Warnings: Character deaths
Notes: Wow. This was my first time attempting (or, more accurately, getting anywhere near completing) anything this long. I couldn’t have done it without three wonderful people: Satoru, who has been my beta from the beginning, and stuck with me even when I went AWOL for weeks on end; Corisu, who jumped in late in the game to help with the little details; and xrachelpaigex, who volunteered to beta and brit pick while we were discussing fan fiction in Physics class, and did a fantastic job. Thank you so much, ladies.
The title is shamelessly ripped from the following quote by Max Frisch: Time does not change us. It just unfolds us.
If you are reading this, you probably already know about me. You probably think this is a ploy to entice you with some heartbreaking sob story about all the bad things I went through, to make you realise that I‘m just ‘misunderstood’.
I know that changing your mind about me is beyond my power, and I don’t know that I would do it if I could. This memoir is written more for my sake than anyone else’s. I’m just trying to write down the facts of the case, so that I can sort out for myself how I came to be here. I’ll probably get things wrong along the way, but I'll do what I can. As long as I can pretend someone will read this, I believe (hope, dare to dream) that it will put my mind to rest. I’m not attempting to excuse anything. I only want to explain that this is not how I meant for things to be.
First: setting the scene. Not my life’s story, that’s unnecessary. If you care about it, you shouldn’t, it’s neither interesting nor particularly relevant. (Or, the parts that may be relevant aren’t fond memories). But nothing comes from nowhere, and the immediate background for the tale I’m going to tell seems appropriate.
Start by picturing yourself watching humiliation and laughing. The victim: a man (usually so strong, confident, daunting) writhing on the ground in pain, while you pretend to enjoy the spectacle. If you don’t play the game, you will be the next victim, and you’ve already gone through that once.
Now, realize that this picture, the sickening squirm it’s giving you in your stomach, that was my life.
I’m talking about after sixth year. After the attack on Hogwarts (yes, I brought that about. I said I’m not going to try to excuse or hide anything, and I won’t). It’s after Dumbledore’s death at Severus’s hands.
I was supposed to kill Dumbledore. Of course, history tells you that I didn’t. I couldn’t. And I don’t mean that I wasn’t able: he was unarmed, alone and at my mercy. But he was ill and fading, a ghostly shell of the Dumbledore I knew. I couldn’t say the words, I didn’t have the hate.
You might be interested to know that Dumbledore offered to take me out of the Dark Lord’s service. Optimistic fool that he was, even with my wand pointed straight at his heart, he wanted to help me. He believed that the boy who had almost killed two students was still redeemable. And—as sceptical of me as you are, you might not believe this—I was going to accept his offer. I was on the verge of lowering my wand, allowing Dumbledore to take me away to safety. I guess he wasn’t such a fool, after all.
But things didn’t work out, and he ended up dead. Life does that sometimes.
I was shocked when I didn’t end up dead too. I had failed at the task that the Dark Lord had set before me (he was very specific: I was to kill Dumbledore), and he had promised death—my own and my family’s—if I failed. Every Death Eater knows that the Dark Lord delivers on his threats.
However, Dumbledore’s death was such a success—the greatest we had ever had, according to the Dark Lord—that I escaped with only the pain of Crucio. It was a strange world to live in, where enduring Crucio meant I was lucky.
So, I lived, and I was a Death Eater for the months after that attack. I was a good little pet, following my Master’s orders with a smile on my face. I came when called, laughed while others endured unendurable pain. Sometimes it was Muggle-borns or Muggles who writhed on the floor. They were always left to die, our hidden, jeering faces the last thing they’d see. I wondered what the Muggles thought was happening to them. One man screamed about God, another aliens.
Mostly, though, the tortured were people I knew. Someone who had laughed as another suffered the day before. All in black, face masked, it could have been any of us. As memories blur together, the twitching, screaming figure loses its identity. I must have seen nearly every Death Eater suffer for his mistakes. I watched, and I accepted, because there was nothing else that I could do.
I had one thing (even one seems like a blessing now) to be grateful for: after my failure to kill Dumbledore, the Dark Lord seemed to decide that I was more or less useless (one more reason to be surprised he kept me alive). My pride was hurt, at first, when the only assignment he ever gave me was to assist Severus with his potion-making. After all, I had figured out how to get Death Eaters into Hogwarts (it was rather an ingenious plan, I still think. But then, I’m sure you know all about it). But on reflection, I realised that I was not being asked to maim and frighten and kill. Being deemed incompetent is a blessing when competency means you are called upon to murder. The closest I was ever allowed to get to Muggle torture was watching; I never cast Avada Kedavra on the Dark Lord’s orders.
I spent those months wandering the Manor, aimless. My days were spent worrying over how many people I would have to watch scream the next time my arm flared in pain. My only respites were the hours I spent chopping and peeling and dicing ingredients for Severus’s potions. Sheltered away at his house on Spinner’s End, working methodically, I was able to lose myself in the simplicity of the job. Blades of scurvy grass. Cubes of valerian roots. Murtlap tentacles. Each chop blocked that hideous memory of His voice from my ears. Each strain, each squeeze, took me further away from glazed eyes and Muggle blood splattering my robes. Focus on the measuring cup. Only think about the measuring cup.
This was my life.
I wanted (understandably, I hope) out. I had tasted freedom at Dumbledore’s words. I had been given a glimpse of its possibility, come close to it. But I knew what betrayal meant. I had spent too much of my sixth year imagining my mother’s cold body. I could see my father, finally released from Azkaban, still registering shock as he crumbled into a motionless mass.
I would not let my family be hurt.
My mother, my beautiful, distraught mother, saw things differently. At home, we would have the same conversation. Repeated so many times, it became a script, but we actors never forgot the passion behind our words.
“Draco,” she would say, hands fretting with her robe. “Darling, he never forgives. He’s just waiting. He’ll find a use for you, and when he’s done, he’ll find another task for you to die at. Get out before then!”
I would grab her hands, hold them still and whisper, “He would know that you helped. He would kill you. I won’t do that. I refuse to let you die.”
“There’s nothing you can do!” she would scream. “We can get you out, we have a plan. Severus has agreed—”
“Even Severus can’t keep you safe, mother!”
“And neither can you!”
“Yes, I can! I will do anything to keep you safe. Anything.” Even live my useless, hateful life forever.
Tears streamed down her face, always, as she replied, word for word: “But you will die. You will die, and what will your protection mean? I would rather know that you are free. I need to know that you are safe.”
“I am safe, as long as I keep appearances up. He had his chances to kill me and he hasn’t.”
But she would only shake her head and hug me. With my faced smashed into her robes, breathing in the smell of childhood comfort, I would hear her whisper into my hair. “No, no, no. You don’t know what he does. You don’t know.”
So, I was stationary. I had found a rhythm, playing the same part every day. Secretly waiting for the Dark Lord’s plans to crumble apart. Only then could I be free, could my family be safe. And until then, I was determined to do nothing to anger my Master. But sometimes, life forces action upon us.
This is where the story really begins.
It started with another call. Same routine as always: the Mark burns, Apparate to the cellars beneath Borgin & Burkes. Cold stone with the smell of dead rats. Candles swaying in no breeze. Hooded figures lurking in the flickering darkness. They—we—formed a circle, and at our head was a flattened, pale snake-face. This much was normal. Every week, every day, every moment was spent in service of the snake, losing myself behind a mask. That was just what I did, how I survived.
What was not normal was the Dark Lord’s glee, the triumphant energy that danced through the air, sending static up my arms. I knew—we all knew—that whatever news the Dark Lord had for us tonight was good. Better than good. I did not want to know. One more step towards success meant one more step towards never ridding myself of the Dark Lord’s reign.
Skin stretched thin in a twisted smile, red eyes gleaming, the Dark Lord silenced our murmurs with a wave.
“It seems that everyone has managed to make it this evening. I am quite glad. The news I have for you will surely make it worth your while.” His eyes rested on Amycus, who had suffered the consequences of absence only days before. Amycus wheezed slightly and agreed: surely, surely. Anything our Lord had to say was worth dropping everything for. “Bellatrix,” the Dark Lord continued, ignoring Amycus’s stuttering. “Fetch our…visitor.”
With a smug nod, Aunt Bellatrix Apparated. For a moment, I reflected that she must be happy, already knowing who had been captured when the rest of us were uninformed. But my aunt’s triumphs in the Dark Lord’s eyes were forgotten as he continued—
“Tonight, I have had the greatest success in months. The greatest success since that senile, meddling pest was killed.” The energy in the room jumped. Dumbledore’s death had been considered a nearly unequivocal victory. “Soon, soon, this will be the greatest success of all. The greatest.”
With those words, we all knew what had happened. There was only one person the Dark Lord valued so much. But I was still startled when Aunt Bellatrix reappeared, wand pressed into her prisoner’s mess of black hair. I had wished his defeat many times over our years of rivalry. He came to the brink of killing me, in sixth year (Did you know that? Are you surprised?), and in the days I spent recovering, I had imagined him at my mercy. Imagined his body limp as I kicked him, cursed him, made him bleed.
But I was unprepared to really see the hero of the Wizarding World only a few feet away, bound and gagged. Helpless. Aunt Bellatrix gave him a disdainful shove and Harry Potter crumpled to the ground at the Dark Lord’s feet.
There were rips in his Muggle jeans; his white shirt was spotted red. His scar, enflamed to the point of glowing, stood out against pale skin, and his hair was matted with blood. He glared at the Dark Lord, angry and hateful, but utterly obstinate. He pushed himself onto his knees, steady and confident, not the heap of broken despair that I had come to expect from captives. Harry Potter, looking death in the eye, was defiant.
I felt the first flash of admiration.
The people around me gasped and whispered with appropriate delight. I remained silent. Harry was kneeling bravely, but I was standing shaking. Distraught and afraid. Cowardly (how’s that for honesty?). I saw in Harry’s lean figure the same thing as everyone else: the final key to the Dark Lord’s success. His bloodied features spelled out the downfall of the Wizarding World. And that meant that I would never, could never get the freedom I longed for.
“How…how did you…?” This was Wormtail, expressing the feelings of everyone present. The Dark Lord laughed. It was a cold, chilling laugh that I had come to loathe.
“Harry wasn’t being as careful as he should have been,” he said. “Am I right, Harry?”
Harry merely continued to stare.
“The Dark Lord asked you a question!” Aunt Bellatrix sneered. Harry cast her a contemptuous look. Aunt Bellatrix was always ready for games, and ‘Imperius the Imprisoned’ was one she excelled at. She whipped out her want and snapped the curse quickly. “Answer him!” For a moment, Harry looked slack-jawed, his eyes glazed. He began, slowly, to incline his head. But then his eyes snapped back into focus and he sneered back at her.
I had my second flash of admiration.
Aunt Bellatrix looked ready to murder him then and there, but the Dark Lord stopped whatever she had in mind by booming “Enough!” Aunt Bellatrix paused, and then stepped back, abashed. I fleetingly thought that whatever she had done to earn early knowledge of Harry’s capture had just been wasted. Sometimes she liked games too much for her own good.
“Harry will answer on his own terms,” the Dark Lord continued, and flashed his wand. “Now that you can speak, Harry, tell these nice people how sloppy you were being tonight.”
Harry laughed, Harry laughed, an odd broken sort of laugh, but still said nothing. The Dark Lord considered him.
“He was caught at Godric’s Hollow, crying over his parents’ graves,” he finally said. “Completely alone. Sentimental idiocy,” he added with a sneer. “Ironic, isn’t it, Harry? That love should get you captured so easily?”
I didn’t understand the point being made, but something like pain flickered across Harry’s face.
“I thought love was supposed to save you,” the Dark Lord continued. “Isn’t that what your beloved Dumbledore always said?”
At Dumbledore’s name, Harry’s resolve cracked a little. He trembled, with rage rather than fear, but it was enough to make him respond.
“You don’t know anything about love,” he said in a quiet, resolved voice.
“Perhaps not. But I do appear to know much more than you about success.” This was said with a smile at the Death Eaters, and they laughed appreciatively, as expected. I, however, kept my stoic silence. I couldn’t laugh as my hopes evaporated before my eyes. I couldn’t, not even to keep up appearances. That moment was too much. Harry seemed so sure, but I knew, knew that he was going to die. How could he possibly escape?
“You call this success?” Harry retorted. “Having no friends, only servants? Destroying everything?” He was bold. Daring. Crazy. I began to wonder if his apparent confidence was really his way of showing that he knew he was going to die. Maybe he just didn’t want to go out begging.
“Yes, Harry. I do call that success,” the Dark Lord said calmly. Proudly. “After all, I have the upper hand, and am soon to strike a very important blow. You must know that with your death, complete victory will be mine. You have failed, and your precious friendships did nothing to stop that.”
Harry shook his head. “You will only have complete victory when every single person who has ever stood against you is go—”
“Enough!” Aunt Bellatrix growled, her earlier reprimanding momentarily forgotten. The Dark Lord glared at her, and she added, “Is it not time to strike the final blow, My Lord? We all long—not as much as you, My Lord, of course, but very much—to see this nuisance gone.”
“Yes,” Harry agreed. “Aren’t you going to kill me? Or are you afraid you’re going to fail like all the other times you’ve tried?”
Aunt Bellatrix hissed, but was composed enough to keep silent. For once.
The Dark Lord remained quite for a few moments, simply observing Harry. Then he let out a low smattering of hisses. Parseltongue. Someone whispered “What?” He was shushed. Harry understood, of course, and frowned. He shook his head and let out a sharp hiss in response. The Dark Lord smiled.
Turning towards Aunt Bellatrix, he told her (and all of us) that no, now was not the time to kill Harry. In fact, Harry was to be sent to Spinner’s End. I glanced at Severus; he didn’t react to the news. I assumed it wasn’t news to him.
“But…why?” Aunt Bellatrix ventured.
“There is something I have to…get out of him,” the Dark Lord replied.
“What information could be worth postponing his death? What will we need to know, after he is gone!?”
