Summary: In the aftermath of Lucius' imprisonment, Draco finds himself with the predicament of restoring his family name. While alienating himself from his peers, he begins corresponding with a mysterious student who seems to understand exactly how he feels. Along comes a tale of confession, discovery, and trust between two adolescent boys. (Post-OOTP AU, but in the spirit of HBP canon.)
Author's Notes: So, so much love, thanks, and appreciation to taradiane for her friendship, encouragement, time, dedication, thoughts, insight, and knowledge. It's hard to sum up everything you've done (otherwise I might be putting out another 50k of words, but because of you I managed to finish this 50k marathon of a story, and with all of your ideas and input, you've given this story life and flair. Thank you ever so much, you are amazing! Also, love to JD Salinger. Because well. You'll see.
June 20, 1996 – Malfoy Manor
His mother is crying again. He can hear her muffled sobs coming from behind the closed door of Father's study. This is the fifth time this week, she has locked herself in there to either cry herself hoarse or until the house-elves carry her back to her room.
Draco Malfoy walks past the study, covering his ears. Stop, stop, stop, he thinks as he tries to block out the sound. Stop.
She doesn't stop. He starts walking faster down the hallway, needing to get away. She sounds as if she's choking, and he should go in there and help her. He should comfort her.
Instead, he sprints up the spiral staircase, taking the stairs three at a time. He runs to his room to barricade himself in there. Throwing himself into his bed, he hides his head under the pillows. Now it is dark and quiet, and for a moment he can pretend that everything is okay. A house elf would come in and ask him to go down to breakfast. Father would be at the breakfast table reading the Prophet. He would look up for just a moment when he greeted Draco before returning to his paper.
Except, Father wouldn't be there, because Father has been gone since Draco returned home. There have been no sounds of heavy footsteps, no rustle of newspapers, and no deep rumble of laughter. Draco hasn't gone down to breakfast in two weeks, because the first and only time he had gone downstairs for a meal, he found that the house-elves had only set two place settings. He feels sick just thinking of the empty space at the table.
Empty. That's how he feels.
He wonders how awful Mother must feel, and quashes down that guilty feeling he gets whenever he remembers that he has ignored her all week, because he's scared that she'll spill a never-ending flow of wet tears and they'll both drown in the flood.
He knows she misses Father. Draco misses Father very much. If he were here, he would tell them both to keep their chins high and that Malfoys' don't cry. If he were here, he could make everything better again.
Enough ifs. Father is not here, so all that is left of the pathetic Malfoys are a crying woman and a hiding boy. And the knowledge that nothing would be better ever again. For the first time in Draco's life, he knows that his father has failed.
The gloominess settles into the Manor like a heavy dust. Everything has been quiet for the past several days. Draco has not heard from Mother yet, but he anticipates her coming to seek him out soon. He stays in his room all day, trying to find distractions without being reminded of his Father's absence, and consequently his father's failure.
Today, he stumbles across an old journal and flips through it. The leather-bound book is old and falling apart, its pages tattered and worn, and he has forgotten the childhood journal for so long that only the handwriting inside proves to him that it is indeed his.
Excerpt from the Journal of a Young Draco Malfoy (June 5, 1991)
Today is my birthday, and I am eleven years old. This year, one of the presents Mother bought me was this leather journal. She wants me to write in it everyday, or as often as I can. She say that I will be an adult soon, and then I will not be able to remember much about being a child anymore. Mother wants me to remember. I do not know what the fuss is about childhood. Gregory and Vincent both talk about how they are growing up and no longer children. However, Father says that I should always act grown up, and that children are foolish.
In less than two months I will be going to Hogwarts, just like Father did. I must not disappoint him. I have made myself a list of things to do: get sorted into Slytherin House, get the highest marks, and be the most popular boy in school. It should be easy. He promises me a racing broom, if I succeed in making him proud.
Tonight, Father says he will show me a special spell. He tells me that the spell is a powerful flash of bright green. I am excited, for green is my favorite color. It's the colors of Mother's gardens, the color of Slytherin, and the color of the Christmas tree.
"Incendio," Draco murmurs, satisfied as the journal lights up in flame. It was useless. A useless container of naiveté.
Of all the times he's disappointed his father, he never knew the day would come when his father would disappoint him. Disappointment leaves a tight and bitter coil in his stomach, and he now knows why Father got so upset with him after yet another unsuccessful school year.
The smoke from the fire burns his eyes and throat, but he doesn't care. It feels better than anything else he's been feeling lately.
He leaves the ashes on the ground, because he doesn't know how to clean up the mess. Someone else will take care of it.
July 1, 1996 – Still in Malfoy Manor
Narcissa Malfoy has not seen her son for several weeks. She knows the manor is large, but it is not so large that Draco could become unnoticeably absent. His absence becomes more and more conspicuous each day she does not see a glimpse of her son as he traipses through the house. It is even more noticeable at meal times.
Each meal she asked where he was and a house elf always bowed low and said, "Young Master is eating alone tonight, Mistress."
The day the house-elves only set out one place setting is the day Narcissa knows she must seek out her son. Her conduct lately has been shameful, and she is embarrassed by her own behavior. What had Draco thought of her when he had first come home from school and only the house-elves and the sound of his crying mother greeted him?
She knocks on his bedroom door. Silence greets her. She knocks again. And then again. Perseverance is one of her better qualities.
The door finally opens, and her son stands in front of her. Because she is his mother she can see past his well-pressed robes and neatly groomed hair. She knows that he hides skin stretched thin over ribs. She looks into his eyes and sees the unshed tears that her son is too stubborn to let fall.
"Draco," She murmurs as she steps forward, "May I come in?"
He nods and steps to the side, allowing her entrance. He gestures to a set of armchairs by the window.
When they sit, he bows his head and says in a politely distant voice, "How are you, Mother?"
She offers him a small, gracious smile. "I am fine, Draco. And you?"
She knows they are both lying. But she also knows that it is better to appear strong than admit to weakness.
"I have not seen you since you've been home."
"I'm sorry," he says, but she thinks he might blame her.
She flicks imaginary lint off her robes. "I apologize for not coming to see you sooner. You must think awfully of your own mother right now. That she's frail and weak."
"Never, Mother. I do not think such things about you," he lays a hand on her knee.
She smiles, "That is good to hear, but nevertheless, I apologize. I know that it is difficult with your Father not around, and a boy should not be without both of his parents."
"I'm sixteen now, Mother. No longer a boy." He lifts up his chin proudly, just the way she knows Lucius has taught him. As if such a proud chin can separate him from everything he's afraid of.
"I am aware of that Draco." She clasps his hand and brushes away a stray lock of blond hair off his cheek. He is not too old to deny his mother affection. "But even young men do not spend whole summers in their rooms for no reason. Look at yourself, Draco. You've become so pale I can almost see right through you."
"I have always been this pale."
"But a bit of sun might do you some good. As well as a proper meal."
"I've been eating," he pulls his hand away from hers.
She sighs, but doesn't reach from him again. "You need to be strong, Draco. You need to be strong for yourself and for me now that your father is not here Hiding in here does not make you strong."
When Draco does not reply, she stands up to leave. Before she closes the door, she turns and says over her shoulder, "You know your father would say the same thing."
The next morning, Draco is downstairs for breakfast.
Narcissa still goes to Lucius' study everyday, but no longer to cry. She is the mistress of this household and it is time she has started acting like it. Before Lucius' arrest, there was not much for her to do. The house-elves worked without instruction and kept the Manor clean and running efficiently--routinely doing their everyday tasks. She would read books in the sunlight, tend to her personal gardens, and throw afternoon tea parties.
But Lucius was always busy working in his study, He would leave the study for meals or business meetings, but otherwise he stayed in his office pouring over paperwork and making important firecalls. She never knew what exactly all his work was for, but she knew it must be important.
Now, she wishes she asked more often what he was doing in there. Someone has to keep doing his work, and so she tries.
She wants to start with the small and easy tasks first, but even bookkeeping proves difficult. There were too many expenses to keep track of, too many business transactions, and too many charitable checks to write.
Lucius had given her a golden emergency key to a special cabinet should anything ever happen to him. She hasn't wanted to use the key, because that would be admitting that Lucius might never come home. She doesn't want to believe it. Yet, the pile of letters on Lucius' desk continues to grow exponentially, requesting information and donations that she doesn't know how to give. She needs help.
She finds the cabinet easily and fits the key inside, but the contents of the cabinet make her want to cry in frustration. She almost does, but it would not do for Draco to catch his mother crying in the study again.
The cabinet is full of boxes and boxes of paperwork. And for all of Lucius meticulousness, these boxes are unorganized and unlabelled. He must have thought she would never need to open this cabinet; he must have thought he was invincible.
Upon opening one box, she finds piles and piles of old receipts. Never one to have looked at price tags, she discovers the fur-coat Lucius bought her last Christmas was over 1,000 galleons. The necklace she needed to have for her birthday was over 2,000. The amount that she and Lucius spent on Draco every holiday totaled to over 5,000 galleons.
And they donated thousands more galleons away to charities that they didn't even believe in.
Narcissa had known they were wealthy. In fact, they were currently the wealthiest Wizarding family in Britain. They had the best estate, the largest grounds, the most expensive furniture, and the finest robes. She always knew how much money was in the Black and the Malfoy vaults. She also always knew how much money Lucius made each year from his work at the Ministry. The gold that filled those vaults seemed like it was so much. An infinite amount of gold. An everlasting supply of money.
But as she looked at receipt after receipt, even her rudimentary math skills told her that their money could not as immeasurable as she thought. They were burning through it all.
By the time Draco inherits everything, the vaults could be empty.
July 10, 1996 – The Dining Room
There is something wrong with Mother. At dinner, she picks at her plate, pushing the food around in circles. She drinks more glasses of wine than usual, and during dessert, she wrings her hands far too often.
Draco finally sets down his fork and inquires after his mother. "Mother? Is something the matter?"
Her smile is too shaky. She was never as good at hiding her emotions the way he and Father were.
"Everything is fine, Draco."
He can only stare pointedly at her shaking hands. He raises an eyebrow. Malfoy code for 'really?'
Mother clears her throat, "I was just thinking, son. You know how we have always been so extravagant and lavish with our money?"
Draco tilts his head to the side, "Not really. Father always says we should spend money only on what we need. Like, when I needed a new racing broom or you needed a new strand of pearls."
Mother clucks her tongue, "We don't really need those things, Draco."
Draco narrows his eyes. Something is definitely wrong with Mother. Tonight, she seems off. Sometimes he wishes that Father taught him to ask questions bluntly, instead of dancing around in circles forever.
"Mother," he keeps his voice respectful, "I do recall you telling Father that you would die without that strand of pearls. That your life depended on them."
"That was all just dramatics, Draco. I just wanted them very badly."
"But when you want something that badly, don't you need it in a way?"
Mother smiles sadly at him, "I suppose so, Draco." She fingers the pearl necklace she wears. "Did you know that your father spent 2,346 galleons on this necklace for mummy? Each pearl was naturally made. They're very rare, you know."
Draco doesn't know what to say so he just shakes his head.
His mother continues to touch each of the fine pearls. "Would you rather have everything you wanted now, but have nothing left later or would you rather wait for everything you want?
Father taught him patience. "I would be willing to wait."
Mother nods, "Would you really, Draco?"
She stops touching the necklace and leans forward in her chair. "Good. Because I'm going to need you to help me with something."
She settles back in her seat with a tight smile, "I always knew you were a good boy, Draco. Now, I want you to listen carefully to me, because you are going to help me keep our family intact for the time being."
Family first. That's what Father had always said, and since even Mother admits that Father is no longer around, it is Draco's responsibility to listen and do as his Mother told him. Family always comes first. He nods at her dutifully.
"You know that your father has always provided for us. And for what he doesn't provide, our bank vaults seem ceaselessly abundant. However, we cannot rely on our vaults forever. That is old money, savings that have been collected by Malfoys and Blacks for centuries. Your father has never told me what he does to put more money in those vaults. All I know is how much has been going in, and now how much has been going out. Draco, the numbers are unbalanced. For the amount of galleons we spend, we are not putting enough back in."
Draco's throat feels dry and it hurts when he tries to swallow it down. "We're slowly draining all our assets, aren't we?"
Mother nods, and Draco feels his heart drop. Were they already poor? Is this why Mother looks so worried? Were they going to have to scrimp and save like paupers?
She grimaces as she continues. "And now, with your father gone, I have been trying and failing in figuring out how to make the money that he has been earning. Your father has left me a key to all of his paperwork and records, but Draco," Mother stares down at the table, a note of pleading creeping into her voice. "I cannot figure any of it out and I cannot head this family on my own. My years of being a wife and mother have not taught me how to look at books and records nor taught me how to make money. I cannot do this alone."
Draco's breath hitches. He refuses to be poor. His family has always had the best, and he never intends for that to change. He is his mother's only son, and he cannot let her down. He is his father's only successor, and he will not let him down either.
"I'll help you figure this out, Mother. You won't be disappointed."
August 10, 1996 – Azkaban
Three months have passed since Father's arrest, and today is the first time they are allowed to visit him. Draco has been restless all week and last night, he had not been able to fall asleep. This morning he anxiously fidgeted throughout breakfast, watching the clock hands move closer and closer to the noon hour, and now nervously paces the halls of the manor until they are able to use the portkey the Ministry owled to them for their twelve o'clock departure.
He has so many questions he needs to ask Father.
A month has passed since Mother asked Draco to help her. From morning until night, Draco has helped his mother dig through boxes and boxes of old receipts, bank statements, and financial records. He stares at numbers all day long and sees them even in his dreams. He looks around during meals and calculates how many galleons the dining table must have cost. How much were the dinner plates? How much was the wine Mother drank? He estimates galleons first and then tries to calculate their worth in sickles, then knuts.
Their effort was useless. Mother had given up long before Draco, telling him that Father would have the answers when they visited him.
But Draco hated to watch his mother come back from shopping trips empty handed and claiming that she had only gone to 'window shop.' He hated it even more when she refrained from going on her shopping trips altogether. So, he never gave up.
Now, the day has finally arrived to go see Father. Mother is dressed in royal blue silk robes. Father always told her she looked stunning in them. Draco guesses that the robes cost 551 galleons, or 9,367 sickles, or 271,643 knuts.
He wears dark green robes, because green is his favorite color. He figures that in Azkaban he will need all the comfort he can get.
Five minutes until the portkey activates. Draco tugs at his sleeves counting the seconds. Mother taps her heels on the marble floor in time with his thoughts. One. Two. Three. Four…
And finally, a familiar pull at his navel.
The visitor's room surprises Draco. It appears to be warm and cozy. The chairs have thick cushions and there is a roaring fire in the corner of the room. A bowl of pomengranates adorns the fireplace mantle. The bowl nervously reminds him of the Persephone myth of a young goddess who eats the pomegranate seed and is stuck in the underworld forever.
The room does not let Draco forget that they are at Azkaban, though. He can feel cold prickles of fear as goose bumps crawl up his arms. He briefly wonders what would happen if the guards decided to keep both him and Mother here forever. He swallows down his panic.
Mother motions him to sit down to wait for Father's arrival. Draco sits, but he perches tensely at the edge of the chair, jiggling his legs.
The door at the far side of the room swings open, and a surly looking guard steps in announcing Father's arrival.
There is the sound of clinking chains as Father shuffles in. At the sight of the man they have both revered for years, Mother gasps and exhales a shuddering moan, as Draco chokes down the bile that rises in his throat.
Father looks dirty and unkempt. His skin looks gray and looks as if it might fall off his bones. His hair has become white with streaks of dirt. He looks as if he has spent three years here. Draco struggles to believe that it has only been three months.
"Lucius," Mother whispers as she stands up. She walks quickly towards him, but can only take three steps before an invisible wall stops her. She tries to reach out to Lucius who is only an arms length away. Her hand splays out against the wall, and she hits it with her palm trying to dispel the magic.
"Sorry," the guard says, not sounding very sorry at all. "We require all prisoners to maintain a one meter distance from visitors. It is for your own safety. He can take a seat at one of the chairs, but we have a very strict no touching policy." He looks at the clock against the wall. "You have thirty minutes. And for security purposes, your visit will be monitored at all times. Again we apologize for the inconvenience."
Draco thinks the guard sounded absolutely gleeful and not apologetic at all. As he stands to greet his father, he paused to give the guard a scathing glare. The guard just shrugs at him.
He bows his head to his father. "Father," he murmurs. Out of filial respect, he pulls out a chair for his father to sit in, remember to stay one meter away. Only when Father sits will he sit.
"Don't forget to pull out a chair for your mother too," Father's voice sounds gruff and unused.
"Sorry," Draco says and pulls the chair Mother was sitting in closer to her.
She nods her thanks and sits down. Draco sits down as well, but still settling only on the edge. He presses his palms down on his legs to stop them from jiggling
"Father," Draco fumbles with his words, "How have you been?" But he knows it is a stupid question. It was a question he had wanted to ask, but now upon seeing his father for the first time, he knows it is a useless question. He only hopes that Father does not get mad.
Father gives him a piercing glare, "I've been in Azkaban, Draco."
Mother cuts in, "Lucius, darling. Your family has missed you very much."
Father just grunts. "Have you both been well, then?"
Mother nods and then looks at Draco. He bows his head again, "Yes, Father. We have."
"Have you been taking care of your Mother?"
"Yes, Father. I have."
Mother's smile quivers, "How long do you think you'll stay here?"
Father sighs, "I don't know. But perhaps it is better that I am here. Better the Ministry punishes me for my indiscretion than…"
Mother shushes him. "Don't say that. Look at you. No one is looking after you here. At least if you were home then…"
Father holds up a hand, "Stop. Narcissa, you mustn't worry about me right now. Everything will be fine."
"How can you expect me to believe that when you're locked up in here like some common criminal?"
Draco's nails dig into his legs. He cannot squirm. He will not fidget. He will sit silently and impassively.
Father chooses to ignore Mother. "Draco," Father begins. Draco's head snaps up attentively. "You are now to be the temporary head of the Malfoy house. You are to take care of you and your mother. You will uphold the Malfoy name. I trust you to do this duty while I am here."
"Of course, Father."
Mother interjects, "And what about the Dar…"
Father glares at Mother before sparing a quick glance at the guard. "I will admit that there are those who are upset with me. But for the moment, you will be safe. I would suggest, Narcissa, for you to go to the French cottage while Draco is at Hogwarts. No one knows where that is."
Mother nods silently and touches her necklace. Draco knows all too well that this is her nervous habit.
He tentatively speaks up, "Father. May I ask a question?"
At his father's nod, he continues. "Is there any work that you have left behind you would like me to finish? I would like to be able to provide for Mother and I the best way I can."
The smile his father gives him is unnervingly wicked. "Draco, you needn't worry about any of those things. All of that has been taken care of."
"But," Draco thinks of the conversation he had with his mother. He wants to ask if they need to be more careful. He wants to know if they've been over spending.
"But nothing," Father's eyes twinkle. "At least let me have some secrets. The Malfoy vault will not dwindle while I am in here. Do you doubt me?"
Yes, Draco thinks. Instead, he says, "No, of course not. If you say everything has been taken care of, than it has."
Father smiles approvingly. "Good, now. Tell me. How has your summer been?"
August 25, 1996 – Malfoy Manor
Narcissa worries. Draco continues to spend all day in Lucius' study digging through the dusty old boxes and counting underneath his breath. She peers through the door and sees her son ripping up pieces of parchment before spending hours trying to Spellotape everything back together.
"Mother!" she hears her son bellowing from the study. She sets down her tea cup and calls back, "Yes, Draco?"
"Mother!" She can hear Draco storming down the hallway into the parlor. He looks livid with his eyes slightly crossed and bright pink spots on his cheeks.
"Yes?" Indeed, Narcissa worries about her son.
He clutches a handful of Spellotaped receipts and waves them in the air. "What are these?"
"What are those?" She points at the paper he strews around the room. "Why don't you tell Mother what those are."
"You went shopping yesterday, didn't you," he accuses.
Narcissa doesn't bat an eye. "Yes. I did. Is there anything wrong with that?"
"Yes! You can't go shopping! Not yet! Remember, not until we figure out how to put money back into the…"
Narcissa cuts him off, "Nonsense. Draco, is this what has been preoccupying you lately? Don't you recall what your father has told us? We have nothing to worry about. We have spent weeks worrying about nothing."
"But," Draco spluttered. "How do you know, for sure?"
"Father told us."
And Draco only huffed at his poor, worried mother. "But how can you believe him?!"
"How can you not, Draco? He is your father."
"Didn't you see him, Mother? Weren't you looking when we went to visit? Did you notice what that place has turned him into? For all we know, his mind could be just as decrepit."
"Draco!" How can you say that about your father?" Narcissa stands up. How could Draco say these things about her dear Lucius? Lucius who has always taken such good care of them, and has made sure that they were taken care of even though he cannot be with them.
"I'm sorry, Mother. I'm just trying to be safe. After all, he never told us how he is taking care of things. It would be nice if we found the proof."
Narcissa scoffs. "Your father's word is all the proof we need."
Draco throws the receipts on the ground and marches out of the room. "It doesn't satisfy me, Mother. By the way, I like your new robe. I only wish that it did not cost 456 galleons, 13 sickles, and 4 knuts."
Narcissa raps her knuckles on the study door. "Draco. Open this door."
She waits patiently for the lock to click. When it does, she sighs sadly. Her unfortunate son looks as if he hasn't slept in days. There are giant circles under his eyes, and his hair sticks out in scraggly directions. There is ink smudged on his cheeks. It has only been a little over two weeks.
She had forgotten how obsessive Draco was when he was determined to do something. He gets this perseverance from his mother, only she could not possibly be this severe. Her little boy has always thrown himself into everything he did. How could she forget that this would not be different?
"I have started my own banking book, Mother." He babbles. "I am counting all of our receipts to figure out how much we spend every year. When I figure out that number, we will divide it in half, and that is how much we must spend from now on."
"I thought you said we would not have to live like we were impoverished. You look like a street urchin."
"Mother! By my calculations we can probably still spend at least 500 galleons a week. That is hardly being impoverished."
"Draco. It is still silly to worry about such things. Everything is okay."
"You're wearing another new robe aren't you?"
"Yes, Draco. I bought it this morning. Remember that I invited you to Diagon with me so you could finally get your school things."
"I told you I already owl-ordered everything. I do not have time to wander around Diagon and pander to my shopping proclivities."
Narcissa sighs. Her son must have been reading dictionaries when he was crunching numbers. "At least take a break from all this Draco. You go to school in a week. Either spend time with your poor Mother who will be lonely once you leave or start your summer reading. You haven't started have you?"
Draco shrugs, "Last year it only took me four days to get through it all. You forget about how high my marks are."
"Hmm, I remember that they are not the highest. Probably because you get distracted too easily by petty things like what you are doing now."
Draco stuck his chin out. "This is important. Recall Father has named me Head of House and I have financial responsibilities to take care of."
Narcissa cannot stand it any more. Her patience has been worn too thin. "He put you in charge, because there is no one else! He did not think his only son would take his words to such heart like an insane person!"
"Mother. I am not insane. Certainly not as insane as someone who has been in Azkaban for almost four months now."
But the next day, Draco is not in the study. All the boxes in the study are gone, so Narcissa assumes that Draco has given up and put it all away.
She finds this to be a blessing, until another six days pass and she doesn't see Draco until the last day of August. Something must be done.
September 1, 1996 – On the Way to King's Cross Station
Draco's trunks are secured carefully with wards so his mother cannot check what is inside. He plans on taking the boxes full of Father's records to Hogwarts. While neither of his parents would support him in this side project, it is something he must do to ensure that his family does not fall apart. What if Father was wrong? Surely, all the blame would be cast on Draco for not being careful enough. He does not want to disappoint them. Now that he would be at Hogwarts, he has to take care of his mother the only way he knows how.
He sits quietly in the back seat of the family car, watching the countryside blur by him.
"Draco," Mother says for the first time all morning. "I have been worried about you for the past few weeks."
"I'm sorry to have worried you." He murmurs. "It was not my intention."
"Again, I have not been able to see you all week. And now you're going to Hogwarts while I must go to France for the time being."
"I will miss you."
His mother smiles. "Yes, I know you will. But, not only will I miss you too, I will still be worried about you."
"You shouldn't be. I will take care of myself as I have these past years. I've finished my summer reading, and I will excel in my classes. I'll be careful not to get into any quidditch accidents. It is me who should be worried about you."
"I'm not worried about those things Draco. I know you will do fine in school. I am more worried about your wellbeing."
"I am fine, Mother."
"Yes, but we've never really had time to talk about things have we? About how you must feel ever since your father has left. We never had a chance to discuss…"
Draco is easily irritable and not as patient as his mother. "And now isn't really the time to discuss it. Not when we are almost at the train station."
"I know that Draco. Which is why I am suggesting that you go see Lady Agnita."
"The lady in Hogsmeade that heals the woes of troubled youth?" Draco said derisively, recalling the taglines ads he has seen in the prophet. "Why would I want to go there?"
His mother pats his knee, "She can be someone you can talk to about your problems."
"I don't have any problems."
"You can talk to her about anything, you know. It might make you feel better."
"She's rather expensive isn't she?"
"Well, I'll count it into my own weekly expense." Mother smiles soothingly. He is not soothed.
"You're lying. She'll just be an extra expense that we might not be able to afford."
Again, that smile. "See, I thought you'd given up on all this talk of expenses. It would be good for you to talk to her about these worries so maybe you can move past them. You've been acting strangely all summer, and it is time that I help you do something about it."
"But, I'm fine, so I don't need to go. I appreciate your suggestion, but respectfully decline." Draco mutters. He will not talk to some lady about his nonexistent problems. His mother was actually suggesting that he go into therapy. Therapy is for the crazy students that used their potions equipment on their wrists.
His mother's voice becomes stern. "Actually, Draco. I am not really suggesting that you go. I am not even asking you to go. I am requiring you to go."
"What if I don't?"
"Then you'll make your mother very upset."
Draco sighs. Making his mother upset would not be following father's request to take care of her. "How long must I go for?"
"Until she owls me to tell me that are better."
"What if she never owls? She'll want me to keep coming back so she can make money."
"Draco, she is a lady that genuinely wants to help. You mustn't act so paranoid."
But Draco still is paranoid, and he only sulkily agrees to go, because they have arrived at Kings Cross and he doesn't want to make a scene.
"Here is the address. You are to go every Saturday morning, starting the second week of school. I have already arranged permission for you to go into town. Think of it as a special treat. You can go buy yourself candy at Honeydukes afterwards. You love candy."
Great, now all the professors know that Draco Malfoy needs to go to the lady who handles nutcases.
He grabs the address from her and stuffs it into his pocket. "Yes, Mother. I will go. But do not be surprised if she owls you and tells you that I'm perfectly normal and you are the one with unnecessary worries."
She just kisses his cheek and infuriatingly ignores his last comment. "Good luck, Draco. Remember to write."
"I will." He waves goodbye at her and looks for Vincent or Gregory to help him lug his trunks onto the train.
He misses his father very much right now. Father would have helped him with his trunks.
September 1, 1996 – The Hogwarts Express
"Have you seen Malfoy?" Ron asks him, stuffing a cauldron cake in his mouth.
Harry Potter shakes his head, "No. Why?"
"He looks awful!" Ron says gleefully. "You should go find him. He looks as if he spent the summer inside a dungeon or something."
"Don't exaggerate, Ron." Hermione admonishes.
Ron just huffs. "I'm not exaggerating. Really, Harry. Go take a look at him. I saw him getting on the train and he looks even worse than he did when we hexed him last year."
"He's not a zoo animal," Harry says, but he's amused. Trust Ron to want to cheer him up with something as inane as Malfoy coming back from a summer looking worse than ever. Harry doesn't have the heart to tell Ron that he doesn't care about what Malfoy looks like or what Malfoy's become. As long as the slimy git doesn't bother him, Harry doesn't care.
Harry doesn't care, but he gets up from his seat anyway. "Fine. Anyone know what compartment he's in?"
"The last one on the left," Ron says immediately.
Hermione rolls her eyes, "Really. You can't just barge in there to stare all bug-eyed at him. What are you going to say? That you just wanted to see if he's really as bedraggled as your friends says he is?"
Harry shrugs. Again, who cares? Might do good to let Malfoy know that he's already started the school year off by impressing no one. "Yeah, probably. I'll be right back."
He slides open the compartment door, and walks towards the back of the train. He stops at the last door on the left, and pushes open the door.
Typical. Malfoy is surrounded by all his Slytherin cronies. Crabbe and Goyle stare at Harry menacingly the minute they notice he's standing in the doorway. Pansy Parkinson has her arm looped around Malfoy's and glares daggers at him.
"What do you want?" She demands shrilly.
"Nothing," Harry shrugs as he takes in the sight of Malfoy sitting silently by the window. Malfoy glances over at him, mouth set in a thin line.
Harry realizes that he feels supremely satisfied by exactly how awful Malfoy looks. His hair looks stringier and his eyes are hollow. His skin seems translucent and paper-thin. He looks thinner, but not in a lean way. Harry decides that Malfoy looks ill, and that thought also satisfies him.
"Ron was right, Malfoy. You do look pathetic." Harry grins before turning around. He can hear Pansy tell Malfoy that he doesn't look pathetic at all and Harry Potter was a bloody liar and toad-faced anyway.
It feels good to say that to Malfoy. The other boy deserves it, Harry thinks to himself. Sure, he hasn't done anything, yet. The yet is what hovers there, and it is what drives Harry to think nasty thoughts about the Slytherin. He is glad that Malfoy seems to have suffered this summer.
