Pairing(s): Harry/Draco, Draco/Astoria (more towards friendship), past Draco/Pansy, Harry/Ginny, Hermione/Ron, a very brief mention of Patil twins/Theodore.
Summary: Shortly after the war, Draco Malfoy wakes up with a new understanding, and Harry Potter needs firmer ground to walk on. Unfortunately, life is never easy, especially with the burdens of N.E.W.T.s looming closer. As Draco struggles to maintain his sanity, Harry is back to his old routine—stalking Draco.
Rating: R (Mature)
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made.
Warning(s) (highlight for details): * Language, emotional and behavioural issues, eating disorder, angst (but with lots of fluff, too . . . all right, it'll make it hurt/comfort, lol), mild violence, a brief mention of (very) minor character death(s). *
Epilogue compliant? EWE.
Author's Notes: This is a hd_smoochfest fic. I tried to include all the requests, though it turned out to be a bit longer than I expected. The result is this somewhat 'Growing Up/Moving Forward' fic. I wanted to show Draco's recovery and character development little by little in this story, and I hope I was able to pull it off.
Thank you so much to Mrs Daisy and Ms Tya for sharing their experiences in dealing with Alexithymia and Emotional/Behavioural Disability, to my dear beta readers pionie, annalisemarie99, dannyfranx and saras_girl for helping me to make this piece better, to my lovely friend finite_farfalla for giving me advice. Last but not least, thank you to all the mods for their patience, and to mewthmeow for such a brilliant prompt. I really enjoyed writing this fic. :D
Shortly after the war, Draco Malfoy realised he had nothing left to lose.
He had grieved day and night, hiding and shaking violently under his blankets. He had shut himself from hearing the cheers for freedom, and more importantly, he hadn't wanted to hear the sad melody of funeral marches. The angry shouts, curses and death threats outside, however, he could imagine just fine.
When he couldn't cry, he had tried to sleep or just be completely awake, but to no avail. Staying in that hazy place between sleep and the real world, he had seen his own self watching in dread as Nagini feasted on dead bodies, and felt the weight of his wand in his fingers as the echoes of his own voice casting Unforgivables vibrated in his head.
Later, he had left his bed, for he could no longer differentiate when he was awake, and when he wasn't.
He had walked, sometimes, across the garden and watched the drying flowers. If he closed his eyes, he could hear the desperate voice of his mother in the parlour, talking to some distant relatives they hadn't even cared about before the war. Anything that can help us to keep on living, Draco, his mother had said. The first time he saw his mother trying so hard to ask for help, a few days after the Wizengamot seized all of their Gringotts accounts and family estates, Draco had felt something ugly stirring in his stomach. There had been bile in his throat, and he had frantically blinked the tears away.
It was beyond humiliating. They were Malfoys. They shouldn't have been begging. They should have been throwing Galleons here and there, mocking Weasleys with half an eye—not struggling to live. But here they were, digging in the mud.
Draco couldn't see his mother anymore.
His father hadn't wanted to speak to him. He would go early, even before dawn, and come home after midnight. Draco hadn't said anything—not when he saw the dark circles under his father's eyes, not when he heard the coughs that sounded too weak for a man named Lucius Malfoy. Draco hadn't wanted to care, had tried not to care. He had chosen to resume his walk, noticing spider webs glittering faintly in the dim hallways.
Draco had missed the greetings of his ancestors' portraits and the glowing artefacts that complemented the Manor's elegance. He had hated these plain white walls, hated the silence more. But if he shut his eyes, he could still hear the agonizing screams echoing in the corridors, or the sneers of the public gallery at his family's trial. Worse, the look in Potter's eyes when he caught Draco's hand in the Room of Requirement.
Draco had fallen. He couldn't, even if he was shoved, fall any deeper.
Then one morning, three days before he received a letter from Hogwarts, he woke up with a new understanding. Draco Malfoy couldn't lose anything else.
He felt different.
The Sorting Feast never seemed shorter than now. Parents were reluctant, Draco guessed, to let their children go to Hogwarts. The school reeked of war, of death. As if mourning, no longer did the ceiling picture the sky and the weather. It was bland, brown and boring—the usual ceiling one might see anywhere.
In the Manor, Draco didn't notice how the time flew, how many months he had spent locked inside. But now he knew the term had been delayed for two months, or six months after the war, caught in various reconstructions of the castle. Of course, the lack of teachers available and the need to adjust the curriculum were also there. Professor McGonagall had explained that the students who wished to attend extra classes were to sign their names after the Feast, and there would be Optional Classes during the Christmas holiday. Draco stared at the High Table, already deciding not to go back to the Manor. He figured most of the seventh and eighth years knew the classes weren't really optional, anyway.
"—you think, Malfoy?"
Draco blinked, put his fork on his plate and met Zabini's eyes. "What about me?"
"Quidditch," Zabini said, his nose wrinkled. "Look at the Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, Hufflepuffs. They outnumber us."
Swiftly, Draco looked around. Indeed, more than a half of the other houses' former members were there. Only Slytherin, courtesy of the war, had less than a quarter of its students came back to Hogwarts. Draco shook his head. "Do we even get to play at all this year?"
"That'd be a pity if we didn't," Pansy said beside him. "I miss seeing you fly." She looked at him with a small, teasing smile. Draco stared back, silent, until Pansy's smile turned into a flat line. "Draco?"
"Ah." Draco lowered his gaze to his plate, fiddling with the golden spoon. For a moment there, he was blank. Was that a compliment? Was that sarcasm? Draco chewed the inside of his cheek, beginning to feel a thread of fog prodding the corner of his mind. "Thanks," he said at last.
Pansy raised her eyebrows in a weird expression, but said nothing. Draco wondered if it wasn't the correct answer.
"Not eating anymore?" Goyle poked at Draco's plate, eyeing the remaining roast beef—almost untouched. As Draco shook his head slightly, pushing the plate away, Goyle frowned. "You sure?"
"I'm sure." Sighing, Draco folded his napkin. He stood up, brushing his robes for a while before noticing that Goyle still hadn't taken Draco's plate. Draco shot an eyebrow up, then shrugged. Goyle was perfectly entitled to be weird.
