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Innocent by MarauderLover7
Chapter 41 : A Moment Of Clarity
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7

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“Here,” Padfoot said, passing him a cup. Harry gulped it down, grimacing at the bitter taste. It was March, and his Form Revealer was finally ready. They’d watered it down – Padfoot had said something about the mind of a child, and Harry had remembered the conversation Dumbledore had had with Fudge and Umbridge at St Mungo’s when they talked about Veritaserum – which would hopefully stop it from doing any damage to Harry.

What that meant, however, was that it would take longer for him to find his form. Or, for his form to find him. Padfoot likened it to wands, where the form chose the wizard, and not the other way around.

“See you when I wake up,” Harry said, already feeling the potion pulling him toward sleep.

“Night, kiddo,” Padfoot said, and Harry felt a hand in his hair before he slipped away.

It was dark, wherever he was. He waited for his eyes to adjust and when they did, he could see trees. Harry suspected a forest – a forest was a good place to find animals.

Or to be found by animals. He wasn’t fussed either way, though he felt silly in his pyjamas. He sat down on the exposed root of a large tree and waited. Padfoot had warned him that quite a few animals would come to see him before the right animal did. Harry was expecting there to be more animals because of the weaker dose and Padfoot had also said that an animal might not pick him on its first visit. Harry hadresigned himself to a long night.

The hare was the first to appear. It was black, with grey markings around its eyes and a white smudge between its ears. The white smudge was uncannily similar to the scar that rested on Harry’s forehead. The hare hopped forward, ears swivelling and nose twitching and it occurred to Harry that it was only a young one; its ears were still quite short and it was smaller and fluffier than an adult would be. Harry shifted slightly and held out a hand but that startled it and it darted away.

Nothing came for a while after that, and Harry wondered whether he’d managed to scare his form away. What if he was supposed to be a hare, and it didn’t come back? Or, what if it had chosen him and he hadn’t realised? All Padfoot had said was that he’d know. But what if he didn’t?

The next animal to appear was an owl, which inched out of a hole in a tree trunk. He didn’t know what sort of owl it was, but like the hare, it was black, with a white mark – a feather, between its large eyes – where his scar would be. It was downier than Hedwig had been when they’d first bought her, and Harry wondered whether it could even fly. It ruffled its feathers and clicked its beak at him and Harry wondered whether that meant he’d been picked.

An owl would be a decent form, even if it wasn’t something he’d predicted; they seemed too wise for him. He wouldn’t complain, though; he’d be able to fly whenever he wanted, and it would be a good disguise. Harry spent a few moments entertaining himself with the possibility, but when he glanced back up at the branch, it was gone.

Harry shot to his feet and went to have a look, but no signs of it remained. Not a feather, or even the hole it had come out of were anywhere to be seen. Confused, and feeling like he’d have a serious headache when this ordeal was over, Harry sat down again and waited.

The next animal to emerge was the one he’d expected a visit from at some point, and the one he dreaded being picked by, and also dreaded not being picked by. It was a young stag with a dark brown coat and only a few inches of antler starting to grow on its head. Despite that, it trotted forward with its head held high. It gave its tail a little wag and pushed its nose into Harry’s outstretched hand, but Harry didn’t feel as if he’d been picked. He thought the young stag just wanted to butt heads with something. Up close, Harry could see a discoloured patch of fur in the shape of a lightning bolt.

Eventually, the stag seemed to get bored with him and pranced off – though it did glance back at one point, and Harry got the impression it was looking for admiration. He gave it a little wave and it vanished with a satisfied toss of its head.

Harry was expecting something large – since the animals had all become progressively bigger – and so was surprised when something slithered over his bare foot. It was a black snake – a viper, he thought – and he immediately froze; Dudley had once found a grass snake in the back garden and Aunt Petunia had shrieked at him to stand still until it went away. It hissed at him and wrapped itself around his ankle. Again, Harry didn’t feel like he’d been picked; he thought it wanted to unnerve him, but Harry knew he couldn’t be poisoned in a dream and so wasn’t afraid of it.

