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Wayward Son by La Klap

Format: Novel
Chapters: 11
Word Count: 76,402
Status: WIP

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Romance, Angst, Young Adult
Characters: OC
Pairings: OC/OC, Draco/Pansy, Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione

First Published: 10/20/2006
Last Chapter: 04/10/2008
Last Updated: 04/10/2008

Summary:
(Credit for the banner goes to the wonderful Alora.)
HPFF Recommended Story March 2007





Unwanted, unexpected and nearly unborn, but he's ignorant of it all. Join Draco Malfoy's son in an emotional rollercoaster ride through Hogwarts, starting in his fifth year, until he confronts his father. Does his father consider him a son? Or not a person at all? (not compatible with the DH epilogue)


Chapter 8: Chapter Six: Misguided Souls

Author's Notes: Why, isn't this a quick update for my standards? ;) Thanks again to everybody who reviewed - I'm so glad everybody loves this story. Hope everyone enjoys this chapter. :)

~*~

Chapter Six – Misguided Souls

Sarcasm: it's anger with a smile


~*~

The rest of November dully droned by in constant rain clashing against the windows of the classrooms. The castle hallways were often a mess: students who had just gotten back from lessons outside or Quidditch practice brought in puddles of mud, leaving a trail of dirty water as they quickly retreated to their respective common rooms. Aiden got out of the hospital wing – healed skull and all, including smoke steaming from his ears as an effect of Pepper Up Potion – and made it very clear he was cross with me for ignoring his 'advice' as he called it. I made a point of it to wear the pendant all day just to spite him, even though he didn't know I was wearing it as I kept it hidden under my robes. It was the thought that counted, I kept telling myself.

There was more homework than ever; it kept every single fifth year Slytherin up and about in the common room until past midnight. It often got increasingly colder as time passed, being under the lake and in the dungeons, so as the clock ticked forward, we all retrieved blankets from our dormitories and made ourselves comfortable with a Warming Charm (I had set my blanket on fire on the first attempt, upholding my reputation as the worst Charms student in fifth year).

As it was, this December evening, we were all still up by the time the last seventh years decided to go to bed around half past one. We had all just gotten back from Astronomy and were frozen stiff. I tried to get the blood flowing in my numb fingers again by rubbing them on the chair I was sitting in. I could barely hold a quill and had to do another essay for Potions, which I had put off until tonight.

Derek sat next to me, apparently not making much progress on his own assignment. His eyes kept falling shut and he kept jerking up his head as if doing his utmost best to stay awake. Watching him made me stifle a yawn, so I turned a page of my textbook and attempted to look up some useful information for my essay.

"S'mebody have tha' book 'bout the goblin stuff in the twelfth cent'ry?" Isaac's gruff voice grumbled incoherently. I made a noncommittal sound in the back of my throat and, like Derek, tried to keep my eyes open long enough to read what I had managed to write.

In front of the fire, the girls of our year were stretched out on their stomachs, talking in low voices. Apparently, Sally and Caitlin were having an argument of some sort, as their voices were more intense than the others’. Noticing how the other girls were merely pretending to do homework and were actually listening into the conversation (Gwendolyn hadn’t even opened her book), I leaned back in my chair. Two can play that game, I thought, closing my eyes and straining my ears.

"I don't want to do that," Sally whispered fiercely.

"Sure you don't," Caitlin muttered back. "He escaped you last time, but next Hogsmeade weekend you and he will be together again, whether he likes it or not."

"When two people are together, they should like each other," Theresa hissed under her breath, joining the squabble. "Caitlin, this is nonsense, you're hurting them both this way. Leave it alone, they should sort it out together."

"Could you please not talk about me like I'm not here?"

"Sorry, Sally. But I mean it, Caitlin – can't you see Alan doesn't care?"

My stomach jolted uncomfortably at the mention of my name. Merlin, what are they setting up this time? Not another date, surely? I shifted a little, turning my head a bit more.

"Yeah, right," Caitlin whispered. "He doesn’t care right now. They were friends – they've been forever – and just because he's being an arse, they've fallen apart. I'm sure he still likes her; he just doesn't want to admit to himself he's wrong."

"You're doing it again! I can hear you, you know!" Sally snapped. Then, lowering her voice, "Of course I want him back, but I don't need you all sticking your nose in my business. I'm sure I can do it myself. Easy. Like you said, I've known him forever, and he is just like any other boy. He'll come around in no time if you'd just let me."

"Alan, your essay slipped onto the ground."

Richard's voice pulled me out of my concentration, and the girls' conversation was abruptly cut off. I made a show of waking up from a light sleep and putting my assignment back on my lap with half-closed eyes. I fixed my eyes on the parchment until everybody was busy again, and then pricked up my ears for the second time, hearing my heartbeat inside my head. However, the only thing that was uttered was Bridget's request for a book of some sort. Or maybe there was another conversation, but in that case I hadn't heard it. I had apparently fallen asleep because when I opened my eyes the room was dark and, as far as I could see, empty.