Draco was no longer a Prefect—not after he abandoned his job in his sixth year—but with the few remaining eighth year and almost no seventh year students in Slytherin, Draco knew it was only a matter of time until he was asked again. Maybe Zabini was right. Slytherin was doomed. The war was over, but Slytherin was still living in one. At least, that's what it looked like in the eyes of the other houses' students.
"First years, follow me," he said.
Pansy stood up beside him, falling into the old routine of their days as Prefects together. Shortly after, the other houses began to follow. Some of the old Prefects took their roles again, and for the houses that had lost their Prefects in the war, the eighth years took over the job. Draco gave a quick glance around, squared his shoulders, and led the way out of the Great Hall.
The first years, despite the awkwardness of the situation after the war, still managed to be excited and were chattering rather loudly, shoulders bumping and forming a messy line as they walked. It was supposedly, Draco mused, a new start for all of them. But the look he saw the other houses' students give Slytherin's first years was not welcoming to say the least.
Draco could understand ill will towards him and the other eighth years, for they were the ones who had actively taken part in the war. But somehow, people thought they were not worth the attention anymore—the trials had tarnished their names, and without the Dark Lord, they hardly mattered to anyone. So Draco couldn't understand why the naïve and for the most part uninvolved first years were attracting such hostility.
Maybe they were afraid of a new Dark Lord. Maybe they thought one of the new Slytherins would grow up to be one. The thought made Draco want to laugh in their faces, if only he could really find thoughts about Dark Lords humorous.
Draco bit back a sigh, keeping his chin high as he walked in the new direction of the dungeons. Strange as it was, they were now on the opposite side of the old ones. The corridors were bright with yellowish flames from flying candles near the ceilings, but still chilly. Whoever had the idea to use these candles not only in the Great Hall, had successfully taken away the image of the school Draco once knew. Well, Hogwarts was different. Hogwarts had died once. Draco tried to mull over it, if this fact would make him miss the place he had lived in for years, and decided it actually didn't.
And then it happened. Draco felt something—someone bump into his back, hard enough that he lost a fair amount of air from his lungs. He jerked his head to the side, catching himself before he stumbled, and narrowing his eyes as the sight of a mop of black hair greeted him over his shoulder.
"Er," said the culprit eloquently. The line of Slytherin first years broke behind him, and Draco could see some of them gaping. "Sorry."
Draco racked his brain. It was Harry Potter who stood there, looking flushed and disoriented and like he just met someone he shouldn't. But of course Draco was someone Potter shouldn't meet. And now Draco knew he should react, should say something, should feel something, because it was Potter. For the second time tonight, however, he was blank. Potter had started to quirk his eyebrows, his glasses reflecting Draco's vacant expression, the images moving slightly with the swaying candle flames.
"You don't have to act as if I'm not here, Malfoy," Potter said, his voice sounding as if he was disgusted. At that moment, Draco realised he had taken too long to think.
"Potter," said Draco, hoping the way he enunciated the syllables was enough to convince Potter—and everyone else, because Pansy and Zabini were sending him questioning glances—that he was irked. "Getting lost, aren't we?"
Potter flushed again at this, and seemed to be focusing himself in the art of gritting his teeth. "The tower should be that way."
"And yet it is not," Draco said in what he hoped a lazy tone. "But I should say I'm not surprised your brain couldn't follow the briefing for the eighth years on the train."
"I was just—" Potter hesitated. "—distracted."
"Fascinating revelation." Draco made an exaggerated roll of his eyes. "And I should care because?"
Narrowing his eyes, Potter shook his head. "Whatever Malfoy. You're not worth it."
"That I already know, thank you," said Draco, crossing his arms over his chest and looking down his nose at Potter. Potter seemed startled at Draco's answer, and looked like he had just kicked a puppy. Draco wanted to shake his head. "Now if you'll excuse me, Potter, some of us have duties to attend to." Turning around, Draco gestured with a flick of his wrist for the first years to follow him without bothering to glance at them.
The whispers of students behind him grew louder as they walked farther towards the dungeons. Pansy had somehow managed to stick by his shoulder as she strolled, and laughed as she talked about how miserable Potter looked, with the bags under his eyes. Draco pursed his lips, trying to work out if he would have bothered making fun of Potter's visible tiredness a year ago, and wondering how it would have made him feel.
When he murmured the password to the Slytherin common room, however, he put that thought aside for he was sure there were other things he ought to think about.
He just needed to act according to his own past behaviour—something familiar and easy for him to do. Supposedly. But repeatedly having his mind blank was not something easy and familiar to Draco. Never before did he have to pause and find out what he felt or what he had to say, whenever unexpected things happened. It should be something people could do naturally, reactions that came along automatically without having to try remembering how their past selves would react to everything.
Draco supposed if one had good insight, reactions would come out more planned, or at least they wouldn't be something that slipped out impulsively. Well thought out reactions in order to gain benefits were completely a Slytherin thing. But staring like an idiot for a long time when someone had just spilled a glass of pumpkin juice onto your robes, or when someone mocked you in the corridor for being a cowardly ex-Death Eater, were not things Draco could consider to be Slytherin.
The lack of constraint on his behaviour was certainly freeing, but wouldn't do him any good if it took him too long to work out the correct thing to say or do. He could no longer rely on his feelings to prompt him to the right reaction. However, he still possessed logic, so all he needed to do was to stay in character. He would act like people expected him to—sneer when needed, intimidate when threatened. Unfortunately, sometimes those weren't enough.
The weird glances from his housemates, or even from the bullies, sometimes told him that he had reacted wrongly. Perhaps he should be angry when he laughed. Perhaps he should be laughing when he frowned. Or perhaps he should be scared now that he was having this trouble at all.
Draco still couldn't be arsed to worry, though. Extra classes for the eighth years meant they had to study from eight in the morning until eight at night. Twelve bloody hours with only lunch and dinner breaks, and self-study sessions in the library on Saturdays and Sundays. On top of that, being an eighth year meant having access to the library until midnight—something Draco was sure only applied this year as a compensation for the delay of the term—but it was enough to keep students too busy to question Draco's behaviour. The burdens of N.E.W.T.s haunted them all even in sleep.
At least everything had been within Draco's control. Until now.
