< >Draco sat at the head of Slytherin table in the Great Hall, his head bowed slightly in the direction of his food. Crabbe and Goyle sat on either side of him, chomping away heartily on their dinner.
< >What am I doing here? Draco was asking himself, glancing around the table suddenly. I don't belong here. A nasty, irritable voice replied in his head, Of course you belong here! You are a powerful, rich Slytherin! What more could you want?
< >Draco shook his head slightly, being sure that no one would notice him doing so, though. I do not belong here, he repeated. Of course you do! I don't - not at all. You do! I don't. Yes, you do, Draco!
< >"I don't!" He slammed a fist down on the table suddenly, not realizing what he was doing until he had done it.
< >The Slytherins at the table stared at him in surprise. The whole Ravenclaw table, startled, peered over at the Slytherin table, and a few Gryffindors who had heard the crash swiveled in their seats to see what was happening. The Hufflepuffs didn't even look up, though, preoccupied with their talk.
< >Draco lowered his face from view and poked at his food with his fork, turning slightly red in the cheeks. The people staring slowly turned back to their food and chatter.
< >Crabbe and Goyle soon left together, already and surprisingly full from dinner. Draco hardly noticed. He had barely eaten his dinner and was currently watching the Gryffindor table intently, through the hair that was covering his face.
< >When the three sixth year students he had been watching stood up and began to leave, Draco brushed the hair out of his eyes. He glanced up at them, catching Harry's eye. Harry glared at him and Draco narrowed his eyes, then looked down when the three had left the Great Hall.
< >The Great Hall was nearly empty when Draco finally left - only a few teachers, a group of Hufflepuffs, and a lone Gryffindor were left. He trudged slowly to the Slytherin Common Room.
< >The dungeon walls surrounding him on the way fit his mood - sad, dripping, tired, dreary . . . and old. Oh, how he felt so old . . . and yet he was so young. Was it just because he was in the time of one's life where you were not a child, but not yet an adult?
< >No, he said to himself miserably. Then, Yes, he admitted sheepishly. I know I am in that time - I cannot stand anyone, yet I wish to be around certain people . . . Draco was frustrated beyond belief. But it is true feelings . . . not desires . . .
< >He muttered the password to his common room rather absently and climbed in, not stopping to speak to anyone as he trudged to his dormitory. He collapsed on his bed with a sigh.
< >I do not - wait, do not start that again, Draco, he told himself pointedly, turning onto his back with a soft groan. "I don't want to start that again," he said aloud to the empty room. He put a pillow over his face.
< >"'Course yeh don't," called the ancient, old mirror - with very acute hearing - loudly from across the room. "Now, what don't you want to start again?" it persisted nosily.
< >"Nothing," Draco muttered through the pillow. "Leave me alone."
< >"Touchy, touchy," sneered the mirror with an indignant snort.
< >Draco soon fell asleep after that - temporarily forgetting "that blasted old mirror" (as one Slytherin called it years ago and the name had stuck), his frustration, and basically, his life, as he drifted away into a black oblivion he sometimes wished would last forever.
< >When he awoke, it was morning. He could hear noise from the common room, meaning that everyone was probably awake but him. With a sigh, he pulled himself out of bed and dressed out of the clothes he had fallen asleep in - into clean clothes.
< >Draco walked out of his dormitory and entered the common room, stretching his arms with a yawn. He blinked his eyes twice, his eyes quickly focusing in the dim light of the common room.
< >Crabbe and Goyle were lounging around the fireplace, grunting - or as it seemed to Draco - to each other and playing with Muggle cards. They looked up at Draco as he plopped himself into a large arm chair.
< >"Did I miss breakfast?"
< >"Yeah," Goyle grunted, passing Crabbe the cards.
< >"Why didn't anyone wake me up?"
< >"You said for us to leave you alone," Crabbe replied in his low, raspy voice, turning his eyes away from the fire again to look at Draco. "You don't remember?" he asked suspiciously.
< >"No," Draco replied absently, turning his attention across the room.
< >"Quidditch today," Goyle mumbled at him.
< >Draco had completely forgotten. "Yeah? So?" he sneered back, a bit late.