It too, seemed to want attention, because its tongue kept flicking against  Harry’s pyjama covered leg, and it kept moving, just to make sure his attention was wholly focused on it. Like the stag had, however, it seemed to get bored and slithered away after a few moments.

After the snake was a blackbird, which – like the hare – was frightened away the moment Harry moved. After that was a cat, which had judged him with large, green eyes before flicking its tail and sauntering away again. There had even been a dog that vaguely resembled Padfoot’s dog form, with its black fur, lean build and seemingly limitless energy; the dog had bounded over and started to lick Harry’s face, before coaxing him to chase it around for a bit. The dog, vanished like the owl had, when Harry wasn’t looking.

*                     *                       *

“Would you sit still!” Remus said, throwing a piece of toast at Sirius. “Honestly, if you’re that worried, just go and check on him-”

“I don’t want to-”

“Disrupt the process,” Remus said, rolling his eyes. “You’ve said.” Sirius pulled a face and kept pacing. Harry had taken the potion last night before bed so that he wouldn’t lose any time. In theory, anyway; Sirius had been up at six – as he was most mornings – and had expected Harry to wake up not long after. Remus had arrived at nine and Harry was still asleep, or Sirius assumed he was; he hadn’t come bounding downstairs to share his news.

Sirius picked up the toast Remus had thrown, Vanished it, and kept pacing.

“Sirius!” Remus said exasperatedly. “Sit!” Sirius sat and then cursed himself for doing so. He leapt back to his feet – making Remus laugh all the harder - and threw himself into his chair, scowling. “I’m so glad you never outgrew that,” Remus said, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes.

“Sod off, Moony,” Sirius said, raising two fingers in his direction. Without hesitation – Sirius wondered if he’d anticipated it – Remus flicked his wand and Sirius’ fingers snapped together. Sirius wiggled them and then pulled out his wand and muttered, “Finite Incantatem.” Oddly, it didn’t work, and they stayed stuck together.

“It’s in that book of parenting spells I bought you for Christmas,” Remus said, as Sirius attempted to pry his fingers apart. “If you want the counter-charm, go and look it up.”

“You could do it for me,” Sirius said hopefully.

“I could,” Remus agreed. “But I’m not going to. This’ll keep you occupied for a few minutes at least.” He helped himself to another piece of toast. Sirius glowered at him but Remus didn’t seem to notice or care.

“Fine,” Sirius grumbled and stomped out. He walked upstairs to fetch the book instead of Summoning it – Remus was right that it was a good way to kill time – but he didn’t stay in the library. He carried the book upstairs and settled himself in Harry’s desk chair, beside the bed. Harry lay very still, occasionally making small, indistinguishable noises. It was unnerving because Harry – like James – was usually a very vocal, very restless sleeper.

Sirius flicked past the introduction – interesting as some of the spells might be, he didn’t need to know the life story of the witch who’d written it – and though several chapters of household charms and recipes before he reached the Dealing With Children section.

“Broccoli Bashing Charm?” Sirius muttered under his breath. The illustration showed a child being attacked by her vegetables – it appeared it wasn’t limited to broccoli - until she gave in and ate them. A side-note warned parents to be careful; the charm was countered by saliva on the vegetable, not by actual consumption and clever children could work this out. He shook his head and skimmed through until he found the page he was looking for. “Disrespectful Digit Jinx. Huh.”

Apparently the usual Finite hadn’t worked because the spell was aimed at older children – or husbands, according to the author – who would be able to counter it easily. Sirius had to admire the logic behind that and found the counter spell at the bottom of the page. He grimaced and pulled his wand out of his pocket.

“Disrespectful digits: discouraged,” he said, feeling like a complete prat. It worked though, thankfully, and he had a bit more of a look through the book before he shut it and moved a few things to make room for it on Harry’s bedside table. Sirius checked his watch – the one Regulus had been given when he turned seventeen. Sirius’ – which he’d received from Charlus and Dorea – was probably locked up in a Ministry facility with the rest of the things he’d owned before Azkaban.

