points from them?
"He insulted Sirius, professor," intervened Harry.
From the student's eyes, Remus could see it wasn't a lie, and his heart raged, but he had made a decision... "I won't change the punishment." And he quickly dispersed the young crowd.
Draco observed the professor with a pondering sight. The werewolf had punished Weasley, despite the suspicious altercation. Malfoy, being teased first, it was unheard of! Even when the teacher had been informed of his comment on Black, an old friend of the werewolf from what Draco had been told by Snape, he hadn't modified his behaviour...
Back in their compartment, Ron, Seamus and Dean fumed.
"How could he?! Malfoy began the fight!"
"You're both responsible," remarked Hermione. "Remus did well. He can't tolerate conflicts when classes have not even begun."
Harry said nothing. He only remembered the comment Malfoy had made on Sirius. And he plotted on how he would take revenge.
The werewolf was severe; Draco would have to be careful. The Sorting Ceremony passed the usual way. At the end, he was called to the teachers' table for the dates of his detentions.
'Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. Why not today while they're at it?' he grumbled in his breath.
"Already?" he heard Professor McGonagall comment, "Do you want me to handle them, Remus?"
"No, thank you. But may I borrow your metamorphosed items from some classes? It will be their job to turn them back."
"Of course. It will save me new year's work."
Draco understood what she meant on his first detention. To his surprise, he was alone with Professor Lupin in the class. "Where is Weasley?" he inquired.
"I gave you different days, to avoid more fights," explained Remus, smiling kindly as only he can do.
Draco frowned, wondering if it was the sole excuse the werewolf had found to redeem himself in front of the weasel. The werewolf had been a Gryffindor; it was the sort of thing that these mudblood-lovers would do. Well... Maybe Snape too... No, surely Snape. They were Slytherins after all, and Slytherins don't respect rules. He sat on a workbench and began his work. He recognised the second year's program. Teapots were half morphed into... whatever they had been trying to do... He sighed. It would be a long night.
Three hours later, he was finally finished, but for one he couldn't manage to turn back. He got up and presented his work to the teacher who was grading the holidays' homework.
"Fine, you may go. Have a good night."
Draco exited without a word.
Monday, October the 4th
A month later, the young Malfoy's reputation was worse than ever. Voldemort's reign of terror was back. The blood spree through England had started. Draco was uncontrollable, irascible, exasperating. Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, Hufflepuffs and even half of the Slytherin house... The very mother of the boy wasn't spared the comments.
By the way, who was he meeting in the corridors? "Good morning, Mr Malfoy."
"Werewolf," the boy replied with scorn.
"Malfoy! You take that back!"
Ah, another day at Hogwarts... All the same. He saluted Draco, Draco taunted him, a Gryffindor attacked, both had detention.
"I wondered," Remus asked one evening in their usual detention classroom, "Where are your friends Crabbe and Goyle?"
The loneliness of Malfoy had stricken him. During his last year of teaching, he had got used to the young man flanked by his two goons. His fan club hadn't diminished but, to Remus, it appeared like they respected him less. His father had been caught. The dark lord would need to go and search for him in Azkaban.
"The weasel didn't tell you?" he said sarcastically, "They went to Durmstrang."
"Oh..." He nodded. Of course, why hadn't he thought of that? "You didn't go?"
Malfoy smirked. "So eager to be freed of me, werewolf?"
Inattentive to the name, Lupin smiled. "No, it was a simple question."
The Slytherin looked at the half mouse, half frog he was holding and shrugged. It was repulsive. He tried a spell on it, which failed. After four attempts, the full mouse was back. He lifted the head. Lupin was still looking at him, waiting for an answer. He dismissed it and caught another creature. He lifted the head again. Lupin was back to rating copies. In his hand, little legs were scratching his palm and drew some blood out. He winced and resisted the urge to crush the thing. He rendered it his true form and made it magically fly into the cage. The professor hadn't moved from his pile of papers.
"My mother didn't want me to."
He didn't know why he had answered. It had gone out... just like that. The wish to talk, to break the silence of the room. But Lupin didn't remark, he only smiled. "Too far away from home, isn't it?"
Two days later, Draco passed the professor in a deserted corridor on his way to the potions classroom.
"Good morning, Mr Malfoy."
For the first time since the beginning of the year, Draco turned back to the teacher. "Do you feel the need to be insulted?"
"Insulted?" repeated Remus. "No. What you say is only the truth. I am a werewolf."
"Yet you could give me detention for it," Draco retorted.
Lupin smiled. "I believe you have enough detentions as it is. But it is true one more wouldn't change much... Do you feel the need to be in detention, Mr Malfoy?"
They observed one another, and Draco departed quietly. The same day, Snape was found unconscious in his apartments. Voldemort had discovered him as a spy and tortured him. He had barely succeeded in escaping and was currently in a coma. The Slytherins cursed him. He was a traitor; he deserved to die.
Draco's behaviour worsened. Two months passed. They were in December.
Wednesday, December the 8th
"How do you do it, Remus? He's impossible in all his classes but yours!" One day Professor Sprout asked him.
"I make separate duos of Gryffindors and Slytherins," he kindly revealed.
"I tried that! He's no better with his roommates!" she insisted.