< >"Gryffindor's probably gonna win."
< >"So?" Draco snapped back, irritable. He didn't care that morning. Actually, it seemed likely to him that he would never, truly ever care about Quidditch or really anything again.
< >"You going?" Crabbe asked, shuffling the cards in his hands.
< >"Looks like I don't have a choice, does it?" Draco snapped.
< >"What's with you?"
< >Just like them, Draco thought petulantly to himself, short little sentences that I hate answering to. God, I wish they'd just leave me alone. He shook his head in reply. "Nothing."
< >It was drizzling slightly. Crabbe and Goyle dragged out an umbrella, but Draco walked past them, out of the common room, and out the front door, without an umbrella, right into the gathering rain.
< >He strode across the grounds to the Quidditch field, the mist soaking his hair so that it was dark and flat against his head. He didn't care; he hardly noticed his hair, or his wet clothes, and especially not the squishing sound that his shoes made on the damp, slippery ground.
< >Draco didn't sit down, though he probably wouldn't have noticed the water in the seats anyway. He walked around until he found a place where he could just stand without being disturbed.
< >The Gryffindor and Ravenclaw teams entered the field below and a roar of cheering broke out from all around him, the noise pounding in his ears violently. Draco had an urge to cover them, but decided against it.
< >Soon, fifteen brooms lifted into the air and they were just blue and dark crimson blurs after a few minutes, swooping around each other and whipping this way and that every few seconds.
< >"What are you doing over here?" a voice behind him sneered.
< >Draco stiffened, recognizing the voice. He turned slowly around.
< >Two faces stared back at him; the one freckled face nearly inches from his own.
< >"Like I said," the freckled face repeated menacingly, "what are you doing here?"
< >Draco took a step backward to steady himself. "Hello, Weasley," he said solemnly with a curt nod. He glanced at the other face and gulped, then looked back at Weasley.
< >"What, no snide remark? No joke? Not too confident without your bodyguards, are you?" Ronald Weasley demanded angrily, his facial features taut with hatred toward Draco. "And as I said, why are you over here? This is the Gryffindor side - not your side."
< >"I didn't know we were so segregated," Draco said softly.
< >"What?" Weasley asked, blinking, as if he had thought he'd heard Draco wrong.
< >Draco shook his head, turned, and began to walk away, but Weasley grabbed his shoulder, and spun him around again to face him. They locked eyes, one pair glaring with hatred, the other narrowed with annoyance.
< >"No, you're not getting away that easily, you - "
< >"Ron!" shouted the other face that Draco recognized easily.
< >"Quiet, Hermione!" Weasley hissed, not even glancing at her. He was breathing hard. "I have reasons for doing this!" he yelled in Draco's face, though it was more directed toward himself and Hermione, trying to reassure the two of them. Hermione looked hardly convinced and angry that Weasley had told her to be quiet.
< >"I don't want to fight," Draco said quietly to Weasley, averting his eyes.
< >Weasley laughed shortly. "Yeah, right. Wish you had your goons around, don't you?" he demanded with a sneer of utter disgust. Again, he laughed, but more loudly this time.
< >He's grown more confident since his brothers left, Draco noted to himself, slightly amused, though it was soon washed away with just wanting to walk away. Merely this and nothing more, he thought to himself mirthlessly.
< >"No," Draco replied solemnly.
< >"Liar," Weasley spat. "Slytherin is as Slytherin does."
< >"That's a large accusation," Draco said softly.
< >"It's not true, then?" Weasley demanded, smirking.
< >"Possibly," Draco answered loftily, only partially listening.
< >Weasley raised an angry fist and Draco stepped backward a bit more. "You know every reason I have to do this," he warned Draco, malice glittering in his eyes as he glared. "Every - single - reason, you piece of - "
< >"Ron . . ." Hermione Granger stopped speaking, realizing it was frivolous to try to talk Weasley down. She didn't want to waste her breath.
< >Draco and Weasley were completely oblivious to what was going on around them - the Gryffindor crowd was yelling in triumph for the catching of the Golden Snitch - and neither of them cared.
< >"Ron!" someone yelled from above them suddenly.