It was now eleven, meaning Harry had been asleep for nearly thirteen hours. Sirius didn’t think anything could have gone wrong with the potion – he’d supervised it every step of the way – but he didn’t remember it taking this long for James or Peter to find their forms. Peter had only been out three and a half hours, and James had taken four hours. Sirius didn’t know exactly how long he’d taken, but he knew he’d taken longer than Peter but significantly less time than Harry.

“You all right in there, kiddo?” Sirius asked. There was a noise behind him and Remus walked in. Sirius wiggled his fingers at him.

“Stupid counter phrase, isn’t it?” Remus said, chuckling. He cleared a space on Harry’s desk and sat down. Sirius adjusted his chair so that he could see them both.

“Bloody ridiculous,” Sirius agreed. “Back when we did this, how long was I-?” He gestured at Harry, who squeaked. Both of them looked at him, but he showed no signs of waking.

“Four hours, three minutes,” Remus answered. Sirius looked over, impressed.

“You remember that?”

“You would too if you’d had James hopping up and down, counting every second over four hours,” Remus said, sounding fondly exasperated.

“Prat,” Sirius said, grinning; no one had ever mentioned this to him before. Remus smiled too and then looked over at Harry. “Why isn’t he awake yet?”

“Probably a combination of the dose and his age,” Sirius said reluctantly. “But there’s so little research that’s been done on this that it’s hard to say.”

“The dose?”

“He had a diluted potion. I figure it’s best not to give kids a strong dose of anything that affects their head.”

“I must say I’m proud that you thought about that.”

“Sod off,” Sirius said, for the second time that morning. Remus grinned.

“And age?”

“This is all guesswork,” Sirius warned him. “But because he’s young I think maybe his personality’s not fully formed... he’s still developing. So maybe – if my theory’s right – there are more possible forms. All theoretical, though,” he sighed, while Remus nodded thoughtfully. “And even if I’m right, thirteen hours is still a long time.”

*                     *                       *

After a quivering, black mouse that Harry scared away just by looking at, Harry was beginning to get worried, though he’d been relieved it wasn’t the mouse; that would have been too similar to Wormtail for his liking.

He didn’t have much grasp on how quickly time was passing here, but he did know that he’d been watching animals for a very long time and still hadn’t found his. What if he’d already been chosen – the stag, the dog and the snake had all approached him and hung around for a bit – and not realised?

Harry wished he could wake up and talk to Padfoot about it, but that wasn’t an option, because the potion was enchanted to keep him asleep until he found his form.

Harry waited, growing more and more nervous with each passing moment, when finally another animal moved into Harry’s line of sight. It was a wolf and a young one, like the other animals had been; it was lanky, with big ears and big paws that it was yet to grow into, and thick black fur that was just as untidy as Harry’s hair.

 He held out a hand and it considered him for a long moment before it stepped forward to sniff him. Harry scratched its ear – the way Padfoot liked to have his scratched – and was rewarded by its tail starting to wag. Then, without warning, it pulled free and loped off.

Harry sighed and watched it disappear into the undergrowth.

A very long time later, a falcon dove out of the tree tops. It had sleek, black feathers and large dark eyes and it came to perch on a lower branch than the owl or blackbird had done. It looked down its sharp beak at him, assessing him and then screeched. Harry jumped, but it didn’t move. Tentatively, he stood and approached it. It watched him the whole time and allowed him to stroke its feathery head.

Suddenly, it lifted a clawed foot and raked him across the nose. Harry stepped back, shielding his face; blood – not an alarming amount, but enough to know that it would probably scar if it was a real injury and not a dream one – dripped onto his hands.

“What was that for?” he demanded, but the falcon was gone. “Bloody menace,” he muttered, wiping his face on his sleeve. He turned, intending to reclaim his seat, but found it already occupied. The wolf was back, watching him with bright, greenish brown eyes. Harry wondered if it was going to attack him too, and sat down where he’d been standing, a safe distance away. The wolf sat too.

