Draco straightened his tie and eyed his reflection in the mirror. Nearly flawless. There was a scar, now, that cut through one of his eyebrows. It gave the boy--the man?--in the reflection an unsteady gaze. He held one hand across that side of his face. The stare looked more haughty, more sure. An illusion of traveling back in time.
“You look fine, Draco. Perfectly coiffed and everything.” Pansy leaned against the doorway with an irritated crease on her forehead. “If we’re doing this, let’s do it now.”
She’d done the opposite of Draco in preparing for their outing—rather than dressing up, she’d dressed down in an old robe and no makeup. Instead of casting a straightening charm on her hair, she’d left it bobbing around her ears freely. Not that either of them dared use spells on something as frivolous as their appearance anymore.
“Alright.” Draco gestured toward the floo. “After you.”
Moments later Draco was checking his cuffs for soot while Pansy eyed the patrons of The Leaky Cauldron. She’d always been the one to confront the stares head-on, while Draco tried to look past everyone in the establishment without lowering his gaze.
“We have a plan,” Pansy hissed. “Let’s go.”
The plan was the only thing that had given Draco the strength to floo out of the house today.
They had their list of school supplies for their eighth year. They had a sufficient but not extravagant amount of money to cover all expenses. They had rehearsed which stores they were going to go into first, and second, and last, and the two had planned to go early on a Thursday morning to avoid as much of the crowd as possible.
Pansy took the lead, and Draco followed behind, struggling to keep his head up when two patrons near the door sent heated scowls toward him. If there had been more of a crowd, maybe they could have melted away. Maybe it had been a mistake to come when there were so few people. He forced himself to keep moving. First stop, school books.
As Pansy and he were standing in line and Flourish and Blotts, the bell above the entryway rang. A mother with a youngster stepped inside, only to take one look at the two of them and cluck in disapproval. She tugged her daughter right back out of the store, ignoring the protests of her offspring.
It was clear that no one wanted him or Pansy to be in the alley. The rest of the wizarding world didn’t want to see anybody who’d been connected with the Death Eaters. And when it came to Draco and Pansy, the wizards were out for blood. People weren’t happy that the two of them had dodged Azkaban and merely received a strict probation. He knew this because both of them had received quite a few pieces of emphatic mail before the Ministry started filtering everything addressed to their house through the Auror department to check for hexes.
Their probation dictated that the two were required to attend their final year of Hogwarts. Draco could only imagine how many parents were keeping their children home to shield them from Death Eaters Pansy Parkinson and Draco Malfoy.
Of course there was an unusually strong and specific version of the Trace on both of them, and strict rules about using “unnecessary magic.” The wand Draco’s mother lent him had lived idly on his desk most of the summer. It was lethargic, and it felt wrong to use it often. Besides, it was hard to know what “unnecessary magic” entailed.
When they’d gathered their books, Pansy led the way up front to pay. “That’ll be twenty galleons,” the checker stated, staring Pansy dead in the eyes.
“Twenty galleons? That’s twice the price of…”
“The economy is a little unsteady these days,” the clerk responded, matter of fact. “Surely you understand.”
Pansy counted out the money and dropped it, then spun on her heel and exited the store, leaving Draco alone.
She wasn’t supposed to leave him.
“That’ll be thirty galleons,” the checker stated. This time her eyes looked amused. Coldly amused
“Thirty? For the same books?”
“I did say things were unstable.”
Draco couldn’t afford to start a fight, but if he paid that much of his books, he wouldn’t be able to afford everything. Especially if other shop owners had the same bright idea.
For a moment Draco wanted to explain. Or beg. Grovel. But the moment he opened his mouth, he started shaking from his toes to his teeth. Breath raced in and out of his mouth, and he felt his heart fluttering in his chest like a snitch in his fist.
Trembling, he tried to count out the Galleons and set them on the table, but all the money in his fist slipped onto the floor with a clatter.
The cashier leaned back and for a moment; her impatience reminded Draco of Pansy. He stooped to scoop up the money and get air into his lungs.
While he was kneeling, the bell over the door rang, and multiple pairs of shoes entered the room. Draco didn’t look. He placed his clenched hand on the table and dropped the coins on the counter.
And as the cashier suspiciously re-counted the coins, he heard the voices behind him.
“I just think it’s a bit of a waste paying for a Defense book when you could've written the whole thing yourself.”
That voice belonged to Ronald Weasley, and there was only one person he could be talking to.
The anxiety, which had only abated in the slightest, rolled back over him like a wave, and Draco found himself clutching the counter.
“Hold up, is that—Malfoy?”
Draco didn’t turn around. Why hadn’t he disguised himself? Why had Pansy left him? Why did Weasley have to notice him just when the cashier was glaring at his money?
“You’re short,” she snapped.
Desperately, he dug into his bag, dropped a random handful of coins on the counter, and started striding toward the door. He tried to keep his chin up, but his head was tipped forward by some cruel trick of gravity.
It was Potter’s voice this time, and as if he’d just uttered a spell--and maybe he had--Draco turned around, looked as high as Potter’s shoulders, and nodded once.
“Malfoy, how are--”
“I have to go,” he interrupted. “Excuse me.”
Potter gaped and turned to watch Draco go. He could feel the four-eyed stare on him all the way out the door, as he grabbed Pansy’s elbow and dragged her out of sight.
Pansy and he timed their arrival at the Hogwarts Express just as carefully as their journey to Diagon Alley. Late enough to avoid the crowds, but not so late that the train left them. They were court ordered to attend, it wouldn’t do to cut it too fine.
The platform was even emptier than expected, and there were several compartments on the train empty for himself and Pansy. The first years they passed stared. One of them actually whimpered when Draco had bumped his trunk against the young wizards’.
Draco quickly ducked into one of the empty compartments, and Pansy joined him.
“Deep breaths, Draco.”
Sometime’s Pansy’s helpful advice wasn’t as helpful as she intended it to be.
She liked to say things like, “We just have to make it through this year,” to which Draco had replied, “And then another year, and another. It’s not going to get easier when we’re out of school.” He’d only said it aloud once because of the sadness that had settled onto her face. But the thought weighed heavy on his mind. After this year he was supposed to have some of the restrictions on his magic released. If he was on good behavior. But he’d have to look for some kind of job, and the chances that someone would hire a Death Eater who had to have his wand babysat at all times were slim.
So instead of thinking about the long years ahead that he was supposed to survive—better than the last years, maybe, but still so long—he took deep breaths just like Pansy said.
“I heard a couple of the seventh years on the platform talking about the housing situation. They said all the eighth years are going to be together in one dorm.”
Draco’s breath caught, and he sent Pansy a glare.
“I thought it would be better to be warned now than to find out in the middle of the feast.”
“Why aren’t they going to do that with the first years? Or second years? It they want unity, start with the ones who weren’t actively trying to kill each other last year,” he muttered. His head was dancing with visions of Potter and Weasley cornering him.
“Because there are less of the eighth years?” Pansy pointed out. “Look, it’s going to be fine. None of our friends are coming back. Maybe this is a good opportunity to make new friends.” She settled into her seat and propped her head against the window, falling asleep before the train had started lurching forward. She slept a lot these days
Pansy’s post-war positivity about their classmates wasn’t very realistic. At dinner, the eighth years were shown to a table that sat just below the head table, running the breadth of the room. There weren’t enough students to fill the table, and there were two empty seats between where Pansy and Draco sat facing each other and the eighth year Ravenclaws. They weren’t even the only Slytherin eighth years, but Blaise and Pike and Bulstrode had somehow found seats among the others.
The first years filed in, clustered so closely together that most of them kept bumping into the kids in front, who were walking with the slowest of steps. When the whole group had gathered in the hall, McGonagall stood and cleared her throat.
“It is an honor and a privilege beyond what I can acknowledge to welcome all of you to a new year at Hogwarts. Most of you know that we have been through the darkest of days. For those of you who are new to this world, you should know that we look to you as a great hope. There was a time I thought we would never see another class of first years walk through these halls. But here you are. Let it serve as a reminder to all of us that hope can be found, even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.”
Potter seemed to be choking on his drink. Weasley pounded him on the back several times.
“Each of us may be missing someone in these halls, and I have faith that we will treat each other with a compassion that bears in mind all that we have lost and all that we stand to gain as one. With that, I believe the sorting hat would like to introduce himself.”
Draco would rather drive his fork through his eyeball than listen to another song from the sorting hat, but it piped up in its cheery little voice all the same.
“For many years
I’ve sorted you
To witches green
And wizards blue
Yellow for loyalty
Red for the brave
I set you right
And kept you safe
After the war
And all we lost
This wisdom comes
At too great cost:
Colors and house--
The different part
There’s more alike
In every heart.”
Draco wished they would feed the students while they waited for the sorting ceremony to end, but there was nothing to do to occupy his hands, which were damp and clammy, and his mouth, which was way too dry, except sip the pumpkin juice again.
A first year was called forward and sat on the stool.
“Ravenclaw!” proclaimed the hat, and Ravenclaws cheered.
Pansy perked up. “Is that Angelina’s brother?”
Draco shrugged. The first years were not his concern.
Now Draco’s head jerked up and his gaze drifted over to the boy on the stool.
“No!” the boy shouted. “I can’t!” Tears were already overflowing from his eyes, and he had his fingers hooked on the edge of the stool. “I don’t want to be in Slytherin, I want to be good.”
Draco watched, frozen, as McGonagall and Sprout managed to pry him off the stool and walk him over to the table. There was no applause. No cheers. The silence broke as people began to whisper about what had happened.
When the fourth child—he looked Muggleborn, although Draco knew he wasn’t supposed to think that people looked Muggleborn—was also assigned to Slytherin, he looked around in terror. A couple of Slytherin students applauded weakly, but this boy didn’t move off the stool either. “Do I have to go?”
Someone at the 8th year table frowned. “I feel sorry for the kids. They shouldn’t be forced into that house. Especially if they’re muggle-raised.”
Draco didn’t say anything. He couldn’t even think of the words to say what was playing through his mind right now. Slytherin prank wars and snowball fights. Slytherin cram sessions before finals. There had been ugliness beyond the telling, but the green and silver warm haven in the stone dungeons had been home .
The first years’ sorting finished and food appeared before them, but there was still an uneasy quiet over the hall. Several of the first years were crying softly at their table, and even though the Slytherins there were trying to be welcoming, it felt hollow.
Draco wished he could fix it, but there was no way for him to make it better. If he walked over there and told them what an honor it was to be part of the great tradition of Slytherin, they would be sickened by him. He was the reason they were ashamed to be in the house. It would be a favor to everyone if he wasn’t here.
From his position at the other end of the table, Potter stood up.
Weasley frowned. “Feast’s not over yet, mate. Where are you going?”
Potter ignored Weasley and walked over to the Slytherin table, where the first years were pouting and everyone else was starting to look nearly as upset. Potter squatted down beside the table and started speaking. Draco couldn’t even hear his tone from here—but after a few minutes, the littlest Slytherins started to perk up.
“Will you look at that,” Pansy said under her breath. “The savior never takes a day off.”
On some level he’d known from the moment Pansy told him that all the eighth-years would be living together that he’d end up far too close to Potter. Why be reasonable when you can force the issue? When the four houses had cleared out, McGonagall addressed the eighth years. Draco tuned her out as she explained the new housing situation. He stared into his cup and his mind drifted to what the Slytherin first years were seeing for the first time. He hoped the dungeons didn’t scare them. He hoped the older kids were playing nice.
His attention was jerked back to the great hall when he heard her announce: “Room 3, of boys dormitories, we’ll have Longbottom, Potter, Zabini, and Malfoy.”
Draco felt fear light up in him like a spark, but he kept his face still and didn’t look at the others. Ron was sputtering, but the headmaster wasn’t stopping to address his objections.
“Room 4: Weasley, Thomas, Boot, and Corner.”
Malfoy sat still while the rest of his classmates started toward the new quarters, a renovated portion of the seventh floor.
Right. A portion of the seventh floor that just-so-happened to accommodate eighth year sleeping space when it was needed. Malfoy didn’t ask for details. He knew. It kept him glued to his seat, hands balled into fists, even when Pansy spoke. “Draco. Come on. Let’s walk together.”
He moved his fist up an inch, then down on the table. He gave a tight shake of his head. He didn’t have to see her expression to know she was annoyed as she walked away. The plan was to do all this together, and he was already flaking out on her.
When he looked up, he saw Potter—who else?—hovering nearby, arms awkwardly hitched at his sides.
“We can trade rooms, Potter. People have legitimate concerns about your safety.” He might as well say it before anyone else made comments about him being a danger to Potter’s life.
“I don’t see any reasons to switch rooms.” It was hard to tell if his wide smile was meant to be comforting or mocking. “Unless you’re scared, Malfoy.”
Draco knew he was supposed to reply with a flippant, “You wish,” but he simply shrugged and walked stiffly to the seventh floor.
He paused at the doorway. It wouldn’t look like the door to the Room of Requirement, probably because they’d required it not to. And it wouldn’t look like the room of hidden things inside. It wouldn’t be charred and blackened, a hollowed out shell, a vanishing cabinet or a dead bird. It would be a dormitory.
He realized that his breath was coming in short gasps. Behind him, Harry swore.
“They want us to live in there?”
It wasn’t as terrifying, at the moment, to look at Harry’s face. Less frightening than looking at the door they were supposed to walk through. He was wearing an expression Draco had become familiar with over the years. Although what Potter expression hadn’t he memorized?
“One of our classmates died in there last term and they want us to just...?”
Hearing him describe Crabbe as a classmate, as if they’d had any kind of connection, startled Draco. He cleared his throat. “It’s not really the same. It’s a whole different space. The room of hidden things is probably gone forever. Destroyed.”
Potter was shifting from foot to foot, backing up slowly. “Now that I think about it, maybe you do want to find another roommate. I think I’m just going to go—anywhere that’s not here.”
“I’m not going to walk in there by myself after everyone saw me hanging back with you. They’ll think I’ve murdered you already.” He didn’t ask Potter if he was scared. He didn’t need to.
Potter held a hand out toward the door and it swung open before he could touch it. The two walked in and were greeted by a common room not unlike the Slytherin common room, except that the color scheme was all in shades of black and white.
Draco heard Weasley’s complaints emanating from one room. Not his then. Longbottom’s head popped out of another doorway, and he nodded at Potter. “Beginning to think you were lost.”
Harry let out a puff of a sigh and walked into the room.
Draco followed, eyes trained straight ahead. The other beds were taken, so he quickly maneuvered his chest to the bed closest to the door and began arranging his school supplies and books where they belonged. It didn’t take long, even by his precise demands. By the time he was done, Weasley and the other eighth year boys had entered the room and were looking at him with various degrees of suspicion.
“You came back then, Malfoy?” a voice challenged.
He didn’t even look to see who had spoken, just kept rearranging his parchments. “It seems that way.”
“You think you can live with us, in our quarters, and it’s just going to be normal? Like any of us are going to feel safe?”
He certainly wouldn’t. “If you have a problem with the situation, you can take it up with the Ministry or Headmistress McGonagall,” he said. It sounded less bored than he’d meant and more panicky, but he would take what he could get. It was difficult enough to say that, and he know it would be the last thing he could manage for a while. His throat was growing tight, and his face was hot. He hoped they couldn’t tell from behind how upset he was.
“Let’s go to the common room.” Potter’s voice piped up. “The girls wanted to plan some kind of event for later this week.”
The boys filed out, and Draco was finally able to take a breath that filled his lungs and let it all the way back out again.
“Everybody will get used to each other after a while.”
Draco jumped and spun around, reaching for his wand. “Shit. I thought everyone was gone.”
It was Neville, sitting on the edge of his bed and looking past Draco, out the window.
“Yeah. I just wanted to say.”
With that, he actually did leave, and Draco slumped down onto his own bed.
That night, the boys got ready for bed in an exceptionally awkward silence. Draco took his clothes to the bathroom to change. He knew it was odd. Or juvenile. Or something. But the scars—he didn’t want people staring at the scars on his chest. Especially Potter.
It wasn’t, he mused as he shucked off his robes and slid into a comfortable pajama top, as though he’d never imagined Potter seeing the scars he’d caused with his impulsive curse. Before the war, he’d imagined it a hundred different ways. The boys changing for a Quidditch match and Potter’s eyes tracing his chest, his face changing from smug success to horror and shame. Potter apologizing. Draco rebuffing it at first, but eventually giving him a chance to make it up to him. Potter touching the scar. Tracing it with his finger tip.
Angry now, Draco splashed water on his face and prepared to return to the dorm. Those imaginary games had felt low-stakes before, but now, with both of them living in the same room, Potter might actually see, might actually have something to say.
But then, those were all fantasies. Draco knew what would really happen. Potter wouldn’t care.
Back in the room, Draco folded his clothes and put them away.
“Um,” Potter faltered.
Draco didn’t look up.
“I thought it would only be fair to warn you all. I get nightmares. And I know I could just ward the curtains and everything but when I wake up, I’m a bit disoriented, and I need somebody to talk me down. Nev already knows all about it and he’s agreed to help, but it might be disturbing. In the night.”
Draco glanced at him. It was important not to smirk. That would be mean. But he could feel bubbles of relief in him, and they might just slip out in something that Potter would misread. “It’s not as if you’re the only one, Potter,” he yawned. “All this drama over nightmares that we all have after the war.” He closed his trunk and sat on his bed.
“Well,” Neville said cheerfully, “On that note, goodnight everyone.”
The next morning felt surreal, especially sitting in the potion classroom. The spell damage that had happened in the room had been repaired, the informational posters that the Carrows hung removed. Draco traced his finger along the grainy surface of his desk. Pansy, to his left, readied her quills and book. She looked busier with the task than she actually was.
“I sort of miss Snape,” Neville said gloomily, flipping through his potions textbook.
Draco felt his shoulders rise, tightening around his ears. He didn’t want people talking about Snape. Sitting here in the potions classroom was steeped enough in memories of him without anyone actually saying his name.
Potter made a strangled sound, and Draco eyed him sideways, but Potter’s jaw and eyes were clenched. Draco wondered if it brought back memories of Snape’s death, being here. Potter had seen the whole thing, and hadn’t been able to do anything to save him. For a hero that must be difficult.
“Stop moping, Potter. Going out like he did was the only way he could make up for his mistakes. He wanted it that way.” Draco’s voice came out as a growl.
Potter glanced at Draco, also from the corner of his eyes. “You’re right. He was a stubborn man. Who’s teaching potions this year, anyhow?”
Granger frowned at her friend. “You didn’t bother to look at who was teaching the class? You do know about Defense, don’t you?”
“Yes, Hermione, I did manage to catch that news.”
Before they could continue the conversation, Slughorn walked in, and Draco leaned back in defeat. He’d known that Slughorn was slated to return but had been hoping that someone else would appear in time. Draco hadn’t hated Slughorn as much as not-Mad-Eye Moody, but the humiliation of being caught at Slughorn’s dinner party had been horrifying. Slughorn thought nothing of him, and it made Draco feel like he was always straining. He’d been good at potions once, but now he wondered if that had been more about having Snape as his Professor than actually having an aptitude for the subject. Everything had fallen apart sixth year. And his potions performance had been the least of it.