"I don't know then... But it's right that he isn't gentler with them in DADA either..."
"At least he listens to you!"
He laughed. "Let's say he doesn't interrupt me. But he sure isn't listening, for he already knows what I'm teaching." And that was right. In his first essay, he had noticed Draco, as well as Hermione, possessed the material to pass the year. But it was also true the boy didn't disrupt his class. He made to go when the Herbology teacher held him back.
"Hum... I gave him a detention... for tonight."
"I will do it, don't worry. I am used to it."
When he arrived to the classroom, he found the boy half asleep against the door. What with the numerous nights he spent in detention, it was no surprise.
"You should go and sleep," he counselled.
"I have detention." Ah... The voice lacked the usual contempt.
"I will act as if you came and did it."
Draco looked at him with suspicion. "You expect me to trust a Gryffindor?"
"No, but maybe a werewolf?"
Draco blinked. Was the man mad? "I have detention," he said despite the tempting proposition. He believed a Gryffindor would learn of it and use it against him. That was what happened every day. He was reported for things... How could they have learned of it? He had to be continually spied on... Compelling, Lupin opened the classroom's door and they entered. He sat on his usual workbench and began his usual job. McGonagall ought to love him for what he saved her from every day, but no, not even that...
"Mrs Sprout told me you didn't listen in her class," Lupin confided after a time.
"I don't in the others either," muttered Draco while searching how to morph back a fork into a piece of paper. What use was there in such stupid lessons? Who would ever use that?!
"You should," Remus lectured.
Draco snorted. "What for? I already know everything we do."
"Maybe for respect for the teachers." It was by far the longest conversation they had had in their detention's sessions, despite Remus's trying to re-launch it numerous times.
"Yeah, right, the teachers..."
Lupin eyed the student in front of him, pondering on what was passing through that head of his. He wanted to ask about Lucius but decided against it. Draco was not ready for that yet.
"How do you find your new potions teacher?" he casually inquired. Severus had been replaced some days after he had come back injured. Poppy had confided that it would take time for him to awake, many months maybe. It had already been two since that day. Moreover, they couldn't send him to St Mungo's, for they would discover the dark mark that burned black on his arm.
That was a surprise. He had heard not two days ago Hermione rejoicing in the severity of the professor and the difficulty and interest of the works he gave. Hermione no less! "Rubbish?" he repeated in awe.
Draco left his work in suspense and looked at him as if his question was stupid. "He knows not what he's talking about. He looks like Granger. A bookworm without instinct and real fieldwork." Pop. The parchment was back. "To use rat's intestines in a Stuporis potion," he went on muttering, "What kind of imbecile would do that?" Pop. Another parchment.
When Lupin observed the boy, he thought that maybe, his problem could be taken care of. The full moon was soon, and he had no Wolfsbane to prevent the dolour and madness. Severus had made only one flask in advance, which he had used, and he now was without resources to counter his transformation. He had already suffered a morphing without it and the excruciating agony had lasted for days after. Not that he could blame the man, in the state he was in... The important part was that this potion was an extremely difficult one: it had taken years for Snape to develop it to a satisfying stage and only he, a Potion Master, managed to successfully brew it.
"Mr Malfoy, do you like defies?"
Draco piled up a roll of parchment on top of the others, building a pyramid. "Why?"
"Would you be able to prepare a Wolfsbane potion?"
Draco smirked. "Difficult for you now that Snape isn't here anymore, isn't it, werewolf?"
"You have no idea..." And he felt so selfish for wishing Severus back to prepare him potions that it hurt him even more.
"Do you realised I can get you sacked with this information? Dumbledore managed to get you back on the probation that you used Wolfsbane..."
"No, Mr Malfoy. On the probation that I remain locked during the length of the transformation. Wolfsbane is only a way for me to master the wolf and to escape the pain. It never was developed enough to fully prevent a morphing," he recited.
Draco seemed to consider it and fidgeted with a fork. Pop. "Why don't you ask the mudblood?"
"Ms Granger, please," Remus corrected.
"She IS a mudblood. It doesn't bother you when I call you a werewolf."
"Because this is what I am. Werewolf is a state. Mudblood is an insult," Remus insisted.
"You didn't answer," recalled Draco. By the way the boy had avoided further discussion on the subject, Lupin was sure he had got his point, even if he wouldn't respect it outside this classroom they shared.
"I asked her and she tried..." He stopped the sentence there. Hermione would hate him for revealing that.
Draco frowned. "She failed?" When Remus nodded slightly, the boy smiled revengefully. "Then I accept! What will I gain in exchange?"
Remus was astonished at the little resistance Draco opposed to the idea of helping him, a werewolf. But he should have remembered the hatred Mr Malfoy felt for the Gryffindor trio outsmarted all the rest. About what the Slytherin could gain of it, that was another matter... "My eternal gratitude?" he proposed.
"As if I cared about it," mumbled Draco.
"Well... What would you ask for?" Remus opened the negotiation.
"Hum..." Pop. Draco put the parchment on his pile but, as he was sitting back, all papers rolled on the floor. "Ah! Shit!" He bent to pick them back.
"No vulgarities, please."
