Disclaimer: I don't own the boy who lived.
"But can't we just-" Ron whispered as he and Hermione trudged down the stairs. They hadn't had a chance to confer together on the 'Harry situation' since the previous night.
"Don't push it, Ron!"
"But why was he talking to that slimy little ferret!" Ron exploded, his whispers now no longer even resembling discreetness. Up ahead, frowning into space in deep thought, Harry kept walking without seeming to notice.
Hermione closed her eyes in frustration and hugging her books closer to her chest, began trying to count to ten. They'd been having the same whispered conversation that lead nowhere for the last five minutes.
"Don't tell me you don't want to kn – OW! Hermione!" Ron leapt back, rubbing his ribs where a bruise the size of Hermione's sharp elbow would be forming.
Hermione was now turning on Ron, her brown eyes flashing dangerously.
"Of course I want to know! Don't you think it bothers me that he was – he was - just sitting there with Malfoy, as if it was normal, and he didn't say a word afterwards!" Hermione huffed. "Ron, I want to know, but if we push Harry…I don't think things will end well. Besides, this is probably nothing."
Ron grumbled in a dissatisfied manner. "If I see it happen again, I'm asking about it. They can't be in the same room without attacking each other for how many years?"
"And now clandestine meetings in the library." Hermione finished, then backtracked, "but this is really petty. It probably wasn't important, so let's drop it." Her tone implied the curiosity was burning at her too, but true to her word, she sped up to catch up with Harry, leaving Ron to grumble under his breath behind her so that he really had to drop it.
Harry hesitated, his knuckles raised, then closed his eyes and knocked. After several moments, the door swept open and Snape was soon glaring down at him, so much fury in his black eyes that he had to force himself not to step back. Clearly Snape had not forgiven him yet.
"And to what, Potter," Snape sneered "Do I owe the pleasure for this visit?"
"I'm here for detention sir." he replied, and his heart sank automatically as Snape gave a thin smile, the one that usually heralded bad news.
"At long last. How kind of you to turn up. And yet... why are you reporting to me when I organised for your detention to be with Mr Filch.?"
"Sorry?" Harry said blankly, searching his memory for this bit of information.
"Forty points from Gryffindor Mr Potter," Snape drew himself up and sneered down at him "for failing to report to me earlier. If you had done so, you would know this information!"
"Sir!" Harry protested "I didn't know-"
"Of course you didn't, you miserable fool, because you didn't bother to find out!" Snape spat "Ten points for keeping Mr Filch waiting! Now get out of my sight!" he spat and slammed the door, leaving Harry's ears ringing.
"I should like to bite that man."Serissa told him earnestly.
When Harry finally made it back up to the ground floor he had to pause outside Filch's office door to collapse against the wall, panting and wheezing. He was still half way through knocking when Filch wrenched the door open and hobbled towards him, his yellow teeth bared and clutching Mrs Norris.
"Thought you'd just turn up when it pleased you, did you filthy little beast!" Filch ranted "Up to the fourth floor! You'll be cleaning - and you won't be using your wand!"
Harry walked miserably behind the caretaker, resisting the urge to throw his wand at Mrs Norris who blinked smugly at him over Filch's shoulder.
When they reached the fourth floor, he was handed a mop and pointed towards a large muddy patch of reeds, mud and mosquitoes. As set to work, Harry composed a complaint letter to Weasley's Wizard Wheezes in his head.
The Gryffindor common room fire crackled merrily, its dancing flames taunting Harry's grim mood. The portable swamp had proved near impossible to mop up and he'd had to wrench the reeds out by the roots and throw them out the nearest window. As a result, his hands were covered in cuts and he smelled strongly of rotting plant life, despite having taken a shower in order to get rid of the mud.
Hermione relaxed in an armchair, knitting needles clicking at full speed, with yet another small, hideous scarf - or was it a hat - edging into existence, one mauve-hued row at a time. He couldn't help smiling a little as he watched her from where he stood at the foot of the stairs to the dormitory. He had been pleasantly surprised at how calmly she had taken his doubts about Dumbledore. It was true she hadn't looked convinced, but at least she seemed open to the possibilities.