“You over step your boundaries, Bellatrix,” Severus cut in, speaking softly. Placating. I was surprised; he never spoke out of turn. But the Dark Lord seemed undisturbed, and merely inclined his head.
“Yes,” he agreed. “The business I have with the Potter boy does not involve you.”
My aunt huffed, crossed her arms over her chest, and glared icily at Severus.
“Certainly, My Lord. I am sorry.”
Harry watched this exchange with a deepening frown. His jaw clenched when Severus spoke, his eyes narrowing into angry green slits. His face drained of whatever colour it had, so that little flecks of blood stood out like dirt on snow. Like contamination.
The rest of the Death Eaters knew enough to keep their silence, though they must have felt Aunt Bellatrix’s discontent. Here was the prize of all prizes, dangling in front of their faces, and the hand holding it was keeping it just out of reach. But the Dark Lord knew best, and protest would only show their ignorance. And, most likely, get them a nice bout of the Cruciatus. There’s no stronger motivator for silence than that.
“Harry,” the Dark Lord continued, “will be guarded at all times. Rabastan and Alecto will go with Severus now. The rest will be contacted when needed.”
With that, the Dark Lord whirled and disappeared in a flare of black robes.
My mother’s script was revised that night. As she paced across my bedroom floor, her pleas became demands; her normally tear-streaked cheeks were dry and flushed. She knew what Harry Potter’s capture meant for us. For me. For freedom. She knew what she wanted me to do, and she brought reinforcement.
Mother shoved a mirror into my hands.
“I know you won’t even begin to listen, if I tell you,” she said. Resentful. Affectionate. Very correct. “But we’ve talked it over, and maybe you’ll listen to him.”
I looked down. From within the gilded frame (gold, vines, Malfoy crest) Severus Snape looked up at me, his eyebrows drawn together.
“I don’t have much time,” he said. “So listen to your mother when I’m done, Draco. Tomorrow night, I’m freeing Potter, and you are coming with me.”
My lips parted, words caught in my throat.
“You’re doing what?” I managed. Severus gave me the exasperated look usually reserved for Neville Longbottom.
“Rescuing Potter and leaving. You are coming with us. Don’t act so surprised, Draco! After the number of times I’ve offered to get you out, did you really think that I was loyal to the Dark Lord?”
This gave me pause. The answer was no. Obviously, no. Severus was loyal to himself. To my family. To me. Not to the Dark Lord, not on principle. But he wasn’t loyal to Harry fucking Potter either, and there was no reason for him to risk everything over The Boy Who Lived. I told him as much.
“Draco, I don’t have the time to argue over ideology,” he snapped. “Suffice to say, I’m doing it for a reason that satisfies me. And you are coming because it is the only opportunity you have to do so that will not incriminate your mother.”
“I don’t see how,” I retorted. I didn’t. Abandonment was abandonment, and running off with the Dark Lord’s most important prisoner hardly seemed to make the situation better for those I left behind.
“Your mother will explain. I need to go before I’m missed. Listen to her, Draco. Do what she asks you.” With that, his imaged vanished, leaving my own reflection staring back at me, wide eyed and frowning.
“Well, will you listen to me now, without your arguing?” Mother asked.
Putting down the mirror, I took a heavy breath, and nodded.
“Good,” she said, and smiled. Relieved. Hopeful.
“Would you like to explain to me what’s going on?”
“Yes, my Draco. I would. Severus and I have been talking—”
“—since the Dark Lord told him about Harry Potter.”
“And you didn’t tell me?”
“We wanted to make our plan first.”
“Your plan. About me. That you didn’t even consult me about.” I sounded petulant even to my own ears. (I believed I had some right to be annoyed. I still do, though now I can see their wisdom. I don’t think I would have ever agreed if they hadn’t sprung their arrangement on me, fully formed.)
“Yes, my darling. Our plan about you, with which we needed none of your consultation. We are consulting you now.”
“I don’t see that you’re giving me many options.”
“Wait until I tell you about it before you protest!” She was getting frustrated. I couldn’t blame her; I was being obstinate and knew it. I didn’t like being told that I was going to be risking everything to save someone whom I had never liked. Can you blame me? If Harry died, my situation could only get worse, true. But this was Harry Potter. The-Boy-Who-Lived-Over-And-Over-Again. Fate was always on his side, without me having to get mixed up in any of it.
“Fine, tell me. What ingenious plan keeps the Dark Lord from killing you once I run off with Potter?”
“Well, it’s simple, really.”
“The Dark Lord trusts Severus completely.”
“He did kill Dumbledore,” I agreed.
“Exactly. And that puts you in the perfect position. Harry Potter is protected by more than guards, of course. But all of the protective spells are Severus’s.”
I nodded, and filled in the blank. “All we have to do is get rid of the guards, then.”
“Yes. The house is being monitored, of course, so you won’t have much time before someone realises what you’ve done. But it should be enough, once the guards are out.”
“Hopefully. And how exactly are we supposed to overcome two guards, and not implicate you? If you help us fight—”
“Who said anything about fighting? Really Draco, you know better. That would raise the alarm too quickly.”
“Then, what?” She was rarely condescending, but she was then, and it annoyed me. I didn’t have the intellect of a five-year-old just because I couldn’t see through her veil of hints and comprehend her glorious master plan.
“Potions, Draco. Potions. We will arrive, on the pretext that you want to check up on Severus, see if he needs any help. Crabbe and Goyle are on duty tomorrow; they know how you dote on him.”
“I wouldn’t call it doting, Mother.” It wasn’t. I never dote. He was just the only adult outside my immediate family for whom I had even a modicum of fondness.
“Sure, darling. Of course. They know how much you like him, then.”
“Do you want me to finish, or not?”
“Of course, Mother. Continue. We go to Spinner’s End because I’m so very worried about my dear professor.”
“And Severus will declare drinks all around. Crabbe, Goyle and I will drink, you and Severus will not.”
“I would hope not. Really, Draco, didn’t I just say that I was drinking it too?”
“Sleeping potion. You see, I drink it too, and you and Severus run off with Potter, and I say I knew nothing about it.”
I dropped onto the trunk at the foot of my bed. Carved oak with gold inlays. The Malfoy crest. Like the mirror. Like everything in our house. I traced the carving of a giant-hunting party with my finger, making scratches in the gold with my nail. I followed the line of a spell to the giant that it was hitting. I tapped the dying figure and whispered “Pow.” You’re dead.
“And you are just going to lie to the Dark Lord?” I asked.
“My Occlumency has held up in the past.”
I really had to admit, it was a decent plan. It made sense. I took in a gulp of air, held it until my chest started to burn. Held it even longer, and then let it out with a gasp. I wanted out, and here it was handed to me. Why was I resisting? I tried not to think that I was fucking terrified.
“Okay,” I said. “Fine. I’ll do it.”
Mother gave me the warmest smile I had seen in months.
The next day, I woke and stared at the ceiling. There was a crack above me, a small thread running across my vision. I had never noticed it before. I pulled my comforter (Slytherin green, like every blanket since I was born) close to me. This was it. No more Manor, maybe ever. I sighed.
I spent my morning pacing the halls, memorizing the tapestries. The Goblin rebellion in three parts. Giant wars. Witch trials. Patterns I’d seen since birth, but never really seen. I wandered into the library. So many books I had never read, never even touched. Dusty tomes, velvet and leather extending to the ceiling. History, spells, potions, mythology, dark arts. Scrolls from forever ago. Up high, protected by a preservation spell, we had some forgotten celebrity’s hand written letters. There had been a collector, at one point. The Black family intellectual. There were too many books to ever be read, browsed, even observed by one person. But I felt failure in not having absorbed everything offered.
The sun beat down as I walked through the gardens. I strolled along the tastefully curved paths, trying not to think that perhaps the rows and rows of flowers and the trees, with ivy creeping up and through the branches, were a little too extravagant. Nothing was allowed to be less than perfect that day. Not in my home.
There was a swing out back, attached to a lumbering elm. Just like every perfect childhood should have. My swing, rope and wood and an indestructible cushioned seat. Perfect for screams of delight when I was a child. Mother and Father would take turns pushing me while I shouted for them to make me go higher, higher. I wanted to fly. My swing, perfect for completing summer homework outside, when the worst thing I had to worry about was detention from McGonagall.
I sat down, dug my heels into the grass, and pushed. Wind brushed through my hair, sweeping it back from my closed eyes. Higher, higher, I told myself. My swing, perfect for the last time.
I adjusted my robe, considering myself in a full-length mirror. The blonde hair and cool grey eyes with lines of red from a sleepless night. With my skin sallow and taut, I tried to set my expression. Firm, not scared. Casual. Nothing is wrong. I curved my lips up. Just your usual smirk, I told myself. You just want to check on Severus. Nothing is odd.
I decided my cheeks were too pallid. I looked drained, scared. (I was drained, scared). I slapped myself and winced, reminded of Hermione Granger (she had slapped me, once). However, a spot of red appeared, and I congratulated myself. I appeared more or less like I wasn’t about to do either the most foolhardy or most inspired thing I had ever done.
I looked around one last time. This was it. I was struck by how very green my room was. The bed covers, the curtains. Even the walls were pale green. With silver trim. How nice. I tried to remember if it was a result of my own Slytherin pride or my parents’.
“All right,” I told my reflection. “This is it. Freedom. You can do it.”
“Yes, you can.” I turned to find my mother, smiling at me with the same warm smile from the night before. “Are you ready?” she asked. I noticed that my hands were in fists, and unclenched them.
“Yes. I’m ready.”
“Good,” she said. Then, so quickly that it surprised me, she pulled me into a hug. “I love you,” she whispered into my hair. “I love you so much, my darling.”
“I love you too,” I said, and she pulled me closer, smashing my face into her shoulder.
“I’m proud of you,” she told the top of my head. “You’re such a good boy. So good.” She sighed and released me. I smiled at her, wiped a tear off her cheek. “Your father would be proud of you too,” she said quietly. She left ‘for what you achieved at Hogwarts; not for running,’ unsaid. But I knew.
“Well, are we going?” I asked.
She laughed, choking back tears, and nodded.
“Eager, now, are you? Yes, we can go. But have this.” She pressed a small object into my hand. A mirror, no bigger than my palm. Brass, but still gilded. It had the Malfoy crest. “Keep in contact with me. Promise?”
She held out her hand, brisk and formal. It was a joke of ours. When I was little I had seen Father shaking hands with a ministry official, and for months I wanted to close every deal just like that. I would hold my chubby hand up and stick out my chin, feeling important. Mother and I continued long after I stopped with everyone else. I grabbed her hand, then, and was struck how much smaller, how much more delicate it seemed to me than in the past.
“Promise,” I said.
We Apparated near Spinner’s End, and walked towards Severus’s house in silence. Brick buildings loomed, as if they were going to break apart and crush me into the street. Weeds sprung up through cracks in the sidewalk, illuminated by streams of light from streetlamps. A rat darted across my path, and for a moment I wondered if it was Wormtail. Then it ran through a patch of light and I realised it was black. I let out a breath and shook my head. Almost there, I told myself. You’re not scared shitless, I told myself. You aren’t.
Snape’s house was a familiar to me. Its dilapidated setting shocked me the first time I saw it, but I adjusted. Even, sometimes, when the sun would hit a broken window and gleam, I thought I saw something beautiful in the depressed Muggle neighbourhood. That night, though, there was nothing attractive in the shadows. It was dark, and too cold for the summer. Or maybe that’s just how I felt.
We stood at the door, Mother apparently waiting for me to say something. I closed my eyes for a few seconds, tried to remember how to make my expression look natural. Nothing unusual, I reminded myself, and pinched my cheeks to bring the colour back again. Then I caught Mother’s eye and nodded. She rapped on the door.
The first step towards freedom.
Goyle opened the door and frowned at us.
“What?” he asked.
“Oh, Draco wanted to check up on Severus. See if he needs any help,” Mother said with a coy smile. “He gets so worried about Severus, you know. All cooped up in here.”
Goyle took a moment to consider this, and, apparently coming to the conclusion that Mother’s story was likely enough, beckoned us in.
The house was the same as always. Everything seemed to be falling apart around the edges. The couch had threads sticking out of it, and the bookshelves that lined the walls were scratched and chipped. The only lighting was a single lamp on the ceiling, casting everything in shadow. I had once asked Severus why he kept his home in such disrepair—he wasn’t that poor, and he was perfectly capable of fixing the wobbly table and moulding armchair with magic. I got no response. I think he liked the atmosphere. It certainly was oppressive.
Goyle joined Crabbe at the table, slumping himself into a small wooden chair that gave an ominous crack. The pair looked despondent, slouching forward towards a candle someone had lit in the middle of the table. Like bugs to a lamp, easy to smash.
Mother sat on the couch, asked where Severus was. Goyle waved at the bookshelves lining the left wall—a secret door to the basement. The house was filled with secret doors (I now wonder now how many secrets I didn’t know).
“I’m going to check on him,” I declared. Crabbe nodded in consent, eyes never leaving the candle in front of him. Some guard, I thought. We could rescue Potter without having to give them a sleeping potion at all. I considered suggesting it. Oh, we’re just taking him for a little fresh air. He gets so moody, all cramped up. We’ll be back in an hour.
The steps to the cellar were everything they should have been: dark, dusty, and foreboding. They creaked and groaned as I hastened down to the dimly lit basement.
“It’s Draco,” I called, loud enough to carry back up the stairs.
“Draco!” Severus replied, equally loud. “What a nice surprise.”
The basement was reminiscent of the Hogwarts dungeons, jars filling the walls, glittering in candlelight. It was stuffy and smelled of mould and dust and the fumes of years of potions. The fire beneath Severus’s caldron made me sweat immediately.
My place of comfort. The room in which I had lost my troubles to the chop, chop, drain, peal, chop.
Severus was stirring a bubbling black potion absentmindedly, watching me with a frown as made my way over to him.
“I assume you are ready?” he asked as I reached his side.
“Yes,” I said, with barely any hitch.
His frown relaxed, and he put out the fire. “Good,” he said. “I’m glad”
“I wouldn’t have come if I wasn’t going to do it,” I told him.