Let him suffer. He doesn't know what suffering is, Harry thinks grimly. He himself had a terrible summer too and probably for better reasons. At least he doesn't look like hell warmed over. He feels justified in his lack of compassion as he reenters his own compartment.
Ron has another cauldron cake in his mouth. "So? Did you see him?"
"You're right, Ron. He looks like shit."
Hermione immediately whacks him behind the head. "Language, Harry." She sticks a finger in her book and muses out loud, "Why do you think he looks like that?"
Ron grins wickedly, "Probably spent the summer playing servant boy to You-Know-Who."
"That's not something to be fond of, Ron Weasley," Hermione frowns, "It makes a lot of sense. Now that Lucius is in prison, don't you think You-Know-Who would want Malfoy to replace his father? He's probably been asked to do all sorts of nasty things that Lucius does."
Ron unwraps a pumpkin pasty, "Do you think he's marked now?"
Hermione thinks, "Maybe."
Ron begins to gabble. "Do you really think so? Do you think that's why he looks as if he's about to be sick? Do you think he's been torturing Muggles all summer? Do you think Voldemort sent him on all kinds of murderous missions? Maybe he has a murderous mission now!"
Hermione purses her lips together, "I don't know, Ron. I'm not going to ask him or anything."
Harry crosses his arms, "But he could be up to something! That's probably why he looks so sick. He's probably been doing horrible things and might be planning on doing other horrible things."
Ron nods in agreement, "Mum always says that people who do horrible things end up looking horrible."
Hermione sighs, "That's not scientifically true."
Ron shakes his head, "But think about it. You-Know-Who does terrible things and Harry says that he looks some awful thing."
Harry nods, "And Malfoy just looks as if something unnaturally bad happened...or will happen."
"Exactly. Can't put anything past that nasty little bugger." Ron pulls out exploding snap cards. "Now, can we please talk about something else?"
"You're the one that brought it up," Hermione chides.
Harry spends the rest of the train ride playing exploding snap with Ron. In the back of the mind he muses over Malfoy and his possible evil doings.
So maybe he cares just a little bit about what Malfoy's been doing. Maybe he cares a lot. Maybe he should keep a closer eye on the git. Death Eaters shouldn't be roaming the corridors of Hogwarts.
September 1, 1996 – Last Compartment on the Left Side
"Let go of me, Pansy!" Draco finally pulls his arm free. It feels numb and he tries to rub some feeling into it.
"Sorry," she mumbles, scooting away from him. She shoots him an aggrieved glare before making a show of fiddling with her purse.
He feels guilty for snapping at her. After all, she's only trying to help him feel better. "I shouldn't have snapped at you." He reaches for her hand, and she takes it without quarrel.
"It's okay, Draco," she gives his hand a light squeeze. "Are you mad at Potter?"
Draco's shoulders tense. There are many reasons why he should be mad at Harry Potter. Could he even count them? He hates how Potter simply waltzes into their compartment just to look him up and down. He hates how Potter thinks he has a right to judge Draco. He hates how Potter called him pathetic. And most of all, he hates how its all Potter's fault that he may have become so pathetic. He does not want to blame his own father for what happened in June. It is just easier to blame Potter.
The minute Potter walked into the compartment, Draco had known that he was angry. The tight coils in his stomach that he had thought were anxiety over his father's arrest and over his subsequent responsibility for the Malfoy name seemed to loosen. It feels good to turn the anxiety into anger and concentrate it on one person.
"Yes," Draco says. "I am."
"Are you going to do anything about it?" Grunts Vincent.
"Do you need us to do anything about it?" Grunts Gregory.
Draco had forgotten what its like to not have to do everything himself. "Yes, if you could help me with something later, I would appreciate it.
"Sure, Draco." They grunt together. "Say, did you do the summer assignments?"
Draco sighs. "Yes, they're in my bag. At least this time when you copy my answers, could you at least change your wording on some of the answers?"
They mumble their assent as they paw through his bag.
"Draco," Pansy hisses in his ear. "You shouldn't keep letting them copy your homework. They'll never learn."
"Then, they'll never graduate," he hisses back. And they also wouldn't listen to him as often as they did. They may be friends, but even friends don't give without taking.
She is quiet for a while, so he settles against his seat listening to the scratching of Vincent and Gregory's quills as they write.
Then he feels her tugging on his robe. "So, why haven't you written this summer?"
He bites his lip, feeling guilty again. He usually writes Pansy at least twice in the summer. Sometimes more often than that. She has been his best friend, and he should have written her. At least just to tell her he was okay. Instead, he ignored all her owls inquiring after his well-being. Then again, at that time, he only needed one mother—there was no need to answer to two.
"I was busy," he replies.
"Doing what?" She pouts. "You can't have been that busy with your father…" She trails off.
"I was busy with other things."
This catches Vincent and Gregory's attention. "Busy with what?"
"You-Know-Who?" breathes Vincent with awe.
Draco opens his mouth to tell them no. That he doesn't want anything to do with the Dark Lord anyway, because the madman sends people on stupid missions that get them arrested. And then he leaves them in Azkaban to slowly go insane. He also leaves their families to pick up the pieces and makes mothers' hide in France.
But if he tells them no, he needs to tell a lie about what he really did this summer. He certainly can't tell them he spent the summer worrying that one day he might be poorer than the Weasley's.
He knows it is easier to tell the lie they already expect to be true, than to invent a new one.
"Yes," he tells them. "But I'm not supposed to talk about it."
Vincent and Gregory whistle their respect. "Sure thing. We won't ask."
But Pansy just frowns at him and whispers, "I thought you didn't want to have anything to do with him. After what happened to your father…"
He merely shrugs. If he doesn't say anything, he knows she won't ask any more questions…at least for now.
As the train nears Hogwarts and Draco can see his window growing frostier, he clears his throat.
Vincent and Gregory immediately look up.
"Can you help me with something?" he asks.
They stand up right away. He smiles at them and untangles his hand from Pansy's.
"Pansy, do you think any prefects not already in the front cars would have gone up there by now to help with the first years?"
She looks at her watch. "Probably. Why?"
He smirks. "Excellent. Vincent, Gregory…if you would follow me? I'll be right back."
They follow him out of the compartment and down the hall. He walks past five compartments before turning towards the on the right. This compartment is quiet. He cannot hear any low murmurs of conversation.
He pushes it open quickly, and sneers at the startled Potter. He is alone; the Mudblood and the Weasel are far away herding the wet-eared first years. Of course, Draco is lucky for Potter could have been surrounded by his strange Gryffindor bedfellows.
Nevertheless, Draco is relieved that his plan will succeed. Success is so hard to come by these days.
"Petrificus Totalus," he whispers before Potter can do or say anything.
Potter becomes rigid, unable to move. Draco slinks forward and with just a push with his finger, Potter loses his balance and falls over. He gives Potter a hearty kick in the ribs. It feels good. He wants to give Potter another kick, but restrains himself. He does not want to dirty his dragon-hide boots. After all, they were 2,600 galleons according to the receipts he found this summer.
He smiles down at Potter. "I hope you don't mind. You've been terribly rude lately, and I'm afraid you deserve this."
He turns on his heel to leave and raises his eyebrows at Vincent and Gregory. They already know what to do. They are not as stupid as others believe they are.
Before he leaves, he waits for the satisfying sound of knuckles hitting bone followed by a groan of pain. He mutters a "Silencio" before the compartment doors close.
When he sits back down next to Pansy, she immediately rests her hand on his knee. "Where did you go?"
He knows she only asks because she wants to hear the answer for herself and share in his quiet jubilation. "I was upset with Potter, so I did something about that."
They sit together in silence as the train pulls into Hogsmeade station. Draco allows himself to enjoy his victory. It is long deserved.
September 1, 1996 – Late Evening, Gryffindor Tower
Harry wishes he had a dartboard with Malfoy's picture on it just so he can throw things at that stupid, pointy face anytime he wanted to.
He finds it miraculous that Crabbe and Goyle did not break any of his bones. He feels tender bruises all over his skin, and knows without a doubt that his face must be swelling up. His eyes must be puffing up as well, because it hurts to blink. They left enough marks on his body that Harry misses dinner because he doesn't want anyone to stare. It's only the first day of school and he's already injured.
He doesn't go to Pomfrey; he doesn't want anyone to know. He wants to limp his own way to Gryffindor Tower. He will let Ron and Hermione fuss over him later tonight, but for now he will heal himself.
Everything hurts. He realizes now that they must have made sure that they left his entire body aching, but not enough that he needed the help of others. He curses them under his breath. The trouble he would endure to turn them in is not worth it. He is not a tattler and imagining all the fussing that would entail makes his stomach turn. He wonders if they knew and did this on purpose. He doesn't want to give them that much credit.
He props himself up against the sink in the bathroom, peering into the mirror at all the damage. Yes, he can heal some of this and yes, he can cover most of this up. And yes, tomorrow it will still hurt.
Ron finds him after he has already crawled into bed.
"Harry?" he peeks through the curtains.
"Hmm?" Harry tries to remain nonchalant.
"Where were you during dinner?"
"Oh, I just came up here. I'm exhausted." He fakes a yawn. He is glad that it is Ron that finds him and not Hermione. Ron is easier to fool. He does not pry the way Hermione does.
"Everyone was worried about you at the Sorting. You sure you're okay?" Ron peers questioningly at Harry, disbelieving that Harry could be tired enough to miss the feast.
"Yeah, I'm fine. It's rather tradition now to miss the Sorting," he jokes. "Did I miss any important announcements?" He feigns another yawn. Let Ron think he is really tired.
"Nah, just some extra safety precautions now that everyone knows that You-Know-Who is back. You sure you're okay?"
Harry suddenly finds an easy excuse to hide in his bed undisturbed for the rest of the night. "My head just kind of hurts," he says pointedly.
Ron's eyes predictably widen. "The scar?"
Harry just shrugs. "Can you just tell the others that I'm going to bed early? I'll be fine in the morning."
"Sure, Harry. Just let us know if you need anything. Better get your energy up for breakfast tomorrow."
Harry laughs, "I will. 'Night Ron."
"Night Harry. I'll go tell Hermione you're okay. She's been pulling her hair out with worry." He lets the curtain fall back and leaves Harry in the darkness.
Harry doesn't feel as bad about lying to Ron as he knows he should. He just does not want to tell Ron and Hermione about what happened on the train. Hermione will want to report the incident right away to McGonagall or Dumbledore. Ron will want to give Malfoy a kick in the ribs himself. They will both want to help him fight his battle.
Harry does not want to be like Malfoy. He will seek his own vengeance independently.
Starting tomorrow, he will be watching Malfoy like a hawk. The minute the slimy git slips up, Harry will be there to crow at him. And if Malfoy is up to anything, Harry will find out.
Malfoy will be his own independent project. His downfall will be Harry's personal victory.
Throughout the week, Harry learns Malfoy's schedule. He doesn't care to know Malfoy's classes, but cares to know when Malfoy is free—free to do all his Malfoyish activities, unbound from the scrutiny of a professor's eye.
Harry finds the Marauder's Map. He hides the map in his textbooks to study it during the day, and he hides the map under his covers to study it during the night.
Malfoy goes down to breakfast at 7:00 AM every morning. He takes his time, because he does not leave the Great Hall until ten minutes before the first class. Harry begins to wake up earlier than Hermione to watch Malfoy pick at muffins and scones while reading the morning newspaper. Nothing dastardly, but Harry wouldn't put it past the bastard to be trying something sinister at breakfast time.
Sometimes Malfoy eats lunch outside, which frustrates Harry. He cannot follow him outside without being noticed by friends and foe alike, so he worries that Malfoy might poison the Giant Squid or torch Hagrid's Hut.
After the first week, there are no red flags. All Malfoy does is study, sleep, and spend time with Pansy and his two goons. Even on the weekends, Malfoy is sin-free. Harry can't find any evidence that Malfoy is up to anything unpleasant. Yet, he refuses to believe it.
His patience pays off. During the second week of school, on a Thursday, Malfoy does the unthinkable and vanishes off the map at precisely 8:00 PM.
September 12, 1996 – 8:00 PM, Room of Requirement
He found it. Almost two full weeks trying, and he finally found the perfect place to hide the boxes he'd taken from Father's study.
The past week had been torture. During the days, he'd had no time to himself. Pansy had been especially clingy at the start of this year, because he'd been foolish and didn't write her all summer. She claimed to miss his company. Deep down, he thinks that she only misses him because there is no better company.
Vincent and Gregory were already struggling with homework and he has already spent too much of his own time trying to help them. He is usually ahead in his schoolwork when it is so early in the year, but he has spent all his extra time away from Pansy trying to explain Transfiguration theories to them.
The whole time he kept thinking of his family. His friends are his family at Hogwarts, but his blood family is more important. They come first. And he is letting them down with each minute he spends not finding the solution to their monetary problems.
There is no way that he believes his father has taken care of anything. He loves Father very much, but he thinks Father lies to keep Mother happy. He does that a lot. Either that or Azkaban has wasted his Father's brain. Both options are equally likely.
Draco won't let anyone find out that he could possibly be poor. During class, he worries that someone will have found a way to break through the wards on his trunks looking for valuables to steal and will find all of Father's papers instead.
He needed to hide them.
Today, he found a moment's breath away from everyone. Pansy was with Daphne Greengrass gossiping about…well, likely gossiping about Draco. Vincent and Gregory had given up on Transfigurations early.
He grabs the shrunken boxes from his trunk and stuffs them in his robe pockets. He can feel their weight as he walks, but he feels better knowing they are in his pockets. The weight is less heavy there than it is when thoughts about Father's paper weigh heavy on his shoulders.
Being alone is refreshing. There is more air to think. He paces in circles on the seventh floor with his brows deeply furrowed in concentration. What should he do with these boxes? Where would he hide them? Where can he sit down and start sifting through them again?
A door of opportunity appeared before him. Literally. Oh thank Merlin. The Room of Requirement.
Desperate, Draco had immediately reached for the doorknob and found a giant room packed from floor to ceiling with…junk.
Slytherins are opportunists by nature, and Draco was by no means about to turn down this heaven sent answer to his questions. Quite literally, this room was The Room of Hidden Things, and Draco had plenty to hide. He quickly shuts the door behind him and wandered through various aisles, all full with heaps and heaps of things.
As he wanders, his eye catches a black cabinet with gold enamel. It reminds him of the cabinet in Father's study, only more beaten and broken. The wood is splintered and the doors are barely hanging on the hinges. Nevertheless, this is an ideal place to store the boxes. At any rate, it is a better hiding place than under his bed.
He pulls the boxes out of his pockets and restores them to their natural size. With a grunt, he lifts them and shoves them one by one into the cabinet.
He is tempted to begin looking through the boxes right now, but he knows that he needs a better system than random searching. The project should be more organized, and he needs his own quills and parchment to make his own records and document potential clues.
Draco is determined to find evidence that money is flowing into the Malfoy vaults. And maybe, if he finds out how his father is doing it—if his father is doing it—then maybe he can put more in.
On Saturday, Draco prepares for his first appointment with Lady Agnita. He stares at himself in the mirror while brushing his teeth and realizes that he can't very well walk into his appointment looking like one of the kids that splices themselves on purpose with potions equipment. Not if he wants to prove to the woman that he doesn't need any help. As he squints at himself in the mirror, he blanches. Stress really has done terrible things to his appearances.
Using a mixture of gels and spells, he attempts to give volume to his thinning hair. He pinches his cheeks to give them extra color. To fill out his robes, he wears extra layers underneath them. He makes sure that he looks immaculate. The woman will have no reason to judge him poorly.
As he leaves his room to slip out of the dungeon, he stumbles upon Pansy already awake, working on a Charms essay. Blast that girl for being an early riser.
She turns around at the sound of his footsteps. "What are you doing up?" she asks, eyes already narrow with suspicion.
He winces. "I have somewhere to go this morning."
She purses her lips and looks him up and down. "Well, you're looking very well, this morning Draco. Where are you going so early on a Saturday?"
"Um." He used to be quicker at thinking up lies.
"Are you going on a date?" And Pansy used to be better at not offering him these freebies.
"Actually, yes. I am. I'm meeting someone for breakfast. And I'm late. So…I'll see you later."
Her speculating glance turns into an icy glare. "Oh. I see." She whirls back around towards her essay, and seems to hiss when she tells him to 'Have fun.' She doesn't bother saying any other sort of farewell.
He doesn't understand why she got so huffy all of a sudden, but shrugs it off. He really is late, and he doesn't want Lady Agnita to think he's late because he doesn't want to be there…even though it's true.
Draco decides that Lady Agnita's office is very blue. He tells her so, and she replies that blue is the color of stability and truth. He can't decide if the blue calms him or depresses him.
The session begins as he thought it might. He rehearsed answers in his head on his way to her office hoping that she would be predictable. She is predictable…for a little while at least.
She is also very short and has a tightly coiled bun on the top of her head to give her a few extra inches. Her glasses balance precariously on the tip of her nose, and she blinks owlishly at him when he takes his seat. He stares at her silently, counting her blinks as he waits for her to start.
One. Two. Three. Four. "You're late," she says. "By seven minutes and fifteen seconds."
"I'm sorry. It took a little longer to walk here than I thought it would."
"Did you not plan ahead?" She asks as she pulls out a notebook and a quill. He hopes it's not a Quick Quotes Quill.
"I underestimated the distance." He assumes she accepts his answer, because she does not write anything down.
"So how are you, Draco?" Her quill is poised and ready again.
"Never better," he smiles winningly at her.
She flips through a folder and speaks softly, "Your mother tells me that you've been very reserved this past summer. Not like your usual self."
"My usual self is reserved. My mother knows that I am quiet."
"She thinks that you were more than just quiet. She says that you were practically silent."
"I didn't have much to say." He wonders if Lady Agnita was a Slytherin, because she asks questions like a Slytherin does. Always questions that go around in predatory circles, like a vulture circling its prey.
She cocks to her head to the side. "Why wasn't there much to say? You usually have a lot to tell her, don't you?"
Draco wonders if his mother had sent this lady a complete biography on her only son. "There was less going on."
She tuts and writes something down on the parchment. "Actually Draco, wouldn't you agree that there was more going on in your life than usual this summer?"
He shakes his head, "No. There was less to do."
She smiles eerily at him. "Really? Why?"
Draco thinks she sounds like a four year old, asking why over and over again. "I don't know. There just was."
"Maybe because your father wasn't around?"
The circling vulture swoops in to attack the prey. He didn't think she would bring up his father, but she does. He thought she would tiptoe around the subject so she didn't upset him. Isn't that the proper decorum when around possibly fragile souls? He suddenly feels nervous around her, and resists the urge to dig his nails anxiously into the chair's premium Italian leather by folding his hands in his lap.
He counts her blinks again. One. Two. Three. Four. "Well?" she finally prompts him.
His two hands grip each other tightly. "Well, what?"
"How did you feel with your father being gone?"
Lost. Lonely. Scared. Anxious. Angry. "I don't know." A steely edge begins to creep into his voice and he struggles to keep it out.
She 'hmms' and clucks her tongue before writing something down in his file. "Maybe we should try a little game to get to know each other more. I would like to get to know you."
Fat chance. "Fine," he says.
She smiles approvingly and pulls out a deck of cards. "Now, these cards have some pictures on them. When you see the picture, tell me the first thing you think of."
The first card is of a dragon. "We'll start off relatively easy."
He smiles at her, "My namesake." But really, he thinks of the Tri-Wizard Tournament two years ago and the dragon that almost turned Potter into burnt toast. He wishes he could turn into a dragon sometimes. What if it were his Animagus form?
Lady Agnita clears her throat. He realizes she's already holding up the next picture. A book.
"Studying." Studying to be better than everyone else, but always coming second place to the Mudblood.
She holds up a picture of a broomstick. "Quidditch." Second-place.
"Good. Now we'll move on to some more abstract things."
He tries not to grimace. His brain has suddenly chosen now to be extremely imaginative and was already thinking up idiotically complex things to idiotically simple things. She holds up a stormy sky.
"Lightning." Scar. Fuck. Harry Potter. He is glad she asked only for the very first thing he thinks of.
An oyster. "Pearls." Mother. Father spending money on Mother. Receipts.
A tower. "Hogwarts." Azkaban had towers too. Tall, unsturdy towers that sway in the wind. He thinks of Father swaying away in a tower. Draco squirms in the chair, and the leather squeaks.
She keeps going, showing him these pictures and expecting him to give her answers that shed light on his soul. She expects too much, and she tires of the game before he does.
"Well, this is insightful."
He knows she's lying.
"One last picture, Draco." She holds up a picture of a man with blond hair.
Father. But of course, he's not going to hand her that one so freely. "Professor Vector. He's my Arithmancy teacher."
She sighs, "Does this picture make you think of anyone else?"
He shakes his head, but she just frowns and writes on the parchment.
Draco cranes his neck, wanting know what she writes about him. She is probably already writing down all the wrong stuff anyway. Probably writing about how he is being difficult or how he isn't opening up because he is hiding ten cauldrons worth of anxiety. All this false, fake, arsey psychoanalyst babble. He reminds himself of how much his mother is paying for this woman to not help him.
"It's not true you know." He blurts out.
She stops writing. "What's not true?"
"That stuff you're writing about me."
"What do you think I'm writing about you, Draco?"
He hates when she used his first name. "Whatever you're writing, its not true," he mutters.
She sets down her quill very slowly, and steeples her fingers together. "Why can't it be true?"
"Because you don't know anything about me. You don't know what to write down."
"Well, let me try to get to know you, Draco. I'm trying, and to be honest, you're being counter-productive."
He doesn't say anything. Why should he? She hadn't asked a question. He decides to only answer when she asks a question, save for his outburst a moment earlier. And he'll only give her a good answer when she asks a good question, which hasn't happened. The only questions she's asked regard his thoughts or feelings. How does he feel today? What is he thinking about now? Why is this? Why is that?
Those are bad questions, because it doesn't matter what he feels or what he thinks. Not to her.
She sighs, "Let's just go back your father. Your mother thinks that his absence is what has been bothering you."
He shrugs, "She could be wrong."
"Do you really believe that? That she's wrong and you're not bothered by your father's absence?"
Squeak. He squirms in his chair again, "No."
"So you are bothered by his absence?"
And there she goes. Putting words in his mouth before he really has a chance to say anything. What's the point of talking to her about his thoughts if she's just going to think her own?
"That's not what I said."
"So what were you trying to say?"
"I'm saying that I could be bothered by his absence. But most people are bothered when their father isn't there for a whole summer."
She leans forward in her desk and he scoots his chair back just a little bit. "Your mother tells me that you have extra responsibilities now that your father is gone. How do you feel about that?"
"Well, that doesn't really matter does it?"
"And why not?"
"Because responsibilities are responsibilities. I have to do them regardless of what I feel."
"But it matters how you feel. Someone as young as you being burdened so suddenly with responsibilities."
"I would have eventually been given these responsibilities. Now or later, it doesn't matter. There aren't even that many things to do." Except find time to start going through those boxes even though he also has to play tutor with Vincent and Gregory and then study for himself. And make sure he's spending enough time with Pansy. And maybe its all a little overwhelming, but he isn't about to tell Lady Agnita that.
He can't tell her that he could one day be possibly be poorer than Weasley's if he doesn't take care of family business. He can't tell her that his mother doesn't believe that he needs to be doing anything at all so that's the real reason he's here in this stupid blue office. He can't tell her that he doesn't believe his father, and that's why he's doing everything in the first place.
"Are you okay?" The voice cut fuzzily through his thoughts. He realizes he's clutching the arms of the chair so tight his knuckles are snow white.
His exhales. "Yes," he whispers.
"Do you want to tell me what's wrong?"
"I said that nothing was wrong."
She smiles sympathetically at him, pretending to believe him. "I've got an idea." She searches through the drawers of her desk and pulls out a quill and a thick sheaf of parchment. "Why don't you take this, and write down everything you would like to tell someone."
He stares dumbly at the parchment she's pushing towards him. "About what?"
"About how you're feeling. Write about everything important and unimportant, but write about what matters to you."
"What am I supposed to do with it?" He asks skeptically. He had asked this mother the same question when she gave him that journal on his eleventh birthday.
"It doesn't matter. It's up to you. We can talk about what you've written or not. The point is, it's your chance to get your feelings out. Sometimes its difficult to talk, but writing gives you a chance to tell a story about yourself from your own point of view, instead of letting people write it for you."
"Why would it matter if no one is going to see it?"
"But maybe it'll matter to you." She pats the parchment and smiles winningly at him. "Take it and give it a try."
He picks up the quill and parchment, but sticks out his chin defiantly, "And what if I don't?"
"Then you never tried, did you?"
He leaves her office and takes the longer way back to Hogwarts. He stops and stares in the windows of Honeydukes. He contemplates going in and buying a box of his favorite chocolates. The window display looks bright and colorful, and he thinks about how Father had taken him to a candy store in Diagon Alley when he was little and let him buy out the entire store.
He doesn't go in. It would just be another receipt he'd have to keep track of. Yet, if Lady Agnita asked him what he feels right now...it would be yearning.
His mother owls him the next day.
September 15, 1996
From the Desk of Narcissa Malfoy, Undisclosed Location
To Draco Malfoy, Hogwarts
How are you? France is delightful, and while it gets lonely, I've been able to entertain myself easily. The shopping district is wonderful. I could spend weeks and weeks browsing the stores. France has so much more elegance and class than Britain. You will love it when you come by this winter. We can search for the perfect winter cape together.
I hope classes are going well. You are a good student, and I know you will make me proud this year. You always do.
How is Pansy doing? She is a lovely girl. You should have invited her to come by more often this summer. Perhaps you should ask her out. A little bit of romance never hurt anyone, and it was in sixth year when your father and I met.
Also, I must ask, how was your meeting with Lady Agnita? Is she as wonderful as claimed? Did she help any? I hope you were agreeable with her.
Now, I must go, because this wonderful boutique is having an afternoon sale. Write soon. I miss you!
P.S. Do not worry too much.
September 15, 1996
From the Desk of Draco Malfoy, Hogwarts
To Narcissa Malfoy, Undisclosed Location
I am well. I am glad you are enjoying France. I hear France has beautiful beaches and other scenic delights as well. Some of the best things in life are free, you know.
Since classes have just begun, everything is easy. I have been trying to get ahead in my studies.
Pansy is fine, and she and I are just friends. Just because I took her to the Yule Ball does not mean I am going to ask her to go steady. I will tell her you asked after her, however.
Also, I was perfectly agreeable with Lady Agnita. She has given me homework. Maybe I should not have to go to her. I cannot accept extra homework on top of my studies. It would make me worry too much.
I miss you too.
P.S. What have you bought? Did you remember the keep the receipts? Father always says that keeping the receipts is a very practical thing to do. If you did, perhaps you can owl them over and I can keep them safe.
And after he's written back to her, he pulls out another sheet of parchment to try writing down his feelings or whatever gibber the woman wanted him to write about.
He hunches over his desk, tapping his quill against the desk.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Swish. He can feel the eagle feather tickling his chin with each flick of the wrist.
He tries. He really does. He sits at his desk with his brows furrowed, trying. But what does one write to absolutely no one at all? When he used to write in the journal Mother bought him when he was younger, he would pretend he was writing to an older version of himself, just as Mother told him to do. His own childhood memoir about nothing with insignificant details crowding the page. He had always thought that maybe one day those details could be important and groundbreaking material.
Well. If Draco is to write to nobody about the insignificant details leading up to this very point in his life…then he should start with a proper address. After more sitting and many tentative scratches and blots on his paper, he begins to write. He thinks the Lady would be proud.
I have been instructed today to talk about my feelings with you. Since I do not suppose it is a very masculine thing to do, the other recourse of action is to tell you a story about myself. Not a particularly interesting venture, but one can hope that something fascinating can be discovered along the way. I wonder if I should start at the absolute beginning of everything. Though I usually prefer things in neat chronological order, I should warn you that my story may skip around quite a bit, taking you across many surprise twists and turns (probably not that many as you will come to realize that my life seems to be set on a very straight path). And so, we begin.
I was born into what is believed to be fortunate circumstances. Both my father and mother loved me very much. Contrary to the old therapeutic fall back, I was not mistreated as a child. I was quite happy. My mother doted on me excessively, and my father taught me extensively. Neither of their affections were ill intended. Perhaps it is the fate of a son to be indebted to his parents love. For all their unconditional love, he must put the weight of unfortunate and accidental misgivings upon his shoulders. I find this to be natural. Regrettably my mother did not (hence, my writing to you). I cannot help but overachieve in all my endeavors…I have been taught to try my hardest in all that I try to accomplish. Lately, my task has been my biggest endeavor of all with the most to gain but the most to lose as well.
If I fail, then I stand to lose everything. My family, my fortune, perhaps my friends. Here some might argue that if my friends left me at the moment of my failure then they were not really my friends at all. These people do not understand the nature of friendships formed on a foundation of strategy. I must hold my head above water at all times and give to my family everything they have given to me, and then more.
Although, between you and me, sometimes I blame them for taking it all away at the moment and leaving me in this predicament. I am not sure if it is fair for me to think that, and it seems so much more accusing to write it down on paper. But. Sometimes, I wonder about their decisions and if the path they chose for me was the right one, or if I am already doomed for failure.