Draco didn't know what Potter was doing in N.E.W.T. Potions. He certainly wasn't qualified for it. It was surprising enough that Potter could attend Advanced Potions in sixth year—Draco still believed Potter was cheating—and he skipped the seventh year doing heroic things. There was no way he could improve his skills miraculously. But Slughorn didn't seem to mind, and Draco finally reasoned that it was only because the number of qualified seventh and eighth years was so pathetically little that Slughorn had to accept Potter again.
But it didn't explain why Draco had been paired with him.
Potter was a disaster. After three times of failing to follow the instructions resulting in near explosions, only averted because Draco slapped Potter's hand away in the nick of time, Draco finally threw his hands up in mock-surrender. "You're beyond hopeless."
"The instruction is confusing," Potter said with a scowl. Draco shook his head helplessly.
"It's too long," Potter said defensively. "And vague."
"No, it's not. It's N.E.W.T. level, Potter." Draco narrowed his eyes. "What would you expect? Some kind of first year's Forgetfulness Potion? The only similar thing is the valerian." Potter was silent, a frown shadowing his expression. "Merlin, maybe you drank Forgetfulness Potion. Are you sure you're qualified for this class?"
Potter's expression was the very picture of disapproval. "I was just a bit distracted. No need to exaggerate things."
Draco clucked his tongue. "Distracted."
Massaging the bridge of his nose, Potter sighed. "Look, it's not like . . . I had the time to learn anything last year."
"Clearly you weren't the only one who couldn't learn anything last year," Draco said. Potter's eyes widened a fraction. "Although it might not occur at all to you because you think everything is about you. Completely acceptable, being the Saviour and all." Draco shrugged.
"Malfoy." Potter looked pinched, lost in whatever thoughts he was having. "Why are you always so . . . ." Shaking his head, he stared at the cauldron. He stirred five times counter clock-wise, then paused. "Forget it. I didn't mean it that way—I didn't . . . I don't care what you think about me."
"Believe me, I don't want to care about you, but I care about the potion." Smacking Potter's hand out of the way again, Draco gave his best glare for good measure. "Stop ruining it."
Seemingly struggling to overcome the desire to hex Draco, Potter took a deep breath and clenched his fist on the desk. "Fine," he said after a while. "Do it yourself." He took a quill and began to write something on his parchment.
"With pleasure," said Draco.
The next twenty minutes went by in silence. When Draco finished stirring the cauldron and picked up his quill to write down the process while waiting for the liquid to change its colour to transparent—and if it wasn't within the next ten minutes, then it must have been Potter's fault—Draco couldn't help but notice Potter's gaze on him. He arched an eyebrow as Potter not so subtly avoided Draco's returning stare.
Potter worried his lower lip between his teeth, still not wanting to face Draco. The twitches in his hands proved Draco's suspicion that Potter was trying hard to look calm—and spectacularly failing. After sneaking a glance out of the corner of his eye, Potter finally blew his messy fringe away from his forehead, and turned to face Draco.
"Malfoy," he said.
"That's my name," Draco said. "Has the Forgetfulness Potion lost its effect on you?"
Potter sighed heavily, and Draco thought he saw a slight shudder as Potter did so. "Look, please just let me." Draco waited. Potter combed a stray lock out of his eyes, slowly holding Draco's gaze. "I've been . . . you know, I noticed that you've been . . ."
The rest of his words never came. A loud bang vibrated from right behind Draco, and he could sense the pressure of a hot wave practically sending him tumbling onto the desk. Blue smoke blinded his eyes, causing tears to well up in them. Then he realised what had happened. Whoever sat behind him had just blown up their cauldron. His next thought was whether it was safe to breathe in the smoke and what side-effects it might cause. Before he could finish listing all the ingredients, though, someone yanked him to the side, dragging him over chairs and desks so that he swore his stomach would have bruises.
"Bloody hell! Could you be stupider?" Potter's shout pulled him back from the daze. Potter's eyes flashed, his eyebrows quirked and jaw clenched, his fingers digging into Draco's arms. "Why didn't you avoid the smoke?"
Blinking slowly, Draco's vision cleared as he was finally aware that Slughorn and some other students were spelling the smoke away. He turned his head around, drinking in the chaos as everyone fussed near the entrance, the door wide open. Only Draco and Potter were left right in the middle of the room, kneeling. He felt Potter shaking his arms again.
Draco shut his eyes, resisting the urge to massage his temples. He had just failed to react correctly—again.
"It's not poisonous, it won't have any effects until it's properly brewed, that's why I—"
"Oh, really? But every sensible person would jump away from any explosion, and I thought you'd always be the first to do that," Potter snapped. Draco swallowed at the implication.
"So you think you know me so well now?" He shoved Potter's hands from his arms, his mind racing to name the rising knot in his stomach. "That's what every hero does, isn't it? Thinking they know about every bloody thing and have to save every bloody person even if it's not needed?"
"No, but yes, I always have to save you, don't I? Because you clearly can't take care of yourself very well."
The knot was bubbling higher up to Draco's chest. He stood up so fast that he almost felt the earth wobble beneath him. "If you think I appreciate your concern, then you're mental, Potter," said Draco, his voice a low hiss.
Potter's eyes jerked wide, his lips flattened tightly as he rose to his feet. For a moment Potter looked lost for words, opening his mouth only to close it again, then he shook his head. "I know, Malfoy," he said. "I know. I told you that I've noticed—"
"Mr Malfoy, you should go to the hospital wing," Slughorn tapped Draco's shoulder from behind, the grip of his fingers harder than necessary. "It's better to be cautious. Off you go with Mr Weasley and Ms Bulstrode."
Draco narrowed his eyes, noting Weasel's eyes as huge as saucers and the loud gulp as he swallowed.
"Sorry, mate, you okay?" Weasel lifted his right hand awkwardly at Potter, showing a splatter of blue on his robe. Potter offered him a dry smile, as Weasel eyed Draco warily. Bulstrode sniffed next to Weasel, busy with her attempt to Vanish the blue blotches on her nails.
Draco sensed the knot inside him threatening to choke him.
Ignoring Slughorn's call, Draco fled from the classroom, rushing past several students by the door and almost bumping into two girls Draco vaguely remembered as second year Slytherins in the corridor. But he didn't care. His throat was dry, bitter, and his breath came out with wheezing sounds. He made the last few steps to the bathroom with a run, slammed the door open and quickly rushed inside a cubicle, bending down and gripping the toilet bowl—not minding to lift the seat. He hacked and coughed, emptying his stomach of the little breakfast he had. Something squeezed, clawing and gnawing at his inside.
