Blinded at the age of four, Harry Potter only wants to lead a normal life with his family. On his eleventh birthday, he finds out that he can have anything but...
"You used me."
The statement seemed to hang in the air between the boys as the unwanted confrontation commenced. Harry still lay on the couch conjured by Sal. At this point, Harry shouldn't have been awake, much less confrontational. He'd taken a full dose of Dreamless Sleep Potion and shouldn't have woken for hours. Draco, perched on the cushion beside him, was being held in place by Harry's grip on his wrist. Although it wasn't painful, it was very firm.
"It was all just some big joke to you, wasn't it?" Harry asked as he levered himself up into a sitting position. Hedwig, who'd been perched on his chest, took to the air and vanished with a repeat performance of her arrival and a pop. Her departure went unnoticed by the boys, however, as Harry was furious with Draco and nothing was distracting him.
"You were just pretending to like me, weren't you? You went back to your father and were laughing at the poor little blind half-blood?" As he spoke, Harry's grip was becoming painfully tight. Draco pulled against it but was unable to break free.
"Was I your Christmas present? Did Daddy give me to you, all wrapped up with a bow?" Harry couldn't see it, but Draco's head snapped back as if he'd been slapped. The raven-haired boy had guessed closer to the truth than he knew.
"Don't," Harry interrupted. "You betrayed me. If you'd really been my friend, you would have told me about this the first moment we were alone. Instead you used it to drive away all my real friends."
Unnoticed by the two boys, Sal and Snape had quit talking and were listening closely as Harry vented his anger at the blonde. When Severus moved as if to stop it, Sal took his arm gently, holding him back. "It's between them, lad," he said quietly. "They have to work it out, or not, on their own."
Snape didn't look very happy with that, but he respected the old wizard's request and waited.
Back at the couch, Draco's eyes were misty with unshed tears as he struggled to say something, anything in his own defence. The problem was that there was no defending what he'd done and he knew it. The blonde finally hung his head in mute shame as his once-best friend went on.
"You need to go," said Harry tightly as he suddenly released the other boy's arm. "I've never hated anyone in my life, but right now I hate you, Draco Malfoy. You and your father. Get out."
Harry's hand shot out and caught the unprepared blonde hard in the chest. Draco fell sprawling to the floor. He was physically uninjured but feeling lightheaded, like someone had grabbed hold of his heart and was squeezing it. The blonde turned and ran to the door, where he nearly knocked down Hermione and Neville as he pushed past them in the doorway of the Room of Requirement.
Nodding a quick farewell to Sal, Severus went out past the children, giving them one of his most withering looks as he passed. Stepping outside, he looked both ways and went down the hall as quickly as his dignity would allow in search of his godson.
Hedwig, who'd been perched on Hermione's shoulders, launched herself into the air and flew about her master's head, agitated and a bit on edge, sensing that her master was more than a little worked up as well.
Having been distracted by the whole affair with Draco, Harry's first clue that his other friends were present was Hermione throwing her arms around his neck.
"Harry!" she cried. "Are you alright? You look terrible!"
"Mione," he gasped, trying to get a decent breath with her attached so tightly. "Can't breathe..."
After the girl loosened her grip, she and Neville sat on either side of Harry as he recounted everything that had happened since Christmas. When he finished his story, Hermione hugged him again and said, "Oh Harry, I should have known that it was something like this. You'd never turn your back on us by yourself. Had we guessed what Malfoy was up to, Neville and I could have done something."
"It's alright," answered Harry tiredly. "Neither of you could have known what was happening." The boy snuggled against his friends a bit as his hold on consciousness began to slip. "I'm so tired," he said. "Would...would you both stay with me for a bit? At least until I'm asleep?"
"Of course," said Neville as the raven-haired boy succumbed to exhaustion and slumped against Hermione.
The days leading up to exams passed quickly, and with every sunrise Harry's strength returned. The constant companionship of Hermione and Neville had done wonders for him and he had even begun to visit Sal again in the early mornings to continue his training. More than once, he'd found Professor Snape waiting outside the door for him so that he could visit further with the old wizard. Only two things kept him from being totally at peace: Hermione's attention had become smothering and he missed his friend Draco.
Hermione was his most immediate problem. It had started so innocently at first; helping him to class those first days when he'd still been weak and playing mother hen when he pushed himself too far. If that had remained the extent of her help, everything would have been fine. Unfortunately, the girl let herself get a bit out of control and Harry had been on the verge of screaming the day before when she'd tried to cut up his food for him.
Neville was a bit better, but the podgy boy was so wrapped up in the crazy idea that Snape was after the Philosopher's Stone that he barely talked of anything else. Neville had cornered him several times, desperately searching for any details from the Forbidden Forest or the conversation he'd heard between Snape and Quirrell that could tie the Potions Master to Voldemort.