I was about to force myself out of my chair when a hand suddenly grabbed my shoulder and threw me back into the chair again. The next thing I knew, the tip of a wand was shining in my face, and my vision was momentarily blocked by little dots dancing in front of my eyes. My mind still in a sleepy state, I swatted at the wand and it clattered to the ground, leaving me facing a maliciously smirking girl as soon as the colourful specks had left my view.

"Gwendolyn?" I muttered, taking my quill and essay from the floor and putting them in my bag as Gwendolyn picked her wand up again. "What the hell was that for? Did you want to scare the crap out of me or something?"

"Language, Malfoy," she said, twirling her wand idly between her fingers. "What would your mother say if she'd hear such things coming from your mouth?"

"What do you want?" I asked, sinking back into my chair. "Because I'm tired, and I want to go to bed."

"Don't you get smart with me, Malfoy," Gwendolyn snapped, suddenly jabbing at me with her wand. "I want to know why you were listening in on us. Don't think I didn't see – it was pretty obvious, and I definitely wasn't impressed with your performance of 'waking up'."

"If you don't want to get overheard, go to your dormitory," I retorted, taking her wand hand and lowering it so the light didn't blind me anymore. "Now get out of the way." I tried standing up and pushing past her, but she blocked my path, folding her arms. The beam of light emitting from her wand hit the stone floor.

"Take Sally back again."

"No."

"Alan, I mean it. She's really miserable."

"It's either her or me. You all have to stop pushing us together."

She glared at me. "Oh, take your chance already, now that you still have it. Who else wants to have you anyway? The Mudblood that corrupts our Charms class?"

"Don't be stupid," I said, perhaps a bit louder than normal. She doesn't know, she doesn't know, please, please...

After settling me with a glare for an uncomfortably long time, Gwendolyn sighed and uncrossed her arms, putting her hands on her hips. "I sure hope not." Then she looked away, muttering just loud enough to herself for me to hear: "I heard she's got a boyfriend anyway, that good-for-nothing Longbottom, just right for her. She's not getting her filthy hands on a Slytherin. Right?" She suddenly looked my way again, her face contorted as if she could barely conceal a grin. My stomach clenched tightly, a wave of nausea crashing through my body.

Louisa? Longbottom? Together? No. No no no no no. It's not true. Don't let it be true. Please, let Gwendolyn have made it up. Please.

"Right," was the only thing I said in Gwendolyn's face before storming down to my dormitory and throwing myself onto my bed, shutting the curtains. I heard Gwendolyn take the girls’ staircase somewhere in the distance, her footsteps echoing in the silence of the dungeon. My heart was thumping pathetically hard.

It wasn't true. It couldn't be true. Louisa had never talked about Longbottom, and I had never seen her talk to him, though they could have in their common room and I would have never known. It wasn't that strange, seeing as how Longbottom was one of her brother's best friends. But seriously – Louisa and Longbottom? I snorted and thumped on my pillow. It was madness.

And it was I who had been pursuing her – how dare Longbottom snatch her from right under my nose? That was just rude. Even more important, if they were involved, then why had Louisa kept responding to my attempts to communicate with her? Sure, she had snapped a few times, but overall, we had gotten along fine. I resisted the urge to swear out loud and pulled the bed sheets all the way over my head despite still being in my school robes.

I don't believe it, I thought desperately. I want her. Damnit Louisa, Longbottom doesn't deserve you, the useless prat. I rolled over, getting my sheets wrapped around my legs. Was it really possible that Louisa would pick Longbottom over me? That was ridiculous. Totally ridiculous. What did he do to win her over? Merlin, what kind of appeal did Longbottom have what I didn't?

Nothing, of course. It was probably just gossip. That was the only logical answer – somebody made it up and it spread though the school like wildfire. Gwendolyn, being the big fat gossiper she was, picked up on it and decided to dump it on me as revenge for that time I made fun of her in class. Yes – that had to be it. Not wanting to think too much about it, I found a comfortable position and sighed, the mattress groaning with me. Somewhere in the room, I heard Derek mumbling something in his sleep, but the sound of Isaac’s snoring drowned that out. Everything around me was familiar. It wouldn't change.

Change was bad.

~*~

A week later, I was eating breakfast in the Great Hall while Derek read the Daily Prophet to me. I wasn’t paying much attention to either Derek or my toast as I gloomily stared upwards at the ceiling, watching large, grey clouds drift by in an attempt to keep my eyes off the Gryffindor table. When I bent my head to take another bite, my eyes inevitably caught sight of Louisa, smiling and talking to Longbottom. I grit my teeth as I saw him sneaking an arm around her waist and her leaning against his shoulder. He deserved to have his arms ripped off, the bastard.