Then panic rose.
He gripped the toilet bowl tighter, fingers hurting and nails scraping against the white ceramic. He continued retching, although nothing remained but saliva. He couldn't breathe, couldn't see. The world tilted, urging another string of coughs from him. All he heard were the buzzing sounds in his ears, getting louder by the seconds.
This won't do, Draco sobbed desperately. Squeezing his eyes shut, he struggled to take a tentative breath. Slowly, little by little, as his mind started to chant the mantra.
I can't fall, can't go any lower, I just can't—no more—
Draco gasped. A rush of air finally burst into his lungs, burning. He stayed still, eyes wide, the sound of his breathing whistling like a broken cadence. But at least he could see now—could breathe. His body trembled, and he had to remind himself to unclasp his fingers from around the bowl. He slumped against the cubicle wall, counting his breathing, waiting until the shaking subsided. Once again, his mind cleared up.
Draco slowly stood up, supporting himself on the thin cubicle wall. As he regained his balance again, he flushed the toilet and headed to the sink, rinsing his mouth and wetting his face. For a moment he stared into the mirror. His expression was blank, as though he hadn't just emptied his stomach. But his fingertips were still pale, lacking blood from gripping the bowl too tight. He examined the colour slowly returning, then looked up when he recognised a familiar image in the mirror. He smirked.
"Déjà vu, Potter?"
Potter didn't look amused. He stood unmoving by the door, frowning.
"Why, isn't it about time for you to slice me open?" Draco said again, holding Potter's gaze through the mirror. "Or are you waiting until I cast Cru—"
"Let's go to the hospital wing, Malfoy."
Draco only stared.
"Maybe Slughorn was right. I mean, you just vomited."
"I did," Draco drawled. He turned around and tilted his head to the side to meet Potter's eyes directly. "But what is it to you?"
Potter's hands clenched and opened. "Nothing. I just . . ."
"Looking for a new damsel in distress, are you? Saving the whole Wizarding population from the Dark Lord isn't enough for you." Draco laughed, shaking his head. "Really, Potter, there should be a limit to your Hero Complex."
"Malfoy." Unexpectedly, Potter's voice was soft, his eyes searching. "I'm not here to fight. Why are you being difficult?"
The question was not what Draco would have expected coming from Potter. After all, what did one want from one's enemy? Certainly not a pat on the shoulder or a friendly smile.
Sniffing, Draco looked away, his arms crossed before his chest. "I must," he said after a while.
"Must," Potter said, sounding like he was tasting how the word felt on his tongue while mulling over the meaning. "Why must?"
Draco shook his head harder, striving to convey exasperation, hoping Potter would discern that he didn't want to talk about it—about anything—with Potter of all people. "Because it was what I did before the war, before all of this, all right?"
Clearly Potter was not one to take subtle hints—of course, Draco should have known. His answer only urged Potter to step nearer, cocking his head slowly as his forehead wrinkled in an effort to understand whatever Draco was trying to say. "That's . . . ." Potter squinted. "That's weird. Why would you try to be like you were before all of this?"
"Because I don't know how else I should act!" Draco snapped. Potter winced slightly, but not enough to make him give up. "Look, I don't know what kind of heroic things you're planning to do." Draco sighed, massaging his temples. "But I don't need your help. Can you just—try to get it through your thick skull?"
Potter merely frowned, not taking his eyes off Draco's as he stayed still. This whole thing was just weird. It didn't matter that Draco couldn't feel anything—couldn't even remember how to feel towards things, but what Potter was doing now was even weirder. What had made him suddenly care now, when he had acted as though Draco wasn't in Hogwarts these past weeks? Granted, Draco couldn't be sure of that, since he had been too preoccupied with himself to notice what Potter was doing, but—
"Try to be angry with me then," Potter said.
Draco fell into silence. Resisting the temptation to just stop breathing altogether, he sensed the beginning of trouble. Potter was . . . surely Potter wouldn't know?
"Very well, you just proved yourself to be a lunatic. I'm angry at you all the time, I wonder how thick your skin is to be that ignorant," Draco said, deciding it was best to dismiss it nonchalantly—or at least look nonchalant. "That's enough, I have no time to satisfy your fantasy." Pushing himself from the sink, he strode quickly towards the door, attempting to get away from Potter as soon as possible. Potter, however, wouldn't let him.
"You forget that I've known you for years." Potter's hand was gripping Draco's arm tightly. "Whether you like it or not, I know you better than you think."
Shoving Potter's hand off his arm, Draco spun around and all but hissed, "The way you said it, it was as if you were confessing your love, Potter." Eyes widening, Potter's mouth hung open in surprise. Draco smirked. "Too bad I have no interest in becoming a queer."
Potter was still gobsmacked, and before he had a chance to retaliate, Draco took the opportunity to leave, taking long strides and circling the corner. Once he was halfway to his Study of Ancient Runes lesson, though, he remembered that once Harry Potter was interested in something, even one Dark Lord hadn't been able to stop him.
And Draco had no time for Potter.
Draco skipped Potions. He rarely came to Charms, and when he came, he sat at the back, nearest to the door. He arrived seconds before Flitwick came in, and rushed outside the moment Flitwick was done teaching. He never allowed himself to meet Potter's eyes. His schedules were a mess—he poured all of his focus into Arithmancy and Study of Ancient Runes, and considered changing his Potions N.E.W.T. to Divination or anything Potter didn't choose just so he didn't have to face Potter again.
He just couldn't have anyone knowing about this—he had to make sure—let alone Potter.
Escaping Potions was a bit tricky, though. He got two letters from Slughorn, and still he couldn't bring himself to care. Detention, or worse, Slughorn might tell McGonagall about Draco's repeated absence soon. But again, whatever happened he couldn't feel a thing anyway. Why should he care?
There was a new routine he found himself doing for the last four days. Hogwarts castle had changed, and Draco, with his mind blank, let his feet lead him to whatever passages and corridors Hogwarts would open up for him to go through. He followed the stairs, the turns, until he arrived in deserted areas. Each day he came to different places, and each day he spent his time waiting for Potions to finish by sitting and staring at emptiness. On the fifth day, he found himself in a tower—empty, dreary, desolate like the other places he had discovered the days before. He strode near the balustrade, leaning his side against the battlement and gazing downward. Then for the first time he realised—he knew this place.