Severus was another matter as well. The Potions Master had spent several days urging Harry to at least try and understand the situation from Draco's point of view. Snape knew better than to expect Harry to forgive the other boy but he worked steadily at trying to forge some kind of reconciliation.
It wasn't that Harry really hated Draco, though he had vague memories of their conversation where he'd said just that. The problem was that the blonde had betrayed his trust, and that was something Harry just didn't deal with very well.
They had all entered the library, Hermione's favourite haunt since exams had become so close, and were settled down at one of the tables to study. Neville was wrapped up in a conversation with Ron Weasley, discussing the probability that Snape was after the Philosopher's Stone for Voldemort. They'd been at this ever since Harry had told them of his conversation with Firenze that night in the forest.
Hermione rolled her eyes at the talk but restricted herself to reminding them that it wasn't proper to talk that way about teachers. For his part, Harry could understand how someone could come to such a conclusion about the Potions Master. After spending so much time with him, however, he just couldn't see the man backing Voldemort.
Harry was just going over his History of Magic notes when he heard a familiar voice several tables away. Bringing his mind's eye into focus, he located Draco surrounded by other first year Slytherins. The group was huddled together around the blonde and hanging onto his every word as the blonde told everyone what he thought about Muggles and Muggleborns in general. He was also offering his thoughts about Hermione without actually using her name.
Draco's words were cutting, and Harry couldn't help but cringe with each statement made. He could feel the tension mounting in the room as the present Gryffindors and Merlins alike growled in anger toward the Slytherins. The only two non-Slytherins that weren't taking offense at the blonde's words were Harry and Hermione.
With his ability to read auras, Harry could sense that not only was Draco's heart not in any of the insults, but it was sickening him. Likewise, Hermione's aura showed that she had nothing but pity for the boy. Just like Snape, Hermione had been nagging Harry to make some kind of peace with Draco, even if they couldn't be friends.
The raven-haired boy was well aware that he would have to confront Draco again about what had happened. It was just the how of it that kept him from acting. Shaking his head with a wistful sigh, Harry put his hand back on the open page of his history book and picked up where he'd left off. Any talk with Draco, he thought to himself, would have to wait until after exams had finished.
Weeks passed and, before any of them felt the slightest bit prepared, exams were upon them. Harry was surprised he'd been able to absorb anything as he'd been having regular headaches since the adventure in the Forbidden Forest. On top of that, he'd been having nightmares since then involving someone in a bloody cloak.
Exams in Potions went smashingly well, thanks mostly to Severus' help. They had reviewed halfway through the second year material and Harry could have done the Forgetfulness Potion in his sleep. Healing, Charms, Herbology and History of Magic went well also. He enjoyed the subjects and excelled at them. Transfiguration, however, was a bit of a problem.
Harry's senses, while greatly improved over the last term, still weren't refined enough to properly visualize nonliving objects for transfiguration. The written portion had been fine and he'd even caught a bit of a break with the practical. They were to change a mouse into a snuffbox. As they'd started with a living thing, he'd had no problem pulling it off fairly well. Unfortunately, due to the fact he had never actually seen a snuffbox, it turned out a bit odd-looking and he lost some points for that. Still, he felt better about his performance in Transfiguration than he did in Defence.
For the entire time he was taking his exam, Harry had suffered from a terrible headache that seemed to centre around his scar. That, on top of the fact that Quirrell had to be the worst Defence instructor a hundred years, hadn't helped at all. Still, Harry was a Ravenclaw; he'd spent countless hours studying the course materials on his own and was fairly certain that he had at least passed the tests.
After they'd finished their last exam, Hermione, Neville, and Ron dragged him out by the lake to relax. Sitting there under the tree, he was half listening to them as they went on about Snape being the one after the stone, though he wished he was down by the water with Ron's older brothers as they played with the giant squid. His full attention was brought back to the conversation when he heard the redhead begin talking about Draco.
"He's a menace," the boy was saying. "You remember how he turned us in to Filch over the dragon."
"What dragon?" asked Harry, now quite interested.
"You remember," explained Ron. "It's the reason we all had detention. Malfoy found out about Norbert and turned us in when we sent him off to my brother Charlie."
"Who's Norbert?" Harry asked, his headache was suddenly worse, although this time it had nothing to do with his scar.
"Hagrid has a dragon?"
"Well, he did," Ron explained. "He won a dragon's egg off some bloke in a card game. When Norbert hatched, Hagrid tried to raise him in his house."
"But it's made of wood!"
Grinning, the youngest Weasley boy answered, "We tried to tell him that. Even had him convinced, finally, to let Charlie take Norbert to a dragon preserve in Romania. But somewhere along the way Malfoy found us out."
Harry, who'd gone very still as the other boy talked, suddenly got up and extended his cane. "I'm going to see Hagrid. Anyone coming?"
