Draco stares at the cat. Midnight-black fur, green sparkling eyes - the little terror stares right back. It’s rather unnerving if he is honest. Draco makes a shooing noise and takes a threatening step towards it; the cat looks distinctly unimpressed. With a sigh, Draco gives up. The cat had been here for the last few days, a stray most likely. Draco could hardly send it away, being a kind of stray himself.
Draco is lucky Mr. Parson took him in - no one else would and Draco was sure he was to die pathetically in the streets, passed by and spit upon. He was close to starvation when Mr. Parson appeared, offering him a hand and a job. What began as simple cutting and sorting - grunt work essentially - quickly evolved to more advanced tasks as Draco proved his talent for the work. Potions had always been a passion of his, and taught by Severus himself, Draco is confident in his skill.
In the right mood, Draco can acknowledge that the aftermath of the war wasn’t all bad for him. Granted, he has lost his entire fortune to reparation payments, his father to Azkaban and his mother to exile in France. But he has the opportunity to work with a respected Potions Master, expand his knowledge on the subtle science of the potion making and has good chances on being recognised as an accomplished Potions Master himself one day.
He had often cursed his pride for deciding to stay in England when his mother begged him to come with him to France. In his naivety, he believed that he could return the Malfoy name to its good reputation, if only he worked hard enough. His plan had failed before it even started, with no one willing to hire him, to give him a chance to prove himself. All everyone had seen was the disgraced Malfoy heir, the Death Eater, good for nothing and no better than the dirt beneath their shoes.
Draco had started to believe them.
But now, spending his days bent over a cauldron, being not only allowed but actively encouraged to experiment when he is done with requirements for the shop, valued and appreciated - his life is better than he ever thought it could be. Draco sincerely doubts he would have found such peace if he had run away to France.
With a heavy sigh, Draco pushes away from the wall behind his back. It is a nice place for a break, the stones warmed by the sun, hidden from curious eyes, a breeze carrying delicious smells from the small bakery next door. But he had dozed enough for today, if he wants to work on his Dreamless Sleep later; he had better get back to work now.
The cat is still there, its disconcerting gaze focused on Draco. He doesn’t care about solidarity between strays - he feels exposed under those watchful eyes. “Get lost already, before I throw you into a potion.”
The threat is an empty one and the cat seems to know it too. There is something familiar in the way it cocks its head, how it holds his eyes, challenging almost, daring him to say another word. It is exhilarating, which is not a word Draco ever would have associated with a stare down with a cat. It reminds him eerily much of Potter - but that can’t be. It’s ridiculous. Draco spent too much time inhaling potion fumes and not enough socialising, and now he is hallucinating and projecting human qualities onto cats. Draco definitely should go out more often, if this is what it leads to, but he finds spending his evenings immersed in a good book preferable to being stared at in public.
Be that as it may, he won’t be mocked by a cat. With one last glare, Draco goes back inside and firmly closes the door, leaving the little bugger to amuse itself.
He has just gotten back into the rhythm of potion brewing, when a loud scratching at the door interrupts his focus. Draco smiles into the cauldron - no way is he letting that judgemental little bugger inside. He does his best to pay no attention to the increasingly angry sounds, though it is virtually impossible. He hadn’t been able to ignore the cat outside and he can’t do it now either.
When the sounds finally stop, he smiles in smug satisfaction. Looks like Draco won that round.
Draco flinches violently at the meowing sound directly into his ear. He swirls around to the source of the noise, directing his wand at it, prepared for a fight.
The cat is sitting on his worktable, tail curled around its paws, looking at him in wide-eyed innocence that is betrayed by a smug smirk. Draco stares, not lowering his wand or his alertness, and not understanding what he sees. How did it get in here? He knows he closed the door, right into that mischievous face. The cat preens under his attention, then tilts its head up, looking straight at the window. The one Draco opened because the air was getting stale. Right. That explains it then.
Draco is still glaring at the traitorous window, when the cat jumps down from its perch, landing neatly on its feet. Draco warily watches its approach, stalking towards him only to rub its tiny head against his legs and purr. He looks down, flabbergasted and half-expecting to be bitten any second. The purring continues.
Another glance up confirms that there is no chance at all that he gets the cat out again. Seems like he is stuck with his own little stray now. Fantastic.
Draco has gotten used to the cat disturbingly fast. It had been merely a week, but the workroom now feels empty without the cat peering down from a shelf, striding around his legs and demanding his attention, purring and playing with whatever Draco forgot to save from various worktables. Mostly the cat is content to be left alone and observe him though, listening to him talking about the potions he is working on or the letters his mother sends regularly.
He had also, more disconcerting than the constant presence, taken to calling the cat Harry. Even if only to himself, he could admit this developed because of its close resemblance to Potter. The only difference is that Harry is his friend. Harry looked unbearably sad when Draco told him his reasoning behind the name, how Potter wouldn’t even accept his hand but it didn’t matter, because Draco had Harry now. He had jumped down from the shelf - dangerously rattling the stored ingredients in the process - and demanded cuddles, distracting Draco from the lingering sting of Potter’s rejection.
Mr. Parson thankfully yet unsurprisingly is completely ensnared by Harry, coming into the back of the shop more often, under the guise of checking on Draco, to play with Harry. At first it worried him, that Mr. Parson apparently trusted him less and deemed more supervision necessary, but Draco figured it out soon enough when he found the two of them playing catch in the shop before Draco’s shift even begun. It was a strange sight, the otherwise serious and stern Mr. Parson ducking under tables and reaching up shelves, his bad back forgotten for the moment, chasing a black shadow he had no hopes of catching.
Not that Draco can fault him for loving the little menace - he is guilty of the same. Draco will never admit to it, will deny it until his last breath, but he does love him, whole-heartedly and completely.
Cutting Dragon Liver is a slippery task - demanding some attention to hold the darn thing and cut even pieces but not enough that single minded focused is required, leaving Draco bored. It is a weird in-between that is only manageable by humming along to the radio while cutting. He is singing along to Celestina Warbeck – knowing the words purely because he has been exposed to it far too long, the radio is playing hardly anything else these days, not because he likes it - when a loud screech interrupts him right at the best part.