"Yes, yes..." When all parchments were back on the worktable, Draco observed his teacher. "I would ask for money, but what with the way you already dress, you would be forced to come naked in class. Not that I mind ridiculing a Gryffindor, but it would be indecent. I don't want to shock little Slytherins... So I'll ask for a permission!"
"A permission of what?" mistrusted Remus.
"If I succeed in preparing you Wolfsbane, I want the right to brew whatever I desire in the Potions class, with the exclusive access to Snape's private lab."
Really? He had feared a wish like only Slytherins could supply, such as 'Attack the Gryffindors', 'Retire from your post' or 'Let me fuck you'. What Draco had asked for was ridiculously easy to satisfy. Well, the part about the class... The other..."Fine, I will see the headmaster about it. You'll have my answer tomorrow."
"Good." Pop. "I'm finished here. Good night, werewolf."
Ah. That was a novelty too. Mr Malfoy had learned to say Good night.
The morning after, the pact was made, and Draco received the necessary ingredients and recipient. He couldn't keep himself from bragging about it when he passed by Hermione. She effectively wasn't happy. That didn't change Remus since the Gryffindors already looked at him with a dubious eye, due to the many detentions he had given to their house recently for their fights with Malfoy. They couldn't accept that they had deserved them...
Draco skipped four days of class, but the fifth, he very impolitely penetrated the headmaster's office...
"Werewolf! Your potion is ready!" he yelled while going up the fly of stairs.
"Five points from Slytherin, Mr Malfoy," announced Dumbledore.
"Then I also want five points for the potion," declared Draco. He presented the precious vial to Lupin, who took it with care.
"Thank you..." he said with emotion. Between his hands, he had the rare liquid that would keep him from an almost death in some days.
"It's not for free," recalled Draco, taking him back to reality.
After hesitating, Dumbledore went to withdraw the lab's key from its place on the chimney. "How much did you prepare?" he asked to the boy he had very little confidence in.
Prudent, Draco took and hid the key into his robes before answering. "A full batch, but it can't be used for more than two months. Snape let some notes about it that I'd like to test. Werewolf, call me when you'll transform, I need to observe the way it works." Then he receded toward the door.
"But the full moon will be during the Yule Holidays," notified Lupin.
"I said I had experiments to do!" shouted Draco in the stairs.
"You should try to put some respect in him," pointed out Dumbledore, who had refrained from taking five more points off Slytherin. 'This one will have to be looked upon...'
But Remus was too happy to hear him.
Draco missed the remaining days of class and the ball then the holidays began. Four days after, it was the full moon. True to his promise, Lupin sent a word to Draco, reminding him of what was to take place in the evening. He had long hesitated on this. How was he to act? Usually, he went to the shrieking Shack, drank his potion, undressed and morphed. He couldn't undress in front of a student! Finally in his cell, soon joined by Malfoy, he removed only his shirt, for it would have strangled the wolf. Then the moon appeared and all became dark.
Friday, December the 24th
The morning after, he awoke in the Infirmary. Harry was sitting in a chair, looking at him. He shivered under the scrutiny.
"How are you, Harry?" he asked hesitantly, not sure of the reason of the young one's presence. James's son had stayed at the castle over the Holidays, along with his usual friends.
"I wanted to verify Malfoy hadn't poisoned you."
Remus smiled. "It doesn't seem like it." Strangely, he felt fine despite his just finished transformation, and he thanked Merlin for Snape's intelligence and Malfoy's competence.
"I..." began Harry, "I hate Malfoy for all he says on Sirius, but... I now understand why you need him and treat him like you do, so..."
"How do I treat him, Harry?" Remus inquired, frowned.
The Gryffindor's eyes rounded. "What? How do you treat him? But you favour him! When we defend you against him, you give us detentions, when..."
"Harry," cut Remus, smiling, "Did I ask for protection?"
"Then I don't need protection. I'm happy that you consider me kind enough to want to protect me, but I trust I am old enough to defend myself against Mr Malfoy." He laughed lightly at the idea. Since the beginning of the year he had lured the young Slytherin into talking to him, if not trusting or befriending. He wouldn't destroy his long work. Not if that could save someone from the dark side...
"Fine. We won't react to his calling you names again then." Harry got up and went to the door. "I believe that under his spoiled child airs, Malfoy can be very dangerous. And he has a power over you with this potion. Just be careful, professor. I don't want to see you harmed."
The day passed, and Remus could quit the Infirmary. It was Christmas. All remaining students and teachers joined around a long table.
"Good evening, Mr Malfoy," saluted Remus while sitting next to the Slytherin.
"Good evening, werewolf."
"Five points from Slytherin," announced Professor McGonagall. The woman wondered why she bothered: four months of points off and detentions hadn't stopped the boy. Then she went back to her conversation with Dumbledore. The headmaster had to make a visit to Fudge in a week about the dark lord matter. Draco looked at them, his eyes betraying nothing of his thoughts.
"Malfoy!" called Hermione, "I have a question for you: do you remember the professor's name?"
Every head rose. Nobody had thought of that. Could it be that Malfoy simply had forgotten his teacher's name and didn't want to appear stupid by asking it of someone else? On the inverse, Draco fumed: of course he remembered his name, but in this case, he had only two choices. First, lie and say he didn't. Second, say yes and he would be requested to pronounce it, with the owner there. Some seconds passed and he smirked. He had found a third...