The eighth years filed into the Defense classroom same configuration of seats that they’d taken in Potions. Seats that grouped everyone together and left him and Pansy several seats off. He wondered how Potter and Granger knew anything about the defense teacher. Who was even left to teach defense?
“Pansy,” Draco muttered. “Stop fiddling with your quills.” It was starting to make him crazy.
The only exception to settling into their same seats was Potter. Instead of taking one of the seats, he lounged on a stool in the front of the room.
“McGonagall thought that since so many of us have already been teaching each other defense, fifth year and last year, that this could be an independent study. Sort of. We all have a lot of experiences with the dark arts. More than most people who could be our instructor. So they left it up to me to create a curriculum and they said we could have guests come in if needed but...”
Draco felt his mouth drop open in shock. He couldn’t be here. It was one thing sitting through classes full of students who hated him. It was another having Potter as a professor. Maybe he could drop the course? He would go talk to Slughorn later, and say that his career plans had changed.
Hah. That would go over well with the Ministry. Why doesn’t the Malfoy boy want to Defend Against the Dark Arts? Could it be because he’s still trying to fight for them? No. That wouldn’t do.
He took a long time getting a quill out of his bag, trying to steady his breathing.
“Draco,” Pansy chided, “Stop playing with your quills.”
At the end of the week, the social engagement that the others had been planning occurred. Draco was relieved that he had a lot of homework.
While everyone else was bustling around, pulling stashes of alcohol out of hidden compartments, Draco set up his desk for an evening of hard work.
“What are you doing?” Potter asked, waving his hand at the desk.
“Homework,” Draco said. “That Defense against the Dark Arts professor is having us write twelve inches on harmless hexes.”
“I’m not a professor,” Potter frowned, instead of appreciating Draco’s attempt at a joke. “Besides, I already know you know plenty of hexes of all kinds. Come to the party.”
Draco focused on the heading of his document, and before too long, he heard Potter’s footsteps retreating. He knew Potter had to pretend that he wanted Draco there. He wasn’t fooled.
“You really should go, you know.”
“Bloody—what are you still doing here, Neville?” Draco asked, irritated that Neville had made him jump again.
“Sorry—I was just thinking. I think it will help people get used to you if they can see you around. Doing normal person stuff.”
Draco winced. “I’m right in here. Doing my homework, if they want to see me doing normal person stuff. You could bring through a tour group.”
“Then maybe I’ll stay with you.”
“I’ve got just as much homework as you. Maybe I’ll stay here and do my work, too.”
With that, Neville pulled a stack of books out of his bag and settled onto his bed to get some work done. Draco watched with a sense of horror. He opened an inkwell there on his bedspread and settled in with his back against the headboard.
“How can you work like that?”
Neville glanced up. “On my bed? I have enough of sitting and studying at desks in my actual classes. This makes me feel much more relaxed.” He continued on, probably happily dripping ink all over his sheets.
“You don’t need to stay here and keep an eye on me.”
Neville squinted at his own writing, then struck a line. “Good. I’d be doing a piss-poor job of that.”
Draco expected Neville to work with him for a few minutes to prove a point and then leave off to the party, but they both worked steadily for some time before Neville flopped over on his bed and complained, “I can’t think of a single other harmless hex at this point, and the library’s sure to be closed.
“Have you got the Leg-lock jinx?”
“Of course I--” Draco stopped short and shot Neville a look.
Neville was smiling wryly. “I think I learned all my hexes from you, so…”
Something about the way Neville said it made one side of Draco’s mouth twitch into a smile. It didn’t feel like guilt.
“Maybe we could go to the common room for a few minutes? I bet they’ve all worn themselves down and they’re just draped over the furniture downstairs. There could be snacks.”
Draco glanced at him, trying to see if this had been Neville’s angle all along, to wait him out.
He wasn’t surprised to find that the party had been much more focused on beverages than food, and any snacks that had previously been up for grabs were long gone.
Neville had been correct, however, at guessing the stage the party would be in. Seamus and Dean were making out in the corner, and some of the eighth years had snuck off to more secluded locations for similar activities. Most of the others were flopped on the couches or the floor, swigging what was left in their cups.
Potter’s eyes had landed on him the moment he walked into the room next to Neville, and they hadn’t dipped away yet.
“Time for catch-up!” Ron howled. “Shots for both of you.”
Neville eyed the punch bowl in the middle of the table. “What about this?”
“Have some,” Hermione said.
There was a glint in her eye, though, and Potter spoke up right away. “It’s spiked.”
“Obviously.” Draco almost laughed. Potter looked so earnest. “That seems like the point.”
“Spiked with Veritaserum,” Potter explained, and Neville dropped the handle.
Draco felt a swoop roll through his stomach as Granger pouted. “Why’d you tell him?”
“Feeling honest,” Potter grinned, tilting his cup.
“I think I’ll pass,” Draco muttered. He swayed in place. It seemed wrong to be here, intruding on the tail end of their party, when they’d been enjoying themselves. That was the point of not going in the first place.
“You’ve got to catch up somehow,” Pansy insisted. She was lying on the couch with her feet on Granger’s lap. Draco had not imagined that outcome. He’d have to ask her about that. Later.
She gestured towards the fireplace. “There’s firewhiskey over there without anything weird in it.”
Draco took the drink when Neville handed it to him, but he didn’t even take a sip. He had no intention of doing so. Alcohol would cause unpredictable things to happen to him. Besides, he felt—uncomfortable drinking it. Aside from a few sips of wine at meal times with his family, he’d never had much to drink. Certainly not enough to get drunk. He’d always watched inebriation from the other side, and it looked… not like something Draco wanted to try. But how do you explain that to Gryffindors?
“Sit up, Pansy, so Malfoy has somewhere to sit,” Hermione chided, and Pansy pulled herself into a crunch position until Draco sat down on the couch. Then she let her head flop down on his lap and purred.
“Okay, back to the list,” Hermione frowned. Even starry-eyed with drinks and veritaserum, Hermione was focused on whatever she’d just chosen as her goal.
“Number 48: No one will have to flush themselves down a toilet to get into the ministry.”
“Butterbeer will actually be alcoholic. Like, enough to get the job done.” That was Pansy’s contribution.
Draco opened his mouth, then shut it again, He didn’t know the rules of this game, but that was his fault, for not being there. Right?
Potter’s eyes caught Draco’s, and he hummed. “We’re trying to think of all the ways we’re going to fix the world as grown ups. You know, we’ve already offed Voldemort, so now we can take care of the little things.”
The barbed thoughts started. How would Draco make the world better? Rid it of one ex-Death Eater? Everything he touched turned to rust. He’d just have to stay far away from any improvement efforts.
Don’t ruin the party, he told himself. Just listen, just play along.
“Number 50,” Harry proclaimed, “A real hiring and evaluation process for Hogwarts professors.”
“Yeah,” Finnegan cracked, “Otherwise we end up with crackpots like our current defense professor.”
“I’m not the professor,” Potter replied, looking awkward. “I’m just—facilitating.”
“Can you facilitate us into about half as much homework, then?” Draco muttered
“If he did that, what excuse would you give for avoiding us?” Finnegan shot back.
Was this part of the game? Draco didn’t know how to respond. He should have stayed silent.
In fact, he did stay quiet as one by one, the others lost interest and started heading off toward their rooms. Pansy rolled off to bed, and once they’d made it to 100 things, Hermione ended the spell that had been recording their list, and she left. Finnegan and Thomas’s conversation escalated into something that involved their bodies more and their mouths less, and they left. Draco’s mind had been wandering, but he jerked back to the present when Potter said, “Just you and me left.”
“Huh?” Draco realized that Neville and Weasley were laughing their way out the door and it was just Potter and himself.
“You didn’t drink.”
Draco startled. He wouldn’t have guessed Potter was paying enough attention to notice that Draco’s glass was still full of the first round.
Harry groaned. “There sits a wise man.”
There was silence for so long Draco thought it would snap.
“Is the veritaserum still affecting you?” Draco asked.
“Yes. It’s fading.” Harry's eyes opened, sharp and on guard. It was another expression that Draco knew well. “Why?”
“What do you really think of—“ It took Draco a moment to locate the question he really wanted to ask. “Of us coming back.”
“Me. Pansy. Me.”
Harry’s eyes closed, cutting off the sharpness, but also hiding whatever other expressions Draco could try to read. “I’m glad you’re back.”
Now that he hadn’t expected. “Why?”
“It’s easier to keep an eye on you. Are you going to keep interrogating me?”
Draco bristled and stood. Of course. Harry was keeping an eye on him. Like the war was still on, at least for him. He let out a long breath. He needed it to be over.
Draco didn’t turn around. “I’m just going to bed. No plots tonight.”
The next morning found Draco feeling brighter than most of the eighth year table. He sat at the end of the table still, with empty seats between him and the nearest Ravenclaw, and when Pansy had swept in arm in arm with Granger, he’d felt certain that he’d be eating alone. But Pansy sat next to him and surveyed the table with a twist of nausea on her face.
“Draco, you wouldn’t happen to have any hangover potion, would you?”
“Not something I carry around, Pansy. One of the benefits of not drinking myself silly in a room full of people who’d like to see me dead.”
Oops. He hadn’t planned to have venom dripping from every word like that, but it was too late, and Pansy had certainly felt the sting.
“Can’t tell if you’re worried for me,” she said, taking a buttered roll hesitantly. “Which is unnecessary. Or jealous, which is typical.”
“I must have missed the memo that Granger and you were blood sisters.
“Is that what you’re so pouty about? Granger and I want compatible things.”
“She wants to mend divisions after the war. I want to be liked again. If it takes a bit of acting to make the rest of the school think we’ve put all our differences behind us, we’re both more than equal to the task.
He felt an odd rush of relief at the idea that the girls were playing some political game rather than becoming best friends, but it was halted when Pansy added, “It’s still so quiet in our room.” She was picking apart her roll more than eating it.
“I wish it was quiet in our room,” Draco growled. Mostly to change the subject, but honestly. The boys he’d shared a room with growing up had their rowdy moments, but it was nothing compared with having Gryffindors traipsing through. “I don’t think anyone ever taught Potter to talk in an inside voice.
“Yes, we know, Draco. Potter Stinks.”
Draco’s eyes narrowed at Pansy’s ongoing joke.
Back in fourth year he’d been so thrilled at the Potter Stinks badges he’d created, especially with the magic that made it so you couldn’t change the message. It was tricky spellwork, and by the time he’d finished the first batch his hair had been hanging limply out of its gelled location and his face had been flushed with effort.
“What do you think Potter will think of these favors I’ve made?” he asked, tossing one to Pansy. It was an effort to hold back the smug smile.
She’d looked at it for a moment, then back at Draco in concern. “Aren’t these a bit--obvious?”
“I suppose everyone knows that Potter stinks, but the beauty is in the--”
“I don’t mean the message, Draco. I mean, doesn’t it seem like a bit much for you to go to all this work to make buttons about how much you “hate” Potter?”
Draco had been offended. When it came to his hatred for Potter, there was no burden too great. “Hardly! Can you imagine the look on his face when he sees these? He’ll be spitting slugs!”
Pansy tilted her chin, studying Draco. “You don’t think it makes it rather clear that you’re obsessed with him?
Blood was pounding in Draco’s ears all of a sudden. He must have heard incorrectly.
“That I’m what?”
Pansy’s brow furrowed. She seemed uncomfortable, out of her depth. “That you’re obsessed with him. Why else would you take the time to make all these buttons for him instead of just cheering for Cedric or--"
“Hah!” he’d said. It had come out breathless and weak. “They’re not for Potter. He’ll hate them! Even someone as thick as Potter won’t be confused about my motives.” He looked down at the button, flashing its message cheerily. He felt somewhat sick
The response to the buttons had been brilliant, especially from Potter’s crowd. Granger had tried to scare him into recalling them, and it nearly worked. Being on the wrong side of her fist once was enough. But the buttons had taken on a life of their own, and Draco was merely the supplier.
Pansy’s concern would have disappeared from his mind if it hadn’t been from a letter from his mother later that week.
It was a pleasure to hear from you on Sunday, as always. We are also anticipating some exciting turns of events during the Tri-Wizard tournament, but I am happy to hear about them from a distance. I would rather you stay far away as well, but I suppose I can’t stop you from attending school events, can I? I do wonder sometimes if Hogwarts is a safe place to send children. Your father has spoken of transferring you, and there are times that seems prudent.
Speaking of your father, he reports that he would like to hear more of you and less of Potter in your next letter. He seems concerned that your interest in him has become...unhealthy. I’m sure you just need an opportunity to vent, but we are both much more interested in your progress and achievements than whatever the Potter boy has gotten up to.
Regardless, enjoy the sugar quills, share with your friends, and we look forward to hearing from you again soon
It had eaten away at him for the rest of the week. Of course he complained about Potter. Who wouldn’t? He was insufferable and always popping up when he wasn’t wanted. Yes, Potter was on his mind. Often. Because of his irritating qualities.
No one had said it right out. Obsession. Unhealthy interest. Did they think he had some sort of--schoolboy crush on Potter? The idea was… difficult to reject. Or rather, it was easy to reject, but the moment it had entered his mind, it had been difficult to erase entirely.
The thrill he got in the center of his chest when Potter scowled at him? The nights he stayed awake in bed planning how he’d come out ahead in his next argument with Potter? The fact that Potter was the first person he thought of whenever he learned a new hex?
He knocked on his head of house’s door later that week and explained, simply, that if he was going to be at Hogwarts now he was going to have to be better at guarding his thoughts, and Snape had begun Occlumency lessons with him.
It had made him an expert on quieting the thoughts before they grew into an issue too big to handle. It had made him impervious to his father’s cold stare and even Voldemort’s searching eyes when it came to those kinds of secrets. There was nothing to find because he’d quieted his mind before it even put the thought to words. There was no secret to keep. That was the whole key to Occlumency.
But Pansy was a different story. He let her get away with her little joke because she never pushed it any farther. In fact, it was almost like a code. You’re talking about him again, Draco, be careful.
But he wasn’t sure the code would fool any of the other eighth years, so he hissed.
“I can’t relax, Pansy.” The bite was back in his voice, and this time he felt like he needed it. He wasn’t sure how to explain the situation in his own mind, much less share it out loud. But it would be one part the fear of Potter learning things he shouldn’t know, one part the tension of second-guessing everything he said and did, one part a longing for a future when it wouldn’t be like this and one part the inability to imagine such a future.
Pansy looked startled, her hand halfway to her mouth.
He made an effort to soften his voice. “Just leave it alone, Pansy.
Draco had nightmares too. How could he not? How could anyone who lived through all of that not be hit by it from time to time? Night or day. Conscious or unconscious. But Draco woke up from those dreams like a coiled spring with a vice grip on his blankets. Quiet and breathless until he could force the air back in and out of his lungs.
Potter didn’t have nightmares like that. As with everything else, he had to be the center of attention.
Draco always drew the curtains tight around his bed and spelled them so no one could hear any sounds he made in his sleep, but it had never struck him as safe to have a spell that keep any outside noises from getting in. What if there was an emergency?
That night, after Potter’s screams ripped him from sleep. Draco sat upright in bed, not certain what he should do. Get up? Say something? Better to let Neville handle it.
And then the words took on shape. “Draco! Draco!”
This was bad. This made it even more important to not get out of bed and face Potter at the moment. Only--he brushed the curtains out of his way and squinted through the darkness. Neville was holding weak wandlight in front of himself and feeling his way across the room.
Draco sat up.
“Where is he?” Potter’s voice croaked. “Did he-- is he--”
“He’s trying to get some sleep,” Draco called from his bed. “And would like you to shut up, Potter.”
There were loud, gasping breaths and then the shift of a mattress as Neville sat on Potter’s bed.
“What did I say?” Potter’s voice was quiet now, pitched for Neville to hear. Draco leaned back onto his pillow and tried not to try to hear everything they said.
“You were calling for him,” Neville said gently.
Potter cursed. “Figures. Malfoy or…”
Another curse. “I’ll never hear that end of that one,” Potter muttered, and Draco considered his responsibility for teasing Potter about this incident. At this hour, it seemed like a lot of work.
Luckily, Potter did most of the work himself. Draco caught his eye the next morning, not meaning to make a big deal of it, just unable to keep from checking that Potter was--alright. But as soon as Potter saw Draco looking, his eyes widened and his head jerked to the left so quickly Draco thought his neck would snap. He could tell that Potter was blushing, though. He couldn’t stop the smirk. There was no way he could not say something. “Morning, sleeping beauty.” Draco hadn’t lost his touch for choosing the words that would get to Potter, and he could see the blush get worse.
Ten points to Slytherin.
Neville was giving Draco a strange look, but Draco refused to be guilted. Potter had invited this.
As the day wore on and Potter was still pointedly avoiding Draco’s gaze at all times, it started to get irritating. During lunch, Pansy sat across the table from him, isolated as they always were from the rest of the class. “Are you going to tell me what happened or do I have to base my opinions off the gossip?”
“What’s the gossip?” Draco asked. He should have known that he wouldn’t be the only one to find this interesting.
“Potter screaming out your name in passion during the night?
“No one’s really saying that.”
“You’d be surprised.”
“He had a nightmare.”
“And he woke up calling out for you?”
Draco shrugged. He wanted to talk this through with Pansy from every angle, but he knew better. Those were thoughts to starve, not feed. “What’s with the sudden interest?
“Sudden? Draco, you know I’m terribly interested in everything that has to do with the two of you.”
She looked down the table and smirked triumphantly. “He keeps looking down here with this panic on his face. As if he thinks we’re talking about him.”
“We are talking about him.”
“True. What do you think it means that you’re the one he’s waking up thinking about?”
Draco sighed heavily. “He probably cycles through all the people he tried to save during the war, panicking about all of them. Stop trying to make something out of this, Pansy.”
And maybe he would have been able to follow his own advice if Potter hadn’t woken the whole room up a second night in a row, screaming Draco’s name. This time Draco didn’t feel the same layer of disorientation.
Neville hurried over to Potter’s bed, but not before Draco heard Potter muttering the same questions as last night. He swung his legs out of bed and crossed the room. “As you can see, Potter, I’m alive and unhurt. Now whether this was your fear or sets your fears to rest, I don’t know, but that’s the status.”
“Oh Merlin,” Potter breathed. “Not again.”
“Exactly, Potter. I understand that you like to live on the edge, but some of us prefer routine hours of sleep.”
“Dry up, Malfoy. I’m not the one who nearly got myself killed in---” his voice quieted and then just stopped. It still felt too real, too close, for him.
“No,” Draco snapped. “You’re the one who nearly got himself killed in my basement.”