They eyed each other warily for a few moments, and then something hit the ground beneath the wolf’s paws. It was blood, dripping from a long cut on the wolf’s nose.

*                    *                    *

“Bloody menace,” Harry muttered, twitching. It was the first coherent noise he’d made, and Sirius jerked in his seat. Remus also appeared surprised; he’d jumped and knocked a shoe off Harry’s desk – Merlin only knew what it was doing up there in the first place. Harry was bleeding from a rather nasty cut on his nose.

“It must be a Potter thing,” Remus sighed. James had been hurt finding Prongs; apparently, Prongs had chosen him by charging, and James, being the brave prat that he was, had held his ground. He’d split his forehead and woken up with an enormous headache, though thankfully, Remus and Sirius had been able to heal the damage. “Would you like me to get the Dittany?”

“Nah. Kreacher!” Kreacher Apparated in with a noisy CRACK and bowed to them both, before letting out a wordless shriek at the sight of Harry. He didn’t even need to be told to get the Dittany; he vanished and reappeared a few seconds later with his skinny arms wrapped around the entire chest of healing supplies Sirius kept in the pantry.

“Kreacher’s poor brat,” Kreacher croaked, pulling things out of the chest before Sirius could get a word in. “Kreacher will-”

“Put that away,” Sirius said, wrestling a Decongestion Draught away from Kreacher. “He’s hurt, not sick. All he needs is a few drops of Dittany-” Kreacher, like most house elves, were very good at treating common illnesses, but next to useless with injuries any worse than a bruise. The only exception Sirius had ever met was Noddy, the house elf who’d lived with the Potters when James was growing up. She’d known how to deal with grazes, burns and even broken bones, though Sirius supposed she’d have had to if she’d helped raise James.

“Kreacher, I don’t think that’s necessary,” Remus said kindly, as Kreacher snatched up an enormous bandage and made his way over to the bed.

“Honestly,” Sirius said, rolling his eyes.

He threw the Dittany at Remus, who caught it but didn’t apply it just yet – it was best to wait until Harry woke up – and took the bandage away from his distressed house elf. Funny as it might have been to watch Kreacher wrap Harry’s face in bandages – which Sirius had no doubt had been his intention – it would have been a complete waste of a bandage.  Someone – probably Remus – would have greater need of it than Harry.

“Thank you, Kreacher,” Sirius said pointedly. He threw everything back into the chest and deposited it in Kreacher’s arms. “Put this away, would you?”

“We’ll look after Harry,” Remus assured him, and Kreacher left.

“He’s a lunatic,” Sirius said fondly, shaking his head at the place where Kreacher had just Disapparated. “Not as foul as he used to be, but still every bit as loopy-”

“I think Harry’s waking up,” Remus said, and Sirius hurried over. Sure enough, Harry was stirring. He shifted a few times, and muttered something about blood before he gasped and sat bolt upright. He seemed confused, initially – that was to be expected – but Sirius passed him his glasses and that helped considerably.

“Did you come early?” he asked Remus, looking surprised.

“It’s twelve, kiddo,” Sirius told him, and Harry blinked.

“Lie back down for a moment,” Remus added. “I’ll fix your nose.”

“My- I thought I dreamed that!” Sirius pushed him down gently and Remus dripped Dittany onto the cut.

“Thanks,” Harry said, as Sirius Vanished the blood. A thin scar remained on the bridge of Harry’s nose, a little lower than where his glasses rested. Remus added another drop of Dittany but the scar stayed. They shrugged at each other, while Harry went cross eyed, trying to see the tip of his nose. “What’s wrong?” he asked, sitting back up.

“Small scar,” Sirius told him.

“I thought you’d Vanished my nose or something,” Harry said, relaxing, though he felt it, just to make sure. Sirius sniggered.

“I might not be quite as good at healing magic as Sirius, but it’s hard to go wrong with Dittany,” Remus said, chuckling. Harry gave him an apologetic look, which Remus accepted with a grin.