Hogwarts had changed, this place had changed, but this was still the Astronomy Tower.
Something moved at the corner of his vision, as another understanding hit him. Someone else was there. He turned around, still leaning lightly against the battlement as he greeted the girl in Slytherin robes sitting in the corner, staring at him with an unreadable expression.
"Shouldn't you be—"
"I have a free period before my next lesson," she said, her eyes already back on the white papers she was fumbling with her fingers. Draco waited for a question, waited for her to ask what he was doing here, if he was plotting for revenge, or being a silly, pitiful ex-Death Eater like others often told him, but nothing came.
She raised her eyebrows, her long dark hair, sharp cheekbones and tiny, delicate nose reminding him of—someone. "All right," she said absently.
Draco shrugged, not sure what else he could say. It seemed the girl was not one to talk much, and for that he was grateful. As such, he turned back to the balustrade, seeing nothing of the deep blue sky or green of the forbidden forest far below. Before, he never thought he would like silence, but lately silence was all he got. It might be his best friend now, as pathetic as it sounded. But this silence was not bad either, stretching between them with only occasional rustle, rustle, rustle, from the papers.
He didn't know how long he had been standing there, listening to the hypnotic monotonous sound, when she approached the balustrade. Her fingers were pale and long and neat—neat because they didn't have an ugly manicure like Pansy's—as they cupped paper birds. Then one by one, she blew life into the birds, sending them flying across the sky, high, high, far away.
"What're you doing?" Draco asked because he couldn't help it.
She didn't return his stare, only keeping her eyes on the traces of paper birds, despite it being impossible to see them now. "Making amends."
"For being ignorant in the war."
"You're making amends to the war heroes?"
This time she looked at him, her lips quirked slightly at the corner. "No, only to people I loved."
"I don't care about the war heroes and victims."
Draco pursed his lips. "You do realise that if someone heard it, they'd think you're being ungrateful, heartless, and a ton more nasty things for not caring about them? And you said you're making amends for being ignorant."
"Well," she said, "you heard it."
Draco shrugged. "Someone other than me."
She shook her head slightly, looking amused. "Why is it wrong to only care about the ones that meant something to me?"
"No," Draco said, eyes searching the sky and noticing the sun was covered by thick clouds now. "No, it's not wrong. It's weird to feel sad for those we didn't know, anyway." Only Draco did know those people who died. And one real hero who couldn't die.
She didn't say anything for a long time, long enough for Draco to forget her being there. When she spoke up, it had started to drizzle. "That's why I'm grieving for those who don't have anyone to grieve for them."
The moment she left, Draco scrunched his eyebrows together, squinting through the drizzling water and futilely searching for any paper birds. He couldn't find any, but he did find someone. No matter how far he was flying, Draco would still recognise that manoeuvre.
This time, he allowed himself to think about Potter.
"You didn't come to lessons."
Draco reluctantly raised his eyes, thinking of how stupid he was for not keeping track of time. Of course Potter would search for him the moment lessons were over. The library was not an ideal place to hide, that much Draco should have known.
"Why didn't you?" Potter continued, licking his lower lip and looking like the very picture of nervousness.
"Why do you think?"
"There you have it."
Potter's eyes dulled for a split second, and Draco wondered if he was just imagining things. Licking his lips again, Potter nodded a few times, only slight movements of his head. "The Potions homework—I can't do it alone."
"Which is why you went flying yesterday?"
"All right. That's sad."
Observing every little movement Potter made, every twitch of muscles on his face, Draco dragged his answer out a little longer. "You can't survive the lesson alone. That's sad."
Potter eyed the ceiling, sniffing, and Draco could feel the air of restlessness swirling around him. When the silence went on too long, Draco huffed, closing his book with a loud snap, which jerked Potter back towards him.
"Malfoy," he said, "Um—"
"For Merlin's sake, what do you want, Potter?" Draco narrowed his eyes, his fist clenching and unclenching on top of the book. "Why won't you leave me alone?"
There was hesitation before Potter said, "I asked Hermione—"
"Oh, bloody hell." Draco threw his hands up, sensing the edge of nausea teasing in the pit of his stomach. Again. "Of course. Of course you'd tell her."
"I didn't mention you by name, but—I had to ask, all right? It's not healthy—"
"Figured. Because no one sane would become a Death Eater, isn't—"
"No, but you need to try—"
"No, I don't need—"
"Honestly, you can't let it—"
"Of course I can, it's about me—"
"Malfoy, it's dangerous—"
"No, Potter, It's none of your business!"
Potter sniffed again, his lower lip trapped in between his teeth. He said nothing for a long time, letting the dull silence stretch uncomfortably. When he didn't show any sign of going away, Draco resigned himself to facing Potter, or else he never get any peace.
"Why do you care?" he asked, levelling his gaze right at Potter's.
Potter remained silent for a little more while. "I have—" Clearing his throat as his voice cracked a little, he shook his head. "I have my reasons."
"You have your reasons," Draco repeated. "You have your reasons to annoy the hell out of me, you mean?"
"No, not that," Potter shook his head harder, then paused. "Are you?"
"Am I what?"
"Are you annoyed?"
Draco nudged the inside of his cheek with his tongue, not for the first time noting that Potter was horrible at resisting the urge to fidget. "I have every reason to be."
"But are you?" Potter stepped closer, and Draco shifted, leaning his weight on his elbow on the table. "Now?"
"No, I suppose not," Draco said. "And you know why."
Nodding, Potter eyed Draco with curiosity. Or was it worry? "Can you—feel happy? Scared? Sad?"
Draco shook his head. "I don't know. I don't want to. I don't remember how to."
"Stop it." Draco held his hand up, stopping whatever Potter was going to say with that kind of expression. "You've got it wrong. I want this, Potter. I want this peace."
"How can you call it peace?" Potter's voice raised one pitch higher. "It's wrong, you can't live without emotions, you just—"
"Oh, now you're talking about right and wrong, is that all your brain can—"
"—can't live like a bloody doll and not—"
"—think of? You Gryffindors can never see anything without drawing lines—"
"—feeling anything, it's not safe, you shouldn't not have fear, you shouldn't not be happy—"
"—between right and wrong, and how can you decide which is wrong and which is right—"
"—shouldn't not have anger and everything that shaped you—"
"—the world is not how you see it, don't force your self-righteous view on everyone—"
"—don't you understand that I can't even say that I know you anymore!"