“Of course. I’m glad you’re here, then.” He turned to his shelves, paused, and then grabbed a small vile. As if he hadn’t know exactly where it was. No need to put on a show for me, I thought. You’ve got everything ready as perfect as you can. I know it. I almost told him so, but didn’t. “Let’s go, then,” he said, and swept towards the stairs without a backwards glance. As if he weren’t leaving his home for the last time. As if he wasn’t risking his life for a boy he hated.
As if I wasn’t risking my life for a boy I hated. For freedom too, I told myself. But as we made our ways back up the stairs and nausea began to weigh in the pit of my stomach, all I could feel was I was gambling everything for Harry Potter. Harry Potter. Our plan was good, I reminded myself. I want out. I want out. But nothing’s foolproof. And between Mother’s smiles and Severus’s indifference, I began to wonder if I was the only sane one left. The only one with screaming voices and Mother’s corpse playing in the back of my mind.
Nothing’s up, I thought as we reached the top. Look normal. Nothing’s up. We’re not insane. We’re not traitors. Mother’s not going to die. I’m not going to be killed. I’m not even thinking about doing anything that would get me killed. Nothing’s up.
Severus had moved to the other side of the room before I was composed enough to follow him out of the shadowed doorway. He said something about drinks as he slipped past the table, and Crabbe and Goyle looked up, showing interest for the first time all night. I slid into a seat as Snape disappeared into another secret room, reappearing with a bottle of mead and five glasses (the only thing the house that weren’t broken or dirty). Joining us at the table he quickly served, and the glasses were grabbed up by Crabbe and Goyle.
“To the Dark Lord,” Severus muttered, raising his glass and giving me a pointed stare. Crabbe and Goyle’s glasses hit with a light tinkle and cries of “hear, hear,” and they downed their drinks.
“The Dark Lord,” Mother said with a smile, tapping her glass against mine. I caught her eye, and she winked before also sipping her drink.
A step towards freedom, not a step away from home. I’m not scared shitless, I told myself.
It seemed too easy; they just toppled over. I thought it looked like they weren’t breathing.
“Are you sure that wasn’t poison?” I whispered. Severus shot me an angry look. Right, I thought. Don’t talk. Just follow the lead. For once, not being in charge was fine with me.
Severus was up and waving his wand at a bookshelf. Another secret door. I wondered how big this house really was, with doors ever which where. I sat in silence, watching Severus’s brow crumple, his frown deepen. I worried that he had set up protective spells too hard for even he to get through. Maybe the Dark Lord planned on starving Harry to death.
But then the bookshelves swung open, revealing a dark hole of a room. The feeble light from the living room barely penetrated it, for a few seconds I saw no signs of Harry. Then Snape lit the end of his wand, casting a stream of light across a huddled figure.
Harry looked up and squinted at the brightness. His hair was still matted down, and one of his eyes was bruised, and his glasses half off of his face. His lips were cracked, the area around his eyes puffy and red (had the hero of the Wizarding World been crying? Was it from self-pity or pain?). But his eyes stood out, green and still filled with that same fury he had had confronting the Dark Lord. He barely spared me a glanced, focused on Severus.
“What do you want?” His voiced was strained, dry, thin. But as strong and spiteful as possible.
“I wouldn’t take that tone with your rescuers, Potter,” Severus hissed. “It’s not very polite.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Rescuers. Right. Tell Voldemort,” (I shuddered. I still shudder, so forgive me, that I still cannot bring myself to right his name.) “that I’m not that stupid. I’m not playing his games.”
I gapped at Harry. Here we were trying to save him (at our own risk. Our own risk!) and he was rolling his eyes! There’s an example of biting the hand that feeds you. I wanted to tell Severus to run, run, run, and leave the ungrateful bastard. Mother had said the house was monitored. We didn’t have much time. And he was rolling his eyes. The idiot, I thought. He’s a fucking idiot and I’m going to die because of it.
Severus was glaring at Harry. He looked unsurprised; apparently Harry’s obstinacy was an anticipated roadblock that no one had bothered telling me about.
I had my first flash of anger.
“Potter,” Severus growled. “Don’t be a fool.”
“That’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m not playing foolish games. Does Voldemort actually expect me to believe that you—”
Severus shook his head, waved his wand, and muttered “Petrificus Totalus.’ Harry immediately stiffened. He rolled his eyes again (again) and continued to glare, challenging. Swiftly grabbing Harry’s immobile body and nodding towards the door, Severus said, “We’ll deal with him later. We need to Apparate out of here. Run!”
I didn’t need telling twice. I bolted towards the door and into the street. Severus’s house was well protected: it was several blocks until we could Apparate. I sprinted left, the opposite of the way I had come in. Only a matter of time, I thought, until Death Eaters start pouring in. A matter of time until they realised we are making off with Harry Potter who rolled his fucking eyes at us.
Another flash of anger. He definitely wasn’t worth this.
I heard Severus pounding down the street after me, lugging Harry with him. An awkward, ungrateful weight. We should leave him, I thought. We’re going to die because of him. Untrusting, argent, stupid saviour of everything, he can’t even let himself be rescued properly.
“Another block,” Severus said, catching up to me, casting me a worried glance. I nodded, tried not let him hear how heavily I was breathing. Almost there, almost there, almost there. Almost free. Even with the extra weight.
And then a dark figure came hurling at us from the direction we were running towards. A stream of red light flew past us. Severus grabbed my arm immediately, and pulled me towards a side alley. His jerk was so hard I tripped, hands touching the ground before I hurtled myself forward after him. There were shouts behind us, other Death Eaters catching up.
“That lamppost,” Severus said, between gasps. “After that you can Apparate.” I looked forward, saw a dot of light. Our alley, a street, another alley, lamppost.
“Damn,” I gasped. Severus shoved Harry’s stiff form towards me. The shouts were getting louder, the thuds of their feet faster than our own. I looked at him in shock. “Severus…”
Another stream of light blasted past our heads.
“Take him and run!” Severus shouted, shoving Harry into my arms. He was lighter than I expected. Frail in his stiffness. But still an uncomfortable burden.
“I don’t know how to Side-Along—”
“Figure it out,” Snape hissed, still running beside me as another curse sent a trashcan flying. There was a metallic crash and a cat hissed.
Severus considered a second, looked blank. He didn’t know. My stomach heaved.
“The Shrieking Shack,” he whispered, finally. I started.
“Just go,” he said. “I’ll catch up, or I won’t. Wait as long as you think—”
“You aren’t staying here!” I protested, but he merely shoved me and turned, sending jets of light at the rapidly approaching Death Eaters.
What was I supposed to do? I ran. As quickly as I could with Harry’s figure clutched tightly between my arms, against my chest. The distance was not long, but it felt like forever, with the sound of battle behind me. Shouts and crashes and curses and a scream (not Severus, I told myself).
You, my reader, may condemn me for it. I was, after all, leaving one of the few people I cared about to face a slew of angry Death Eaters. But remember, if I had stayed, Harry Potter may have died, and then where would you be? Of course, you say I was really running to save my own skin. And I don’t know if I can argue against that. But the thing is, I saved Harry Potter, and he’s who’s important. Right?
I stopped, panting, by the lamppost. Looking back, I saw a shower of sparks flying, Severus’s lone figure against four or five black shapes. He was holding them back, spell after spell sending one and then another scurrying. But still, they were pressing forward. And Severus had told me to get out.
I licked my lips. Apparition. I had done it enough times, but not with someone else. And not to a haunted shack I had never been inside. It seemed like an odd choice of rendezvous spots, but I wasn’t about to go someplace else with the Dark Lord on my tail and Harry Potter in my arms.
Destination, Determination, Deliberation. Destination, Determination, Deliberation.
Focusing on that broken down shack, trying to imagine its destroyed insides, I clutched Harry harder, hands digging into his back, closed my eyes, and willed myself there.
When I opened my eyes again, I was standing in a barren room, and Harry was still in my arms, intact. I let out a deep breath. At least we were alive. The only light was faint moonlight coming from between the boards across a single window, and it reviled a room empty except for a couch with torn pillows and an upended, broken chair. Both were covered with a thick layer of dust. Untouched for years, I thought. Except by ghosts. If the shack is really haunted. It’s not, I told myself.
I put Harry’s still frozen body down on the couch, so that he lay sideways, and moved to the window, my steps muffled by the dust collected on the floor. Looking between the boards, I saw a familiar fence, the Forbidden Forest stretching out behind it.
“I guess this is the Shrieking Shack,” I said, turning back to Harry. He watched me, unable to respond. “So, what am I supposed to do with you?” I asked conversationally. “I could leave you frozen until Severus gets here,” I continued. “Until he gets here,” I repeated, refusing to allow myself think if. When, when, when. Any minute. “I’m going to leave you there until he gets here, which will be soon,” I told Harry.
I tried righting the chair, but one of its legs had broken off completely. It looked like it had been attacked, falling apart and scratched up.
“Some ghosts,” I said, trying to smile. Some ghosts that better leave us alone. I couldn’t see what I was doing there. Were there no other secluded spots anywhere? I looked over at Harry, and he rolled his eyes at me.
Fucking Harry Potter.
Seat-less, I leaned against the wall by the window, across from Harry, and counted the floorboards to keep from having to look at him. One. Two. Is that a scratch mark? Three. Four. Interesting pattern, how old was that tree? Five. Six. Seven, eight, nine. Teneleventwelve. Thirteen, for bad luck. I’ve had some of that today…fifty, fifty-one. It must have been ten minutes, where’s Severus? Seventy-three. Seventy-four. Seventy-five, seventy-six, seventy-seven. Mother must be fine. Mother must be fine (I fingered the mirror, still in my robe pocket). Twenty-one. Twenty-two.
Where the hell was Severus?
I don’t know how long I stood counting floorboards, wall boards, ceiling boards. On hour, maybe. Trying to fend off a sinking in my stomach, the nausea rising back up. This wasn’t the plan. This wasn’t the plan. The plan was supposed to work. The plan was not me and a Body-Bound Harry Potter alone in the Shrieking Shack, Severus Merlin knew where.
This was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Fuck
I looked at Harry. He had closed his eyes, though I didn’t know if he was sleeping or just bored of looking at the same bare room. The last time I had seen Harry Potter petrified, it had ended with me stepping on his face. Revenge for putting Father in jail. But now…I didn’t know. Was he under my protection? Was I still in the process of rescuing him?
He was not worth this.
Severus had said wait as long as you think—and what? I had the Boy Who Lived frozen on a couch in the most haunted building in all of Britain, and no idea what I was doing. Severus hadn’t said—I tried not to think about Severus. He was supposed to be here. And he wasn’t. I told myself he was fine. Fine, fine, fine. Focus on here, now. On a dusty room and a broken chair. A torn up couch. An impossible situation. Focus on Harry fucking Potter. Not on Severus, captured, tortured, dead.
“What am I supposed to do?” I asked. Harry opened his eyes. “Maybe I should let you talk.” He blinked slowly at me. I took it as please. “I suppose you don’t have a wand,” I continued, eyeing his Muggle clothing. Nothing in any of the pockets. “The Dark Lord wouldn’t have left you one of those. Fine, then.”
I paused for another second, and then cast the counter-curse, keeping my wand pointed at him. He hesitated, as if suspecting a trick. Like I would hurt him after going through so much trouble to help him. Then he stretched his arms over his head, arched his back. Standing, he rolled his neck and then raised his eyes level with mine.
“What the hell is going on?” he demanded. I frowned at him, slightly taken aback.
“That’s no tone to take with someone who just saved your life, Potter.” I said with a sneer. In case he was forgetting who I was (or in case I was forgetting who I was. Panicked, maybe, but I was still supposed to be in control.)
“And I’m supposed to believe that? That you just saved my life?” He folded his arms across his chest and sat back down, the couch sagging under his weight. As if I was about to give him a long explanation. As if he deserved answers from me.
No. He definitely wasn’t worth any of this.
“Yes, Potter. You are. Do you think the Dark Lord routinely has Death Eaters pretend to rescue his captives?”
“I wouldn’t know what Voldemort routinely has his Death Eaters do.”
I took a deep breath, and resisted the urge to put him back into a Full Body-Bind. I wanted him to stop staring at me, demanding…what? Answers? As if I had answers. As if I knew why we were alone in that god forsaken building. As if I had some master plan. As if the plan wasn’t lost to Death Eater curses on a Muggle street.
“Potter, listen to me. If you didn’t notice, Severus and I went to a lot of trouble for you—h ”
“Yes, I really appreciated the Full Body Bind, by the way. I always like to make the people I’m rescuing—”
“Shut it, Potter! If you’d just come with us, it wouldn’t have been necessary, would it now?” And Severus would be here, I thought. And he could be having this conversation with you. Maybe he’d know why we went to so much trouble for you, because I don’t. I took another deep breath.
Harry observed me thoughtfully for a few seconds, biting his lower lip and frowning as he ran his eyes across my face. It was disconcerting; I shifted uncomfortably. “So why, exactly,” he finally said, his hostility abated, “did you and…Snape help me?” He spat ‘Snape’ like it was dirty; I saw a flash of anger in his eyes, but he controlled it.
“Why do you think, Potter?” I said, throwing as much scorn as I could manage into the words. He didn’t have to know I was wondering the same thing.
“I’m asking you. I know you don’t have any particular love for me—”
“That’s certainly true.”
“And neither does Snape,” he added, his frown turning into a scowl. “So what are you two planning on doing to me, if this isn’t some sort of mind game?”
“Will you shut up with that mind game business already?”
“Not until you give me a better explanation.” Another demand. And this time he caught my eyes, bore into me with sharp green, challenging. I was standing, had the wand pointed at his heart, and yet, inexplicably, he was in control of the situation.
I had a flash of admiration. And then, just as quickly, a surge of anger.
“Fuck you, Potter.”