Turning around – holding the knife as if he could accomplish anything in terms of self-defence or intimidation with the thing - he finds nothing unusual, nothing unexpected, nothing out of place. The door is firmly closed, the shelves pristine, not one little container or phial out of place, the potions simmering. Everything is exactly as it’s supposed to be. Everything except - Harry! Draco can’t see him!
He distinctly remembers Harry being here, sniffing at the liver and making a face, quickly jumping down from the desk as if the scent personally offended him. A quick check confirms that yes, the window is closed - Harry couldn’t simply have left. Getting frantic now - Merlin knows this room is far from safe for curious cats - Draco searches all Harry’s favourite spaces; the top of every shelf, the armchair Draco likes to sit in and drink his tea, even his desk, covered in notes and empty cups but no cat.
His eyes fall on the cauldrons, two of them bubbling and cooking, and dread pools in his stomach. He suddenly remembers his threat, that he told Harry he would throw him in one of his potions if he didn’t leave, and he feels nauseous. He tries to reason with himself, that Harry isn’t stupid, that Draco would have heard something, that the surface wouldn’t be as calm if Harry - Draco doesn’t bear to end that thought. No, it’s impossible, far too cruel to have happened. But Draco learnt first-hand that the world is cruel, that good things seldom last.
Draco stands frozen in the middle of the room, caught between the shelves and the cauldrons, the place Harry definitely isn’t and the place Draco desperately hopes he isn’t. It is eerily silent in the room, nothing but Draco’s harsh breathing and the minacious sounds from the potions to fill the air. Draco doesn’t dare look, can’t move his feet and yet can’t help being drawn forwards, needing to look inside.
Suddenly there is a whimper, small and pained but undeniably there and, thank Merlin, not coming from the cauldrons.
Harry is curled under his desk, as far away from the cauldrons as possible, whimpering pathetically and licking his paw. Relief washes over Draco, followed by worry and overwhelming helplessness. Crouching down to carefully lift Harry from the hard ground, Draco cradles him in his arms. Harry turns around, snuggling against his chest and protecting his paw. Draco can’t see it - isn’t entirely sure he wants too - but going by the way Harry is acting, he is hurting badly.
Draco can imagine what happened - Harry got bored and, in his endless curiosity, decided to investigate the cauldrons, coming too close to the fire and getting scorched, letting out the bloodcurdling scream and sought refuge under the table. It is a horrifying thought and Draco would later curse himself for his inattentiveness, but right now he needs to get Harry help.
Not thinking clearly, barely remembering to put a Stasis Charm on his potions and the Dragon Liver, Draco tosses the powder into the fireplace, calling out the first name that comes to mind.
Lovegood isn’t there, of course. The room is full of colours and pictures, strange little things Draco doesn’t even want to know the purpose of, but no Lovegood. It’s a wonder the wards let him through at all, and maybe he should be grateful for that, but Harry is whimpering in his arms and Draco doesn’t care about being grateful to be allowed into an empty room.
Frantically pacing, Draco considers where else he could get help. He could try St. Mungo’s, though he was told he deserves to die on it the last time he went there. Surely they could look past his crimes and name and treat an innocent cat? Do they even have the knowledge? There must be differences between Wizards and cats, assuming they are the same is just plain stupid, but Draco doesn’t have another choice, unless he himself -
“Draco! How nice to see you again, and such a beautiful creature you have. Do you want tea?” Lovegood stands in the doorway, wearing a long flowing robe that gives her an even more ethereal look, long hair partly braided into tiny colourful streaks. She looks good, less loony than she did in Hogwarts and it makes Draco feel better about handing Harry over to her. He knows it’s shallow, that Lovegood is probably the most competent witch to help him and that her clothes don’t factor in on that, but he is still relieved.
“No, thank -”
Lovegood doesn’t stay to listen to him, leaving through the door frame she appeared in and forcing Draco to hurry after her.
He finds her in the garden, giant flowers blooming, busy humming all around, tea steaming on the little table. Lovegood is sitting already, talking to the bush and remarking on the tea’s sweetness. Draco chooses not to comment on this particular behaviour. This is her garden, and Lovegood can talk to whatever she wants. Draco also desperately needs her help, and he already insulted her enough to give her ample reason to deny him.
“Please, sit down. Your nervous energy disturbs the Blibbering Humdinger.”
Draco has no idea what she is talking about, but he sits down, resting Harry on his lap, where he curls even more in on himself.
“Sugar?” Lovegood smiles at him, holding up the container.
“Yes, please. No wait -” But Lovegood has already sunk the sugar and gone back to her own cup. Draco doesn’t have time for this - Harry is suffering and it’s his fault. The least he can do is get him help fast. And yet here he is, drinking tea and having idle chit chat; next they would be talking about the weather!
“There is no need to fret; your cat is doing fine. This is a very healing atmosphere, don’t you realise?” Yes, Draco does realise. It’s calming, soothing his agitated nerves and slowing his frantic heart. But he would still rather she look at Harry before making such an assessment.
“Could you look at him anyway? I fear he is in great pain.”
Lovegood smiles at him, more indulgent than anything else, but Draco doesn’t care as long as she does look at Harry.
Despite his concerns of Harry’s health and confidence in Lovegood’s skills Draco is hesitant to hand him over into her waiting arms. A small whimper finally nudges him out of his indecision, carefully laying him into the cradle of Lovegood’s arms. She murmurs some words to him, too low for Draco to hear, but Harry relaxes at them.
“What did you name him?” Looking up at him, Lovegood smirks. The expression is so unfamiliar on her face that Draco answers without thinking, blurting the name out and causing her to laugh, bright and harmonic. To his annoyance, Draco finds he can’t be angry at her for getting him to confess Harry’s name. Lovegood had never been stupid, there is no doubt she knows who Harry is named after. Thankfully, she doesn’t comment.
Gently taking the hurt paw in her hand, Lovegood inspects it, mutters some more things Draco doesn’t catch and stands up. Draco stands up too, but Lovegood smiles at him and he sits back down. “Drink the tea, I promise Harry will be fine.”
With that, she is gone, back into the tiny house, taking Harry with her.