Draco begins to worry. He contemplates the vastness of everything he has to accomplish and the impossible obstacles that stand before him. Currently, he is the sole keeper of the Malfoy fortune. Father is slowly going mad in Azkaban. Mother forgets about the mortality of their fortune. And that leaves Draco—the only one who cares and the last one who is fit to do anything.
He wonders if he punishes himself with this pressure. After all, nobody has asked very much of him. Yet, his status as an only child and his ambitious nature require him to take on his familial burdens. He thinks of Lucius rotting away in Azkaban and his mother cavorting around in France. He thinks of why and how both his parents have ended up where they are, tarnishing the Malfoy name.
Here is Draco holding the polishing rag. It scares him that he begins to question if the Malfoys are worth saving.
Sunday afternoon, Draco finds time to slip back into the Room of Requirement. He keeps his hands in his pockets, sweaty palms crumpling the parchment in his fists.
He has got to hide these. No, it would absolutely not do for anyone to ever read these when they were under his possession. Or ever.
Wandering the aisles of junk, he comes across another cupboard hidden behind a rusting cage. He shoves the papers inside that cupboard. He takes a step back and looks around at the towering mess surrounding him. Perhaps he should mark the location. He grabs a hideous bust of a long-forgotten warlock and places it on top of the cupboard. On top, he throws a wig and what looks to be a discolored crown. He admires his landmark crafted from all the rubbish. Another perfect hiding spot.
He makes his way out of the room and down the corridor, feeling lighter as if heavy stones had been lifted from his shoulders. His feet no longer drag the floor. He could have whistled, if he hadn't collided into Harry Potter.
Everything crashes down.
September 16, 1996 – Seventh Floor Corridor
"Potter," Malfoy nods and tries to side step Harry. Harry finds himself looking down at a head of white blond hair. He wonders if he had gotten that much taller, or if Malfoy had simply shrunk.
He blocks Malfoy's path, not letting the other boy get away so easily.
"Malfoy. You're looking awful chipper." He narrows his eyes accusingly, an edge of suspicion in his voice.
Malfoy crosses his arms across his chest. "Problem? You make it sound as if that's against the rules."
"Depends on what you're so cheerful about. Found some first years to kick?"
Malfoy rolls his eyes and tries to step away again. "Yes, Potter. I'm ecstatic that I've met my daily quota in pummeling small children."
"Whatever, Malfoy. What are you doing up here?" Harry taps his foot impatiently, not in the mood to play any of Malfoy's games.
"Again, you make it sound like wandering around the school is against the rules."
"Well, history shows its hard to believe that you're ever doing anything other than breaking rules."
"Your history or mine?" Malfoy smirks and elbows past.
Harry grabs Malfoy's elbow. It is like wrapping his fingers around nothing but cold bone. "Your history, Malfoy. You're up to something, I know it. Don't think I'm not going to find out eventually."
Malfoy doesn't turn around. "Suit yourself, Potter. Waste your time, but don't waste anymore of mine."
Harry watches the other boy disappear down the hall, the clicking of Malfoy's shoes fading as he walked farther and farther away. Harry kicks the wall in frustration and paces around the corridor in circles.
What was Malfoy doing up here? This was the second time in three days that Malfoy had ventured up to this floor, and also the second time in three days that Malfoy had vanished off the Marauder's Map only to reemerge moments later in this very hallway. Harry isn't a genius but he isn't an idiot either. He had sprinted to the seventh floor the moment it happened. Except, by the time he was upstairs, Malfoy was sashaying down the hall looking very smug about…something.
Malfoy is up to something, and Harry is going to find out what it is. He had as good as promised.
Now, if only he could find out where Malfoy had gone. He circles around in frustration. Where could that slimy git have disappeared? If he were some evil doing Slytherin hiding something where would he go? Where does one go to hide?
Hogwarts never fails to disappoint the curious. A door emerges on the wall. Harry's eyes widen, and he can feel the gears in his brain click into place. Click. The Room of Requirement. Of course. He could hear a miniature version of Hermione exclaiming the elusive room was probably Unplottable.
What the bloody hell is Malfoy doing in the Room of Requirement? Did he require extra Dark materials?
Without hesitation, he pulls open the door. There are teetering towers of things as far as his eyes can see. Aisles of junk that has probably been collected for decades, if not centuries. An absolutely useless room unless one had a lot of things to put into storage.
What could Malfoy be doing in here? He wonders if the room had taken him too literally. He had wanted the room where Malfoy was hiding, not a room for hiding…stuff. Such is the plight of the Room of the Requirement.
Harry picks up a random book and throws it in frustration. How will he ever figure out what Malfoy was doing in here if he could never find where here was?
He begins to aimlessly wander the aisles. He could at least try to find something interesting. Perhaps he might find an ancient Sneakoscope to use on Malfoy in class.
He sees a worn book lying in the middle of one of the aisles and picks that up, ready to throw this one as well. He flips through it quickly, before recognizing it as the potions textbook…full of hints and notes. Well. It could be helpful. He pockets the book and is about ready to give up on the room all together when an ugly sculpture with an old tiara on it catches his eye.
Though the artifacts looked old artifacts, this sculpture seems to be oddly dust free. The sculpture rests on a decrepit cupboard, and Harry notices pieces of parchment sticking out. There are only two. Curious, he pulls them out.
They seem to be letters. He wonders if the writer painstakingly crafted these notes since the handwriting is fine, with a flourish to each letter. Every line looks straight and evenly spaced.
The date startles Harry. This letter was written today.
September 16, 1996.
I apologize for my melodrama at the end of yesterday's trial letter. Sometimes, my mind gets carried away, taking my quill with it. You might be confused about what exactly I am undertaking. I had stopped my narrative too soon in order to indulge my own emotions.
Lately, I feel orphaned. No, I do not doubt the love my parents have for me. However, I doubt the support they give me. Mother refuses to listen to my reason. Father…he no longer counts. They have left the survival of our family up to me. Yet, they have given me no guidance and no help. I am left stranded—left to figure out destiny on my own. Fate becomes a secret burden.
Do you ever feel like the fate of everything important is in your hands? That the things that are expected of you weren't things that you even expected of yourself? That what they want from you seems impossible? The feeling that everyone is pulling at you from every direction, and if they started pulling any harder you might just fly apart?
I do. And on top of it all, I feel utterly alone in feeling this way. I often wonder if anyone could or would ever understand how it feels to almost fly apart.
Yes. Yes, they would understand. Harry sets down the letter. It seems as though whoever wrote this letter had written down all of Harry's own thoughts. Or rather, whoever wrote this had managed to make sense out of all the overwhelming and frustrating thoughts that Harry had never really figured out himself until now.
At first, he feels relieved. It is nice to place words on the jumble of things that were in his mind. Finally, some way that made sense of all the pressure. A way to describe the tension he constantly feels from the expectations placed on him that he was going to save the world one day…that he was going to save the world single-handedly one day with nary any help. Relief that after all this time he had thought that no one else would ever understand the weight of the impossible, that someone else might know an inkling of what he feels.
Then Harry feels curious. Who could this someone be? Who else has been here? Who could be writing all of this? What else, other than threats of Voldemort, could make someone feel like this? And finally, Harry feels perturbed. He skims the letters again, slightly suspicious. As if these letters were purposefully planted for Harry to find.
Questions stir in his mind long after he has left the Room of Requirement. Just for now, this is enough to make him forget about Malfoy.
September 17, 1996 – Slytherin Boys Dormitory
There is no time to go back to the Room of Requirement today. This morning, Pansy had wanted to go for a walk around the courtyard during break. In the afternoon, both Vincent and Gregory needed help understanding the new Charms theory. Tonight, it is Blaise Zabini who wants something from Draco.
Draco has not talked to Blaise since the end of fifth year. The last time he talked to Blaise was before the Week Where Everything Went to Shit. The last time he talked to Blaise, there had been a falling out.
He could have talked with Blaise since then. Blaise might listen, might even help. Then again, Blaise might laugh, might even tell everyone. His friendship with Blaise has a history of instability. Blaise is not as loyal a friend as Vincent or Gregory. He is too smart—always calculating and thinking with his long eyelashes that shutter his eyes.
Draco was almost as close with Blaise as he is with Pansy. Maybe that was only because Blaise had wanted the same thing from Draco that Pansy does. Things that Draco doesn't want to give.
He knows the rumors about Blaise Zabini. Blaise Zabini lifts shirts and bites pillows. And at the end of last year, Blaise Zabini had hinted that he wanted to lift Draco's shirt.
…Hence, the falling out.
He does not know what Blaise wants from him tonight. He hopes it is not what Blaise used to want. He does not have time for that.
"Yes?" Draco stares up from his textbook at Blaise. He cranes his neck. Had everyone gotten a growth spurt over the summer but Draco?
"Can I come in?" Blaise fiddles with the side of the curtain.
Blaise shrugs. "Just wanted to see how you were doing."
"I'm doing fine. How are you?" Draco looks back down at his textbook. His neck is getting sore from looking up.
"Good." Blaise begins drumming his fingers on the bedpost. "Are you doing potions?"
Draco nods, eyes skimming the text, but not really reading anything. Behind the page he was reading was the journal entry he had begun to write. Granted there was only one word on the page, but his mind had already started drifting far away, until Blaise had startled him back.
Blaise's other hand produces the thick potions text from behind his back. "I'm just about to. Care to study together?"
Draco purses his lips and stays silent. He feels a nudge on his shoulder and finds Blaise starting to climb in the bed anyway without an invitation. Just like last year.
He is about to push Blaise off, but the other boy holds up the textbook like an offering of peace.
"We can go over the potion's theories for next week like we did last year. And guess what happens when you change ingredients or combine potions elements."
Draco allows a small smile at this. "Ah. No one else is willing to do that with you are they?" He scoots over just a little bit.
Blaise flips open the textbook. "You're more of a potions nerd than I am."
Draco scoots over even more. "Only because I'm better at it than you."
Tonight, it is easy to get along with Blaise. He abandons the journal entry that is slipped in between the pages of the book in favor of trading fantasy potions theories.
He isn't being fussed over the way Pansy did this morning. He isn't being stared at blankly the way he was with Vincent and Gregory this afternoon. He isn't thinking himself to insanity the way he has all week.
He doesn't say anything when Blaise touches his wrist too much or when Blaise sits too close. This is okay for now.
Pansy is upset with him the next morning. He notices the way her knife screeches against the plate that Pansy is just an inch away from screeching herself.
"What did you end up doing last night?" The pieces of toast she has been cutting look microscopic.
Draco shoves his own toast into his mouth and smiles appeasing at her around chews. He swallows. "Study."
"You said that we were going to do Transfigurations together after you were done with Potions."
"Potions ended up taking longer than expected."
Pansy rolls her eyes. "You were studying with Blaise. In your bed."
He frowns at her, wondering how she always knew exactly what he was doing.
"Teddy Nott told me." She sets down her silverware. "I thought you were no longer friends with him."
Draco just shrugged and shoved another piece of toast in his mouth.
She tugs on his robes and hisses, "You know what they say about Zabini."
"Yes, I know."
"You know what you say about Zabini."
"Called him a fudge-packing, pillow-biting pouf."
"Yes. You did. So why are you even talking to him again for?"
"We were just doing potions. Relax." He wonders if she will fuss over him every morning. The thought alone irritates him.
"Potions in your bed. People will talk. You don't want people to talk about you and Blaise Zabini in bed together. They'll think you're a pouf too." She stabs a piece of her toast.
"No one is going to think I am a pouf." Does she find a new thing to fuss about every day? People never fuss over the right things.
She turns to glare at him with her mouth open. He can almost taste the poisonous comment that is about to come out of her mouth. He can almost see it on the tip of her sharp tongue. He waits for it, but she snaps her mouth shut.
"Nevermind, Draco." She slams down her fork and grabs her bag, as she storms out of the Great Hall.
There will be no morning walk today.
September 18, 1996 – The Great Hall
"Wonder what's up Parkinson's arse this morning," Ron mumbles around a mouthful of eggs.
Harry glances up to see Pansy Parkinson stomping out of the Great Hall. His eyes trail back towards the Slytherin table where Malfoy sits looking bemused and slightly affronted.
He scoffs, "More like, I wonder what Malfoy did to her."
Hermione sighs and sets down the morning paper. "Honestly. Harry, are you still trying to play pin the blame on Malfoy for everything?"
It is Harry's turn to look insulted. "What do you mean?"
"I just mean that ever since the school year started, it's like you've been obsessed with trying to catch Malfoy at doing something. It's like first year all over you. You trying to get him in trouble for nothing."
Ron nods, "It's true. I'm all for getting that slimy git in trouble, but you, my friend, are taking it to a whole other level."
Harry restrains himself from throwing his toast at both of them. "It's not nothing. He's up to something. In fact, I found him outside the Room of Requirement the other day. Tell me what anyone who isn't up to something is doing up there."
"Tell me what you were doing following him," Ron snorts.
"Because, he's up to something!" Harry picks up his bag and to make his own dramatic exit out of the hall.
Unfortunately, Malfoy had left just moments before.
"Stop following him," Hermione tuts. "People might think you've got a crush."
"Actually, I'm just going to the library, thanks." Harry rolls his eyes. Defensive, he feels wrongly accused of this obsession. He hadn't even thought about Malfoy until this morning. Draco Malfoy hadn't even been crossed his mind since he found those letters. Malfoy isn't even a priority at the moment. Right now, all he wants to do is find out who had written those entries.
He had gone back up to the Room last night, but there had only been the same two notes peeking out from the statue. Maybe he had gone there too early. Maybe the writer had snuck up there late last night to hide their entries.
It wouldn't hurt to go check again this morning.
He takes the stairs two at a time to the seventh floor. As he rounds the hallway, he sees a familiar and unwelcome blond head.
Great. Now he's following Malfoy even when he doesn't want to. He tries to stop running so maybe Malfoy won't see him, but his shoes squeak too loudly on the stone.
Malfoy whirls around. "Potter!"
"What?" Harry shoves his hands into his pockets, feigning nonchalance.
"Why are you following me?"
"What makes you think I'm following you?"
Malfoy looks at him as if he were dumb. "Because this is the second time I've seen you up here when I was here first."
"What are you doing up here anyway?"
Malfoy crosses his arms, "Maybe I just like coming up here to be alone. Evidently, it's not working."
"Really? Just to be alone? Pull the other one, Malfoy."
"Whatever. Choose what you want to believe. But just between you, me, and the rest of the world, I'm getting sick of seeing your ugly face so up close and personal over and over again."
Malfoy shoves Harry out of the way as he disappears down the hallway towards the stairs. For someone who was there first, he is awfully quick to also be the first to leave.
Shrugging, Harry makes his way to the center of corridor so he can find the Room of Requirement again.
He immediately seeks out the statue with the letters. There is nothing new there. He slumps against the cabinet disappointed. With two notes one day after the other, Harry had thought the writer must be on a once-a-day habit.
Slumping against the cabinet, Harry wonders if he should write something for the author to find. Maybe a short note of support? A quick greeting? If he does that, he wonders if he would ever hear from this author again—not that the author knew he or she had an audience now. Or maybe the writer would be just has curious about a note Harry leaves as Harry is curious about the writer.
He rips off a piece of parchment out of his bag and pulls out a quill.
I understand. You aren't alone.
He considers leaving an initial, or maybe a hint. He stops himself however. This note is bold enough. Let two anonymous people try to find each other.
There can be enough comfort knowing that the other exists.
September 18, 1996 – Slytherin Common Room
Dusk falls on Draco tugging furiously at the lock of his trunk. He flings the top open and shoves his arm towards the bottom. He hears the clinking of glass bottles and he wraps his fingers around two small vials. Self-procured gifts from his father's potion's cabinet.
He heads down to the common room, and sees two first year girls giggling in a corner. He approaches them and pulls a hair from their heads.
"Ow! What are you…" They trail off and stare wide-eyed at him.
He smirks. "First years aren't supposed to be down here."
Tucking the hair into his pocket, he finds Vincent and Gregory squabbling over a game of Exploding Snap.
"Oy." His foot taps impatiently on the stone. They are still bickering. He clears his throat again before exclaiming, "Shut up!"
They look up without batting an eye.
"I need you to do something for me."
"When?" Vincent asks.
"Now." Draco nods and begins to walk brusquely out of the Common Room. He doesn't need to turn around to know that they're following him.
In the dungeon hallway, he thrusts a vial in each of their hands and hands them each a delicate hair. Desperate measures for desperate times.
"I have something I'm working on in the seventh floor corridor. Except, Potter keeps following me around everywhere. I'll need you to stand guard for me now."
They peer at the vials. "What's in this?" Gregory asks.
Draco takes both hair and vial from his hands. He drops the hair in and watches it bubble. "Hair."
Gregory grimaces, but takes it anyway.
Draco smiles. Loyalty is his most valued virtue in friendship.
Two young girls follow Draco up to the seventh floor. He leaves them behind as he disappears into the Room of Requirement. He only has one hour.
He casts an alarm charm and spends forty-five minutes poring over and organizing Father's files. He creates different stacks and labels them. As he skims through the papers, he makes notes on a piece of parchment.
When the alarm alerts him of the time, he stretches and looks over his work feeling accomplished. At last, a moment of productivity. Sure, there is barely a dent on any of the papers, but finally there is visible evidence that he has been working.
As he heads out to reach his door, he glances at the other cabinet where his papers are stored. Something looks amiss. A frayed piece of parchment juts out of the cabinet.
He feels his heart freeze and his throat close up in panic. He doesn't know how he ends up clutching the piece of paper in his hand.
The words echo in his head like a taunt. You aren't alone. He looks around frantically.
"Hello?" He calls out, wondering if this mysterious note writer was hiding in one of the aisles.
His voice reverberates off the walls. Hello, Hello, Hello. But you aren't alone.
He pulls a quill out of his pocket and scratches on the back, Who are you?
With his eyes closed, he counts to ten as if expecting an immediate answer. When none comes, he just shoves the paper back in the cabinet. He paces in a circle for a moment. Who the bloody hell has been up here?
He can't check this room every hour like he wants to now in order to see a reply that may or may not alleviate his nerves. Potter might follow him up and he can't make Vincent and Gregory Polyjuice into preteen girls for an entire day.
Finally, he just stalks out of the room. Fifty-nine minutes gone, and all the good feelings from this first forty-five minutes have evaporated.
He sees two young girls pulling at each other's pigtails and slapping each other next to an abandoned game of Exploding Snap.
Let them make their own way down to the dungeons.
Draco can't sleep tonight. He feels like someone is lurking right outside the curtains. He thinks about the Room of Requirement and imagines shadows chasing him up and down the aisles. The dark bed canopy looms down on him and in the black, he can picture Potter's face smirking at him out of the cabinets and throwing all of the files in the air and saying, "Caught you."
The tossing and turning feels like hours, and he hopes that he might just close his eyes and it would be morning again. Anxiety coils up in his belly and tightens.
Finally, he rolls out of bed and stumbles into the bathroom to splash cold water on his face.
The water stings his cheeks and leaves an icy trail down his neck.
A hand squeezes his shoulder. The brief contact sparks an immediate reaction. Reflexively, Draco elbows backwards and hears a loud grunt of pain. He whirls around to see Blaise doubled over.
"Bloody Hell, Malfoy. What are your elbows made of?"
Draco just blinks and shakes the water out of his eyes. "What the bloody hell did you surprise me in the middle of the night for?"
Blaise shrugged, not looking very apologetic. "You woke me up. Sounded like you were jumping on your bed."
Blaise grinned, "You'd think that you weren't just trying to sleep."
Draco glares. "Pervert."
Blaise just grins some more. "So. Want to sneak out?"
Draco lifts himself up and perches on a sink. His brows pucker together. "Out where?"
"Just outside. We can go for a run around the lake."
"What would be the point of that?" Draco asks apprehensively.
"It'll make you tired. Then I might get to say I wore you out."
Draco grimaces. Blaise used to joke like that last year. He hadn't thought anything of it until he finally understood that the double entendres were directed purposefully at him. "You're not very humorous."
"Ah. But you'll still come for a run?"
"I don't run." Draco points out.
"Walk then." Blaise continues to grin like a Cheshire cat.
Draco wonders about how wise it really is to go out for a run on Hogwarts grounds in the middle of the night. A stupid decision, especially if he considers that it'll be Blaise Zabini that he'll have for company.
But. He is too restless to go back to bed. Too uneasy. The anxiety from discovering that note in the Room of Requirement keeps his body itching to run all the way up to the seventh floor. The apprehension has settled uncomfortably.
And for some reason, he knows that middle of the night runs with Blaise Zabini might piss Pansy off. He imagines her snapping her silverware in half at breakfast and wagging all ten fingers at him disapprovingly. There would probably be no morning walk. A fair exchange: midnight run to substitute those morning walks.
"Fine. I'll come." He swings his legs off the sinks. "Let me change."
Teddy Nott can tell Pansy in the morning.
September 19, 1996 – Midnight on Hogwarts Grounds
He slips through the hallway in his Invisibility Cloak. The thick socks he wears are silent on the stone as he tiptoes up the staircase to the seventh floor.
Harry couldn't sleep tonight. He thinks about the mysterious author—an unknown companion. Has the person written back yet? The anticipation makes his heart pound, and the excitement keeps his eyes wide open. He can't wait.
The door to the Room of Requirement swings open quietly and in the dim light, Harry makes out the statue on top of the cabinet. He snatches the paper out.
Who are you?
His spine tingles, he's thrilled to have gotten a response. He knows he should be more cautious. Experience has taught him that nothing good ever came out of strangers writing each other messages. The situation seems too perfect…too timely. Yet, his curiosity and sense of kinship with the writer compel him to reach for the quill.
Who is he? Harry finds that he likes the anonymity and namelessness. He is an enigma who someone knows nothing about. The obscurity provides an outlet for honesty.
The quill tickles his chin as he considers a reply.
Someone who knows the heaviness of fate and the impossibility of expectations. I am not as good with words as you, but if I had been able to turn my thoughts into words…I could have written chapters about being left stranded to figure out destiny on my own. I didn't know that the world could weigh so much on another person as well. Who are you?
Perhaps the stranger would be just as curious about him as he was about them. He imagines the other person reading his reply, be it boy or girl, struggling to determine the person responsible for writing back. How equally intrigued the person would be. Did they have the same questions? How long could they remain anonymous? Would they even reply? If they did, would they eventually want to meet?
He lingers on his own note and hopes that it is equally part enigma and part explanation. That the other person would know that he was sincere in his understanding and interest. That the other person would know that Harry expected a reply.
His own expectations make him impatient as he makes his way back to the Tower. He almost doesn't see Draco Malfoy slipping through the front doors into the cool night air.
Yet, there is no mistaking the flash of white blond that glimmers in the beams of moonlight stretching across the floor. The gleaming hair is too noticeable, even from Harry's position two flights of stairs above.
Harry doesn't hesitate to follow him. He hasn't forgotten his mission to find out what Malfoy is up to. His suspicion flares when he sees Malfoy's dark companion slinking alongside the git. What are Malfoy and Blaise Zabini doing at midnight on the Hogwarts grounds?
Maybe Zabini was an accomplice in whatever dark deed Malfoy has been planning.
He takes the stairs two by two, and by the time he reaches the main doors, Harry is sure his loud panting is bound to give him away. The invisibility cloak is hot and he feels his glasses slip down his sweaty nose as he chases the Slytherin phantoms across the grounds.
They end up by the lake. Harry props his body against the tree, hugging the drunk as he leans forward to listen. He tries not to breath, since he is sure that if he does, his breath would slice through the quiet.
Malfoy looks strangely smaller tonight when contrasted with the tall frame of Zabini. He is hunched with his arms around himself, looking as though the lake is about to swallow him whole. The lightest breeze could blow him away.
"So what kept you up tonight?" Zabini murmurs, looking confident with his hands in pockets.
Malfoy, on the other hand, looks vulnerable, his arms shielding his chest against an invisible offender. He merely shrugs, "Just couldn't sleep."
Zabini turns and narrows his eyes. "You 'just couldn't sleep' since the semester began?"
"You've been noticing?"
"It's hard not to wonder what's been keeping you awake at night. You know, your eyes are so sunken that they're disappearing into your face."
"Thanks for that visual, Blaise. May I ask why you've been pondering so much about my sleeping pattern?"
There is a long pause. Harry holds his breath. Literally.
"I've been worried about you." Zabini finally says.
"That's quee…strange of you."
"Yeah, well. I remember the end of last year wasn't the best for you. And then the start of this year doesn't seem to be the best either."
"And what's it to you now?" Malfoy seems to hunch over more, like he's about to be sick over his own shoes.
Zabini grabs Malfoy's shoulder. "Look, I'm sorry about what happened at the end of last year."
"It's not your fault." Malfoy shakes him off.
"Not...that. The thing that was my fault."
Malfoy grimaces. "So are you over…that thing?"
Zabini is quiet for a long time again. "Start over with me as friends."
Malfoy picks up a stone and throws it into the lake. "What makes you think I forgive and forget so easily?"
"I'll just take another guess here and say that you might have bigger things on your mind about last year than…what happened between us."
Malfoy grimaces again and tosses another stone. He turns and looks up at Zabini. "Fine. Friends."
Zabini's grin looks brighter than the moon. "Good. So, now will you tell me what's been keeping you awake at night and distracted during the day?"
Harry leans forward anticipating Malfoy revealing his laundry list of crimes from this semester. 'Tell him!' Harry urges telepathetically. Yet, as he inches towards them, his foot catches on a tree root.
"Umph!" He tumbles down toward the reeds, clutching his cloak around him desperately. The reeds rustle violently.
"What the bloody fuck?" Malfoy spits out. He chucks a huge stone into the tall grass. Harry winces.
He can hear them muttering curiously and tossing several more pebbles in his direction before the fast fall of running footsteps announce their departure. He remains lying in the grass, breathing in the cloak material.
What was Malfoy up to? The other boy must be so preoccupied with something that he wasn't even sleeping at night. It was taking some kind of toll on Malfoy that was wearing him out so much that even Blaise Zabini had taken notice. And this something was so secretive that Zabini didn't even have any kind of clue.
And then he wondered what the hell happened between Malfoy and Zabini at the end of fifth year that they might have fallen out over.
The thick cloak covers his mouth and his glasses begin to steam as he continues to think, the minutes ticking by.
"Guess who I caught sneaking around last night." Harry announces at breakfast.
"Who?" Ron asks.
"Yes, Harry. Who?" Hermione doesn't sound nearly as thrilled.
"Malfoy." Harry triumphantly stabs a sausage.
There is silence.
"How did you go about catching Malfoy?" Hermione finally asks.
"I was walking back to the tower and I saw him and Zabini head out into the grounds. So I followed them.'
"Why were you wandering around Hogwarts?"
"Looking for Malfoy, probably," Ron mutters into his eggs.
"No! I couldn't sleep so I was just walking. It was happenstance that I stumbled across Malfoy."
"Planned happenstance," says Hermione, rolling her eyes.
"He and Zabini might have been up to something really strange so I decided to go see…"
Ron begins to snicker.
Ron only snickers more. Hermione hides a giggle behind her hand.
"What? What's so funny?"
Ron clears his throat. "What strange things did you catch them doing?"
"Well, they were just talking. But, Malfoy was about to tell Zabini what nasty, criminal acts he has been committing…but…"
Ron spit out his orange juice. "Malfoy was about to tell Zabini what nasty…acts…"
Harry stares at Ron strangely as Hermione began to giggle again. "But what Harry?"
"But. I fell and they heard so they left. And I didn't find out. But now I know for sure. Malfoy is up to something. And why are you laughing?"
"What kind of nasty acts do you think Zabini and Malfoy might have been up to at night?"
Harry blinks as Ron's innuendo begins to dawn. "Okay, that's sick."
"Why did you follow them?" Hermione tuts.
"Because, Malfoy is up to something," Harry grumbles.
"Up Zabini's shirt." Ron amends.
"Where do you even begin to get that?"
Ron rolled his eyes and rips off a piece of toast. "Everyone knows that Blaise Zabini likes the gentlemen more than he likes the ladies. He is a pants-not-skirts man."
Harry gags on the scone.
"Exactly. Imagine what you could have seen last night and be glad you saw them talking."
"Malfoy's a pouf?!" Harry exclaims.
September 20, 1996 – The Great Hall
Draco hates Harry Potter. He hates the idiot's big mouth and loud voice and he hates the hundreds of little heads that turn and stare him smugly. He also hates the silence. The quiet acceptance. He hates that he chose to sit next to Zabini this morning. He hates Pansy too for staring at him and mouthing, 'I told you so.' He hates how he can't say anything at this moment, because everyone will just think that denial is not just a river in Egypt and poor Malfoy is becoming delusional about his own identity.
But most of all, he just really hates Potter.
"He's such a sodding idiot." He says as he stands up to leave the Great Hall. He motions for Vincent and Gregory to follow him.
He feels mildly better when he hears their thundering footsteps following and then the crack of Vincent's knuckles before Potter's consequent groan of pain.
His anxiety had not abated from last night. In fact, it had increased since he heard that unnatural rustling in the weeds. He can't shake off the feeling that someone keeps following him. His strides are long as he heads toward the seventh floor, and he can hear Gregory gasping for air as he stumbles behind.
In a deserted hallway, he hands them both a corked vial.
"This isn't that vile tasting stuff is it?" Vincent sniffs it.
Draco glares before stomping around in circles to access the room. "Just take the bloody thing."
Two meek-eyed girls blink at him by the time he yanks open the door.
