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*Author's note: I don't own anything HP. There are a few references to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 28.*






incredible image by adrift @ TDA!

Draco winced and absentmindedly rubbed the back of his head, which had been prickling uncomfortably after practicing Occlumency with Snape so often. It had only been a few weeks, but Draco was already almost completely able to block out Professor Snape. The only thing he still struggled with was blocking him out in time. As much as he tried, he just could not change the memories before Snape sought them. It made Draco feel weak, like he wasn’t good enough. That, combined with the headaches that inevitably followed, had made him, if possible, even more testy than usual. He tried to hide it when he was around Ginny, but every so often he would feel a sharp and sudden pang through his skull.

“You okay?” asked Ginny from beside him, pulling Draco out of his thoughts.

“What? Oh, yeah. I’m fine,” Draco assured her. He glanced around him, making sure they were actually alone in their corner of the Restricted Section. “Listen, can’t we do this in the Room of Requirement?” he asked, gesturing to his homework. “The light in here is terrible, and I’m sick of sitting on the floor. Certain, er, parts of me have gone numb.”

Ginny rolled her eyes at him. “Well, I’m sorry if doing homework with me is so boring. Why don’t I just--”

“I know you’re just as uncomfortable as I am sitting here. I’ve seen you shifting and trying to stretch your legs without me noticing.”

She flushed slightly, but didn’t look up from her Charms essay. “For your information, I’m quite content sitting here. If it'll make you feel better, I can conjure up some cushions for us.”

“Come on, Ginny,” he urged. “Just think of it, comfortable chairs, tables to work on, better light. This corner isn’t exactly lit for writing, is it?”

Ginny shook her head. “No,” she said evenly. “I would prefer to stay here.”

“Why?” he pressed. “I can even get some food from the kitchens, and--”

“I said no, Draco!” Ginny snapped. She set her quill down and took a deep breath, rubbing her eyes.

Draco was taken aback by her outburst. “What aren’t you telling me?”

“It’s nothing, I -- I just would prefer to stay here, I told you,” she replied quickly. “What if someone saw us? Besides, someone might already be in there, and--”

“Someone’s using the Room of Requirement? Who? How do you know?”

“No one! I don’t know! I just said someone could be in there.” Ginny looked anxious now, her eyes darting away and back to him.

“What aren’t you telling me?” Draco asked again. Something wasn’t adding up.

Ginny folded her arms defensively. “What aren’t you telling me?” she countered. “Tell me, how’s your head?”

“What?” Draco hadn’t expected her to turn this around on him. “What are you talking--?”

“Oh, I’m not stupid, Draco. I see you rubbing your head, like you’ve got a migraine coming on. You’re sullen and impatient and snappish. And always after your lessons with Professor Snape. I wonder why that is,” she said sardonically. “Is Remedial Potions too much for you?”

Draco’s mouth dropped open. What did she know? How did she know? His eyes narrowed accusingly. “What are you talking about?” he questioned.

Before Ginny could reply, footsteps could be heard coming towards them. Ginny’s expression changed from annoyed to worried in an instant.

“Malfoy, are you back here -- oh.” Blaise Zabini turned the corner and stopped abruptly. Draco realised how it looked. He and Ginny, red-faced, somehow on their feet during their argument, standing less than a foot apart.

Ginny was the first to move. In a swift motion she swept her things off the floor and shoved past Draco and Blaise. “Out of my way, Malfoy,” she hissed, hitting him hard in the stomach with her bag as she passed. Draco grunted in pain as the heavy bag collided with him. She didn’t have to hit him that hard.

“Don’t touch me, blood traitor,” he sneered weakly, half-hearted and too late. Ginny probably didn’t even hear him.

Blaise stood there with a bemused expression. “Er...so that’s still going on, is it?” he asked conversationally.

Draco sighed. “There’s nothing going on, Blaise,” he said, shuffling his homework into his own bag.

“Right, and I’m Dumbledore.” Blaise gave a harsh laugh. “Do you guys always fight like that?” He leaned against the wall with a smug smile on his face.

Draco bristled. “We weren’t fighting, we were just -- Is there a reason you came back here? Other than to interrogate me on things which are none of your business?”

A very Slytherin smirk played across Blaise’s features. “Just looking out for you, mate. Don’t worry, I know you’ve got your reasons. Has she told you where Potter is yet? Or,” his smile grew wider, “are you using her for something else?”

Draco stiffened. It took him a moment to clear his mind of the sudden rage that flew through him at that comment. Convince him, he told himself. “Yeah,” he said once he was sure his voice wouldn’t shake. “Yeah, I’m trying to get information on Potter. Girls can be so easy once they think someone likes them.”

“Nice.” Blaise grinned approvingly. “Wonder why no one else has thought of trying to weasel information out of the little weasel.”