Draco tries to drink his tea, to sit still, not to worry and trust in Lovegood. He can’t. He abandons the tea, walks circles around the table, admires the flowers; tries not to think of all the horrible news Lovegood could give him; that Harry will lose his paw, that Harry is fine but Draco hardly counts as responsible and she can’t in good conscience give Harry back to him, that Harry is fine but doesn’t want back to him.
He has walked a trench around the table and himself into a spiral of thoughts, when Lovegood stops him, a gentle but firm hand on his shoulder. She smiles, doesn’t admonish him for ignoring her tea or for ruining her garden. Draco might have stopped bodily but his thoughts are still swirling, creating possibility after terrifying possibility; Harry wounded, Harry leaving him, Harry dead.
It’s only when she presses a familiar purring weight against his stomach that he relaxes, mind settling on Harry’s warm presence in his arms. Draco sits down again, places Harry on his lap, pets him and checks him for injuries. He doesn’t have any, except the bright green bandage around his little paw. It’s the exact same colour as Harry’s eyes, as Potter’s eyes, and Lovegood painted a lightning bold on it. How did he ever think her a sweet, kind soul? Draco glares at her, but she laughs it off, doesn’t laugh at him however, and Draco soon joins her. The relief he feels at having Harry back, unhurt and purring, the sun shining on his face, Lovegood’s pearling laugh - it all floods him, frees him, makes him laugh like he hasn’t in far too long.
Their laughter slowly trails off, subsides into giggles and ceases to fond smiles. Draco watches Lovegood, glittering in the sun, hair standing wild, sorting the sugar in four even staples and realises that she isn’t crazy at all - probably never was. She has a strange kind of wisdom about her; one packed in riddles and a compassionate soul, hidden behind a dreamy smile.
“He was fine, you know, it was predominantly the shock and then he just wanted your attention.” The sentence doesn’t register at first, doesn’t make sense, until the wriggling creature in his lap demands more petting. Draco stares down, ready to defend Harry because he wouldn’t - except that yes, he would. Harry turns into a grumpy, devious little bugger, when Draco isn’t paying him enough attention, not keeping up his usual commentary on basically everything around him. It’s not that he needs to be entertained exactly; he just doesn’t like being ignored. Draco understands that, too well if he is honest.
Looking down at those green eyes, wide and innocent, his anger evaporates. He could never stay angry at Harry for long. Still, Harry needs to understand this was too far, the he could have gotten seriously hurt and that Draco was sick with worry. He doesn’t want to relive this ever again, hoax or not. Lovegood did say he was shocked; Merlin knows how close he was to getting more than that and actually burning his paw. Encouraging such behaviour would be irresponsible.
Draco frowns down at Harry, levelling him with stern eyes. He is visibly distressed now, no longer happily purring, and Draco tells himself that this is as it should be. Harry needs to understand that what he did was wrong, to never do it again. Draco will hardly get the message across by cooing at him. But as he glares down at the still form in his lap, Draco remembers countless hours standing in his father’s office, head bowed in shame, his father’s lecture ringing in his ears, bearing his fury and disappointment. He can’t do it, can’t do the same to Harry.
Bringing his hand down to Harry’s tiny head, he gently cups it, massaging circles and stroking him until he is purring again. An unbearable fondness rises up in Draco as he listens to Harry’s mewls, watches the way he presses his head closer into his hand. Harry isn’t stupid; he understands rational explanations just fine. “There are easier ways to get my attention, you know. Break a glass next time, throw down some papers, but don’t play with injuries. You scared me, little one. It would have been so easy for you to actually get hurt - I don’t want you to take this risk ever again.”
Harry gazes up at him, listening attentively to every word and making appropriately scolded noises. Draco sighs; it will be quite some time yet until he dares to leave Harry anywhere near the cauldrons again.
“More tea for you?” Lovegood breaks him out of his thoughts, refilling his cup before he can answer.
“Thank you.” It could almost be meant for the tea, a harmless politeness, but Draco doesn’t mean the tea. He means that she treated Harry, that she didn’t ignore him to do so, but openly welcomed him in her home, despite the things that were done to her in his house, that she makes him feel like he can be more than that.
Draco could never say any of this; it seems inadequate, like she deserves more of him, better. But Lovegood smiles at him, and Draco knows she understood, even if he couldn’t tell her.
The words keep reverberating in his mind, thoughts twisting around them, sickening and chilling him. It was nothing more than an insult, whispered in passing, a shove against the wall that ruined Draco’s shirt. He’s heard worse, endured worse, but here he is, broken apart and desperately trying to keep it together, sobs wrecking through him and shaking the wobbling construct that is him.
That is all it took, all he could bear before shattering. Draco didn’t know he was this fragile, he would have said he was doing alright if someone asked. Seemed he was wrong, misjudged what he is capable of. Wouldn’t be the first time. He stopped counting the times he thought he could save his family, save what they treasured or even their very lives. Draco failed every time.
He is desperately trying to get air into his lungs, his breath shaking and shallow, too fast, too little. Draco is leaning against a wall, not trusting his body to stay upright on its own, the brick rough under his hands but giving no hold. Draco barely remembers the stumbling steps taking him here, running away, fleeing, hiding from gleeful eyes.
It has been ages since someone has called him that. Not because people forgive and forget - they never do - but Draco wasn’t important enough to be noticed by them anymore. In a way, it was a blessing. The intrusive glares finally stopped, the taunts and insults and snide remarks finally ceased. In other ways however, it was a curse. It meant he was left to starve, die without anyone even noticing, let alone be mourned for. And when he survived against all expectations, it lulled him into complacency, a false sense of security, thinking he could start over.
Somehow, Draco forgot this is exactly what he is, what he will always be. He told himself that it was fine, that he wasn’t lost yet; that he could atone. That if he learns the error of his ways, if he treats people - all people - with the utmost respect, if he makes efforts to change, he could be alright. Draco would never be good, he knows that. How can he be a good person if his first instinct is to sneer instead of to help? How can he be a good person if doing good takes conscious effort?
But Draco thought he could at least partially atone. Draco was wrong. There is something tainted within him, in his core, foul and rotten since the moment he took the mark. Dark Magic leaves a stain, and Draco wears it on his soul.
That is the truth, the horrible, loathsome, undeniable truth. Draco should learn to accept it. The truth hurts but that is no excuse to ignore it. Deluding himself further will only bring worse. But Draco had always been weak, never enough. Of course he would fail in this, too, in accepting he isn’t worth a single thing.