"Do you know the secrets of the Wolfsbane, Granger?" he asked back.
"This isn't my question, Malfoy."
"I know, wait a little. One of these secrets is that the potion has to be personalised. But Snape had already prepared it for the werewolf. Means he has a complete fiche on him. So, I not only know his full name but also birth-date, sign, medical records, etc..."
"Hum... One would think that such knowledge would have made you more respectful..." she muttered.
And the conversation ended there.
Saturday, January the 8th
Two weeks later, Snape awoke. When hearing about it, Draco asked to see his former professor. It was a Saturday. After much hesitation, and with Severus' will, Dumbledore accepted. The Potions master wanted to see himself what had changed his student to the point of accepting to work for Lupin. From his view, the use of his lab wasn't enough to warrant such an opposition to his pureblood's ideas.
"How do you feel professor?" inquired Draco, no sentiment passing through his voice.
"Well enough," he answered evasively. The young Malfoy looked tired. In his eyes, there was... a tinge... of an indefinite emotion. Something very out of place on a Malfoy.
"I hope you don't mind my using of your lab?"
It was evident the conversation wouldn't lead anywhere. It was a trick, a plot to hide something bigger, which was the reason Draco had come and seen him, the traitor. "I mind, but it won't change the fact. Lupin told me you were preparing him Wolfsbane. Why?" He needed immediate answers. A secret in the hands of a Slytherin was dangerous. Especially when said Slytherin was the son of Lucius Malfoy.
"Well... First, I wanted to beat Granger at something. Then I thought it could be endearing."
Snape frowned. He knew it was a lie, and the boy knew he knew. But he wouldn't dig anything else out of the child. Sooner than he thought, Draco was out and Severus called for the headmaster and Lupin.
"He's up to something. It shows in his eyes."
"That is what I supposed when he asked for your lab, Severus. But as long as he doesn't attempt something..." confirmed Dumbledore.
"He went to Hogsmeade last weekend. He said he needed ingredients for the potion," recalled Remus.
"That's impossible. I had everything for a full year," contradicted Severus. All three men stared at each other. That was something to be investigated.
"I'll ask him about it. He still has some detentions to serve."
"Hum..." pondered Dumbledore, "For my part, I have to return to the Ministry. Fudge is incapable of maintaining the order outside."
When classes began again, Draco effectively joined the usual professor in the usual classroom to do his usual work. But he remained silent; he did what was required of him then left the room. Remus couldn't learn anything. Snape decided to take the matter into his own hands. Draco hadn't presented any particular desire to kill him. That was strange: if he were to reappear in Slytherins' presence, no doubt they would attempt something. But not Malfoy... He had come to see him, had been alone with him, but had done no harm. Of course he would have been arrested but Voldemort's minions were ready to do more for their master... Besides, the boy now attended all his classes and behaved, taking care not to receive many detentions. He still was denounced for being into the lab late into the night, when he should have been in bed. That was another mystery, but Snape was almost certain the Gryffindors were behind it. They still had this exasperating Map of them...
Thursday, January the 13th
When he came into the lab, Draco was bent over a cauldron, pouring carefully what he recognised for essence of hyssop, from the form of the vial.
"Good evening, professor," saluted the young one.
"Good evening, Mr Malfoy." He glanced at the concoction. "Wolfsbane," he deducted by the sight.
"Yes, I'm trying to counter the transformation."
"You have faith..." He had tried for years and never obtained a satisfying result.
"Oh, I don't expect to succeed. I simply test till you take back your lab." Being better, Snape would soon make his return as a teacher and potion maker. The werewolf wouldn't need him anymore.
"Did you put dittany roots in there?" Snape exclaimed suddenly as his nostrils caught the particular odour.
"Yes. I..." Draco hesitated and looked at the floor. "I passed upon it yesterday and just... felt like adding it. I don't know why, I just saw it and flashed... It felt like something you would do..."
Snape eyed his student with care. Was he wrong? No... It was fear there was in his eyes... Why did Draco fear him? Because of the potion? It was true that it could be dangerous, still, as a Potion Master he had always favoured instinct over thinking... But it couldn't be that, there was something else. Maybe if he tried compliments? "It is. It may be a good idea..." Draco abruptly raised his head in awe and Snape wondered how much time it was that Draco hadn't been complimented. As quickly, the boy turned it again.
"Well. I'm finished. I should go and sleep... We have Charms exam tomorrow," he added. Obviously a lie. He tidied the lab and departed.
When he passed upon Flitwick, Snape didn't miss the opportunity to ask him about the exam. There was none. What was the boy preparing? Forging ahead, Draco worked hard in all his classes and escaped detentions for weeks. He was a model student. Snape had taken back his post. February came and the young one's mood didn't improve. He acted and looked as if he was tracked. Severus complained to the headmaster about the attitude of the Gryffindors. There was no proof, but he didn't care. He knew it was them, and he couldn't let them terrify one of his student! Dumbledore convinced the trio. They reluctantly accepted to stop, under the certainty that Malfoy wouldn't insult them again. Snape remarked he hadn't for a month. He even avoided Lupin. Noticing what they had missed, they accepted.