Ron was busy humming and hawing over a Charms essay, hoping to catch Hermione's attention so that she would help him. Harry stifled a snort before throwing the invisibility cloak over his shoulders and making his way over to the portrait hole silently. Leaving the common room, he didn't see Hermione and Ron watching as the portrait swung open and shut on its own.
Hermione threw down her knitting needles. "I thought we were getting through to him!" she wailed, pressing a hand to her forehead.
"He's keeping secrets from us already. This had better not be about Malfoy." Ron said darkly
"I just-" Hermione closed her eyes and sighed "maybe we are overcrowding him."
"You think it's okay that he's hiding things like this from us?" Ron's ears were turning red "You do realise, he's meeting up with Malfoy?"
"Stop going on about Malfoy, we don't know that-"
"Who else? We saw him talking to him in the library. Hermione, I don't know what he's getting Harry into, but it can't be good if Harry thinks he can't even trust us."
"Getting Harry into what, Ron?" Hermione said "All we know is that they're sneaking off together. Harry probably has his reasons. He'll come through in the end."
"Whatever." Ron muttered, staring into the fire.
"Malfoy?" Harry slipped into the Room, pulling his cloak off and letting the door click shut behind him. He looked around at the Room in confusion as Draco stood up and approached him.
The Room of Requirement looked like a bedroom. The walls were a pale cream, the carpets a silvery blue colour. A single bed sat in the far corner, and in front of the group of comfy looking sofas where Malfoy had been sitting, was a warm, crackling fire.
"You came." Malfoy said, stopping in front of him.
"Yeah." Harry said shortly, continuing to look around curiously. "Why is the room like this?"
"I said I was going to show you the person you're going to be protecting."
"Going to be?" Harry said coldly, angry at the assumption "I never agreed to anything."
Draco looked pained. "Potter…"
Harry and Malfoy both spun around in the direction of the voice; it had come from near the fireplace.
Harry's eyes widened.
"What the hell Malfoy?"
A little boy was peering at him fearfully from over the top of the couch. The mop of platinum hair was enough to tell Harry this was a Malfoy child. At Harry's proclamation, the boy's face crumpled, and he began to cry, sniffling quietly.
"Rigel, come here, it's alright."
Harry's mouth fell open as he watched Malfoy hurry over to pull the child into his arms. The little boy continued his sniffling, but huddled into Malfoy, large, watery brown eyes searching the room until landing on Harry and staying fixed there, his little chubby arms just reaching around Draco's neck.
Malfoy turned, and before the boy could twist around in his arms, he shot Harry a glare of utmost loathing.
"Rigel, this is Harry. He's my friend. He's come to play." Draco shot Harry a stone cold glance that told him that he would play the part or else. Rigel, still firmly attached to Draco, turned is watery eyes on Harry.
"Hello Regal." Harry said, as brightly as he could. The child hid his face, and Harry sighed. He knew nothing about children.
"Mal-" Harry began uncertainly
"Harry," Malfoy said pointedly "Rigel is my little brother. He's three."
"Oh." Harry said.
"Rigel," Draco said after a short pause. "look over there."
Harry also turned towards where Draco was gesturing. A small wooden train set had appeared. Rigel once again made no sound, but wriggled in Malfoy's arms for all he was worth, and Draco let him slip to the floor, wincing as the child caught his knee with his little shoe.
As soon as the child was preoccupied, Malfoy rounded on Harry, but before he could speak, Harry was somehow already asking the question that had popped into his head.
"He's called Regal?" Only a Malfoy would name their child something so pretentious.
"Rigel, Potter, as in the constellation. It's a tradition from my mother's family." Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "But never mind that, you need to help us. Sit down."
"I –" Harry turned slightly, staring at the little boy bashing trains together behind them noisily, feeling uneasy, "Malfoy, I don't know how I can help. Why does he need protecting?"