Harry’s eyes sought Draco’s even as the wall suddenly became the focus of all Draco’s attention. “This is so stupid,” Harry growled. “I think it’s this room, too. It feels heavy. It feels like you’re not safe here.”
Draco starved a thought. “I’m fine. I’d be finer if I had less homework and. Better. Sleep. Goodnight, Potter.
Snape had not been a patient man by nature, and years in a job that he was ill suited or ill-prepared for had done nothing to improve his temperament, but he had always shown an extra dose of forbearance with Draco. When Draco had gone to him to learn to control his mind, Snape had been hesitant to teach a fourth year, but he’d seen the value. He’d understood why Draco would need the skills, even if Draco had never explained to him who he wanted to keep secrets from.
The answer was everybody, and since that had been Snape’s answer, too, he’d never needed to ask the question.
“I can see what you’re scrambling to hide,” Snape said, sounding bored. “The more panicked you are about hiding your secrets, the easier they are to uncover. The more you think about the things you don’t want me to know, the more they become you.
Draco had been unable to open his eyes. All of the thoughts he’d been scrambling to hide were about Potter.
“You can’t hide the thoughts. And you can’t try to force yourself not to think them. The art to Occlumency, Draco, is allowing those thoughts to starve. They occur to you, have no emotions to stick to, and tumble off in the other direction. People want to keep their secrets as pets, to take them out and play with them in secret, and then marvel that they never die.”
So Draco had practiced starving his thoughts, the art of not letting things stick.
Potter was shaping up to be a decent professor. He gave them a syllabus on the second week of class. Draco could agree, from an objective view, that the syllabus covered important things, but as a student he wasn’t looking forward to learning the things on the list with the people in the room. The first unit was about casting Patronuses, which was review for most of the eighth years. They’d been part of the secret club that practiced together while Draco waited outside for a chance to turn them in. He knew the spell, he knew the concept behind it--he’d even tried to cast it a few times. But nothing ever happened for him. Being graded on the spell didn’t improve his work any.
Potter went around the classroom, guiding their wandwork and encouraging them to focus on their memories, and Draco watched as student after student cast more realistic looking Patronuses. The best he’d gotten from his wand was a trickle of white smoke. Even Pansy had a wobbly-legged cat circling her wand.
He slammed the loaner wand on the the wand on the desk, furious. Potter was helping everyone but him. It wasn’t as if he thought Potter’s help would make a big difference, but why wasn’t he worth the attention?
That little outburst got Potter to look over his way, but only for a second, taking in him and the wand, and then turning back to Finnegan.
Draco’s blood boiled. Didn’t Potter think he could learn? He slumped in his seat, openly glaring at Potter, as the last minutes of the class period ticked away. As he stood to make a grand exit, Potter ran his fingers through his hair and caught his eye.
“Malfoy, could you stay a second after class?”
“Ooh!” hooted Weasley as the small crowd of eighth years made their way into the passage, “Somebody’s in trouble.”
Draco clenched the edges of his desk. “”What do you want, Potter?”
Potter reached into his robe and pulled out a wand. No, not just a wand--his wand. “I didn’t know how to give you this.”
Draco’s fingers twitched.
“I sort of forgot about it. But I was also having a hard time giving it up. It--I’ve gotten attached to it. But I didn’t recognize that you hadn’t really gotten a wand that would work for you.”
“It’s not the wand’s fault,” Draco muttered.
Potter set the wand down on the desk between them, and Draco’s fingers twitched again.
“Take it,” Potter urged. “Try.”
“I don’t even know if I’m allowed to use that wand,” Draco growled. “I’m registered with this one. They’re keeping track of every spell I do.” Explaining this to Potter rankled.
Potter frowned and leaned on the back of the chair behind him. “What’s the wording on the probation, exactly?”
“I don’t know.” Malfoy knew he should know. He should go to the ministry and look it up and read it. Or owl the lawyer. Or something. He should be aware of the rules that he might break, but the moment was too blurry in his memory to pull out the exact wording of his probation, and he’d simply been extra careful about it ever since. That caution combined with the lethargic loaner wand meant he wasn’t doing much outside of the classroom.
Potter looked at the wand on the table. “You can always say I’m the one who cast it."
“I’m sure that will be convincing. Telling the ministry you cast an unsuccessful Patronus charm. I’m pretty sure they have a record of you casting one of those several years ago, actually.”
Potter inclined his head in agreement. “But you don’t know it won’t be successful until you try.”
Merlin. He’d wanted Potter’s attention, but not this much.
“Are you ever going to let me go to lunch?” he snapped.
Potter straightened. “Right. Go ahead.”
Draco left his wand on the desk and stormed out of the room, making sure that Potter had a dramatic exit to watch.
Pansy nearly attacked him at the table. “What did Potter want?”
Just as he was about to answer, Hermione Granger slid into the seat next to Pansy, and Draco’s mouth clamped shut while his eyes wandered over to inspect Granger for any signs that she was about to hex or otherwise attack him.
“Stop looking at me like that, Malfoy,” she said, pouring herself a glass of water. “I know Pansy told you.”
Malfoy turned his look on Pansy.
“We’re not giving anybody the idea that we’ve let bygones be bygones if we only talk in the 8th year common room. It’s the younger ones we really need to convince.” Pansy sounded like she was talking to convince Granger. He wasn’t going to be able to complain about the lesson if Granger was here, spying on everything.
“What did Harry want to talk to you about after class?” Granger asked, as if to get right to the spying.
“Just wanted to rub it in that I can’t cast a Patronus for shit.”
Granger and Pansy’s eyes both narrowed, but Granger was now looking at him in suspicion while Pansy was looking on with rage on his behalf.
“I knew they shouldn’t have let him play professor. All that power is going to his head. He’s obviously got favorites.”
Granger frowned. “As if the other professors don’t? Anyway, I think Harry tries to be very fair. Are you sure he was trying to rub it in? Maybe he actually wanted to help?
Obviously, Granger. This is why you were not invited to the vent session.
He scowled at her. “I’m sorry, maybe I’m too thick to cast a Patronus and too foolish to know when Potter’s trying to help and when he’s having a laugh at me because he disarmed me and he’s still got my wand. Maybe I’ll ask the brightest witch of our age to clue me in.”
Rather than rising to the bait, Granger’s face clouded with confusion. “He’s still hanging onto your wand? Why in the--I told him to owl that back to you eons ago.”
“Since when did Potter have Draco’s wand?” Pansy had missed that side of things, and when Pansy asked where his wand was, Draco had let her think that he lost it during the war. Which, in a way, he had.
“You didn’t know? When we were in Malfoy Manor, Harry snatched some wands from Malfoy. And since Harry’d lost his wand, he ended up using Malfoy’s. It was the most loyal to him.”
A strange feeling stirred in Draco at those words. He starved a thought, no thanks to Pansy staring at him, open-mouthed.
“But that’s not actually the most interesting part of it. Did you know, that’s when Harry became master of the Elder Wand? You were actually master of it before Harry, and that’s why Voldemort couldn’t use it in the end. If Voldemort had disarmed you before Harry did...it might have all gone the other way.”
Pansy’s mouth dropped open even wider, if that was possible. “And Potter liked Draco’s wand the best?”
Draco glowered at her. This was just the sort of situation where he needed his own wand so he could send a stinging hex or a lip-lock jinx at her. “The fact remains,” he drawled. “Potter just wanted to hold me back so he could flaunt that he’s still got my wand and that my magic is piss-poor because of it.”
“I know he’s thick,” Granger frowned. “But I’m sure he was trying to give it back to you. What did he do?”
“It doesn’t matter, Granger,” he snapped. “Even if he did give the wand back, it would probably stay loyal to him anyway, since it seems they’ve become so attached to each other. And I’m not allowed to practice magic outside of the necessary anyway, so I wouldn’t want to waste a good wand on--”
“Not allowed-- what are you talking about?”
“I told you, Granger,” Pansy hissed, “We’ve got restrictions on our magic.”
Granger frowned. “Is it like the trace?”
“Hah,” Draco scoffed. “They’ve got real trackers on our magic. The trace is a joke.”
“Oh, the trace is a joke?” Hermione responded, eyebrows rising. “Maybe when you come from a magic family the trace is a joke, but it wasn’t a joke when Harry nearly got expelled. It wasn’t a joke when I sat at home wondering what magic you were practicing while all I could do was read about it.”
Pansy tried to appease her, “I guess if you’re from a muggle family--”
“And how many times,” Hermione frowned, her voice rising in pitch and volume, “Do I have to tell you I don’t want to hear you use that word about my parents. ”
And with that, Grager left the Great Hall in a huff.
Well, the first years had definitely noticed that.
“Dragonballs,” Pansy muttered.
“You did tell her that’s the nicer term, right?”
“She doesn’t like it anyway,” Pansy frowned. “I should go talk to her.”’
Draco waited until Pansy was hurrying after Granger before he rolled his eyes.
Outside the window, it rained steadily on the Quidditch players flying over the pitch. The trees in the forbidden forest were a kaleidoscope of jewel tones. In the eighth year common room, there was a fire burning in the hearth, and the warmth had lured Draco out of his room to study in a chair by the window.
As he fell into the rhythm of school, Draco recovered some of his confidence in the classroom, if nowhere else. No Quidditch or orders to sneak Death Eaters into his school left Draco with only the endless loop of his own mind and his textbooks, and he preferred his textbooks.
But he wasn’t completely free from distractions. In the corner across the room, Potter was running one hand through his hair and absently dripping ink on his opposite sleeve. Probably marking the first year’s papers. Draco snorted and trained his eyes back on his own book. Not only had Saint Potter been awarded the job of preparing the eighth year students for their NEWTs, but he’d also been entrusted with the education of the first year students. Other staff members had picked up other classes. Slughorn was working with the second years, McGonagall with the third years, and so on.
What a classic Hogwarts staffing choice. No one else was available, so why not use someone who hadn’t finished his own education, much less had any formal training in the curriculum? Leave it to Potter to think he could finish his classes while also teaching three. It was only the weakest of consolations that it seemed to be wrecking him.
The next day at breakfast, Hermione sat in her oft-occupied spot next to Pansy, fresh-faced and serious. She glanced at the crowded end of the table, where Ron and Harry were hovering, undecided.
“Good morning,” Draco returned, wishing that Pansy could communicate to him what role he was supposed to be playing at the moment.
He was saved by the flutter of owls in the Great Hall, and a great grey owl swept over their table, dropping a large parcel at Hermione’s hand.
“Perfect timing.” She graced them with a tight lipped smile. “I ordered your court records so we could see exactly what the language of your restriction was.”
This was. Not what Draco had been expecting at breakfast. Besides, if Granger was trying to discover the limits of their power, why was she doing it with their full knowledge?
He was contemplating asking her this when Weasley sat down next to her, and those thoughts stuttered to a halt and died.
“What are you doing?” Ron growled at Hermione.
“I told you it sends the wrong message to the younger students if we isolate the Slytherins at the Eighth year table. If we want true reconciliation, it has to start with us. And you said, ‘Yeah, but not while I’m trying to eat.’”
Ron shot a nervous glance at Draco and Pansy, as if checking to see whether they’d taken offense. “But you insist on sitting with them anyway?”
Hermione nodded, not paying Ron much attention anymore. She’d opened the parcel and was skimming a long roll of parchment. “Mmm, well it’s easier to discuss the case if I’m sitting with them.”
A look of resignation settled on Ron’s face, and he served himself a heap of eggs. “What case, Hermione?”
Hermione was too immersed to answer, so Pansy piped up. “Draco and I both have our magic usage restricted by the Ministry, and Hermione’s more worked up about it than either of us.”
Ron looked at Hermione with a little smile tucked in the corner of his mouth. “Of course she is. That’s what Hermione does best: get worked up about things and drag me into the middle of them."
“No one’s dragging you, Ron,” Hermione said, her attention half on her reading. “But listen to this: For the period that the court does designate, the defendant shall not use any extraneous magic. Magic shall be used only when required. Required magic includes spells assigned in classrooms at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Any magic judged to be in excess of that required will be grounds for the defendant to lose the privilege of owning a wand. Repeat infractions will lead to further legal consequences, which could include house arrest, expulsion from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, or imprisonment in Azkaban.”
Draco poked at his eggs. He’d remembered very little of the wording, but he had remembered the threat of Azkaban, which weighed on the tip of his wand every time he held it.
“That’s mental,” Ron said. “They can’t expel anyone from Hogwarts. The Headmistress is in charge of that, and I’d like to see anybody--even Kingsley--try to tell McGonagall to sack a student.”
Pansy coughed, and the Gryffindors looked at her.
“What is it?”
“I think the Minister would be hard pressed to convince her to get rid of you or your little pet savior, but do you really think she’d miss us? I have transfiguration still, and she hasn’t said my name once this year. She looks right past me like I’m not in the room. She’d be glad of a reason to get rid of us.”
Hermione frowned, “She must have--” and then broke off, as if she was trying to remember a counterexample. “Alright, but she wouldn’t like the Ministry telling her what to do. Besides, the court designated a period of four years. You leave Hogwarts after this year. There’s not going to be professors telling you what spells to cast then--how do they expect you to do magic?"
“They don’t,” Draco said darkly. “Not without qualified nannies.”
“But that’s not--”
Draco stood up abruptly. “It’s just the price of surviving when no one wants us around.” And with that, he strode away from the table, trying to control his breathing, trying to starve the predatory thoughts.
When Potter interrupted Draco’s sleep for the third time, he was standing at Potter’s bedside before the boy woke up. Of course they’d said Neville was supposed to be the one to talk Potter down from these little episodes, but Neville was snoring. Loudly.
“It’s getting worse, isn’t it?”
When Potter had figured out where he was and who was speaking to him, he blinked up. His eyes looked different without his glasses, and not just because he was squinting. “What’s getting worse?”
The blinking eyes had caught him off guard, and for a second he wasn’t sure what he’d meant to say. “You. Being a disaster of a human being.”
Potter turned over so he was facing away from Draco. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“The nightmares all the time, jumping at every sound. Staying up late and scribbling on your papers. Never being around the common room or spending time with Weasley and Granger.”
Potter reached over and put his glasses on. “I didn’t know I had an audience.” And even though Potter was the one who should feel self-conscious because he was the one unraveling, Draco could tell he was starting to blush. Good thing it was dark.
“I can’t help noticing--you’re putting me on edge.”
“You’re the only one who seems to be bothered, so my apologies, but why don’t you put a spell on your bed at night and ignore it like everyone else.”
Puzzling. Everyone cared about Potter. Everyone was grateful to him. “Granger? The Weasleys?”
Potter knocked his glasses up on his forehead and scrubbed at his eyes. “I don’t want them to know. They’ve spent the past seven years looking after me. Hermione wiped her parents’ memory so she could go searching for the horcruxes with me without getting them involved. They’re happy. And they deserve it.”
But Potter wasn’t, and he deserved it if anyone did.
So when Potter didn’t even come to dinner that night, he cleared his throat and pushed the food around on his plate and said, “I’m worried about Potter.”
Granger and Weasley had been bickering about something, but they trailed off and turned toward Draco. He couldn’t read their expressions. Pansy though, looked shocked.
“You’re worried about Harry?” Weasley repeated.
“Don’t tell me,” Granger frowned. “He’s sneaking around, he’s not eating, he’s probably up to something.”
“So you have noticed.”
Guilt sparked in her eyes. “No. But Harry’s fine. He--.” She was silent for a moment, thinking. “You are right. He hasn’t been eating. He’s been stressed about the defense class, and--” she stopped short. “Other things. And we haven’t been paying attention.”
Draco allowed the smug look to overtake his face. There. Duty done, he’d told the other members of the Golden Trio, and they could handle it from here. He took a large spoonful of potatoes.
And nearly choked on it when Granger said, “You should tell him that you’re concerned.”
He swallowed. He knew they were Gryffindors, but Granger was supposed to be intelligent. “If I thought he wanted to hear from me, I wouldn’t have bothered bringing it up to you.”
Ron looked nauseous. “I’m going to find Harry.”
“I’ll come too.”
When Granger was safely out of earshot, Pansy finally spoke up. “So, Potter stinks, huh?”
He didn’t need to defend himself.
“Every year, Draco.”
Potter was in the bedroom when Draco returned after dinner, looking at the pages of a large book. His messy curls were more scattered than usual, and he had a long line of ink on his cheek. Draco watched for a moment before he said anything, and Potter’s head nodded, heavy with sleep.
“How long have you been staring at that page?”
Potter started, drawing another line in ink across his cheek. “Shit, Malfoy.”
Draco leaned against the wall, striking a pose that he hoped looked casual.
“I don’t know. Since after class. It’s not making any more sense than it was three hours ago.”
“You haven’t seen your sidekicks, then?”
Potter blinked. “Ron and Hermione? No. They always go snog in the first floor bathroom after dinner.”
Draco blanched. “Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom?”
“Oh. Yeah. Myrtle and Hermione worked out a deal, I think.”
Gross. Also, useless. “What are you reading, Potter? Or should I ask, which of the books is Pinch going to have to wipe drool out of?”
“A book on Occlumency.”
“Not a subject that’s easy to learn from a book.”
Potter snorted. “I couldn't learn it from Snape, I don’t know why I thought I’d be able to learn this way.”
“Well, the book probably isn’t shouting at you.”
“Not this one.” There was a hint of a smile on his face.
Ha. Who needed Potter’s friends? “No offense, but isn’t it a bit late to be cramming Occlumency? The Dark--Vol--You Know Who is dead, so what’s the hurry?”
Potter slammed the book shut in frustration. “You’re right. This is useless. I couldn’t learn it when it would have saved Sirius’s life, it’s not going to suddenly come to me in time to teach it to the Defense class.”
“Teach it to the Defense class?” Draco echoed. He was losing his disaffected pose, since now he was openly staring. Potter was more cracked than he’d thought. Occlumency had never been taught at Hogwarts, as far as he knew, and certainly not by an overworked student-professor. “Potter, you don’t have to teach Occlumency,” he said slowly. He’d thought Potter wanted to master Occlumency to help with the nightmares. Not this.
There was silence for a moment, and Draco wondered if Potter had nodded off, back to sleep. Then he looked at Draco.
“You’re an Occlumens."
“What makes you think--”
“You’d have to be. You were living with Voldemort. He would have seen your doubts. He wouldn’t have trusted you with--”
“Alright, yes.” Point proven, Potter, no need to have a whole bloody trial.
“Then you understand why I’ve got to teach it. Or why it’s got to be taught, at least. It’s Defense Against the Dark Arts, Malfoy.”
And Potter was right. Even if it was hard to take him seriously with ink on his face. If they really wanted to defend against the dark--arts or otherwise--the only place to start was in their own minds.
“You want the whole eighth-year class to learn Occlumency?”
Potter twisted his quill on the table. “The first years.”
Well. Draco didn’t intend to be dramatic about this, but--he stuck a finger in his ear and pretended to check for blockage. “I must be hallucinating. I thought you said you wanted to teach eleven-year-olds Occlumency.”