< >The two boys snapped their heads up and saw Harry Potter on his broom about fifteen feet above them, midair. He was looking down at them, wondering what had started this fight. Not who . . .
< >"Fight!" someone yelled and the crowd around them hushed, then broke out in excited whispers when they saw who was fighting. Their excitement rippled throughout the stadium faster than lightning.
< >Draco and Weasley looked back at each other; Draco backed up as far as he could - about six inches, as there was a crowd completely surrounding them, locking him in from getting away.
< >"What is this? Are you scared? Draco Malfoy - scared!" Weasley yelled to the crowd triumphantly. He had a very pleased look on his face - he was playing the role of the hero this day.
< >The Slytherins around them booed, but they were droned out by the other houses' laughing and cheering. Everyone who could see had their eyes on Draco - waiting for his next move or reply.
< >By this time, the Ravenclaw and the rest of the Gryffindor Quidditch teams had glided over to see the commotion. Teachers could be heard yelling in the distance, trying and failing to get through the tight-knit crowd.
< >Draco looked down. "No. I don't want any trouble."
< >The people around him laughed, especially Weasley - whose laugh rose above everyone else's. Hermione Granger and Harry Potter were the only ones that had heard - besides the Slytherins who looked sour - Draco's reply and were not laughing, just staring.
< >"Really," sneered Weasley coldly.
< >"Yes," Draco said, his voice suddenly cold. "Really, Weasel." He regretted saying it the second the words spilled out of his mouth. He snapped his mouth shut, wanting to disappear.
< >The Slytherins around, however, cheered.
< >Weasley's ears and face turned red and he flexed his hands, turning them into fists. Draco, not wanting to open his mouth again, turned and started to push his way through the surrounding people again.
< >"You can't weasel yourself out now, Malfoy!" Weasley yelled angrily, jumping onto Draco's back. The people in front of Draco jumped back and gasped in shock and amazement.
< >Draco fell to the ground, grunting in surprise. He gasped for air and could barely move. The wind had been knocked out of him and he felt the air around him suddenly contract as he was kicked in the side. Draco suddenly felt something like a sharp stone rake him across the face as his head slid across the ground.
< >He heard screams of panic and exult. People surrounded him and he felt himself hit again, and again - and again, then he was beyond feeling the pain of the blows to his back, side, and legs.
< >There was a sudden pounding of feet and a large bang exploded around him. Dark and unforeseen crimson liquid appeared in front of Draco's eyes, then the world ceased to exist.
< >"He's coming around, professor," said a voice Draco slightly recognized.
< >"How is he?" Albus Dumbledore's strong voice asked.
< >There was a sigh. "He'll have a scar on his cheek, but, other than that, physically, he's fine. Though," Draco heard a short laugh, "I dare say, Mr. Weasley beat him out fairly well."
< >"And Mr. Weasley - ?"
< >"Not a scratch on him besides when Professor Snape pulled him off Mr. Malfoy here. Gave quite a yell, I hear, Mr. Weasley did." Draco realized suddenly that it was Madam Pomfrey. "I am still admitting him, though."
< >Dumbledore chuckled softly. "Yes, I must speak with Severus, but he was probably in the right this time." There was a pause. "Mr. Potter and Miss Granger report that Mr. Malfoy did not fight back," he said, suddenly grave.
< >Madam Pomfrey's voice became suddenly severe. "Are you serious?"
< >"Very," Dumbledore replied promptly and truthfully.
< >"I just thought Mr. Weasley caught him by surprise."
< >"I thought so, too, Poppy, but everyone around them even say that Mr. Malfoy did not fight back. He was trying to walk away without a fight." There was an interested pang in Dumbledore's tone of voice, Draco noticed drowsily.
< >"I must say I thought he would have been right into the fight as much as Weasley," Madam Pomfrey said, Draco feeling her take his pulse for the tenth time during her conversation with Dumbledore; however, Draco still wasn't fully conscious and could not protest.
< >"Yes," Dumbledore mumbled softly.
< >"Here we go," Madam Pomfrey said suddenly, "Mr. Malfoy? Can you hear me?"
< >"Ugh," Draco grunted, trying to sit up.