I stalked back over to the window, looked out. The Forbidden Forest loomed at me beneath the stars, its trees extending farther than I could see. I stared at the edge, hoping to see Severus come stamping out, robe billowing behind him, and half expecting to see a horde of Death Eaters instead, masked faces charging towards the shack, ready to re-claim Potter and torture me and torture me and torture me until I died. I saw neither. Sighing, I turned around, letting my wand drop to my side. After all, there were worse things in the world than Harry Potter, no matter how much he infuriated me. Whatever else, this was freedom, right?
His eyes still bore into me, his expression still firm. The dried blood around his temples, the bruises around his eyes and cuts across his face made him more intimidating, if anything. He was a war hero and here I was the coward who only rescued him as an excuse to run away.
“I got you out of there, Potter; I don’t owe you an explanation,” I said, walking towards him, so that only half the room separated us. The closer you are, the more intimidating, I thought to myself.
“Damn you,” I huffed.
“Are you going to explain the situation?”
“Fine, Potter. Since your little mind is too small to comprehend—”
“Do you always insult the people you save?”
“Just because I helped you doesn’t mean I don’t still hate you.”
“See, that’s where I have a problem. Normally people don’t go risking their necks for people they hate.”
“Well, Potter, when the choice is between you and the Dark Lord, I hate you less,” I spat.
Harry’s firm resolve broke for a second. I saw a flicker of—something. Understanding, I thought, though I wasn’t sure that that made sense. But then the blazing eyes, the challenging stare was back, and he replied, “Well, now we’re getting somewhere.”
“Don’t patronize me, Potter,” I snapped. Not fucking worth it, I thought. He’s not, he’s not, he’s not. “We rescued you, because contrary to what you may think, Severus and I don’y want to see the Dark Lord triumph.” That was true, after all, and probably it was Severus’s motive. If only I knew his motive for sending us to this dusty, decrepit house, I thought.
Harry’s eyebrows snapped together at Severus’s name, and he bit his lip again. “I have a hard time believing that,” he said coldly.
“Well, then, believe what you want! I don’t care! You wanted an explanation, I gave you one. If you insist on thinking I’m some evil—”
“I don’t know about you,” Harry said, that flash of understanding playing across his features again. “But I don’t believe Snape wishes me well,” he finished with a scowl. The tone was so cold, I wondered for a second if he knew about who killed Dumbledore. But he couldn’t know, I considered. He wasn’t there. No one but Death Eaters was there.
“Well, Severus isn’t here now, is he?” I said, trying to keep my voice level. I was in control. My stomach didn’t clench when I though about pale limbs flailing, the usual smirk contorted in pain. Severus would be alright. Fine, fine, fine, I reminded myself. He’ll be fine.
“No,” Harry admitted, “he’s not.”
“And if you didn’t notice, he was fighting off a swarm of Death Eaters to save your skin.”
“Your skin too,” Harry pointed out begrudgingly, but his scowl eased into a puzzled frown. “It doesn’t make sense,” he whispered. I barely heard him, and didn’t respond. I watched as he started into his lap, one hand rubbing against his scar. I don’t know how long it took, a few minutes I think, before he finally he said, “Fine. So maybe this little operation was for my own good.”
“Glad you finally realised it, Potter. Though I would have thought watching us almost get cursed into oblivion would have been good enough.”
“Fine. Fine. Thank you very much for rescuing me,” he muttered. I sensed some bitterness in the words. I acknowledged his thanks with a small bow of my head. I had never imagined Harry Potter thanking me for anything. A small thrill of triumph swept through my stomach. “Could you tell me what you plan on doing with me now?” Harry continued.
I looked at the floor. “Ah, well. That.”
“You don’t know, do you?” Harry realised, smirking.
“I didn’t say that!”
“You’re free, aren’t you?” He was free, I was free. No reason I had to know what to do with that freedom any more than he did. Wasn’t he the one who was supposed to be saving everyone? Shouldn’t he be on top of getting out of sticky situations?
“Yeah, I guess I am,” Harry acknowledged. “So is that it? This is the end of your plan?”
I kicked at the chair’s broken leg, watched it roll over to Harry. As it came to rest near his feet I muttered, “Yes.”
“Well, then,” he said, knocking the chair leg back towards me and standing, “I have places I can go to, so I’ll be leaving now.”
My head jerked up, and, catching the expression of what I can only imagine was pure terror on my face, he froze. I hadn’t meant to lose my calm facade, of course. I was supposed to be in control. In control. But he couldn’t just leave. As much as I hated to admit it, (and I did. Hated, hated, hated), I needed him. I couldn’t just wonder off into the world alone with Death Eaters looking to kill me. I’d been hoping, I think, that he’d offer me protection. Amnesty, possibly After all, I had marked myself as a dead man to get him out. Wasn’t the perfect Gryffindor saviour supposed to do things like protect the people who helped him? I had thought it would be part of the job description.
“What?” he asked, taking a step back towards the couch.
“I—” Damn him, I thought. No way is he making me ask. No way. But no way is he leaving, either. I didn’t plan on spending the rest of my life hiding away in the Shrieking Shack. Harry was giving me a quizzical look. “I—well, where are you planning on going?”
“What’s it to you?” Suspicious. He still didn’t trust me. Of course not, I’d only just saved his life.
“I—well. Interfering, as you may have noticed, hasn’t exactly put me on the Dark Lord’s good side, and—”
This time the understanding that flashed to Harry’s face staid. “You don’t have anywhere to go.”
“Very astute observation, Potter.”
He gave me an exasperated look (I was reminded of the rolled eyes), and crossed his arms. “Try being a little nicer if you want my help.”
“I don’t remember forcing you to make polite conversation before I helped you.”
Harry raised his eyebrows, but nodded. He followed my earlier footsteps, passed where I stood, and walked to the window to look outside. I wondered if he imagined anyone coming through the forest like I had. If so, I imagined he probably he saw the Dark Lord. He stood for a minute, hands clasped behind his back, shifting slightly from foot to foot, like a nervous First Year called to the front of the room to solve a problem. Then, still looking out between those boards, he said softly, “So, you don’t know why we’re here.”
“You mean in the Shrieking Shack? I suppose because it’s not somewhere the Dark Lord would think to look.”
“I suppose so,” he said. He turned on his heal to face me. “What do you want me to do for you?”
I took a second to recover from his direct approach. Perfect Gryffindor indeed. They were blunt, weren’t they? “Well…” I paused. He had invited my request, and pride be damned, it would have been beyond stupid to refuse. “Listen Potter, you’re right. I don’t have anywhere to go, now. All I need is someplace—safe.”
Harry let out a sharp laugh (it didn’t reach his eyes). “If there’s someplace safe anymore, I’d like to know about it,” he said darkly.
“Well, someplace safer than here, then,” I amended.
“Of course. I knew what you meant, Malfoy.”
“Well, you didn’t need to be so cynical about it.”
Harry waved off my complaint, and continued. “You want to go someplace where Death Eaters won’t find you, I suppose.”
“Yes, seeing as I like being alive, that would be ideal.”
Harry gave me a disapproving frown. “Well, Godric’s Hollow is obviously out,” he said to himself, beginning to pace back and forth in front of the window, cutting me out of the decision making process. “There’s always…I guess, there’s really no other option…” Pace, pace, pace. His hand kept leaping to his forehead as he muttered to himself. “How do you feel about coming to The Order’s headquarters?” he asked finally, with a sigh. He gave me a look like he expected me to rage against the idea. As if I was going to pass up the chance to go to the one place the Dark Lord had never managed to find. I’m not stupid, I wanted to tell him. I don’t care if I hate every single member of your precious Order. It was safe, if any place was.
“That sounds just lovely, Potter.”
“Oh. Er—good.” Definitely taken aback.
“As long as they don’t kill me on sight.”
“They won’t,” he said. “Hopefully,” he added with a small smile.
“I truly hope that’s you showing a sense of humour,” I told him.
“Malfoy, it may come as a shock to you, but not everyone is like the Death Eaters. The Order doesn’t kill people on sight.”
We lapsed into silence, Harry leaned back against the window, so that cracks of light seeped in around his head, highlighting his silhouette from behind, throwing his face into shadow. He was frowning, thoughtful though, not angry. I looked down, studied the dirt across my shoes. Waiting. For Harry to do something, for instruction. The transfer of power had happened. The proverbial quaffle was in Harry’s hands now.
The silence stretched on as Harry stood, thinking, thinking, thinking, and not saying anything. A gust of wind whistled by the window, rattling the boards. The shack creaked, its walls straining to stay together despite the wind and shoddy construction. I thought I heard a crack above us, and jumped a little, remembering that the shack was supposed to be haunted. I shuddered.
“We really should go,” I said.
Harry bit his bottom lip, hard enough to look like it might hurt.
“Potter, we need to go to your precious headquarters,” I repeated. “Before something bad happens.”
“You can’t,” Harry said. “It’s protected by a Secret Keeper.”
Oh. I thought. Great. Bloody fantastic. “And you didn’t tell me this before? I’m not going to go and try to persuade someone else to tell me! I’m not putting myself in anymore dan—”
“You don’t have to do anything,” Harry snapped.
“I’ll go. I’ll persuade her—”
“Never mind that. She should be there right now, and I think I can get her to tell you.”
“Think?” I growled. “Think. Potter, you just told me you could take me there.”
If this was Harry’s game, he wasn’t a very good player.
“I did not.”
“You implied it.”
Harry shook his head at me. “Listen Malfoy, I’ll do the best I can.”
I threw my hands up. I didn’t have time for this, any of it. Safety dangled in front of me, and then pulled away. Dangled and pulled, dangled and pulled. I was a mouse chasing a piece of cheese, and every time I thought it was in view, there was another turn. I stalked over to the couch and threw myself onto it. Harry watched me without response.
“Fine. Do the best you can. That sure gives me confidence,” I snarled. “I suppose this means you’re planning on leaving me here alone?”
Harry pulled at the front of his shirt, flaking off spots of blood that had darkened, like ink stains. “Er—yes. I don’t really see any other option.”
“It won’t take me very long.”
Harry looked hurt for a second. As if my lack of faith mattered to him. Of course, I reflected, it probably did. After all, he was used to being considered The-Boy-Who-Could-Do-No-Wrong. Well, too bad for him. I didn’t trust that he would pull through. Why should I? It wasn’t as if anything else was going right.
“It’s fine Potter. Go. I’d just appreciate it if you came back.”
Harry fixed me with a look that was pure condescendence. “I don’t break my promises, Malfoy.”
I sneered at him, and then flipped my legs up onto the couch and lay down. “Good. I’ll be here then,” I said, trying for nonchalance. Sure, I didn’t mind staying in this stupid haunted shack waiting for the Dark Lord to find me. Of course not. I don’t think Harry bought my act (after all, who would have? Even then I knew it wasn’t convincing). But he said nothing, just nodded, fixed me with a final burning look, spun, and disappeared.
The shack was silent. Occasionally wind would make the windows rattle, the ceiling groan, but I heard nothing else. Not ghosts, no Death Eaters, no death lurking up the stairs. No Dark Lord come to take his revenge. I lay on the couch, hands folded across my stomach, head twisted to the side, so that I could see the floor. I could make out footprints, Harry’s and mine. Our paths indented into the years of dust. Red light shown through the window boards. The sun was rising, then.
The couch sagged, its springs broken. How old was it? I wondered why ghosts would need a couch. It was uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to stand. I thought about exploring the shack, but only for a second. Why tempt fate? If there were angry spirits hidden in the shadows, I wasn’t about to alert them to my existence. I fingered my wand. It was there, it was solid, it was real. Just in case, I thought.
I turned my head to look at the ceiling. Planks of wood. The planks I’d counted, waiting for Severus. Severus who wasn’t here. My chest contracted. Severus who was somewhere safe. Somewhere safe, I told myself. I tried to think it wasn’t a lie.
I closed my eyes, pushed my thoughts away from Severus. I wouldn’t dwell on something I couldn’t help. I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t think about Severus, or my mother, their faces contorted in pain, sapped of life…no. No, no, no.
Here and now, I reminded myself. Look at the present. I turned onto my side, facing the back of the couch. Up close I could see the threads woven together, brown and grey and darker brown and orange blending together. All ripped up. Tuffs of greyed material stuck around the edges of a gash. I pulled at a piece, rolled it between my figures, twisted it into a tight ball.
Harry Potter. I was waiting for Harry Potter to get back, deliver me to safety. I was relying on Harry Potter. Just the idea of cooperating with him (Harry Potter for Merlin’s sake!) gave me a dizzy feeling, like the world was turning itself on its head. Harry Potter was never supposed to give me a helping hand. I was never supposed to take that hand. Hadn’t we established that so many years before? I had offered him friendship, he had declined. That was that. He was Harry Potter, I was Draco Malfoy and never the twain shall work together.
Years spent fighting, trying to undo each other at every step. I had gone out of my way to torment him—it was, for a time (before bigger things, back when I had time that was my own), a bit of an obsession for me, really. Finding ways to torment him, figuring out the jibes that would cut the deepest (unsurprisingly, barbs against his parents worked wonders). Though let’s be fair: he had returned the favours. Remember, he had almost killed me, once.
And yet, and yet. Here we were. Here I was, waiting for him. What if he didn’t come back? Well, I would have to take my chances, I thought. I could find food somewhere. I could always contact mother, eventually. The mirror was still resting in my pocket. I would get caught. I would get caught, if I drifted through the world alone. By the Death Eaters or the Ministry, one way or the other. But maybe not. Maybe not.
I hoped he came back.
And what if he came back with armed guards and a place for me in Azkaban? I reflected on this. I guess I would be caught early, I decided. Except I didn’t think he would. Harry Potter may have been a lot of things, but dishonest and underhanded were not among his traits. He was impulsive, not manipulative.
At least, I hoped so.
Time past, minutes blurred together and the light from the window grew. I lay with my nose right up next to the back of the couch, tracing patterns in the threads and listening, just listening. I didn’t know how long it had been, couldn’t judge if Harry’s continued absence was suspicious or not. I tried not to worry. I tried not to fall asleep, either, despite exhaustion. Exhaustion from running (had that only been a few hours ago? Back when I thought everything would work perfect). Exhaustion from arguing. Exhaustion from worrying and confusion and being so unsure. I bit down hard on the inside of my mouth to keep my eyes from closing. I tasted blood.