“I know I already said you were cracking up, but now you’ve gone round the bend. Little kids can’t learn Occlumency. Most adults can’t learn Occlumency. That’s why it’s not on the bleeding curriculum. You’re the most powerful wizard of our age, and you’re pants at it after studying with an actual teacher who was the best Occlumens alive. You’re trying to drive yourself mad, is that it? You’re determined that the Defense post is going to keep being cursed by driving you absolutely bat-shit insane?”
Suddenly, Potter’s eyes narrowed, and he jumped from his seat, all energy. “I’m pants at it! I would never be able to teach the first-years--but I bet someone who was really good at Occlumency could.”
Draco slid away and took a step back. “What? Potter, when I said that this teaching situation is making you balmy, I wasn’t looking for an invitation to come along for the ride.”
Potter flapped a hand. “It’s not the Defense classes. Besides, that’s me. You’re Draco Malfoy, you’ll probably be a natural at it.”
“Flattery is the sincerest form of flattery,” Draco observed. “Go on.”
“You must have learned Occlumency young, too. You’re a genius at it! Can you imagine, if you were the first person to teach an entire year of Hogwarts students to be Occlumens?”
Draco could imagine it. Could imagine Potter explaining it to Draco’s parole officer, how he really had rehabilitated, how he was even teaching first-years how to defend against the dark arts.
But--Merlin help him--it was Potter’s smile that really made him agree.
He wouldn’t admit it to Potter, but standing in front of the first year Slytherins and Hufflepuffs was actually making him short of breath. They were staring at him, and he couldn’t read their expressions. Fear. That had to be fear. And disgust? Probably.
“I don’t know what Potter has told you about Defense Against the Dark Arts,” he started. Well, at least his voice sounded imperious. The few first-years who hadn’t been looking at him jerked to stare with round eyes. “Probably teaching you that it’s a lot of silly wand-waving and shouting Expelliarmus louder than your enemies.”
Potter cleared his throat and rubbed a spot on the back of his neck. “I have found that to be a useful technique, but it’s not all I’m teaching them. Johnson, Puri, care to show Mr. Malfoy what you can do?”
Two Slytherin boys stood up and pulled their wands, then almost simultaneously cast ghostly patronus charms.
The other students in the class erupted into cheers, and Johnson turned to the other boy in shock. “I did it.”
Draco kept the shock from his face and his voice. “I suppose you have some rudimentary understanding, then. Does anyone know what Occlumency is?”
Several hands went up around the class, and Draco pointed to a Hufflepuff in the third row with hair in dozens of narrow braids. “It’s shielding your mind.”
“A decent definition. If someone wants to get into your head and see what you’re thinking or feeling, or wants to influence you, you have to be able to defend yourself. A shield is one way of thinking about it. Potter, you know the spell to enter another’s mind?”
Potter jumped. “Yes, but I’ve never--”
“It won’t matter. I’m inviting you in, it should be easy. Why don’t you use Legilimency on me and describe what you see.”
Potter frowned, then drew a wand. He didn’t speak the spell, but a second later, Draco could see him in the sitting room of his mind.
“Well. Is there a shield here, Potter?”
“No. Just--it looks like a study or a library. There’s books everywhere.”
“Yes. Thoughts. Feelings. Memories. My head is full of them, of course. If you walked in here and found nothing, you would know I have something to hide. I’m not hiding my thoughts, I just don’t keep any of them as pets. They’re all filed away. Neatly.”
“A well-organized mind,” Potter breathed.
With a shove, Draco expelled Potter from his mind and focused back on the students before them. “Simple Occlumency is like a shield, or a brick wall. You hold the other person out of your mind. But if you’ve done that, it’s already too late. They know that you’re hiding something.”
“How do we learn to do that?” a red-headed Slytherin piped up.
Draco looked the boy in the eyes. “I can see everything you’re thinking right now.”
The green eyes widened, then broke contact. “Really?”
“No, but when I said that, some secret came to mind. Today, we learn how to identify those pet thoughts.”
When the first years had left the classroom, Draco gathered up his scarf and robe, and before he could stop himself, he offered, “It’s impressive you’ve got two of them casting Patronuses already.”
Potter couldn’t suppress his grin. “Do you know why everyone in the class was cheering when they cast the spell?”
“Because first-years never do magic that complicated?” Draco put his hand on the door, ready to leave.
“Because Johnson and Puri were the last to get it, and they were finally able to cast.”
Draco’s eyes moved slowly, drawn like magnets back to Potter’s face, and not for the first time he realized that he was probably staring at one of the most powerful wizards to ever live. Only this time, his power was--funneling through the students he taught? “Merlin’s--Merlin’s tits, Potter. Do other people know about this?”
Potter winced. “I haven’t sworn them to secrecy. I suppose some of them have owled home ‘Learned the Patronus charm this week, Mum. Next week we’re going to learn something called Occlumency. Love!’”
“What about the other professors? What did the headmaster say?”
Potter frowned. “Everyone’s busy. Trying to fix things. McGonagall’s at the Ministry nearly every day working with them on revising some of the legal policies. There are a lot of posts that need covering. Defense isn’t the only class that--”
“You’re saying you’ve got no supervision and they don’t even know what you’ve been doing with the first years.”
Potter shifted. “Yeah. A bit.”
“What possessed you to start with the Patronus charm?”
His movement stilled. “I only had one Defense teacher who did anything useful for me. Two if you count turning you into a ferret.”
Draco clenched his jaw. How had he managed to work that into the conversation?
“What if they never get another teacher who teaches them what they need? What if their next teacher is the one they need to defend themselves from?”
Potter’s eyes were hard and his chin tilted up, so the light from the window was filtering through his messy curls and making his skin look like gold. Draco knew this look, too, the look of the boy savior, the one people would follow to the end of the world. The one people had.
“Certainly stokes one’s ego to know all the first years can do a spell I still can’t manage.” Draco hadn’t meant to say the words aloud. Or perhaps he had, because he was watching for a reaction from Potter. It was satisfying to see Potter fumbling for words. Draco turned and made for the door, but before he could get away, Potter found his voice.
“Before he taught me the spell, Lupin told me that it was one of the trickiest spells, and that many full grown wizards never learned it.”
Was that supposed to make Draco feel better? “So these first years are just exceptionally powerful wizards and witches, then?” He could hear the heat and frustration dripping with his words. He shouldn’t let Potter think he cared about the spell. He shouldn’t let Potter think that Azkaban and its guards were always waiting for his watch to drop so they could invade his thoughts.
“No. That’s just it, Malfoy. It’s not the magic that’s so tricky. It’s the happiness.”
Harry’s green-gold eyes were on him, waiting for Draco to say something in response, but this was more than Draco could take. Magic he might be able to learn, but some things were just out of his reach.
“You have the other houses tomorrow, right? I’ll see you then.” It was a ridiculous exit line. They shared a bedroom. Draco kicked himself as he swept out of the room.
Whatever he was doing differently this time around, the Gryffindor class did not seem to be going well.
As soon as he’d walked to the front of the room, a Gryffindor with giant brown eyes had raised their hand and asked, “Are you actually a Death Eater?” and Draco hadn’t known what to say. He spluttered. He adjusted his robes. He looked desperately to Potter for help.
“Mr. Malfoy is your teacher today Sam. If you have questions about what we’re learning, you can ask. Otherwise, wait until the end of class.”
Sam’s eyes narrowed into slits as Draco stumbled through an explanation of why Occlumency was important. Potter swaggered up to the front of the room. “Do you want me to describe what it’s like in your head again?”
Draco did not want Potter in his head just at the moment. It was too agitated, everything was pulsing and edging out of place. But that was the test of an Occlumens. To seem like there was nothing to hide when there was.
With that, Potter was standing in the wide open room of Draco’s mind, this time with far more purpose. He strode over to the bookshelf. “When I look into Mr. Malfoy’s mind, I don’t get a rush of different memories or emotions. It looks like a study, or a library, and all his thoughts are neatly put away.”
At least, that’s what it looked like to Potter.
“And he’s got books here about all sorts of things and people. Look! This is a book on the Weasleys!” Potter picked up the book and found himself unceremoniously dumped out of Draco’s mind.
“And that’s what you’re going to do for your own minds,” Draco explained, not looking at Potter. “We start by finding the thoughts give us the most trouble.”
He explained the process for not-thinking and noticing their own thoughts, but couldn’t shake the look that Sam kept locked on him. When Potter suggested that the students split up and practice, Draco was relieved to slink off to the corner.
He noticed only a moment before Potter did--a Gryffindor girl in the third row with stringy blonde hair and a thin face--slam her head against her desk.
The class gasped and several students turned around, only to witness her doing it again. Draco took several steps toward her, but Potter beat him to the girl, casting a cushioning charm effortlessly with one hand and then bracing her shoulders with the other.
“What’s Lacey doing?” hissed a Ravenclaw boy.
“I can’t get them out of my head,” she whispered. “They’re bad thoughts, and I can’t--”
Potter made eye contact with Draco, and Draco gave a quick nod. Potter leaned close to the girl and whispered. She nodded. There was a stream of blood running from one of her nostrils, and she wiped a hand across it, smearing the stain across her face. Potter took her by the other hand and led her from the room.
Sam stood from their desk. “That’s why we can’t have you in here. You did something to Lacey’s mind.”
Another Gryffindor piped up. “You did it to get Mr. Potter out of the room, I bet. So you could use your dark magic on us!” She held her wand grimly, pointed towards Draco.
He held his hands up, wandless. All other factors aside, it would be hard to explain using magic on first-years to the ministry. “I didn’t do anything to Lacey. Her own mind was hurting her.” He could recognize that well enough, and he had no doubt there were other kids in the class who at least recognized some part of it. “There are clearly some things in Lacey’s mind that are hard to face, and she might need help with that. But that’s where really defending yourself against the dark arts starts. Besides. I saw what the other first years can do yesterday. I’m not likely to take a whole class of you on, head-to-head.”
The two of them watched him warily for the rest of class, even though all Draco did was walk from student to student and prompt them to think about their thoughts. When the class period had ended, Potter hadn’t returned, and Draco waved the students out of the room, trying not to overhear Sam saying something about letting Death Eaters supervise.
Draco found himself poking his head into the Professor’s office adjacent to the classroom. It looked like someone had cleaned out some of the Carrow’s things, but it didn’t seem to be in current use. Still--there was a teapot, and two cups, and tea leaves. The teapot itself was enchanted, fortunately, so Draco didn’t have to use any of his own magic.
Just as the water was starting to steam, Potter slipped back into the room. Draco looked up and instantly swallowed the quip he’d been about to fling. Potter’s face was flushed and his hands were clenched at his sides. It would be too easy to pick a fight with him right now.
When Draco didn’t say anything, Potter spoke up. “I may have just told McGonagall that what Voldemort did to the school will look like child’s play if I ever find out that Lacey’s been sent back to her parents.”
He slumped into one of the student’s chairs, and Draco turned around to finish with the tea. When he turned around, Potter’s forehead was planted on the desk. A fat tear plunked down on the wood.
“You can go,” Potter growled.
Draco set the cup of tea on the corner of the desk. “If you like, I could stick around and cast deadly hexes at you. I find it an effective distraction.”
Potter barked out a laugh and actually lifted his head. “You’re funny.”
“I try. Sometimes it lands.”
Draco was looking at Potter’s crooked smile and trying to remember how to sort his thoughts when the door opened and Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley stormed into the Defense classroom.
“Harry, do you want to explain why you’re, one, avoiding us, and two, storming through the corridors threatening to “burn the entire castle, every tree in the forbidden forest, and especially the damn Whomping Willow to the ground” if the headmaster of the school doesn’t make time to see you?”
Potter’s eyes blazed. “They keep her locked up at home. Lacey Ketteridge. They said her magic is unnatural, and when they got the letter from Hogwarts, they locked her up. And McGonagall was too busy to talk to me. ”
Tears were falling in earnest now, and Hermione had clapped a hand over her mouth.
“I couldn’t let her go back. To that. To--”
Ron sat next to Potter and grabbed Potter’s shoulder urgently. “Harry, I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have ever let them send you back.”
“It’s not you, it wasn't you. You and George and--” his voice broke, “Fred were the only ones who ever came for me. The adults. Dumbledore and McGonagall and--Merlin, Hagrid just let it be. And we weren’t powerful enough to make them listen to us. But they have to listen to me now.”
Draco was feeling distinctly like he should have left the moment the trio had been reunited, but now it would be weird to leave.
“Harry,” Hermione’s voice was ragged. “You don’t want to make them listen to you like that.”
“Maybe I do. Maybe that’s what makes it worth it. That I can make everyone listen when it’s something like this.”
Draco cleared his throat nervously and traced his finger on his own desk. “Not you, Potter. You don’t want to be that wizard.”
Potter sobbed and pounded his knuckles on the desk. “It was supposed to be better, now. Than it was for me. Or Riddle.”
Hermione, as if she’d just noticed Draco’s presence, nodded once. “You can go. We’ve got it from here.”
There seemed to be some kind of gravity holding him in the room, but Draco fought it. He gathered his robes and walked back to the eighth year dorm, his mind cycling from Harry’s startled smile to the hunch of his shoulders and back again.
This time when he caught Potter’s eyes and Potter looked away, it wasn’t accompanied by that little thrill of victory. In fact, it felt awful. They were in the bathroom, and Potter was finishing up with a cleaning charm on his teeth when Draco came in with his muggle-style toothbrush because using a cleaning charm every night on his teeth might be deemed too much magic.
Their eyes met in the mirror, and Potter abruptly ducked toward the door.
“Potter,” Draco called, managing to send a droplet of toothpaste about halfway down his shirt.
“Yes?” Potter’s voice sounded brittle.
Draco spit into the sink and watched the water swirl. “About class today. Is the girl--have you spoken to her?”
Potter’s shoulders eased. Draco knew he’d be able to talk about the girl. “She’s fine for now. McGonagall wasn’t exactly thrilled that I’d put Occlumency on the curriculum for the first year students.”
Oh. Did that mean lessons were over now? Potter hadn’t said it exactly, but undoubtedly Draco’s involvement had something to do with her displeasure.
“I’m still going to do it, though. She didn’t tell me not to. And she won’t tell me what they’re going to do for Lacey.”
“But burning down the school is off the table?”
He glowered. “For now. No long-term promises on that front. How come you’re using a muggle toothbrush?”
Draco must have paused too long, trying to determine the right balance between a sharp retort and something that Potter would deem funny because Potter bristled, “You don’t have to say anything if it’s top secret.”
Draco returned to brushing his teeth and tried to sound casual. “The ministry wasn’t very specific about what was considered unnecessary magic. I’m allowed to use magic for class."
“And I still have your wand.”
“It makes it easier.” Draco rinsed his mouth out. The bitter taste remained.
Potter’s head jerked and he rubbed his eyes. “What?”
Draco had to bite down some kind of fond smile. It was a sleepy, grey day outside, with fat snowflakes lazilly dusting the windowsills of the potions classroom, and Potter seemed to be dozing off.“You’re supposed to be stirring,” He forced himself to growl. “Not napping.”
“Sorry,” Potter answered. It was a wonder in itself that Harry didn’t snap back some kind of smart response. Maybe it had to do with the way Draco spoke--could Harry hear concern in his voice? “I was…”
“Up late marking the eighth years’ essays.” Draco finished. “You’d have less grading to do if you didn’t assign us so much work.” Harry looked at him. “The longer you let it sit, the more likely we’re going to fail the potion, Potter.”
“Right.” Potter got back to stirring, and even though Potter wasn’t a star in potions, he stirred with deft, smooth motions, like he knew what he was about.
“I’ve got the stirring under control now. You don’t have to keep supervising.”
Draco hadn’t been staring. Just supervising. That was it.
They were making Veritaserum, which the ministry had been deeply in need of ever since the end of the war. There’d been a lot of it used in the months that followed. Not that this looked Ministry grade. Slughorn swirled the vial suspiciously. “It looks a bit--gloopy. Are you sure you stirred the whole time?”
“Of course, sir,” Potter answered quickly. He’d apparently not learned the lesson etched into his arm about not telling lies.
“In that case, three drops each, boys, and run each other through the tester questions.”
Draco glanced at the list of tester questions and back to Potter. The questions were innocuous enough, as long as they stuck to them. As long as Potter didn’t try to get fancy.
Draco administered himself three drops of their (admittedly gloopy) potion, and Potter did the same. Around the room, the other partners were in the middle of the same process.
“First question, Potter. What’s your fondest childhood memory?”
“Uhm--the first time I flew on a broom, I s’pose,” Harry answered. “What’s the biggest sporting event you’ve ever been to?”
“World cup,” Draco answered shortly. So Potter was sticking as close to the script as he was. Good. “What’s the last dream you remember?”
“The Room of hidden Things,” Potter sighed. “The fiendfyre. Catching your hand from the broom.”
Draco didn’t stop himself in time to keep from smirking.
“Who’s the most famous wizard you’ve ever met?”
“I don’t know. I suppose it’s a tie between you and You-know-Who,” Draco answered irritably.
They made quick work of the rest of the questions, and when all of the groups were done, Slughorn let them leave early to lunch. Potter peeled away from the class before Draco could stop him, off toward the eighth year rooms. Draco found himself walking between Pansy and Hermione, with Ron and Seamus just ahead of them. He was just starting to relax. There was still truth potion in all of their veins, but Potter was safely away now, and he hadn’t asked Draco anything that would make him spill secrets he’d rather keep.
Seamus turned around to appeal to a larger audience. “I’m just saying they could make the questions a bit spicier, right? Nothing too incriminating, just something like this, ‘Who do you think is the hottest bloke to ever attend Hogwarts?”
The moment the words were out of his mouth, the answers were compelled from the other four. “Viktor Krum,” Hermione and Ron said in unison, while Pansy answered, “Oliver Wood, of course.”
Draco clenched his jaw just long enough to follow at the end. “Harry.”
Seamus looked at the lot of them, shocked. “Viktor Krum? Both of you? He’s all scowly and duck-footed.”
But Hermione and Ron didn’t look the least bit interested in discussing Viktor. They were both looking at Draco. Hermione’s face was calculating, Ron’s shocked.
Draco’s mind raced for some kind of out. He tried to make his mouth form a lie, like that it was a different Harry, or to make some kind of joke, or--anything.
But he was just staring back at Hermione and Ron and Pansy, while Seamus was still trying to figure out how two of his four test subjects preferred Viktor Krum over anyone else at the school. Draco was blushing. It was suspicious.
“You--Malfoy, you fancy him?”
Malfoy nodded and a strangled, “Obviously,” made its way through his lips. “I need to go.” He added quickly, and spun on his heels to find an escape.
He wandered around the grounds instead of going to his afternoon class, which probably could be reported to the ministry and violate his probation, but it was Defense, and there was no way he could be there. He wished he’d thought to bring a warmer coat or his mittens, but he made do by stuffing his hands into his robes. He also couldn’t actually stop walking as long as he was outside, since he’d freeze in about a minute. As the evening got colder, he slipped into the castle and found a back corner of the library to hide in until Madame Pince finally shooed him out so she could close up.
