The next days unfolded into a strange but comforting rhythm. Every day, Harry would go to Hagrid’s, accompanied by Draco—who would then go off and do whatever Draco liked to do. Narcissa would beam at him when they would leave, and Draco would smile like he truly was the perfect, obedient son that he surely wasn’t. He and Harry had an unspoken agreement on this front. Harry never asked where he went, and when they would return to Malfoy manor they would act like they had both spent a lovely evening on the outskirts of Hogwarts.
Which was only a half-lie, really. Harry was doing exactly that, and truthfully, he found it to be a rather cathartic and pleasant way to spend the days. He would drink tea with Hagrid and Luna and pet Fang, and sometimes all of them would go out to that ominous clearing. In the morning, they would plant new shrubbery, and in the evenings they would help Hagrid feed the thestrals.
“I know it’s wrong ter say,” he told them on the second evening, an hour before Malfoy would come to take Harry away, “but it’s real nice ter have other people aroun’ who can see ‘em.”
Their visits would conclude with more tea and conversation by Hagrid’s fireplace. Sometimes they would talk about less monumental things, such as when certain flowers would be blooming in the forest and how the season shifting to summer would affect the creatures that lived there. Harry was grateful for these conversations; they made him feel grounded and gave him hope that someday, things might be relatively normal again.
Sometimes, however, they would talk about far more upsetting topics, and Harry would be reminded jarringly that this would likely never be the case. He learned a lot in those evening conversations, and most of what was uncovered was very dark indeed.
Buckbeak, newly christened Witherwings, had been slaughtered in the fighting at Hogwarts that fateful night. So too had a number of the centaurs and almost a dozen house-elves had been killed in the crossfire, defending the school. Professor Sprout and Flitwick were both missing, McGonagall was in Azkaban, and Slughorn, Hagrid was almost certain, had been made into a Death Eater.
“Forced inter it, I reckon,” Hagrid has told him gruffly. “Told ter take the mark and pledge allegiance to the Dark Lord or be thrown in Azkaban.”
Harry had scoffed at that. “He should never have surrendered,” he had muttered.
“Really? Yeh think that woulda been best, if he had jus’ gotten ‘imself tossed in Azkaban too? ‘Cause McGonagall wasn’t given that option, and with Sprout and Flitwick on the run… well, I’m jus’ glad there’s goin’ ter be at least one professor who doesn’t dole out Unforgivables as punishments in his classes. I don’ imagine you-know-who’s goin’ to hire any rays of sunshine to replace the rest ‘o the staff, do yeh?”
Which was a very good point, Harry had begrudgingly admitted, but it didn’t change his opinion on Slughorn. “He’s still a coward and a weakling,” Harry had spat.
To which Hagrid had, at least, not disagreed with. Luna had nodded her agreement as well, and even Fang had barked as though in support of the sentiment.
Some days Hagrid would accompany them to the clearing, but sometimes he would be busy with his other groundkeeping duties, and so Harry and Luna would go alone.
(Luna would always have her wand at the ready, of course; Harry kept his stowed away and hidden. Neither Hagrid nor Luna had asked if he had one, as he was sure they assumed that he did not.)
Fang would usually bound along with them most of the way, but sometimes he would wander off, intrigued by some sound or scent that Harry and Luna were less inclined to follow. It was good, Harry thought, that the clearing was not too deep into the forest. While they only ventured out during the day, Harry knew all too well the terrors that stirred in the Forbidden Forest—and just because they tended to come out at night didn’t mean they weren’t there in the sunshine, too.
The days where Harry was alone with Luna were some of his most liberating. Harry could talk to her in ways that he did not think he could ever speak with anyone else, not even Hermione and Ron. He could tell Luna anything, and Harry knew that she would not look at him any differently.
Which he did.
Without even intending to, Harry told Luna everything. They had both been kneeling in the dirt, covered in sunshine and grime as they planted a mid-size flowering shrub that kept making Harry sneeze. She had looked at him and said, “You know, Harry, your aura has changed. It’s heavier. I’m not surprised at all; I think everybody’s has gotten a bit heavier. But, you know… sometimes you don’t have to carry it all by yourself. That weight.”
She’d smiled at him, and Harry had almost asked—can you sense magic too? But those weren’t the words that came out. She had smiled and put her hand on his shoulder and suddenly, without knowing how it was happening, Harry was crying and spilling all his deepest, darkest secrets with none other than Luna Lovegood.
He told her about Neville; how he was tortured and killed and how Harry had done it and how it haunted him.
