From beneath Draco's bed, Harry watched as two pairs of feet made their way into the room. Judging by the size of the soles and the hefty thump which accompanied each step, Harry could be fairly sure that they belonged to Crabbe and Goyle. A sudden pang of fear crawled down his spine would Draco, with the support of his hench-wizards to motivate him, decide to reveal Harry now? Harry flustered with his wand, trying to make as little noise as possible.
"You weren't at dinner," Harry heard Crabbe say that dull monotone was unmistakeable. "Where were you?"
"Potions class. I spent three quarters of an hour dealing with Snape's mid-life crisis," Draco replied, sounding vaguely bored. "I'm not hungry, anyway."
"Well, I am," Goyle interjected.
"So go bother a house elf for something to eat," Draco suggested. There came a twanging from the springs above Harry's head as Draco's body shifted, and then Draco's feet appeared, one after the other, right infront of Harry's invisible face. His boots were small, neat and very black, made of some leathery material; dragon skin, Harry thought. He wriggled forward, curiously, daring to stick his invisible head and shoulders out from beneath the bed.
"Me? Why don't you go fetch it, Malfoy," Goyle demurred.
A heavily pregnant pause from Draco. "Excuse me?" the pale youth finally spluttered, as if he hadn't heard Goyle correctly.
"Yeah. You aren't doing anything important," Crabbe said. "Just lazing about, really. Go on, get out. And while you're about it, grab a sandwich for me too."
"Hurry up," agreed Goyle. "If you aren't back in a half hour, you'll be bloody sorry let me tell you that right now." He thumped his meaty hands together.
Draco's anger was palpable Harry imagined he could actually see a poisonous white light radiating from the boy's body. Draco's fingers had furled inward to form tight fists at his sides, the knuckles red from the strain of controling his temper.
"Is this your dim-witted idea of a joke?" he hissed. "Because, as I've told you both before, you make lousey comedians."
Goyle snickered. "No joke, Malfoy. We'll give you to the count of ten to get going.." He began a count down, and after a second Crabbe chimed in, their gruff voices doubly menacing in union: "Ten.. nine.. eight.."
Draco wavered on the spot, still unsure whether or not they were serious. This all seemed to him like an impossibly bad dream.
"Seven.. six.. five.."
But there was no sign that either of them were joking their broad faces remained grossly severe. Draco came to a split-second decision, somewhere between the count of four and three, and made a desperate lunge for his wand. Crabbe, who'd apparently been anticipating this response from Draco, leapt after him remarkably light footed for a youth of his size. The two collided and fell onto the bed, Crabbe on top, forcing Draco's hands behind his head.
"Who do you think you are, Malfoy? Trying to play games with us?" Crabbe hollered, and Goyle smirked: "Reckon we should shave his head, or just bruise him up a bit? Or maybe both?"
"Get off me, you loon!" Draco shreiked.
All this was too much for Harry. As Draco and Crabbe scuffled out of sight above him, Harry aimed his wand at Goyle.
"Arbatus," Harry cried, crawling his way out from beneath the bed. It was the first spell which popped into his mind, something Hermione had only recently taught him she'd found it in one of Professor Sprout's books of advanced botanical magic. Goyle released a pig-like squeal as tree roots manifested about his ankles, twining themselves slowly but securely up to his knees, and thus pinning him in place.
One Slytherin down, one to go. Harry rolled onto his back Crabbe had the still-squealing Draco in a headlock, and was staring down at Harry in utter disbelief. My cloak, Harry thought desperately somehow the garment had slipped from his shoulders as he squeezed out. It was too late to worry about that now, though.
Crabbe howled as his arms were abruptly chained to his sides by a tangle of vines. Draco was flung free, gasping for air, his sharp features tinged with an unhealthy blue. Harry dashed to the boy's side, hoping to provide what small medical assistance he could, but Draco snarled at him ferally, ivory teeth between bitter pink lips.
"Potter? What the heck is he doing here?" Goyle bellowed.
"Exactly what I'd like to know."
Harry felt his stomach turn over; he looked away from Draco's stricken face toward the source of that too-familiar voice. Snape stood in the doorway, the grotesque apparition of the bloody Baron hovering beside him. Harry was unnerved to notice that the Baron was grinning, the self-righteous smile of a tattle-tale.
"Thank you, Baron," said Snape, coolly, casting a look toward the spectre. His bitter gaze then returned to the four youths. Harry groaned inwardly he was sure he'd recieve more than a detention with Filch for this transgression. But instead of venting his anger on Harry, Snape turned on the still-wheezing Draco.
"Malfoy, you disappoint me yet again. Why is it that every time there's any trouble here, you seem to be at the bottom of it?"
"M-me?" Draco panted.
"Y-you," Snape cruelly mimicked the boy's stutter. "Really, I've had enough of it. Just because you happen to be Lucius Malfoy's son doesn't give you special privledges, I'm afraid. I'd suggest you pick yourself up and head to Dumbledore's office, right now."
Draco looked shell-shocked, his mouth gaping a perfect O.
"But he didn't do anything," Harry burst out, selflessly. "It was me! I sneaked in I cast those spells!"
"Quiet, Potter, or you'll join him," Snape warned.