Hopefully by the time he made it back to their rooms, everyone would be sleeping. He could get up early the next morning and set about the task of avoiding all of them for the rest of his life.
But Potter, of course, was awake at his desk.
“Malfoy,” Potter greeted. “Hermione came up looking for you earlier."
Everything about Draco crackled like ice. “Did you. Talk to. Her?”
Of course. So he knew everything. Draco tried to force full lungfuls of air in and out instead of sharp short sips.
“She wanted to talk about your trial. She thinks she’s come up with something that they’ll have to listen to, but she wanted to talk to you about it all. Left a note on your bed.”
Draco snatched the note off his bed and started reading.
We haven’t said anything to Potter and we’re not about to. Pansy told us you were sensitive about it, as if the fact that you went white as a sheet and ran away from us in the middle of the hall hadn’t clued us in. Seamus is sorry. He said he thought everyone knew you fancied Potter anyway, which Pansy told him wasn’t helpful.
Also, I actually did find something helpful for the case. Meet us at breakfast tomorrow and we’ll talk.
Walking down to breakfast the next morning was an exercise in agony. He kept rehearsing what it would be like when he saw Granger and Weasley. Weasley would say something. Weasley was sure to say something.
He entered the Great Hall and kept his chin up, gaze unfocused as he marched between the Slytherin and Ravenclaw tables. They were there, ahead, but he didn’t let himself register whether they were looking his way, or what kind of expression they had on their face, or any of it.
Malfoy startled. He looked around for the mistaken voice and spotted a Slytherin first year looking up at him.
“Yes?” Malfoy was feeling too unsteady to have a conversation with anyone right now. But stomping off now wouldn't earn him any points.
The kid--Draco didn’t remember his name, but did remember him being an attentive student, balled up his fists and swallowed, looking like he was gathering courage to speak
“Thank you,” he whispered.
The boy flinched, and Draco tried to arrange his features into something more pleasant.
“For showing me how to notice my thoughts like that. I don’t think I can do any occlumency yet, but it’s helping me.”
The boy’s voice faded, and Draco started to make a graceful exit.
“I mean,” the boy continued, “I used to have this voice in my head all the time. Not a real voice. A meaner version of me voice. And when I was doing transfigurations, or potions, or flying or defense, the voice would be telling me over and over again that I was useless, and basically a squib, and I’d disappoint my family cuz I’d never be any good at magic. Since you’ve been teaching us about organizing our brain, I know how to notice that voice, and put those thoughts where they belong..”
If Draco had felt unsteady at the beginning of the conversation, it was nothing compared to how he felt now. He tried to organize his own thoughts:
How come he could help this kid and he was such a disaster himself?
He’d helped someone.
He wasn’t qualified to be teaching kids occlumency.
This boy was thanking him.
He shouldn’t be around children. Or Hogwarts. Didn’t they know he was evil"?
When had his occlumency become a weight? Had he always used controlling his thoughts to hurt himself?
He choked out a strange sound in response to the first year and walked the rest of the way to the table where Pansy was sitting with Weasley and Granger.
“What was that about?” Pansy asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost. A scary one.”
Draco poured himself a glass of water and gathered up the shreds of his composure. “The first year was just thanking me for the lessons I’ve been doing in Potter’s defense class.” He was pleased at how offhand his voice came off, and that he had yet to make eye contact with either of the Gryffindors.
In fact, they weren’t engaging with him at all. Hermione was holding a hefty tome that he couldn’t see the title of. Ron had a similar one open next to his plate, and was scanning the text with fervor.
“What are you and Weasley revising for? There are no exams coming up.”
Ron looked up, a bit startled. “We’re just--researching.”
“Researching what?” Pansy, ever the nosy one, grabbed the book from him and scanned the title. “Collected Legal Briefs on the Restriction of Magic? Boring.”
Draco elbowed Pansy, hard. “It’s for us,” he ground out.
“Exactly,” Hermione agreed, flipping a page. “I’m going to file an appeal at the end of next week, so I need to know the precedent. Did you get my note last night?”
That was sufficient to remind Draco of the panic, but he tried to stay grounded. “Yes. You said you’d figured something out
“I think so,” Granger replied. “Although we’d have to get them to agree that the previous rulings were unfair and ridiculous, which about eighty percent of wizarding law and justice is.”
“Can we--help?” Pansy ventured, frowning.
Granger glanced from Pansy to Draco, and Draco felt a surprising surge of gratitude at Granger that this morning felt so normal. Like she was mildly annoyed that he existed, but not because he had a crush on her best friend.
He had a crush on her best friend.
“Ron, show them the system.”
“Abbreviation and notetaking so we can keep track of what we learned.
Pansy looked amused. “And when did you have the time to create this system?”
“Third year,” Granger replied automatically. When we were researching the legal case for Buckbeak--”
She broke off, and looked, panicked, at Draco and Pansy, and Draco couldn’t stop himself--both of the Gryffindors were wearing shocked, horrified expressions, as if he was going to throw a young-Malfoy tantrum at just the mention of Buckbeak’s name.
He burst out laughing.
There was a moment of even more startled silence before Ron, and then Pansy, and then Hermione started laughing, too.
Draco fought not to think of Granger and Weasley as friends. It wouldn’t have been fair. But they spent many of the their free hours over the next week working together in the library or the common room, poring over their legal texts and marking up the paper. Sometimes Ron would bring his classwork to complete first, and Draco helped him with potions a few times. Ron seemed to be in charge of providing snacks, since all the house elves were obsessed with him. But Draco tried to keep everything straight in his head: Granger was pretending to be friends with Pansy to help the rest of the castle move on after the war, and Weasley just played along with whatever Hermione did all the time. Granger, not Hermione. He couldn’t even keep that straight, and it didn’t help that both of them had taken to calling him Draco whenever they felt like it. Didn’t they understand he needed the boundaries to be clear? Did they not see how easily Pansy and he could be taken in by their false friendship?
Flurries of snow blew past the windows of the Defense classroom, obscuring any view of the grounds. Draco pouted in their direction. For the day before the Winter Holidays, Potter had placed a series of curses on packages and given them to the whole class to open. He’d done the same thing for the first years and Draco had been there to make sure kids got unjinxed whenever they missed a spell. But the 8th year Defense class had moved on to some pretty complicated curse and jinx breaking, but he couldn’t seem to do anything correctly. Draco had managed to get his nose jinxed green unwrapping the first package, and Ron had quipped that he looked very festive.
Ron’s words didn’t have the sting they would have once, but Draco was still pouting. Who knew what else the packages would do, and his looks were all he had left.
It was unnerving to watch Neville deftly flicking the package this and that way to make sure it was clear. The fact that it was nearly the winter holidays and Draco hadn’t managed to cast a patronus, which apparently all the first years could do, was always somewhere in the back of his well organized mind.
At the end of class, Potter asked him to stay after again. Draco cut Ron off with a glare before he could make any comments.
“Malfoy. I feel like a shitty teacher. You’re doing half the instruction for the first years, but in this class--”
“I’m sure it’s not your fault, Potter. Your skill as a teacher will be legendary as soon as people figure out what you’ve done with the first years. Sometimes you just get a student who can’t learn.”
“You’re not even trying, Malfoy,” Potter responded in a growl. When you couldn’t do the Patronus, you gave up. You refuse to teach the eighth years occlumency, which you’d be good at, and now you won’t even try--”
Draco wasn’t sure exactly where his frustration stemmed from. But it poked at the inside of his chest like a burning needle. “You told me I can’t learn to cast a patronus,” he snapped. “No matter how strong of a wizard I am, or how many times I practice the damn incantation, I can’t do it because I can’t manage my own happiness. How the hell does any of this matter if I can’t--if I’m not--” He shouldn’t have risked a glance at Potter then, but he did, and Potter’s eyes were pooled with pity.
“That’s not what I meant, Malfoy.”
Draco was dangerously close to emotions he didn’t want to share. “It doesn’t matter, Potter. So I’m failing Defense. You can’t be expected to teach me happiness. Thanks to Granger they’re not going to chuck me into Azkaban for failing a class. I’ll be just as good a cautionary tale for children with or without the defense skills.”
But something he’d said had lit a spark in Potter’s eyes. “That’s it!” he grinned. “You don’t have a happy enough memory. We’ll make a happy memory.”
Draco felt like a hornet’s nest that had lived long-dormant in his stomach was being poked by Potter’s words. He tried to let the words slide off him. “I’m not a stray puppy, Potter. I don’t need your charity.”
But Potter wasn’t really listening anymore. His face was alight. He’d figured out how to save the Draco-in-distress, and Draco couldn’t talk him out of it.
“I’ve got an idea,” Potter grinned, bolting towards the door. “Tell you all about it tonight.”
Draco had never talked with Potter at the same time as Ron and Hermione. When they cornered him in the Common Room, Potter with that same brain-fire light coming from his eyes, Draco looked for an escape. He even grabbed his wand. Not that they would hurt him, but his wand would be in hand. He might need to disappear.
“Why have the three of you got me backed into a corner?” he frowned.
Ron looked significantly less enthusiastic than Potter, but he was the one who spoke. “I’ve just heard back from my mother,” he offered. “And she said it was alright with her. So. You’re officially invited to the Burrow for Christmas this year.”
Draco winced, then tried to cover it. First of all, who owned up to living in a Burrow? Second, he was learning to tolerate one ginger hanging around at all times, but hanging around eight? Nine? How many Weasleys were there, anyway? He’d snap.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
His own hesitations aside, there was no way they actually wanted him around at their holidays. However many Weasleys there were, there was one less because of the war. He wasn’t the right person to fill that vacancy.
“But Molly’s already invited you. She’ll be offended if you don’t come."
Draco’s stomach started to churn. Why was he the only one who could see how terrible of an idea this was? The only one who could picture himself sneering at the table while the Weasleys exchanged god-awful knit objects.
“Tell her I’m sorry I can’t come. It’s the nicest--it’s beyond nice, though. You’ll enjoy your holiday much more if I’m not around.”
Draco looked at Potter to see if any of this was sinking in, and all he could see was that he’d taken the wrong tack. Harry now had the look of someone watching a puppy drown.
Ugh. Undo the damage. “And I’ll have a better time not spending my holiday with the Weasel-y clan.” He’d tried to call them the Weasel clan, but he’d choked over the word. What kind of soft--
Hermione spoke then, firm and finished. “There’s room for everyone at the Burrow. I promise.”
Which is how Draco found himself on the train in the same compartment with the golden trio and a weight in his chest like he’d packed his trunk there. Luckily, Pansy was jammed on the seat next to him. She was going home to her mother, but when she’d heard that Draco was going to the Burrow for the Holidays she’d spent about five minutes having a physical conniption.
I can’t believe you’re going to spend an entire week with Potter, the Potter, Potter Stinks Potter and I don’t get to see any of it? I’m going to have to have Hermione owl me all of it because you’re never going to tell me anything useful, and she’s going to be all smug about it and probably dreadfully vague because what if the letter ends up in Potter’s hands… and then she’d trailed off with a devious look on her face, and Draco had refused to speak to her until she promised that she would stop saying things that made the whole situation worse.
“I don’t have any wine to give her,” Draco muttered. He was showing up at the house of a family whose son was dead because of the war and he didn’t even have a good wine to thank them for their hospitality. Luckily he’d been able to get to Hogsmeade to buy a nice selection of chocolates, but they certainly didn’t have any bottles in that town worth purchasing.
Hermione was in the middle of reassuring Draco about the lack of wine when the Weasley girl opened the compartment door and pushed herself into the already rather full compartment.
“Ginny,” Harry grinned. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”
Draco starved a thought. He could dislike Ginny Weasley because she was pushy and had beaten him at Quidditch, but he wasn’t allowed to feel jealous of her. So, no wishing that Potter’s face lit up like that when he walked into a room. No hating her name for sounding sweet in his mouth. None of that.
“I need to talk to Malfoy,” she said.
His pulse fluttered in panic. What did she know? Had she found out about--had Hermione said something about his situation regarding Potter? The Weasley girl wouldn’t confront him about that here, in the middle of this crowded train car, would she?
“What is it?” he managed.
“I think we both want the same thing,” she said, a mischievous light dancing in her eyes.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he replied rather too quickly.
“My family has a tradition of playing a friendly Quidditch match every Christmas. Harry’s always captain of one team, and I’m captain of the other. So I heard you were coming to visit for the holidays, and I thought to myself, this year I’m going to win. If there’s one person in the world who wants to beat him as much as I do, it’s you. You’ll be my seeker, won’t you?”
Draco tried to manage words, but he was still reeling from the panic he’d been experiencing and confusion that Weasley was asking him to be on her team for anything.
Potter spoke up before he could manage anything. “What? That’s not fair, Ginny! I invited him. He should get to be on my team.
Ginny turned her cat-eyes on Draco, studying him. “Oh, let’s ask Malfoy what he wants. Do you want to play on Harry’s team, or do you want to beat him?”
Draco had had very few real interactions with Ginny Weasley in the past. Playing Quidditch against someone or targeting them as part of a large group didn’t allow much room for individual impressions. But he’d been so certain he disliked her because she was actually cloying and obnoxious. He might have to re-examine that.
“Beat him, of course.” Draco answered.
Draco clutched his pajamas to his chest, listening to the shifting of the house and the foots pounding up and down the staircase. He nearly always changed his clothes in the bathroom at Hogwarts, even this late into the year. If he was quite sure that the others were busy in the library, or Potter was in the middle of marking papers in the common room and looked unlikely to shift for the next hour, sometimes Draco would yank his robes off and tear on his silk pajamas in their dorm room.
In the Weasley house--he didn’t want to even think the word “Burrow” about a structure that he’d be sleeping in--getting into the bathroom was a minor miracle, and every minute spent therein was at a premium. He’d gone down to scope it out a minute ago, and Hermione, Ginny and Fleur had all be crowded inside, brushing their teeth.
So. He’d change in Ron’s room. It would be fine. Harry was still--somewhere. Somewhere else. He lowered his pajamas onto the bed to free his hands, then tensed and hesitated at the sounds of footsteps in the hall. The footsteps passed by, and he grimaced at his own jumpiness. This should not be a big deal. He stepped out of his trousers and into the comforting excellence of his green and silver pajama pants, then moved to pull his jumper over his head.
The door opened, and Draco tried to pull the sweater back into place, but in his panic it had gotten hung up on his elbow, and he was trapped. The only way out of this was through. Draco pulled the jumper all the way off and held it clutched in one fist. Instead of snatching up his shirt and buttoning it into place, he stood facing Potter and Ron. Waiting.
“Oh Merlin,” Potter breathed, taking two steps toward Draco. Ron’s room was not large, and this brought him uncomfortably close. Draco wished he was holding his wand so he could put something defensive between Potter and himself.
“Oh Merlin, ” he mimicked instead. “Is that all you can think to say, Potter? Has my stunning physique robbed you of intelligent thought?"
Red crept upwards from Harry’s collar. “No. I mean, no that’s not all I can say. I don’t think I ever said how sorry I was.” Harry was inching forward, and Draco felt his back pressing against the window frame.
“I tried to hit you with the Cruciatus,” Draco dismissed.
“No,” Harry said. And then he reached up fingers curled in hesitancy and pressed them to the scar that ran from Draco’s collarbone to his sternum. There were other scars, a small roadmap of them, but Harry’s fingers lingered on this one.
Draco made eye contact with Ron, who was standing behind Harry, eyes wide. In all the many ways he’d pictured this happening, Ronald Weasley had never been standing behind Harry, looking shocked.
“They’re so--Malfoy, I am sorry. I was sorry as soon as I saw what the spell did. I never meant to hurt you this badly."
Draco managed the only words he could force out of his lips. “Why are you touching me, Potter?”
Harry snatched his hand back as if he’d been stung. He tore his eyes away from Draco’s chest and looked into his eyes. “Uh, I--Sorry, I--I’m going for a walk.”
And with that, he spun and exited the room as abruptly as he’d entered.
Ron cleared his throat. “Listen, I better follow him and see if he’s alright. That was a bit weird. I’m sure Pansy will want to hear about that .”
Draco slipped into his pajama shirt and did up the buttons. Slowly, because his foolish fingers were trembling. He starved one thought, and then another. There was no reason for his fingers to tremble. He didn’t even know what emotion was causing this. Anger? Fear? There was no reason to feel disappointed that Ron had gone to talk with Potter when he ran out of the room and not stayed to help Malfoy figure out what the hell had just happened. He didn’t want to talk to Weasley about it, anyway.
He pulled back the blankets on the bed and tucked himself into it. Maybe he could close his eyes and be asleep before Potter and Weasley returned, probably talking about him.
Molly and Ginny Weasley seemed to be entrenched in a war over priorities. Mrs. Weasley wanted her children’s help cleaning and decorating the house to prepare for the holidays and seemed to want the extra guests perpetually busy with warm tea. Ginny Weasely, on the other hand, wanted every person who was slated to be on her Quidditch team out on their makeshift pitch every daylight moment--and for moonlight practices.
“We’re not going to beat Harry by sitting around and eating Christmas biscuits!” she railed when Percy complained about squeezing in another practice after dinner.
“We’re not going to beat Potter, anyway,” Charlie laughed. “I’m all for pickup Quidditch, but let everyone enjoy their hols, Gin!”
Draco, for his part, was gratified to be the second-most-obsessed with beating Potter. He showed up for every practice, even if he was the only one there. It was different enough from school Quidditch that Draco didn’t feel constant anxiety while playing. The players were of all different ages, and he hadn’t bribed his way onto the team. Sometimes Potter or members of the other team would come out and practice would devolve into a pick-up game. But Potter had kept his distance from Draco ever since the first night, and the practices were no exception.
On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, their last-minute strategy session was interrupted by just such a game. And when the snitch glinted in the dying afternoon light, Draco streaked toward it. Potter was closer, he’d easily bump Draco aside and claim the snitch. Still, Draco flattened himself to the borrowed broom, hoping that the head start could carry him.
He saw Potter wheel his broom, head swiveling to calculate the right angle and speed to interfere. Draco steeled himself for Potter’s weight to hit him from the right. They were only a few meters from it. If Draco could somehow keep his direction for just a bit longer. And then Potter startled him completely by pulling up and out of the way. Draco zoomed forward, and his hand closed around the snitch. He let Draco catch the snitch. He let Draco catch the snitch .
Draco angled steeply toward the ground and jumped off before his broom came to a halt. Instead of giving the snitch to Hermione, who was tending the ball box rather than participating, he flung it as hard as he could at the ground. The ball stopped inches from the mud and veered away.
“Oi!” Ron called. “What’s the big idea, Draco? It’s almost dark, and now you and Harry have to catch the snitch again.”
Draco tore off his gloves and stuffed them into his pocket. “Potter can catch the snitch now since he could have caught it then and pulled up short.”