Draco can’t afford to fall apart like this, can’t let strangers affect him like this. It might be the truth, and he might be forsaken, but he is still a Malfoy. He still has his pride. Malfoys don’t cry over things peasants say; don’t concern themselves with the opinion of the common people. But that is typical for him, just another area to fail in, to disappoint anyone who ever believed in him, ever cared for him.
Draco breaks down, knees hitting the hard floor, catching himself on his arms the last second before his face hits the ground. Faintly he wonders why he bothered, what it would even matter if he breaks his nose, if he fell badly and damaged his eyes, if he lay on the ground and didn’t get up again.
He let’s go, collapses onto the dirty cobbles. It’s rather metaphorical, and Draco might have appreciated it in anybody else, but he doesn’t care about metaphors, about empty words to beautify his suffering, about poetry.
Draco curls in on himself, searching to find warmth and evade the cold emanating from the stone, but there is nothing. He curls in tighter, as far as he can and wishes someone would press him smaller still.
Something touches his head, nudges against him. Draco dully registers it, wonders about it vaguely, until, with a sudden rush, he understands it.
Shooting up with energy he didn’t think he had, Draco backs away, presses himself into the wall and frantically searches for the source of the movement. He almost expects to find someone with him, someone who found him pathetically laying on the ground and crying, someone who decided to have some fun.
He finds no one, searches every shadow suspiciously, fearing and hoping to see a hulking form, a threat.
It’s nothing more than a whisper in his mind, carried by the wind, echoic from the walls, towering over him.
There is no one here.
Something nudges against his leg and Draco screams, kicking on instinct but finding no resistance, only air. Draco doesn’t know if he is relived about that or not.
Collecting all his courage, all his pride, every command to show some backbone his father ever shouted at him; Draco looks down.
Harry stares up at him, sitting primly on the dirty stones, tail curled around his paws, eyes wide. Draco can’t stop it, can’t help himself, he lets out a relieved sob and sinks down, crushes the squirming bundle against his chest, buries his face in the soft fur and hides his tears in it.
Harry is warm against him, heavy, grounding. His heart beats even, gradually calming Draco’s own frantic one, the purring a comforting rumbling that he can feel in his bones. Harry doesn’t try to escape, let’s himself be held and is much more comfort than Draco thought possible. Pressing a warm, purring cat against his breast and muffling sobs in his body is by far the best method Draco has found so far to calm down, to get out of his spiralling thoughts before he ends somewhere dark, somewhere he will be stuck, somewhere he cannot get out of and will be lost in. Being lost in Harry’s fur is far preferable.
Draco finds himself telling Harry of his thoughts, letting everything stream out and sharing his pain with Harry. It’s freeing, to have someone to listen, who doesn’t judge; who is just there, like a weight lifted of his soul.
Draco snorts at the newspaper, the tiny picture of Potter glaring at him and sulking in his little box. His hair stands wild in all directions, his glasses sit crooked and he has his arms crossed over his chest. It’s more endearing than Potter has any right to be, and Draco allows himself a moment of fondness, tracing the frame of picture Potter’s prison with his finger.
With an irritated click of his tongue, Draco folds the newspaper in half, muffling Potter’s protest in the paper, and throws it on his desk, redirecting his attentions to Harry. He is behaving oddly today, slinking around the newspaper and watching Draco as he reads it, sitting close and frowning at the lines of text, following the pictures with calculating eyes, tail twitching. He is tense, agitated, and if Draco didn’t know better he would think it’s because of today’s news. But Harry never cared about tedious Wizarding affairs before; it’s ridiculous that he should start now.
“It seems Potter has gone missing.” Harry swirls around at his words, fixing Draco with attentive eyes, demanding he continue. “I don’t know any more than you, we read the same paper.”
Draco intents to be done with that, tries not to linger on Potter too much, but Harry isn’t having it. Before he can pull away, Harry sinks his claws into his sleeve, narrowly avoiding hurting the skin but nailing him in place all the same.
“Fine, you are one demanding little bugger, you know that? Leave my coat right now, that is the only half decent one I have.” Harry retracts his claws, looking properly scolded and peering up at him with wide green eyes. Draco sighs and cradles his head in his hands.
“See the thing with Potter is that he apparently became public property when he refused to die. Wherever the lucky bastard hid before Hogwarts, I’m afraid that was the only time of peace he had.” Harry flinches under his hands and Draco stops his tale, but he sits still shortly after again, looking up at him, waiting. “Alright then, so he came to Hogwarts. Gryffindor of course, what else could the Wizarding World’s Hero be? There wasn’t a thing he could do wrong, won everything there was to win, even if he wasn’t technically allowed to participate at all.”
Draco trails off, thinking back on the Triwizard Tournament; the constant worry over the git that he somehow managed to tell himself was envy, the suit Potter wore at the Christmas Ball and that horrifying moment when Potter stumbled out of the maze, clutching Diggory’s body, muddy and bloody all over, a crazed look in his eyes.
Harry nudges his head up against his hand, bringing him back to the present, back to the story he meant to tell. Draco smiles down at him fondly, circling his ear with his thumbs and earning an appreciative purr. “He won the war too, though it looked grim there for a second. I believed he was dead you know, that this is the world we would have to live in now, one without Potter, without light and hope and laughter. It’s stupid of course, as if anything could kill that tosser. He was celebrated, received every honour there is and some new ones they invented specially for him. Everyone thought he would marry the Weasley girl, officially become one of them and start popping out little saviours to fawn over soon. He didn’t but that didn’t mean the press left him alone, not for a second. Every single thing he did, no matter how mundane or boring, was photographed and landed the title page.”
Reminiscing always makes Draco sad. There aren’t a whole lot of positive things to look back upon, and contemplating the life of the boy who didn’t want to be his friend - who was probably right in that decision and went on only looking at Draco when he insulted his friends and family - isn’t any better. Potter might be the Hero in every story, the man everyone dreams of, but he didn’t lead a happy life either.