I thought, at least it was me hurting myself, not someone else. I thought, this is freedom. This is what I wanted.
Wait, wait, wait. And whatever you do, don’t ever fall asleep.
You’ll be unsurprised to hear he came back, I’m sure. He came back and he was alone, because he is Harry Potter the Perfectly Honourable. The Perfectly Perfect. But you know that, of course. Who in this world doesn’t?
I was still turned into the couch when I heard the noise behind me. A soft pop, a light footstep as he moved forward. I jerked around; nearly rolled off the couch as my heart leapt to my throat. He grinned at me. Amused, exasperated. He held out a bit of parchment.
“What is that?” I asked, righting myself with as much dignity as possible.
“This, Malfoy, is your ticket into the Order’s headquarters,” he said triumphantly.
“Ah.” Fine, I thought. Your best was good enough. And you came back. I stood and walked towards Harry, stopping a few feet away from him. We faced each other, eyes locked. He handed over the parchment.
“You’d better not be a spy, Malfoy,” he said, evenly. I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be a joke.
“Fuck you, Potter,” I retorted, but with no enthusiasm. We were working together now. Or, at least, not working against each other. I looked at the parchment he had handed me. It said “The headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix may be found at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, London.” I recognized the tight script from so many graded essays.
“McGonagall’s your Secret Keeper?” I asked. Harry gave me a startled glance and nodded. I shrugged. “I wouldn’t have put my money on her.”
“Well, you were wrong.”
“Clearly.” I read the note again. “Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place…isn’t that the old Black house?” I asked, dragging up the connection from somewhere in my tangled memory of family trees.
Harry started again and looked at me sharply. “Yeah,” he said sullenly. “How’d you know?”
I shrugged. “How did your Order get their hands on that place?” I asked. Harry looked down and swallowed, his face going pale. A memory flashed through my mind, a large black dog bounding after the Hogwarts express—“Oh,” I realised. “Sirius Black.”
Harry nodded. “Yeah.”
“Right.” We trailed into silence, and a twang of guilt played at the bottom of my stomach. I remember taunting Harry about Black; my father had told me the identity of “Harry’s” big shaggy dog. How long ago had that been? Back before I ever entered the Dark Lord’s ranks. When war was just a game. I could hardly remember what it felt like, then.
“Okay,” Harry said eventually, his voice shaking just a little. “We should Apparate out of here before anymore time is lost.”
“You’re telling me,” I said. “I’m the one who’s just been laying here!”
“Malfoy,” Harry said, a warning around the edges. Don’t push it.
“Yes, right. Let’s go. Um…Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place?” I repeated, trying to cement the name in my mind. Apparating inside the Shack had been hard enough, and at least I knew what it looked like, where it was.
“Yes. Er…would you prefer to…er…Side-Along Apparate?” Harry asked, glancing down at his right arm as if he didn’t quite understand why he was extending it. Sure, just read my fucking mind, I thought. Was I that obvious?
“I can Apparate by myself, Potter.” Hopefully.
“Are you sure?” he asked, but he dropped his arm immediately.
“Yes, Potter, I’m sure.”
“Good.” Silence. And then: “Well then. On the count of three?” Like we were children.
“Fine Potter. On the count of three.” Number Twelve, Grimmauld place, I repeated to myself as Harry counted. And then he hit three and disappeared. Startled, I lost my concentration. Stupid of me. Gritting my teeth, I refocused. Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. I closed my eyes and vanished.
When I opened my eyes I was standing in the middle of a Muggle street, early morning light falling on houses not much nicer than the ones in Severus’s neighbourhood. I fact, for one frightening moment I thought that I had accidentally returned myself to near Spinner’s End. But then Harry’s voice came from behind me.
“You make it ok?”
“Er—yeah,” I said, trying not to breathe a sigh of relief. “Where are we?”
“London,” Harry said simply.
“How specific.” Harry didn’t reply. “So…which one is Number Twelve?” I asked, scanning the house fronts. Peeling paint, broken windows and loose roof tiles. Nothing like the entrance to the home of one of the oldest and most respectable Wizarding families should be. But as the words left my lips, another house began to grow right in front of me. It expanded, shoving the houses on either side out of the way, until it stood firmly, leering down. “Oh,” I said.
It wasn’t really much grander than the other houses. The paint was flaking and the upper windows were coated with dust. Dirt streaked the walls. The path towards the door was uninviting, but Harry was already making his way down it, so I followed. As we moved closer, I noted that the knocker was fashioned as a snake. That, at least, was appropriate.
We reached the entrance, and I swallowed. This was the second time in so few hours that the prospect of opening a door had made my heart skip a beat. It’s just a door, I told myself. McGonagall’s in there, I told myself. She’s reasonable. She’s not Voldemort. Entering this house is safer than rescuing Harry was.
And look how well that turned out.
I tried to stop my hands from trembling, but I could tell I was still pale. It’s just because you’re tired, I lied to myself. This is no big deal.
Harry was staring at me again, quizzical. “Are you really okay with this?” he asked quietly. Sympathetic. Fuck you, I thought. I don’t need your sympathy.
“Because McGonagall knows you’re coming. She’s really fine with it.”
“I really don’t care.”
Harry shrugged. “Fine, have it your way. We’ll go in, then.”
Harry shot me one last sympathetic look (my face flushed. Where did he get off feeling sympathy for me?) and then shoved the door open.
We walked into an entrance hall lit only by a few lamps. The wallpaper was peeling just as the paint outside had been. The carpet was worn and tattered. It was slightly shocking to see. I shouldn’t be surprised, I thought, but I couldn’t help imaging my own Manor fallen into the same disrepair. I envisioned all the proud Wizarding homes decaying, and I told myself not to shudder.
“What? No welcoming committee?” I asked. Harry immediately shushed me. “What?” I whispered, glancing around the dark hall. Hadn’t he said McGonagall knew I was coming? No reason to sneak, then.
Harry pointed at a large portrait, hidden behind mouldy curtains. “Mrs. Black isn’t fun when she’s woken,” he said. I raised an eyebrow and remained silent as we made our way to a door beneath a daunting set of stairs. “We’re going down here,” Harry noted unnecessarily when we got to the door. “McGonagall is meeting us in the kitchen.”
“Great,” I said, without enthusiasm. Harry opened the door and I followed him down. The lights were brighter here—so unlike the stairs to Severus’s basement, I thought—and I could hear voices.
We were met with an explosion of noise and wands at the bottom. Or, more accurately Harry was met with an explosion of people shrieking his name and a redhead slamming into him, and I was met with five wands pointed straight at me. Nice, I thought. They may not kill me on sight, but they sure aren’t embracing me with open arms.
Harry was laughing and hugging Ginny Weasley and Hermione, who was right behind the redhead. Behind them, I saw Ron and his mother seated at the table, beaming at Harry. And around them were McGonagall and Professor Lupin and Moody and Arthur Weasley and a young woman with shocking pink hair I didn’t know (I later learned she was named Tonks, the daughter of my mother’s blood traitor sister), all staring sternly at me, wands raised. I stared back, trying to give a disapproving frown.
“I this how you usually welcome your visitors?” I asked loudly enough to be heard over the girls’ shrieking. They quieted at once, and the smiles melted off of everyone’s faces as they looked at me. No one looked shocked—I supposed they had been alerted to my immanent arrival—but they weren’t pleased. Ron shot me an especially nasty look. I sneered back at him. If they weren’t going to be nice, than neither was I. Something about the wands and the disapproval gave me confidence. After the disorienting tentative truce with Harry, the distrust felt right. “Oh, don’t let me interrupt your happy little reunion,” I said. “I was just going to point out that only one, maybe two, wands are necessary.”
“Malfoy,” Harry said apologetically as he turned to face me. I rolled my eyes at him (ha!).
“This is a nice version of ‘really fine,’” I told him. Surprisingly, he nodded.
“He’s not going to do anything,” Harry told the room at large. “You can lower your wands.”
“Harry, he’s a Death Eater,” Tonks said, her frown deepening.
“He saved my life,” Harry snapped back. I remember feeling strangely appeased by his anger. He turned imploringly to McGonagall. “You said we’d keep him safe.”
“We are keeping him safe,” Moody said. I hated his voice, so much more a growl than anything human. “We’re making sure we’re safe too.”
“What am I going to do?” I sneered. “Attack you all at once? I’m not stupid.” Ron let out a nasty laugh, and I glared at him again. Lupin was sitting next to Ron, and I saw him lower his wand. I was surprised by how grateful that made me. It’s not like I needed their approval. Just a bed and a roof hidden from the Dark Lord.
Harry smiled at Lupin, and then locked eyes with McGonagall. There was that hard look again. It was easier to admire when I wasn’t on the receiving end of it. He does know how to disconcert people, I thought. McGonagall pursed her lips and then lowered her wand.
“As it appears Mr. Malfoy is going to cooperate, I suppose you are right.”
And then drop, drop, drop, the other three put down their wands, though Moody’s magical eye never left me. There was a tense silence as everyone in the room looked at me and I tried to stare them all down at once. They may have been protecting me, but I wasn’t about to let any of them think I’d lost my dignity. Because I hadn’t. I kept telling myself that.
Ginny broke the silence with a sob, throwing her arms back around Harry. He buckled under her weight.
“I was so worried!” she choked out and he laughed, patting her back. He told her he was okay now, and she giggled childishly and nodded.
As if the broken silence had reanimated them—or maybe just because nobody wanted to continue watching Harry and Ginny—the room immediately burst into a bustle. Ron and Hermione moved towards to Harry to join in hugging him, chattering with delight. Moody and Tonks and Lupin and Author Weasley shifted to one end of the table and started whispering urgently to McGonagall, while Molly Weasley swept over to the stove, declaring that Harry and I must me starving. I decided I’d be pushing my luck if I mentioned I’d rather have sleep than food. I stood in place, unhappily aware that Moody’s magical eye was still boring into me. One wrong move, I thought.
It wasn’t the Dark Lord, but I could tell that life in The Order of the Phoenix’s headquarters wasn’t going to be what I had envisioned as my freedom. Still, I thought. Still, I’d rather be here than back there.
At least there was that.
Eventually, once his friends had stopped swarming him declaring they were so glad he was alright. So happy. Oh, they were so scared! Harry noticed me standing there, watching McGonagall and her cohorts, trying to hear what they were saying. They kept casting me looks, and I was thinking that it would be nice of them to let me in on the conversation.
After all, didn’t saving Harry’s life count for something?
“Malfoy, come sit down,” Harry said tentatively. I thought I saw the flash of a smirk. As if I was being silly just standing there. As if it were the most obvious thing in the world that moving towards the table wouldn’t result in Moody hexing me to oblivion.
“Maybe I like standing,” I replied irritably. Hermione and Ginny frowned at me. Ron frankly bristled.
“Malfoy, we’re doing you a favour,” he snapped. “You could at least pretend not to be a complete jerk!”
“Ron—” Harry said consolingly.
“Well, Weasel—” I snapped back. (I’ll take this time to admit that perhaps the insult lacked sophistication, since surly you are raising an eyebrow. But it got under his skin, so I never saw any reason to change.)
“Malfoy!” Harry sounded less tolerant. It took me a second to realise I was hurt. Of course he’s taking Ron’s side, I thought bitterly. What had I expected? We may have reached something of a peace, but of course Harry would take his friend’s side. He was a Gryffindor after all. He was Potter. It was easy to slip back into the roles we had always played, now that death wasn’t eminent. And he had always been for Ron. Against me.
But hadn’t he defended me to McGonagall? Somehow I had been hoping that that would continue. That maybe, maybe Harry might stick up for me, just a little. Because no one else at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place was going to. Clearly not.
Fuck him, I thought. Fine. I’m on my own. Fine.
Everyone in the room was quiet. Watching. Waiting. Might as well make a point, I thought. I locked eyes with Ron.
“Weasley, you’d do best to remember why your Order is doing me this great ‘favour.’ If it weren’t for me, Potter would still be locked up, waiting to be killed. You might want to reconsider who owes who what.”
“Oh, please. As if you did it for some noble reason!” Ginny spat from Harry’s side.
“Ginny!” Her mother exclaimed, sending potato peals flying. If I hadn’t been so frustrated I would have laughed.
“What?” Ginny replied, eyes blazing from her tear-streaked face. Her cheeks were flushed under the freckles. She rapped a possessive arm around Harry. “He’s bad.”
I felt a great surge of dislike. I bit my tongue to stop from asking if her parents ever taught her manners.
“Ginny,” Harry said softly, untangling himself from her arms and giving her a look I didn’t understand. It was cold, desperate almost. “Ron. He did, he saved my life.” He gave me a steady look, as if to say ‘see?’
Why did he always have to prove himself noble? I wished he would just choose a side and stick to it. I wanted to know where he stood. Them or me, not trying to please everyone. Things would have been better, maybe, if he had.
But that’s getting ahead of myself.
“Doesn’t make him less of a jerk,” Ron muttered. Hermione shushed him.
“But you said—” Ginny protested.
“I—trust him,” Harry said. And paused, as if saying it out loud surprised him. “Enough to bring him here, at least,” he added after a few moments. The room fell silent, absorbing Harry’s proclamation. I allowed myself a small smirk.
“Mr. Malfoy is under our protection now,” McGonagall said eventually. “By all accounts he saved Harry’s life for good reasons. As such, we will treat him with respect.” She gazed sternly at Ginny and Ron. Ginny sighed and Ron, with a bitter expression, inclined his head. “Mr. Malfoy,” she continued, turning to me. “We expect a full account from you tomorrow, after you have had a chance to sleep.”
I felt a surge of gratitude. So, they do treat people decently here, I thought. Even if they don’t trust me.
Molly Weasley took that moment to announce that soup was ready. Harry rushed to the table and sat, eagerly accepting his bowl. He had hardly eaten in days, of course. I hadn’t even considered how hungry he must have been. He tore into the broth, stopping only to rip off chunks of the roll that had been shoved into his hand. I lingered, watching, until Molly Weasley came towards me, tutting and waving another bowl at my face. She shoved me towards the table.