I took a deep breath and tried to divert my attention from the Gryffindor table, but I just couldn't keep my eyes off them, sitting there and being all happy and lovey-dovey. It was like watching somebody who had splinched himself – revolting, yet fascinating at the same time; I couldn't look away. Nevertheless, when Longbottom dropped a kiss on Louisa's head, I couldn't take it anymore. Feeling sick, I put my toast down, planning to go down to the common room and drop into some kind of coma, so I didn’t have to keep thinking.

"Alan, have you seen this?"

"No," I said, having no idea what Derek meant and having no interest either. Derek didn't seem to notice that, however.

"Here, listen: 'It has been rumoured that several Death Eaters who escaped punishment after the War have moved to Australia, planning to recruit new members and hoping to be allies with the growing Dark forces that have been gaining power on the island. The tip came in with an anonymous owl and was delivered at the Minister's office. However, this rumour remains unconfirmed.' Can you believe that?" Derek muttered, turning over the newspaper. "Those morons stayed out of Azkaban with a good court and lots of luck, and now they're trying to revive Voldemort's forces? They've got to be kidding me."

"Like they stated, it's unconfirmed," I sighed. "It's probably just thought up by someone who doesn't want us to forget the War or something like that."

"Who does that kind of thing? Perhaps someone without a life, but..." Derek trailed off and reached for a pancake. I stood up, wanting to go through with my earlier plan and not resurface for a week.

"I'm going," I said, clapping Derek on his shoulder. "I'll see you."

He nodded, apparently engaged in a conversation with Richard now about the article. I scowled and stalked out of the Hall, but couldn't resist turning around one last time to see Longbottom hugging Louisa again. I took a deep breath, resisting the urge to run over and beat that idiot with a stick for touching my girl.

The image kept dancing in front of my eyes – like somebody had burned it into my brain – as I stormed down to the common room. So it hadn't been gossip after all. I was so stupid; had I been oblivious to Louisa's attraction to Longbottom, or was that a recent development? The mere thought of what they might be doing right now made me so angry I kicked a wall in passing, not even feeling the pain it caused in my toe. They probably were kissing somewhere, and Longbottom was groping her, and she liked it, and she probably didn't think of me for one second when she agreed to go out with him. I was hoping she hadn't been the one who asked, at least.

As I stormed through another corridor, I saw a small boy turn around the corner at the end and look my way. My thoughts were still on Louisa, fuming at how she could have been coaxed into liking Longbottom, that utter, bumbling fool. He wasn’t even good-looking, rich, or smart at all – what was there to like, anyway?

"Malfoy!"

I focused on the first year running towards me and realised it was Clambert. I stopped abruptly to avoid harshly colliding with him, and he came to a halt in front of me, a little out of breath. "I'm sorry, I don't want to bother you, but they're after me again and I don't want them to hurt my rat again and everything and I understand if you want me to deal with it but –"

"Stop," I commanded, holding up my hand. "Breathe. Who are after you? Your classmates?”

He took a deep gulp of air and nodded, nervously looking over his shoulder. "Can – could – please take me with you?" he squeaked, sounding a bit like his pet rodent. I sighed, suddenly drained of all my anger and leaving me feeling just tired and empty.

"Fine. I'm going to the grounds. Follow me."

I turned around and walked into a different corridor to avoid Clambert's classmates. Perhaps focusing on the first year’s problems would distract me from my own. He scuttled by my side, his hand fleetingly hovering next to mine, but when I didn't take it, it simply dropped to his side. Honestly, how old was he? I wasn't going to hold his hand. I merely told him to keep up as I took the next door.

"Malfoy?"

I sighed again. "You don't need permission to talk outside of lessons, Clambert."

He gulped nervously. "Sorry. I was just wondering if – if you think I'm wasting your time. I mean, if you'd rather I'd –"

"Clambert," I said again, stepping outside and walking onto the grounds, shivering in the cold air, "it's my duty to help younger students when they're in trouble or don't feel at home here. No, you aren't wasting my time. Anyway, if I really didn't want you around, I would've told you to sod off, okay?" When he nodded, I asked, "So what did your classmates do to you this time?"

"They wanted to copy my homework," Clambert said, his steps a little hurried to keep up with my longer strides, "but I wouldn't let them. I mean, why would I if we're not friends? But then they went after Jack again." He took the black rat out of his pocket. "I don't want to carry him around all the time, but they aren't really giving me a choice, are they?"

I didn't answer, as I had just been distracted by nearly tripping over a stray tree branch. Clambert helped me regain my balance and we set off to the lake in a moment of silence. The grounds looked gloomy; there were no leaves on the trees, there was little grass, and despite it being mid-December, there was no snow. We were the only ones out of the castle – not even the Giant Squid was showing his tentacles.

I watched Jack the rat climb onto Clambert's shoulder as we settled down on the hard ground by the lakeside. "Your classmates pick a lot on Jack, don't they?"