What with his good behaviour and results, Malfoy was allowed to go to Hogsmeade for the first time this year. His eyes lightened and Professor McGonagall wondered if she hadn't been too harsh on the boy. Maybe he could be a good brat...
Monday, February the 28th
Three weeks later, the edition of the Daily Prophet passed in all hands: Lucius Malfoy had died in his cell. He had been ill for weeks and had finally deceased of the malady. The transfiguration teacher dreaded the moment she would have to announce it to Draco. The boy had been nice for weeks, attentive like he had never been before. This new Draco Malfoy didn't deserve this. She pushed far in her mind that the past Draco hadn't deserved it either, that nobody did. All she could see was the kind boy, lost among his own peers, that had become of the worst Slytherin of his time.
"I'm sorry," she only said while handing him a newspaper, aside from the other children. Too many would already take advantage of this fate to torment him. But Draco didn't seem to realise at first the situation. He read the paper, as if he couldn't understand. Then he looked at her and smiled faintly. "I will go to my dormitory, if you agree."
Of course she agreed. Draco would miss her class, but she didn't care for that. All she had seen was the unshed tears in the young eyes. No, he didn't deserve that. Why hadn't Severus informed the boy in her place? But she also knew why she had accepted the duty: Snape hadn't been fond of Lucius Malfoy since the coming back of the dark lord. How would he announce his death?
Draco received proper ministerial papers the day after. The family was handed the body over. He had to go back to his house for the burial. He refused to. That made much racket in his family and the press. Narcissa Malfoy came in person to Hogwarts to retrieve her disobedient son. His opinion remained unchanged. He refused to attend the funeral. Nothing could make him move. Some days after, the staff discussed about how right he had been: aurors had been present at the funeral, fearing an attack of the dark lord to resuscitate his faithful follower. The family hadn't been let in peace for the whole day.
While his behaviour remained perfect, his health was deteriorating. He was a shadow. Even Gryffindors couldn't find the desire to taunt him anymore. Students began fearing him. What if he was ill? What if it was contagious? Severus tried to talk to him, without result. The boy didn't eat during meals, he didn't sleep during night. What reassured him slightly was that Draco was reported to go to the kitchen at night. Dumbledore was worried for the boy.
Wednesday, March the 16th
When Draco fainted in class, Dumbledore visited him in the Infirmary.
"I'm well, professor," answered the young man, "I just can't manage to sleep, that's all."
The headmaster was doubtful. As Severus, he had noticed it could only be something else. The boy kept a secret that was eating him. Madame Pomfrey declared him unable to take part in the upcoming quidditch match against Gryffindor: he was currently too fragile and weak. He didn't care. That alerted Snape like nothing.
"Hear me out boy!" the teacher almost shouted, "I know there is something! So you will tell me what! Or I get you send to Saint Mungo's!"
"No!" cried Draco, "You can't do that..."
"I can very well," insisted Snape.
"I... I'll get better. Just don't send me to St Mungo's..."
Severus accepted the bait. But if Draco wasn't in a better shape in a week, he would use Veritaserum by force. And he was always true to his word.
Seven days later, Draco Malfoy was back. The transformation was fascinating. Except they couldn't believe it. Even a full week of sleep couldn't have allowed such a quick recovery, and the boy had gone to his classes as usual, done his homework...
Thursday, April the 7th
A cold morning of April, as Remus came back from the Shrieking Shack after his transformation, he passed Draco in the corridor.
"Good morning, Mr Malfoy."
Remus smiled. One time, when the boy had been ill, Draco had addressed him by his name. It had been disturbing, even if pleasant.
"What are you doing in the corridors so early in the morning?" he inquired kindly.
"Walking. I needed some air." The boy seemed well at first sight, but his eyes betrayed his tiredness. If his body was rested, his mind surely was not. The shift between them was unusual, worrying and out of place. Could this fit appearance be false?
"You seem tired. I thought Severus was giving you sleeping potions."
"Why don't you take them, then?"
"It doesn't appear like so to me..." His tone showed clearly he didn't buy the 'Look at me! I'm perfectly well!' behaviour. "Draco." For the first time did he call the boy by his name. "What is keeping you from sleeping?"
"I..." The student's smell was of fear, a terror that ran deep. "I can't sleep. They'll attack me." Realising what he had said, Draco flinched and his dread increased. "I have to go."
Not losing time, Remus went to the headmaster.
"Who would want to attack him, Albus?"
"Many people, actually. From the students he harassed to Lucius' old enemies."
"Or simply the Slytherins," added Severus while penetrating the office. "We don't have contact anymore inside Voldemort's group."
"But why would the dark lord want to kill his ex-first follower's son?" asked Remus.
"That, I have no idea..."
Dumbledore decided to talk to the boy. "Lemon drop?" he proposed.
"No, thank you," politely refused the Slytherin.
"Mr Malfoy, I won't try to lead you in circles. You already don't like me much, and I wouldn't want to increase this distaste." Draco didn't contradicted.
"I was told of tensions in Voldemort's ranks," went on the headmaster, "and would like to make sure you're well."
"Why do you care?" Draco inquired with suspicion.
"Because you're my student."
Draco sighed and looked at the floor. "You weren't truly told anything, were you? If you had, you would know. The werewolf told you..."