“So?” Sirius asked, sitting down on the edge of Harry’s bed.

“So what?” Harry asked, cocking his head.

“So what are you?” Sirius asked, rolling his eyes.

“Oh!” Sirius waited expectantly and then Harry grinned and said, “Guess.”

“What are our options?” Remus asked, while Sirius muttered about little monsters, and evil godchildren. Harry poked his tongue out at him, eyes dancing, and took a moment to answer.

“Hare, wolf, cat, owl, stag, blackbird, mouse, dog, falcon and snake,” Harry said, very quickly. Sirius, who’d been hoping to smell the answer, wondered if he’d done that way on purpose.

“Not a mouse,” Remus said, and Harry shook his head. Sirius was relieved about that. He’d have accepted it if he’d had to, of course but he was happy not to have to. It was too close to Wormtail.

“Not a hare either,” Sirius said. “They’re too timid.”

“So are blackbirds,” Harry said.

“Was your form the one that attacked you?” Sirius asked, and Harry shook his head.

“Not an owl, or falcon, then.”

“Says who?” Harry asked.

“They’re the only things that could have made a cut that neat,” Remus said, obviously following Sirius’ line of thought. “And I can’t honestly see you as a cat.”

“Which leaves wolf, stag, dog or snake,” Sirius said thoughtfully. “You’re too warm to be a snake.” Both Harry and Remus gave him odd looks. “What?” Sirius asked. “It’s true. Besides, you think he could have a mop like this-” He waved at Harry’s messy hair. “-and not have fur?”

“Are you a snake?” Remus asked.

“No,” Harry said. Sirius gave them both smug looks and Remus rolled his eyes.

“So wolf, stag or dog...” Sirius said quietly. He looked up, caught Remus’ eye and smiled.

“Wolf,” Harry said, scratching his nose absently. Sirius grinned. Remus looked surprised but pleased. “A black one,” Harry added. “It looks a bit like you, Padfoot.” Sirius’ eyes were stinging. He hugged Harry and used the time to blink until the stinging feeling went away. Remus hugged him next and when he’d been released, Harry ran a hand through his hair and said, “Do you think Dad’s disappointed?” Remus and Sirius shared a look, silently asking the other who wanted to deal with the question.

“Why would you think that?” Sirius asked, frowning at him. Harry mumbled something about not being a stag. “Ah,” Sirius said. Then, he smacked Harry, who jumped and looked at him like he’d lost it. “Don’t be thick,” Sirius said, throwing an arm around his godson’s thin shoulders. Harry shifted a little closer. “James would be incredibly proud – is incredibly proud. I’m sure he’s sobbing like a big girl’s blouse, wherever he is.” Remus laughed and Harry smiled reluctantly.

“So he wouldn’t mind that I’m not like him?” Harry asked.

“Absolutely not,” Sirius said firmly. Harry could have been a slug and James would still be thrilled. “I think he’d be happy that you were a bit different, actually. And so would your mum; one James Potter was enough for her, I think.” Remus laughed. While Harry shared a lot of his father’s traits, he was also very different; he was a lot more mature than James had been at eleven (that was when Sirius had first met him and so he had no earlier reference point) and he had an ego that was at least ten times smaller. He was also nowhere near as naughty, which Sirius was unbelievably grateful for. “Don’t you like your form?”

“No, I do,” Harry said, grinning, though it faded after a moment. “You’re both dogs and now I’m one too, it’s just... Dad-”

“-would be feeling pretty smug about his choice of godfather,” Sirius said, grinning. “And godmother,” he added, glancing at Remus, who pulled a face. “The only thing he’d be upset about is not being here to tell you this himself. He’s proud of you, kiddo, trust me.”

Harry looked thoughtful and Sirius thought they’d convinced him, at least for the time being; no doubt he’d think about it a bit more and find a concern they hadn’t addressed, but Harry wasn’t very good at keeping his feelings bottled up, so they’d know if or when he did think of something else.