Clambert shrugged. "He's pretty much the only thing I care about at Hogwarts. They know I'd go to great lengths to protect him. Isn't that right, Jack?" He let his rat lick his finger as he talked on. "They've called me Mudblood a few times, but I don't really care about that. I mean – I didn't grow up with the idea it was so offensive, like they have. I just pretend to be upset about it so they won't come up with something worse."

I smiled to myself, pulling my cloak a bit tighter around me. It could be that Clambert did not enjoy his time so far in his House, but he did belong in Slytherin with thoughts like that. I nudged him a little and he looked up from playing with his rat. "You mentioned a brother last time," I told him as Jack took place on his owner's shoulder again, "isn't he at Hogwarts? Can't you discuss anything with him?"

The first year shook his head. "My older brother isn't magical, he didn't get a letter. Neither did my sister."

"How old are they again?"

He flipped his rat’s tail in a would-be-casual way. "Both fourteen - nearly fifteen, though. They're twins."

"I see." Would his two older siblings, who were twins, have gotten him an inferiority complex?

"I've got two younger brothers as well – they're also twins. Weird things never happen around them like they did around me, though. They were always kind of scared of me because things exploded when I got angry. So... yeah." He shrugged a little.

I slowly began to see the problem. "They probably aren't magical either, you mean." Clambert sighed, his shoulders sagging a bit. I nodded. "Feeling a bit left out, don't we? Being the only one without a twin, and the only one who's magical?"

For a while it was quiet and I thought I had offended him, or that he was just thinking about a good answer. However, when I looked closer at his face, his eyes were oddly bright and his bottom lip was trembling ever so slightly. Poor boy, especially with those teasing classmates of his, he must have felt pretty lonely. I awkwardly reached out and gently rubbed his back, like my mother had done to me when I was younger and upset.

Before I knew it, I had a first year pressing his face into my shoulder, his body convulsing with sobs. Uncertainly, I kept rubbing his back, not knowing what to do otherwise to make him calm down. The water of the lake rippled a little in a harsh, chilly wind that made me shiver. I patted the first year’s back a bit harder against the cold. "Shh, it's all right," I whispered, again finding myself trying to console Clambert as he cried. Between sobs, he took deep, rattling breaths as if he'd been smoking for years. I made a few reassuring noises, and slowly, he started to go quiet.

Jack the rat had scuttled over to my shoulder and his paws were tickling the back of my neck. The long, bald tail was hanging down the side of my throat and I pulled the rat down with it. Surprisingly, it didn't scratch, but merely fell down into my lap. What a docile creature this was. No wonder the other first years liked to snatch it. I absently petted Jack as Clambert choked and wiped his eyes on his sleeve, still leaning a little against me but looking highly embarrassed. "Sorry," he mumbled, not looking me in the eye.

"It doesn't matter," I reassured him. "I understand."

After a few sniffles, Clambert was able to talk again. "It's just – I thought I'd make friends here, f-finally have my own person to confide in like my siblings have, but instead of that, I get p-picked on." He sat up and rubbed his eyes, which were red and puffy. "And I – I'm not even a good wizard – my marks are p-pretty average at best. I thought everything would change for the best when I got here, but it just got worse."

"It's nearly Christmas holiday, you'll have a break. Are you going home?"

He nodded, frowning, his tears drying up. "And I'm not coming b-back, either."

"Oh, don't say that." I put my hand on his knee. "You'll be fine in a while. Perhaps you'll never be best friends with your roommates, but you could always look in the other Houses. They've got nice people, too."

Clambert merely shrugged and raised his head to look at me. "I'll try, maybe. Are you going home for Christmas?"

I shook my head. "Nope. My parents always go on holiday for two weeks this time of the year, so I'm staying at school. It's going to be a lonely Christmas for me; all my roommates are leaving." I smiled at him to show I didn't mind it. The smile he returned was a little forced.

"I wish all my roommates would leave." Then his face crumpled again, tears leaking out of his eyes. As soon as I held out my arm he was weeping into my shoulder for the second time that day. I sighed inwardly and rubbed his back, like I had done before. Jack was still sitting in my lap, apparently not noticing his owner was upset. I watched the rodent scratch himself behind the ears until Clambert spoke up again, his voice trembling.

"I'm b-bothering you, aren't I?"

I groaned. "Clambert, I already answered that question. If I allow myself be bothered by you, I am not be a good prefect. It's that simple."

He sniffled, sat up and took his rat, which had climbed onto my knee. "My name's Philip. Nobody's called me by my first name since I've been here. That's more than three months. At least people knew my name at home."

After a tense pause, I said: "All right, Philip. You never told me your name. Why does it bother you to be addressed by your last name?"

"It just does."

"That's not an answer."

He stubbornly stayed silent, though he seemed to be on the verge of tears again. I stood up just as another gust of wind whirled around us. If he wanted to be angry, he'd be angry alone. I placed my hand on his head. His dark brown curls jumped up in between my fingers.