"September 19, 1996
Someone who knows the heaviness of fate and the impossibility of expectations. I am not as good with words as you, but if I had been able to turn my thoughts into words…I could have written chapters about being left stranded to figure out destiny on my own. You intrigue me. I did not know that the world could weigh so much on another person as well. Who are you?"
After pocketing the note, Draco nibbles on the end of his quill, gagging as he accidentally tastes the bitter ink. For someone who claimed that they aren't eloquent, this mystery invader certainly has a style. This reply leaves Draco still anxious, but with a modicum of curiosity. However wary Draco is over the motive and the anonymity, he also feels a small degree of comfort in thinking that perhaps someone might know how he felt.
You've made it awfully clear that you think you know exactly how I feel. Except, I wonder, can you know exactly how heavy the weight on my shoulders has become if your own circumstance is different? Bear up. Everyone has their own burdens to carry. Some of us are just more entitled to dramatics about it than others. But, in the case that the expectations placed on you are just as heavy, and your journey just as forcibly straining, then tell me. Why? What burdens do you carry that are so heavy you are trying to seek out the companionship of a stranger? Until then, I won't tell you who I am. You probably wouldn't believe me anyway.
He tucks his reply into the cabinet before seeking out his other storage place. For the next half hour, he sorts through the boxes trying to figure out what may become of his family's fate.
Saturday morning, he wakes up to go to Hogsmeade to meet Lady Agnita. He slinks out of the building, not wanting to run into anyone. He isn't breaking any rules, he just doesn't want to run into anyone that would ask him questions.
He must have forgotten to knock on wood, because just as he is about to escape the building unnoticed, he spots Potter going up those last flight of stairs. He tries to slip into the shadows to wait for the other boy to leave, but Potter seems to have him on radar. He wouldn't be surprised of Potter had some magical device specifically designed to locate Draco.
"Malfoy. What are you doing up so early?"
"It's nine, Potter. Hardly early. Except, I should ask you the same. What are doing tainting the world with your presence so early? Shouldn't you Gryffindor lions be lazing around until the afternoon on weekends?"
Potter ignores his question and narrows his eyes on him. Draco thinks its because Potter can't think of any witty comebacks. Shame, really. He had so been looking forward to a vigorous verbal sparring.
"Don't think you can just slip out of here so easily. I see you trying to sneak out. Where are you going?"
"I'm not trying to sneak."
"Then why were you hiding from me?"
"Gee, I don't know. Maybe to avoid one of the lunatic firing squad of questions? To avoid seeing your ugly face? Pick one."
Potter moved to block the door. "Where are you going?"
"Because, contrary to popular belief, I like the sun."
"I don't believe you."
"What do you want to hear then?" Draco is frustrated and exasperated. He doesn't have energy to deal with Potter's paranoia.
"Where you're really going."
"Fine. To Hogsmeade."
"That's not allowed."
"You're not allowed. I am. Special permission. Go ask Dumbledore if you don't believe me."
Potter blinks fish-eyed at him. "Maybe I will then."
Draco stares at the other boy with disbelief. "Bloody hell. Don't you have anything better to do?" He shoulders past Potter to push open the main doors.
Annoyed, he kicks every stone in his path on the way to Lady Agnita's office. His toes hurt by the time he arrives at her office.
He thinks about coming here every Saturday morning. It is only the second week, and the dread he feels on his way over hurts his stomach. He can't possibly imagine waking up early, trying to escape Pansy's suspicions and Potter's interrogations. Leaving the castle alone makes the journey to her office wearisome enough. He cannot and will not do this for the rest of the term.
The blue walls seem to fold in on him as Lady Agnita peers at him over her glasses. He feels inspected. Like a bug pinned in a big blue box. She twirls a quill in her hands.
"Did you try what I suggested last week?" she asks him.
"Yes." And fat lot of good it did him. He addressed some of his private thoughts to the imaginary unknown and ended up with a real unknown person trying to reach out to him. Instead of merely telling his side of his story to himself, he now has more anxiety about writing letters to an anonymous student.
"Did it help?"
No. It made everything worse. "Yes."
"Do you want to share anything you wrote?" She sounds eager. And her quill is poised as she waits for him to recite private thoughts for her scrutinizing and judgmental ears. Unfortunately, he has already shared those thoughts too much with someone else.
"Why not?" She is disappointed now. Maybe as annoyed with him as he is with being here in her blue office. He has decided that the blue is depressing.
"It helps just writing." He folds his hands in his lap. "Actually, just writing works just fine. It was an excellent idea, and I don't believe I'll need your services any longer."
She laughs, an eerie sound. "Draco," she attempts a placating voice. "I'm glad my suggested exercise helped, but ultimately the decision to stop treatment isn't yours. Remember that your mother requested that you come here. You are to continue these appointments until we both feel that you're better."
"I was fine to begin with."
"We both know that's not true." She reminds Draco of the calm before a storm.
His hands clench. So what if he isn't completely fine? No one ever is. That doesn't mean everyone who isn't completely fine needs therapy. Besides, therapy doesn't make anyone completely fine anyway, because it doesn't change any of the 'not fine' things happening to the person.
"Even if I wasn't fine, coming here isn't going to make anything better. Coming here to these appointments doesn't change anything."
"That's not true either, Draco. Things can be changed, starting with changing how you feel."
He stands. "I can do that on my own. I can't be forced to come here and forced to talk."
She stands as well, and glides towards the door, blocking it with her body. "No one is forcing you to do anything."
'Yes, they are!' Draco screams silently. His mother forces him to come here. His father's absence forces him to take care of the family. Pansy forces him to behave a certain way. Potter forces him to stay awake late at nights. He is forced to hide in the Room of Requirement. Forced towards anxiety. Forced to uphold family honor and tradition. Forced to lie. Forced towards his father's path. Forced towards a million things he never wanted to do in the first place. People need to just stop pushing and pulling at him.
"Then don't make me stay." He reaches for the doorknob, relieved when she doesn't try and stop him. If she kept pulling at him too and forcing him to stay, he might have just lost it. And then he really would seem like a troubled adolescent in dire need of therapy.
He kicks stones on the way back to the castle again, until his toes are numb. He's never going to go back there again. Ever. Sod her and sod his own mother for forcing him to go there. Mentally, he declares this his last visit ever.
September 21, 1996 – Afternoon in the Library
Harry can't stop thinking about Malfoy. Malfoy is a mystery and now Harry can't control his curiosity. After his encounter with Malfoy in the morning, he had rushed back into his room to grab his invisibility cloak and Marauder's Map.
Ron had groggily asked him where he was going, but Harry just sprinted out the door. As he scampered through the hallways and down flights of stairs, he had tapped the map to find where Malfoy was going. When he finally caught sight of the other boy again, he threw on his cloak and followed Malfoy into Hogsmeade.
The only sound on the way to wherever Malfoy was heading was the sound of stones skittering across the path. Harry noticed that Malfoy seemed to drag his feet when he walked, unusually different from his normal swaggering gait. It seemed as though Malfoy didn't want to go wherever he was going.
Malfoy's destination shocked Harry. He imagined Malfoy slipping into a dingy store or bar for a meeting of criminal minds with one of Lucius Malfoy's associates. He didn't expect Malfoy to slip into the office of Lady Agnita, a witch reputed to "heal the woes of troubled youth" according to the adverts she took out in the Daily Prophet.
Disconcerted, Harry had wanted to sneak in after Malfoy to find out why Malfoy needed to see her. Unfortunately, the door slammed shut in Harry's face and the door was charmed to let in only those who had scheduled appointments. Even Lady Agnita had followed the strict ethical policy of patient confidentiality.
Harry thought about Malfoy all the way to the library, and now that he is trying to study with Hermione and Ron, he continues to think about the other boy. What troubles and woes could he possibly have? Maybe he is finally getting therapy for his bullying tendencies. That thought amuses Harry. Or maybe he is being forced to go to therapy by Dumbledore as a disciplinary measure. That thought also pleases Harry. Yet, maybe Malfoy has to go to therapy because of what happened to Lucius at the end of last year. This thought bothers Harry just a little bit.
He asks Ron and Hermione what they think.
"Have you ever heard of Lady Agnita in Hogsmeade?"
"The lady that treats crackpots, queers, and delinquents?" asks Ron.
"Er. Yes. Her."
"Why?" Hermione leans forward, concern written all over her face. "Are you thinking about going to her? Because really, Harry. If you are that worried about anything you know that Ron and I…"
"No! I'm not thinking about going to her. I was just wondering." He scrambles to think of an excuse. "I saw something about her in the Daily Prophet and was just wondering who would even go to her."
"Crackpots, queers, and delinquents," repeats Ron. "The type that use potions equipment on their wrists."
"Ron!" Hermione exclaims. "That's terrible."
"It's just for people who need someone to talk to."
"About being a crackpot or a queer." Ron shrugs. "Mum says that no one ever wants to go there, and if they're forced to nothing good comes out of it anyway, because they didn't want to go. So what we're left with is confused madmen running around."
"Oh," is the only thing Harry can think of to say before biting his lip and thinking about Malfoy again. He remembers what Ron told him Friday morning at breakfast. Maybe Malfoy had to go there, because he was…queer.
"Why do people go there if they're queer?" He asks.
Hermione purses her lips. "Parents send their children to her, because she thinks they can change them. A lot of families don't want a gay child because the wizarding bloodline is already declining. Plus its generally just frowned upon. It's the same in the Muggle world." She closes her textbook. "Why are you so interested?"
"I was just curious."
Hermione raises her eyebrows. A classic signal that she doesn't believe him. He just shrugs her off and stares fiercely at his textbook, but not reading it at all.
He wonders if Malfoy's parents are forcing him to get therapy because he was gay. He wonders if Zabini's parents are doing the same thing. These thoughts also unsettle Harry, because they make him feel a just a little bad for Malfoy.
Harry goes for a walk around the castle sometimes. Today his feet take him to the Room of Requirement. He isn't surprised. His feet either take him towards Malfoy or towards the seventh floor these days. His thoughts go in the same direction.
There is a note waiting for him when he checks the cabinet.
The writer has a snarky edge that makes Harry smile and chew his bottom lip. How to put his burdens into words? How to say that he's expected to fight Voldemort and save the entire Wizarding World? He could just speak plainly, but he doesn't want to give himself away. Nothing screams Harry Potter like saying, "Oh, I pretty much have to defeat the most evil wizard in history." He can't say it all. Not yet. Not if this person still tries to remain anonymous.
It is as if they write to each other in riddles. A challenge of giving hints without giving it all away.
Harry picks up the quill. He'd rather take this challenge than the one Voldemort has waiting for him.
Starting September 21, 1996 – Decrepit Cupboard in the Room of Requirement
Saturday, September 21, 1996 – Noon
You talk about heavy. I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. Literally. Ever since I was born, people have expected me to rescue them. I didn't know it back then. I was stupid enough to think that the world was here to rescue me. Do you ever wish your fate were different? Sometimes, I do. Except, I don't think I could ever leave behind what's already been started. Will you tell me who you are now? It wouldn't be fair for me to tell all to a stranger. Besides, you wouldn't believe me either if I told you who I was.
Hint: My middle name begins with a J.
Saturday, September 21, 1996 – Evening
Try me. I might believe you. Your hint is useless. If you're trying to give me a slew of useless hints, be forewarned that all it takes is a visit to archives for me to begin piecing everything together. Lucky for you, I don't have that kind of time.
Besides, aren't you telling more than enough already? As a stranger, haven't I heard more of your worries than your friends? If they knew the extent of the pain on your shoulders, would you need to be writing to me? You don't even know who I am. Do you even really want to know? Or is the anonymity of these confessions more than enough. You say that the weight of the world is literally on your shoulders. What does that mean? You shouldn't be foolish enough to rescue people that don't deserve it—especially if you need rescuing yourself. The world isn't here to save anybody. We're supposed to save ourselves from the world. It's so easy to get swallowed up in it.
And yes, I do wish fate had handed me something different. I didn't always feel this way.
Yet, I know, just as I suppose you do, that it is impossible to leave behind what destiny already has planned. That would just make the burdens worse. At least we know the direction we must carry ourselves towards.
Also, if we are to be playing this game of middle names, mine begins with L. My father's branding.
Sunday, September 22, 1996 – Morning
L, as branded by your father? J is gifted by mine. So are we now guessing by our middle names and our father's names? It may be enough for me to make an excuse to visit the library archives.
Your notes make you sound perceptive, almost wise. Reading your notes reminds me of one of my friends, except she's not as cynical as you. You seem to accept your fate without a fight. You understand its inevitability. She would tell me that I am still free to do what I want. That instead of bearing up on my own, I should seek help. I don't think she knows what I really want. I don't think she understands. Which explains why I'm writing to you, whoever you are. What do you need to be saved from?
Sunday, September 22, 1996 – Afternoon
You seem to enjoy asking personal questions, and keen to share personal secrets. A nosy type, are you? I suppose you're nosy, while I'm perceptive and wise.
It's a funny question that you ask. What I need saving from…only I can do the saving. I've already asked myself the question, 'But who will save me?' so don't bother asking that. I've already told you that we're supposed to save ourselves. Save my own future, save my own fortune. Save my own family. Do you think most kids our age worry so furiously about what will become of their family or their future? I need to save myself from the future my parents left for me. I need to save them from the future they left themselves.
I have a friend like yours. Smart. Optimistic. Hopeful. Does yours always want to talk about things, though it's unclear what 'things' are? Girls always seem to want to talk about things, whether it's everything, something, or nothing. She never wants to talk about things that really need to be talked about though. Or maybe she just doesn't want to listen.
Also, you think your name was a gift from your father? Your father must have left you a legacy when mine left me a curse.
Sunday, September 22, 1996 – Late night
What future did your parents leave behind? I still don't understand what you need to save. You talk in circles a lot. You're very good at making me think you've told me something important, and then later I've realized you've told me nothing at all. Well, I guess you hate your father. But if you do, why worry about him?
Of course, I worry about my future. I think every person does. Some more than others. I worry about my family too. Or, what's left of it.
Monday, September 23, 1996 – Early morning
The people who worry more about their future are the ones with less options. Like you and I. One gloomy option that we can fret over obsessively. At least I do.
There's not much left of my family either. I guess that's the root of all my problems. There's not much left that can be saved, and what's left…I'm not sure its worth saving. All my life, I thought of my parents in a certain way. This summer everything changed. It's hard for me to look at them the same way anymore. Actually, it's hard to even look at them at all. It's hard for me to understand the decisions that they made. So, you ask me what future they've left me and you wonder what I need to save. I don't hate my father. I resent him. My father's risked everything for nothing. He's left me with a tarnished reputation, name, and future. I don't think my mother realizes. Have you ever tried to rescue someone who refuses to grab the hand you offer? I have nothing to look forward to unless I fix everything he's done. Yet, I can't fix anything, because I don't know what's been done. It's like drowning and knowing that there is a piece of driftwood to cling onto in the water, but not knowing which direction to swim to find it.
My destiny up until the point where I fix everything is marked. But maybe afterwards, my future can be my own.
By the way, it's your turn to share. I seem to be writing you novels while you write me lines.
Monday, September 23, 1996 – Night
My turn? But you haven't even finished yet. What exactly did your father do? How are you going to fix what he's done? What are you going to do after you fix everything? You always leave me with so many questions.
You might laugh at me when I say that I still know what you're talking about. My own story is very different from yours, but I still understand. Nice driftwood story. Too bad Hogwarts doesn't have literature classes. You would have had top marks. Along those lines, I know exactly where I should be going and what I should be doing. I just know that if I started doing what I know I'm supposed to be doing, I wouldn't know how to do it. Plus, I don't think I want to do it.
Not yet anyway.
Tuesday, September 24, 1996 – After midnight
I really only have two responses. Three, if you include all of my questions. One, you are a person of few words. Two, if I leave you with so many questions, you only leave me with more. How dare you call me vague. Your letter is foggier than the lake in October.
What are you supposed to be doing in the first place? Why don't you want to do it? What has got your mind so worked up anyway? Why don't you know how to do whatever it is you're supposed to be doing?
To answer your questions in my own traditional vagueness: I don't know what exactly my father did, which is why I don't know how I'm going to fix what he's done. All I can do right now is try to figure everything out with some documents he left behind for me. I do know that after I fix everything, I can and I will live a life of decadence somewhere in the Greek islands. Or by a French beach. The Italian countryside might be nice too. I can finish living my life by just living.
Tuesday, September 24, 1996 – Before noon
Aren't you already living? What's the difference? Greece sounds nice. So does France and Italy. Have you ever been or do you just think they would be nice places to go?
I don't mean to be confusing. I just don't know how to answer any of those questions without you figuring out exactly who I am. I think that if you found out you would probably stop writing back. You'd think I was crazy.
Do you need any help with whatever it is your doing? I've found that having company helps. Well, most of the time anyway. Sometimes company can get in the way. I would try not to do that to you.
Tuesday, September 24, 1996 – Evening
Do you really not know the difference between living and merely living for the sake of living? Well, I don't know what the difference actually is, but I can imagine it. The light weight of freedom and being able to do whatever I want without worrying. The freedom to enjoy being. No more wasting enthusiasm and energy on the inanities of responsibility. To be extraordinary on my own without meeting anyone else's demands. I've been all around Europe, but never without chains dragging behind me. If you asked me which place I liked best, I wouldn't be able to tell you. I haven't been given enough time to decide.
You should try to answer my questions anyway. Haven't you heard the old adage? Someone who would stop writing back or start thinking that you were crazy isn't worth writing to in the first place. That would be a lesson learned.
Also, how can you help me if I don't know who you are?
Tuesday, September 24, 1996 – Late night
You know what I've noticed? We've been coming here more than once a day. I bet sooner or later we'll run into each other and you'll know who I am anyway.
Like you, I have demands to meet and duties to fulfill. I have people counting on me that I can't let down…but I might.
Wednesday, September 25, 1996 – Morning
It's hard to count on anyone than yourself. I often think people expect too much out of others…it's impossible to place guarantees and satisfaction on the efforts of others.
Also, you're still being vague. Who are you?
September 25, 1996 – Room of Requirement
Harry sucks in deep breaths. Inhale, exhale. Quick breaths. One, two, three. Just keep breathing.
He keeps a fist closed tightly around the latest note from L. Not that L ever signs his notes as such, but it's the closest identity that Harry can give him.
There is a standstill. There is nothing left to write. Nothing left to write unless Harry wants to say, 'Well, I'm Harry Potter, and the entire world expects me to defeat Voldemort and save them. To be honest, I'm not sure I can actually do that, so the whole world is pretty much doomed.'
No, no, no he can't do that. Not yet. He would reveal too much. L isn't an idiot. Harry wonders if L had already guessed who he was anyway. He lets his hand bang against the wood of the cabinet, wincing as he hears a crack…from his head or the wood, he's not sure.
He wonders if L even wants to hear from him again. Harry can just see the wheels clicking together in the other student's head. Click-click-click as they realize they've been talking to a freaked-out Harry Potter. Who else could they guess? How many stressed out NEWT students or other students suffering from adolescent anxieties are there running around Hogwarts desperate enough to pen letters to a stranger?
All of a sudden, Harry feels very transparent. He fiddles with the edges of the paper. He's already had his own musings over who his anonymous note writer could be. He thinks the writer is a boy. Especially after the comment about girls talking too much. This boy is clever, smart. Harry thinks it must be a Ravenclaw. Too indirect for a Gryffindor and too astute for a Hufflepuff.
He can still feel the flutters in his stomach. They're unmistakable now. He can feel butterflies dancing, pushing his heart up into his throat and then down into his feet whenever he sees a new piece of parchment sticking out of the cabinet door. The toe-curling anticipation of reading another note. He imagines a rich voice reciting the perfect prose about freedom. A deep tenor telling him cynical insights. It's different from Hermione's know-it-all attitude and Ron's whimsical sarcasm. Different in a right kind of way.
Harry knows that he's abnormally delighted whenever he reads another note. Too unusually excited to think of an engaging reply. Too bizarrely obsessed with making sure this other person is okay. Hermione might think it were borderline unhealthy and tell him that he is harboring a crush on this mysterious person.
It's not a crush. Just a thrill for Harry. Someone to speak openly and plainly towards. An almost dangerous, anonymous liaison.
And now this thrill might just be over. Who are you, who are you, who are you?
He sits with his head buried in his hands for a while, before getting up and leaving. He takes the latest note with him back to the dormitory and puts it at the bottom of his trunk with all the other ones.
There is a tight knot in his stomach that stays with him for the rest of the day.
September 26, 1996 – Slytherin Common Room
Draco is disappointed in the morning when there still isn't a reply from the mysterious J. The enigma that has been plaguing his thoughts for the past few days has left him even more curious. This person with an unrelenting interest and admiration towards everything Draco has had to say. This mystery insecure, killer-to-be student already so worried about death and dying. A worrier that blew Draco's own anxieties out of the water.
Who are you, who are you, who are you? A question that hasn't stopped spinning around Draco's head for days. He feels like the answer must be obvious, as if the mysterious J has been projecting his identity from the start, waiting for Draco to have an 'aha!' moment. And smart as Draco thought he was, this epiphany never arrived. Damn and bugger all those vague hints…all those implied nudges and winks that hadn't actually divulged anything.
He can't focus on his Potions essay. Lately, he hasn't cared about writing unless it'll end up as a scrap piece of parchment in the cabinet of the Room of Requirement.
There is someone shaking his arm.
"Draco." Shake, shake, shake until he thinks his arm might be pulled off.
"Yes! I'm listening! What?" He shoots a glare at Blaise who is staring at him with his arms crossed.
"What is it, Blaise?" Draco asks again.
"You're doing that thing again where you stare into space and your eyes are completely glazed over. Like you're high."
"Oh. Sorry. Just thinking about what to write next." Draco wiggles his quill unconvincingly.
"Right. Because you always have so much trouble writing Potions essays. And not to mention the trouble you've been having writing Charms and Transfigurations homework too." Blaise rolls his eyes.
"It's been a hard semester." Draco mutters defensively.
Blaise just huffs. "What is it really? You've been more out of it than usual lately."
"It's stupid," Draco stares at his essay. Maybe if he pretends to focus long enough, Blaise will eventually drop the question. Of course, Blaise is equally as stubborn. The other boy keeps hissing 'Draco' over and over again in his ear.
"Fine. It's just I'm trying to figure out who someone is. That's all." It sounds even stupider when he says it out loud.
"Figure out who someone is? Why?"
"Just some anonymous letters I've been getting." Draco wonders if he's blushing. He might be. His face feels hot.
"Like secret admirer letters?" A teasing lilt begins to creep into Blaise's voice.
"No! Just, an anonymous exchange of letters. Someone just started writing to me and I just write back."
Blaise is quiet for a second. "You know the stories of people who write back to strange letters that come out of nowhere." He coughs, "Ginny Weasley."
"Okay, its not like Ginny Weasley who wrote preteen dramatics to an adolescent You-Know-Who and got herself almost killed. It's…you know what? It's nothing. So let's forget it."
Another quiet second before Blaise says, "No. It's obviously something that's important otherwise you wouldn't be so peculiar."
"Its just me wondering about who someone is."
"Let me help."
"And how are you going to do that?"
"Show me the notes. We can clue-hunt."
Anxiety shoots down Draco's spine. "No!" The word comes out too loud and too fast.
Blaise immediately looks taken aback. He clears his throat. "Okay. No, then."
Draco wonders if he's hurt Blaise's feelings and mentally asks himself why he even cares. "I just mean, its something I really want to figure out for myself." He pats Blaise's arm and chokes out an apology. "Sorry."
Blaise begins to smile again and it relieves Draco. Its good knowing that some things are easy to fix.
Some things are not easy to fix. Draco realizes this as he looks up at Pansy. The Common Room is empty now. Even Blaise has gone to lunch without him, leaving Draco with a substandard Potions essay that Professor Snape will surely be disappointed with.
"Er. Hello." He cranes his neck to gaze all the way up into Pansy's eyes. They look almost black in the lighting and he is irrationally afraid that fire might shoot out of them. He shrinks back into his armchair. Why is she standing so close?
"Going to lunch, Draco?" Bloody hell, did she take voice lessons from his mother? It's the perfect combination of fury and nagging.
"After I finish my essay."
"For Potions? It usually doesn't take you so long to do your Potions assignments." The tsk-tsk in her voice is almost in tune with her tapping toe.
"Why does everyone say that? It could be a hard Potions assignment."
"Everyone? You mean, Blaise?" She says his name like Bah-laze. A punch right into the Bah! syllable.
"Yes. I mean Blaise. He said what you said too." When he hears her suck in a breath, he knows it was the wrong thing to say.
Her hair bounces as she clenches her fists and grits out, "How many times have you hung out with Bah-laze this week?"
"I don't know?"
"Fourteen. That's more than two times a day. You're either studying with him or talking to him."
"So? Why are you even counting?"
"So? When do you talk to me then?" She hugs her arms around herself and bites her lip. Is it trembling?
"Bloody hell, Pansy. Are you going to cry?" Draco cringes as he sees her eyes widen. They look wet and he can almost see the unspilled tears slowly welling up.
"N-no! It's just frustrating that you don't even have time for me anymore. You haven't had time for me since this summer. We used to be best friends, and now you don't even talk to me."
"Look, we still are. I've just been busy lately." He sets down his essay. She's partially right. He hasn't talked to her for a while. He tries to remember the last time they sat down together and he can barely remember. Lately, he's only spent time in the Room of Requirement or with Blaise.
"Busy doing what? If this something is keeping you so busy, isn't it something worth telling someone you consider your best friend?"
"It's not something to really talk about."
"I bet you've told Bah-laze." She stares at her feet, and he knows that she's furiously upset.
"No." He replies slowly. "I haven't."
"Then why have you been spending so much time with him? You're too busy for me, but not for him?"
Draco blows out a breath. "Pans," he sighs. Its his pet name for her and he tries to pour affection into that one syllable. Pans. "We'll start spending more time together again. I promise. I mean, its only been a week."
She hugs her arms around herself and she suddenly looks very small. Her face is hidden by her hair. "I know it hasn't been that long since we've done something together and just hung out. I know that. But its been different this whole school year. You don't talk as much. You don't smile. You don't ever seem to be really listening. It just seems like you feel forced to be with me. It didn't always used to be that way."
He puts an arm around her, and some of his irritation melts away into guilt. He should treat Pansy better. Be more patient with her. She is probably the one person in the entire world that seems to unconditionally care about him.
"Just a lot has happened over the summer. Everything will be normal again soon. Look, how about we go down to lunch together now."
"Can we do something later tonight?" She gives him a watery, hopeful smile.
"Sure. Want to work on the Charms assignment together?"
"I'd like that."
And Draco is relieved, because maybe things won't go completely sour with Pansy. He does want to spend more time with her again. He misses sitting out with her by the lake trying to throw grapes into her mouth. He misses laying in the grass running his fingers through her hair listening to her complain about her family and then feeling a lot better about his own. He misses being able to tell her absolutely anything and knowing she'll always have something witty to say back to him.
If only she kept her mouth shut. If only she hadn't continued to pry and nag in the manner that she'd developed this year. If only, if only.
"So why do you hang out with Blaise so much now?" It is an innocent enough question, especially when she isn't spitting out the name Blaise.
Draco chews on a finger. "I don't know. He wanted to be friends again."
"Being friends with him ended in a disaster," said Pansy, as they left the Common Room. "I don't want to see you get so upset again."
"It's different now. He just wants to be friends. Nothing else."
"How do you know that?"
"I don't know. It's just been fun talking to him again." He leaps up the staircase.
She's hugging herself again as she takes the steps slowly, and he can barely hear her whisper, "It's hard being just friends with you."
He stops in the middle of the hallway. "What?"
"No. I heard what you said. I mean, what do you mean it's hard being just friends with me?" His heart seems to stop and his eyes must be so wide. He suddenly begins to feel trapped.
"You must have meant something by it."
"Who did you go on a date with so long ago?"
"What? What date? And what does that have to do with anything."
"Two Saturdays ago. You went on a date."
"No, I didn't."
She stares confusedly at him. Shit, shit, shit. He had lied to her when he was going to Lady Agnita. That fucking therapist.
"Oh. That date. It was nothing. I had to meet one of Mother's friends and didn't feel like explaining." He twists his hands together behind his back.
"So you lied?'
"Why is that surprising to you?"
She shrugs, and her knuckles look white as she grips her own arms. "I forgot to tell you that your mother owled me a while ago."
It's his turn to stare confusedly. "Why?"
"I don't know! She just wrote me a letter and told me that…"
"Told you what?" And Draco is impatient again with Pansy. Taut and ready to snap.
"That you liked me," she whispers.
"What? Why? Why would she write you to tell you that I like you?" His head feels like it might suddenly spin off.
"I told you, I don't know. But she told me that you liked me and might want to…be more than friends."
He exhales and threads his fingers through his hair. "When exactly did she owl you?"
"A week ago?"
"A week ago? A week ago. After I told her that…bloody hell. She is unbelievable."
"What did you tell her?" Pansy's voice sounds shrill to Draco.
"She wanted me to ask you out. And I told her that we were just friends."
Pansy is too quiet. He blinks at her. "Aren't we? Aren't we just friends?"
"You always hold my hand. Touch my arm when you talk. Sometimes, you sit too close. You've never looked at any other girls."
He wants to shake her. Shake away her nonsense. "So what? That doesn't mean anything."
"Why did you ask me to Yule Ball in fourth year?"
"Because we're friends! And I thought it'd be more fun to go with you than lose sleep over trying to ask someone else and then be nervous the entire night like the rest of the idiots in this school."