Draco glanced over at his brother, then gestured towards the sofa.
"I just need help." he said as they sat down on chairs adjacent to each other. "Rigel isn't safe. I need someone else to help me watch him. I keep coming back here, and people have been noticing. I never wanted to tell you. I was going to ask for help for myself, and then once I was safe, Rigel would be too, but if one person finds out I've got him, it's over."
"But why isn't he safe?" Harry asked, confused "What about your parents?"
"My parents are the danger!" Draco closed his eyes, weariness evident on his face before he dropped his face into his hands. Harry felt very uncomfortable, at this openness.
"What - what do you mean?"
Malfoy's shoulders tensed before he said "Rigel's a squib."
There was a prolonged silence. Harry couldn't think of how to reply. Questions such as 'Did your parents try to kill him' were what immediately came to mind, but in the end he settled for "What happened?"
Malfoy sat up, and Harry was shocked to see his eyes were slightly red. For a moment it wasn't hard to realise the scale of the tradgedy - or at least what it must seem like to a Malfoy, brought up to hate those without magic.
"You probably don't know anything about how pureblood children - in some families - are raised." Draco started quietly. Without checking to see Harry's reply, he continued. "Children are kept secret until they show their first signs of magic. In case they are a - squib."
"I thought magic only showed itself around the age of seven?" Harry said warily.
Malfoy snorted. "Yes. Well, that's true. If you don't know what you're looking for."
"What do you mean?"
"Detectors can be set up, to see if magic has been cast in a room. Babies are constantly doing magic. Little things, like summoning toys or bottles. They can't do much, for instance they can only summon a toy if it's a few inches away. Their magical core isn't developed enough for more powerful magic, and it's easy to miss, but that's why the detectors are there. A few months ago, towards the middle of the summer, Rigel still hadn't shown any magic; the detectors hadn't gone off in his nursery once since he was born. Most families would wait until the child is seven years old; eight or nine at a push. Most families don't even purposefully monitor the magic of their child, because blood magic has to be used if the detectors are really reliable, and it's considered dark magic to use blood, usually."
"Where exactly do I come in though?" Harry said
"If I die," Malfoy said, as if it were likely to occur any day "no one will know that Rigel is here. No one. He'll be alone. I have one of the Hogwarts house elves watch him while I'm in class, but they it can hardly bring up a child until he turns seventeen…besides that, when he gets to the age when he can give orders properly or trick the elf into letting him out, what would happen? In any case, he can't stay here all the time. I need you to promise me that if I disappear, you'll look after Rigel."
Harry merely stared. "I know nothing about looking after children."
Draco straightened up furiously, glaring at Harry.
"Potter, I know nothing about looking after children! Do you think this is easy? " he spat "I had to interview half the kitchens before I found a trustworthy house elf, and I still had to teach her how to change a nappy. Do I look like I know how to change a nappy?" there was a manic note to Draco's tone now, and Harry shrunk away slightly as a mad light entered his eyes.
"He won't eat his vegetables, he doesn't like me combing his hair, he won't wear trousers unless I spend half an hour playing games until he's too tired to stop me from wrestling them on! Do you think this is easy? Do you think this is fun? Do you think," he stopped to take a sharp breath "that I can get any school work done in my spare time? That I can do rune calculations when he's throwing carrots at me instead of eating them?"
"Call me Draco in front of him, or I so swear I'll-"
"Calm down!" Harry hissed.
This was insane, Harry realized as he watched Malfoy all but deflate before him and sink back into his position with his head in his hands. Malfoy had come to the end of his wits, trying to take care of his brother at school. He had come to Harry of all people, but at least he had the sense to propose something reasonable sounding. However the reality was clear before him. Draco needed far more than he was asking for.
He didn't need someone to take over care of Rigel if he died. He needed someone to help him now. Harry would never have agreed to the silent plea Draco was making. Draco couldn't quite bring himself to ask Harry to do this, but…
"You can't carry on like this." Harry said finally. "It's a wonder you don't break down in public."