Potter had landed and was now rubbing his hand through his windswept hair. “I just didn’t want to crash,” he muttered.
“Since when have you cared about that?” Draco raged. “If I beat you--when Ginny and I beat you on Christmas, you’d better be really playing.”
Potter shifted. Glanced at the crowd of Weasleys now listening to their argument. “I just thought you wanted--”
“To win?” Draco interrupted. “You think that will make me happy, so I can cast a patronus and you can mark it off on your checklist?”
“Me not to touch you,” Harry finished in an undertone.
Draco noted that this was one of the most miserably awkward moments he had ever participated in. If he apparated to the manor right now, he could certainly claim that he’d done the spell in self defence. Potter was trying to kill him. If he didn’t say something, the Weasleys would all suspect that there’d been something--that Potter had--
Or he could open his mouth and remove all doubt. “There’s a difference between colliding with me in a match and trailing your hand down my sternum.” He wasn’t sure why he’d said it, except that some part of him revelled in making a bad situation irredeemable. He was too embarrassed to see how the Weasley clan had taken it, but Potter was positively spluttering.
Time to make an exit. “I believe Molly wanted us inside for Christmas Eve dinner, and I’ve got to wash up.”
He imagined Potter spluttering and gripping his wand and grinned. It felt a little like old times.
Potter ignored him throughout dinner and the apparently yearly tradition of listening to Celestina Warbeck’s Christmas special. Fleur complained about the radio program, but it gave Draco an ache in his chest. His mother loved Celestina Warbeck, too. Hermione still passed him a cider and Ron still offered him a pudding. Draco figured that whatever was going on between Potter and himself, they were staying out of it.
After the singing, Draco snuck away upstairs. It was meant to be a family time. He didn’t feel unwelcome, exactly. Just unnecessary.
As soon as he donned his pyjamas and slipped into bed, a knock came at the door. If it was one of the Weasleys come to guilt him into more togetherness, he was going to flip them down the staircase. “Come in.”
Potter entered. Oh joy. The part where he had to endure consequences for opening his mouth.
“I’m not planning on letting you win tomorrow."
“Perfect. But I hope you’re not planning on winning by keeping me from sleeping tonight.”
“It’s only nine, Malfoy. I don’t intend to keep you up until the wee hours of the morning.”
Draco smirked, and dark splotches formed on the skin above Potter’s collar.
But in his Potter-like manner, he plowed forward. “I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for what I did with the spell. And I can understand why you wouldn’t want me to be anywhere near you after that. I wasn’t sure where my boundaries were. But I will destroy you tomorrow in the match.”
Draco leaned back in his sheets and chuckled. Maybe he should have left Harry feeling afraid to touch him. It was probably the only way he’d be able to best him. “Ginny will be very disappointed in me.”
Harry laughed. “Come on, aren’t you supposed to say, ‘I’d like to see you try,’ or something like that?
Draco sat up suddenly, on his elbow. “Potter, what are you going to do once we’re done with school?”
Potter was in the middle of pulling off his shirt, and Draco lay back again quickly to protect his thoughts. “Uh, I always thought I’d be an auror, so I could help put away dark wizards.”
Oh. Of course he had. “Did you ever think about playing Quidditch. Professionally, I mean?"
Harry laughed. “I don’t think I’d be good enough for any of those professional teams. Besides, the press, the fans. I’ve had enough of that.”
If Harry wasn’t good enough to go professional, Draco had never stood a chance. But that had been his dream. One of the little pet thoughts that was safe and innocuous enough to feed even when the Dark Lord was sifting through his thoughts.
“Lately,” Harry continued in a voice that was much more careful, “I’ve been thinking about becoming a Professor at Hogwarts. Maybe not right away. But--”
Draco rolled his eyes and sat up again. Potter was safely in his own bed and covered up. “The Board of Governors would shit themselves if they thought they could get you on staff.”
Harry shrugged. “I don’t know if I’d be able to do it, either. You’ve seen more than anyone what a mess I’ve been making of things this year.”
“Right,” Draco recited. “Teaching all the first years how to cast Patronuses. Teaching the eighth years Auror level defensive and anti-jinx spells. Teaching first years Occlumency.”
“You’re the one teaching the first years Occlumency.”
“The point is, you’re doing things no one’s ever heard of before. Nobody thinks you’re making a mess of it.”
There was silence for a long moment. Harry turned off the lights and climbed back into his bed. “Malfoy. Why won’t you teach the eighth years Occlumency? They need it just as much as the first years. Maybe more.”
In the dark, with Potter’s voice soft for once, instead of demanding, Draco wanted to be honest with him. “Alright Potter. You’ve seen everything I’ve done with the first years. You’ve had a chance to practice it. Should I come into your mind and take a look around?”
Harry’s voice changed entirely, “I don’t--that’s not a good--you don’t have to--
“Try to complete a sentence, Potter.”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to let you look into my head."
“Right. And if you can’t even trust me, how will any of the others?” Draco hated that the hurt seeped out into his voice. He waited, but Potter couldn’t even formulate the beginning of a sentence this time. “That’s what I thought. Goodnight, Potter.”
There was a lot of fuss over everyone’s piles of presents in the morning. Draco had received a small package of sweets from his mother and opened it slowly while the Weasleys dug through their home-knitted sweaters. Mrs. Weasley opened the chocolates from Draco. He hadn’t had anything for anyone else, and was relieved when they didn’t have gifts for him either. He owed Hermione for taking on his case, but that wasn’t something he could cover with a Christmas gift.
After gifts there was the enormous breakfast. Draco opted for the proteins and light carbs that would fuel his Quidditch victory, but most of the Weasely family seemed happy to linger over the breakfast rolls that Mrs. Weasely had baked and double up on servings of hash.
Ginny wouldn’t allow them to lose focus for long, though, and she had everyone dressed in Quidditch gear, armed with brooms, and standing on the little pitch before noon. She gathered the team--Charlie, herself, and Percy as chasers, George and Molly as beaters, Fleur as the keeper and Draco as the Seeker--into a huddle. “This is all I want for Christmas from any of you,” she said urgently. “I want to win this year.”
“Ginny,” Charlie frowned, “You can be on the same team as Harry next year. I think you’re taking this all a bit too seriously.”
Ginny looked to Draco. “We’ve got this, right?”
Draco tightened his grip on his broom. “Of course.”
The other team featured Ron as the Keeper and Harry as the Seeker, of course. Bill and one of his friends from work, who had come to join the match, were beaters. Arthur, Hermione, and Angelina Johnson, who had joined as a guest of George, served as the chasers.
The game was a comedy. Hermione disliked flying in general, but Angelina and Arthur wanted to include her, so they kept sending the quaffle her way. Ginny didn’t have any of the same compunctions about sharing, but whenever the ball was sent Percy’s way, he covered his face and screamed. Ginny managed to score on Ron twice.
Harry, as usual, had opted to take a high vantage point and scan the field from there. Draco stayed lower. Even though it might be harder to spot the snitch, there was a chance he’d be closer, and he’d need every advantage he could get on this borrowed broom.
More points were exchanged, but Ginny was keeping them in the lead. He hummed a few lines of Weasley is Our King to himself. He should make a verse for Ginny. When she went professional it would sweep the nation. They’d sing it at the World Cup one day.
And then, off to his right, the glint of midwinter sunlight on a golden wing. Draco couldn’t help it, his first instinct was to glance up to see if Potter had noticed. It was a terrible move as a player, because Potter always had one of his eyes on Draco, and he noticed Draco checking. So much for his advantage. Draco urged his broom down the field. He stretched his long form along the body of the broom, inching as far forward as he could and still maintain balance. A little farther.
He chanced a glance up to see where Potter was. How had he--Harry had already nosed up to be nearly side-by-side with Draco. Draco inched foreward a bit more. This wasn’t his broom, but he thought he’d gotten used to it during practices. He thought he’d pushed himself during practices, but he could feel the difference now. The snitch hovered feet away from them, and he reached out one arm, pleading let this be the time.
But of course it couldn’t be that simple. The snitch dropped, falling past Ginny’s ear and over Percy’s hair. Draco urged his broom into a dive. The few inches he’d still had on Harry were melting away, but the glittering orb had pulled up short a few yards from the ground. If he could get the angle right--he stretched forward, feeling the slight wobble of his broom beneath him. Harry wasn’t even reaching yet. This was it, this was finally going to be his victory. One final stretch--
Whomp. Something sped into Draco’s side. He tried to correct, but his weight sent the broom tumbling end over end until--crash. He landed in an untidy pile on the ground.
Potter’s boots touched nimbly down just in front of him. Potter wins again. Just like always.
“Malfoy!” the feet hurried toward him, and then Potter dropped to his knees. “Malfoy, are you okay?”
Oh. Draco should check that. His chest ached and he wasn’t sure he was actually breathing. He heaved air into his lungs and pulled the broom out from under him. “Fine,” he muttered. “My body broke my fall.”
Harry laughed, relief coloring his voice. More feet settled around them, and Draco struggled to sit up.
“I shouldn’t have rammed into you like that. I mean, I know you said not to play easy on you, but that was--I just saw that you were about to catch the snitch before I did, and next thing I knew, I was sending you flying. Or crashing, I guess."
“It’s fine, Potter,” Draco said through gritted teeth. A real Quidditch player should have been able to hold their position after a bump like that. Ginny was going to be so angry. Draco finally managed to sit fully up and stuck his legs out in front of them. His trousers were in a state. The knee had ripped out of one of them and--was he bleeding?
Potter reached out and hooked his left hand behind Draco’s knee. He flicked his wand wordlessly, and Draco felt the healing spell warm his skin and veins. He glanced up at Potter’s face, which was still pinched in worry. “Are you hurt anywhere else?”
Draco had the child’s instinct to list a thousand injuries so that Harry would keep one steadying hand on him and send more magic through him, but he couldn’t be that pathetic. Especially not with the entire Weasley clan, plus Bill’s work friend and Angelina Johnson clustered around. “I assure you, Potter. I’m fine,” he managed.
Potter scrambled to his feet and held out a hand to help Draco up. Everyone was watching. He couldn’t just bat Potter’s hand out of the way. But he couldn’t hold onto it for too long, either. He let Potter’s grip close around his hand, sturdy and reliable, and lift him to his feet.
Draco found himself face-to-face with Ginny, who clapped him on the back, causing him to wince. “That was good flying. If somebody hadn’t smashed into you like a complete oaf, we really would have had it.”
Potter was always destined to catch the snitch. He was golden, and they were drawn to them. But for the rest of the day, Potter was always within reach, always checking to see if Draco was okay. Draco felt like he might be the actual winner here.
Break sped by after Christmas, and every day twisted Draco’s internal organs into a tighter knot. Because every day he enjoyed the casual (now that the official match was over) Quidditch in the garden, and the stories from Charlie about dragons, and the laughter around the dinner table. He enjoyed the way Potter jostled him out of the way on the stairs and shot him a cheeky grin. He should not be feeling safe here. He should not be feeling like parts of him he hadn’t noticed had unraveled were knitting themselves back together. This was something that couldn’t last. Worse, he could calculate no way that would allow him to have this again in his future. They’d return to Hogwarts, and he’d take his exams and pray that he got enough NEWTs to make someone want to hire him someday. He’d run into Potter in Diagon Alley someday and maybe Potter would lift a hand in greeting instead of glaring at him, but that was the best he could hope for. This kind of warmth wasn’t something to get used to.
And with a snap of the fingers, the holidays were over, and Draco was boarding the Hogwarts express with the Golden Trio and Ginny Weasley once again. He had somehow been shuffled to the front of their group. Good. He could sit down in a compartment and get out a book right away and pretend to not even notice if the rest of them joined him in the same compartment. He couldn’t remember how they’d all gotten on the train at the start of the holidays and if Potter and crew had chosen to sit with him or been forced to. But at that point they’d probably felt like they had to sit with him, since they were pressuring him into going to the Weaselys. They weren’t pressuring him into Hogwarts. He was court ordered. So they could sit wherever they wanted. Nevermind that after all those pick up Quidditch games and chess in the evenings it would feel like a slap in the face if they sat somewhere else.
Draco found an empty compartment and moved quickly, letting the door slide shut behind him, hefting his bag onto the top luggage rack and pulling out a book to keep him company. At least Pansy would look for him.
“Oi,” Ron said, poking his head into the compartment. “Is dropping the door on me your way of saying you’ve seen enough of us over break?”
“Is that all it takes to get you to go away?” Draco asked.
Ron laughed, pushing the door all the way open and leading Hermione and Potter in after him. “Nice try, Draco. You’re going to have to do better than that if you want to get rid of us.”
Draco humphed and settled into the best seat, next to the window and looking forward. Harry sat next to him. Draco sat straighter, holding himself very still. This was fine. It made sense. Harry knew that Ron and Hermione would want to sit with each other. It was nothing unusual. His thoughts were starting to grow too large before he could starve them. They were starting to gorge themselves on emotions.
The compartment door opened once again, and Pansy’s face appeared. “Thank Merlin I found you. Not everyone seems fond of having me poking my head into their spots. Also, none of you sent me nearly as much post as I requested.” She stowed her bag. “Potter, shove over."
And Potter did shove over.
Toward Draco. So close that their hips were touching, and their knees. So close that Draco couldn’t pull entirely away. So close that there was plenty of room for Pansy at the other end of the seat. She gaped for a moment too long, and Draco panicked that she was going to say something. Just sit down, Pansy, he willed. Don’t make this a thing.
She sat, but not before smirking at Draco in a way that felt all too obvious.
At first, Draco held his posture perfectly. They chugged out of the station and into the grey countryside, and he kept as little physical contact between Potter and himself as possible. It didn’t seem like Potter was having any of the same hesitations. He shifted around, knocking their legs against each other.
And as the train progressed, Draco began to relax as well. Potter wasn’t paying any attention. He wouldn’t notice when Draco let himself melt into the contact instead of pulling away.
Draco expected Potter to have him wait after Defense class their first day back, and he wasn't disappointed. Potter handed Draco his wand. “I know you haven’t wanted to take it back. But you should try it this time with your own wand. And if the trial goes to plan next week, maybe you’ll be able to use it more.”
Draco accepted the wand. He couldn’t keep denying himself all the things that he wanted. Not when they were so close. His hand closed around the end and he felt warmth. Maybe it was because Potter had been clutching it, or maybe it was because his wand was meant to be with him, and it felt right in his hand.
“You know what to do,” Potter whispered, so close to his ear, and Draco nodded, letting out one shaky breath.
Instead of starving his thoughts, he let them engulf him. Potter holding Draco’s knee in his hands after the Quidditch game. Potter seeing the scars on his chest and looking into Draco’s eyes with the exact expression Draco had imagined a thousand times and never truly expected to see. Potter choosing to sit next to him on the train back to Hogwarts, and the casual warmth where their knees rested against each other.
Harry standing this close.
Draco kept his eyes closed and lifted his wand. “Expecto Patronum!”
He could feel the difference. What moved through him and poured forth wasn’t feeble. It wasn’t weak. It was solid and tangible. It was something real.
“Open your eyes Draco!” Harry cheered. “Look at what you did!”
Draco opened his eyes and nearly dropped his wand. The thing before him was graceful and delicate and beautiful and should never have happened.
Immediately, the doe blinked out of existence.
Harry was quiet. Draco could not bear to look at him. He should offer some sort of explanation. Or leave. He shouldn’t leave the burden of response on Potter.
And then Potter spoke, and Draco’s blood froze in his veins. “You must have known that the doe was Snape’s patronus. He used it to lead us to the Sword of Gryffindor. You must miss him a lot.”
That--that was his response? Snape?
Draco offered some sort of strangled excuse and exited the room with haste.
Of course, during their next Defense class, Potter thought he should facilitate Draco into greater misery by announcing the good news in front of all the other eighth years. “Draco’s got his Patronus!”
“That’s excellent!” Hermione cheered. “Will you show us, Draco?”
“No.” The force of his answer may have been too much. Hermione peered at him curiously.
“Come on!” Neville encouraged. “You’ve seen all of ours. I bet yours is really cool.”
There were people in the classroom who would have been mocking Draco if they said that, but not Neville. He really wanted to see.
“Nope. None of you are dementors, and I’m going to save my skills for when I really need them.
“There’s nothing wrong with practicing,” Harry said. “It’s not always as easy as the first time.”
But Draco, of course, could not be convinced.
Hermione was just as difficult to convince that evening at dinner. “Draco, I have a theory about why you won’t do your patronus.”
“Oh good,” Draco answered. And I’m sure I’m going to hear more about this theory than I want to.”
“Probably,” Hermione answered. “Since your Modus Operandi has been to avoid this whole situation.”
Draco cleared his throat. It didn’t seem like she was talking about the patronus anymore.
“I have three guesses. If I’m wrong about all of them, you don’t have to tell me what your Patronus is, and I promise to defend your position of not doing the spell in front of the class. But you have to answer honestly. “
And how was she going to enforce that? He frowned, already trying to think of how he’d convince her it was something else. Something innocuous. A peacock, maybe. Or a snake.
Ron frowned. “Hermione, the first guess was my idea.
Hermione inclined her head. “True. Then would you like to do the honors?”
Ron grinned. “Was it a ferret?”
Draco felt his cheeks glow red. They managed to bring up that dumb incident every time. Every time! At least he could answer truthfully. “No.” Although if it had, he might have been almost as reluctant to show them its form.
“Okay,” Hermione said. “Second guess. A stag.”
One again, Draco was relieved to be able to shake his head no, although now they were too close for comfort. “Nope. Not a stag, either.”
The first time Draco had really encountered Harry’s stage was when he, Crabbe and Goyle had dressed in a giant dementor’s cloak and tried to spook Harry from his broom during a second year Quidditch match. It hadn’t worked, and Draco had been terrified of the stag Patronus since then. It was a good thing that his Patronus hadn't taken that shape.
“One final guess,” Hermione smiled. “A doe.”
Draco wished that he was still good at lying to Hermione. He wished he was still good at lying at all, and that he hadn’t done the exact opposite of what he’d trained to do and opened wide every emotion and thought that he usually kept so quiet.
“It is,” Pansy gasped. “You grimaced when Hermione guessed it.”
Draco blushed a deeper shade of red. Thanks ever so much, Pansy, for pointing out my tell.
“What did Harry say?” Hermione asked. “I know that he’s been acting awfully obtuse, but surely this--”
Draco buried his face in his hands. “He said that I must really miss Snape.
Ron tried to stifle his laughter, but pretty soon it was the only noise at the table. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he snorted. “That you miss Snape? How could that be the first thing he thought of?”
Pansy’s face didn’t hold a hint of amusement. In fact, she looked pained. “Maybe he wasn’t being clueless. Maybe he got it, but he didn’t want to get it.”