He told her about his time in the cell and being blinded; he told her now Narcissa had cared for him and then Draco; he told her that he tried to kill himself and how that had been the only reason he’d been able to barter for Ron and Hermione’s lives.
Knowing it was a danger to do so even as he did, Harry explained that the Dark Lord wanted him alive because he was a horcrux and that Voldemort’s magic affected him in ways he couldn’t describe; that Voldemort himself was like a parasite, drawn to Harry’s soul in horrifying ways; an addict and a terror.
He told her about Ginny and the reception and what the Dark Lord had done to him, how everyone had been fed more lies to cover it up, that he was now gone, doing Harry didn’t even know what. That he was practicing Occlumency against him and Harry could not reach him, even when he tried.
Harry told Luna Lovegood everything, and he had been right.
Luna hadn’t responded in outrage or told him what he should have done, should do, or how he should feel. She hadn’t reacted in rage or horror or pity. She had just listened and held him when he was done, crying far more than he ever had, basking in real sunshine and the sunflower feeling of her magic.
“We will get through this,” she had said at the end of it all. Even having taken in so many horrific stories at once, Luna’s magic was nothing short of bright and warm. “All of us, together… We will get through this, Harry.”
Harry hadn’t needed to tell her that she was sworn to secrecy on everything he had said. He could see it in her eyes that she knew that was the case and would never break his trust.
She never looked at him any differently.
It was on the fifth day since Voldemort’s departure that Harry’s routine was disrupted.
The first noteworthy event happened in the early morning. Harry was still in his room, looking at himself in the mirror as he finished getting dressed when he was assaulted by a wave of emotion that was definitely not his own and a flash of something that was definitely not his bedroom.
Joy. Pure and undiluted; it licked its way up his spine and burned in his heart. In his mind’s eye he saw a dark space—someplace cold and eerie, and there was a man, an old man on his knees, his head bowed and one arm raised defensively… he was wandless and weak and utterly at his mercy…
“Please—” the old man gasped, and laughter bubbled in his throat—he raised the Elder wand and this, he thought, was beauty in death; this was poetic justice at its finest—
As quickly as it had come, the vision was gone. Harry was once more looking at himself in the vanity mirror, the top buttons of his shirt still undone.
Come back, he thought, closing his eyes and trying to recall it, to see through the Dark Lord’s eyes once more, to know—but it was useless. Voldemort’s slip up was short, and Harry was once more shut out, unable to reach him.
He was left with his scar tingling and his mind racing. Who was that old man? And why had Voldemort been hunting him—was about to kill him?
It reminded him viscerally of a different memory—one in which the Dark Lord had crossed oceans, all to track down Gellert Grindelwald, hoping to find the Elder wand…
Harry swallowed hard. He did not know the answers to those questions, but he knew one thing for sure. The Dark Lord had finished whatever he’d needed to do, by killing that man. Which could only mean one thing.
Harry turned and left his room.
“Finish buttoning your shirt, dear!” the mirror called after him. “You’ll look a mess if you don’t!”
That day at Hagrid’s was easily the least enjoyable one yet. He, Hagrid, and Luna went out to the clearing together, Fang in toe, this time planting over a dozen new trees. It would have been much more trying work were it not for Hagrid’s colossal strength and size and the use of Luna’s wand, but as it was, they got a lot done—even with Harry pretending like he was still wandless. It was good, he thought, to use his hands; to dig with a shovel and not rely on magic. And any other day he would have relished the experience.
Today, however, Harry was a mess of nerves and anxiety. He kept expecting Voldemort to show up at any moment. To say or do what, Harry wasn’t quite sure—and it was the not knowing that troubled him more than anything. Hagrid didn’t seem to notice his anxiety, but Luna definitely did. Harry caught her looking at him more than once, frowning in concern. Harry forced himself to smile as though everything was fine. No need to worry her that Voldemort might appear, he thought. That would really put a damper on their planting.
His worry was for naught. The day passed in relative calm, and no Dark Lord came to disrupt their hard work. They fed the thestrals and drank tea by the fire and Harry was beginning to wonder if maybe he had imagined that dark, torrid scene of a begging old man on the brink of death.
He hadn’t, of course—but it was nice to entertain the possibility that he had.
When Draco arrived in the Outpost to ‘collect’ him, the sun beginning to set, Harry was surprised when they did not immediately leave.
“How do you spend your days here, anyway?” Draco asked, catching Harry off guard.