“I can’t fault him for running away - it’s a miracle he made it this long. They never left him any space, any air to breath; watching over him like vultures, waiting for a scandal, waiting to ruin him. They should have left him alone, respected his privacy and afforded him some basic decency. As if he didn’t do enough already! No, now he has to give the rest of his life to these greedy leeches, even more of his time, of his dreams and hopes and plans.” Harry makes an odd sound, hissing and squeaking, and Draco realises he has gripped him too tight in his sudden fury, enraged over Potter’s fate.
Draco releases him, backs away and turns towards his potion. “Anyway, everyone is very worried of course; how could Potter possibly survive without constantly being accompanied by useless intrusive reporters! Merlin forbid, he has to spend even an hour on his own! Not like he proved himself more than capable off thriving under unforgiving circumstances, this is a bloody walk in the park for him.”
Harry jumps after him, striding around his legs and pushing until Draco picks him up. “What more do you want to know? I just told you the man deserves to be left alone, didn’t you listen?”
But Harry doesn’t want to hear more about Potter - thank Merlin, next Draco would have told him of the sonnets he wrote for the git, the good ones, mind, not that embarrassment from second year - but is nuzzling into his neck, warm and affectionate where he presses as close to Draco as possible. He doesn’t know what brought this on, what changed Harry’s mood from high strung and ready to pounce to purring and pliant in his arms, but Draco is glad for it. Seeing Harry agitated, not playfully hunting Draco’s feet and focused, but worried and tuning out everything else - he didn’t like that.
He doesn’t know much about Harry’s life before he weaselled himself into Mr. Parsons little shop, but it must have been far from glorious. Harry was far too thin, and only now, under Draco’s care, is he starting to put some flesh on those rips. Draco doesn’t know what happened to Harry, but he is sure it wasn’t what anyone deserves, and Harry, least of all. Draco doesn’t want him to be unhappy for another day in his life.
Draco is still uneasy when Harry sits too close to the fires under his potions, always watching with one eye and ready to get him to Lovegood in a second should he need it. But Harry, with an arrogant carelessness that never ceases to infuriate and astound Draco, doesn’t seem to have learnt the lesson and continues to curl up closer to the flickering flames than comfortable. If Draco starts finding grey hair soon, this one is responsible.
It’s late in the evening, Draco is unwilling to go home to the tiny, cold and empty flat he rents, and instead sits on the table, one foot hanging down and swinging in the air, giving Harry something to focus on. Draco is reading out loud, a brilliant book about potions used for rituals in old times, cultures sadly long dead and forgotten, only their records found again. It’s fascinating, opening Draco’s mind for new avenues to explore, things he wants to try and recreate. Poor Harry is probably bored half to death, not interested in potions at all but indulging Draco in his reading material.
It occurs to Draco sometimes how much he moulded his life to fit Harry - not that there was much change needed. Harry fit into his life almost perfectly, like a puzzle piece he didn’t even know was missing - but should Harry demand it, Draco would read to him whatever he wants. He would still read his own books of course, he fought too hard for the life he has to simply give it away, but if Harry were to beg him with those wide eyes, Draco knows without any doubt that he would agree to nearly anything.
Draco casts an idle glance at the clock, going back to his book before jumping up, looking at the clock again with shock. Two am - he needs to get to his flat and gather what little sleep he can. He closes the book with a heavy sigh, looking down and meeting Harry’s eyes. They are like green fire, living and sparking, shining out of the black fur.
Draco doesn’t want to go, he wants to stay here, where it’s warm and comfortable next to the fire, where he has all his books that are worth anything and where Harry is, his purring filling the air. Draco couldn’t pinpoint when, but the little brewing room behind Mr. Parson’s shop has become more of a home to him than he ever thought it would, reminding him of Hogwarts, a home outside of home.
Leaning down as far as he can, Draco holds his hand out to Harry, who comes immediately to sniff at it and lets himself be lifted onto the desk. Harry doesn’t usually deign to answer Draco’s calls, so he cherishes the times he does. It’s not difficult, with a warm and happy bundle of Harry sitting on his lap, squirming under his hands and demanding cuddles. Draco laughs at the shameless way he presents his belly to be rubbed but obliges, marvelling yet again at how soft his fur is, how he is filling out and his bones aren’t poking out anymore.
Draco spends quite some time telling Harry about the potions he just read about - never mind that Harry was there and is probably even less interested now - running his hands through his fur and pushing the thought of leaving as far as possible out of his mind.
With another sigh, Draco sits up straight again, nudging Harry to move from his lap and get up. Harry though - stubborn little brat that he is - only sits himself up too, not budging an inch. This really isn’t helping Draco’s already half-hearted attempt at getting up.
“Look, I don’t like it any more than you do, but I really have to go. Unless you want me to sleep in an uncomfortable chair that will force my neck into an awkward position and consequently make me grumpy the next morning. Do you want that?”
Harry looks up at him, eyes unblinking and serious.
“I promise to be back in the morning, alright?”
Draco drops a kiss on his head, more out of instinct than anything else, and moves to get up despite the cat on his lap, when the weight suddenly changes. Harry becomes heavy, bigger and Draco stares at black clothes uncomprehendingly.
There is moment where nothing moves, the entire world sits still, the air like a massive block around them, no sound to hear. Draco doesn’t move, doesn’t breathe, trying to understand what happened, what changed.
Draco looks up; it’s almost involuntary, like turning the page of a good book despite knowing he needs to sleep.
He finds wide green eyes staring at him in wonder; unique, sparkling and vibrant and so horribly familiar. Draco doesn’t need the glasses framing them to give it away, doesn’t need the black mane falling in his face to identify the man, doesn’t need the scar on his face to confirm that yes, currently sitting in his lap is Harry Potter.
Potter, who disappeared and left the whole world to worry. Potter, who is the Saviour, the Golden Boy. Potter, who won the war. Potter, who slit him open and almost killed him in a bathroom. Potter, who came back for Draco, to rescue him from the flames. Potter, who was always up for a challenge, always glared at him while laughing with others, always had an insult ready to spit at him. Potter, who didn’t want to be his friend.
Harry bloody Potter.
Before Potter can say anything, can do as much as move, Draco pushes him away; off of his lab, down the table and onto the floor. Simultaneously Draco moves back as far as he can until he sits at the other end of the table.