"I'm leaving. Take care."

When I was only a few feet away from the waterfront, I heard a small voice ask: "Are you mad at me?"

I turned to see Clambert twisted around as well, an anxious expression on his face. I shook my head. "No. But I can’t solve your problems for you, Philip. You have to put more effort in them, not me. Stand up for yourself. I can't do that for you."

He nodded miserably, Jack the rat perched upon his shoulder with his little pink nose in the air. I raised my hand at Clambert before walking back to the castle again. I wondered if he would ever see Hogwarts as home, like I did, or if he would be glad to leave it behind him when he'd finally taken his NEWTs.

As I stepped over the branch I had previously tripped over, I realised that, in some strange way, I was responsible for Clambert’s view of Hogwarts. I had been since I'd rescued his rat – and I would stay responsible until I left the school. I had to show him Hogwarts wasn't full of bullies, out for his blood. After all – as embarrassing as it was to admit it – Clambert probably saw me as a friend. Aside from the professors, I was almost certain the only person who hadn’t ignored or scolded him was me.

And then – my head went heavy as I suddenly remembered it – there was Louisa, another matter I had to worry about. She was definitely going out with Michael Longbottom, if their behaviour was anything to go by. But damn, I had been busy winning her over. Sure, I hadn’t always been that successful, but there had been progress. And now Longbottom had her. It was simply humiliating to be beaten by him. Longbottom. What made him think he could take my girl?

I stepped inside the castle again, my temper rising quickly. Revenge needed to be served.

It would be a long year.

~*~

Dear Alucard,

How are you, my dear? I hope you aren't catching a cold up there in Scotland. There isn't a trace of snow here in Wiltshire, though it has been raining for three days straight. Perhaps you have better luck with the weather.

Your grandmother Narcissa has gotten a bad case of the flu, but your father and I trust she will recover soon so we can go on our holiday. I had to tell you she misses you, and looks forward to seeing you and Aiden again in the Easter holidays when we have our Ball. I was surprised to discover it's been nearly four years since the last one – time does fly when you're getting older.

Your father and I were very satisfied with the list of marks you sent with your last owl. I'm glad things are going so well at school, though your father does expect you to brush up on Charms in the Christmas holidays. I'm very proud of your 'A', however. I know how difficult the subject is for you, and your Arithmancy mark certainly makes up for it.

How are your classmates doing? I was having Mrs Goyle over for tea just yesterday and she hasn't been getting letters from Sally lately. Is everything all right, to your knowing? If so, remind Sally to write her parents every so often – her mother is getting worried.

Also, Mr Court has been complaining to your father that you have been rude to his daughter. I will not have any of that from my son. That is not how I have raised you, and that is not how you should grow up. I, as well as your father, expect you to apologise soon to Miss Court, especially since your father would be devastated if the Court family decides not to come to our Ball because you are bothering their daughter. Alucard, you know I do not like to pick sides between you and your father. Don't make this hard on me.

Is your prefect status commanding respect from your fellows? Tell me your opinion on being a prefect; I did enjoy that so when I was at school. I do hope you aren't taking advantage of your authority position, but there is nothing wrong with pulling strings in your favour a little. Being careful not to overdo it is the key.

Study hard. Respect your elders and superiors. Stay on civil terms with your equals. Keep your mind open. As long as you abide these rules, life won't be as hard as you think, Alucard. I look forward to your next letter.

Love,

Your mother

~*~

Dear Mother,

I wish I could be there to take care of Grandmother. The timing of her illness is quite unfortunate. Please tell her I wish her the best of luck and I hope she gets better soon. Perhaps a heavier dose or slight altercation of the Pepper Up Potion would speed the Healing process?

The weather here is awful too – we didn't have any snow until yesterday, and now, all outdoor lessons are cancelled because of the blizzard. The temperatures in the dungeons are torture! Sally and I are planning to ask Professor Malyras for permission to do Semi-Permanent Warming Charms on the walls and floor. Honestly, we can barely sleep at night because our toes are freezing off.

I told Sally to write more often as soon as I got your letter. She's been in the hospital wing on and off because she's got a bad cold and that may be why she hasn't written as much. She said she will send a note when she has some free time, which will probably be by Christmas time. Tell Mrs Goyle she isn't forgotten.

I have sent my sincerest apologies to Mr Court for being rude to his daughter, but I refuse to say I'm sorry to Gwendolyn. After all, I was provoked – she should be the one crawling back to me, begging on her knees for forgiveness. I'm sorry mother, but Gwendolyn Court and I simply do not get along. I'm sure you can relate to me on this matter – after all, we can't like everyone.

As far as my prefect status goes, I know the first years do not want to disobey me. I was forced to put some in detention recently, and they seemed quite put out that 'the good one' had caught them and still handed them to the caretaker. I feel slightly uncomfortable with that, as it gives me the feeling that I'm allowed to play favourites. I don't mind much taking advantage of my position a bit, but the professors do.