“What do you mean?” Harry asked. “You know exactly how I spend my days here. I tell your mother all about it at dinner and pretend like you were there. You nod along and everything.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Draco drawled. He looked across the field of grass at Hagrid’s hut like he found it the most offensive structure in the world. “I just mean… how? With that half-giant and that Lovegood girl for company.”
Harry could at least appreciate that he hadn’t said ‘giant oaf’ and ‘Loony Lovegood’ to describe them. Sometimes, Harry mused, it really was like Draco was trying. “They’re my friends,” Harry said coolly.
“Some friends,” Draco muttered.
Harry scowled. “It’s not like I have anything better to do, with Hermione and Ron gone,” he said. “I think a better question is how you spend your days. Or your father. Where does he go, all the time?”
“Do you want to know?” Draco asked, his eyes suddenly gleaming and his magic brightening. “About me, at any rate… couldn’t tell you about my father. I keep assuming that someday he shall show me all his hiding places, and I continue to be disappointed. I figured he would enlighten me when I came of age, but alas. All I got for turning seventeen was a very nice watch and some questionable advice on what to look for in a wife.”
He smiled brightly, lifting his wrist and flashing what was, indeed, a very nice, silver watch. Harry’s scowl deepened. “Lovely,” he said scathingly. “I used to have a silver watch, too. Mrs. Weasley gave it to me. I lost it before I was locked up in your dungeon—you know, where I was tortured and blinded and all that. I imagine the shackles didn’t fit over it nicely, so it was tossed. Your mum bought me this shiny new one to make up for it, but I preferred the one that I had before. I guess she thought I was a gold person.”
Harry gave Draco an equally bright smile, showing him the watch he now wore. It was truly satisfying to watch the way Draco’s stature diminished and his magic withered. There may have been moments where it was clear Draco was trying to be… better, but still.
Harry would never let him forget what happened.
Ever the proud Malfoy, however, Draco quickly recovered. “Well then,” he said matter-of-factly, “I suppose we will have to acquire you a new one, won’t we?”
“You can’t replace something that had nostalgic value, Malfoy,” Harry said. “I know this is probably a foreign concept to you, but money can’t fix everything.”
“I beg to differ.”
Just like that, Malfoy’s slanted grin was back in place, his magic silvery and bright once more. “You’re curious as to how Draco Malfoy spends his days, Potter? I’ll do you one better. I’ll show you how Draco Malfoy spends his nights.”
He turned, walking towards the Outpost with that familiar swagger in his step. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Harry called, following after him. “We’re supposed to go back to your Manor every night, I thought.”
“Never said we wouldn’t go back… eventually. Besides, the bigger part of our responsibility over you was to rehabilitate you. Introduce you to the proper ways of pureblood, magical living. You’re hardly getting any of that hanging out in a hut with these two. So really, I’m just doing my duty.”
He pushed open the door of the Outpost, then held it open for him. “What do you say, Potter?” he said. “Do you want to go back to my dear mum and spend yet another night going to bed early? Or do you want to see what the magical world really has to offer?” He gave Harry a narrow-eyed, judging look. “I bet the most exciting place you’ve been is Hogsmeade.”
Harry opened his mouth to argue—he had been to many magical, exciting places—but Malfoy cut him off. “Where you had any fun, I mean.”
Harry thought about that for a moment. Draco smirked. “Exactly.”
He couldn’t help but be tempted. Harry hadn’t been anywhere besides the Manor in a while. And while Draco Malfoy wasn’t exactly his first choice in a partner to go exploring… well, he did know things. Things about the magical world that he, Harry, would have no idea.
“Won’t your mum be worried if we don’t get back soon?” Harry asked.
Draco shrugged. “She’ll get over it. What? I can send her a message telling her I’m—I don’t know, taking you to a proper dinner or something. She’ll just be overjoyed that we’re bonding.”
“Are we bonding?” Harry asked dryly.
Draco laughed. “Only if you play your cards right. Come on, let's get out of here.”
Harry could see why Draco was excited. He thought he had a brand new opportunity to win Harry over, perhaps… and he was at quite an advantage. He had a vast amount of knowledge that Harry did not, and, as far as he knew, he was the only one with a wand.
How wrong he was.
Still, the flash into Voldemort’s mind that morning perturbed him. What if the Dark Lord showed up at the manor tonight? What if he was there now, waiting for Harry to return?
It was that notion that settled it for Harry.
“All right,” he said, and Draco’s magic flashed in victory. “Rehabilitate me, Malfoy.”