"I should join him! I'm the one who did all this!" Harry couldn't believe his own ears was he really begging to be punished? But there was something tortured in Draco's expression something utterly hopeless, something that Harry couldn't bear to see. "I did it," he repeated, unashamed of the admission. "Crabbe and Goyle attacked Draco I was trying to help him."
"Fine, Potter," said Snape. "You may join Malfoy in Dumbledore's office. Both of you out, now."
Draco staggered to his feet, obedient and defeated. In the curve of his spine he was broken. As he passed by the open-mouthed and completely confused Harry, the boy noticed a golden glitter fluttering dimly in the centre of the Slthyerin's palm the metallic glisten of the stolen snitch.
"Expelled?" Harry yelled.
"Yes, expelled don't make me repeat myself, Harry. We don't want any more troublemakers in this school than we can handle, thank you. Especially not boys who erronously believe that their history and social standing can protect them from suffering the same consequences as everybody else."
"That isn't fair! I keep telling you he didn't do anything!"
Harry glanced toward Draco the boy was slumped back in his seat, staring at the wall, his grey eyes trained on some unfathomable object beyond the surface of the visible. His pale nose was crinkled, as if he were struggling to hold back tears and Harry recalled a day, more than a year ago, when he'd overheard Draco smugly telling his Slytherin compatriots one of his favourite family rules: Malfoys never, ever cry.
"You can't do this," he repeated, rising from his chair to face Dumbledore.
"I'm afraid, Harry, that I already have."
Was Dumbledore looking smug? Harry wouldn't have believed it possible if he hadn't seen it himself: the old wizard was actually smirking. Any further retorts and pleas died on Harry's lips he stumbled backwards, shocked into silence.
"Fifty points from Gryffindor and a detention with Filch for you, Harry," Dumbledore added. "Both of you are dismissed I expect you off school property within the hour, Draco."
"But" Harry babbled. Draco was already dragging himself from his chair, his features wilfully assuming an inscrutable blank but nothing could disguise the visible tremors in his hands and shoulders. He looked so fragile, and so completely despondent as he rose, that Harry's heart ached in his chest. Draco didn't say a word his angular chin jutted up, his nose held high as he made his departure.
"You're making a terrible mistake," Harry spluttered, as the doors closed.
"Am I? Strange words, coming from you. I can't remember when you and that.. that creature were ever friends, Harry."
"A repulsive boy," Dumbledore confirmed, his demeanour serene he might well have been commenting on the weather. "And though it burns me to say it, I'll have to admit I've wished him rid of my hands before now. How I put up with that spoilt, self-centered child for five years I'll never know."
"I.. oh, forget it," said Harry, too upset and bewildered to listen to any more, and dashed out, after Draco.
He found Draco ascending the steps to his room, catching up with the boy just before he vanished through the wall into the Slytherin common room.
Draco pivoted on a heel, his arms folded across his chest. "Don't gloat, Potter," he said, shortly. "It isn't becoming."
"I didn't come to gloat," Harry gasped up the steps to Draco. "What is going on around here? That isn't like Dumbledore. I mean you didn't even do anything, Draco."
"They're crazy, all of them." Draco shrugged. In the time it had taken him to get from Dumbledore's office to the Slytherin quarters, he'd regained his semblance of apathetic nonchalance. "To be honest, I'm bloody grateful to have an excuse to leave," he continued. "Snape, McGonagall, Hagrid idiots, all of them. And Dumbledore? How I put up with that doddering old fool for five years, I'll never know."
A sick sensation of deja-vu crept through Harry's veins, but he forced himself to ignore it. "Draco how can you say that? Won't your parents be angry?"
"My father will probably disown me," Draco said, dryly. "I guess I'll have no choice but to take up my second choice of profession. There's a lot of call for male models in the Muggle-world, so they tell me."
"You can't be serious."
"Potter I don't want to talk about it right now, and certainly not to you. Please there, I've said it, I'm actually begging you go away."
"No. I won't let them expell you. Something's going on here I don't know what it is, but I'm going to get to the bottom of it."
"You do that," Draco drawled. "You can owl whichever dumpster I happen to find myself in when you've concluded your investigation."
Harry broke off mid-entreaty he'd heard the sound of scampering footsteps behind him. Professor Trelawney was skipping up the steps toward them, the bustle of her skirts gathered to below her knees.
"I heard you'd been expelled, Malfoy," the Divinations teacher chimed as she reached the landing, her face slightly red from the unaccustomed excercise.
"Come to offer your condolances?" Draco queried sarcasticly, a pale eyebrow raised.
"Oh, I doubt it, you pathetic little boy," Trelawney replied and Harry's mouth fell open in surpise. "You know, it's against Hogwarts policy to physically abuse students but I suppose now that you're no longer a student it doesn't matter. How I've longed to do this oh, don't look at me like that. I know how you feel about my Divinations classes. A heap of nonsense, isn't that right? Well I'll give you nonsense, Master Malfoy.."
And then something happened which told Harry that the sinister conspiracy against Draco he'd hypothesised was indubitably true. For the chirping and absent-minded professor, whom Harry had previously assumed would never hurt a fly, now lifted a bejeweled hand and slapped Draco Malfoy hard across the cheek.
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