Dumbledore refrained from taking points, because there was no contempt in the name, not even the slightest repulsive impression. To the young Malfoy, the noun had become a name to call his teacher by, no more and no less.
"I admit." He smiled. Maybe the boy had some good in him, if he could consider a werewolf as a human being. "Professor Lupin came to me. He's worried about you."
"I knew he would spill it out. One can't trust a Gryffindor." Again, there was no hatred. It was a simple observation.
"Professor Lupin only has your best interests in mind. We want to help you, Draco. What do you fear?"
The boy looked at him and Dumbledore froze. What had Draco done to warrant such expression? Cornered, that was the impression he emitted.
"Something you can't save me from..."
"I can help you to escape Voldemort,"
"How do you know it's the dark lord?" Draco murmured, "Maybe it's something else. Maybe it's both."
That was it. Cornered.
"Tell me who is after you Draco. We will find a way."
"I can't." These two words were definitive. For the moment...
"If you change your mind, we are here to help you," concluded Dumbledore.
Friday, April the 15th
"Moony, you're fine?" asked Harry after a tiring DADA class.
"Yes, only a little tired. Don't worry." It was him that was constantly worried over Draco.
"You're sure Malfoy isn't bothering you again?" the Gryffindor insisted.
"Perfectly sure... Harry," he hushed his voice, "Could you, by any chance, have seen if he goes somewhere at night?"
"Hum... Well... You see..." Harry stammered and looked around to check that no one was listening. "I thought you wouldn't like it, but since you asked: we have been spying on him. Oh! We didn't denounce him again or anything!"
Remus eyed the Gryffindor suspiciously.
"Well... The truth is we couldn't... He does nothing bad. We placed a spell on the Map, to awake us if he goes out of the Slytherin dungeon, but no, never. He only leaves the snake's wing for meals and classes."
Lupin tilted. "What did you just say?"
"That he was never out, why?"
"And yesterday morning?"
"The same. Out at seven and three quarters for breakfast."
"Thank you Harry!"
"Why? There's something?"
"I'm not sure. I need to talk to Albus."
"You say he was in two places at the same time?" repeated the headmaster.
"I appears so, yes. Albus, could he have found a Time-turner?"
"I don't think so, I would have felt its magic. Severus!" he called, "Did you discovered whatever he had been preparing in Potions?"
"No, he made sure to erase all hints. I have a list of some ingredients that his fellows saw him use, but that leads nowhere."
The night, the three men, helped by the Gryffindor trio, 'who couldn't keep their noses out of affairs that didn't concerned them', were sitting in Dumbledore's office around the Map. All eyes were fixed on the 'Draco Malfoy' spot, in a Slytherin dormitory. Snape muttered at the pointlessness of this method. More tea was consumed. Suddenly, around midnight, it moved and they stirred in their chairs. The plot went down to the common room, stationed a moment in front of the fireplace and split in two! There were two of 'Draco Malfoy' on the Map! One went up back to the dormitory, while the other went out to the kitchens. It remained there a moment before walking the inverse way and disappearing through a wall.
"What is that?" asked Ron, "There was one, then two, then one..."
"Why didn't the spell wake you?" also asked Remus.
"An error we made," reasoned Hermione, "The castle was too large to cover with a detection charm, so we spelled the Map to detect when he wasn't in the dungeon anymore. But he is never out. We put too much faith in our spell and didn't look at the Map closely enough to observe this little time when he divided."
"Where did the second plot disappear?" inquired Snape eagerly. At length, they had a lead.
"Useless, hum?" grumbled Harry, unheard by the potion's professor.
"Maybe a room we didn't know of," explained Remus, "There are many uncovered secret places in Hogwarts."
They went on with the spying. At five in the morning, the sleeping plot got up, made a turn in the common room, recuperated the reappeared second wandering plot and as suddenly, they were back as one.
"Remus," beckoned Dumbledore, "Tomorrow, you will make sure that Mr Malfoy is occupied elsewhere."
"Why?" asked Snape.
"This room is Salazar's experiment chamber. It was closed some centuries ago by the headmaster of the time."
All gaped at the revelation. How did Dumbledore know that? More, how did Draco discover it? Moony refused to obey the order he had been given by the headmaster: "I want to go with you if you enter it," he said. What was hidden in the room? What was so precious in there that Draco would protect it with his life? Was it the reason why unknown people, probably the Slytherins, wished to see him dead? What could Draco have done to provoke Voldemort's wrath?
"We can take care of Malfoy," announced Harry, "This way, you may accompany them."
Remus thanked the trio with a nod. It was an absurd desire that wanting to enter the secret room, but he felt it was important. As if something bad would result from the excursion if he wasn't present. Maybe was he selfish, but he had never neglected his instinct. He wouldn't this time either.
Preparations were made for the upcoming dawn.
Saturday, April the 16th
Harry, Ron and Hermione went back to their dorms to shower and change clothes then met in the Gryffindor's common room. They had come up with a simple plan. Coming down the stairs, they arrived in the Great Hall just in time: Malfoy was turning up by another enter. Ron immediately accosted him with an angered face.
"What did you do to my sister?!" he shouted, approaching dangerously near the Slytherin.