“Could I maybe have breakfast?” Harry asked. “Or lunch,” he amended, glancing at his watch.

“Hungry, are you?” Remus asked, smiling.

“Starving,” Harry admitted.

“Kreacher’s probably preparing something now,” Sirius said. “Go on.” He stood so that Harry could get out of bed. Harry did and bounded out of the room with Sirius and Remus only a few steps behind. “You owe me a galleon,” Sirius muttered; Remus had thought there was a very good possibility that Harry’s form would be a stag. It was easy to see where Remus was coming from and Sirius probably would have agreed with him if not for the confidence difference between father and son.

James’ confidence had been that not-arrogant-but-close-to-it type, and he had been proud of his antlers, worn them like a crown; that, as well as the size of them was where the nickname Prongs had come from. Harry’s confidence was quieter than James’  and much harder to see - and occasionally it wasn’t there at all – and Sirius imagined that if Harry’s form had antlers, he’d spend all of his time worrying about whether he was holding his head properly, and if it was possible to hide or remove them. Antlers, quite simply, were too flashy to suit Harry.

And so, Sirius had bet against Remus, saying that not only would Harry not be a stag, but that he wouldn’t be a dog; while Harry shared several canine qualities, he wasn’t quite... playful enough to be a dog. A wolf was a bit more serious than a dog – though they still had a playful streak . Sirius hadn’t guessed wolf at all – hadn’t even considered it, actually - but he thought it fit rather nicely.

“I’ll pay you tomorrow,” Remus muttered back, grinning.

Harry bounced down the last few kitchen steps, where Kreacher pounced on him and started to cast diagnostic charms, before deeming him healthy and passing him a loaded plate.

Remus was passed a cup of tea and took the seat opposite Harry. Sirius stayed at the bottom of the stairs, watching his godson, who was picking at his food, looking thoughtful. He felt Sirius’ stare, looked up, and smiled, before returning to his breakfast with more enthusiasm. Sirius continued to watch, a sad, proud smile on his face.

I hope you can see him, Prongs.

*                    *                    *

This lesson, Draco had been told to rearrange Severus's shelves of ingredients. Draco had complained but Severus had been adamant - actually, he'd told Draco to beg, and Draco was too proud to do that, even if it would get him out of the job.

“Is there any particular way you want it, sir?”

“I want you to be able to find anything up there at a moment's notice,” Severus said, and went back to marking essays. Draco grumbled under his breath and started to take things down. “Is everything all right?” Severus asked. There were a number of things Draco could have replied with but he bit his tongue and nodded. “Then I see no need for you to be making any noise.”

Draco's fist tightened around the phial of spider's venom he was holding. It shattered. Glass cut his palm and tinkled as it hit the stone floor, while the venom dribbled down his arm and dripped onto his shoes.

“Sorry,” he mumbled as Severus swept over to clear away the mess. It was gone with a flick of his wand and then he grabbed Draco's wrist inspected his palm. He summoned two small bottles from the cabinet on the far side of the room. The contents of one made a ghostly spider crawl out of the cut and along Draco's forearm before it disappeared, while the other was just Dittany, and healed the cut instantly.

“Wouldn't want you to be poisoned, would we?” Severus asked, tracing his wand along the smooth skin. “Merlin knows you're frail enough as it is.” Draco snatched his hand back.

“Are you calling me weak?”

“So quick to expect an insult,” Severus tutted, but his eyes were bright; “I was merely alluding to-”

“The Healers say I'm getting better,” he said defensively. “I haven't been in for two weeks, now.”

“And I suppose you think that's admirable?” Severus drawled. “I haven't been to St Mungo's in years.”

“You came to visit me,” Draco said. “The day before I was released.” Severus made a soft, choking noise. Draco grinned.

“I had forgotten,” he said.

“Apparently,” Draco muttered.

“Get back to work,” Severus snapped, lowering himself into his chair. He scribbled something on a piece of parchment and Draco wondered if Severus was going to take his foul mood out on one of his students. He suspected the idea should have appealed to him far more than it did. It actually made him feel rather guilty.