"Did you want to ask anybody else?"
Why is she doing this to him? At least last year, Blaise had just leaned in and pressed a wet pair of lips against him and Draco could just punch him in the stomach and run.
He can't knock the wind out of a girl. Especially when Pansy seems to be huddled in on herself as if her world has started to collapse. He should have known. He did know. He's always known that she likes him just a little bit more and hopes for a little bit more. Her coy smiles and flirtatious giggles once in a while were easy to ignore.
He can't ignore this.
"No, I didn't ask anyody else. I wanted to go with you. But Pansy, I don't like you like that." He exhales. "How can you expect me to be your friend if you don't look at me as such?"
"Are you a pouf?" She asks. She won't stop.
"What the fuck, Pansy?"
"A pouf. Like Blaise."
"Where the bloody fuck would you get that idea? Just because I don't want…just because I don't want to be your boyfriend, doesn't mean I want a boyfriend." He clenches his fists at his sides. Restraint, just like his father told him.
"I don't mean it to be mean. It's just that people have started wondering."
"Wondering that I'm a pouf?"
"Well, I told you it would happen when you started hanging around Blaise again. And then after Potter's outburst…"
He begins to back away from her. "Potter's an idiot. And you are…you are…this is unbelievable."
"I just wanted to know."
"You shouldn't have even asked. Do I look like a fucking pouf?"
She kicks the ground with her foot. "I didn't mean to ask."
"Well, you did anyway!" He turns away from her and tugs at his hair until it hurts.
He walks away, keeping his strides big. His shoes sound good stomping on the stone. Her choked cry follows him.
"If you don't want to be my boyfriend, then stop acting like it."
He whirls around, but keeps walking backwards. Stomp, stomp. "Fuck you, I don't, and you're the one that should stop acting like my fucking girlfriend."
It feels good to spit swears at her. He can feel his the anger melting into venom on his tongue as he leaves her. Her face is hidden by her hair, but he can tell by her shaking shoulders that she's crying. It makes him feel victorious, like he's beaten her at something.
He backs into a wall and feels a doorknob against his back. He twists open the door and slams it loudly behind him. He does it again just for good measure.
Without even bothering to look around, he kicks the tiled wall behind furiously over and over again until his shoe falls off. It's Pansy's own fucking fault. They could have been okay again. He wouldn't have minded taking morning walks with her in the garden and listening to her nagging if only it had stayed on mild topics such as him being too skinny or having bags under his eyes because he hasn't been eating or sleeping enough. He would have tried to be patient until things were back to normal again.
But no. She had to go and open her fat mouth and tell him that she liked him and then accused him of being a pouf when he didn't feel the same way back.
He throws his shoe toward the other wall and hits a mirror. It shatters into tiny little pieces and he stares at the distant, broken reflection of himself. Seven years of bad luck. Oh well, it could be worse.
He takes off his other shoe to hit another mirror, but ends up hitting a faucet instead. Water sprays everywhere. He must be in a bathroom. He looks around at the long line of stalls. A girl's bathroom.
It's empty, he realizes. As the sink begins to overflow and spill puddles into the tile, Draco walks towards the stall. His wet socks squelch against the doors as he kicks them in. Slide, slide, squelch. Fuck. Kick. You. Kick. I'm. Kick. Not. Kick. A. Kick. Pouf.
When he runs out of doors, he starts again. And I. Kick. Don't. Kick. Want to. Kick. Ever. Kick. Date. Kick. You. His foot connects to ice, like someone suddenly poured cold water all over his leg. Losing balance, he falls over and lying on his back, stares up at a young female ghost floating over him.
"What are you doing?" she asks. Her eyes are wide behind her large, round glasses and there are shimmery tear tracks down her cheeks. A ghostly Pansy. Marvelous.
His breath is ragged. "Venting."
"About girls being stupid." He stares up at her pointedly.
The ghost seems to be offended because she immediately floats higher. "Girls are not!"
"Are too." He kicks another stall door just for measure. So what if he's being immature now? Who cares what this ghost thinks? She's dead.
"You're being a nasty boy, kicking and banging and breaking things! You have no respect do you?" She bobs erratically in the air.
Draco looks around at the grimy walls and the dust streaks on the intact mirror. "No one even comes here."
The ghost puffs up, as if she were sucking in air. "Well, I live here. And I don't like it when horrid boys like you break things."
"Does it really matter?" He sits with his legs spread, gazing curiously up at her, His palms slide as he tries to sit up on the slippery floor.
"Yes. It matters."
"Why? You're dead." His chest is still heaving.
"Ooooh," she moans as if he's offended her terribly and plunges into a toilet splashing even more water everywhere.
"Well, its true. It's a fact. And are you really going to spend the rest of eternity haunting a girl's bathroom?" He scoffs in disbelief.
She peeks out at him from the toilet. He can see her wide eyes peering right over the white seat. "This is the place where I died."
He looks around again. "In a girl's bathroom?" He tries to imagine what kind of things a girl could do in a bathroom that would result in death and shudders.
"Yes. I was murdered."
This instantly captures Draco's curiousity. "What? By who?"
"I don't know. A boy came in here and started saying funny words, like he was hissing. The next thing I know I was staring into these big yellow eyes and…then I died."
"A boy started hissing and then you died?"
She floats around the ceiling, "That's how I died."
Draco looks skeptically around the bathroom and notices the serpentine décor. He feels a shiver down his spine. "Um. This wouldn't happen to be where the Chamber of Secrets…." He scrambles to his feet, sliding back and forth as he stands.
The ghost swirls around him. "That's what I've learned!"
Draco swallows and looks at the broken mirror. Seven years of bad luck from a mirror located at the entrance of the Chamber of Secrets. Bloody great. He grabs his shoes and starts backing towards the door to leave. "Well, it was nice talking to you…"
"Myrtle. My name is Myrtle." She smiles at him. It's watery. Girls always have watery looking smiles.
"It was nice talking to you Myrtle. Sorry I made a mess out of this bathroom and called you dead. Even though you are." He feels the tile on his back and he inches for an exit.
"Why are you already leaving?" Myrtle floats to block the door.
"Because, I have to go to class." Or get lunch in case he's lucky and he hasn't missed it yet.
"Will you come back?"
"I'd like for you to come back. No one ever visits me anymore, and I thought you were a nasty boy, but you're actually quite nice." She giggles, "I like your blond hair."
Is he getting hit on by a ghost? "Thanks…but you know what? I've actually already seem to be corresponding with a possibly imaginary person. I probably don't need to be talking to ghosts too."
She pouts at him. "Ooooooh," she wails and dives back into one of the toilets. He can hear her garble, "Good bye."
"Bye," he pulls open the door and leaves. Two girls crushing on him in one day? He rubs his chest and retucks in his white shirt. Maybe he's filling out again.
Draco eats dinner in Myrtle's bathroom. He has a napkin full of dinner rolls and butter, and he sits on the damp floor making dinner conversation with a ghost.
He had gone down to dinner initially and sat by Blaise. He could hear Pansy's sighs and sniffles all the way across the table and had found it necessary to take his leave. Myrtle's company seemed more preferable at the time.
"You came back," she says, and seems to glow a little bit more.
He shrugs and shoves a piece of bread into his mouth. "So I did."
"Why did you come back?"
"I'd rather talk to you than this stupid girl who used to be my friend."
"Ooooh, what'd she do? Is she the one that made you so angry today?"
"Yes. She's just being an idiot."
"How? How is she an idiot?" Myrtle floats dangerously close to him and he's scared that if he moves he'll be plunged into ice.
"Because, she doesn't understand that I just want to be friends. Actually, she doesn't understand much at all."
"What else doesn't she understand?" Myrtle's eyes are wide with interest. Draco supposes that being dead makes someone a better and more patient listener. Maybe talking to a dead person is the type of therapy he needs.
"Doesn't understand why I'm busy this year. She doesn't realize every bloody thing that I have to do. The things that I have to do for my family. She doesn't get any of it so she keeps yelling at me and saying that I'm not giving her enough time. I'm not fucking giving myself enough time."
He chucks one of the rolls at a stall, frustration building up as he thinks about how unfair it is that not only does he have to find time to dig through his father's mess of files, he has to deal with everyone else's demands. He realizes that he hasn't even had much time to fly his broom. Quidditch season would soon start without him. The new captain had already started recruiting. Someone else would be seeker and all Draco would have left in his free time would be to study and read files. It is depressing to think about.
"What are you so busy with?" She blinks at him in almost the same fashion as Lady Agnita did. The unrelenting, shark-like curiousity hoping for an answer. Only Myrtle isn't being paid to be curious and isn't going to write down and analyze every single thing he says. Draco feels more compelled to be honest.
"My dad is…gone at the moment. He's the one that takes care of everything in my family, and now I have to do everything he did. Except, I have to figure out what everything is first." He drums his fingers on his thighs. "I have to do it for my Mum. I have to make sure she's okay when Father comes back. And I have to fix some of the things Father did wrong so I'll be okay too."
He shudders a little thinking about the many boxes that he hadn't even opened yet and how he has yet to make sense of his growing stacks of useless notes. "And I have to help Gregory and Vince with their homework otherwise they'll fail. And then I used to have to make sure I spent enough time with Pansy so she'd be happy. Then I have to do my assignments for class. And suddenly, its time for bed ad I think about how I still really haven't done anything."
He rakes his fingers through his hair and bangs his head on his knees. Listen to yourself. Stop whining. Get a grip. It's too early in the semester to start officially losing it in front of a ghost.
"It's okay," Myrtle says. He wishes she were a funnier ghost and would say something like 'At least you're not spending the rest of your death floating in an empty girl's loo.' That might have made Draco feel a little bit better.
"It's not okay." Draco murmurs. It's really not. Nothing is okay right now.
And it's definitely not okay when the bathroom door suddenly bursts open and Harry Potter is staring at him completely wild-eyed. "What are you doing?" the other boy pants.
Draco loses it. For just a split second, he stares at Potter, who is just watching him sit on a grimy floor rocking back and forth. Then, he reaches for his wand.
No, he's not going to let Potter tell anyone that he's been having heart-to-hearts with the ghosts of Hogwarts. No, he's not going to let Potter say anything at all. Potter needs to learn a lesson and needs to know that he can't keep stalking Draco Malfoy around the school without consequences. Potter has to pay.
Crucio. The first thing that comes to mind. The first type of revenge his father taught him. Draco's barely thinking now and its only his reflexes that propel his mouth and body into motion.
"Cru…" But Potter must be faster, because he hears Potter shout something first and suddenly he feels like his whole body is exploding and everything's becoming warm and wet. He feels weak and drained and the last thing he sees is a look of shock on both Potter and Myrtle's face as they stare down on him. Then everything becomes black.
September 26, 1996 – Moaning Myrtle's Bathroom
Oh shit, oh fuck. What did he just do?
Sectumsempra. The word had rolled off Harry's tongue so easily. He hadn't even known what it was or what it meant. It was just a random doodle in the margins of the old potions textbook he had found. He had been mouthing the word for weeks ever since he saw it, letting it sit in his mouth. It was the first thing he could think of when he saw the tip of Malfoy's wand pointing at him and heard the beginnings of an Unforgivable on the other boy's lips. Not a shield spell or defense charm, but just Sectumsempra.
He shouldn't have said it. He didn't know what it would do. He didn't expect Malfoy's skin to become immediately white. He didn't expect the blood that began to seep from Malfoy's chest and soak through the front of Malfoy's robes..
He doesn't know how to reverse this or undo it. He doesn't know how to make it stop. Myrtle moans distantly in the background, but all Harry can hear is a pounding heartbeat in his ears. There's so much bloody on the floor already and his footsteps are sticky. Malfoy's eyes stare up at him before fluttering closed.
He's staring down at a bleeding corpse. Should he run? Should he scream for help? His feet and throat are both frozen. He can't hear Myrtle moan anymore. Thud-thud-thud. That's the only thing he can hear…that pounding beat. Thud-thud-thud.
"Potter!" The voice comes from so far away. He can only see Malfoy, like he is in an empty room that's completely white except for Malfoy's blood that's seeping through the floor and the walls and creeping up to the ceiling.
"Potter, what did you do?"
He can barely find his voice. "I don't know." Is that him talking? Vaguely, he can feel himself being shoved off to the side and he sees billowing black robes.
Is that Professor Snape? Draco's body is no longer on the floor, so Snape must have taken him. There's just blood now. Blood on the tiles, blood running through the grout, blood slipping into the drains.
What have I done?
Harry has never felt worse or more guilty about anything else in his life. He can't stop thinking about Malfoy's limp body on the floor, a dripping rag doll. Malfoy looked dead. He could have been dead. Dead, because of Harry.
It would have been another person to add to the body count, except this time it would not only have been Harry's carelessness, but Harry's wand.
They say Malfoy is lucky to be alive. He is lucky that Myrtle got Professor Snape in time. They also say Harry's lucky to not have been expelled. Everyone looks at Harry strangely now when they pass him. There's fear in their eyes as if they're scared he'll split them open too. Even Ron and Hermione can hardly look him in the eyes right now.
It's nothing compared to the way he looks at himself when he looks into the mirror. The professors and his friends might forgive him in the long run, because Malfoy was about to use an Unforgivable. Except, Harry can't forgive himself, because he knows that even if Malfoy had tortured him ruthlessly, Harry wouldn't have died. It would have just hurt.
Malfoy could have hurt him terribly. Harry could have killed Malfoy. There's no balance in that equation.
At random hours, Harry will wait at the doors to the infirmary hoping to catch a glimpse of Malfoy. He's alive and breathing, but Harry needs to see it for himself.
Madame Pomfrey always shoos him away. He can hear Malfoy's friends scream and protest the moment they see Harry's face watching from the window. He understands. He would be scared of himself too.
He can't sleep at night, because when he stares up at his deep red canopy, all he can think about is the crimson red of Malfoy's blood all over the floor. Harry dreams of drowning in blood. He sees Malfoy's lifeless eyes staring at him, slowly rolling back until all Harry can see are the whites. They're worse than the dreams about Voldemort.
He finds himself wandering the castle until his feet lead him to Moaning Myrtle's Bathroom. He hesitantly opens the door, expecting a flood of blood to wash him far away.
"Get out," he hears Myrtle wail.
He doesn't listen, and steps inside. "Myrtle?"
"Go away!" she cries.
"I'm sorry," he says, because at least it is one person that he can apologize too.
"Nasty Harry Potter trying to kill Draco Malfoy," she sighs and floats right through him, giving him a nasty shock of ice.
"I didn't mean to. It's not like that."
"But you almost did." Myrtle swirls around the room. "He would have died in this bathroom just like me. He could have spent forever in here with me."
"But he didn't die. He's alive." Harry's voice is shaking.
"No thanks to you," Myrtle stares at him bug-eyed. She doesn't look afraid of him like everyone else. Probably because she's already dead. No need to worry about Harry Potter cursing her.
"I didn't do it on purpose." And why is he making excuses for himself? Bloody hell. "Why was Malfoy in here anyway?" It's more a question to himself. Rhetorical, because that doesn't really matter now, but he accidentally said it out loud.
"He came back to talk to me." Myrtle sounds cheerier now as she answers.
"Poor beautiful blond boy. So sad and worried about everything. He loves his family so much," Myrtle sighs wistfully.
Harry frowns. "So all he was doing in here was talking to you." He had thought Malfoy was up to something when he saw Malfoy slip out of dinner. He had thought Malfoy was doing something awful when he found Malfoy on the Marauder's Map and saw that Malfoy was in Myrtle's bathroom.. The only reason Harry ever had to come in here was to brew Polyjuice Potion and do other rule-breaking behavior.
"Yes," she giggles now. "Something you never bothered to do." This makes Harry feel even worse.
"I'm sorry," he says automatically.
"Now he'll probably never come back." She looks gloomy again. "I'll be all alone again." She floats around the ceiling before coming back. "Have you gone to see him? I can't see him from the pipes."
"No. I've tried, but they won't let me see him."
She sighs again. "Poor lonely boy. I don't think anyone understands him but me and that imaginary stranger he's been talking to. He doesn't even have a father right now. Busy, lonely boy."
Harry swallows. "Malfoy's been talking to imaginary strangers?"
He doesn't even hear Myrtle's answer. Click-click-click. The wheels turn in his brain and slowly begin fitting together. The final pieces of a mental puzzle finally settle into place. Harry's starting a terrible train of thought. Click-click-click. He feels dread in the pit of his stomach.
Malfoy is the person Harry had been writing to all this time. All those anonymous letters at the bottom of Harry's trunk had to be written by the ink on Malfoy's quill.
Imaginary strangers. Malfoy must have been referring to the notes in the cabinet. The cabinet in the Room of Requirement on the seventh floor that Malfoy constantly frequented. The poor boy that doesn't even have a father, because his father is rotting away in Azkaban. A middle name L after his father. Lucius. Cursed by his father's name but still loving his family. All that stuff in the notes about needing to take care of his family and fix what his father had done. His brain recalls letter after letter…the biting sarcasm and cynicism in them now sounding very Malfoy-ish in his mind.
It has to be Malfoy. Harry feels like he's been punched in the stomach. He sucks in breath after breath, hyperventilating just a little bit.
Malfoy hasn't been up to anything evil at all. All those trips to the Room of Requirement, needing therapy from Hogsmeade, talking to Myrtle, being frustrated over Harry's interrogations. Malfoy's been trying to salvage his family and undo the damage Lucius Malfoy had already done. And Harry's been blindly running around after Malfoy trying to solve crimes Malfoy hasn't been committing.
He feels judgmental and foolish. And guilty, because he thinks of Malfoy's rag-doll body lying in the infirmary. He imagines Malfoy staring up at the ceiling late at night with no company but thoughts of Harry's countless accusations and that treacherous curse.
"I'm sorry, but I have to go," he tells Myrtle, but his voice echoes in an empty bathroom. She's already left him behind too when he was trapped in his own thoughts.
Harry goes to the infirmary and hardly catches sight of Malfoy, whose chest is slowly rising up and down, before he's sent away.
He needs to do something for Malfoy. Think. Think. Think. He can't send Malfoy a card or chocolates. Those would be thrown away even before Malfoy saw them. He can't just go in and visit Malfoy and apologize. He wouldn't be listened to.
Instead, Harry goes up towards the seventh floor and into the Room of Requirement. Fumbling for a piece of parchment, he leaves something for Malfoy to read when the boy is well enough to come back.
I know who you are. I still want to help.
September 28, 1996 – Infirmary
Draco wakes up on Saturday morning to Pansy and Blaise arguing on both sides of him. The white glare of the light reflecting off the walls make him squint up at the two hazy forms.
"You said it yourself that it was your fault he's in here," Blaise hisses. "If you hadn't been such a complete bitch, he wouldn't have left dinner in the first place."
"I said I was sorry! And it's Potter's fault!" Pansy whispers back heatedly.
"Right, but your fault that Draco was in that bathroom getting sliced to ribbons by a maniac. Get the hell out of here. You'll just make him upset."
"You're being melodramatic."
"Melodramatic? Is that what you call caring about a friend whose almost died?"
"Oh shut up. He's not your friend. You just want to get into his…"
"Stop," Draco's mouth tries to form the word, but it comes out garbled. His throat feels so dry and he's so tired that just opening his mouth drains him. He ends up making a pained groaning sound, which luckily is enough to make both Pansy and Blaise shut up. They whirl around towards him.
"You're up!" Pansy exclaims and flings her arms around him. She's too heavy and it hurts. Her fingers squeezing his arms feel as though she's punching him with ten tiny fists. He must have groaned again because Blaise is yanking Pansy away by her shoulders.
"How are you feeling?" Blaise asks.
"That bad? Want some water?" Blaise leans over and grabs some water off the bedside table. All Draco can do is look pathetic and open his mouth. He's powerless really. Needing people to drink and feed him. He looks around and sees shimmering charms everywhere. Needs magic to even function.
He stares up helplessly at them both and then closes his eyes. "What happened?" he murmurs so quietly that they take a moment to hiss at each other to figure out what he just said.
"We don't really know, but Potter cursed you with something that just split your chest open. You were bleeding everywhere and for a while no one knew how to stop it." Blaise recites this in a very monotone voice, trying to keep emotion out of his statement. Maybe so he wouldn't upset Draco. Draco's feeble heart is already beginning to pound hard and fast as he remembers Potter's wand and strange curse.
Pansy's voice is high and erratic. "They didn't even expel him for what he did to you. He's been given a series of long detentions but they're not even kicking him out. He's still here."
"Shut up, Pansy!" There is a sound of a smack as Blaise must have been swatting Pansy.
Draco tries to control his breathing, but he can't. His heart hammers against his chest. He's so vulnerable now. And if Potter wants to just come in here and finish him off, it would be so easy. Draco couldn't even scream if he wanted to. Maybe this is why Potter has been following him everywhere lately. Waiting...waiting to kill Draco. Potter already got rid of Father…maybe he wants to get rid of Draco too.
"I didn't do anything," Draco's voice is small and comes out as more of a whimpering sigh than anything else.
"We know you didn't. It's okay." Pansy pushes his hair off his face for him. He's missed that.
It's not okay, Draco thinks. But he's tired and doesn't have the energy to correct her. He drifts back off to sleep before he even knows it. The next time he opens his eyes, its dark in the infirmary and Blaise and Pansy are gone.
He sighs to himself. The only bright lining of today was that he didn't have to go back to his fucking Saturday appointment with the therapist. Oh well. He had planned on sticking to his stubborn resolution of not going back there anyway.
Draco sits up easily. He feels much better than he did earlier. In fact, he feels fine. He can pick up his own cup of water and drink it. He can raise his arms and move his mouth and open his eyes without feeling exhausted.
The infirmary is completely dark except for a thin strip of moonlight that cuts diagonally across the floor. Not sure of the time, he settles against his pillows and looks at the shadowy shapes of flowers and cards and other gifts people have left for him. Grabbing his wand off the bedside table, he casts a Lumos spell and begins sifting through the stacks of cards.
They all say generic versions of Get Well Soon and Feel Better. Only Blaise and Pansy's cards are longer and more personal. Vincent and Gregory's cards showed effort of trying to write something original. He sets all the cards down and slumps backward.
He can't fall asleep again. Tentatively, he sticks an arm out of the stabilizing charms. Nothing happens. He tries a leg. Nothing.
Only hesitating for just a moment, he swings both legs off the bed and lowers himself down to the floor. The floor is cool against his feet and he cautiously tries to stand. He's off balance at first and his legs are unused to supporting his entire body weight. For just a moment, he sits back down. Counting one, two, three…he stands again and walks a few feet forward.
Everything feels fine. Dark shadows loom everywhere in the infirmary and Draco finds himself backing away towards the exit. Madame Pomfrey is nowhere in sight and he supposes that even she has retired for the night.
He tiptoes out into the main hall wearing nothing but the infirmary gown. He must look ridiculous if anyone were around to see him. It flutters around his ankles as he wanders down the hall. He stops once in a while to catch his breath, but otherwise he feels okay. Better. Almost well enough to punch Potter in the face if he ever saw the git again.
Draco finds himself up in the seventh floor corridor. The moon is bright here. It must be late in the night, but with enough time left until the sun rises. Enough time to sit and rest his legs in the Room of Requirement and flip leisurely through Father's boxes.
Well. Time to make up for lost time.
September 29, 1996 – Gryffindor Boys' Dormitory
A pale blond boy huddles in the middle of a tile floor. Harry watches from a door as he trembles and shakes. Harry walks closer and closer until he's standing right in front of the boy. He reaches out a hand to help the boy up. The boy tilts his face upward. It's a young Draco Malfoy who looks like he has tear tracks down his cheeks. The moment Harry touches him, Malfoy screams and begins to bleed out of every where. Blood streams from his eyes, his nose, his mouth. A million cuts appear on that delicate, paper thin skin. Blood begins to fill the room and Harry can't walk in it. It's impossible to wade through and soon Harry is up to his neck in the thick, red liquid.
When he wakes up, he can taste the blood in his mouth. In his dreams, he has chewed straight through his lip. He pants heavily and pulls frustratingly at his sweat-soaked sheets.
Instinctively he reaches to the side of his bed and pulls out the Marauder's Map.
"I solemnly swear I am up to no good," he murmurs. He looks for the infirmary to find a little dot named 'Draco Malfoy.' His heart stops when there is no dot there. He stares at the map in disbelief and panic.
His eyes feverishly scan the page. Malfoy, Malfoy, Malfoy, where are you? He's not anywhere on the map. There could only be one other place Malfoy could be unless he disappeared off the face of the earth forever…which is not a thought Harry wants to entertain.
Sliding out of bed, he grabs the Invisibility Cloak. He slips out of the bedroom and out of the common room. Once he passes the portrait of the Fat Lady, he sets off in a sprint towards the Room of Requirement.
Draco isn't at the cabinet. Harry rushes down aisles and aisles of towering shelves, desperately hoping that Malfoy is somewhere in the room.
When he finds Malfoy, he sees the other boy with his back pressed against another large cabinet erratically pointing his wand in different directions. Malfoy is only wearing his hospital gown that hangs loosely off his body. He looks even smaller than usual, surrounded by a bunch of boxes and parchments.
"Whose there?" Malfoy calls out in a shaky voice.
Harry just tries to catch his breath. He can imagine that if he whipped off his cloak right now he would look like a wild man with his sweaty hair sticking out everywhere and great heaving breaths.
"I can hear you," Malfoy says in an even louder voice.
Harry's also sure that if he took off his cloak, Malfoy would curse him in an instant. He decides to try a different approach.
"It's me," Harry says. "Um. The person whose been writing you the notes." Maybe Malfoy will think about everything he's written and put aside his identity. Of course, Harry tries to dream too big.
Malfoy doesn't put away the wand. "Where are you? Why can't I see you?"
"Um," Harry shuffles his feet.
Malfoy's wand falters just a little. "Should have known you were bloody imaginary."
Harry shuffles his feet just a little bit more before deciding to take his chances. He slowly takes the robe off and holds his hands up, just so Malfoy knows that he is unarmed and harmless.
"What the fuck? Potter?!" Malfoy's wand is pointing straight at him again.
"Look, Malfoy. I'm sorry." He waves his palms around. "I don't have my wand."
There are bright, red spots on Malfoy cheeks. "Potter?!" He is shrieking. "Potter?" He keeps shouting until he's just shouting incoherently and his voice is almost hoarse.
"I'm sorry. For…"
"Slashing me to ribbons? Stalking me? You don't even know what you've done!" Malfoy sounds hysterical.
"I'm really sorry, Malfoy. I didn't mean to do any of it."
"But you did, Potter. What the fuck is wrong with you? Why are you even up here?"
"I wanted…no. I needed to tell you that I was sorry." Of course, when is sorry ever enough when you've almost killed someone?
Malfoy keeps his wand trained on Harry as he fumbles for a piece of parchment on the ground. "Did you write this?" He throws the paper at Harry. "Did you write this bloody thing?"
"Yes. Because I do. I still want to help. You don't even know how sorry I am. I didn't know that…look. I'm sorry."
"You can help by just leaving me the hell alone."
Harry takes a step forward. "Just let me help you."
"Help me? You tried to kill me!"
"I'm sorry." I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Harry will say it a million times until Malfoy knows just how sorry he is.
"You're sorry?" Malfoy drops the wand and advances toward Harry.
"Yes…" Then Malfoy's fist hits him in the jaw. Then in the face. Malfoy is kicking and punching him over and over again.
Harry wants to fight back. Just push and shove back, because Malfoy is all bones and it hurts. But if he can survive the Cruciatus curse, he can survive Malfoy's bony knuckles. Bruises are nothing. He deserves this. So, he lies there until Malfoy is exhausted and he hears Malfoy slump down on the floor. Harry's sore everywhere and he's pretty sure that his nose and lip are bleeding. He probably has two black eyes and more blue and back skin on his body than not.
"I'm still sorry," he croaks out.
"You deserve to die," Malfoy exhales.
Harry doesn't say anything.
"I could just kill you and leave you're here with your stupid cloak and no one would ever find you." Malfoy's voice is dangerously quiet.
The first flutter of fear rushes through Harry. "Would you though?"
"Would you have? What did you think you were doing when you were following me around everywhere?"
"I thought you were up to something."
"I don't know!"
"Something evil perhaps? Think I'm in league with You-Know-Who do you?"
"Well, what else what I supposed to think what with you disappearing in here and walking around late at night?"
"I fucking hate people making assumptions about me." Malfoy twiddles with his wand.
"Well, it gives you a chance to prove people wrong. Have you told anyone else what you're doing up here?" Harry wipes off some blood that is dripping down his chin.
"No. No one knows. No one knows except you, you nosy son of a bitch." Malfoy's eyes are closed and it seems as if all the energy has left his body. Harry could leave right now and escape, but he doesn't want to. His unwavering persistence forces him to stay, because he can't leave Malfoy alone until Malfoy understands just how sorry he is.
"I'm not going to tell anyone."
"You damn well better not." Malfoy's quiet for a moment, before adding. "You should know better than to make assumptions about things you know nothing about."
It is silent except for Malfoy's shaky breathing. The other boy is still a sickly pale and he looks like a skeleton wrapped in an overlarge wrinkled white sheet.
"Are you okay?" Harry finally asks.
"No!" Malfoy hisses. "I hate you and you tried to kill me and you've been following me and now you know something about me and if you ever fucking tell anyone else I'll try to kill you too. Also, you're still here. So no. I'm not okay. It's a stupid question and I'm sick of people asking me that, because I. Am. Not. Okay!"