< >"No," Madam Pomfrey said flatly, coming into view of Draco's blurred eyes. "Lie back down or I'll have to - "
< >"Oh, all right," Draco muttered. He flopped back down with a sigh.
< >"There's a good lad," Madam Pomfrey said curtly, checking his pulse again.
< >"Do you have to keep doing that?" Draco demanded, suddenly annoyed at the feeling of someone touching him - anywhere. It made him dreadfully uncomfortable, but he still had his dignity, meaning he would never admit his comfort levels in public.
< >Madam Pomfrey dropped his wrist and his arm fell onto the bed. He barely noticed it - he was looking up at Professor Dumbledore who was staring right back at him.
< >"Madam," Dumbledore said, not taking his eyes from Draco, "give us a few minutes, would you?" He turned his head to look at her and smiled. It annoyed Draco that Dumbledore absolutely knew he would get his way - he did every single time . . .!
< >Madam Pomfrey didn't look a bit happy. "Oh, all right. I have to check on Weasley to see that his scratch of his isn't infected." She stomped away angrily, pushing through the curtains that surrounded Draco's bed area.
< >"Professor Dumbledore?" Draco asked.
< >Dumbledore looked at him and smiled. "In a fight, were we?"
< >"We were not, sir," Draco replied curtly. He truly didn't like Dumbledore.
< >Dumbledore chuckled. "Of course not, of course not. I wanted to talk to you about your fight . . ." He hesitated. "You did not fight back, Draco," Dumbledore finally said, as if that wasn't obvious to Draco by any means.
< >"No - but how could I? He jumped on my back." Draco narrowed his eyes.
< >Dumbledore looked a tad uncomfortable and Draco relaxed against the bed. "Yes, that could be a reason," Dumbledore said slowly, "but you and I both know it isn't the real reason."
< >"You and I?" Draco grumbled bitterly. "The whole school saw me try to walk away."
< >"That's what I wanted to speak with you about - Mr. Weasley is even more startled - than I, actually - that you did not fight back. Well, maybe Professor Snape is even more surprised . . ."
< >Oh, God, not Snape. He'll be yelling hell at me all night . . .
< >"I respect that you did not want to fight, when you did not even start it - "
< >"How do you know I didn't start it?" Draco interrupted, sitting up.
< >Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "Sources . . . rather, many of your fellow students who were watching the situation almost to the minute it began told me and Professor McGonagall, though, I dare say one person had an exceptional view on the whole thing."
< >Draco gulped. "Who?" he croaked.
< >"Miss Hermione Granger - she saw you standing alone and Mr. Weasley begin to pick a fight with you. Even she and Mr. Potter know that you did not start the fight - or wanted to be a part of it."
< >"Great," Draco muttered under his breath, lying back again. If Madam Pomfrey saw him sitting up, she would have yelled, and he could not stand another minute of his head pounding because of it; his head still throbbed of the shouting his ears had already picked up.
< >As if on cue, Madam Pomfrey can barging through the curtains, her mouth opening slightly in protest, surprised not to find Draco sitting up. She recovered herself quickly, however, and spoke solemnly to Dumbledore. "Professor, as I am head of the infirmary, I therefore must insist you leave. Mr. Malfoy needs his rest." She spat out "Malfoy" like it was a curse word, but Draco was used to it and merely sighed.
< >Dumbledore nodded. "Of course. Get well soon, Mr. Malfoy." He nodded to both Draco and Madam Pomfrey again, then literally swooped out of the curtains gracefully, Madam Pomfrey and Draco both looking after him.
< >"I am going to take down the curtains now," Madam Pomfrey told him sharply, snapping Draco to attention. "Don't you even dare sit up. I'll get you a bedpan if you need to use the 'loo."
< >Draco blinked, partially startled. "Fine," he said, despite his surprise and automatic alarm. What did he expect? The silver platter? No, not anymore, he said to himself. You've gotten enough of it already. And you don't need it!
< >Madam Pomfrey took away the curtains and Draco blinked in the light. His eyes hurt and he rubbed them vigorously. It had been much dark when the curtains were surrounding him; now, however, it was almost as bright as the sun.