Shocked by her display of motherly instincts—even if she was much colder than she had been with Harry, crooning and patting his hair—I allowed myself to be guided to the chair next to Harry. I ate. I hadn’t realised how hungry I was until I started. I ate almost as fast as Harry. How long had it been since my last meal? It seemed like forever.
We ate in silence, everyone else watching as if they didn’t know what to make of the scene. They probably didn’t. Ron was still wearing that bitter look, his nose scrunched up and his frown deep. Hermione had her hand on his arm. Ginny was glaring at Harry, as if she were somehow angry at him. I didn’t understand, but didn’t bother to dwell. The adults were exchanging meaningful glances and raising eyebrows. Occasionally Tonks would whisper something in Lupin’s ear.
The click of spoons against empty bowls, a last bite of bread, and Harry and I were swept away. He went with Ron, chatting. Relaxed. As if everything was perfect now. I envied his composure. I tried to imitate it, adding a swagger to my step as I stood. It never crossed my mind that he could have been acting too.
I wound up with Lupin by my side, escorting me to my room. Trudge, trudge, trudge in silence. Up the decrepit main stairs, down a musty hallway. Oppressive house to match Lupin’s oppressive silence. He gave me glances. Wary. Sympathetic. I smirked back at every look, trying to be cocky. Causal. Relaxed. Like Harry. Nothing could faze me. No way I needed his sympathy. No way.
Once it looked like he was going to speak. Sad eyes, mouth opened just a bit, he reached a concerned hand towards me. I had mocked him as cruelly as I knew how in Third Year, and still he was going to be kind. After everything I’d done, and he was going to be kind. I backed away. Casual. Relaxed. Cold. His expression changed for a moment and I wasn’t able to read it. Rejection? Anger? Fear? Understanding?
It was starting to bother me, how many people I couldn’t read. I was good at interpreting expressions. I prided myself on it. But at the Order of the Phoenix there were so many relationships I didn’t know, so many backgrounds and attitudes that were new. It was disorienting. I didn’t know how to react to people I didn’t understand. People who were…what? Hostile? Hostile but welcoming all the same.
So we went on, silent, silent, silent. Our footsteps, muffled by the decaying carpet, still seemed to fill the air. Thud, thud, thud. My head was down, and I had to push back the feeling that I was a prisoner hauled off to his cell. This is not bad, I reminded myself once again. This is freedom. This is not the Dark Lord. This is good. I risked everything for this.
My room was shoved in the back corner of the hall. Small, sparsely furnished (a bed, a dresser, a chair, that’s all) but, I noted, clean. That’s why this is good, I thought. It wasn’t as if they were giving me perfect privacy, not yet: Lupin stood outside the door after locking me in. But at least they cared enough to clean.
At least there was that. At least, at least.
I dreamt. It was dark all around and there was Severus’s pale face screaming, screaming, screaming. And then it was my mother, shrieking, crying, telling me it was all right, it would be fine. Just run. Be safe. Masked figures lurking behind her, stealing her away. And there I was frozen in place watching as she was dragged off the edges of my mind. And I sobbed and screamed for mother and Severus and yelled I hadn’t meant for them to be hurt. I hadn’t I hadn’t I hadn’t!
And suddenly it was light. A crisp fall day on the Hogwarts ground. Shimmering lake, warm breeze, and Harry sitting under a tree, a book face down in his lap. He turned, face radiant and smiled at me.
“I believe you,” he whispered.
I woke drenched in sweat, shaking. The room was dark, just as it had been when I feel asleep. I couldn’t say if it had been minutes or hours, and I didn’t care. I had collapsed with my robes still on, and I could feel mother’s mirror digging hard against my side. I pulled it out, barely able to admire the ornate frame in the feeble light coming from the window.
“Okay,” I whispered. I glanced at the door, not doubting that it was still guarded. But this wasn’t going to wait. It had been long enough. I raised the mirror so closely to my mouth that it fogged as I whispered “Mother.” Be there, be there, I thought. Oh, please be there.
And I waited like that, almost kissing the mirror, my heart fluttering near my throat so I that was nearly nauseous. Waited, and pushing back the tears as minutes fell away. “Mother,” I whispered again. “Mother, mother, mother.” And the mirror remained empty. I told myself she wasn’t home, wasn’t available. She had to be careful when to respond. It’s fine, I insisted. Perfectly fine.
I fell asleep with tears running down my face, the mirror clutched near my heart.
The next morning I was marched into the kitchen again. This time the door was closed, locked behind me. The adults were all convened around the table. All staring at me as Lupin led me into the room, frowning. Frowning and sceptical. But, and my heart leapt, there was Harry, squished between Moody and Tonks. He gave me an encouraging smile, and I felt the edges of my lips pull up. It was surreal, having Harry Potter being the only person with confidence in me. Definitely surreal.
Lupin dropped himself heavily onto the nearest chair, and I wondered if he had been my only guard all night. Surely not. I stood, even when McGonagall waved me towards a seat. There were bacon and eggs on the table, but I ignored the enticing smell. We weren’t equals, and I wasn’t going play their game. I wasn’t going to sit down at the table and eat breakfast with them while they questioned my integrity. If they were going to act the court, I would damn well stand before it. Stand with my shoulders back, head up, and no tremor in my lips. I bit the inside of my mouth.
“Mr. Malfoy,” McGonagall began, her voice strong, but not necessarily unkind. Certainly I had heard her employ a harsher tone during my detentions than she did then. “Mr. Potter has told us his account. We wish to hear yours.”
I nodded. I almost wanted to ask why Harry’s word wasn’t good enough.
“Where do you want me to start?”
“The beginning.” How specific.
So, I told them. I told them about wanting to escape. About seeing Harry’s capture and fearing what it meant. About Severus and my mother and their plan. About running down the streets and Severus…Severus. I told them about his sacrifice and my lips trembled just a bit. I told them everything until the moment I entered the house.
Everything but the mirror Mother gave me. I didn’t tell them about that. That would be my secret. Just Mother and I.
“So you don’t know what Snape’s plan was?” Moody growled at me. It was hard to tell which was more obvious, his scorn for me or his hatred of Snape. He fixed me with that eye. “You didn’t know what he was planning on doing to Harry?”
“No,” I snapped angrily. “But I just told you he fought off Death Eaters for Harry! He’s out there captured and tortured or...or de…” My whole body was trembling now. I felt myself going pale. “And all to RESCUE HARRY! So before you start—”
“He could have been in league with those Death Eaters!” Moody yelled back, twisting his deformed face. Lupin placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, but it was roughly shrugged off.
“Merlin!” I exclaimed. “That’s UNBELIVABLE! If anything you should be trying to HELP Severus! I can’t believe you’re questioning his motives! HE RESCUED POTTER! I RESCUED POTTER! WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT!?”
My hand flew to my mouth. I had lost control. Lost control. Understandable in retrospect: the pressure had been building and building, the frustration mounting to break the levees of my self-restraint. But I was furious with myself, as furious as I was with Moody, grinning his twisted grin at me like he had just won something.
“Good,” he said simply, and nodded at McGonagall, who smiled at me.
“Of course we believe you, Mr. Malfoy,” she said consolingly. “Now, have some breakfast.”
I stared blankly at her.
That was it? An angry explosion and they believed me?
I was definitely out of my element.
I lay sprawled across my bed, on my stomach, reading. This was that afternoon: after an uncomfortable breakfast, (silence, clink of fork, ‘more bacon please’, silence), I had secluded myself. Already the plain room was becoming my sanctuary. Limbo, I had decided. I was in Limbo, judged to be neither enemy nor friend. An odd entity and no one knew what to do with me. I didn’t.
I had tried Mother again, met with no response again. Cried again. But that was the morning, and now I was absorbed in a potions book Lupin had brought me from the library. I was beginning to appreciate his small gestures, even if I couldn’t stand the sympathy in his eyes.
I didn’t notice the door open, barely registered the floorboard creaking before I heard his voice. Harry’s.
I tensed, but didn’t look up. I remember that; deliberately choosing not to look up. I didn’t want him to know that my heart had leapt. I decided I was becoming far too grateful for his presence. Even if he was one of only two people in the house to give me more kindness than distrust, he was still Harry Potter, after all.
“What do you want, Potter?”
He moved forward, tentatively perching himself at the foot of the bed. So hesitant he barely let any weight fall, hardly indented the mattress. I flipped onto my back and stared down my nose at him, resting my book on my chest. Encouraged, I suppose, by my lack of discouragement, Harry settled further, hunching over. Intimidated, unsure. But why was he intimidated by me?
“Listen,” he said softly. And then in a rush: “I’m sorry. About last night. And this morning. They shouldn’t have been so hard on you.” I raised an eyebrow. He sighed, looked down. Traced lines in the covers with his finger. “And…” A pause. Did he not know what to say, or did he not want to say it? Even in retrospect it’s hard to know. I like to think the former. “Well…er…thank you.” He raised his eyes briefly, afraid of my reaction.
“Thank you?” I repeated. “Didn’t you already do that?”
Harry shrugged, looked up and caught my eyes this time. “Maybe. But really, I…just wanted you to know. I’m grateful.” He swallowed hard, a muscle at the edge of his jaw twitching.
I swallowed too. Something about his gaze made my stomach flip. It was burning and sorrowful and understanding. It was honest and raw.
“Well, you’re welcome, then,” I eventually said. I broke eye contact, looked down, pretended to be absorbed in the cover of my book. I ran my finger over the purple leather in the silence, wondering why he was still there, watching me. Wondering why my cheeks felt flushed. We sat like that and sat like that. Maybe it was only a minute but it felt like forever. He tapped a little drum roll on the side of the bed and never took his eyes off my face. At least, I believe he never did: I felt them on me even as I concentrated on not looking at him. Maybe it was my imagination.
What are we doing? I wondered. What is this world where Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy are sitting on the same bed, silent? Shouldn’t we be throwing barbed insults around?
He broke the silence, of course. It wasn’t as if I had anything to say (or so I told myself).
“Listening.” Keeping my eyes down, but listening.
“They do believe you.”
“I believe you.”
Pause. What did he want me to say?
And then: “I’m glad.”
“I do trust you.”
Wasn’t that the same thing? Believe, trust. Was one deeper? He was looking down now, so maybe trust meant something more to him.
“Good. Great.” That was more sarcastic than I had meant.
He sighed, pressed his palms into his eyes.“Great. Be that way. You’re so fucking defensive,” he muttered, shaking his head.
“Sorry,” I whispered. It was sincere. He stopped shaking his head, bobbed it instead, and stared at me again. Unnerving. “Why are you still in here?” I asked. “You’ve said thank you.”
As soon as I said it I felt a pang of regret. As strange as it was, as much as I hated it, I didn’t want him to leave. Harry Potter, I reminded myself. Harry Potter. But try as I might, I couldn’t quite relate that unsettling stare, that hesitant, understanding figure perched at the end of my bed, with the boy I was supposed to hate. There was none of the cockiness and self-righteousness I despised. No childish insults, no competitive glares. This was someone different.
“I don’t…I don’t know,” he said. “If you want me to leave…” He began to rise.
“You don’t have to,” I said, too quickly to sound nonchalant.
Harry grinned slightly, and sat back down. “Lonely?” he asked, almost condescending. But with enough kindness to take the snap out of my reply.
“Do my ears deceive me, or was Draco Malfoy just honest about his feelings?” He full out grinned, then.
“Shut it, Potter,” I mumbled.
“Now, that lacked conviction.” Sarcasm was his version of being warm and friendly, I decided. Who would have guessed? It was also his version of being cruel, after all.
Things change, things stay the same.
“What, do you want me to curse at you?”
“Or just curse me, for that matter. It would be more familiar.”
“Potter, I just rescued you from the Dark Lord. I’m under the protection of your Order. Is any of this familiar?” My voice cracked somewhere in there. I could hear how strained I sounded. I berated myself for letting him see too much, understand my feelings too well. Berated, but didn’t immediately regret.
“No. It’s not.” He studied my face. Again. My cheeks were flushing. Again. How much did he have to look at me? Suddenly, he put out his hand. It hovered stiff and formal a foot away from my face.
“Um…Potter?” I questioned, sitting up a little, letting my book slide into my lap.
“Yes.” He cocked his head to the side. “I’m Harry Potter, pleased to meet you.”
“What?” I glared at his hand.
“Just introduce yourself.”
“No, I’m Harry Potter,” he said, waving his hand at me. “Introduce yourself. And shake my hand.”
Shooting him a sceptical look, I did so. We grasped hands only briefly, and I was struck by how warm his was. “This doesn’t change anything,” I warned. “We can’t just start over. The past is the past.”
Harry lowered his head in agreement. “I know. Just…think of it as a…official truce.” He looked up, and once more fixed me with the stare that made me cheeks flush. That’s what I remember about this conversation: green eyes, warm cheeks. “I don’t hate you, Mal—Draco. Draco.” He raised his chin, challenging.
I let myself smile, a little. “And I don’t hate you,” pause. “Harry.”
That night I had planned to stay in my room. Try to contact Mother again. Her absence was weighing in the back of my mind. Her absence and Severus’s sacrifice and was there anything I could do, there must be something, something, something!
But Harry came, again interrupting my perusal of a potions book. Another one. Already, monotony was setting in. He nudged the door open with his foot, glanced in uncertainly.
“Ma—Draco.” (“Draco” he whispered again to himself). “There’s supper.”
“You should come.”
I sighed, put my book down. “Why? It’s not like Weasley or Granger would be happy to see me.” Or anyone else, I thought. I didn’t fancy the idea of a supper as awkward as breakfast, all full of false politeness.
“Ron and Hermione,” Harry said, his voice slipping away from kindness. Friends still came first, then, I noted. They always would.
“I only remember shaking your hand,” I said pointedly.