Malfoy is getting hysterical again and Harry doesn't know what to do. He reaches out toward Malfoy but Malfoy just tries to roll away. "Don't touch me."
"Do you need help getting back to the infirmary?"
"No. Just leave."
Harry doesn't want to leave. Not yet. But he looks at Malfoy, who seems so fragile and frustrated and helpless, and maybe leaving is the only thing Harry could do for him right now. So, Harry decides to leave Malfoy alone. For now.
September 30, 1996 – On the way back to the Slytherin Dungeons
He is finally allowed to leave the hospital. Madame Pomfrey must have lifted up his shirt at least 20 times to check his scars to make sure they have healed. She tested dozens of charms on him just to 'make sure' that he was okay to leave.
Despite being physically better, Draco still feels sick to his stomach. Like his feet are lead weights to drag around, and at any moment now, he could just fall apart again. He is ready to collapse at any moment.
He is terrified that Potter has told everyone. That Potter has brought his Gryffindor horde into the Room of Requirement and dug up all of his family records. Maybe Potter has destroyed them. Burned them. Thrown them all away. Maybe Potter has gone through them himself and might notice just as quickly as he and Mother did that the Malfoys are steadfastly become poor. Wouldn't the Weasel and the Mudblood get a kick out of that?
Draco almost has a heart attack when he goes up to the Room of Requirement and finds Potter at his cabinet surrounded by his boxes and his papers.
"What are you doing?" He tries to keep his voice controlled, but he's shaking. He trembles from fingers to toes and its all he can do to not fly apart in front of Potter again.
Potter looks up at him, eyes still black and blue, face still bruised. The git didn't even bother with healing charms.
"I'm helping you."
"Helping you." He waves one of the notes that Draco wrote around. "You said you needed to figure out the documents left behind so you can fix everything."
"So?" Draco is still shaking.
"So, I'm helping you do that." Potter motions to all the stacks of paper. There are still many unopen boxes but it looks as if Potter has organized everything in the boxes that are open.
Draco still continues panics. "What have you done with all my paper?"
"Organized them. I found the notes that you made, so I've just continued to make notes and organize the parchment into the categories you started." Potter is so eager. He smiles winningly at Draco and Draco just wants to punch his face in again. How is that that Potter has done more in one day when Draco has been working on this for weeks now? Must Potter beat him at everything?
"How long have you been here?"
"Since you went back to the infirmary."
"How did you know when I went back?" When Potter doesn't respond, Draco feels those sharp pangs of frustration again. "Were you following me again?"
"Yes," Potter says meekly. "But for a better cause this time!"
"Stop following me!"
"Sorry," Potter doesn't sound very sorry about this at help.
"Why can't you just leave me alone?" Draco begins to realize that Potter is just refusing to listen to him. Maybe he should just punch the bastard's face in again. But then again, is Potter worth the bloody knuckles or the exhausting effort? Draco must be running low on energy today to have put up with Potter this long without kicking him in the shins.
"Because, I want to help you."
Draco stares at Potter with disbelief. "Why do I care about what you want?"
"Because, you need me to help you."
"I don't. I'm not going to ask for your help, unless I need help dying, thank you very much."
Potter looks stung for a moment. "Look, Malfoy. I said I was sorry about that."
"Really? Because last time I checked, sorry doesn't really make up for the blood and time I've lost because you decided to go psycho on me." Draco begins to collect the papers that Potter has nicely sorted and spitefully reshuffles them together. Probably a stupid decision and as he does this, he realizes he should have just taken advantage of Potter's gratuitous help. Oh well, too late now.
"Malfoy. You need my help. I've spent almost an entire day going through this stuff." He stares pointedly at Draco. "You definitely need my help."
Draco's heart threatens to reopen the scars on his chest. "Why do you keep saying that?"
"I know." Potter looks around as if maybe someone else had picked up his freakish stalking tendencies and was listening in on their conversation. "I know about what you're trying to fix."
"What are you talking about?" There's a rush of blood to Draco's ears and he wishes it roared over everything Potter is saying, but he can hear every syllable, perfectly fine.
"Malfoy, you're going to be poor." There's no gloating in his voice. There's no question. It's cold, hard fact. "You're going to be poor unless you figure out how your father is still managing to bring in money. If he is."
Draco can barely breathe. "How do you know?"
"These numbers aren't that hard to figure out." And Potter's right. Any idiot could figure it out if they stared at the numbers long enough.
Draco clutches one of the boxes.
"Why are you so worried about it though? It's important since you're losing sleep about it." Potter stares at Draco curiously for a moment. "Not that I won't help you, but it's just…money. I mean compared to having to kill You-Know-Who…"
Did Potter really have to beat him in the arena of who had the bigger problems too? Really? But, Draco knows its not just money. It's never just money. Money is power. Money can kill people and it can save lives. The people who say money can't buy happiness have probably never had enough money. Never that satisfaction of knowing what its like to always know that you'll be okay. Money is stability too. Money can win wars. Money can change futures. And by figuring out Father's fiscal problems, then Draco can figure everything else out. He can get Father out of jail and keep him and mother both safe. Draco can escape into a future of peace and quiet. Draco can even raise power for himself.
It's not just idealism or greed or a life well-lived in wealthy that make Draco believe in the power of money. Money has its place in history. If Potter knew anything about history, especially the ancient Roman and Greek civilizations, which he should since he was a Mudblood-loving half-blood, he should know about the people who have held power in the past have all been rich.
Draco slams a fist down on the box. "Well, then you just keep proving that you really don't have a fucking clue about anything."
Potter jumps. "Merlin, calm down. I was just asking why it's so important?"
"If you don't understand, then why are you bothering?"
"Because, it's important to you."
"Since when do you care what's important to me?" Draco isn't sure if he's mad now, or just confused.
"Since I started writing to you and thinking about everything you wrote before I even knew who you were. And since I owe you. I have a debt of apology to pay after all." Potter gives Draco a half-smile. "I'm a Gryffindor. We have a reputation of integrity to uphold."
Draco exhales through his nose. He must resemble a snorting rhinoceros. "And what happens when you think you've fulfilled your debt?"
"I don't know yet. I haven't thought about it."
Draco kicks some more of Potter's neatly organized parchment. "I don't need this charity. I can do all this myself." He tilts his head to the side and thinks. "Also, I hate you."
"I know. That doesn't mean you won't accept my help."
"Yes, it does."
"You're going to need free help wherever you get it, Malfoy. Just accept it." Potter's voice is hard now. Demanding. Demanding that he should get to help Draco…or what? Or else what?
"No! Get the fuck out of here! And don't tell anyone about any of this or I'll curse you into so many fucking pieces that no one could ever put back together."
Potter stands up, lips curved into a half-smile. "Well, we both know with curses who's quicker on the draw." He seems to immediately regret what he says because he frowns at his shoes and says, "Sorry, Malfoy."
Draco just narrows his eyes suspiciously. "Actually, I prefer the Potter that's a prick and not a philanthropist."
Potter just shrugs and dusts off his knees. "I'll just see you around, Malfoy."
Draco is dumbfounded as he watches Potter leaves and feels remorse toward the lost opportunity of puching Potter's face in again.
When he sits by his boxes and stares at the own mess he's created and then Potter's neatly organized section, he feels another stab of remorse for undoing work that is going to take him days to redo.
Potter must feel really guilty about his comment the day before, because he spends the rest of the day following Draco around. It isn't the usual sneaky style that Draco has been used to where Potter just pops out of nowhere to ambush him and also leaves Draco feel like something is crawling down his spine. No, this is a more obvious type of following where Potter is just everywhere staring at Draco repentantly and trying to get Draco's attention. Draco isn't even sure what Potter wants—if its just to apologize or to demand that Draco let him help.
He just tries to ignore Potter the entire day. He stares straight ahead or straight down at his shoes trying not to make eye contact. He grits his teeth every time he notices Potter in the way of his peripheral vision. Sometimes Potter waves. Sometimes Potter tries to push through the crowd to find Draco. At one point, Potter even tugs on Draco's robes.
Draco wonders where Potter's Gryffindor troupe is to rein the boy back. At dinner all Potter does is stare apologetically at Draco.
He's so damn obvious about it that even Blaise and Pansy have noticed.
"Why does Potter keep staring at you?" Blaise asks.
"He isn't going to try to kill you again is he?" worries Pansy.
"I don't know and I don't think so," says Draco through clenched teeth. He eats even less than usual today and when it comes time to help Vincent and Gregory with their Charms, he can barely do the right wand movements.
When he makes it up to the Room of Requirement, he is annoyed to find Potter there already and even more annoyed that Potter has rearranged the messy stacks that Draco had thrown around the day before.
"Why do you insist on making everything worse with your presence?" Draco hisses and snatches the paper that Potter is currently perusing out of the bastard's hands. "Don't you have a detention to go to or something?"
"Not until later tonight," Potter says. He looks around at the rearranged parchment. "I guess that's enough for today. I'll see you later."
"You will not!" Draco screams with frustration as Potter leaves.
On Wednesday, Draco finds Potter up in the Room of Requirement again. The moment Draco appears though, Potter leaves. Draco tears apart the stupidly scrawled notes that Potter has written down.
On Thursday, Potter is still up there poking around Draco's boxes.
"I could just move these."
Potter peers up at him. "Why haven't you yet?"
Draco just huffs and settles down with a box away from Potter. Potter knows well enough to leave.
On Friday, when Draco sees Potter poring through another box, the prick has the nerve to say, "You didn't move the boxes."
Draco doesn't favor him with a reply.
Potter goes on. "I could have told people, you know. But I didn't."
Draco's throat closes just a little. "So what?"
"So. I'm serious about wanting to help."
Draco fiddles with the worn edge of one of the boxes. "Honestly Potter? It's hard to believe that just a few days of exchanging notes and a near-death experience changes anything between us. I still fucking hate you, and I expect you to feel the same."
"I understand you better now." Potter says.
"You do not!" Draco kicks a box.
"You're still as much a git as usual, but I understand why now."
"Because you're about to be poor."
Draco is going to punch the fucker's face in, but then Potter has the audacity to laugh.
"You should see the look on your face right now."
Draco remains silent.
"I was just kidding," says Potter. "Besides, that can't explain why, because you've been a prick since you were eleven."
"So were you. You still are," Draco scoffs. "And unlike you, I haven't let a couple of notes whining about how you're going to have to kill the Dark Lord change my mind about you. It was common knowledge anyway now that I know it was you."
Potter just raises his eyebrows. "Really? Well, I let a couple of notes of you whining about your dad and having no money change my mind about you."
"Whatever, Potter. Your mind's not changed about anything. Just get rid of this guilt complex you have about almost killing me and leave me alone. Then, we can go back to hating each other in peace."
Potter seems to think about this for a minute. "Nah, hating you was too much work. This is better."
Draco rolls his eyes and sits down far away from Potter again waiting for him to leave. Potter tortures Draco a few more minutes with his presence before finally getting up to go.
Before he exits, he calls out to Draco, "You know, it wasn't just the things you told me that changed my mind about you. It was the way you wrote. And the way you understood what I wrote."
When Draco opens his mouth to protest, Potter cuts him off. "You can deny it all you want. But you're the one that kept writing back."
Saturday morning, Draco blatantly ignores going to Hogsmeade and goes straight up to the Room of Requirement. Potter doesn't leave when Draco gets there. Draco sits for almost thirty minutes glaring daggers at Potter who is humming too loudly and scribbling who-knows-what with a quill.
"Why are you still here?"
Potter looks up. "You didn't ask me to leave."
"I don't have to ask."
"Well, I thought you might be okay with me staying around."
"No. I'm not okay with that."
Potter frowns and Draco notices how the idiot's quill is dripping everywhere. He clears his throat, "Which means, I want you to leave."
"Okay," is all Potter says. He walks over to hand Draco a stack of notes. "What I've been doing so far."
Draco calls out, "I hate you," as Potter walks away.
Potter replies, "Try a different line and I might believe you," before leaving Draco in silence.
It is a sad day when Potter begins to stop believing in Draco's utter loathing of him.
He sees Potter again on Sunday. Again, Potter sticks around for longer than usual.
"Are you ever going to leave me alone?" Draco sighs with exasperation.
"Not for a while," Potter says. He stares at Draco scrutinizingly for a minute. "You know, that's been the problem all along."
"That you've been left alone and trying to do everything yourself. You're burned out."
Draco crosses his arms. "Right, and what do you know about it?"
"You look just like I did last year."
Draco blanches. "I do not look anything like you ever did."
"Suit yourself, Malfoy. But that sick and sallow look is more Snape's style."
Later that night, Draco stands in front of the mirror grimacing at his reflection. Another sad day when Potter implies that he looks pathetically ill.
Come the next week, Potter is still unrelentingly persistent with his existence. Everyday, Draco sees Potter upstairs in the Room of Requirement. Try as he might, it seems that Potter purposefully times his appearances with Draco's schedule to as infuriating as possible. Tired of arguing with Potter, Draco begins to stick to ignoring the other boy. He sullenly accepts Potter's being there by avoiding him. He'll sit far away on the other end of the aisle with his own boxes. Well, they were all his boxes. Some of them were just currently in the possession of Potter's filthy hands.
They work in silence, which is fine by Draco. He's come to realize that Potter won't breath a word of this to anyone, and Hell will freeze over before Draco goes ahead and tells everyone he's been hanging out with Potter in a secret room in Hogwarts. This is just Potter's stupid way of self-cleansing.
And as any ambitious, self-preserving Slytherin, Draco knows the virtue of free help and free labor. Also, at the very least, he doesn't have to make Vincent and Gregory Polyjuice into prepubescent girls any longer.
October 11, 1996 - Room of Requirement
Harry feels a small sense of accomplishment in that he might be cracking through the hard shell that is Draco Malfoy. For the past two weeks, he feels like he's gotten to know Malfoy, despite exchanging only one or two words with him.
No, its just the way that he's observed Malfoy since the Sectumscumptra incident and since discovering that Malfoy is the enigmatic, poignant author of the notes. Trying to figure Draco Malfoy out is just as thrilling as figuring out the identity of the mystery writer. Harry finds himself looking forward to running into Malfoy just so he can take note of the other boy's ticks and twitches. It's a new twist on what Ron and Hermione had taken to call his obsession. He admits that it is a good thing Ron and Hermione know nothing about this new twist. They just think he's been serving an infinite amount of detentions.
He's not obsessed with Malfoy. The other boy just gives Harry a lot to think about.
Harry remembers how he used to think about Malfoy. It was a very one-dimensional, flat image. The more he's found out about Malfoy, the more layers he realizes Malfoy hides. He thought the Slytherin was a self-absorbed, rich, spoilt brat.
Now, he's not saying that Malfoy isn't self-absorbed, rich, or spoilt, but now he thinks about how that's not all Malfoy is. Beneath that rudeness, that sarcasm, that cruelty, is someone lonely and confused.
Like Harry, Malfoy is just trying to save the world he knows. Trying to live up to expectations and rearrange fate. He's so similar to Harry in such an opposite way.
He stares at Malfoy over the boxes. The other boy is hunched over in concentration and scribbling feverishly. His lips are turned downward in a tight frown. Harry can't help but smile, because Malfoy reminds him of Hermione studying in the library.
It's strange to begin seeing Malfoy as human. Harry likes starting to see Malfoy this way, and now it becomes a sort of game to really get to know Malfoy as a person, instead of the evil, rich boy with a future in Death-eating.
And a small, but ever growing part of him, wants Malfoy to start getting to know Harry as a person too.
Days of silence pass and Harry finally decides to start talking to Malfoy again. He's noticed that as the days pass, Malfoy has slowly stopped moving as far away as possible. He sits a little closer to Harry and he seems to be slowly losing that permanent scowl on his face.
"So why aren't you playing Quidditch this season?"
Malfoy isn't as defensive as Harry thinks. In fact, there's hardly any prickles of defense. Malfoy seems incredibly absorbed in whatever fiscal report of Lucius Malfoy's is currently in his hands.
"Oh. Why not?"
"Because of this? I don't understand how you have time for it, this, studying, and all those detentions."
"Well, detentions have taken the place of Quidditch. They had to put me on disciplinary probation."
"Ah. Afraid you'd start cutting up opposing houses?"
"No. Just for punishment."
Malfoy doesn't reply so Harry spends the time thinking of another conversation starter. "Have you found anything yet?"
"What are you expecting to find?"
Malfoy looks up. "Seriously? Are you trying to tell me you've been digging through all this stuff this whole time and not knowing what you're supposed to find."
"I know what I'm supposed to try to find. Somehow through this mess of numbers, we'll miraculously figure out what exactly your father does to make money."
"If you don't want to find it, then stop trying. It's not important to you."
"You never really told me why it's so important to you to figure this out."
Malfoy sighs as if Potter's questions are taxing chores. "Because. Father is in Azkaban, which oh, by the way, that's no thanks to you too. Thanks for fucking up another part of my life, Potter. Now I have to figure out how to make thousands of galleons for the family so Mother can be happy and I can actually do something with my life once I graduate."
Harry doesn't even bother to wince. "Right, your father is in prison, because not only did he break into the Department of Mysteries, he killed my Godfather. At least your father is alive."
"Don't even pull that trump card on me. Sorry about your Godfather and all, but when did you even realize he existed? You put away someone that I've known for sixteen years. And now, I slowly have to watch him waste away and die a slow, torturous, soulless death. Great. Thanks a lot." Draco huffs. "I'm too tired to even tell you to fucking get out, so can you just please bloody shut up so I can do this in silence?"
"Don't compare my Godfather to your father. Just because I knew him for a short amount of time doesn't mean he didn't mean just as much to me. He was a good man unlike…"
"Unlike what? Unlike my father? Because you're still so prejudiced and self-righteous, Potter. Don't even begin to presume anything about my father."
"Malfoy, your father is a criminal and probably had afternoon tea with the Dark Lord."
"It never stopped him from being a good father," Malfoy hisses.
Harry bites his lip. He can't picture Lucius Malfoy as a good father. The thought doesn't stop him from hating Lucius Malfoy, but it makes him feel slightly sorry towards Malfoy…and a little jealous, because if an evil bastard like Lucius could be a good father, then Harry's own father probably would have been off-the-charts amazing.
"What does he do that makes him such a good father?" It's a question of curiosity and he can tell in Malfoy's silence that the other boy can't tell whether or not it's a sarcastic remark or genuine interest.
"Seriously?" Is all Malfoy manages at first, like he can't even believe such a question.
"Yeah." Harry doesn't think Malfoy will respond, but pleasantly enough, the other boy does. He seems to concentrate on some far off distant memories, like maybe his thoughts are grasping hard for the past.
"He always took care of Mother and me. Gave us everything we ever wanted. Taught me everything I needed to know. Encouraged me. He cared for both of us very much." Malfoy says this all in with a very dignified air. His voice when he speaks of Lucius Malfoy makes the man sound like some iconic father that doted on his son and wife.
Harry can't ever imagine Lucius Malfoy as the fatherly type telling his son that he loved him. He wonders if Lucius even ever told Draco that. He knows better not to ask. They sit quietly until Malfoy begins talking again.
"He just always wanted what was best for us. He means well."
Harry wonders if Lucius Malfoy meant well whenever he tortured Muggles. "That's good, Malfoy. Why did you write that you resented him then?"
Malfoy clutches at the papers. "Because, he's left me with this mess. He's always talking about never being a disappointment, and he disappointed Mother and I in the worst possible way. He ruined everything." Malfoy takes a deep breath. "I don't want to resent him though. Maybe I can just make everything better, and I just want to do what's right by him and Mother. I don't agree with everything he wants, but maybe I can try to fix some of this." He stares penetratingly at Harry. "So, that's why this is important to me."
The next day, Malfoy reaches for some of the papers from the box Harry already has opened instead of grabbing one from the other end of the room. He scowls at Harry's smug smile.
"It's more efficient if we're both working on the same thing."
"Right." Harry grins to himself. "So, do you still hate me?"
"You're going to make me mad again, if you make me remember why."
"So you've forgotten again?"
"No, just momentarily pushed it to the back of my mind so we can figure this out without me breaking bones in my hand on your nose."
"Oooh, graphic So, why have you stopped kicking me out then?"
"Wasted effort. If you want to sit around here and sit through boxes of stuff written by someone you hate to help me, that's your choice. Doesn't hurt me."
"Ah, so you're not assaulted just by my presence anymore?"
"When your mouth is shut, to me you're can be just another body doing work."
"I could be sabotaging everything."
Malfoy hesitates. "I forgot that you're someone who manages to find a lot of time to waste." He looks suspiciously at the notes Harry is working on.
"Relax. Remember, I'm here for atonement."
"You know, you've got plenty to atone for too, so when are you going to start doing something for me?"
"Are you bloody serious?"
"What the hell do I have to atone for?"
"You've put me in the infirmary several times. Made my life miserable for years. And your father…"
"You can say all you want about the sins of my father. They're not mine. And as far as making you miserable, you are a proverbial pot calling the kettle black."
"Fine. So you don't owe me anything right now. What if I'm the one that finds the magical key to what you're looking for?"
"Then maybe we'll discuss something. Now, can you be quiet?"
"Fine." Just a second of quiet, before Harry asks, "If you let me help, how come you've never told your friends to come help you look."
"Because then it wouldn't be quiet. I like working in quiet and it's been bearable up here when it's quiet."
Another two second pause. "So I'm bearable? That means you don't hate me. As much."
"I still hate you. I told you, you're just more useful to me this way right now."
Harry counts a ten second silence and is about to say something when Malfoy breaks the silence first.
"I don't think it's just your guilt complex that makes you want to help."
"What do you think it is then?"
"I'm easier to save than the world. My problem is easier to solve than yours. Less dangerous, less messy results, which means more control. If you help me fix something I thought was impossible, there might be hope for you. And maybe, just maybe, you'd have a chance at a different fate."
"Insightful. Too bad I know that whatever I do here doesn't change the fact that everyone expects me to save them from Voldemort."
"No one ever outright said that you had to do it. People are just expecting it. Surprise them and just disappear across the ocean."
"You would say that. Then he'd win."
"You're awfully confident of your abilities. If the only thing stopping the Dark Lord is a sixteen year old boy, then is he even worth trying to stop?"
Harry stares at Malfoy, "And you don't believe in the Dark Lord's policies?"
"If you thought I did, and we both know about your do-gooder tendencies, then you should know better than to talk about politics."
Harry continues to just stare at Malfoy. "And I did think we both knew about your Muggle discrimination, so naturally people might assume…"
"One, what have I told you about assumptions? Two, having anti-muggle views is a political view in the Wizarding community. Hasn't your bookworm friend ever taught you about this?"
"It's wrong to dislike people based on their blood."
"Just like its wrong to dislike people based on skin color, income, religion…but don't your precious Muggles do it? Anti-muggle views are part of traditional politics. Usually older Wizarding families hold these views, because their family history remembers the witch burnings from the sixteen and eighteen-hundreds. These families have been taught not to trust muggles. A view of integration with Muggle-borns and Muggles is contemporary. A lot of the Wizarding world is split between traditional and contemporary politics." Malfoy smirks. "That's why its not dinner table conversation."
Harry rolls his eyes. "Pay attention in History much?"
"No. It's just common knowledge. You really need to start learning these things on your own instead of waiting for people to tell you. Take initiative for Merlin's sake."
"Fine, but it doesn't give Voldemort the right to kill Muggles and Muggle-borns."
"I never said it did. You have extremists on both sides."
"Right, and where's the psycho Muggle-loving politician on mass-murdering rampage?"
Malfoy shrugs, "Out there laying low?"
Harry's eyes are getting tired from constantly rolling them. "So do you or don't you agree with the Dark Lord?"
"Does it matter?"
"So, if I said yes, you'd just leave right now and never come back."
Harry pauses to think this over as Malfoy continues. "Because then I could just say yes to get rid of you."
"But you don't want to get rid of me since I'm helping to do your dirty work."
"I don't think it bothers you as much as you say it does, because you're looking through my father's boxes. And you've already made up your mind about he feels."
"Because it's become fairly common knowledge that he's a Death Eater?"
"Ah, never really been proven."
"I saw him when Voldemort was resurrected."
"Oh yes, I forget you have front-row seats to these things." Malfoy sighs. "Well, you can't blame him for getting caught up in the political sweep of the time. He's an activist for a cause."
Harry just blanches. "And you agree with him."
"He expects me to." Malfoy gives Potter a sly grin. "But, to tell you the truth, I don't care for politics."
Harry tries to understand what Malfoy means. He doesn't really realize that his heart has begun beating slightly irregularly during this whole conversation. Is Malfoy for or against the Dark Lord? Since first year, he had been so sure that Malfoy was ready to be marked and crowned as the Prince of Darkness himself.
"So, are you going to take the…you know."
"No, I don't know. Take the what?"
Malfoy stares. "What?"
"Join the Death Eaters?"
Malfoy just stares goggle-eyed at Harry. "Why?"
Harry furrows his brow. "We've always thought that you'd become a Death Eater one day."
Malfoy blinks. "I still don't understand why."
"We'd thought you'd be forced to take the Dark Mark."
"Do you and your friends sit around the Common Room discussing my future?"
Malfoy bursts out laughing. "Merlin, you lot are pathetic sometimes. How long did this discussion last?"
"It wasn't a discussion! Just a general consensus."
"Because you thought that just because my father had ties with the Dark Lord, I do too?"
Harry's face flushes. "It made sense at the time."
"You really do make too many assumptions about me. Just because I respect him, doesn't mean I'm about to follow his footsteps in that direction. Or that I have to." Draco furrows his brow together. "I'm not interested in those things."
"So what are you going to do in the war?"
Draco draws his knees to the chest. "Like I said, go to Greece or somewhere."
"So you're just going to run away?"
"What is the point in staying and fighting? It's not my fight. It's not what I want to be remembered for. And I'd be asked to fight against my father or against all the people I've gone to school with."
"What if your father asks you to fight?"
"Father's in prison. And he wouldn't ask that of me. He wants me to make him proud, but not through the war." Malfoy's voice wavers just a little.
"Are you sure?"
"He hasn't asked." Malfoy says, just a little bit more firmly. The other bow chews on his lip, and Harry is afraid that he'll chew right through. "Has anyone asked you?"
Harry opens his mouth. Had anyone ever officially asked him? "Sort of. Sometimes people will ask me what I'm going to do about You-Know-Who. It's in the way they look at me, like they're waiting for me to do something. It's something I know I have to do."
"But why? If no one has really asked? Is it really your fight?"
"It wasn't, but its become my fight."
"Because I was there when Voldemort was first defeated. There again when he was resurrected. I've seen him in bits and pieces since first year. I hate him."
"And it's okay with you if you die along the way?"
"No. I don't want to die. But then again, if I don't figure out a plan against him anyway, a lot more people will die. I don't want that to happen either."
"How very utilitarian of you, Potter," Malfoy murmurs.
Harry squints at Malfoy. "How do I know you aren't just pretending not to take the Dark Mark? Are you going to use this and tell the Death Eaters?"
Malfoy flicks a piece of hair away from his face, flippantly. "Just the same way I know you aren't making copies of all of these boxes and showing them to the world." Malfoy gives Harry a toothy grin. "Besides, you don't even have a real plan, so if I wanted to tell this to the Death Eaters, it really wouldn't be anything groundbreaking."
Malfoy continues to smile. It's the first time Harry has really seen Malfoy smile in a good-natured, humorous way, and Harry can't look away. Malfoy has shockingly white teeth and a tiny dimple on the left side of his cheek. The smile also crooks just slightly to one side, and Malfoy's eyes crinkle a little bit. Harry swears he can see a sparkle.
"What are you staring at Potter?"
"Oh. Sorry. Um. Er. Sorry, I zoned out. Just thinking of a plan to defeat Voldemort."
"Right, well. If you get that look on your face everytime you're concentrating on this plan, then we're all screwed."
"Thanks for that vote of confidence."
Malfoy just shrugs. "Can I ask you a serious question?"
"Do you ever wish that you never knew about the Wizarding World?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, if you never knew about it, then you wouldn't have spent the most awkward of your childood years in literal life and death situations."
Harry ponders this. It'd be like choosing a safe, but completely miserable life at Stonewall High or a dangerous, sometimes miserable, but more than often happy existence at Hogwarts. "I'd still pick this. I don't think I'd have it any other way. I mean, what little kid doesn't wake up dreaming of doing magic one day? It's a dream come true, with a little bit of baggage attached."
Malfoy smiles again. "Good answer."
Harry thinks Malfoy needs to stop doing that, because every time Malfoy smiles, Harry feels like he's run into a wall and all he can see are little stars floating around his head.
Harry finds that besides just liking Malfoy's smile, he also likes talking to Malfoy. He thinks that Malfoy is more than fascinating, and he wonders if Malfoy feels the same about him. Malfoy certainly isn't as hostile as he used to be, and Harry would bet a small amount of galleons that Malfoy doesn't completely hate him anymore.
Today, Malfoy actually initiates the conversation. It is a pleasant surprise.
"So what are you going to do when you actually kill the Dark Lord?"
"You mean, if?"
"No, I mean when," Malfoy replies.
"How do you know it's when and not if?"
"Ah, various reasons. One, you already did it once by not doing anything, so if you had an actual plan, you could do it again. Two, the Dark Lord is too much an extremist, and the world needs balance. So, I bet fate would eventually sway in your favor."
Harry blinks a few times. "The first reason made a little bit of sense. The second reason barely makes sense."
"Makes sense to me." Malfoy reaches in the box for another stack of parchments, but doesn't take his eyes off Harry. "So, you never answered the first question. What are you going to do?"