By the time they stopped talking, now on their feet with Potter panting and shaking, several students had gathered near them, whispering not so discreetly in the background. Of course at some point Potter had begun shouting at him, drowning Draco's attempt to reply only in hisses. And of course Madam Pince would be at the ready to throw them out. Brilliant.
Scrunching his nose, Draco swept his parchments, quill and ink into his bag, leaving before any word could escape from Madam Pince's lips that were quivering from anger. He could hear Potter calling him, but who did Potter think he was? Emotionless though Draco was, he still had a fully functioning mind, and giving up to Potter was never considered a good move—let alone in the presence of other people.
Wherever did he get the impression he could talk to Potter?
Running his palm over his face as he strode along the corridor, Draco fought the urge to vomit.
"Draco, Draco, Draco!" Pansy's voice was a shriek at the end. "Don't you dare think about skipping again! Draco, stop!"
Draco didn't stop. He walked past the gaping lower year students, leaving his breakfast nearly untouched. He could hear Pansy struggle to stand as fast, trying to catch him, but finally resigned herself to shout at Zabini and Nott instead. "Honestly, can't you both do anything useful? Stop him!" The exasperated mutters from both blokes told Draco that they preferred to listen to Pansy's nagging rather than facing Draco's emotional wrath. Sometimes he was thankful to his past self. Being a borderline unbalanced emotional wreck on daily basis had never been a merit until now.
Today was a bit different, though. Instead of wandering around aimlessly until he arrived Merlin knew where or brooding in the library, he decided to follow the path he took only a few days ago. He climbed the spiralling stairs, ignoring the damp air clinging to his skin, counting each step just to fill in the silence in his head. Once he reached the top of Astronomy Tower, he wasn't surprised to see the girl from last time sitting in the corner.
Walking towards the balustrade, Draco eyed her as she nodded in acknowledgement. She sprawled somewhat gracefully on the floor, legs folded to the side, busy scribbling something on a small Muggle canvas. Draco raised his eyebrows, then decided to ignore her altogether. The fact that she was really familiar should be bothering him, but really, it wasn't all that weird for him to recognise one or two younger housemates now, was it?
The fact that she seemed to not know, or care about who he was, despite Draco being certain it was only a delusion he wanted to believe, prevented him from asking her name. If anything, he wanted to keep this. The feeling that he was a nobody, something he couldn't feel anywhere else. Closing his eyes, he fell into the rhythm of scratch, scratch, scratch, and for the first time in a long time he was grateful for not being alone.
Minutes and hours passed. Draco had taken to sitting on the floor, his eyes observing the random patterns formed by the dust on the tiles. His finger idly swiped it, drawing circles again and again. He was absently thinking of what use this tower served if it didn't have telescopes anymore, when a sigh escaped the girl's lips, catching Draco's attention.
"What are you doing?" he asked tentatively.
"Sketching," she said without taking her eyes off the canvas. "Making amends."
"What kind of amends this time?"
She finally met his eyes, pursing her lips thoughtfully. "I feel bad. I never thought this castle would change this much. I should have memorised it more while I could."
Draco tilted his head slightly to the side. "You're sketching this castle."
"I'm trying to remember what it was like." She shrugged. "And memorise the new one so I'll have no regrets if something happens again."
"If something happens again," Draco repeated, clucking his tongue. "How pessimistic."
"Or when I graduate. It can be a good memory," she continued as if Draco wasn't being rude.
"Do you hate yourself for events of the past?"
She gave Draco a look that said he was being stupid. "Hate myself? Why would I do that?"
"Well, maybe the fact that you're trying so hard to make amends tells you something," he drawled.
"Honestly?" She let out an amused laugh. "There's a difference between hating one's self and trying to change for the better."
Draco fell into silence, leaning back to rest his head against the battlement. He heard the wind swirling rather loudly outside. He wondered if Potter was out flying even today.
"How do you know?" he asked after a long while.
"Pardon?" She looked a bit out of focus, her hand holding a charcoal pausing in mid air.
"How do you know that it's for the better?"
"Well," she said after a short gap, unsure, regarding Draco with that look again. "I don't know. But at least I'm doing something, and I think it's better than not doing anything. Don't you think so?"
Draco sucked the inside of his left cheek. Truthfully—he didn't know what to think. Something about that statement reminded him of Potter and what he had said in the library, and Draco would rather forget anything about that. Besides, he was fairly sure that these things happening to him wouldn't change automatically just because he wanted to change them—which he didn't want, of course.
Yet, as she went back to sketching and acting as if he wasn't there, Draco muttered a low yes, for no real reason.
Lying on his back, Draco tapped his finger rhythmically on the smooth surface of his bed sheet, his other hand holding the letter before his eyes. One of his legs was stuck through the parted curtains, dangling freely towards the floor. He heaved a sigh, knowing that McGonagall was more than disappointed in his behaviour, if the sharp and short note was any indication. But . . . it didn't really matter, did it? It had been a month, and only two weeks left until Christmas holiday. Optional Classes would be—well, optional, so he wasn't obligated to attend them.
Slughorn was too lenient, though. If it were Snape, he wouldn't be able to skip more than once. But again, perhaps Slughorn was trying to give him time, or whatever the professors and staff tended to do for the pitiful Slytherins after the war. Something to do with children's rights and what they needed in order to recover from trauma—things like a safe environment and understanding adults and all that bollocks. As if it wasn't just making it worse, as if they weren't still holding a grudge, as if the eighth years weren't already of age. Nott had practically had a breakdown after being questioned whether he was all right day after day, by those adults and their holier-than-thou attitude.
Sighing again, Draco covered his eyes with an arm, the letter crumpled in his fist. He heard the sound of the door yanked open then, as heavy footsteps reverberated towards him.
"Dinner, Malfoy," Goyle said, his voice flat but there was a slight hesitation Draco could catch.
"Just go by yourself, I'm in no mood to eat," said Draco, pressing his arm harder over his eyes, inviting sparks of white under his eyelids.
"But . . ."
"Just go, Goyle."
Silence, and then, "Are you sure you don't want to . . ."