Anyway, I'm glad the holidays are nearly there. Two days! Everybody in my year is so stressed; it'll be a relief to snap out of it for two weeks. Have fun on your holiday. Write me soon.

Love,

Alucard


My teeth clattered as I entered the Owlery and a cold draft swept over me, slamming the door I had just come through shut. Cursing inwardly for not bothering to take my cloak, I stepped over a heap of dirty, trampled snow, avoiding the owl dung everywhere on the stone floor. As soon as I was balanced, my feet firmly on a dropping-less piece of stone, I looked around, trying to spot my owl. However, it didn't seem to be inside.

"Where are you, you blasted bird," I muttered, taking a few more careful steps around the slosh that had piled up since it had started snowing. Another gust of wind blew through the tower, nearly taking my letter for a ride. I managed to grip it tightly just in time, the parchment crumpling in my hand. I could only hope the ink wasn't smudged yet. I had meant to post the letter right after I had written it, but had had so much homework that it hadn't quite come up.

I walked over to the windows and almost lost my footing on a particularly slippery part of the floor. I grabbed the frozen windowsill just in time to avoid falling into a heap of snow. When I regained my balance yet again, my hands stiff from the cold and my fingers barely holding on to the letter, a large, grey owl swooped in past my ear before perching somewhere at the top of the tower. I swirled around, nearly slipping again.

"Oi, you bloody bird! Get back here; I have a job for you."

The grey owl turned its head, and I could see a dead mouse dangling from its beak. Still gripping the windowsill tightly with one hand, I beckoned for it to come over. It cocked its head, as if contemplating to whether eat its meal or serve its owner, but after a few seconds it flew over and sat in front of me on the windowsill.

I anxiously checked the letter. The ink better not be running... Thankfully the damage was minimal – only my signature was a bit smeared. I carefully rolled the letter up and fastened it to my owl's leg, holding my breath so I wouldn't smell the dead mouse. My eyes kept darting back to the ugly wound my owl had made on the little animal. When the parchment was securely tied to my owl, I smoothed its wayward feathers and held out my arm. It hopped on.

"It's for Mother. You'll know where to find her, but I think it would be wise to eat your meal first. Have a nice trip." With that, I stretched my arm and leaned out of the window, knowing I wouldn't get a response for a week as it spread its sooty wings and flew off. My owl just wasn't such a fast flier, despite its size. I watched it soar to the horizon, lazily beating its wings as weak rays of sunlight fell onto my face. The warmth the sun could have brought was cancelled by a harsh, cutting wind that made me retreat from the Owlery again, swiftly side-stepping the remains of the snow that had blown in as I made my way to the corridors.

I had never given my owl a name. Heck, I didn't even know its gender. I had never seen the point in doing so. On several occasions, when I had entered the Owlery to send a letter, I had seen people cuddling their owls, or having one-sided conversations with them. They seemed to have the ability to have affection for a bird, something I had never felt. An owl was an owl, and its purpose was to deliver letters, not act like some kind of trusted companion.

However, where affection was lacking, I did have respect for owls, or any other bird of prey, really. When my owl sat on my arm, there was always a burst of adrenaline going through my body; the fact was, an owl could crush my wrist if it wanted, and it was simply a matter of doing it or not. Now, a broken wrist wasn't exactly a wizard's worst problem – with the right knowledge of spells, it could be healed in two minutes. It was merely the fact that an animal could hurt you so much that let me admire them.

Of course, owls could be trained, especially by wizards. They could be taught not to bite, slash, nip, or perform any other kind of offence. However, my owl wasn't like that. When I had gotten it from my father prior to my first year, it had slashed my arm open when I had tried to pet it, and perhaps that was where my respect for its species came from. It had taken me nearly three years to be able to come near it without it attempting to bite me. It stopped when I finally accepted that, while I was technically the owl's owner, it would not obey me simply because of that. In this respect, it represented Slytherin quite accurately; those who wanted power would have to earn it. My owl would probably have fitted in better than I had.

Aside from all that, naming an owl was far too sentimental to my tastes, anyway.

"Alan! Wait up!"

I started walking a bit more slowly to let the person who'd called catch up with me. I heard quick, light footsteps echo through the hallways, and soon Daisy Macmillan was falling into step beside me, her vanilla blond hair waving a little in her hurry. She pulled me to a halt by the sleeve of my robes.

"Hey, what's up?"

I shrugged. "The sky is?"

She rolled her eyes, smiling. "Be more creative, Alan." Letting go of my sleeve, she promptly added: "I'm sorry about Louisa Rosario and everything. You fancy her, don't you?"

My breath caught in my throat as an abrupt panic rose in my chest, all thoughts about owls leaving my head. Merlin Derek, you did not blab it around... "I don't know what you're talking about," I said swiftly.

"Don't be an idiot, Derek told me."