"I don't know." Harry mulls this over. "Live a normal life. Get married, have a family. Maybe become an Auror."
Malfoy shoots Harry a mild look of disgust. "Merlin, you're boring. At sixteen, your greatest desire in life is to get married, have a family, and become an Auror?"
Harry feels affronted. "Well, I'd like to do all those things in the future, and so if I survive the war, I'll do those things."
"Right, eventually when you're old. But you don't want to do anything else?"
"Well, maybe I'll travel. Go to Greece and Italy."
"You're just copying me." Malfoy chuckles as Harry begins to bristle. It's a low, chesty rumble that sends a pleasant tingle down Harry's spine.
"Well, what are you going to do except lay around in the sun all day?"
"I think laying around all day is a perfect ambition."
"Well, it sounds boring. You're not really doing anything.'
"Well, the idea is that I can do anything I want. So I can lay in the sun if I want to, and if I don't want to I'll find something else to do."
"So you'll have no responsibilities?"
"Then you'll accomplish absolutely nothing."
"I'll have a good tan." Malfoy says. He seems to think for a moment though, not liking the idea of a life devoid of achievements. "I'd want to have my own Potions lab one day. Invent my own Potions creations."
Harry blanches. "Now, whose really boring? "
"No, you! You're the freak who just wants to grow up with a tan and potions equipment."
"And you're the freak who wants to get married and have a family. Honestly, Potter. What sixteen year old even thinks of that?"
Harry allows Malfoy a small smile at that. "Touché."
"So," Malfoy has that toothy grin again. Harry has realized that this brilliant specimen of a smile only appears whenever Malfoy wants to tease him.
"So, who would you want to marry at sixteen?"
"What?" Harry squawks.
"It's a legitimate question. If you're thinking about marriage, I can only assume you're thinking of candidates."
"No! It's just a general desire. I don't have specifics like that planned out."
"Oh please. There must be someone. Hmmm, didn't you date that Ravenclaw last year? Chang?"
"Pay attention to my relationships much?"
Malfoy just smirks. "Don't pluralize it. I know its just one. And everyone knew. Weren't you always making her cry?"
Harry splutters. "No, she was just upset because…because of," he lowers his voice to a whisper. "Cedric."
"Or that's what you think. Everyone's seen you talking to her and then she'd just start crying. You ought to be nicer to girls."
Harry resists the urge to punch Malfoy in the arm. Malfoy's not Ron…he'd probably bruise easily and then get mad.
Malfoy's still got that teasing glint in his eye. "What about Little Miss Weasley?"
"What about her?"
"Maybe you could have a Burrow of your own and after breeding like rabbits have a million red-haired babies running around."
"That's a little mean." Harry frowns. Malfoy's joking jibes have a bit of a sharp bite to them.
Malfoy doesn't look as apologetic as Harry wants him too. "Well, its just the image I have. You seem the type to want a huge one."
"Maybe. I don't know," He looks questioningly at Malfoy. "What about you? You don't want a family?"
"I already have one right now."
"I mean in the future."
"Well, I do, but its not something I've given thought to really."
Harry remembers what Ron told him weeks ago in the Great Hall. "Can you even have a family?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean," Harry lowers his voice to a quiet hush. "Can you have a family, what with you…not liking girls?"
Malfoy looks confused. "What do you mean I don't like girls?"
"You know…" Harry squirms uncomfortably.
Malfoy's confused look slowly shifts to a glare. "Do you think I'm a pouf?" His brows are knit together. "Oh Merlin. Are you thinking back to that day when you declared that I was a pouf to the Great Hall?"
"I almost forgot about that, you wanker." Malfoy glowers at Harry. "I can't believe I forgot you said that. This reminds me why I hated you."
"Past tense hated?"
"It's about to become present again."
"But you don't hate me?" Harry feels a warm, pleasant feeling settle in his stomach.
"You've become bearable, Potter. Except, you're an idiot."
"Hey, you already made me pay for that." Harry rubs his shin, where Crabbe had kicked him.
"True." Malfoy hits Harry behind his head. "I'm not a bloody poufter."
"But maybe you should stop listening to the gossip mill? I never knew you were such a gossip."
Harry's face flushes with embarrassment. "Someone had just said that you and Blaise Zabini…"
"Nothing is going on between me and Blaise," Draco looks irritated. "We're just friends."
"So you're not a pouf."
Harry blinks at Draco with disbelief. "You really don't care about rumors at all. I mean, people always assume things about you, but you never really do anything to correct it."
"No, I hate it when people assume things about me. I just don't bother to do anything about it, because it would just be a waste of time. The people who matter are the ones that are going to take the time to know."
"So, is Blaise not a pouf either?"
"Oh. That one isn't a rumour."
"And so you're still just friends with him?"
"Yes," Malfoy sighs with exasperation. "I can be just friends with Blaise."
Harry purses his lips in confusion. "Really? Just friends? Not even…a thing?"
"YES!" Malfoy stares at Harry in frustration. "Two blokes can be just friends without a thing. Kind of how you and the Mudblood can be friends without a thing."
"One, don't call her that."
"Oops, habit." Malfoy just shrugs off the chiding.
"Two, how do you know me and Hermione don't have a thing. We could. Whose making assumptions now."
Malfoy wrinkles his nose. "That's a joke. Everyone knows that her and the Weasel are going to begin hooking up. And that's not assumption…that's logic."
Harry grins. "True." He ponders the idea of being friends with a bloke who liked other blokes. "Blaise has never wanted a thing with you then?"
Malfoy's face goes a little white. "That's really none of your business."
Harry is sure is mouth drops. He takes in Malfoy's thin set lips and flashing eyes, and somehow knows better than to press on. Time to change the subject, perhaps.
"So if you're not a pouf, then who would you marry?"
"Not an option. You have to choose right now."
"No one. Give up the idea forever."
"Really?" Harry raises his eyebrows. "What about Pansy?"
Draco blanches. "She and my mother would both wish."
"What's wrong with Pansy?"
"She's just a friend." Malfoy had that look on his face again that projected, 'Don't press the subject.'
"You have a lot of just friends don't you."
"I'm just not really interested in anyone."
"So you never thought anyone was attractive?" Harry wonders why he can't stray away from this subject completely. He must be strangely intrigued and curious in the love life of Draco Malfoy.
"There are certain people that are good looking." Malfoy seems to be chewing on the inside of his cheek. "You can't really tell if anyone's attractive until you get to know them."
"And you haven't gotten to know anyone that you've thought was attractive?"
"Potter, I don't know very many people."
Another thought occurs to Harry. There are flyers advertising a ball on Hallow's Eve on the House board and on a poster in front of the Great Hall. He is sure Malfoy must have seen them. If Malfoy doesn't have a thing for Blaise or Pansy, who would he take?
"The Halloween Ball is coming up soon."
"Yes, they can't just leave it at a feast anymore can they?" Malfoy rolls his eyes.
"It's to raise morale."
"It's a stupid excuse."
Harry bites his lip, "So, aren't you still going though?"
"Probably. It's manners to make appearances," Malfoy doesn't seem to think this is a very important subject at all. Harry thinks its fascinating.
"Who will you go with then?"
Malfoy looks up, "I really hadn't thought about it. Probably Pansy."
Harry furrows his brow, "But you said that you don't like her."
"Yes, but she's a friend. I went with her to the Yule Ball in fourth year, I can go with her to this ball too."
"Have you asked?"
"No. Not yet. Merlin! What is it with you being especially nosy today?"
"I don't mean to be," Harry says, feeling chastised. "I'm just curious."
"What about you then? Any eyes on any special ladies?"
"No, I haven't thought about it either," Harry mutters, suddenly feeling shifty now that Malfoy is the one asking questions.
"Right, well you probably have plenty of options."
"Like any of the adolescent girls that giggle every time you walk by. Pick any one of them."
"I don't want to do that," Harry says.
"Why? Why stress about something that's easily taken care of."
"Because, I don't want to just go with anyone. It would be uncomfortable and weird."
"What about Granger? Do what I'm doing. Take a friend?" Malfoy seems mildly annoyed. "Don't be so picky."
"She's probably going to go with Ron," Harry replies gloomily.
"True. I forgot about that. Well, good luck on that."
Harry just huffs.
"Relax, Potter. It's nothing to get your knickers in a twist about. It's just a stupid school ball. It was awkward two years ago, and its still going to be awkward. They're never going to learn that dances and teenagers are recipes for social disaster. Either people don't have fun or they have too much fun and the staff gets angry." Malfoy returns to his boxes, leaving Harry in a sulk.
Not able to think of any more questions, Harry just picks up another box. He feels slightly disappointed in that he isn't able to find out more about Malfoy's love life. He feels like he's gotten to know Malfoy, and briefly wonders if Malfoy feels like he's gotten to know Harry. A small part of him thinks that as he gets to know Malfoy, the other boy had an attractive personality.
October 25, 1996 – Room of Requirement
Draco watches Potter through his fringe as the other boy looks over the contents of another box. He replays the conversation they had the other day in his mind, and wonders why Potter had been so fixated on Draco and whom he might like to date. Why did Potter even care?
A thought out of left field staggers Draco. He wonders if Potter had been fishing for compliments. After all, last year when Blaise had developed a crush on Draco, he'd constantly ask Draco if he thought anyone was 'cute' or if he 'liked' anyone.
He wonders if Potter had similar motives. It would make sense as to why Potter is so insistent to help and so curious about Draco's sexual proclivities. It concerns him that the thought doesn't repulse Draco as much as it should. He should be demanding Harry to either keep away or demanding Harry to confess that he wants more than friendship with Draco.
Draco chides his own overconfidence. He doesn't even know if Potter wants friendship. Maybe Potter is just trying to make conversation or be friendly.
He admits that he wants Potter to want his friendship. As he watches Potter nibble his lip in concentration, he also admits that he's kind of always wanted Potter to want his friendship. And that maybe part of the reason that he doesn't hate Potter now is because Potter is finally being nice. It also makes him somewhat smug knowing that this time around Potter had been the one extending a token of friendship. It had been Potter who didn't give up when Draco firmly rejected his help.
Some part of Draco wonders what would have happened if he had been more persistent about wanting to be Potter's friend in first year. He wonders if Potter would have eventually relented just as Draco has now.
Draco knows that he is a difficult person to get along with. For some reason, it means something that Potter is trying.
As long as he is the realm of self-confessionals, another very tiny part of him admits that after getting to know Potter, Potter's one of the most attractive people he's ever met. In less than a month, he's gone from fervently hating Potter to finding the git attractive.
Draco wants to bury his head in a box. He wants to push this admittance way back into his brain, but the thought has already skittered past, now impossible to forget. He tries to go back to thinking of Potter as a scrawny bastard with bad hair, but now he just thinks that Potter looks rather appealing with his hair flopping over his eyes as he writes down notes for Draco's personal benefit.
Potter looks up at Draco with his startingly green eyes. Draco loves the color green.
"What are you staring at?"
"Hmmm?" Draco flicks his eyes back down to his page.
"You were staring."
"Was I?" Draco hopes that Potter can't see his flushed face. He keeps his head down and eye's fixed on the parchment. "Sorry. Probably caught me thinking."
"Oh, okay" Potter sounds slightly disbelieving, but lets the comment slide.
Draco spends the rest of the time making sure he keeps his eyes down. He concentrates so hard on not accidentally looking up that he barely concentrates on what all the numbers on his page actually mean.
Today, he leaves the Room of Requirement with Potter and they walk back towards their respective Common Rooms together. They have never done this before, and Draco finds himself walking slightly slower than usual and letting his feet drag on the stone. They aren't really talking, and Draco isn't sure what to say to Potter when Potter's arm keeps accidentally bumping his. He has trouble thinking.
"So, I guess I'll see you tomorrow," Draco says awkwardly at the same time Potter says it.
Potter grins, "Snap, you owe me a Butterbeer."
Draco glances at Potter with confusion. "What's…"
"That!" Potter jumps in just as Draco says it. "You owe me another one."
"What does that…"
"Even mean," Potter chimes in again. "Snap, owe me three Butterbeers now."
"Because I called a snap on you. It's a game Muggle children play. If you say the same thing as someone else, someone can call snaps. Usually you wouldn't be able to talk until you got me three Butterbeers, but I'll be nice."
Draco rolls his eyes. "Well, if it's a Muggle children's game, I don't want any part of it. I'm too old and too un-Muggle for that."
"Un-muggle? Really, Malfoy? Maybe just too boring."
"Maybe you're immature."
"Maybe you're just pissed you owe me three Butterbeers. I expect you to pay up at the next Hogsmeade weekend."
"Right, and I'll meet you in Hogsmeade with the three Butterbeers," Draco replies sarcastically.
"I'm serious," Potter is still grinning, and Draco wants to just poke the smug idiot right in the dimples that crease his cheeks.
"Then be serious. You can't possibly think I'm fagging for you and getting you Butterbeers."
Potter waggles his eyebrows. "We'll see about that."
Draco isn't quite sure how to respond to that and wonders what Potter means, because that smug smile just got a bit smugger and there's a glint in Potter's eye that makes Draco's stomach flip.
"About what?" A third voice chimes in and Draco sees that they're almost nearing the dungeons and Potter's been walking with him when they should have separated paths long ago.
Draco's flipping stomach sinks when he sees Blaise with his arms crossed, leaning against the wall staring with curiosity and suspicion at both of them.
"About me kicking his arse on the Quidditch pitch tomorrow night," Potter lies.
"Draco doesn't play Quidditch anymore," says Blaise.
"He agreed to play an one-on-one match with me tomorrow," Potter begins to backtrack the way he came. "And I told him I'd win.
"And he won't," Draco says quickly. He never thought Potter would be so on his toes about lying as he is.
"And then, I said we'll see." Potter is far down the hall now as he calls back to them. He looks from Draco to Blaise and seems to walk away even faster. "So, I'll see you on the pitch tomorrow night. Seven-o-clock!"
Draco waves, wondering if Potter is serious. He glances over at Blaise, taking in the taller boy's sour expression and realizing why Potter seemed to be hurrying down the hall.
"What's wrong with you?" Draco asks, frowning as Blaise's lip curls up into almost a snarl.
"What are you doing with Potter?"
"Getting challenged to Quidditch?" Draco begins to walk towards the Common Room wondering if there might be a screaming confrontation, because from Blaise's expression he looks like he has been taking lessons from Pansy.
"Right. And you were even talking to Potter, why?"
"Oh, I don't know. Let me think. You've hated him since you were eleven for millions of reasons I got to hear about all last year. He pretty much single-handedly got your father a one-way ticket to Azkaban. Oh, he tried to kill you a little bit over a week ago. I think I'm leaving out quite a lot of things, but those are all pretty good reasons why not."
"He apologized," Draco realizes that this is not a very good defense.
"And saying sorry for nearly killing you is enough for you to start talking to him."
"Hey, he was just challenging me to Quidditch!" Draco finds that he is quite stubborn at sticking with lies even though he's also quite sure he might be caught lying at any moment now.
"And you were just grinning and bearing it?"
"He's not that bad a bloke," Draco winces when he swears he sees smoke coming out of Blaise's ears.
"Honestly, I have barely seen you or talked to you in days, and in these few days you've dropped the Potter is a dead bastard intended for the fishes act? What the bloody fuck?"
"He's been trying to apologize," Draco fixes Blaise a glare. "You should know about apologizing."
"Don't compare what I did to everything he's done."
"He's never done anything to you!"
"Yes, but he's done things to you! So what are you doing talking to him?"
"Calm down!" Draco wants to shake Blaise's shoulders. "Potter's fine. Now, he's just helping me with something. It's really fine. He and I actually have a lot in common. He's not that bad to talk to. He's funny sometimes. A bit daft most of the time, but funny. I don't mind talking to him."
"You're babbling," Blaise interrupts. "You're babbling, smiling…are your ears turning pink?"
Draco rubs the back of one of his ears. "No!" However, it does feel hotter than normal and at Blaise's scrutinizing gaze, he feels his face grow hot. "No. They're not turning pink."
"Do you have Stockholm Syndrome or something?" Blaise continues to stare at Draco bemusedly.
"No. I don't even know what that is."
"When a hostage victim begins to like and identify with his captor. Or in this case, an almost murder victim begins to like and identify with his almost-killer."
"Haha," Draco says dryly. "It's not like that."
"You sound like you might actually like Potter."
"I've just gotten to know him better." Draco wishes his neck would stop getting hotter.
"Yeah, and you like what you've gotten to know."
"If I didn't like what I've gotten to know, I wouldn't keep talking to him."
Blaise sweeps Draco over with a quick glaze. "So you're friends."
"Maybe. I don't know." It is still weird to think of Potter as a friend. He's just Potter, with a lot less sting. Just Potter, that Draco is only starting to realize that he kind of likes being around.
"More than friends?"
Draco splutters. "That's a stupid, sick theory. You know I don't even...that I'm not like that."
"I just know that you don't like me. And you don't like Pansy either. I just know a lot of who you don't like. And you didn't like Potter, but now…"
"And I still don't. I just don't hate him. Lay off!"
"Right," Blaise is starting to look less pissed off and more predatory. He's either like this when he sees a good-looking bloke or when he's on to some good gossip. Draco fears it may be both.
They've reached the Common Room and Draco doesn't want to just go in, because Blaise could follow him anywhere in the Slytherin Dungeons. He fidgets with the cuff of his robes.
"Right. Well. I've forgotten something upstairs, so I'm going to go get it, but I will see you in a moment."
"Right." Blaise is just grinning at him now, and it's toothy, but in a way that makes Draco nervous. His heart beats furiously even as he stands alone.
"Right. See you." Draco begins to head back down the hall the other way. "And, don't tell Pansy any of your rubbish ideas. She'll just go flipping nuts about absolutely nothing.
"Sure. I won't tell."
Draco's heart is hammering nervously as Blaise disappears from his sight. "I do not like Potter, especially not like that," he mutters to himself. "I do not."
He has a harder time lying to himself than he does to Blaise.
How fast does it take someone to completely change his mind about someone else? How long does it take someone to begin fancying someone else?
In Draco Malfoy's case, It is four weeks. 28 days exactly. Potter officially invaded his life 28 days ago, and now all Draco does is look forward to seeing the other boy. Through a day of classes, he counts down the minutes until he can retreat to the seventh floor in the Room of Requirement. The constant presence is no longer a painful thorn in Draco's side but instead something Draco craves. He likes rounding the corner on his way to classes and catching a glance at Potter if he happens to pass. He likes looking up from the dinner table and seeing Potter's mouth quirk into a small smile in his direction.
Draco feels like he's being sucked into a whirlwind. He feels dizzy and light, like Potter's mere being there has lifted a huge weight off his shoulders.
It's wrong, oh so wrong. Draco doesn't like boys. He doesn't like girls. He doesn't like much of anyone. He just happens to like Potter.
When did this happen? One minute he's pounding Potter's face into the ground, and a few conversations later, instead of infuriating Draco, Potter makes Draco feel calmer like a cool, balmy breeze. Well, calm if one doesn't count the furiously thumping heart.
It must have been a slow train wreck waiting to occur. It started with just letting Potter be there. Then with just letting Potter talk. Then with just letting himself talk with Potter. Then with letting himself like what Potter had to say.
Potter is interesting to talk with. A witty conversationalist who is quick on his feet in thinking of something to say back. Yet, he's still always actively listening to Draco's replies. He's willing to contradict Draco but still interested in Draco's thoughts and opinions. He reacts so honestly and openly.
It is so different from Blaise and Pansy. Different from their miniscule cat and mouse games. Different from Pansy's motherly nagging and Blaise's hidden agendas. Sure, Blaise and Pansy are fun. They're easy and intelligent enough to talk to. But, Potter is different.
Draco knows that It is idiocy really. Daftness. Silliness. There are so many things to not like about Potter, but Draco can't help himself. He always had to do things the harder way.
He's not even friends with Potter, really. Or, he just doesn't know where he stands with Potter. It is complete foolishness to even have this weird infatuation with Potter.
Draco isn't even sure he knows what to call it. It is a freak of nature type of infatuation and he really doesn't know what to do. If forced to call it something, he might have to call it a crush, just because of crushing pressure on his chest every time he sees Potter's stupid smile or bright green eyes.
He doesn't want to even let himself entertain the thought, because the idea might just keep growing and growing inside his head. Soon, he may not be able to think of anything else.
It does not help that at 7:30 tonight, Potter shows up in the Room of Requirement wearing his Quidditch warm-ups.
"So, I was thinking about our little lie to Zabini the other day." Potter says as he pulls leather gloves out of his pocket.
"And?" Draco wonders how someone as skinny as Potter can possibly seem to have that much muscle.
"And, after wondering why we even had to lie in the first place…"
"Because, I don't want Blaise knowing about the boxes?"
"Or you don't want him knowing about you hanging out with me?" Potter says as his nose flares a few times, and Draco isn't sure what that's supposed to mean.
"He's already begun putting that one together," Draco replies wryly. He hadn't wanted Blaise to begin figuring it out, because obviously Blaise's mind had immediately traveled to creative places, and then planted similar creative thoughts in Draco's own mind.
"Oh good," Potter seems to relax some. "Because you see, as a Gryffindor, I'm not as comfortable with lying as you are."
"You seemed like quite a natural at it."
"Really?" Potter's chest puffs up, surprised and proud at his skills of deception.
"Yes. You seem able to pull lies right out of your arse. I didn't know you had it in you."
"Well, just because I'm good at it, doesn't mean I like doing it." Potter says. "Makes me feel guilty."
Draco just raises an eyebrow. "You seem to feel guilty about a lot of things."
"Exactly. So why add on more guilt?" Potter waves his broom around dramatically. Draco thinks he looks like one of the ancient, hairy Muggle louts that he's seen in picture books when he was younger. The brutish type that had giant clubs and grunted all the time.
"So, what are you proposing?" Draco takes in the broom and the outfit one more time and his stomach sinks a little. He hopes that Potter is just coming back from Quidditch practice, but something tells him that he's probably wrong.
"That we actually play that game of one-on-one Quidditch."
"No," Draco says immediately.
"Why not? You like Quidditch, I like Quidditch."
"I don't play Quidditch anymore," Draco says tersely. He hasn't flown in such a long time. His limbs feel rusty, and now, more than ever, he doesn't want to make a fool out of himself in front of Potter.
"Since this year. No one says you can't start again."
"In one-on-one? Potter, two words: unfair advantage. You've been practicing all year."
"Ah, but you have natural born talent and speed," Potter wheedles.
"You're describing yourself," Draco scoffs.
"Look, let's make a bet out of it."
"Right, that's not convincing me."
"You're a spoilsport and no fun." Potter bangs the end of his broom on the ground. "Come on. Don't make a liar and a beggar out of me."
"I don't even have my broom on me."
"Go get it," There's not even a hesitation in Potter's responses. Anything Draco could say, Potter might just fire out another reply without pause. He's probably got hundreds of arguments ready. Stubborn bastard. Potter was probably thinking of possible replies to any of Draco's hesitations.
"It's too far away." It is an uphill battle that Draco's losing.
"Now you're just lazy. Admit it, you're afraid that I really will just kick your arse in Quidditch."
"Pride aside, you've already done that multiple times, so that's not really a selling point. Pretty much, you're just asking me to entertain you. I'm going to have to go all the way down to the Dungeons, change into comfortable robes, and then go all the way out with you to the pitch. I'll physically exert and strain myself just to lose."
"That's not the fighting spirit of a Malfoy."
"What are you trying to say?"
"I'm trying to say that you're being pathetic with that defeatist attitude. You're really going to tell me that challenging me one-on-one in Quidditch isn't exciting? That you'd just accept defeat before you even try? Who are you?" Potter is waving his hands excitedly around now, wild hand gestures flying everywhere.
Draco bites his lip. He hasn't felt the smooth, cool wood of a broomstick in such a long time. He bets the bristles on his broom have cobwebs by now. His hands are no longer as hard and calloused, unused to the fierce gripping of wood as wind flings him about. Does he even have that same balance? That same agility? That same speed?
Potter waves his broom in Draco's face. "You know you want to. And wizards don't forget to ride a broomstick, just like Muggles don't forget how to ride a bike."
Draco scowls. "Fine, say I agree to this. What are the stakes?"
Potter chews his lip as he ponders this. "Winner gets to take whatever he wants from the loser."
"Whatever he wants? Anything?"
"Those could be big stakes. I could take your broom if I win." Big losses or big wins.
"If you win. I could take something equally important from you."
"Quite a risk."
"An ambitious risk. Aren't Slytherin's ambitious?"
"Aren't Gryffindor's not supposed to be this cunning?"
Potter smiles wickedly. "Want to hear a secret? I was almost a Slytherin."
Draco squints at Potter with disbelief. "How do you figure that?"
"Sorting Hat almost put me there. I didn't want to though."
Draco huffs, "Why not?"
Potter just grins again. "Thought the dungeons might be too cold."
"I hear its drafty up where you Gryffindors are too."
"It's not too bad," Potter taps Draco with his broom. "So, is that a yay or nay on the one-on-one Quidditch challenge."
Potter is the only person that can convince Draco of doing something that he doesn't want to do. The only person dogged enough who can badger his way past Draco's tenacity.
"Fine. Let's go. As long as I get a warm-up."
Potter's smile almost a reward itself.
They're on the pitch with their brooms. Draco's forgotten Nimbus feels comfortable in his hand. He keeps a relaxed grip on it and the wood fits snugly in his palm. Potter is right. It is impossible to forget how to fly. The moment the handle of the broom slides into his hand to the moment he kicks off the ground, Draco remembers what its like to be intended for air.
Why did he stop flying this year? Time seems to still when he's airborne. It is exhilarating to feel fresh air on his face and night wind in his hair. He can't even feel the cold chill in his bones, because the warm joy floods through his entire body.
Maybe he wouldn't have felt like such a reclusive madman if he had just ungrounded himself and lifted his feet off the ground. This reclaims sanity.
"How does it feel?" Potter calls out as he whips through the air alongside Draco.
Draco allows himself to admire Potter's form. The way Potter swerves, dips, and arcs. There is a lot that he is starting to appreciate about Harry Potter.
"Free!" Draco calls out. He pulls up next to Potter and swings upside down feeling the blood rush through his head. He enjoys this light-headedness.
"Remember what I told you about living?" He calls out to Potter.
"This is it!" And there it is. That light weight of freedom and being able to do whatever he wants without worrying. The freedom to enjoy being. No responsibility. He can be extraordinary on his own.
They're soaring up, up, up into the clouds and Draco wants the night to just swallow them both up. That way they never have to return to the ground.
They loop downwards, and the adrenaline packs in Draco's gut like a fast punch. He's breathless, because there's nothing that can stop him. If he gets too close to the ground, he just has to tilt back upwards and he's soaring again. In the sky, there are infinite possibilities.
"Ready?" Harry pants, as he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a little golden snitch. The frantically beating wings of the snitch mimic Draco's excited heartbeat.
Draco makes a sharp turn towards Potter. "Of course."
Potter slowly opens his fist. "Scared, Malfoy?"
Draco lets the edge of competition roll over him like a refreshing wave. "You wish."
Potter lets the snitch fly. It zooms off and they zoom off after it. It is neck and neck and they flip, tumble, and race through the skies in search of the winged snitch as it darts erratically.
Draco's forgotten not just how good he is at flying, but also how good Potter is. If Draco was made for the sky, Potter looks as if he was born in the sky. Draco watches Potter out of the corner of his eye as Potter makes sharp swerves and turns, literally throwing himself into the wind.
Trying to catch the snitch before Harry Potter is an impossible task, but a fun one to attempt. Better than searching through dusty old boxes to find the key to Lucius Malfoy's wealth. It is a selfish and self-serving task, one that fills Draco up with joy and makes him curl his toes in victorious anticipation.
He sees the brief flash of gold and pushes himself forward. He's so close he can hear the beating of the snitch's wings. Ba-dum. Ba-dum. He reaches for it, wanting to feel the cold metal in his palm, and feel the muffled wings tickle his hand.
Millimeters feel like kilometers as his fingers brush the wings. The snitch darts away, always elusive. It makes Draco dance in the air for it. He'll never stop chasing, never stop looking.
And there it is again, teasing him. That mad little gold ball. He only wishes his arm were longer.
Of course, Potter's hand gets there first, and where the snitch was, there is Potter's fist. There is a familiar pang of disappointment as he hears Potter's whoop. That familiar sinking feeling of realization that after all that chasing, the snitch still remains elusive.
Yet, failure isn't so bad when he's doing something he loves. At least not this time, in the dark when there's no one watching and he doesn't really hate Potter anymore.
Potter is simply better. The main disappointment Draco feels is that he's not ready to go down to the ground yet.
His feet feel like lead when they hit the dirt in the pitch and he feels a thousand times heavier.
"I win!" Potter crows, looping low to the ground, feet skimming the grass.
"I told you, you would."
"Oops, I got your ability to predict the future confused with a defeatist attitude."
"Potter, you always win."
"And you almost always win," Potter claps Draco on the back and extends his hand. "Good game though, Malfoy."
Draco takes Potter's hand. "Unless you figure in that unfair advantage you had." Potter's hand is rough and calloused, but for the moment that Draco is gripping and shaking it, Potter's hand feels right locked in against Draco's.
"I forgot about that. Good effort then, Malfoy. Maybe with a bit more practice, you'll beat me."
"Yes, except you'll be getting more practice than me."
"Meaning I guess I'll always win."