"I won't! And besides, I don't have a choice, I'll carry on as long as I need to, to protect him." Draco rubbed his eyes vigorously, sitting up straight again.
"Look, once I'm safe, once I get the Dark Lord off my back, you need have nothing to do with either of us. But if there's the slightest chance that one day it'll be you taking care of him, I need Rigel to trust you just as much as he trusts me."
"Malfoy…" Harry shook his head "No offence, but … I really don't know you that well. I mean…I can see why you'd think I could help with the Death Eater thing, but – you want to become like family to your brother?!"
Malfoy squeezed his eyes shut. "Look. I could find someone else to help Rigel. But I don't trust anyone. The ones who wouldn't turn him over, would bring him up like my parents brought me up. And it's not something I ever wanted for my own kids, and I'd hoped to be there for Rigel to shield him from the worst of it."
"Your parents weren't kind to you." Harry deduced. And yet … it went against everything he knew about the spoiled, bratty Draco Malfoy.
"That's not it." Draco protested "They were just…distant. I was practically raised by house elves, and I was a litter terror sometimes because I wanted my parents, not them, so the elves grew to hate me. They never mistreated me, but I went for years with barely any contact from my parents, and I knew the house elves didn't like me. Once I got older though, my parents took me in hand, and no, they weren't…kind. But that's a standard pureblood upbringing. And I don't want that for Rigel."
"You must know someone who's not pureblood who-"
"I don't talk to people like that! Muggle-lovers and half-bloods – my family has never had anything to do with that sort! And I can hardly start now, can I? Anyway, who'd want to commit themselves to this? They might agree now, and then turn him over to the headmaster, or Pomfrey if I die! At least you're too…Gryffindor to let yourself do that."
"The headmaster wouldn't let any harm come to him-"
"Don't fool yourself, Potter. The headmaster only cares about you, and only because you serve a purpose. Trust me, there's plenty of orphaned children who've passed through Hogwarts, hell even asked for help, just to be ignored by him."
An image of Tom Riddle flickered in Harry's head, and he knew he'd do it.
"Are you going to help me or not?"
Harry glance over a Rigel, who was now attempting to stand on the little wooden train and push it at the same time.
"I'll do what you want," Harry agreed and Draco's shoulders slumped in relief, "I'll look after him if anything happens to you. But … you obviously need help with the rest of this too."
Draco looked at him sharply. "Maybe I do need help. But why would you volunteer?"
"He's just a kid. You're obviously struggling, and a three year old needs more than a stressed out school kid to take care of him. I mean, you were drunk up to your eyeballs at that Slytherin party – how long ago?"
"That was-" Draco interrupted, looking angry
"I get that you probably just wanted to get away from your responsibilities for a bit," Harry didn't let him finish "but things had to be bad – it's not that far into term and you're already hitting the drink? And," Harry continued suspiciously "where was Rigel when you held that party in here?"
"I was keeping him in a room in the dungeons." Draco said through gritted teeth. "The house elf was watching him – he was sleeping anyway! I just needed a night off."
"So you dumped him in the dungeons –" Harry began in disgust
"I only started keeping him here after that night!" Draco hissed angrily "It's too far from where I sleep, up here. But at least this room can be undetectable if I need it to. I thought he was safe, warded up in that room only half a minute from my dormitory…but he didn't like sleeping alone, even though he used to at home. Most nights, I had to sleep in there with him, and people were beginning to get suspicious. I moved him up here because I was worried someone would follow me there. At least if they follow me here, I know they'll never get in. My wards were good, but as good as the ones in here."
"Well," Harry sighed, "It'll be easier for me to visit him on the seventh floor that in the dungeons. But it wouldn't be much." he said quickly, unwilling to commit himself. "I don't know anything about kids, remember? But I could watch him while you do your homework in here, if you like. As long as you don't leave me alone with him." Harry added hurriedly as a slow smile slid onto Malfoy's pale face "And – only once or twice a week."