Draco nodded. “Just...just don’t tell anyone, yeah? In case it doesn’t work, you know, I’m not exactly following orders here...”

“Of course. Wouldn’t want them getting the wrong idea. Even if the idea is the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard of. A Death Eater and a blood traitor…” He trailed off. “Anyway, ol’ Snapey’s looking for you. Something about an extra lesson of Remedial Potions. I almost laughed in his face. Remedial Potions, you? You’re the best in our year.”

Draco’s mood darkened. Two lessons in as many days? Was this Snape’s way of telling Draco that he really wasn’t good enough? He sighed. “Thanks, mate.”

“See you. And Draco?” Blaise caught Draco’s arm before he could leave. “Make sure you’re only trying to get information. I’m not stupid.” The easy grin was replaced with something more sinister. Draco’s eyes hardened as jerked himself away from Blaise. He gave his friend one last measuring look before heading off toward the Headmaster’s office.

------

“Clear your mind, Draco,” hissed Professor Snape, obviously losing patience.

“I’m trying,” Draco insisted, but Snape’s face twisted into an ugly scowl.

“If you were standing in front of the Dark Lord right now, you’d be dead!” Snape barked.

“If you’d give me just a minute to catch my breath--”

“No!” Snape pushed away from his desk and began pacing the floor behind it. “There will be no time to prepare, or catch your breath, if the Dark Lord decides to pry information from you. It could, and will, happen at any moment. It could happen while you’re sleeping.” Draco’s eyes widened in shock. He hadn’t realised it would be so easy. Snape continued, almost ranting now. “He is the most accomplished Legilimens in centuries, possibly even in history. An attempt to hide something from him is to sign one’s own death sentence. You must be completely prepared and aware that at any moment, if you falter, you will die. You have to be willing to accept that, Draco.” Snape stopped pacing and stared hard at Draco. “That is why I cannot give you a minute to ‘catch your breath’. Perhaps you are not suited for this.”

Draco shrank into his chair. He felt so small, so stupid. So incapable. He felt the same way at home, every time his father berated him for something that wasn’t quite up to the ‘Malfoy name’.

So he did what he always did. He agreed. He agreed and he gave up. What was the use, anyway? He wasn’t good enough.

“Yes, sir,” Draco said, standing slowly. “I’ll just...go.”

“Go?” Snape gave a short, uncharacteristic laugh. “Whatever for? This just means you have to try harder.”

Draco’s head lifted. “What?”

But Snape just raised his wand. “Legilimens!”

The memories sprang to Draco’s mind, but this time he felt almost ready. Somehow, out of nowhere, the tiniest flicker of determination had taken hold of him.

He was eleven and buying his wand from Ollivander’s, the one time his parents couldn’t choose for him. He lifted the short wand above his head and swished it downward, setting out a stream of -- Draco concentrated harder -- gold sparks? Not the green his parents had been expecting. His mother clapped happily, but Lucius scoffed and turned away. . . He was about to shoot a jinx at Potter when he suddenly felt his body shrink and contort into a -- his mind stuttered for a fraction of a second -- a thin, white...fox? The fox darted forward and viciously bit Potter’s leg, drawing blood. . . He was fifteen, standing in the doorway of Snape’s old office in the dungeons, and laughing at Potter’s embarrassment over having to take Remedial Po--

“Wait, what?” They’d been pulled from the memory so quickly that Draco hardly had time to register what he’d seen.

“Really Draco, if you’re going to change your memories, at least change them to something believable,” Snape huffed.

“But Potter--”

“--Was a terrible student,” Snape finished for him, eyes blazing. “Honestly, gold sparks, Draco, no one would believe that for a second. And everyone heard about your ferret incident, no use changing that...”

“But Professor--”

Snape rounded on him. “I think this concludes our lesson for the evening. Clearly you’re overexerting yourself. The continuous delving into one’s mind can be exhausting on those who are less practised. Good night.”

Draco sighed with annoyance, recognising the dismissal. “Right. Thank you, Professor.” He stood and left the office without another word.

The door swung shut behind him with a click. The cold corridors were empty, the lamps bathing the stone with a warm glow. Draco was left alone with his thoughts as he walked slowly towards the Slytherin common room, thinking back on the memory from two years ago that he had quite forgotten until tonight...

Students were crowding the entrance to the bathroom, trying to get a better look at the student who had just been pulled from the toilet.

“Mister Malfoy,” called a fluttery voice. A toad-faced woman poked her head out of the bathroom, her eyes searching over the students. “Ah, there you are.” Professor Umbridge waved him over. “You will inform your Head of House immediately that we have found Montague. Professor Snape should be in his office. Tell him we are attempting to extricate the student from the toilet and will need his assistance.” She sighed with exasperation and ducked back into the bathroom, snapping at the students trying to get a glimpse of the excitement.