"What's wrong with you?" Jerking his arm away from his eyes, Draco tugged the curtain to shoot a look at Goyle, blinking as his vision was still slightly blurry. "Just go. I'll stop by the kitchen later if I need to. But not right now."
Goyle stared at him, forehead creased and mouth hanging slightly open as if he wanted to say something. Under Draco's scrutiny, however, he shrugged with what seemed like resignation, nodding slowly. "All right," he said. Draco flopped his head on the pillow, sighing for the third time that night as Goyle made his way out of the dormitory.
Everything was weird. Things should be easier now—it was supposed to be easy without all the inconvenience emotions could cause. Yet, Draco found himself losing more and more control. Why was it? What should he do for the better? What was better anyway? What was wrong and what was right? What was so weird about wanting to have peace? To be away from those ugly feelings? What was so dangerous about being like this?
Closing his eyes, he could see the look on that girl's face as she told him that at least she was doing something, and Draco wondered if she was being sarcastic after all. Then Potter . . . Potter said he couldn't say that he knew Draco anymore—wasn't that the funniest statement of the century? It just sounded wrong on so many levels, if only because Potter never actually knew Draco. What right did he have for acting all familiar with Draco? Better yet, why would he care?
Something was terribly wrong. Something must have happened to Potter.
He tried to find the answer, trying to remember things Potter had done and the way he looked this past month, and cursed under his breath when he really couldn't remember much. Potter wasn't his priority to think about lately, and now that he thought about it, he probably hadn't paid too much attention to Potter since sixth year, too caught up with his own problems. The encounters he had had with Potter since that year—well, he couldn't say those were nice to remember, considering two out of the little number of meetings had endangered his life, one at Potter's own hands. And every humiliating time since war ended—none of those parts could help him figure out whatever Potter was doing.
In any case, Draco was restless. His mind couldn't stop reeling, his eyes refused to close, and his body was too tense to rest. He nearly succumbed to the temptation to just—Obliviate himself, but decided that it wasn't worth the risk. Potter wasn't worth the risk—at least, not anymore, now that the Dark Lord was dead. So he huffed in resignation, ran his hand through his hair and for once didn't care about how it would mess it. Turning on his feet, he grabbed his cloak and broom, deciding it was time to clear his mind with some quick flying.
Draco regretted not paying attention this time. He was too used to letting his legs lead him wherever he went, so that he accidentally ended up near the new Ravenclaw tower. What made it worse, though, was that it wasn't lesson time, and thus Draco found himself in his current predicament.
"Well, well, isn't it a little late for brats to be running around the castle?" he drawled, taking in the six Ravenclaw boys that had started circling around him, closing his every chance of escape. Two of them were taller than him, but he was sure they were younger—probably in their sixth year. One of them, brown haired with freckles that could probably rival the Weasel's, snorted loudly at his remark.
"Aren't you being a little too cocky, Malfoy?" he said, earning cackles from the other five boys. "You know you can't run to your daddy anymore. Why is that? Oh yes, because he's a poor little pauper, isn't he?" More cackles rang around them.
"Wonder what he did to escape from Azkaban, though. Did he sell your mummy to serve the Ministry so he could save his arse?" said a red haired, bulky boy, whose head didn't even reach Draco's shoulder. "Criminals can always get away nowadays, can't they?"
Another boy was glaring with all his might at Draco, as though he could actually kill Draco by doing so. His short black hair hung stiffly around his long face, as his lips pulled into an ugly sneer. "Did you know what your Death Eater of a father did to my uncle? Just because he married a Muggle . . ." He trailed off, but the glare was intensified. "But now that scum can roam around freely, and you, too," he added darkly, a wand shakily pointed towards Draco's chest. "Fucking Death Eaters."
If Draco were honest, he almost wished he could feel again that very minute. If he could be angry, maybe he would be able to bring himself to retort and hex those little brats in record time. If he could be more emotional, maybe he would feel less guilty, because at least he would defend his family without thinking whether it was the right thing to do. But now he could only calculate every move the brats made, and think that from their point of view, the fact that his family was free was indeed unfair. But again, what did those brats know? They didn't know what Draco and his family had gone through, and how could they talk about fairness? Who could claim the right to talk about fairness, when life just wasn't fair?
"Can't say anything? Ickle Malfoy is cowering in fright now, isn't he?" The freckled one sniggered, pointing his wand at Draco's face. The others immediately echoed the mocking laughter and soon Draco became the target of six wands. Gripping his own wand tightly, Draco's eyes shifted back and forth to remember each face.
It was a losing battle, Draco knew. No matter how much better he was at duelling after the real war experience, his wand was still his mother's old one. So when the first hex blasted towards his chest, he leapt to the side, throwing a weak stunning spell to the gap between the short, bulky one and a dirty blond one. As the two brats gasped in surprise, he jumped on his broom and flew through the opened space. Their surprise didn't last long, though—a string of hexes shot towards him in less than a second. Avoiding them would have been easy if he could see them, but as it was, a spell flared on his left shoulder, nearly made him lose his balance. Hissing in pain, he flew faster, stopping only after he broke through Hogwarts' main door.
Glancing over his shoulder to check whether his bullies followed, he calmed his breathing again and circled the air alertly. Satisfied that he heard no sounds coming from the door, he kicked up further, sensing the chill breeze of early December slapping against his skin. He shivered, cursing as he had forgotten to wear scarf and gloves. Flying higher and higher, he noticed several students hovering not so far from him, albeit a little lower, obviously playing unofficial Quidditch. He set off higher then, afraid that someone would notice his presence despite the darkness.
As he passed the Astronomy Tower's height, he twirled and spiralled at speed, shooting up towards the clouds. Then he circled lazily again, adjusting his grip on the broom. His hands felt numb from the freezing weather, his cheeks stung so that he was sure he must look terribly red by now. But the cold helped ease away the pain in his shoulder, as he finally settled in the air, groping the back of his shoulder to check what kind of hex had hit him. He couldn't find anything weird, though. Either the spell was a weak one, or his hand was too numb to feel anything.