Potter makes an odd sound when he hits the ground, letting out a pained gasps, and Draco feels guilty. Hesitant, wishing this is all a hallucination from his sleep deprived brain and hoping to find an angry cat, Draco peeks over the edge of the table.
Potter lies on the floor, leaning on his elbows and frowning up at Draco. “That was very rude. This is a difficult situation for me too, you know?”
Draco can barely believe it. His cat turned out to be Potter, his dear friend ripped away to be exchanged with a git he has complicated feelings for, at best. And now Potter has the audacity to make this about him. “For you? I just saw my cat transform into Harry bloody Potter, I demand an explanation!”
Potter remains lying on the floor, lazily smiling up at him as if he doesn’t have a care in the world. “Do you now? I don’t think there is much to explain, it’s pretty obvious to me.”
Draco can feel the tension in him rising, clenching his jaw so as not to snap at Potter. “Enlighten me then, Potter, I seem to be missing some pieces.”
Still very unconcerned with the whole thing, Potter smirks. “I’m an Animagus; it’s really not that difficult.”
“You are - it was you! The whole time and I thought -” It feels like Potter drenched him in ice water. Yes, Draco should have realised this sooner, but he refused to believe that his beloved cat had been Potter all along. “I trusted you! You bastard, did you have fun, a good laugh?”
Potter finally sits up, taking the situation serious and holding his hands out against Draco, as if to shield himself from the accusation. “Malfoy, no! I promise, this wasn’t planned! I didn’t-”
Draco has no patience for his empty excuses. Wrath and hurt is boiling in him, mixing and growing, demanding he lash out. “Of course, you didn’t - what Potter? Care? It’s only Malfoy after all, he doesn’t deserve better. Or didn’t you know? Though I have to say, even I never thought you that stupid. Or didn’t you-”
“Stop, shut up Malfoy!” Potter stands abruptly, towering over him despite the table Draco sits on, fixing him with a glare. “Give me a chance to explain? Please, that’s all I ask for. For you to hear me out, without judgement.”
Potter looks at him with beseeching eyes, so close to Harry’s - obviously, they are one and the same, even if the concept it still too big, too strange for Draco to wrap his mind around. Not the Animagus thing, Merlin if only it were nothing more than the Animagus thing! But Harry just had to turn into Potter, didn’t he? Draco trusted him with so much, learnt to accept him in his life, grew to love him - of course it would be Potter of all people.
But Draco could never say no to these eyes, not even back in Hogwarts. He makes a vague gesture to show Potter that he may go on, that his chance is granted. He can’t bring himself to actually say it out loud. Potter lights up all the same, exactly like Harry did when Draco promised him a treat.
Harry woke up to a room he didn’t recognise but was still oddly familiar. The walls were white, undecorated, bland. He felt strange, light and floating, unfocused. The room was too bright, things were blurring together and Harry couldn’t clearly discern anything. The thought doesn’t unsettle him as much as it probably should, his mind feeling sluggish and slow, foggy.
Letting his head fall back down, Harry gives up on finding out where he was for the moment. He would try again later. For now he was too -
This is ridiculous; Draco doesn’t want to hear about the wanderings of Potter’s drugged mind. “I don’t care Potter; don’t think I will pity you. Just tell me where you were and get on with it.”
“Alright, I thought you wanted to know exactly what happened.” Potter smirks at him; Draco is growing far too fond far too quickly of seeing him do that.
“Not that exact. Besides, it was you begging me to listen to you. My patience is growing thin.” Draco thought the reminder would get him the appropriate gratitude, but Potter only snorts. Maybe he knows Draco is hooked already.
“Fine. I was in St. Mungo’s, some accident involving a suspect for a case of mine. It doesn’t matter anyway, because I didn’t stay there for long.” Potter waves it away, as if what he’s telling Draco aren’t the answers everyone is desperately searching for since Potter disappeared. Draco wonders how it’s not common knowledge yet that Potter was attacked - surely the public would be all over this, in righteous fury and uncontrollable worry. Then Draco remembers that he doesn’t care about Potter.
“Mysterious, you have my full attention.” It comes out more sincere and less derisive than Draco had planned, and Potter gives him a blinding smile before finally continuing.
The next time Harry woke - did he really fall asleep? - there was someone in the room with him. Trying to sit up and get their attention to ask some overdue questions, Harry fell immediately back down again, his arms not supporting him. While not working as he wanted it too, the effort served its purpose - the person turned around. The man made a surprised noise when he saw Harry was awake, but he quickly recovered, putting on a broad smile and walking towards the bed.
He was the only spot of colour in the room, the black of his cloak standing in stark contrast against the white walls. The man looked ragged, withered, the smile on his face forced. There was something not right about him, something ringing a bell in Harry’s mind and warning him to be cautious.
Before Harry could protest, could pin point what didn’t fit, the man was looming over him, gaze focused on Harry, greasy hair hanging down in clumps. Harry pressed himself down into the ground, trying to build some distance, buy some time to decide on something to do, to even just figure out what was happening. The ground however, didn’t give much, surprisingly soft under him but not relenting, holding him up and presenting him to the hungry eyes.
The stranger didn’t speak, didn’t look away as he rummaged around in his cloak pocket, searching and growing visibly tense the longer it took. Harry meanwhile was trying to locate his arm, to punch the man in his ugly face and make a run for it, hoping his legs would carry him. Before he found it though, the man let out a triumphant little noise and pulled a vial out of his pocket, uncorking it with immense effort.
Harry vaguely wonders if the man is just very weak or if the cork was screwed on that tight. It’s an absurd thought, completely at odds with the rest of his mind, screaming warnings through the fog, echo faint but ceaseless.
With a near manic grin, the man’s hand shot out, grabbing Harry’s jaw tight and forcing his mouth open, emptying the vial and watching Harry choke on it.
“How about now, do you pity me now, Malfoy?” Truth be told, he does. Draco doesn’t know how he would have reacted, what he would have done, but it can’t have been pleasant. No reason Potter should know that though, the git learnt more than enough about him.
“No. I trust that you survived the encounter.” Potter smiles at that, making something in Draco flutter and a blush spread over his cheeks. This is terrible, the more time he spends listening to Potter, the more he finds himself relaxing, lowering his walls and forgetting this isn’t Harry with him, isn’t his friend.