“How long have you been here?” Severus asked, quite some time later. This was a common question, and so Draco knew better than to say he didn't know.

“Erm...” Draco paused, a jar of butterfly wings halfway to the shelf he wanted to put it on. “Two hours, perhaps?”

“One hour, twenty minutes,” Severus sneered. “You must be having more fun than you let on if you think time's passed that quickly.”

Draco scowled and slammed the jar down. Severus's quill began to scratch again.

Five minutes later - Draco was sure, because he'd started to count under his breath - a loud CRACK echoed through the office and Severus knocked over his inkwell with a curse.

“Dobby,” Draco said, and even smiled a bit. He'd appreciated Dobby more lately; things weren't confusing with Dobby - all he wanted was orders, not opinions or for Draco to complete strange tasks - and because Dobby was the one who came to rescue Draco from his visits with Severus.

“Dobby is sorry,” Dobby said, giving Severus a pleading look. “Dobby knows that Master wanted longer than Dobby has given them, but Dobby is being sent to collect Master Draco. Mistress Sonja is dying, sir.”

“She's been dying for months,” Severus sighed. Dobby's ears flapped as he shook his head.

“Sir does not understand,” he said shrilly. “Mistress is dying today! Mistress Pansy and Master Ernest is most upset, sir, and Dobby's Mistress Narcissa is sending him to be getting the young master.”

“She's dead?” Draco asked blankly. He'd known she was sick - even Greg and Vince knew, and they were thick - but he'd never imagined her dying.

“'Tis most sad, little master!” Dobby said, wringing his hands. “Dobby fears he will have to be mopping the drawing room for all the tears.” Draco looked at Severus, who was looking grim.

“Go,” he said. Draco dropped the griffin mane hairs he was holding and grabbed onto Dobby. Severus turned back to his marking as Dobby turned on the spot.

Draco found himself standing in the drawing room; Dobby pried Draco off him and hurried out of the room. Ernest was sitting in one of the armchairs, his head buried in his hands. Mother had a hand on his knee and was speaking quietly, while Father sat beside her. His face was completely unreadable.

Pansy was sitting on the other side of the room with Hydrus. She was sitting unnaturally still with her hands clasped tightly in her lap and as Draco moved closer, he noticed that she was also shaking.

“- then I told Goyle that there's no way he could outfly me; honestly,” Hydrus said, “has he seen the size of himself-”

“Hi,” Draco said quietly; Pansy didn't appear to hear him.

“Oh, it's you,” Hydrus said. “Did you hear about Mrs Park-”

“I heard, thank you,” Draco said loudly, before Hydrus could say anything else. “I'm sorry, Pansy.” He sat down on the arm of the chair - something Hydrus wasn't allowed to do, but Draco could - and put his hand on her shoulder. She squeaked and looked up.

“Draco,” she muttered. “Hello.”

“He said he was sorry,” Hydrus said, and Draco saw her face crumple.

“I must have missed that,” she said in a low strained voice. Draco squeezed into the chair next to her and hugged her, but she pushed him away; he'd learned, recently, that hugs made people feel better, but few of their friends seemed to know this. Draco was secretly convinced that he and Mother had stumbled across a rare form of magic. Still, he couldn't blame Pansy for wanting her space. He climbed back on to the arm of the chair.

“Did you miss what I said too?” Hydrus demanded.

“Sorry,” Pansy mumbled.

“I forgive you,” Hydrus drawled. “What I said was-”

“Hydrus,” Draco said. “Shut up.”

“I'm telling Mother you said that,” Hydrus said, looking furious.

Draco ignored him; at the mention of the word 'mother', Pansy had buried her face in her hands. A glance over at Ernest showed that he was still in the same position. Draco patted her knee - the way Mother was doing - but Pansy kicked him away. Not hard, though.