Draco was surprised by the verbal attack and frowned. "I did nothing. Go bugger someone else, weasel."
Ron caught him by the robe's collar and made to lift him, but Malfoy liberated himself by a sudden move of the arm. "Don't touch me! I said I did nothing."
"But SHE said you had made passes at her! I don't want you near my sister again, clear enough?!"
The Slytherin eyed the red-haired young man suspiciously, inattentive to the menace, then his two friends. He screwed up his eyes with mistrust. What were they doing here, in the middle of the Great Hall, bothering him? He hadn't gone near the weaselette for months. Why did she feel the need to lie now? He turned to the teachers' table, but Snape wasn't here: the professor wouldn't intervene. Then Draco frowned. Dumbledore and the werewolf weren't present either. It was highly unusual. Had something bad occurred? No, for the Gryffindork golden trio would currently be busied elsewhere, that's to say at the source of the problem. By the way... That's exactly what they were doing: busying him! When he had planned to quickly relieve the table from some pancakes and to go back to his medical potions' experiments! That was strange... Maybe it was simply a coincidence. After all, he had spent his last months testing. Still... The Gryffindor's attitude was odd. They seemed eager to make him react to the accusation, to begin a fight. Another year, Draco would have been more than willing to give in to his fists' itching, but in the period he traversed, he couldn't afford to have detentions. Each minute he didn't spend in front of his cauldron could be revealed as crucial. The weasel was getting angrier by his nemesis's lack of attention.
"Hey! Malfoy! Your mother didn't teach you manners?!"
"No." Draco took to his heels and ran toward the Slytherin dungeon. He would be looked upon as a chicken but his reputation was already tarnished enough that he didn't care about one more blow to it. He had a bad feeling, one that said someone he cared deeply for was in immediate danger. Behind him, he heard the trio scream at him, before starting on the course. Draco accidentally knocked over some students whose laying bodies obstructed his pursuers' running. Finally, he arrived panting at the Slytherin painting, the Gryffindors still dogging on his footsteps, murmured the password and yelled to it to close quickly. Hopefully, it didn't appreciate its opponent house and complied. Draco didn't stop his course there and ran toward the secret passage. The Slytherins were eating breakfast: none was there to see him. Besides, if what he dreaded was justified, they wouldn't be a problem for much longer...
Dumbledore, Snape and Lupin entered the Slytherin common room as soon as all students had gone out. They headed toward the wall they had seen Draco use on the Map, and the headmaster pressed some bricks of the wall with his hand, then pronounced words the two professors didn't understand. The wall split to let them pass. They discovered a darkened corridor that connected to a lightened room. Not hesitating, they advanced in it and Dumbledore closed the secret door behind them. This way, if a student came back sooner, they wouldn't be disrupted. Their heart beating quickly at the thought of what they would find in there, they traversed the shadowed space. The room was illuminated by the sunlight that poured through two noble windows. On one side was a cauldron filled with a substance Severus couldn't identify, and many ingredients were scattered on the floor and shelves. On the other side, a well-furnished bookcase. Then they heard a whimper. Frowning, they skirted round the library and froze on place. How was this possible? Was that what Draco had been hiding? How did he manage such a trick? There, laying on a bed, shivering with fever, was...
"Lucius Malfoy..." murmured Snape.
"How can he be alive? We saw his corpse at the burial!" contradicted Remus.
"Draco's dividing," explained Dumbledore, "He did the same with his father."
"Expelliarmus!" cried a voice in their back. Their wands shot from their pockets and tinted on the floor when falling. "Don't move! I said don't move!" shouted the voice again when Snape made to turn. Draco passed them and laid his hand on his father's forehead, not letting them out of his sight. His eyes were only fear, terror for what would befall on him and the man he venerated. He accioed his broom and, his wand still pointed at the three men, he mounted it, his father in his arms.
"Draco," said Dumbledore, "Where will you go when you get out?"
"What do you think?" The Slytherin asked. "To the dark lord, of course!"
"He'll kill you!" shouted Severus. Lucius Malfoy was alive, when they all had thought he was dead. Surely the death-eaters hadn't been more acknowledged than the light side had been. The dark lord ought to be angry at the boy's attitude. Especially if Draco had been keeping his father hidden. Voldemort may have asked for his follower back.
"But I HAVE to chose a side! And you sent my father to Azkaban!" Draco's hands trembled as he approached the window, his broom floating above the floor. He was hesitating.
"Voldemort let him rot in there!" Remus intervened. "Draco, please, don't go, you'll get killed, both of you. It isn't what you want, is it?" The professor was slowly advancing toward the boy, soothing the snake with his gentle tone. The child wanted to trust them, it showed in his acts. He would have been long gone if not. The only thing they had to do was to calm him enough to make him see reason. In his state, the only solution they had was to show him they could be trusted, that they would help him. "We'll find a way for your father. Just don't go. You can't run to your death. I have no children yet."
"Wha... What are you saying?"
"Remember me. We met long ago. Remus, as in the story with the wolf but I have no twin."
"Yes, I... I remember..." Draco's tears fell on his father he was still holding. "You have no children..."
"No, I haven't. That's why you can't die. Who would teach them quidditch then?"
"Ah..." The Slytherin clutched his father tighter. "If... If I stay, he won't go back to prison?"