“Brilliant deduction, you could still at least pretend to have some compassion.”
Draco has to suppress a laugh, bubbling up in him without his permission. It’s not fair, that Potter gets to him this easily, without even really trying. “Fine, poor Potter; that must have been horrible. Now tell me what you did, slinking around the shop in cat form?”
“You can do better than that, but I will accept that for now.” Potter smiles at him, and Draco smiles back before he can stop himself.
When Harry woke the third time, it was far less pleasant, less comfortable. It was dark, cramped; his body tightly pressed together, head still swimming. His memory was blurry, the white room, the strange man, the burning potion running down his throat, spluttering and chocking.
There was something wrong with the position he was forced into, too small, too tightly curled, head pressed between his arms and against his chest. His limbs didn’t fit together, didn’t feel like they should, like he expected them to.
“Potter, I’m neither in the mood for guessing games, nor to hear how you explored your body. Could we get to the point?” Potter glares at him, irritated at being interrupted yet again. Draco smirks at him - can’t have Potter alone have all the fun.
“Merlin Malfoy, would you just let me tell the story already?”
“If you would actually do it, I would!” Yes, this is better. Antagonising Potter is more familiar, safer than docilely hanging on his every word.
“You are insufferable, I’m sure you figured it out by now anyway.” Potter, apparently unaware of Draco’s attempt to return things to normality, smiles at him, fond and soft and not at all how he is supposed to look at Draco.
“Obviously, you already revealed you are an Animagus. You can skip the part where you take ages to understand that fact.”
“You really should be nicer to me, considering you want something from me.”
Potter raises an eyebrow at him, stubbornly refusing to go on. “By Salazar - would you please deign yourself to continue this captivating retelling of a dim witted wizard trapped in the body of a cat and presumably a bag?”
“See, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Not in the mood of guessing games, of course. But since you asked so prettily…”
Draco throws a cloth at him, meant to clean knives but equally well suited to attack smug twats with, to distract himself from the growing fondness in him.
When Harry was finally freed from his prison, he found himself looking up at a young woman, frowning down at him. She didn’t seem intent on hurting him or shoving potions down his throat, but Harry backed away anyway, can’t be too sure.
“Okay look, I have nothing to do with this.” The statement sounded ridiculous, as she clearly knew more than Harry did and somehow got her hands on the bag. His scepticism must have shown on his face, because she sighed, running a hand through her hair.
“I know how this looks, but you have to believe me.” Strangely enough, Harry did - to a certain extent. He was reasonably sure she wasn’t going to force him back into the bag or do other painful things, so he was willing to hear her out. He was also reasonably sure she had no idea who he was, people usually made a big deal out of it. Harry nodded for her to continue. “This whole thing was my father’s idea - he lost his mind in the war, gone completely crazy.”
She trailed off, eyes unfocused and distant and Harry was about to shake her awake, when she suddenly returned. “Anyway, you probably don’t care. He promised he would find me a man to marry - this is where you come in - someone who would ensure we have a good life. I’m so sorry for this, I’ll set you free of course, but I unfortunately can’t do anything about you being stuck in that form. He gave you a potion that was supposed to trap you in your Animagus form, looks like that worked well enough. It’s probably going to wear off over time. Father mumbled something about True Loves Kiss -
“True Love, Potter?” Draco doesn’t know why the words affect him so, why he even cares. It’s nothing, it’s ludicrous and Potter himself said it’s most likely literally anything but that - but Draco can’t help the flutter in his chest, the smile tugging on his lips.
At least Potter is affected too, furiously blushing and not looking at him. “I don’t know, I mean – no; no that is only - it’s nonsense, that’s what it is. I mean, you and - no, it can’t be.”
Oddly enough, Draco is disappointed at that. That is what he wanted, exactly the same thing he said. It doesn’t make sense that Potter outright denying it, not even considering that there might be some truth to it should make him feel that way, like he swallowed something rancid, trickling down his throat. It hurts, and that is so stupid, because Draco doesn’t care what Potter thinks of him. The fluttering in his chest dies, falls in a heavy lump down into his stomach and makes him nauseous.
Draco doesn’t care, it doesn’t hurt, and everything is just fine.
“Of course not. Congratulations then, you are cured Potter. You can go back to saving the world now.” Draco desperately wishes he had a cup of tea, something to hold on to, to drink nonchalantly as he watches Potter leave. But he doesn’t, and Potter doesn’t leave.
“No, wait listen that isn’t-” Draco has heard enough, saw Potter grimace of the thought of Draco and True Love even appearing in the same sentence. He didn’t expect Potter’s rejection to hurt so much. One would think Draco has enough experience with that to know better. But his stupid heart never learns, does it?
“This has been nice; we should do that again soon. However, it’s getting late and I fear I do have to go now. Goodnight Potter, close the door after you, would you?” Draco doesn’t trust himself to stay here, to keep up the unaffected facade and pretend he isn’t falling apart.
Potter properly knows anyway, Harry had an eerie knack to predict the times Draco needed some comfort, nudging him and wriggling in his arms until he was laughing again. Draco doesn’t stay long enough to find out if Potter still has the same instinct, if he tries to offer comfort in this form, too.
Potter’s return is plastered over every newspaper, discussed on every frequency and haunting Draco’s every thought. The only one who appears completely unfazed is Mr. Parson, thankfully neither commenting on Harry’s disappearance, nor Potter’s reappearance. That first morning he returned and didn’t find the little menace jumping him all he did was to give Draco a sad smile and squeeze his shoulder. Draco, ridiculously enough, never felt more grateful to the man. Several days passed since then, but Draco still expected Harry to come back any second now, resuming his rightful place at Draco’s side and in his life.
He hates to admit it, but he misses Harry. He misses having someone to talk to, misses another presence in the room and misses the soft fur, the loud purring and the occasional demands for attention, even the time when Harry was sulking and held his eyes while upending as many ingredients he could onto the floor with one aggressive sweep of his tail. There is an emptiness in his days, one that probably was there before the whole tragic thing with Potter but is more pronounced now that Draco had a peek of what his life could have been like. It shows in the loneliness that follows Draco everywhere, fills every room around him and swallows every feeling; it shows in the instinctive look down and only seeing his own feet and not a cat; it shows in the constant, unbreakable quiet.