< >Two beds down lay Ronald Weasley, his nose in a book. Draco stared over at him, startled to see him so close, yet relieved he was at least five arm-lengths away. Weasley felt Draco's eyes on him and slowly set down the book to rest heavily into his lap.
< >"What, Malfoy?" he sneered. "I've already got a week's detention from Snape because of you. And look what he did to me!" Weasley lifted up a sleeve to expose a large bandage - soaked in blood, Draco noticed quickly - on his shoulder. "And don't you dare ask what McGonagall and Dumbledore have me doing for punishment!"
< >Draco turned his head away and leaned against the bed, part of which was propped up so he could sit mostly halfway up.
< >Madam Pomfrey strode over to him and dumped a few books onto the bedside table next to him. Piled up, they shielded Weasley from Draco's view. He wasn't sure if this was an omen or not.
< >"Homework," Madam Pomfrey snapped at him. "Professor Snape, however, thought it fruitless to give you homework in 'your state,' and sends his well wishes for your health." She kept her lips in a straight line, trying hard not to sneer or frown.
< >"Thank you, Madam Pomfrey," Draco croaked, his throat suddenly sizing up.
< >Madam Pomfrey nodded at him, looking a little surprised at his grace, and handed him a glass of water. She gestured with her head to the table. "Water is always there for you. Are you hungry?"
< >Draco, who had obviously missed breakfast and probably lunch, nodded. "I didn't miss dinner, did I?" he asked slowly.
< >"No - well, yes," Madam Pomfrey admitted. "Dinner is in the process right now."
< >Draco felt and heard his stomach growl fiercely.
< >"And the Gryffindors are having a party," Weasley grumbled from his bed.
< >Madam Pomfrey shot him a glare. "Your friends can come see you. You," she said to Draco, "I'm not so sure." She walked away, calling over her shoulder, "I send for the kitchens to bring up your dinners."
< >"Why would she say that?" Weasley asked, as soon as she was out of ear-shot.
< >Draco blinked in surprise, but decided to answer. "Probably because the Slytherins are all completely pissed. I seriously doubt Snape would send his 'well wishes' for my health. He probably tried to send a curse." He chuckled softly, despite himself.
< >Weasley was silent for a moment. "Why didn't you fight back?"
< >Draco still couldn't see him and who knew if Madam Pomfrey had some sort of charm on him now, alerting her if he sat up? He didn't answer the other boy and sighed to himself.
< >"I said - "
< >"I heard you perfectly," Draco snapped from his bed.
< >"Aren't we touchy," Weasley muttered dryly.
< >"When you get knocked out, bloodied, kicked in the stomach, and beaten on the back, and everywhere else on your whole God damned body - you can be touchy," Draco snapped angrily. He grimaced at the pain that abruptly touched his whole body with its icy hands. "I'm surprised they didn't expell your sorry ass. My father will be up in arms come this time tomorrow."
< >"Oh, bugger off . . ."
< >"Why should I?" Draco demanded angrily, gripping the bed sheets in his hands - trying not to jump up. "You're the one who beat me up and started this whole damn conversation."
< >Weasley was silent for a moment, bristled. He opened his mouth to speak, but he was cut off by the door to the infirmary bursting open, and loud shouting coming through the door. Both went white in fear, thinking it was Lucius Malfoy coming to seek revenge upon both of them.
< >Draco gripped the sheets tighter and shut his eyes, trying to block out the pounding in his ears that had he begun yet again. His attempts were failing quickly, to his dismay, but when he heard Madam Pomfrey's angry voice, he loosened his grip on the sheets, relaxing a bit. He opened his eyes slowly.
< >"Get out of here! All of you!" Madam Pomfrey was yelling at the many Gryffindors that had sprawled into the room, crowding around Weasley. Most of the Quidditch team, his younger sister, and many others, Draco saw.
< >Madam Pomfrey pushed them all out of the rooms, irate with fury. When she slammed the door and turned around, her face beat red. She stalked back to her office, cursing to herself.
< >When she had disappeared again, Weasley began to laugh.
< >"She was too mad to even speak!" he laughed uproariously, slapping the side of his bed gleefully. "Oh, and the look on her face - absolutely priceless!"