Draco wanted to laugh. Stupid Montague. He was so thick -- how could someone get themselves stuck in a toilet, of all things? This was Hogwarts, he supposed, so anything was possible, but still… Draco took his time getting to the dungeons, and carefully arranged his features to look worried for his fellow student before he threw open the door to Snape’s office.

*“Professor Snape -- oh, sorry,” he said. Snape was standing across from Potter with his wand lifted, like he was about to curse him. He raised his eyebrows in surprise as Snape lowered his wand slightly.

“It’s all right, Draco. Potter is here for a little Remedial Potions.” He looked at Draco expectantly.

Unable to suppress his glee, Draco barely choked back a snicker. “Sorry, sir,” he apologised, trying to actually look apologetic. It was difficult. “Professor Umbridge needs your help. They’ve found Montague, sir, jammed inside a toilet on the fourth floor.”

“How on earth did he get in there?” Snape asked harshly.

“I’m not sure,” Draco shrugged. *“He’s a bit confused…” He trailed off, waiting.

Snape snapped at Potter that they would reschedule their lesson for another evening, then swept out of the room. Draco hung back a moment, taking wicked delight in Potter’s discomfort. This was so much better than finding Montague stuffed into a toilet. Potter glared back, his face burning with embarrassment. *“Remedial Potions?” Draco whispered under his breath, his own face shining with excitement. Then he closed the door and followed Snape upstairs.


Remedial Potions. That’s what Snape had called it. Was it really Remedial Potions? Or, like himself, had Potter been trying to learn something much more difficult? Draco thought back again. He couldn’t remember seeing a cauldron or ingredients in front of them, just Snape’s wand, held high, like he was about to cast a spell. Now that he thought about it, it really did look like Snape was about to use something on Potter. He had even held his wand in the same way he had earlier with Draco.

His train of thought jumped from that memory to what Ginny had said out of anger to him a few short hours ago.

“Is Remedial Potions too much for you?”

Draco stopped on the stone steps leading down to the dungeons, leaning against the wall. If Potter had been taking Occlumency lessons from Snape, then surely Ginny would have known about it. Not only was Potter practically part of the Weasley family from what he’d heard, but Ginny and Potter had dated last year, they were practically inseparable…

Draco pushed down the cold feeling he got when he thought about Potter being with Ginny and focused on the issue in front of him. Ginny knew. Why hadn’t she said anything? And why had Potter even been taking Occlumency with Snape? Whose side was he on, anyway? Draco had heard something about Potter’s so-called “connection” with the Dark Lord after listening in on so many meetings with the Death Eaters, but the Dark Lord had been very quiet about that since the fight at the Ministry that had ended with Draco’s father going to Azkaban.

Everything was suddenly much more complicated, it seemed. Ginny, their friendship, Snape, his reasons for helping Draco, his reasons for helping Potter...

His mind was in overdrive, analysing everything far too deeply. The last thing Draco wanted to do now was go back to his dormitory and risk having to talk with Blaise, or worse, Crabbe or Goyle, whose conversations consisted primarily of grunts and speculation on which pudding would be served with dinner. That would surely push him over the edge of insanity.

Draco turned around quickly, heading back up the stairs. With a quick look around to make sure he wasn’t going to get caught by a teacher or Filch, he jogged up to the seventh floor. He’d stay in the Room of Requirement tonight. Even if Ginny had been serious about someone using the Room of Requirement, surely at this time of night it would be vacant…

Once he had reached the ugly tapestry of the dancing trolls, he paced back and forth in front of the opposite wall. I need somewhere to stay, I need a place to sleep, to be away from them, he repeated in his mind, thinking of the idiots in Slytherin who he couldn’t stand to be around tonight -- or ever, if he really thought about it. I need a place to sleep, I need a place to...a place to hide…a place to hide, where they can't find me...

As soon as he thought the last part, a wooden door appeared, like those that lead to broom cupboards and storage closets. His shoulders sagged with relief -- it seemed the Room was not in use tonight. He’d have to remember to tease Ginny about it later, that she was wrong after all her arguing from earlier. He cast a final look around before reaching for the doorknob, but just as he turned it, a familiar redhead pushed through the other side of the door.

“What in Merlin's name -- Draco?

------

I'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions on this! This chapter took a bit for me to really figure out the details, so I hope it all worked.

-What is your favourite book outside of the HP series? I'm looking for something new to read.

-If you went to Hogwarts, which class would be your favourite? Mine would probably be Charms. Not only because of the fact that it's taught by tiny Flitwick, who might be my favourite professor from the books, but also because I think Charms are the most useful, as in that they'd be used the most often. Defense would probably be next, though.

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