I groaned, rubbing my neck. Some friend he was, gossiping with everybody about everything that went on in my life like some girl. I glared at Daisy, who was impatiently tapping her foot with her hands on her waist. Her inquiring gaze left me feeling rather unsettled.

"Well?" she persisted.

"Fine, fine," I said grumpily. "So what if I did?"

"Did?" she asked, sceptically raising her eyebrows.

"Of course did. I don't go for girls with boyfriends," I lied, seething inside at the thought of Longbottom, as always.

"That's very thoughtful of you," she said absently, then apparently decided we'd had enough chit-chat as she asked: "Anyway, do you know where Derek is? I've looked everywhere for him, and it seems like he just sort of disappeared. I've checked the library, the Great Hall, outside your common room, the grounds –"

"I don't know," I interrupted, cutting off her list. "I haven't seen him since our last lesson, actually."

"Oh." Her face fell. "Did he say where he'd go? Did he have homework or anything?"

I shrugged. "Not that I know of. We do like to mind our own business in Slytherin."

She made a noise that sounded rather like an indignant 'humph' and walked towards a staircase leading to the library on Fridays. "I suppose I'll keep looking, then. If you see him, tell him I'll be studying with my classmates." With that, she quickly sprinted up the stairs and disappeared out of sight when she turned around a corner.

I shook my head. How could she look for Derek and study with her friends at the same time? I knew women were born multi-taskers, having watched Sally from early childhood doing several things at once (like talking to me and her mum, reading a textbook and combing her hair at the same time), but being in two places at once should prove to be a bit hard, even if it was the energetic whirlwind called Daisy Macmillan. I turned and descended some stairs leading to the dungeons.

I had nearly forgotten about Longbottom and Louisa again – in my efforts to push them to the back of my mind, of course – but the sight of Ryan Rosario and James Potter standing just a few steps away made my resentful thoughts return with full force. My hands clenched to fists, and I tried my hardest to just ignore them and simply walk by as if they didn't exist, but of course, Rosario wasn't having any of it.

"Hey Malfoy! Think you're too good to talk to us, do you?"

I had to struggle as to not turn around and push him off the stairs. That could've brought me in a rather awkward position, since I was a prefect. As it was, I was forced to tightly grab the handrail, and said without looking at him: "Why, yes, I do."

"Ryan, let him go," Potter said, his tone amused as if Rosario were holding me in a headlock. "He's not worth all the trouble we'll have to go through if my dad or Aunt Hermione finds out."

"I'm not doing anything," Rosario growled behind me. I stood still as a statue, my hand still holding the banister in a vice grip. I was a prefect, for goodness' sake – I shouldn't be getting into fights – but I didn't want to run away and look like a coward.

"Ryan, get real. You'd have punched him in a heartbeat if I hadn't said anything." Potter laughed, carelessly making a tossing motion with his hand. "You can go, Malfoy."

Fury boiling up in my chest, I turned around to glare at him with the deepest loathing I could muster. "You are not in a position to tell me what to do, Potter. I can do whatever I want when I decide to do so. Now why don't you be a good boy and run to daddy."

Potter snickered in disbelief, leaning back against the handrail. "Wait, wait, wait. A Malfoy is telling me I should run to daddy? Want me to mimic your behaviour? You and your brother are practically the epitome for the command 'run to daddy'." He laughed again. "Just go away before you embarrass yourself even more. I'm doing you a favour by telling you to, trust me."

I angrily opened my mouth to retort, but Rosario threateningly stepped forward and I, trapped, simply settled for another glare, my posture stiff. Despite me being taller, Rosario would certainly win in a Muggle brawl, which this argument seemed to be heading for. I self-consciously compared my thin and bony arms to Rosario's muscular ones. He could probably break my wrist in a snap, like my owl.

"Good boy," Rosario said quietly. "Now, it is only fair that you do us a favour in return." He looked at Potter, who nodded. I tried to keep myself from trembling by holding the handrail even more tightly. I hoped there was nothing else than indifference in my expression. Rosario turned his gaze to me.

"Lay off my sister."

I nearly forgot to breath. Crap. So it was true what they said about rumours at Hogwarts. The damn walls could talk. How could Derek have told Daisy? She was a girl, for Merlin's sake, everyone knew they couldn't keep secrets to themselves to save their lives.

I briefly raised my eyebrows, hoping I looked surprised and perhaps a little bit puzzled. "Excuse me? What are you talking about?"

"Don't play innocent, Malfoy," Potter said, backing up his friend. "We've heard about it."

"About what?" I asked, my mind working at full speed. Deny. Deny everything.

"About you liking my sister," Rosario whispered quickly, as if somebody would hear it and get ideas. "I don't care what your prejudices about Muggleborns are, but she's beautiful and you know it. I've seen how you look at her."

Like you aren't awfully biased, I thought. She's quite good-looking at best. Beautiful is laughable. That’s a description that should be used for art, not people.