His mouth bent into a frown, eyebrows furrowed. He glared; I gazed calmly back. I wasn’t going to let him recognize how much his offer of friendship (not friendship really, but it was the best word I had) meant to me. That I had smiled when he left the room earlier, more elated than I’d been in months; that I was weak enough to need confirmation of goodwill: those were my secrets.
“You aren’t going to get anyone to warm up to you if you just sit in here all day,” he said finally.
“Pot—Harry,” (Merlin, am I really calling him Harry? I wondered), “Do you really think they’re ever going to ‘warm up’ to me?”
“I have.” His tone was defiant. As if to say ‘if I can, anyone can.’
“Yes, well, I saved your life, now didn’t I?”
Harry shrugged, deflating. “Well, you have to eat.”
“I’m perfectly capable of serving myself, thank you,” I replied testily.
“Mrs. Weasley has made a fantastic dinner.”
“Which I would utterly hate to ruin.”
“If you ever want people to help you, you have to at least cooperate!”
“How very Slytherin of you,” I remarked coolly. But I knew he was right. If I ever wanted anything from the Order, (Mother, Severus! I thought), I needed to…not endear myself to them, that was impossible. But I needed to be more than the ex-Death Eater locked in his room.
A strange expression passed over Harry’s face. Reflective, maybe. “When in Rome...” he whispered, and briefly smiled to himself.
“What?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he said, snapping his eyes back to me. He ran a hand through his hair. Messy as always. I had never once seen his hair lie flat. “Are you coming?”
“Will you leave me alone if I say no?”
“Of course not,” he replied with a small grin, not quite sure if he should really be joking with me quite yet.
“Then, seeing as I don’t fancy spending the whole night with your head stuck in my door, I guess I have no choice.”
“None at all.”
Walking to supper side by side with Harry Potter was a strange experience. We were accompanied by a silence that was far from comfortable, but not quite awkward. Certainly not as awkward as it should have been. We were beginning to click into place, even then walking in time to each other.
Supper. That was a different matter.
Heads turned from their plates when I walked in. Ginger hair and glares confronted me. Ron with that scowl, Ginny with her blazing eyes. Hermione looked indifferent, but distant. Scornful, I realised. As if she knew she was better than me. The adults hid their thoughts well, managed to pass themselves off as open to my presence. But hostility buzzed through the air and stung at me in sharp glances, hidden frowns.
I quietly took my seat, next to Harry, at the end of one side. McGonagall to my right, at the head, and Lupin across from me. Ron and Hermione and Ginny were down at the other end, and I didn’t pretend to think that the seating was a coincidence. If they had been a clear person to thank, I would have.
Silence was slowly broken: Lupin turned to Tonks, Harry to Moody, Arthur and Molly Weasley to each other. All talked purposefully about nothing. Doing their best to appear normal, I’m sure.
I remained intently quiet, eyes on my plate. Just keep eating, dignified and unobtrusive, I told myself. I relaxed a little as the conversations stopped seeming strained. I could feel the centre of attention slipping away from me, and finally I could appreciate the pot roast and mashed potatoes. I hated to admit it, but Molly Weasley was an excellent cook.
And so my first real dinner at Grimmauld Place almost passed without event. I was about to congratulate myself on a job well done, even. About to begin to feel almost comfortable. And then Harry turned to me.
“How’re you doing?” He asked softly. So he wasn’t ignoring me, even if he was trying to avoid being overheard. I almost told him not to bother: as soon as Harry had turned, Ginny fixed her glare on him. The hard one that has become so emblematic of her in my mind: angry and wanting and determined and very much Gryffindor. She had been staring at him on and off all night: I didn’t look up from my plate much, but when I did, she was always there, looking at him, frowning. Maybe she stared at him the whole meal, I don’t know.
“I’m fine,” I told him quietly.
“Not so bad, is it?”
“No,” I replied. Ginny was nudging Ron; I saw the small toss of her head in our direction. “The food’s good,” I said, a little louder. If she was determined to start a scene, I was going to make sure my part was that of the nice boy being discriminated against. After all, wasn’t that what was happening? Wasn’t I being a good little boy?
Of course, you, my reader, will be pointing to my past, my views, protesting that I was anything but an innocent. And I won’t disagree (though I may have then). But at least I wasn’t rising to the bait: I was looking to move beyond the past, and maybe you can give me credit for that.
Ginny, on the other hand, was apparently not planning on moving beyond anything. I was surprised that she attacked before Ron; after all, I had never focused any particularly vehement scorn towards her. I had earned Ron’s hatred, I knew that. But Ginny had only been of consequence in my mind when she was around Harry; an easy avenue of assault against him.
“You mean you’ve permitted yourself to even touch food made by a blood traitor?” She asked testily.
“Ginny!” Her father exclaimed. “What has gotten into you?”
“Oh, I’m just surprised he’s lowered himself so far as to even sit at our table, and eat Mum’s food. After all, his family has always had such a hatred of us.” Her cheeks flushed, and I wondered if she was thinking of the Riddle diary (you recall the year Hogwarts was almost cancelled, I assume?). Because the sins of the father must always be visited upon the son.
“Ginny, don’t,” Harry said, gentle but firm. I watched their silent conversation, looks I still couldn’t understand, lost. Lost, lost, lost, that’s what I was. Lost. Passive.
I did not escape servitude to silently accept every blow, I reminded myself. There’s a line between playing nice and playing a wimp.
“No,” I said, clearly. The table went silent. “If she has a problem with me, let her tell me.” There. That sounded mature, balanced. Not something a Death Eater would say. I hoped.
Ron blanched, and fixed me with a look of pure loathing. As if I had no right to be rational. Ginny’s lips parted, her eyebrows drew together. It looked as if she wanted to shout back, but a glance around the table told her better. She might have been the favoured, surrounded by friends and family, but I was the polite one, shocking as that was.
“I…” she stuttered, probably not sure if she was allowed to say everything she was thinking. To be fair, if the tables had been turned I would have been equally lost for words. But I still congratulated myself. Maybe I wasn’t getting through dinner with no incident, but at least I had the upper hand now.
“You what?” I probed.
“Nothing. There’s no problem at all,” she said through gritted teeth.
“Of course not.” She narrowed her eyes. “You saved Harry’s life, of course there’s no problem.” McGonagall nodded firmly at that; Moody growled to himself.
“As long as that’s understood,” I said smugly, giving her a small, insincere smile. I nodded sharply in Ron’s direction as well; he looked simply murderous. I was surprised, however, to see Hermione giving me a quizzical look. If anyone had a right to hate me it was her, but there she was looking more fascinated than upset.
Mudbloods, I thought. I could never understand them.
“Thank you for the supper,” I said calmly, rising. “It’s been a lovely evening.”
And after that...
It’s hard to say, hard to describe, those following weeks. How to convey the, oh, I don’t know what I was feeling. Confusion, contentment, anger, fear, peace. There were no more confrontations: no one made me take meals with the group again, and I steadfastly avoided my peers. (Ginny—Ginny the Antagonistic I called her to myself—disappeared during that week: somehow it was September 1st already and time for Hogwarts. The day before was filled with screaming: she was going back while Ron and Hermione and Harry stayed to help, and she wasn’t happy about it. But her protests went unheeded, and, from the library window I watched her leave, dragging a trunk and sulking).
The adults would give me small nods when I did bump into them, on my way to the library or the kitchen. Lupin and even McGonagall sometimes gave me a smile (though McGonagall was a rare site: I gathered she was spending her time at Hogwarts). Once in the first week Lupin sat with me during breakfast, silently browsing the newspaper.
I did run into Hermione a few times, in the library. I tried not to, never entered when she was there. But I couldn’t stop her coming in after me. She would just look at me like I were some fascinating specimen: cold, but not cold hearted. Clinical, maybe. And then she would ignore me and pursue the shelves intently, brow furrowed. Not just looking for light reading, I could tell you that even then.
And sometimes it would be Harry in the library, pouring over books.
“Are you actually doing homework?” I asked him once. (This was before Ginny left, before I realised he wasn’t going back either). He gave me this look that was just pure frustration and weakly whispered, “No.” I didn’t ask him about again.
But we did talk, Harry and I. He prevented me from being completely lonely, from feeling completely isolated. He stopped by my room at least once a day (often twice, thrice), poking his head in and asking “Are you all right?” Are you all right. As if he had to look out for me. As if I was in dire urge of falling over the edge if he didn’t keep an eye on me. As if daily conversations with him (if they could be called that, still hesitant and meaningless, about the weather and last night’s food and the latest Quidditch match) were possibly the only thing keeping me firmly sane.
Of course, all those as ifs were true. Because when I wasn’t talking to him, all I did was read. But reading had become a constant battle to keep my mind on the page, away from other things. Darker things that gnawed on the back of my mind and kept me up at night and seeped into my nightmares and constantly buzzed, buzzed, buzzed all the time in my head.
Because the days were dragging on (two my mind would buzz. Five. A week. A week!) and still the mirror, a constant weight in my pocket, never showed my mother. I constantly called for her. Every night before finally slipping off into sleep (nightmares, only nightmares; if not dead bodies and the Dark Lord’s cruel face, then the feel of Crucio tearing through my body), every morning as soon as I woke up (sweating, always sweating), through the day when ever the buzzing fear was too persistent. I checked and I checked and she was never there.
And I carried that; the feeling of staring at my reflection, just me. A Sinking feeling, the acid taste of bile in my mouth. It permeated through my drab room, became inextricably linked to my surroundings in just a few days. I still can’t think of the blue flowered comforter, fading around the corners where I picked at loose threads, without my stomach twisting.
And only Harry could dull that pain (a little, but any relief seemed like godsend), distracting me with trivialities. Bits of banter, uncomfortable glances. I didn’t know why he did it (never occurred to me he might have fears to hide from too). But at least he was another human, something real.
And what if nothing had changed, if days had gone on and on like that forever? There would be no story to tell, or at the least a very different one. I could have ridden the war out shut away in my room, with histories and spell books and the boy who meant everything in the war as my only companions. I could have been oblivious to bloodshed, rotting away in my fears and lethargy and insignificance.
Maybe I would have gone insane. After all, my head was buzzing, buzzing, buzzing with terrible images all day long.
But that’s inconsequential, what could have happened. Maybe it would have been better than what did—from where I am now it seems like it would have to be, wouldn’t it? But maybe it would have been insanity, or years on years of isolated indifference, and maybe that’s just as bad. Or worse.
But now I’m getting too close to a cliché, something about a life led without feeling is worth nothing, and I don’t do clichés. And besides, that’s getting ahead of myself, the bad things—the worst things, at least, come at the end. I’ve told myself I would tell my story in order, because otherwise I’m going to go skipping the important parts that I don’t want to think about. Like what happened next: the first of two tragedies that I want to ignore but can’t, because they’re the heart of everything, aren’t they?
And so on with it, on with it. After all, the first one wasn’t even my fault.
Mother didn’t stay away forever; if she had, nothing would ever have changed, I think. It was on the ninth day, and by that time my head was pounding from lack of sleep. Harry had even commented on how pale I was looking, how thin for the amount of food I claimed to be eating (because my meals were never meals after the first few days, just nibbled bits of bread, a few bites of meat).
I was starting to lose hope, starting to hate myself for ever agreeing to leave, because now mother was gone, and how could it not be forever?
And then there she was. I was staring at the mirror, fighting back tears (a pastime I was starting to take up for hours), and suddenly it wasn’t me looking back anymore. For a few seconds I thought I was hallucinating; then that weight was just gone. I felt the smile break across my face. The mirror began to tremble in my hand as I whispered, “Mother?”
“Draco! My darling!” She was crying, and whispering and I could almost feel what our reunion would have been like, if we could have been together. Hugs and kisses on my head and my face buried in her neck and her hot tears in my hair. But all I had was her image, blurred by my breath on the mirror held inches from my face.
“You’re alive!” I choked out, and she laughed. A comforting laugh.
“Of course I am.”
“I’ve been trying to reach you,” I explained, no longer fighting the relieved tears. “I’ve been trying for days and days and you weren’t…you. weren’t…and I thought…”
“I know,” she said consolingly. “I’m sorry.”
“What did he do to you?”
Her face went cold for a second, but her tone was cheery when she replied, “Nothing. He just had me stay with Bellatrix. He was having the Manor watched, in case you came back.”
“Draco, I’m fine,” she said, tone final. “It was you I was worried about.”
“Did he believe you?” I insisted.
“I’m alive, aren’t I? But you, how are you?”
“I’m fine, I’m really fine. I’m safe, I’m with—”
“No!” She exclaimed, panicked. She threw her hand to her ears. “Don’t tell me.”
“I thought you said he believed you!”
“He does, but I don’t want a drop of…misplaced Veritaserum giving you away.”
“Veritaserum mother? You think he’s going to use Veritaserum and you’re telling me everything is fine?” My voice was high, but I had never minded letting Mother see me vulnerable.
“Draco, he trusts me. It’s just that if that ever changes…I want to know there’s no way I can lead him to you, that’s all. Just don’t tell me where you are.”
I was glowering, furious and worried. She wanted to comfort me, but I could see the signs of fear, even in that small mirror. The way she hunched her shoulders a little, and flicked nervously at her hair. But what could I do? She said she was safe, and my intervention couldn’t help. But as the wave of joy from seeing her ebbed, I remember who else I was worried for.
“Severus?” I began tentatively. Her face went taught. “Where is he?” I asked more urgently, my chest contracting again. The pain on her face made bile rise in my throat. “He’s alive, isn’t he? He must be alive!”
“Yes,” she said softly. “He’s still alive.” But she was looking down, avoiding my eye.
“Where is he?” I almost asked if he was safe, but I already knew the answer.
She looked up again, straight at me. “Draco, don’t you dare try to help him. Don’t you dare. He risked everything to get you safe—”
“What are they doing to him!?” I felt my voice rise again, shaking.
“He wants you to be safe. Don’t you dare do anything.” She was frantic. I couldn’t see them, but I knew she was wringing her hands, could tell from the movement of her shoulders, the dread on her face.