The four children made their way to the grounds-keeper's hut. Hagrid quickly answered their knock and let them in. His sleeves and trousers were rolled up and he was shelling peas. "Well," he said, "Exams over then?"
Getting straight to the point, Harry said, "Ron and Hermione told me about Norbert. They said you got him from a man in a card game. I was wondering if you remember what he looked like?"
Hagrid's eyes misted up as he thought of helpless little Norbert, all alone in Romania. Blinking back tears, the giant of a man mulled the question. He was oblivious, however, to the odd looks that the other children were giving Harry.
"Never really seen his face," Hagrid rumbled. "All wrapped up in a cloak he was. Seemed right anxious t' part wi' Norbert though."
"In a cloak," Harry said slowly, his suspicions about the stranger's identity had become even stronger. "Did you talk about Hogwarts at all, or your job?"
"Course," replied Hagrid. "E's a fellow animal lover after all. Wanted t' make sure I could take care of a dragon. But I said, I did, that after taking care of Fluffy, a dragon wouldn't be nothin'."
"Did he seem interested in Fluffy at all?" the boy asked with a sinking feeling. Hermione, at least, seemed to figure out what Harry had been driving at this whole time and sat with a horrified expression. Ron and Neville, though still unaware of what it was all about, knew something bad was afoot.
"Yeah, he was interested. How many three-headed dogs are there, after all? Anyways, I told him Fluffy's really a pushover. Play a little music an' she goes right t' sleep." An odd look passed over the half giant's face and he mumbled to himself, "Shouldn't a' said tha'. Hey, where yeh goin?"
Harry had got to his feet and was headed rapidly toward the door with his friends on his heels. "Thanks Hagrid!" the boy called. He strode quickly as possible towards the castle. Headache or not, he opened his senses as wide as he dared, not wanting to stumble on a loose stone on the way up.
"Harry," called Neville as he breathlessly caught up with his friends. "What's going on?"
"Voldemort knows how to get past Fluffy," said the raven-haired boy, ignoring the whimpers from Ron and Neville. "We have to find Professor Dumbledore and tell him about this. Does anyone know where his office is?" The friends were all silent, uncomfortably aware that they had no clue where to even begin looking. They were all startled a moment later when they heard Professor McGonagall's voice.
"What are you children doing inside on a day like this?" she asked.
"Please miss," answered Hermione, "we need to see the Headmaster."
"What about, then?"
"It's..." started Hermione uneasily. "It's a secret."
"Well, Professor Dumbledore has been called away to London on urgent Ministry business. You'll just have to wait until he returns. Now off with you." Not giving them a chance to argue, the professor shooed them out of the castle.
"Now what do we do?" asked Ron in frustration.
"What about Professor Snape?" asked Harry.
"No," put in Neville firmly. "I know you think a lot of him but he led me into the third floor corridor, and you told us about what he said to Professor Quirrell".
Harry wanted to defend the professor, but Neville seemed too angry to listen. Anyway, Severus had gone to Surrey earlier in the day with another batch of potions for Dudley.
"We have to go," he said finally
"What?" asked Hermione.
"Through the trap door," explained Harry. "I think that whoever is helping Voldemort sent that message to draw the headmaster away. He'll be going after the stone tonight, and we have to stop him." Harry strode purposefully away, unaware of the uncertain looks that followed him.
Harry and his friends spent the rest of the day trying to act normally as they prepared themselves for their mission that night. Bedtime came and Harry lay quietly, listening to the other boys as the nighttime conversations faded and everyone drifted off to sleep. When he was sure, he slid out of bed and heard Neville moving quickly to join him. Neither noticed that a pair of sleepy, grey eyes peeked out from the canopy around another one of the boys' beds as they left.
They gathered own in the common room. Ron had snuck from the Gryffindor Tower using Neville's invisibility cloak. He and Hermione had been talking urgently in quiet tones until they saw the other two boys come out and then they went silent.
"We're ready then?" asked Harry quietly as he slipped his wand into a pocket of his jeans.
"Er... not quite," answered Neville as he went and stood with the others. "Listen, Harry. This is going to be dangerous. You're really smart and all but..."
"But?" the boy asked in a dangerous tone.
Ron, being who he is, charged on with what the three were thinking. "Look...It's just that you can't /see/. You'd be in the way."
Harry gaped at his friends, unable to believe this from them. As they gathered around the portrait hole he said quietly, "I'll just follow you."
Sighing, Hermione answered, "I know... /Petrificus Totalus /!"
With a wave of her wand, Harry's legs snapped together and his arms were locked to his sides. Unable to move, he wasn't able to keep his balance and fell hard onto his back, rapping his head enough for him to fade out of consciousness for a moment.
Hermione knelt by him and patted him on the chest. "I'm sorry Harry," said the girl. "It's for the best. We only want you to be safe."
The three children departed for the third floor, leaving Harry alone on the floor with tears of fury running out of his eyes.