He squinted, noting the tiny figures below as they swept back and forth, most likely chasing and beating the bludger. Glancing upward, Draco let his eyes travel the vast darkness of the night, unadorned without a single star, although the crescent moon was bright enough to help him see. It had been a long time since he last flew this high, he could feel the lack of oxygen in his heaving lungs. The white mist of his breath twirled lazily, as he blew his freezing hands. He didn't know how long he stayed unmoving up there, but eventually his whole body started losing feeling, and his teeth chattered loudly. The wind that had felt refreshing minutes ago started to torture his raw skin, and Draco finally resolved to get back.
His hands were more freezing than he realised, though. It took several minutes for him to regain his grip on the broom handle. When he began to bend his upper body so it would be easier to steer, a terrible pain shot through his left shoulder, making him bite his tongue and utter a strangled yelp. His hands slipped off the broom handle, and he spun fast in the air, with only his legs locking around the broom. He twisted and spun in random directions, hands flailing in the air, as he tried to regain his grip and balance. As the broom finally slowed down, he took several breaths, hung upside down beneath the broom, and his legs so leaden he thought he could slip from the broom any second. Then slowly he took in the view around him.
The Astronomy Tower was far below, looking upside down, and the students playing Quidditch were no longer in sight. Thoughts came and went whilst he tried to find the best solution to his current predicament. He knew he should just move up carefully to grip the handle, but his limbs refused to cooperate, and everything felt frozen, dead, helpless. He could see how his legs shook slightly, but he doubted he would feel anything even if someone stabbed his legs with a sword. Closing his eyes, he tried to just—breathe, breathe, breathe, then he opened his eyes to see the Astronomy Tower again.
It was funny, he thought dryly. He would most likely die in a matter of minutes, and all he could see was the place where everything started to go pear-shaped in his life. But he wasn't scared about his impending death, wasn't stressed out at the sight of Dumbledore falling from the tower replaying in his mind. And really, it wasn't exactly a bad thing, was it, to pay for his sins by free falling from hundreds of feet higher than the Astronomy Tower? He could imagine the cheers that would erupt the moment people knew about his death.
He supposed he should feel guilty for his parents, though. They would—lose another hope for living yet again. He stared up towards the sky, and could hear the sounds of cloth slipping against the broom, signalling that his legs had started to give away. In the seconds that were coming, he entertained the notion of what if—what if he still could feel? He would be panicked, and chances were he would lose his grip faster. Still, people said when humans were on the verge of danger, they had an imperative to stay alive—a push that wouldn't come if one wasn't under such distress. Perhaps if he was scared, he would have the energy to climb up on his broom again, and perhaps—that kind of power was what drove Potter to beat the Dark Lord.
"You shouldn't not have fear . . . ." Draco mouthed weakly, his lips moving ever so slightly. "It's dangerous, Malfoy." He let out a shaky laugh, the sound barely more than a whisper, then his legs slid off the broom completely.
At first, his vision was only full of the dark night sky, yet he could feel everything spinning. The sound of the wind roared in his ears, and his eyes stung from the sharpness of it. Then the next second, something crashed into his whole body, the impact knocking his breath out of his lungs. He froze, wide eyed and lost, thinking maybe he had reached the ground, before the things surrounding him became clearer again. He was still in the air, but—he was floating. Blinking several times for his brain still couldn't catch up with the situation, he caught a blur of red and gold rushing towards him out of the corner of his eye, until Potter's face came into view.
Draco held his breath.
Cheeks flushed from the chill, Potter's eyes were wide and wild behind his glasses, his lips parted in exertion. Beads of perspiration still claimed his forehead despite the freezing weather, hair mussed more than usual. But he was pale, face stricken in what Draco could see was horror and—desperation, and his whole body trembling, if the violent shakes of his wand were any indication. Potter was—so alive.
"Malfoy," Potter cried, his voice nowhere near the tone Draco knew so well. "Malfoy, I'll get you!" Potter was fumbling with his wand, looking frantic and lost as if he didn't know what to do with it. But then he looked determined, and while keeping his wand pointed at Draco, he flew to Draco's side, taking his arm. "I got you, I got you," he said shakily. Draco wasn't certain if he said it again and again to calm Draco down, or to convince himself.
Pulling Draco nearer by the arm, he proceeded to wrap his own arm around Draco's torso. The moment he was assured the extra weight wouldn't unbalance him, he released the Levitation Spell, helping Draco's leg to cross over his broom's handle with the hand that was holding a wand, while the other kept around Draco's torso in a tight grip. Settling Draco's back on his chest, he breathed loudly against Draco's shoulder. "Bloody hell," he said erratically, "must you give me a heart attack?"
"Too bad my plan to kill you has failed then?" Draco asked, lips aching from the movement, unsure about the development.
"Git." Potter exhaled again, this time his breath caressing Draco's neck lightly. It sent needles into Draco's freezing skin, and he wanted to wriggle away, but his limbs were still as useless as ever. Potter started to fly lower in slow, smooth motions.
When they reached the snowy ground, Potter manoeuvred him so he could stand, before jumping off the broom. Draco's legs were still two ice sticks though, so he collapsed helplessly. Potter seemed to consider something, eyeing Draco as he surrendered to the temptation to fall face first into the snow, mainly because he had no energy to support his body anymore. He sighed, a headache pounding in his head.
"Accio Malfoy's broom," Potter said after a while, and in less than a minute Draco's broom was in Potter's grasp. He took his own broom and held it together with Draco's, before he turned around. "You've got to warm up," he said.
Draco managed a nod. "Can't move, though," he said hoarsely.
"I'll help," said Potter, his hands started to pull Draco's arms. Draco winced as the muscle on his left shoulder strained. "What? What happened?" Crouching, Potter helped him sit. "Did you injure yourself?"
Shaking his head, Draco put his weight on Potter's shoulder, trying painstakingly to stand. Potter's arm snaked around his waist immediately. "Someone hexed me, I don't know what kind of hex, but the effect made me fall off my broom." He laughed dryly.
"That's not funny," Potter said, frowning. Draco only shrugged.
"How did you find me anyway? Bit of a coincidence, don't you think?"
"Does it matter? I saved you."
Draco found himself longing for the bubbling anger that used to overcome him. But he was tired, his limbs felt like they would fall off and rot, and his brain threatened to shut down any moment. His teeth had started to rattle again, now that some of the castle's warmth had begun to seep into his skin. So he let go, ignoring Potter's show of heroism again, ignoring the fact that he was saved by Potter again, and not saying anything until Madam Pomfrey tugged him into one of the beds.