Draco pretends to scowl at Potter. "So you tricked me. Your challenge was rigged to begin with."
"Rigged or not, I still win. High stakes were on the line."
"So what are you going to take?" Draco hugs his broom towards himself, possessively.
Potter steps closer to Draco, a thoughtful look on his face. "Winner can take whatever he wants from the loser then?"
"Those were the rules. Although, as an afterthought, we should have made guidelines."
Potter steps closer again and suddenly asks the most peculiar question, "Have you ever been kissed?"
Draco chokes. "What?"
"Kissed. Have you ever been kissed?"
His stomach and heart seem to have both leapt into his throat making it hard to talk or breath. "Many have tried," he tries to say loftily.
"And many have failed?"
Draco just nods, and looks up at Potter who is suddenly standing extremely close. His green eyes bore into Draco's. Draco stares up at Potter's flushed, pink cheeks and chapped mouth. His damp and windblown hair sticks up everywhere. Draco feels a bizarre urge to run his fingers through it.
He has never seen anybody more attractive and wonders why he hasn't noticed before.
This is stupid. Potter isn't attractive. Potter is a boy. Draco chides himself unconvincingly.
"I don't like failing," Potter murmurs and suddenly his face is extremely close to Draco's, and their noses are almost touching.
What is this, what is this? What's he doing? Draco's brain spins around and he's becoming dizzy again. The train is about to crash. He tries to think boy, boy, boy in his head, but a stupid, irrational part of him knows that the fact that Potter is male is a moot and irrelevant at this point.
Potter's mouth is slightly open and Draco wants to stumble back but he can't. His feet seem to have become planted in the ground, and they're heavier than lead now. He can't run even if he wants to. He doesn't want to.
He looks up at Harry, noticing the fear and uncertainty in those green eyes that mirror his own hesitation. For the first time ever, if Draco were to ask, Scared, Potter?, he might get a yes in reply.
So he's waiting with his eyes closed. When did his eyes close? Waiting…waiting…for what? What is even about to happen? Merlin, what is he about to do? He's not even sure.
Nothing happens. He tries to pretend that he's not disappointed.
"Harry, what's going on?"
Two shrill voices getting louder and louder and how can Draco hear anything at all when there's still a loud roaring in his ears?
He feels hands push him away, and unwillingly stumbles back. As his eyes open, he sees Potter backing away from him, mouth still open. Potter's eyes are wide and the bright spots on his cheeks have gone from pink to red.
"Harry, what are you doing?"
Draco looks around in the dark, and sees two shadowy figures running towards them. One of them has messy curls bouncing around. The other figure looks unnaturally lanky and tall.
Muddy and the Weasel. Draco immediately feels irritated at this interruption.
"Just playing some Quidditch," Potter croaks.
"Is that Malfoy?" The Weasel roars out and seems to pick up even more speed.
"We're just playing Quidditch," Potter can't seem to find his voice.
"Now? In the dark?" Granger's voice sounds frantic and has a screeching note tacked on to it.
"Yeah. Just showing Malfoy here that I can still wipe the field with his sorry arse."
Draco frowns. Potter is not only a quick liar, but a malicious one. He feels hurt by this flippant comment. Such a stark contrast to Potter's warm murmurs earlier. Before, Draco seemed to be the center of Potter's universe, and now he's easily dismissable.
"But why?" Weasel is near now, and Draco can see the millions of freckles in the moonlight.
"Because, I haven't been able to beat him yet this year. Called him out to a challenge."
"What were you doing with him after playing Quidditch?" Granger still sounds screechy. Draco can see every frizzy hair of hers now.
"Er. Nothing?" Potter hedges a reply. Draco himself has edged his way behind Potter. He doesn't want to look at them, and he doesn't want them to look at him.
"What were you doing to him?" Ron asks.
"Nothing!" Potter's voice is starting to get screechy too.
Yeah. Nothing. And it just makes Draco furious. Furious with Potter, and furious with himself, because all of a sudden he feels like punching Potter for not doing the thing he'd punched Blaise for doing last year. Why is he so upset? He grits his teeth, just wanting Muddy, Weasel, and even Potter to leave.
"We've been looking for you everywhere," Granger scolds, and Draco begins to believe that girls really are from a different planet where they learn how to perfect that scolding, reproachful voice.
"Well, you've found me."
"You haven't been around at all lately," whines Granger. "We thought you were at detention."
"Not playing Quidditch with…" Ron just blanches, apparently not able to finish the sentence.
"I don't have to tell you guys where I am every second," Potter defends. Draco feels a surge of hope that maybe Potter won't be coming up with another stinging lie. That maybe Potter might start defending Draco too, and not just himself. That he might even give Muddy and Weasel a nugget of the truth.
After all, even Draco had told Blaise that he'd been starting to get to know Potter. That Potter was okay. He would think that with all that supposed Gryffindor chivalry Potter might do the same.
I mean, the git was about to kiss me. He's not even supposed to be gay. Isn't this somewhat of a big deal? He soon realizes that clearly he had overestimated the friendship between the three, because Potter doesn't really say much of anything at all.
"Have you been spending time with…this whole time?"
Draco hasn't realized that his name is as taboo as the Dark Lords. He's not even 'You-Know-Who'. Apparently, the Weasel can't even voice his name.
"No. It's just Quidditch." Potter begins to walk away from Draco towards his two friends. "It's nothing."
"Just rubbing in the win afterwards?" asks Weasel.
"Yeah. Have to let him know who's better."
"You don't need to tell anyone that," Weasel smiles maliciously at Malfoy. "He's not just a loser at Quidditch."
Draco curls his lip up at the Weasel. How unwitty. He's just another lousy brute, and it makes Draco ache knowing that Potter has been friends with that for so many years. It also makes him ache when Potter just laughs along.
It's a burning sort of ache that rolls fitfully through his whole body. He doesn't even notice that his hands are clenched into fists.
"Let's go," Granger murmurs, tugging on Potter's arm. The trio de force together again. Draco thinks they paint an ugly portrait together. Potter's suddenly not as attractive with Muddy and Weasel flanking his sides.
They pull Potter away and Potter doesn't even turn around to wave. Draco heaves heavy breaths as he watches them turn to nothing but shadow.
As with their encounter with Blaise, Potter had run off. Except this time, he'd been unusually detached and cold. It reminds Draco of the Potter that he had been used to since first year, but not the Potter that Draco had grown used to this past month. Instead of that twinkling good humor, there is only wretched detachment.
The moment Potter is with his Gryffindor herd, Draco becomes something akin to dirt under Potter's shoe. Potter leaves Draco trembling angrily, furious with Potter's dismissal and furious at himself for imagining that Potter could be different.
Why had he even let Potter almost kiss him? Why had he wanted it to happen? He doesn't even like boys.
…He almost liked Potter. Draco wipes his lips with the back of his hand. He can almost taste Potter on them. He wants to scrub the feel of Potter off of him.
He shouldn't have let himself get to know Potter. Shouldn't have let Potter get to know him. He wonders what Potter will tell Weasley and Granger. It makes him nervous thinking about how much Potter could tell them.
In these few minutes, Draco has changed his mind about Potter again. Potter's no longer interesting or witty. He's only quick on his feet and only interested in Draco when it suits his own interests and schedule. Potter is different from Blaise and Pansy. At least they're willing to openly admit when they're selfish pigs.
Clearly he and Potter aren't friends after all. He and Potter aren't anything.
October 28, 1996 – Gryffindor Boys Dormitory
Harry brushes Ron and Hermione off easily. All he has to do is tell them how much of a prick Malfoy is and how he was only trying to teach Malfoy a lesson. Then, he just has to listen to them telling him to stay away from Malfoy, because he'll only get in more trouble. He just has to listen to them tell him that Malfoy's not worth it.
His mouth feels dirty and dry afterwards. His ears hurt. He feels guilty all over again, almost worse than he did after he had used that stupid curse on Malfoy.
He crawls into his bed still in his Quidditch warm-ups with the sweat still sticking to his back. It is stiflingly hot in the bed, but Harry doesn't want to move. Closing his eyes, he lets his head bang repeatedly against the headboard a few times until there is a numb pain settling in at the back of his head.
It doesn't replace the ache that's settled in his chest and stomach. His chest hurts and his stomach twists.
He should have said something. Something to let Malfoy know he wasn't serious about the 'sorry arse' comment. Something to let Malfoy know he wasn't leaving on purpose. Something to let Malfoy know he was sorry for Ron's last scathing comment.
He didn't though. He couldn't say anything. He didn't want to face Ron or Hermione. He didn't want to face himself. So he had turned away.
He had pushed and pushed at Malfoy to talk to him. It had been fragile, what moments they had. Harry had easily broken whatever it was, especially when Malfoy had started to like him.
Liking him. Harry isn't sure what kind of liking it is. Or was. Were they friends? It was never the same dynamic he had with Ron and Hermione. It was different.
He thinks back to the pitch. He thinks about Malfoy's eyes fluttering shut as Harry leans in. Harry doesn't even know what he's doing. Isn't even sure what he had really wanted. He had almost kissed Malfoy. He could feel Malfoy's breath against his mouth.
Why had he almost done that? Why had he wanted to almost do that? I don't like boys….do I?
Malfoy's lips had looked pink, still soft after flying in the wind. His hair was disheveled and fell into his gray eyes. Harry sometimes thought those gray eyes looked silver, like liquid pools of molten metal.
Harry had caught Malfoy looking at him sometimes when he thought Harry wasn't looking. Harry hadn't been sure what those glances meant, but it had clicked when he saw Malfoy on the pitch, robes rumpled.
Because, he realizes why he would catch himself looking over at Malfoy. There is something alluring about that white blond hair, and that pale as porcelain skin. It isn't cold the way Harry had thought, but instead it makes Malfoy look softer. More vulnerable.
In the moonlight, Harry thought Malfoy looked ethereally beautiful.
It reminds Harry of when he first realizes what a fragile human being Malfoy really is. He pictures Malfoy on the bathroom floor gazing helplessly up at both him and Moaning Myrtle. That almost dead, desperate, and helpless look in his eyes.
Lately, Harry had seen that look slowly spark back to life.
He had gone from just wanting Malfoy's forgiveness to wanting so much more. Malfoy had seemed willing to give him both.
I don't like boys. But I do like Malfoy. It's an easier thought to admit and digest when he's all alone in the dark. When Ron and Hermione aren't staring wide-eyed at him wanting to hear the lie instead of the truth.
Tomorrow he'll go make amends. Yet, there's an unsettling feeling that lingers telling him that maybe it won't be so easy. Telling him that he might have just thrown away his chance at something meaningful with Malfoy.
It keeps him up late into the night. He finds himself counting down the hours until daylight, just so he could find the other boy and make things right again.
Malfoy won't talk to him. He's ignoring Harry again, with even more vehemence than before. There's no sharp glares or frustrated sighs thrown his way. All he gets from Malfoy is icy indifference.
This stings more. At least before Malfoy had been paying attention to Harry. He had acknowledged Harry's existence, albeit thinking it was annoying. Now, Malfoy doesn't even notice Harry. It is blunt dismissal, like Malfoy has forgotten about him completely.
Harry doesn't know what to do. How does he tell Malfoy that he's sorry for just running out on the field when Malfoy won't even listen to him, let alone look at him?
A sinking feeling in his stomach reminds Harry that maybe he's just been saying sorry far too often.
During Potions, he tries to throw tiny balls of parchment at Malfoy's head when he's sure no one else is looking. He barely even flinches. It irritates Harry.
In his own defense, he begins to think that he hasn't done anything so bad. What would Malfoy had done if it had been Blaise walking up on them in an almost kiss. He'd freak too. Maybe he'd even punch Harry. In fact, Malfoy should consider himself lucky that all Harry did was mildly insult him.
Harry's conscious tells him that he shouldn't have let Ron get away with the nasty comment at the end. That maybe he should have asserted to his dearest friends that Malfoy isn't bad at all.
But, at the time, he had been caught by surprise. Hardly anyone could blame him so harshly for his actions.
Indignant, he intends on cornering Malfoy anyway right after Potions, not to apologize, but to demand a chance to explain. Now its own honor and courage at stake.
Ron sneaks up behind him first, making Harry cringe. He's in a bad state if he desperately wants to shrug off his best friend of six years just to approach Malfoy.
"Why are you in such a hurry?" Ron asks, slinging an arm around Harry.
"Wanted to get out of Snape's classroom fast," Harry lies easily. When did he become so good at lying? It is as if he can't admit anything honestly when it comes to Malfoy. He is not sure what he's scared of. He tries to think that maybe it isn't him, and maybe it should be a warning sign to him that if he can't disclose what he has been up to with Malfoy to his friends, then maybe he shouldn't be up to anything with the Slytherin at all.
Deep down he knows he's scared of something. Scared of Ron getting upset with him. Scared of Hermione worrying about him. Scared of them saying things about Malfoy he doesn't want to hear. Scared of them overreacting. Scared of revealing whatever it is he has with Malfoy, because frankly he doesn't have a clue himself. Scared of disclosing, because somehow his conversations with Malfoy seem more special when no one else knows and no one else can say anything.
He doesn't want to tell them for the same reasons he didn't tell them about the notes. This is his own.
At least he's lucky that his friends trust him, although lately he has been misusing that trust. Ron easily believes him.
"Who doesn't want to get out of here?" Ron's still grinning from ear to ear and Harry wonders why the bloody hell what Ron's so happy about.
"So, I'm willing to wager a guess that you haven't thought about the Halloween Ball at all, and its in two days."
And it is true. Harry had not thought about the ball since his conversation with Malfoy. "Er…."
"You should think about asking Ginny," Ron's still beaming at Harry like a circus clown on uppers.
"She doesn't have anyone to go with yet, neither do you. It would be perfect."
"I wasn't even really thinking about going."
"That's stupid. You're going. Seamus managed to get some Ogden's." He waggles his eyebrows at Harry. "Should be fun."
"Don't you think it'd give Ginny the wrong idea?"
"What idea?" Ron gives Harry the most fake blank face possible.
"Oh, I don't know. That I might like her as more than a friend."
"No! She'd know. I mean, Hermione and I are just going as friends."
Harry rolls his eyes at Ron. Either his two friends are both in denial or Ron is just flat out lying.
"Fine. I'll ask her," Harry sights, and he tries to make it sound not long-suffering. It comes out a bit like a whine though.
On Halloween, he's stuck going to the Ball with Ginny Weasley. Harry wears a costume put together at the very last minute.
"What are you supposed to be?" asks Ron.
"Er. A prefect?"
"You just wore your school robes and nicked my badge and you're calling it a costume?"
"I have a mask!" Harry pulls an old tie with holes cut into it out of his pocket.
"You look like a bandit prefect," Hermione remarks. "You know, Ginny spent a lot of time on her costume."
"Well, it's not like I have that kind of time," Harry hisses.
When Ginny comes down, Harry swallows nervously. She seems to have curled every piece of hair and spent time strategically placing glitter and jewels all over her body. She appears to be a fairy, and it's obvious that she must have spent hours charming the delicate wings on her back. The moment she smiles charmingly at him, eyelashes fluttering, Harry knows that Ron Weasley is a liar.
Going as just friends his arse. This is a set-up.
He makes sure to take a few big swigs out of Seamus' Firewhisky before they go downstairs.
Harry is bored out of his mind. He is bored out of his skull. He is so bored that it literally hurts. His head is done buzzing from the Firewhisky and he's talked to Ginny for as long as he possibly can before the conversation fizzles and dies painfully. They've talked about Quidditch and classes and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. They've even tried dancing, but that was too excruciating for Harry. The awkward bobbing and twisting on the dance floor and he isn't sure where to put his hands. Where's the difference between 'Hey, let's just be friends, and 'Hey, let's go to the Astronomy Tower'?
He goes back to sit down and watches Ginny glower as she tries to find a more willing dance partner. He looks around and spots Pansy Parkinson dancing with Crabbe. She looks just as sour as Ginny.
Where's Malfoy? He glances around some more, and there isn't a white-blond head to be spotted anywhere. Harry even gets up to circulate the room and there's no sign of him. The boy isn't there. Or if he is, he's very good at hiding.
He spends another five minutes trying to locate Malfoy, another five minutes watching his friends, and another five minutes staring blankly at all the decorations, before Harry realizes that needs to leave before he screams.
The moment he slips out of the Great Hall, two thoughts occur to him. One, he has a very good guess about where Malfoy might be. Two, Harry knows exactly where he will start heading now.
October 31, 1996 – Room of Requirement.
Potter gave up. It is Halloween today and Potter's already given up. He thought Potter might try harder, but its clear that Potter's changed his mind. Potter hadn't even tried to go up to the Room of Requirement. Draco only sees him in the hallways, catching glimpses of him sandwiched shoulder to shoulder by Weasley and Granger.
They're clingier than Pansy.
Draco has been good at ignoring Potter, but its impossible to ignore Ginny Weasley's high-pitched squeals of delight in the Great Hall. He had looked up and seen Potter grinning bashfully, and for some reason, he had knownexactly what had happened.
Potter had asked Weasley Junior to the Halloween Ball.
It makes him angrier than it should. He slams his fork down and leaves to go smash things in the Room of Requirement. The ugly statue bust where he and Potter had stored their messages to each other is already broken into pieces on the ground.
He refuses to go to the ball after that. He isn't going to see Potter acting like a fake around his Gryffindor horde. Out of principle, he decides not to even go to the ball. It is phony anyway. Full of people dressed up in costumes and pretending to be people they weren't. Boys being nice just to maybe get something after the dance, and girls being prissy to pretend they don't want it.
Balls are phony, just like Potter. Potter is the biggest phony Draco knows. How dare Potter pretend that he cares about Draco? Pretend that he wants to help Draco? Pretend that he'll be friendly to Draco? The moment Potter's other friends come along, Potter suddenly pulls the switch and behaves like a total prick. It's so fake. It's beyond even Slytherin dishonesty, because at least Slytherins are open about their slimy deeds. Potter tries to hide it behind a mask of pure and noble intentions.
It pisses Draco off.
So, Halloween finds Draco in the Room of Requirement tearing through boxes with frustration, instead of at the ball. He's going to find the solution tonight. He's going to be done with these stupid boxes.
The boxes are overturned and flipped over with their contents spilling out. Draco has abandoned the pretense of order and is just flinging papers aside looking through the boxes, hoping that maybe something might just finally catch his eye.
Papers fly every where as Draco crawls on hands and knees, searching. He shuffles papers around with his hands and pushes other papers aside, until he sees it. Something that's not just a single sheet of paper.
It is a leather bound booklet, small enough to fit in Draco's pocket. He immediately reaches for it and flips through the pages.
His heart hammers as he takes in the notes and the numbers. The dates. The signatures. The transactions. The account details.
This is it.
What he's spent months looking for. This little book isn't about withdrawals and assets like the other documents. This little book is primarily about deposits. With a keen eye, he can figure out exactly how Father is taking care of business, and if there's anything Draco can do to help.
However, Draco's soaring spirit begins to plummet when he takes in further details about Lucius' supposed business.
It's becoming more and more clear that Father never intended for him or Mother to find this bankbook. The transactions inside don't make sense. The deposits are small and incredibly frequent. It wouldn't make sense for Father to do business this way.
He double-checks the date. The book must magically update itself, because there's a transaction written down for today.
As Draco reads through all the numbers carefully, he knows that Father definitely did not want him to find this, because it doesn't take an accounting expert to realize what Father's doing. It is some sort of secret, offshore bank account located on some island. Cayman Island. Definitely nowhere near the United Kingdom or Europe. Draco doesn't even recognize name of the bank or its logo. The name sounds so plain though, so Merlin forbid, maybe his father is using an offshore Muggle bank.
The idea of it makes Draco shiver. What the bloody hell did Father do?
These deposits were going to Father's account straight from Minister Fudge himself. But it isn't a salary. Not only has Father not worked for the Ministry since he was dismissed from the Board of Educators, but Father rarely steps foot into the Ministry. Unless, Draco admits bitterly, he's trying to break in.
And again, these transaction amounts are way too small for it to be a salary.
Why would Cornelius Fudge want to give his Father so much money? These transactions date back to beyond ten years. When its all adds up over the years, Father has enough disposable income to buy separate manors for him, Mother, and Draco. There are hundreds and thousands of galleons that has accumulated over the years.
Draco notices something else. The recipient of these deposits isn't Lucius Malfoy. It's someone named Flamcius Yoflam. An easy enough anagram that Draco knows can only mean Lucius Malfoy.
Why would Father be getting monetary deposits from Cornelius Fudge under a fake name? At an Muggle bank? He glances at one of the withdrawal statements that he's tossed to the ground.
The accounts that Mother uses gets funding from one of the accounts stated in this book. Draco grabs another withdrawal statement. Similarly, the money is coming from an account in the bankbook.
There is something wrong here. This bank book reeks of fraud. These numbers are clearly cooked. The deposits are fake. Draco knows that he's at the beginning of a steep paper trail of embezzlement that already points fingers at his Father and Cornelius Fudge.
It's so cleverly simple in its deception. So much money runs through the Ministry. The Ministry's budget is known to be exorbitant and a couple hundred thousand galleons funneled to ghost employees and ghost projects would never be noticed or missed. The Ministry is too busy to conduct audits of the departments anyway.
Wondering why Cornelius Fudge would help Father, he flips further on in the book. It includes transactions to someone named Delius Fournge. Also known as Cornelius Fudge.
The Minister himself is embezzling money from the Ministry.
Draco's heart pounds. So, Father has been taking care of it by going in on a deal with the Ministry. There's nothing Draco can do to stop this without incriminating his Father further.
He toys with the idea of blackmailing the Minister for Father's freedom, but know he's not skilled enough at trickery to do so. If Fudge has been getting away with embezzlement for over a decade, he could probably outwit Draco.
There's nothing Draco can do but keep his mouth shut. He doesn't know what to do with the book though, but put it in his pocket. It's not safe enough to hide it up here. Not safe enough to put up in his room. Hardly safe enough to carry all the time. It needs to go back to the Manor, but Draco isn't about to send his Mother further proof of Father's crook-like behavior and hope she'll just return it safely to Father's study.
The bankbook is burning a hole in his pocket as he slowly begins to walk out of the Room of Requirement. He focuses on breathing and touching his pocket every few seconds to make sure the book hasn't fallen out.
He almost has a heart attack when he runs straight into Harry Potter.
Draco screams. He sees Potter and he screams. His heart nearly flies out of his chest.
"Malfoy?" Potter stares at him with concern.
"You scared the bloody hell out of me," says Draco, one hand on his chest and the other on his pocket.
"Clearly." Potter looks at him. "Are you okay?"
"Fine, absolutely fine." Draco tries not squeak, and he feels stupid that he's gripping his heart and arse at the same time. "What are you doing up here?"
"Couldn't stand the ball."
"Told you it might be." Draco slowly lets go of his pocket. The surprise and fear begin giving way to anger and suspicion. Once he regained control, he remembers that he's thoroughly pissed at Potter. If it weren't for the bankbook in his pocket and his fear that it might fall out, he would be ready to launch himself towards Potter, fists first.
"Why did you come up here?" He says, glaring.
"I thought you might be up here."
Draco just continues to stare coldly at Potter. "And what does that have to do with anything?"
"Look, Malfoy. I just wanted to tell you about the other day…I'm sorry that I just walked off without saying anything. It wasn't right."
"Stop apologizing for things you're really not sorry for," Draco says. He doesn't want Potter to start his 'I'm sorry' shit again—he's sick of it. "It's getting old."
"I am sorry," Potter says earnestly. "I really am."
Potter's a phony coward that ran away. Not to mention an evil, lying prick that almost convinced Draco to be attracted towards him. That almost convinced Draco it would be okay to kiss him.
He resists the urge to spit at Potter as he hisses, "If you were sorry, you would have done something about it sooner. You haven't bothered for days, why bother now?"
"You didn't want me to bother!"
"And I still don't. So again, why try now?"
"Because," Potter shifts his weight from side to side.
"Because maybe all your friends are having a grand old time at the ball, and you were bored and thought maybe you'd find me?"
"That's not it!"
"That's the way it seems."
"That's not it at all!" Potter exclaims.
Potter, this is the way it seems: we have fun, we talk, we play Quidditch. Weasley and Granger show up and not only is it all lies, but you go back to treating me like shit. Make up your mind about me. Either I'm worth the time or I'm not." Without taking a breath, it all comes out. His chest is heaving by the time he's done talking.
"You're worth the time."
"Prove it," Draco hisses. "You haven't proved it yet."
Oh Merlin. What is he saying? Just punch Potter in the face and stop fucking talking. How could Potter prove anything anyway?
Harry steps closer. "Fine. Next time, they see us, I won't run off."
"Don't just give me the time of day when it's convenient." Draco thinks he's beginning to sound like Pansy and hopes that he's not sounding like a whining little girl. He is also beginning to feel slightly hysterical.
"I give the time of day because I want to!" Potter shouts. He clears his throat. "I mean, I'm here now, because I want to help."
"Oh that again. Don't bother." Again, that feeling of both disappointment and anger.
"I don't need the help anymore?" Unconciously, he touches his pocket.
"Why? Did you find something?" Potter looks curiously over Draco's shoulder. "Why is there such a mess?"
"Because it was more efficient that way. I should actually clean that up." Draco walks backward towards it, keeping his eye on Potter.
"What did you find?"
"You're crap at lying under pressure."
Ouch. A harsh sting. He hates Potter. "I'm not lying," Draco says through clenched teeth.
"Fine, then why suddenly do you not need help? If you don't want the help, you'd say you don't want my help."
"It's the same thing."
"It's not," Potter insists.
"Well, then I found what I needed to find and it wasn't a big deal. I'm just relieved now and feel bad for wasting both of our time."
"If you were merely relieved, you'd look more elated than nervous." Potter scrutinizes Draco. "What did you find?"
"Let it rest, Potter."
"You need to stop keeping secrets."
"I'm not. It's not keeping secrets if I don't trust you."
"Fucking hell, Malfoy. Just because I walked out on you on the pitch a few days ago doesn't mean you have to throw such a dramatic fit about it. I haven't done anything untrustworthy. Haven't I kept every single one of your secrets? My absence for a few days doesn't equal my being untrustworthy."
"Maybe you keep too many secrets too well. Don't throw the fucking secret card at me. Who are you to talk about secrets, when you won't even tell your friends about me? Don't talk to me about keeping secrets if you can't tell your closest friends that we've been hanging out. And oh yeah, speaking of what you walked out on when we were on the pitch, maybe you should tell them you might actually like me? And maybe, while you're at that, you could tell me what the fuck you were thinking those few seconds before they found us." Draco fumes.
It never really occurred to him until just now how much it bothered him that Harry couldn't tell Granger and Weasley that he'd been hanging out with Draco and enjoying that time. Even Draco had told Blaise that he had started enjoying Potter's company. Even Draco had been willing to admit that.
Potter's face flushes. "I didn't know that bothered you."
"Well, it does. Why should I trust you if you don't trust me?"
"I do trust you," Potter mutters. "I wouldn't have asked you for…that on the pitch if I didn't."
Draco sighs, "Really, Potter. When did we become this? It was easier when I hated you."
Potter smiles, "Yeah, but I like it better this way."
Damn that smile. Damn, damn, damn. Draco feels his anger with Potter slowly fade, and he's mad at just how quickly Potter can get him to change his mind.
"So, are you going to tell me what you found?"
That trust is there. It dangles in front of him, and Draco does is reach out and grab it. Tell Potter this final secret that could undo his whole family. It's a risk.
Potter reaches for Draco's waist and pulls him closer, "Tell me," he murmurs in Draco's ear.
And if he doesn't tell Harry, he risks being completely undone himself. He grips at Potter's robes.
"Just trust me," Potter whispers.
And Draco does. He reaches into his pocket to hand Potter the bank book. It's a leap of faith and he can only hope that Potter will catch his fall.
November 30, 1996 – Astronomy Tower
It's only been a month and too soon, Harry is leaving tomorrow. He tells Draco this on the first snowfall at the end of November. Dumbledore is taking Harry with him on a trip. Harry calls it destiny, and Draco calls it suicide.
Harry's hand covers his as they sit out on the Astronomy Tower rooftop. As much as it keeps Draco's hand warm, it startles Draco just how sensitive the skin on his hand is. Harry's hand sends thrills throughout Draco's entire body.
They sit in silence, because Draco can't speak past the lump in his throat. Plus, his voice must already be hoarse with screaming at Potter and telling him not to go.
He feels Harry's lips against his ear. "I'll come back." Potter slides a worn, leather bankbook into Draco's hand. "You can trust me, remember?"
"Stop walking out on me," Draco whispers fiercely, gripping the book. He knows Harry can keep his word, but Draco doesn't want him to leave, because he doesn't trust Dumbledore to bring Harry back.
"I'll walk back," Harry's lips are against Draco's cheek now. "Your cheeks are wet."
Draco wipes them with the back of his hand. "You better fucking come back."
"I will. I promise." Harry's mouth hovers over Draco's lips.
"What if you fail?"
"I don't like failing," Harry says, and his mouth reaches Draco's lips, capturing them. Their lips crush together and Draco never wants to let go. It's bliss and heaven. It's better than flying. He feels light and free, like he could float away because of this one moment.
Harry makes him feel extraordinary and alive. That for once, he's actually living.
When Harry leaves in the morning, Draco feels a cold, dull ache settle into his bones that doesn't have anything to do with the weather. He feels the weight of a bankbook in his pocket as he watches Harry walk away with Dumbledore with his face pressed up against the glass.
Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.