"Being a Mudblood never stopped anyone from being beautiful," I said at last, not caring to use the word out of earshot of the people I cared about. My mother would have made me wash my mouth with a scrubbing charm, had she heard it.

Rosario's mouth set into a harsh line. "Do not call her that. She's got a boyfriend; you don't stand a chance..."

He was actually afraid that I would still hook up with her? I couldn't help it – I burst out into laughter. I knew it now – I never had a chance with her anyway, so why bother holding up appearances? She hated me, and she'd probably never do otherwise. She'd never have hooked up with Longbottom, had she actually had interest in me.

I regained my breath and defiantly stared at Rosario. "Did I hear that correctly? You think I want to get it on with your – your – sister? Merlin, have you lost your marbles." The lies flew off my lips with ease. Saying it to her brother's face wasn't any problem. "Tell me, Rosario... why would I care about what your sister does? She's a Mudblood... and a slut, too." I hadn't meant to add the last part, the thought I had kept the most private, but I knew I was in trouble as soon as I saw Rosario's furious face. I leapt away just in time as he swung a fist at me.

"Do not say such things about my sister!" he yelled as Potter hastily stepped forward to restrain his mate, though he looked murderous himself. "Don't – you – she's not a slut! And don't call her a Mudblood either, you disrespectful piece of –"

Get out of here, a voice in the back of my head urged as I caught sight of Rosario's strong arms. I took a few steps down the staircase to avoid his swinging fists.

"Get back here!" Rosario screamed angrily, his face growing purple as he fought against his friend's tight grip on his shoulders. "You called Louisa a slut, you good for nothing rat! I'll give you what you deserve! Get back!"

My mouth went dry as I met the fuming boy's gaze, suddenly realising what I had said. I didn't think – I bolted.

Rosario's shouts faded gradually as I stormed through the corridors to the dungeons, my nervous pace evolving into a run on the way. Crap – with the rate Hogwarts was blowing rumours around as the wind did with autumn leaves, I would not have been surprised if the whole school would know about my words in a matter of hours. It wasn't like I cared about most people, and I doubted they cared about me, but I didn’t want Louisa to hear about it. I hadn't really meant it anyway, right?

It was no good anyway. I had said it to her brother, for Merlin's sake, of course she'd hear about it. She'd hear about it the moment he'd step into the Gryffindor common room. Longbottom would do so too, and she could live happily ever after without a Slytherin at her heels.

There'd be no way she'd take it that hard. Mudblood was just a word, wasn't it? I desperately tried to convince myself I was in the right all the way down to the common room until the door appeared in the wall, and I stood face-to-face with Derek.

"Alan!" he gasped. "I've been looking all over for you! I've looked in the library, the Great Hall, the grounds –"

I pulled him out of the common room by his collar and slammed the door shut, which abruptly caused it to disappear into the dungeon wall again. After that, I furiously grabbed Derek's upper arms. "Why did you tell her, Derek?"

"Why did I – what?" My friends blinked a few times at me, having no clue what I was talking about. "What do you mean?"

"I mean –" I lowered my voice and started talking more rapidly, in case there were other Slytherins on their way to the common room. "I mean, Derek, the fact that you told your dear girlfriend about... about..." I reduced my voice to a whisper. "Louisa."

"Oh, that." Derek smiled and shrugged off my grip on his arms, looking relieved. "Don't worry, man. Daisy's a good girl, she wouldn't tell anybody."

"Think again!" I lashed out, unable to control myself. A wave of panic was catching up with me. "The whole bloody school knows, you moron, because of your damn 'good girl', who's looking for you, by the way. Where have you been, anyway?"

"That's none of your sodding business," Derek retorted, turning a bit red. "What's wrong with you? Who cares if everyone knows?"

"I do! You can't even keep a friggin' secret, what kind of friend are you? Now everybody knows and it's all your –"

"Don't blame me for this," Derek hissed, his normally cheerful face taking on a thunderous expression. "You couldn't even keep it a secret yourself, Alan; why would I?" With that, he turned on his heel and stalked off, presumably to find Daisy. I angrily snapped the password at the wall and pulled the door open again. When I was about halfway across the common room, some students a few years my junior clung to my side, curiously looking up at me.

"Is it true you like the Gryffindor Seeker?" one of them asked in a high-pitched voice, her eyes bulging.

"No," I snapped, jerking my arm away from her.

"But my friend says -"

"Your friend's wrong. I don't hang out with Mudbloods."

She and a few of the other girls giggled at that and retreated, chatting happily in their high voices. Only one person didn't walk away. I halted in my steps to glare at the student, only to realise, too late, that it was little Philip Clambert. His eyes were bright, his face was scarlet, and he was looking at me with an expression of utmost horror and betrayal on his face. Before I could say anything, he ran off, slipping through a group of older students to get out of the common room and away from me. The door to the dungeons closed with a loud bang.

~*~

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