"Expelliarmus!" shouted another voice.
Lupin turned to the new comer then back to Draco in a dash. "No!" Frightened, the boy had jumped in the air. Remus and Severus ran to the window and saw Draco disappearing in the forest. The Slytherin's wand clattered on the floor, some feet away from them. Remus shivered in anger and fear for the boy. He looked at the intruders.
"You... You imbecile!" shouted Moony at Ron.
"Lupin!" called Snape, "If Draco goes to Voldemort, we must arrive before him! Don't lose time!"
Both men exited without further discussion.
When Malfoy had disappeared in the Slytherin dungeon and the painting closed on their noses, they had accioed the Map and searched for another entrance. They hadn't needed much time to discover it, and had run toward the stairs, escalated a floor and penetrated another painting. There, they had traversed a corridor full of horrible and monstrous spiders.
"I won't go!" Ron had shrieked. "I refuse!"
"They're minuscule," Hermione had shouted back. "Hurry!"
Then they had taken another flight of stairs, gone down a floor and opened another door, arriving in the Slytherin common room. The secret passage had already been opened and they had arrived to the scene described above.
"Professor..." Ron tempted discreetly.
"Yes, Mr Weasley?" asked Dumbledore.
"Will they be well?"
"Remorse, Mr Weasley?" Dumbledore went on with the questions, unaware of the one he was asked, and a little smile played on his lips.
Ron reddened. Behind him, Harry and Hermione weren't less uptight or sheepish. "I don't like Malfoy and Snape, but not to the point of wishing their deaths. And I don't want Moony hurt."
"Don't worry," reassured the headmaster, "They will be back by tomorrow, after noting Mr Malfoy didn't go to the Riddle Manor. They tend to underestimate him. He's too intelligent to run to Voldemort."
"Won't they kill each other?" inquired Hermione, talking about the two professors. It was a known fact that Snape hated Lupin, for what had happened when they both still were students.
"No... They work well together under pressure." Dumbledore went to retrieve the four shattered wands on the floor. "Ah... In their hurry, they forgot their wands." He smiled. Two of the wooden rods disappeared from the old man's hand. "Really... Children..."
"Professor," questioned Hermione, "Isn't Lucius Malfoy dead?"
"You saw him, didn't you?" A twinkle shone in his eyes. They nodded. "I'd appreciate if this information could rest between us." They nodded again. "I don't know how the boy managed that, but it's impressive... I'd love to see Fudge's face... But I believe you have homework to do. A potions essay, if I am not mistaken. Severus won't be in a good mood next week, you should work hard on it."
They didn't comment that, with Snape, they would have a bad mark whatever the amount of work they put in the essay. Then they left as asked. During the time they had been in, some Slytherins had entered back the dungeon, attracted by the noise. They were grouped in front of the secret passage entrance and looked at the professors then the Gryffindors and headmaster who emerged. Their faces screamed their fury at the invasion. The three red-housed ones thanked Merlin for the presence of Dumbledore. Without the old wizard at their side, they would have been stoned to death.
"Good morning, Mr Olivander," saluted Dumbledore through the fireplace when alone in his office. "I hope I didn't awake you?"
"No, not at all. I was currently putting the finishing touches to a wand. Willow wood, snake nerve. Perfect for a strong but open-minded spirit. What may I do for you?"
"Mr Malfoy lost his wand and may come to you for a new one. Can you give him his back then? I just sent it to you by owl."
"No problem, no problem indeed."
The discussion didn't go further. Olivander was an intelligent man. It was more than probable that he had understood the insinuations in Dumbledore's sentences: Draco had fled from Hogwarts but wasn't to be harmed or arrested.
Sunday, April the 17th
As the headmaster had foreseen, his two professors were back by twenty-four hours.
"Why didn't you stop him from going?!" raged Severus at Dumbledore. The old man was everything but impotent. He was considered, and for good reasons, the most powerful wizard of their time. Having no wand in his hand had never been a problem for him to practice magic. Why hadn't he done it this time? Why had he refused to save the boy from what would await him outside?
"The boy went to Voldemort?" asked the old man while smiling, already knowing the answer to his own question.
"Not yesterday, but he ought to be hiding the time that his father recover. Then he will go!"
His two children, Severus and Remus, were looking at him with reproach. He was the most powerful wizard of their time! Why hadn't he stopped the boy? Even without his wand, he could have...
"A month ago, Remus, you told me word for word: 'How do you expect him to trust you if you don't at least have a little faith in him?'" Dumbledore smiled at their doubtful faces. "Just now, he won't go to Voldemort because he fears for his father's health. And when Lucius will be well again, it is him who will stop his son from joining his former master, for he knows what fate would await him. You should worry more about the Ministry. When the news of Draco's disappearance is out, a fact that we won't be able to hide much longer, the aurors will think that he joined the dark ranks and search Malfoy Manor for him. If he hides there and is found, it could get dangerous. Especially if they discover Lucius."
"He isn't at the Manor," affirmed Moony, "He hates his mother."
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "Hum... Of course he does, what with everything he said about her. Let him do as he wishes. He'll come back should he need help."
"How can you be so sure?"
"I'm not. I have faith."
End of chapter one.
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