“Are you crying?” Hydrus asked gleefully, trying to get a look at her face; his anger at Draco was apparently forgotten in the face of this new development. “Draco, look! Wait until we tell the others that she cried in front of us!” Pansy seemed to be trying to calm herself down; Hydrus’ reaction wasn’t surprising – purebloods didn’t cry, or if they did, it wasn’t in front of anyone. It made them look weak. Draco, however, though crying was perfectly reasonable at a time like this.

“I’m not telling anyone anything,” he said, folding his arms. “She can cry if she wants to.” Hydrus ignored him as Pansy wiped her eyes on her sleeve.

“Would you like a handkerchief, Pansy?” Hydrus cackled. Something in Draco snapped.

“Just shut up!” Draco shouted. “Can’t you see she’s upset?!” Hydrus gawked at him. Pansy was looking down at her hands again, so he couldn’t see her face.

“You’re more upset than she is about the whole thing,” Hydrus drawled, recovering. “It wasn’t our mother.”

Pansy burst into tears again, and Hydrus smirked. It was strange; Draco had been confused for months about what to say and how to act. He’d spent five minutes giving thought on how to greet everyone before the last pureblood function, and he’d hesitated before responding to things, just in case he accidentally offended someone. But at that moment, everything was clear and he didn’t hesitate before he launched himself at Hydrus.

Hydrus screamed as they tumbled into the back of the armchair and it tipped over. Pansy gave a little hiccough of surprise, and looked horrified by Draco’s behaviour. He didn’t care.

“Get off!” Hydrus cried. “Father! Mother! Help!” Draco stood up, disgusted.

“I wasn’t going to hit you,” he said, looking down at his brother, who was curled in a ball, looking dishevelled. He’d wanted to give him a bit of a fright, that was all, and from the looks of things, he’d succeeded.

“What is going on!?” Father demanded, seizing Draco’s shoulder in an uncomfortably tight grip. Draco turned around, wincing – not out of fear, but because Father was hurting him. Ernest – like Pansy – looked stunned, but beside him, Mother looked... Draco wasn’t sure. Not proud, but something similar. Triumphant, maybe. And worried for Hydrus, of course.

“He attacked me,” Hydrus said furiously. “I feel dizzy, Father; I think I hit my head!”

“You did not,” Draco snapped, though he was a little worried. “We were on the armchair when we hit the ground- ah.” Father squeezed his shoulder again. Hydrus tried to stand and fell over.

“I can’t get up,” he said pitifully. “Everything’s spinning.” Mother hurried over and crouched beside him. She brushed his hair back, looked into his eyes – which Draco thought focused on her a little too easily for Hydrus to be as dizzy as he claimed – and then helped him up. She called Dobby, who took hold of both of them and Disapparated. Draco saw Hydrus smirk before he vanished.

He’s not really hurt, Draco thought, and was relieved and then angry. He’s putting it on to get me into trouble!

Father watched them and then turned to Draco, looking just as angry as Hydrus had.

“He deserved it,” Draco said, but somehow he didn’t expect Father to understand. Father glanced at Ernest and then at Draco.

“We will discuss this later,” he said in a voice as sharp as glass and louder than was necessary; he probably wanted Ernest to know that Draco wasn’t going to get away without punishment.

“Fine,” Draco said, shrugging Father’s hand off. Father gave him a searching look and then strode back to his chair. Draco sat down on the edge of Pansy’s again.

“What is wrong with you?” she asked, looking horrified. “You attacked your own brother!”

“He deserved it,” Draco said again. He’d stick by that response; this was the first thing he’d done in a long time without thinking about. Everything had seemed clear. He hadn’t questioned himself, or questioned what everyone else would think. Surely that meant he was right.

I think I am, he thought tentatively.

Pansy didn’t seem to know what to make of his response. She stared at him for a long time, through big, watery brown eyes and then looked away, sniffing.

“I don’t care that you’re crying,” Draco offered, as her shoulders shook. “I’d be upset if it was my mother.” Pansy let out a little trembling breath. “And I’m not going to tease you about it.” Her hands clenched in her lap. “I really am sorry, Pansy.”

“I think I’d like that hug now,” she choked.

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