Draco traced one tine of his fork through his mashed potatoes. This was the exact conclusion he’d come to. After all the classes they’d taught together and laughing next to each other on broomsticks and touching knees on the damn train, Potter had decided that he didn’t want to hurt Draco. He didn’t want to laugh or goad. He just wanted to explain away Draco’s feelings so he didn’t have to face them.
Hermione frowned, and a little vertical line appeared between her eyebrows. “I don’t think--”
Ron put his hand on her arm, still trying to swallow his laughter. “Harry’s just Harry. He’d think something was caused by a blibbering humdinger before he’d think it was caused by somebody fancying him. Do you want us to talk to him?”
Draco’s veins turned to ice. “Under absolutely no circumstances do I want you to talk to Potter about this or anything else to do with me,” he replied. He knew his voice was clipped and harsh, and he was glad.
Hermione still looked troubled. “But what if--?
“No circumstances, Granger. None."
Friday afternoon dawned on a Malfoy that had dark bags under his eyes and absolutely no sleep in his recent history. They didn’t have to leave too early for the hearing, since they’d been given permission to apparate to the Ministry. But Draco was still at the table the moment the first dishes materialized, staring that them through bloodshot eyes. Eating something seemed like a good idea, but actually eating anything seemed impossible in this moment.
“--hear anything I’m saying?”
Malfoy shook himself. Hermione was standing on the other end of the table with hands on hips. “Pardon?”
“I said, can you hear anything I’m saying? I wanted you to look like a human today, not a strung-out house elf. When was the last time you slept?”
Draco winced. “I tried to sleep. Didn’t Pansy have any trouble?” As she spoke, Ron dropped his books on the table and took a seat next to Hermione. Draco startled at the noise.
“Pansy is still sleeping off the last of the sleeping potion that I would have shared with you if you’d only asked,” Hermione sighed. “Merlin. We’re going to have to go with the whole haunted and misunderstood thing you did at your first set of trials.”
“The what?” Draco frowned. Now that he was actually on the brink of doing this, all of it seemed like a very bad idea. “Are you sure it’s a good idea to take Hagrid? I don’t think the Ministry likes him much, and he certainly doesn’t like me.”
Hermione waved away his concerns. “He has a soft spot for misunderstood creatures. You’ll do fine, as long as you don’t make any comments. Drink this."
She shoved a vial into his hand, and he glared at it. “What is this?”
“Pepper-up Potion,” she sighed. “Try not to come off manic.”
She started arranging her breakfast plate while Draco studied the little bottle. If this was all an elaborate plot to get Draco to take veritaserum and get him on the stand or drug him and smuggle him off to some undisclosed location, she had done a very thorough job of earning his trust. Draco downed the potion and waited to see if he could feel the effects. Well, it seemed like his heart was beating faster, so there was that.
With a flick of her wand, Hermione traded her carefully arranged breakfast plate for the empty one in front of Malfoy. He glanced up at her. She was not looking at him, instead focused on actually serving herself breakfast. But after a moment, she lowered the utensils in her hand and met his gaze. “Can I help you with something?”
She had the look in her eye that Draco associated with her punching him in the face. It burned just to look at her. She radiated determination and power. And this, Draco realized was how Hermione reacted when she was really nervous about something. He wished he projected anxiety as power instead of looking like--what had she said? A strung-out house elf
Pansy joined them just in time to scarf down another plate that Hermione had plated, and the four of them started the walk away from the grounds, where they’d apparate to the Ministry. Hagrid planned to meet them at their destination, given that he couldn’t apparate himself and no one felt quite confident taking someone so much larger than them by side-along.
As they crunched through the snow, Hermione was full of last minute advice, like “Draco, please don’t let them goad you into saying anything pretentious and terrible,” and “Pansy, you have to sit up and look at them. They’re the ones who are generally nincompoops about laws and ethics, and they’ve been doing it much longer than any of us.”
Pansy, while she looked considerably better-rested than Draco, had copied her appearance for the day they’d gone to get their school supplies before the term. Her hair was loose and unspelled, her face bare, and her robes common. When they reached the apparition point, Draco reached out and gave Pansy’s hand a quick squeeze. For all her optimism and scheming with Granger behind his back, she was just as anxious as he was.
One sick twist of his stomach and reconfiguring of the world later, Draco found himself clutching Pansy’s hand directly in front of the Ministry. Hagrid stood at the gate with a very large hat in one hand and a very pink umbrella in his other. “There you lot are! Was beginning ta think you’d all skived off the hearing.
Hermione beamed up at him. “Thank you so much for being here today, Hagrid. If we’re lucky, they’ll realize that banning your magic was ridiculous from the very start and they’ll let you carry a wand again. If they’re being stubborn, we’ll have to open a separate case for you, as I believe the case in which your wand was originally--”
“Don’t you worry about that ‘ermione,” Hagrid grinned, puffing his chest out. “Just want to be sure I’m doing my part to make things right after the war--” He glanced at Pansy and Draco from the corner of his eye. “--for all o’ my students.”
Draco wasn’t sure if it was the apparation, or the Pepper-up potion Hermione had forced on him, or something else entirely, but he felt exceptionally ill. He remembered every terrible thing he’d ever done to Hagrid. Actually, that was probably too many to think of at the moment. He thought of several terrible things he’d done to Hagrid, and spun around quickly.
“I think I need to go vomit.”
Pansy used her elbow like a knife in his rib. “He means thank you, Professor Hagrid. He’s just nervous.”
Oh Merlin, this is what Hermione meant about not saying terrible things. He muttered an apology that seemed to pass, because Ron led them to the telephone booth, demonstrated the phone number, and whisked himself into the ministry. Draco did not say anything about how he’d been to the Ministry dozens of times with his father and knew how to get in just fine, thank you. No Malfoy had been in the building outside of their own trials since the end of the war. He couldn’t know what kind of security precautions they’d put in place against people like him.
There was some of the waiting typical of any visit to the Ministry, but eventually the five of them were escorted to the benches outside one of the less austere courtrooms. Draco lowered himself to his seat. It seemed like he should sit. Even though his blood was racing and his fingers were twitching and he needed to move. Everyone else was sitting. He should sit too. Hermione and Ron were going over their notes and coaching Hagrid through the kind of things he should and shouldn’t say in front of the Wizengamot.
The trial proceedings--from sitting in the waiting room, to Hermione launching into an impassioned argument that magic was a fundamental characteristic of every witch and wizard and that to restrict the use of magic was to restrict their being and potentially cause irreparable harm to their well-being, to Hagrid’s testimony about being wrongfully expelled from Hogwarts and having his wand snapped for something Tom Riddle had actually done, to Pansy trembling on the stand and explaining that she was falling behind in her classes because she was afraid to practice the spells on her own, to Draco getting up on the stand himself and saying as little as possible to avoid insulting or offending anyone, to the Wizengamot’s discussion of how dangerous and evil he and Pansy might be, to the moment they reached a verdict--took most of the day.
But in the early evening, the Head of the Wizengamot stood and spoke in a reedy voice. “In the matter of Pansy Parkinson versus the Magical Community, we rule that under the guidance of a Ministry approved sponsor, Parkinson may once again use magic at her own discretion.
“In the matter of Draco Malfoy versus the Magical Community, we rule that under the guidance of a Ministry approved sponsor, Malfoy may once again use magic at his own discretion.
“Any complaints regarding their use of magic should be reported to their sponsor. Regarding the issue that arose during this trial of Professor Rubeus Hagrid’s restrictions on magic, the Wizengamot is in agreement that a new case should be opened in light of recent information to revisit and revise these restrictions. If Miss Hermione Granger and Mr. Ronald Weasley would like to serve as his legal representation, we will see them in two weeks time.”
With that, the Head of the Wizengamot pounded his gavel, announcing that they were finished, and swept down from his chair and out of the room.
Had the Pepper-up potion worn off? It was impossible to know--Draco’s pulse was pounding and his brain spinning.
“Did they actually say--” Pansy snatched at Hermione’s robe. “Did they say?"
Hermione looked irritated. “The ministry is removing the stipulations on your wands. But each of you is still supposed to have a sponsor to “oversee” your magic uses and “handle complaints.” If you use illegal magic, you should go through the same channels as everyone else. And if you don’t, why should people be complaining about it?”
Ron took the paperwork away from Hermione, lifted her to her feet, and wrapped her in a jubilant hug. “You did it, Hermione. Now relax.”
Draco thought of his old wand, tucked into the chest at the end of his bed. What was his first non-class spell going to be? He’d clean his teeth with magic tonight. He’d be able to cast an Impervious around his head if it was snowing on their walk home. He would never be able to cast another patronus in front of other living creatures for as long as he lived, but he shouldn’t need to, now.
They were a tangle of words and laughter and exclamations and frivolous magic spells all the way back to the castle. Pansy spelled her hair to look the way she liked and then spelled Granger’s hair into four different styles and Ron’s hair into four different colors. Draco spelled a snowball to bop Pansy on the head and transfigured several stones into fireflies.
Because it was late evening by the time they made it back to the castle. They’d missed dinner, but he didn’t care. He could--well, he couldn’t make food out of something else. But his magic was his again, and he could wait until tomorrow morning for food.
A First-year in Gryffindor robes skidded into the entrance, looked up, and darted toward Draco, grabbing him by the sleeve. “Professor Malfoy! Professor Malfoy you have to help!” Draco looked down at the figure in the robe.
It was Sam, who had stopped openly accusing Draco of trying to spy on their minds for the Dark Lord but never stopped watching Draco during lessons. Sam had certainly never run up and touched him.
“It’s Lacey. She’s got bad thoughts, and we’re trying to help, but something really weird is happening.”
Draco twitched his wand and the fireflies that had been flitting around the quartet dropped to the floor as stones. “Where is she?”
Sam wiped a sleeve across their face, smearing tears and other fluids. “She’s outside the Common Room. She won’t go inside. We found her by herself.”
How was Draco supposed to help with this? He had tried to teach them what he did. Or what he was supposed to do. He tried not to teach them to stifle everything inside them, just to recognize them so they weren’t frightened when they found the thoughts in the wild
“Please, Professor!” Sam’s face was desperate. They’d seen Lacey troubled before and hadn’t reacted like this.
“Um. Take me to her.”
Sam took off like a spell, bouncing up the steps and twisting around the landings. Draco followed as quickly as he could, but Sam reached Lacey’s side before him and had grabbed onto her arm. There were several other first-years gathered around Lacey. Draco wasn’t surprised to see blue and yellow robes in the mix, but when he saw two of the first-year Slytherins, he paused.
“Let Professor Malfoy through!” Sam shouted, and the crowd parted.
Oh. They weren’t exaggerating when they said something weird was happening. Lacey wasn’t crying or having a panic attack.
She was transforming. Draco swore, and Sam caught it.
“It’s bad, isn’t it?”
“Did anybody else go get help? We need Potter. And Madame Pomfrey. And the Headmistress, if anyone can find her.” Malfoy wasn’t even a professor. He didn’t know how to help a little kid who was about to transform into an obscurial. He’d only heard about it in whispered conversations.
“Excuse me.” It was Hermione’s voice. They’d followed Draco up the steps, and he felt a rush of relief. “You said you need the headmistress? We’ll send a Patronus."
Hermione managed the spell, but before either Ron or Pansy could move to send another patronus to Harry or the nurse, four of the first-years had their Patronuses pelting down the stairs. Sam was staring at the end of their wand, furious. “How come mine isn’t working?"
Draco slid to the floor next to Sam and Lacey. “You’re upset. It’s hard to do a Patronus when you’re hurt. Can anyone tell me what happened?”
“Professor,” piped up one of the Slytherins. “We found her in the hallway, and she was hitting her head again, talking to herself. We stopped and tried to tell her it was just a thought.”
“I tried the ice trick,” a Ravenclaw submitted. That explained the pile of ice cubes sitting beside Lacey. Draco could hardly believe they’d remembered the ice trick. He’d told them if the things inside their head felt stronger than anything outside their head, they could use something to anchor them in the physical, like squeezing an ice cube. They’d tried. What could he try that they hadn’t?
“Lacey,” Draco whispered. “Lacey, can you hear me?”
A shiver ran over her body. She spasmed, and all her edges faded. “Wh-what’s happening?” she sobbed.
Draco continued in the calmest voice he could muster, “I think you’re hosting a Defense Against the Dark Arts exam in the hall outside Gryffindor tower. That’s what’s happening.” The place on her arm where Draco’s hand rested felt more substantial for a moment, as if he was holding onto a person and not a very dense ghost.
She sobbed again. “I’m causing a sc-scene. I’m not supposed to--” her voice broke off as her back arched and Draco’s hand sank into her arm. He pulled back.
“Hermione,” he continued, trying to keep his voice steady. “Can you get the kids out of here?”
The other three were already trying to convince the first year students to step back so Lacey could breathe, but Draco was afraid that wasn’t enough. If Lacey transformed entirely, there’d be no holding her back, and there was no way of knowing who she’d hurt. He made eye contact with Ron. “Farther away. We need to clear out this area.”
Sam grabbed Draco’s robe again. “What’s happening to her? We don’t want to get sent away, we want to help.”
“It’s not safe. We need you all to go back to your common rooms so we can help Lacey.”
But Sam wasn’t the only one putting up a fight. “You said she needs Defense,” Johnson said. He was pointing his wand at Ron, who stepped back, raising his hands. “We can help.”
“You’re not ready to help with this,” Draco answered, holding his wand against his side. So help him, if he got his magic reinstated just to full-body-bind seven first-years and have it taken away again, he was going to snap his own wand in half and start using an umbrella.
Johnson puffed his chest. “Professor Potter says we never know when there’s going to be a moment we have to defend against the dark, and that we’ll never really feel ready. But we have to try.”
He sounded like such a mini-Potter. This was what happened when they let the hero teach the first years. First years who thought they could save everybody. Slytherin first years who thought they could save everybody.
He wished Potter were here to do this. If Potter was the one making foolhardy choices, it wouldn’t turn out with an obscurial destroying the tower and killing half the Gryffindors. With Draco in charge, there was no way of knowing how terribly this could end.
“Do your Patronus,” he told Sam. “Do it now.”
“But I just tried,” Sam wailed. “You said they’re hard to do when you’re upset."
“Exactly. All of you--anybody who didn’t send your Patronus to get help, cast it now.” At worst, it might protect the kids from what was about to happen.
Lacey twisted and shivered on the floor, but her eyes locked on Draco’s. “Pr-Professor Malfoy. Should I ca-cast too?”
How was she even speaking at this point? How long had she been fighting this transformation? “Merlin, yes, Lacey. You do yours too.”
He watched as Ron and Pansy’s Patronuses burst forth and stood guard between Lacey and their casters. And then Johnson’s owl was circling their heads, and a silver snake twisted in mid air.
Sam cast the spell again, grunting with the effort, but nothing would form for them. “I can’t do it. If Lacey gets hurt it’s going to be all my fault.”
Draco looked into Sam’s eyes. “You found help for Lacey and you refused to leave her side. You must care about her a lot.”
Sam nodded, eyes overflowing now with tears.
“I know you’re not happy now, and that makes it hard to find happiness anywhere in your own memory. Casting your patronus isn’t about forgetting that you’re sad or afraid right now, but it is about knowing that there are other things you’ve felt. It hasn’t always been this. Find something that works, Sam.”
He couldn’t think too much about it. He’d hold back, he’d stop himself. He’d remember his promise to never cast the spell again. Draco flipped his wand into position, closed his eyes, and thought of Potter. And Hermione. And Ron. And Pansy. He thought of all the moments that had been unexpectedly full of laughter and warmth this year when he’d thought the rest of this life would be survival.
The doe erupted from his wand, and Sam followed a moment later with their dolphin.
Was this doing any good? Draco peered down at Lacey. Her edges looked more firm, and she had enough muscle control to grip her wand. “Expec-expecto--” she tried.
The first years were cheering her on without pausing for breath. Pansy came up and stood close behind Draco. “Draco, I’ve never heard of someone stopping an obscurial transformation halfway."
“If anyone can do it,” he whispered. “It’s this lot. They’ve been trained by Potter.”
“Come one, Lacey,” Sam said. Their hand was wrapped around Lacey’s on her wand. “Once more. Let’s see it!”
Draco held his breath as Lacey and Sam moved the wand together and Lacey choked out, “Expecto Patronum.”
Smoky light was coming from the end of the wand.
“Merlin,” Hermione whispered.
“Holy shit,” Ron breathed.
Draco had never seen the spell behave in this way. The light had started small and wispy, but it was growing. The first years were chanting, “Lacey, Lacey, Lacey!” and the light had started to pull together. The other Patronuses had gathered around the nebula of spellwork, sniffing or flicking out tongues at it. And Lacey, who had tears streaming from her eyes and the beginnings of a bloody nose, held her wand steady and stubborn.
A muzzle materialized, and two flicking ears, a long, scrawny neck, reedy legs, and a tail. A horse. Lacey’s horse Patronus whinnied and trotted in a little circle. Looking for work. Looking for whatever she needed to defend Lacey from.
But the threat had passed. Lacey was pale and shaking, but she was all real, all human.
Of course, at that moment there was a commotion on the staircase, and Harry rushed into view seconds before Professor McGonagall. Draco vanished his doe and pocketed his wand.
McGonagall, as usual, was all business. “Granger, Parkinson, take all of these children to their common rooms. Weasely, I’d like you to go to the staff room and notify the heads of house that these students have had a scare.”
“Professor,” Weasley said, “They saved the day. They all deserve house points.”
“Yes, very well, Weasley. I’ll take care of that when I come to it.”
Sam put up an enormous fight at being separated from Lacey’s side, but McGonagall’s word still held more power that Draco’s, and Sam was dragged off to the Gryffindor tower, protesting loudly. McGonagall’s eyes slid to Potter. “That one reminds me of someone.”
Potter looked ready to ignite, but he kept his voice low and level. “I think we should take Lacey to see Madame Pomfrey. And then I would like to discuss,” he cut himself off and continued in an even lower voice. “I’d like to discuss what caused this to happen.”
Draco was still on the floor, so he helped Lacey to her feet. She was still shivering and bleeding from her nose, but she was also solid and alert. As they made their way down the stairs, Lacey whispered, “Professor Malfoy, what did I do?”
What could he say that wouldn’t scare her more than she had already been scared today? He knew somebody should tell her the truth. She deserved to know. She needed to know, if she was going to keep defending herself from the dark. He wished people had told him more of the truth when he was young enough that it would do him any good. “I don’t know everything about it,” Draco said, hesitantly. “But sometimes when wizards are having really dark thoughts, they turn on themselves and try to hurt themselves. It can happen if a wizard or witch doesn’t believe their magic is a good thing.”
“But I wasn’t trying to hurt myself,” she argued. “I wasn’t trying to do anything.” They had reached the first floor landing and turned toward the Hospital Wing.
“When your thoughts get that far, they can be really out of your control. You were--”
McGonagall’s voice cut Draco off. “I believe that Madame Pomfrey can explain the situation adequately to Ms. Ketteridge. Thank you for your assistance.”