“Draco, my boy! How is it going?”
Draco looks up at Mr. Parson and forces a smile on his face. He had been more than understanding of Draco’s mood lately, coming in more often than he used to and drinking a companionable cup of tea with him, but it’s time Draco gets over this and goes back to working fully focused, stops giving him a reason to worry. That’s the one good thing about his mother living in France, lying in letters is easier than lying to her face.
“Fine, the potion just needs to simmer for now and will be done very soon.”
Mr. Parson smiles, nodding along as if Draco merely confirmed what he already suspected.
“Wonderful, there is someone asking to see you. No protesting me, you have hidden here long enough, don’t you think?” It’s only the genuine concern in his voice and the obvious well-meaning intent that keeps Draco from snapping at him. He settles on scowling at him instead, trying to convey that, while his judgement of him might be spot on, Draco still resents the implication that he is hiding.
Stepping out and seeing Potter nervously drumming his fingers on the counter, Draco finds he doesn’t mind the term hiding half as much anymore and intents to do just that, when he finds Mr. Parson rather excessively transformed the door to become part of the wall, sealing his only escape. Taking a deep breath, Draco prepares to face Potter again. If he has to do this, he will do it with dignity.
“Potter, how may I help you today?” Draco is wearing his most bland smile, so obviously fake no one could for a second believe it earnest. If Potter is offended -if he even notices, the moron- he doesn’t show it. At least he looks as anxious as Draco is feeling. He didn’t expect to ever see Potter again, not standing in front of him and being close enough to touch. He also didn’t expect the temptation to actually reach out and touch to be quite this strong. But here Potter is, finally back and Draco never wants him to leave again, not that that is a rational thought. But it doesn’t matter, because Potter isn’t Harry.
“Go out to dinner with me.” The words are spit out, sounding more like a command than the question propriety dictates them to be and so forcefully that Draco backs away before he can stop himself.
“Excuse me?!” First Potter sneaks his way in Draco’s life on adorable little paws, then he doesn’t bother to show up for a week and now he demands a date? Without permission, his mind supplies images of Potter smiling at him over a flicking candle, lazy evenings cuddling on the couch, Potter hovering over his shoulder as he brews. And suddenly it’s all too obvious that Potter and Harry are very much the same person.
It shouldn’t be an epiphany, shouldn’t take Draco’s breath at the real possibility to get Harry back. But here he stands, his entire future waiting to be written. He could accept, let things develop and satisfy that part of him that always wanted Potter - his attention, his smiles and his joy. All he has to do is say yes, and he would have an actual chance to achieve what he dreamt of since he was eleven.
“That’s not - no I meant, I would like - oh for Godric’s sake!”
If Draco hadn’t decided yet, this would settle it. Watching Potter stumble over his words as he tries to ask him out is as amusing as it’s endearing.
“Would you have dinner with me?”
Draco planned on saying yes, who wouldn’t say yes? But with Potter’s hopeful eyes on him, still so impossibly green, the words are stuck in his throat. He remembers all the times these eyes looked at him when he did something horrible, when he bullied and taunted, when he insulted Potter and his friends, when he helped Umbridge dissolve his club, when he almost Crucio’d Potter in that bathroom. How could Potter, good and kind and caring Potter, want to go out with Draco, of all people? Potter can have anyone, deserves someone who is equally good and kind and caring, and that someone isn’t Draco.
“Why would you want to date me?” Draco didn’t mean to ask that, the pathetic glimmer of hope stubbornly refusing to die and accept reality. So instead of politely declining and explaining the rather simple fact that Draco isn’t good enough for Potter, he made a fool out of himself. Not that Potter seems to understand this; he looks at Draco as if he just spurted a second head. Draco is about to say something unkind, when Potter’s expression clears and becomes serious.
“Is this about what you said; that you aren’t a good person?”
Draco should be more disturbed by how well Potter knows him, how quickly he figured this out and how casually he names one of his darkest fears. But he isn’t, Draco just nods, hoping for Potter to save him one more time.
“If the fact that you worry about not being a good person isn’t enough to convince you, maybe this will. It doesn’t matter what your first thought is, if it’s something cruel and mean, if the second thought is a conscious effort to be better than that. Our first thoughts are what we were taught, Malfoy, what we were told to think. It’s the second thoughts that show who you are.”
And then Potter smiles at him, as if he hadn’t just turned Draco’s world upside down, hadn’t just contradicted every thought Draco had about himself. Draco wants to believe him, wants to feel the same conviction Potter does.
“Do you know why I stayed here, why I didn’t go to Ron and Hermione and let them fix it?”
Draco never even considered that, still unused to the thought that his most trusted confidant has been Potter all along. But now that he asks, it seems like the obvious question. Why did Potter stay? Draco would have expected him to run to Granger the second he got out of this bag. And yet Potter was here, with Draco. He refuses to be charmed; Potter probably wanted to check that Draco isn’t involved in anything illegal, or prove that he is.
When Draco doesn’t answer, Potter simply continues. “I was still trying to find out where I was, when I saw you leaning against that wall. And I guess I was curious, I couldn’t not come and look at what you were up to. And then I stayed, because you were interesting and different and you seemed lonely, the same kind of lonely I felt. But I didn’t feel lonely with you reading to me from your books, or when you talked to me - especially not the day news of my disappearance finally leaked to the press. I think it was that day that I realised I don’t want to leave you. So please, Malfoy, if you feel at least part of what I feel, give me a chance.”
Potter is looking at him with pleading eyes, as if his whole life depends on Draco’s answer. And Draco has to admit that he is right, he never felt as happy as in these last weeks. That has become brutally clear the last few days, with Potter once again gone from his life. He doesn’t want to continue like this, missing something because he was too scared to take it when Potter offered it.
Draco knows it won’t be easy, he told Harry an awful lot and it will take some big secret to make him feel more comfortable and even, there will be awkward silences and stilted conversation and people staring. But the work will be worth it, if their life will be anything like his life with Harry, it will be well worth it.
“Yes, I would like to go out with you.”
And then Potter smiles, relived end exuberant, pure joy emanating from him. Draco never thought he would be the one to put a smile on Potter’s face, but he would like nothing more than doing it again, day after day.