Draco knew he had been dismissed. Just like Sam, he wanted to argue that he should get to stay at Lacey’s side and make sure she was really alright. But he’d known from the beginning that he wasn’t the right person for the job.
Before he was out of earshot, he heard Potter tell McGonagall. “I’ll be waiting in your office. I need to know how we’re going to be sure that Lacey’s safe from now on.”
Every eighth year in the school was perched on the couches and armchairs in the Common Room when Draco walked inside, and he could feel every pair of eyes on him. Hermione, Ron, and Pansy had already made it back to the room, and they were staring at him as silently as everyone else. He glanced up, feeling flustered, and then turned away quickly and tried to make it to his bedroom before any of them said anything.
Then someone started applauding, and then it was like thunder. Ron hollered, and Seamus whistled. And before Draco was quite sure what was happening, the whole room was filled with people clapping and whooping.
Was this some kind of joke? Draco took another step toward his room.
“Hold on, Malfoy!” Neville called. “You’ve got to tell us how you did it!”
Draco stopped. He didn’t want to talk about it, he was still shaking, and now that the adrenaline was fading, he felt exhausted. He hadn’t slept the night before, and today had felt like at least four days. But it was Neville. Neville wasn’t doing this to make some kind of joke about how he was the least likely hero. He turned around, feeling super aware of every motion of his body.
“The first years basically sorted it out on their own,” he said. “I was just there.”
Ron interrupted, “That’s the biggest load of--first of all, the first years found him the moment he walked into the castle because they knew he could help.”
Hermione chimed in. “And they were all piling onto each other to tell him how they’d already tried things they learned from class. And in the end, they all cast their Patronuses, even the girl who was transforming."
“Which Potter taught them to do,” Draco interrupted. “I had nothing to do with that.” It sounded impressive that they’d been able to cast the Patronus spell. It was impressive. But Draco had barely learned to cast his own Patronus. He hadn’t taught them anything about that.
Pansy sat up and sent Draco a very serious frown. “Draco, I would appreciate it if you could actually act like a Slytherin for about five minutes and take advantage of the fame.”
There was scattered laughter, but Draco couldn’t join in. He wanted recognition, but for things that he’d actually done. This had been a fluke, and they were all lucky to have survived.
Draco tried to make another escape, but Pansy and Finnegan literally dragged him over to the couch and handed him a glass of something alcoholic that he neither asked for nor intended to drink. And as Ron did another retelling of the whole day from the moment the trial started to the instant Lacey cast her Patronus, this time with even more drama and intrigue, Draco watched for Harry to come through the door.
He watched the door as the first of the eighth years made their way to bed and the room emptied. He watched as the fire in the hearth burned lower and lower, and he hoped Harry wasn’t getting himself in too much trouble with his big mouth.
It was past one when the door finally cracked open and Harry slipped into the room.
“What did McGonagall say?”
Harry startled. Draco realized that encountering Draco in the dark was probably not what Harry had anticipated. He looked closely at Harry’s face, expecting to see thunderclouds--but Harry looked more sad than angry. He was silent for so long Draco thought he wasn’t going to get an answer, but then he cleared his throat. “Thank you for being there. I should have been."
How was it possible that Draco had been waiting hours for Harry to walk through the door, and now Harry had annoyed him in seconds? “You’re the only person who expects you to be everywhere anyone could be in danger. You’ve got to learn that you can’t save everyone.”
Harry scrubbed a hand down his face. “I know that. I know it every day and every single night.”
Draco’s irritation fizzled and faded, and Harry took a few steps toward the chair where he was sitting. “You asked about Lacey?”
“I asked what McGonagall said when you talked to her.”
Potter sank into a chair. Since the common room was empty, he could have seated himself closer to the fire or at least sat across from Draco. Instead, he sat in the chair just next to him, so close that the arms of the chair were touching. So that if Harry put his arm down there, it would brush Draco’s.
Why was he even calculating their likelihood of casual contact? Focus, Draco .
“They sent her home over the holidays. Lacey. She was at home with the family that tells her that she’s always causing a scene and she’s got to control herself and not act crazy. The family that tells her she’s got something evil inside of her, something that makes her bad.”
It was too dim to see much of Harry’s face, but Draco could see the way his hands were working in and out of fists.
“And I told the Headmistress exactly what I thought about sending her home to that family, and she explained to me that Lacey wanted to go home. She has little sisters that still live with her parents, and she didn’t want them to think she’d left them for good. They’re really young, but Lacey thinks one of them might be a witch, too.”
Harry paused, but Draco didn’t know what response to give. He let out a breath slowly, that breath and the soft pop of the embers the last sounds in the room.
“McGonagall says it’s Lacey’s choice. But she’s twelve. She’s twelve years old and she almost ripped herself into pieces today. I know I can’t save everyone.” Harry’s voice sounded like a bruise. “But isn’t there anything we can do to protect anyone?"
Harry was so close. He was close enough that Draco could reach out one arm and pull Harry’s shoulders until they leaned against his, until Harry’s head tipped under Draco’s chin. Potter wanted to protect everyone, he just wanted to make sure Potter was alright. So much for starving that thought, it bloomed and demanded Draco’s attention. Think. Not about that. About what to say to Potter.
“Harry, you’re doing all you can. You’ve taught them how to protect themselves, and better, how to protect each other. Lacey and the first years had everything they needed because you gave them that. They didn’t need you to be there.”
Harry’s shoulders curled and his head dropped into a bow, and the silence in the room thickened.
It wouldn’t be weird now, to put a hand on Harry’s shoulder and say that everything would be okay. At least, it would be significantly less weird than twining the same hand through Harry’s hair and trying to console him that way.
Almost before he knew it, Draco’s hand was in the air, moving toward Potter. Shoulder, he directed. Shoulder.
He was mere centimeters away from contact when Harry seemed became aware and looked over at the hand inching toward him. His eyes shifted to Draco’s face as Draco hurriedly pulled his hand back and pretended to be stretching his other arm.
“Were you just going to pat me on that back?” Harry was on the edge of laughter. Draco was glad he didn’t sound hopeless and lost at the moment, but not so glad that Harry was laughing at him.
“No I wasn’t,” he snapped. “I was stretching. I’ve been sitting here forever.”
Harry chuckled. “For a moment there, I thought you were trying to comfort me.”
Right. Because there was any other explanation for the fact that Draco was still sitting here after the kind of day he had.
Harry stood up, joints cracking like an old person’s. “Merlin it’s late. We should get some sleep. Thanks for waiting up, Draco.”
It didn’t make any difference. Even after Draco followed Harry to their room and crawled into bed, his nerves were far too electrified for sleep.
With the trial over and the prospect of using his old wand for NEWTs, Draco decided to throw himself into studying, a pastime which Hermione approved of greatly and Ron and Pansy had no patience for.
“Seriously?” Pansy frowned. “You two hardly left the library all weekend! It’s our last term at Hogwarts. Don’t we deserve to have some fun?”
Hermione looked up over the cover of her book. “Pansy, it’s our last term at Hogwarts, and for once I don’t believe one of our professors is trying to kill us. You two both have use of your magic again, and Harry seems to be pulling out of his self-destructive nose dive. This is perhaps the only term at Hogwarts I have actually had uninterrupted time for my academics. I am going to study, thank you.”
Draco didn’t know how to say it without Ron and Hermione getting worked up, but he wished Pansy would study more too. The two of them didn’t need to do well, they needed to be exceptional. He needed to convince someone that they should hire him despite his dark past because his NEWTs were just that good.
Ron shrugged. “Alright, Mione, but I’ve already been offered jobs and you have too, so I’m going to visit Hagrid and tell him you’re too busy to see him.”
Hermione sighed. “Honestly Ron, he knows that I--” she looked back at her book. “Draco, you’ll still be here in half an hour, won’t you? I have some points I want to go over with Hagrid for the trial.”
Draco nodded, scrawling another line in his notes about the uses of dragon blood. He was so immersed in his work that he didn’t notice them leave, and he didn’t notice at first when Potter approach the table.
“Hi,” Potter started.
Despite himself, Draco could feel a smile forming on his face. This was serious. He had all but given up on keeping his thoughts from centering around Potter, but he couldn’t afford to start grinning like a Hufflepuff every time Potter walked into the room. “I’m studying, Potter. Not all of us have jobs promised to us after Hogwarts.”
Potter shifted from foot to foot. “Um. I was at Hagrid’s just now, talking to Hermione and Ron, and they said I ought to come talk to you.”
Oh? Draco eyes lifted to analyze Potter without shifting his head. Potter had a stupid smile on his face and couldn’t seem to stand still. What the hell would Potter want to talk about that would make him look like that?
“I had the Gryffindor first years today."
Oh, was that all. “Lacey’s still doing alright?”
“Yes. She’s fine, but class was a total waste. Of course everyone wanted to talk about what happened. You should have been there. Sam could not stop talking about how you jumped right into action and saved the day. They must have talked about you for fully half of the class.”
“Sam doesn’t even like me,” Draco muttered. “They made that very clear from the beginning.” He turned a page in his book to make it seem like he was still studying.
“I think you changed their mind. But while the first years were going on and on about their new hero, they started asking some--interesting questions about Patronuses.”
Merlin. Draco stopped breathing. So much for having fans. Draco was going to kill them all. He flipped another page roughly even though he’d registered nothing from the one previous.
“They wanted to know why ours are matching. And I tried telling them about Snape’s Patronus, and how the two of you were really close, but they got it in your head that you--well, that it was more about me than Snape. So I was talking to Hermione and Ron about it, trying to see what they thought, and they said that you’d be the person to ask. So?”
Draco wondered how, even though every muscle in his body had frozen and he was incapable of looking at Potter at all, he so clearly knew that Potter had a painful, predatory grin on his face. Draco clutched his wand in one hand. Potter had backed him in a corner. Potter knew what happened when he backed Draco into a corner, and he did it anyway.
“Honestly, Potter.” His voice sounded false, but there was nothing for it, he had to keep plowing through this. “This is what you get for always listening to your fan club.” Close the book. Gather up the notes. No stopping now. “And first years. They thought I was a death eater a week ago, and now they think, what? That I’m in love with you?” His voice was getting stronger. It was magic. “Of course that makes more sense than the idea that anyone wouldn’t adore the boy savior. What a joke. I’m going somewhere peaceful where I can actually get some studying done.”
He took a few steps toward the door. He felt sick, but he was actually going to make his escape. “Oh, and Potter, tell your--” he stumbled over the word, “your m--muggleborn friend and the Weasel to stay the hell away from me.”
He still couldn’t see Potter’s face. He hadn’t looked at it once since Potter had started mocking him for being Patronus-forming-level-obsessed with him. But he could imagine what it looked like now. Hurt, betrayal, confusion. He knew what those expressions looked like on Potter’s face.
He wished more than ever that all the eighth years hadn’t been crowded into one room. He would give anything for a place to go where Potter and his impossible to shake friends wouldn’t pop up. Potter’s friends. He’d warned himself not to think of them as friends, and this was why. When it came to being honest with Potter or protecting Draco from humiliation, they chose Potter.
Draco squeezed his eyes shut. He’d done his best, but what were the chances that Potter hadn’t seen right through him? That when he went to complain to his friends, they wouldn’t tell him everything?
Well. There was only one term left. He could hide from Potter for the next five and a half months, and then they’d never have to see each other again. It was the only way forward.
It was harder than he anticipated, and not because of Potter. The next morning, Potter seemed just as eager as Draco not to talk. They moved around each other like the repellent ends of magnets. It was Granger and Weasley and--curse it all--Pansy that made it impossible.
Draco seated himself as far away from the others as he could at the eighth year table, but Granger took her usual seat across from him. “Harry says you want us to stay the hell away from you."
Draco studied his plate.
“Draco, why didn’t you just tell him the truth?”
He didn’t feel like eating the eggs, but it would make him seem unaffected. He took a bite and focused on the sensation of chewing. Pansy sat down at his left hand, putting her face far too close to his. “What did he say, Draco?”
Draco turned his shoulders away from her. Pansy was as guilty as the rest.
“We can’t fix it if you won’t tell us what went wrong,” Granger pressed.
That was it. “You can’t fix everything, Granger. Sometimes you just have to keep your nose out of it.” He had expected his voice to come burning from his mouth, but even he had to acknowledge he just sounded sad.
Pansy and Granger weren’t just exchanging looks, they were leaning across the table to whisper to each other. He stood up. If they wanted to have a private conversation so badly, he could facilitate that. He had studying to do.
Draco should have expected to be forced into a chair in an empty classroom after they were finished with classes for the day. He should have expected that Hermione would seat Harry in a chair opposite him and hold her wand at the ready in case one of them did something stupid.
“As much fun as it would be to drag this out over the rest of the year, I already decided I want to be able to focus on schoolwork for this small, promising window. So we’re going to put this to rest now.” Hermione said.
Potter ruffled one hand through the back of his hair. “Malfoy and I have an unspoken agreement. Specifically, not speaking to each other from now until--well, probably until we die.”
“Agreed,” Draco snapped, trying to ignore the sad twist inside him. He’d never once thought he could really have Potter in the way he wanted him, but it had seemed for a while like they might bump into each other if Pansy and Hermione both wanted to catch up over dinner, or-- “I see no reason for you to force the issue.”
Hermione let out a long sigh, as if she was the one being patient with them and not the other way around. “Harry, can you tell us what you said to Malfoy in the library the other day?
Draco looked up through his eyelashes to see that Potter was shifting in his seat and dull flush was creeping up from his collar. “Maloy knows what I said and how he responded. I don’t see what good repeating that conversation is going to do anyone.”
It gave Draco a small measure of satisfaction that Harry’s voice sounded as uncomfortable as he looked. Maybe he felt guilty for mocking Draco now. “Really? Well if you won’t tell them what you said, Potter, I will. He waltzed right up to my table, interrupting my studying no less, and started telling how the whole first year class had a go at me about having the same Patronus as Potter and they’d all decided that I fancied him. And that he asked Weasley and you, Granger, about it and you told him that he should come and mock my Patronus to my face instead of behind my back.” Steady, Draco. His voice was starting to dip. “So he had a good laugh at me, and I told him that you should all leave me alone.”
“What you told me,” Potter snapped, “Was that me thinking you could like me was a joke. That I’d been naive to listen to the first years and my friends, and that you wanted all of us to stay away from you.”
“Technically correct. I did say those things.”
“Harry didn’t really laugh at you,” Hermione protested.
“He did. You should have seen him, smirking and gloating from the moment he walked in the room.”
Hermione shot Potter a glare. “Were you really?”
“No!” Potter protested. “Well, I was grinning. I might have been gloating. I just--I was happy. Naively happy, as Malfoy helpfully pointed out.” Potter scuffed his feet on the carpet. “Can I go now?"
Draco opened his mouth, but Hermione cut him off. “Harry, why were you happy when you came to talk to Draco?”
“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Potter muttered.
“Given that Draco thinks you were thrilled to have something to make fun of him for, I would say no.”
Harry writhed in his chair, and Draco found he couldn’t look away. Harry wasn’t just uncomfortable, he was approaching miserable. “I thought I finally had a reason to believe that Malfoy liked me...back.”
Draco’s jaw dropped. “Back?” he squawked.
Hermione leaned back in her seat, clearly pleased with herself.
Harry’s eyes flicked to Draco’s, challenging and hard. “Yes, Malfoy. Back. I thought it was possible that you felt something for me, and I got excited. Don’t worry, I feel like a fool and I won’t do it again.”
Draco’s mind was reeling. “You--” he looked at Granger. “He--”
“Fancies you,” Hermione finished, slowly and deliberately. “Which he finally decided he could tell Ron and me during the holidays.”
“Why didn’t he lead with that?” Draco raged.
Potter’s blush deepened. “I thought it was sort of...obvious. I had all those dreams earlier this year where I woke up calling for you, and then engineered that whole, “help me teach the first years” thing, and then invited you to my mate’s for the holidays. I figured, if you weren’t acknowledging it, it was because you didn’t want anything to do with me.”
Of all the--Draco’s eyes bulged. “Potter. My bleeding Patronus is a doe. I made it after you took me with you on the holidays. I stood in front of first-years that hated me because you asked me to.” He could stop there. That would be fine. “I made buttons about how you stink when we were in fourth year! I got Snape to teach me Occlumency so no one could figure out how I felt. I’m still angry that you didn’t want to be friends with me first year! How was I supposed to come to the conclusion that you had any interest in me?”
Hermione stood, brushing her hands on her robes. “I think the two of you can handle it from here. But honestly, if you’re not talking this evening, we’re going to Pansy’s plan, which was to lock you both in a closet and see if the hormones take over. See you both at dinner.”
There was an awkward silence as Draco watched Hermione exit and tried to wrestle his thoughts away from what would happen if Potter and he did get locked in a closet. Maybe he should pretend not to be talking to--
“So,” that gleeful, predatory grin was back in Potter’s voice. “You’ve had a crush on me since fourth year.”
Draco hesitated. “At the latest.” He swallowed, fighting the strange weightlessness he felt at the moment, and turned to look back at Potter.
“Merlin, we’ve wasted a lot of time,” Potter grinned.
Oh. Potter was standing now, walking towards him. Draco barely had time to stand before Potter was right there, crowding the space between him and puffing hot breaths on Draco’s collar. “Can I touch you now?”
This was happening so fast. Ten minutes ago he’d been trying to resign himself to a life of never speaking to Harry again, and now things were going Harry-speed. Draco lifted his wand and pointed it at the ceiling. He opened the books he’d closed on fantasies of having Harry in his own arms. “Expecto Patronum,” he whispered, and a doe made of light and fury sprung from the wand.
Then let his hand twine through the black curls that he’d been watching for so many years.
“I don’t know,” Ron said when they met in the entry hall before dinner. “They don’t look like they’ve been talking, Hermione.”
Pansy giggled, but at least Hermione had the decency to frown at Ron.
Harry checked Draco’s face. “You sure you want to walk in there like this?”
Their hands were linked between them, and Draco had been full of protestations at first that Harry didn’t know what kind of problems this was going to cause, but now he didn’t want to let go.
He shrugged. “I do like to make an entrance.”
They strode into the Great Hall, and silence dropped like a curtain, but only for a moment. Then, a swarm of first-years was jumping over their seats and crowding the new pair.
“I knew it!” Johnson grinned at Potter. “I knew he’d agree to be your boyfriend!”
Sam was practically dancing on the spot, and two of the Ravenclaws were asking a question a minute about how they’d worked it out.
Lacey had been a little slower to reach them, but she was beaming just as bright. She lifted her wand. “Expecto Patronum.”
The little colt ran a circle around the whole happy mob. Harry brushed it away from his face. “Lacey, why’d you cast your Patronus?” Maybe he was worried that she was feeling the oncomings of another obscurial attack, but Draco hadn’t had to ask. He knew it was the same reason he’d cast his Patronus earlier. It wasn’t about the protection, it wasn’t about the dark.
She grinned. “I’m practicing happiness. I want to get better at it.”