“They have him,” I pushed; my own heart racing. “He has him.” It wasn’t even a question, and Mother nodded. A tiny nod, as if she hoped I wouldn’t see. “Where?” I insisted.
“No,” she said, tears flowing more freely now, cascading down her face and staining her blue dress. Little black spots like the blood on Harry’s cloths that night a week (more!) before. A week that I had been sitting safe and doing nothing.
“They’re going to kill him, aren’t they?” She didn’t respond. “Aren’t they?” Another tiny nod, a choked sob. “What if I swore I wouldn’t try to save him? Would you tell me where he is?”
“Then you wouldn’t need to know where he is.”
“But there are…people here. People who might help.”
“Are you going to just let him die?”
“Draco, he knew the risks—”
“I can help!” Practically screaming now and I my face was sleek and hot with tears, and why couldn’t she just tell me?
She looked hurt for a second: I rarely yelled at her. I knew she wanted to break down, wanted to do anything she could to save Severus. Anything but put me in danger. Malfoys don’t give friendship lightly, but once the bond is there it’s strong.
“Mother,” I said, gently now, trying to calm my shaking hands. I rubbed one cheek in an attempt to dry it. “I promise that I won’t go after him myself. But I’ll do everything I can to get him help, if you just tell me where.”
She nodded, this time larger, and maybe to herself. “The dungeons beneath the Carrow Manor,” she whispered. “Constantly guarded,” she added.
“Thank you.” I pressed my lips to the glass. “I love you.”
“I love you too, my angel.” Her voice was barely above nothing, thin and distressed. “Don’t go looking for him yourself,” she pleaded one last time.
“Of course mother,” I intoned, and then the mirror went blank.
I burst into the kitchen, panting from running down flights of stairs. Harry was sitting with Moody and Lupin, examining a book. They all looked up sharply as I slammed the door open, and I saw the book discreetly disappear beneath the table as I caught my breath.
“Mr. Malfoy!” Lupin exclaimed, sounding both scandalized and worried.
“What’s wrong?” Harry asked quickly.
“Severus!” I gasped out. The room went cold. “He’s in trouble!” I glanced around at the darkened faces. Nobody looked ready to jump out of their seats. “We’ve got to help him,” I implored. “I know where he is.”
Even Harry was regarding me coolly. What had I expected? Not the sudden rush of energy that I would have gotten if I had rushed in announcing a Weasley’s capture, certainly. But…something. Hadn’t I made it clear that Severus was just as responsible for Harry’s rescue as me? I thought that that should count for something, should stop them from staring at me like I was crazy for suggesting that they might want to do something.
“He’s going to die!” I insisted.
“And how exactly do you know this, boy?” Moody asked, swinging his magical eye up and down my body, as if he was going to find incriminating evidence. My heart skipped a beat: I still wasn’t going to tell them about the mirror. I just knew Moody, if no one else, would insist on taking it, and I wasn’t about to give my only link to my mother to a crazed ex-Auror. I didn’t trust that he would believe me if I explained that she only stayed for my father.
“I…received a message from my mother,” I said, looking down. Moody raised a misshapen eyebrow.
“You’re still in contact with your mother?” he growled. Next to him Harry’s face was pallid, and I wondered if this was all it took to undo our tentative friendship. It was incriminating to talk to my own damn mother. My resolve to keep the mirror a secret hardened.
“I’m not ‘in contact’ with her. She sent me a letter.”
“Where is it?” Moody’s eye swung over me again.
“I burned it,” I replied, no hint of hesitation. Lying was easy. It was convincing them that my lie meant I was guiltless that might be hard.
“I see,” Moody said in a tone that indicated he did not at all see things the way I hoped he would.
“To keep her safe,” I added, letting my glaze drift to Harry briefly. He wasn’t the only one who protected the ones he loved, and I wanted to make sure he understood that. Understood that saving Severus was not about sides, it was about saving a life, a life that mattered to me. He caught my eye, but his look had no understanding. It was angry.
“Why would we help him?” he snapped. His utter hostility startled me. I flashed back to the Shrieking Shack, his hatred then as well. I remembered thinking that somehow he knew what had happened, that Severus had killed Dumbledore. I toyed with the thought again. Perhaps they had assumed. Perhaps Severus had said something as he fought off Harry (he did, fight Harry that is, as we were escaping from Hogwarts).
“You should help him,” I said slowly, “because he helped you.”
“Yeah, sure,” Harry scoffed.
“I thought you believed me.”
“We do,” Lupin cut in. “We believe that you had good intentions.”
“Snape is a different matter,” Moody growled. He scuffed his false foot against the ground, a threatening clink. “Snape we don’t trust at all.”
They know, I thought. They must know. There is no other explanation. But…I wasn’t going to bring it up, in case I was wrong.
“Why?” I prodded, heat rising to my face. I was starting to lose it: every second they wasted over something they didn’t understand was another second hastening Severus’s death. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to control myself anymore. Screw pretences, I thought. They were either going to admit to knowing or help. Losing control had convinced them of my innocence, maybe it would help again. Clearly the Order worked in ways I was only beginning to comprehend. “It was his plan, his and my mothers. He sacrificed himself. He did everything, and the least you could do is care that he’s going to die for it!” I stared them all down, one by one. Chew on that. He’s going to die for you, I thought as I stared at Harry. Time to be the hero.
Harry responded first, his voice constrained but trembling, barely controlled. “He deserves it.”
“Oh really? For what, giving you detention?” I snarked back. There is was, the challenge: tell me why you hate him. Because we all knew it wasn’t a schoolyard grudge: Harry may have been overly emotional, but he wasn’t completely irrational. Even I would admit that.
Harry paused, glanced around at the adults as if looking for confirmation. His cheeks flushed slightly as he whispered, “I was there.”
That caught me off guard, cut my adrenalin rush short. “What?”
“That night,” he said, louder. “I was there, Draco. At the Astronomy tower.”
“No you weren’t,” I said, insistent. Disbelieving. It wasn’t possible. That tower was tiny, and he had been nowhere in sight. I had gotten Dumbledore alone. It was my triumph, the reason Voldemort didn’t kill me. “No you weren’t.”
“Yes,” Harry said calmly. But he was clearly seething beneath his composed demeanour. “I was. Invisible and frozen. Who did you think the other broom was for?” (There had been two brooms. It came back like a brick to the head, and I cursed myself for ignoring it. Of course, of course the other broom had meant something). “I saw everything. Everything. I know what Snape did, and he deserves to die.”
I tried to process it all. Harry had seen Severus kill Dumbledore. Harry had seen me fail to kill Dumbledore. No wonder he had been so open to me, I thought. Did he suspect I was going to take Dumbledore’s offer before…well, before Severus?
And Severus. He had seen Severus kill Dumbledore. Seen it. Panic rose again. It had been one thing when I thought they only knew, or suspected. I could have explained things away maybe, told them things hadn’t happened like they thought. But Harry had experienced it, and there was no way could I convince him to forgive, not quickly enough. I could tell that from his expression: vehement, unabated loathing. Abhorrence echoed on the faces of the others (even Lupin, my unexecuted advocate). First hand accounts make everything more real.
How could I explain that Severus was not loyal to Voldemort, when Harry had witnessed everything? Tears: I felt tears rising. Frustration. How could I explain when I didn’t really know why he’d done it? I’d gathered things from my Mother; it was clear to me that Severus was acting for Dumbledore, strange as it seemed. But why? I had no theory, and no proof. No proof but that he had saved Harry, and clearly that wasn’t enough. Moody must have had thirty different reasons for Severus’s apparent altruism concocted, none kind. Even as I thought them, my explanations seemed weak. ‘Oh, he didn’t mean it. The old fool wanted it, I swear.’
I stood, mouth dry, at a loss. I was up against a wall after having brief moments (shining moments) of thinking I could fix things; make my gnawing worry and guilt disappear. But no, here I was with all the tools I needed to save Severus, and everyone else believing he was evil to the core. This was definitely not what I had hoped. I was all just wrong.
I turned on my heel and rushed out of the kitchen.
I sobbed in my room. Buried myself inside that blue flowered comforter and just sobbed. Unrestrained, unashamed (after all, who was there to see me?) howls of desperation. I flailed, beating my fists against the mattress. I retched, and it was a good thing that I had eaten next to nothing all day, or I would have thrown up. The images from the back of my mind, the nightmares I had spent days trying to forget, they came back starker than before. I could hear Severus’s screams. They could have been torturing him that very moment. If not, he was laying in a cell, delirious from abuse and lack of water. I had seen what they did to captives, and the punishment for betrayal would be worse.
I blamed myself. Despite the fact that Severus surly would have rescued Harry anyway, despite the fact that Harry would have been captured too, probably, if it weren’t for me, I blamed myself. I should have done something sooner. Nine days spent worrying but inactive. I was a fucking coward, and Severus was going to die because of it. He was going to fucking die and I knew it and nobody cared but me.
Nobody cared but me. Nobody was going to nobly rise to his cause.
Nobody but me.
That was when a frightening thought fleeted across my mind: I have to help him. I retched again. Let’s reiterate: I’m not a brave person. My body trembled at the idea of breaking into a protected dungeon. If I was caught…if I was caught. Severus would still be dead, I’d be dead, and my mother… He wants you to be safe. Don’t you dare do anything. Did I dare? I’d break her heart, I thought. It’d break her heart if I get caught. Could I risk that? I wanted to say no. No, I can’t risk that at all. She’d ordered me, ordered me not to go after him myself. Why throw my life away at a hopeless pursuit? That’s what I tried to tell myself: it’s hopeless. Hopeless.
But if it was hopeless than Severus was as good as dead and no, no, no I could not accept that. Would not allow it, not while I was alive and safely tucked away. My heart was beating a million times a second as I realised I was going to do it. I was going to try. What other choice did I have? (Not to seem selfless, because I wasn’t. I had loyalty, yes, and I was attached to Severus and I didn’t want to see him die, not after everything he had done for me. But most importantly I would go crazy with guilt, if I did nothing. It was for me as much as him that I had to do what I could).
My sobs began to slow, fading away to little hiccups and a few stray tears as I contemplated the enormity of my decision. I needed to move fast, and I needed a plan.
And first, I decided, I needed to know where I was going.
I was relived to find that there were, in fact, detailed family histories hidden away in a corner of the library. They took me a few minutes to locate: I was used to libraries that proudly displayed their histories beneath elaborate family trees. Here there was no family tree, and the books were given no place of honour: in fact, they were covered with a thicker layer of dust than the rest.
After a few more minutes of searching indexes and coughing as the smell of old leather enveloped me, I rose, watery eyed because of dust instead of despair, for once. Clutching a single heavy volume to my chest, I turned sharply and almost ran into Harry.
“Merlin!” I exclaimed, stepping backwards before our noses touched. “What are you doing?”
“Sorry,” he replied, sounding not at all apologetic.
We were silent, then, and I was reminded of the Shrieking Shack. Standing face to face but not really knowing where we stood with each other. We were there again; a week of companionship made the confrontation more familiar, but I still didn’t know what to say, not now that I knew Harry had been there that night. That night was when everything changed, have I made that clear? When I realised, really realised deep down that I couldn’t be a Death Eater, not really. That I didn’t want to be a killer. And more than that: that I didn’t think Dumbledore deserved to die. No Death Eater would ever say that. And Harry was there. Harry was there and that meant he hated Severus and was he going to try to stop me? He was examining me, neither angry nor compassionate. But then, he didn’t know what I was planning. Yet.
“Well,” I finally said. “If you aren’t going to say anything, I’m going to leave now.” I began to shove past him, but he grabbed my shoulder, pushed me back towards the bookshelf so we were face to face again. There was only a foot separating us and I really noticed the few inches he had on me. He kept his hand on me, pinning my shoulder uncomfortably against the shelves. But, somehow, the presence of that hand, the pressure, I didn’t mind it. It gave me confidence, something solid to face, to feel. Not just emotions. I could sense the heat of his body and his anger (he was getting angry now, lips pursed, eyebrows drawn), and it gave me adrenalin.
“Where?” He asked.
“My room, Harry. Where do you think?” Remind him we were supposed to be on good terms now, not shoving each other into bookcases.
“What are you doing with that book?” He shoved my shoulder roughly and the shock it sent through my body was not entirely unpleasant. That disoriented me for a second, and then I sneered.
“What is this, a trial?”
“Maybe.” I expected Harry to realise he was being overzealous at that point, maybe ease up, back away. I expected him to brush off his assault (maybe that’s too harsh a word, but I can’t think of a better one) with a smile and a sarcastic remark. But he kept pushing, grinding my shoulder blade against the wooden shelf.
“And who appointed you judge?” I asked coolly. I didn’t struggle. If Harry was going to make this into a battle of the wills (over what? The library had never been off limits to me before) than I was going to damn well win it. I was more patient than Harry, no question, and I was sure I could get to him before he got to me.
“What was that scene in the kitchen about?” he demanded.
“A little worked up about that, are you?”
“Why the fuck did you go raving about saving Snape?” he hissed savagely. “Everyone was just starting to get used to you.”
“And now?” I didn’t let my true curiosity (anxiety) about the answer show.
“And now we have more questions than answers!”
“So what, I’m back on probation? No library books for Mr. Malfoy? Merlin forbid we let him read, he might use the books as a portal for Death Eaters,” I taunted.
Harry glanced down at the book before I thought to cover the title. “Family history? Not exactly standard reading.”
“What, only Book of Spells, Grade Seven for me?”
“How did you talk to your mother?” Harry threw out quickly.
“You aren’t going to surprise me into telling you things I don’t want you to hear. That never works. And a letter, I told you.” I kept my eyes locked with his, no waver, no hint of the lie.
“How did she know where to send it?” He was squeezing my shoulder, breathing heavily. Dumbledore’s death must have really gotten to him, I thought. Because that had to be what this was about: Severus, Severus and what he did and my wanting to help him anyway.
“Owls are smart. You know that.”
“Why did she tell you about Snape?” He swung his right arm up, grabbed my other shoulder and shook, slightly. As if I was a broken toy that just needed banging to fix.
“Since when do you attack people over personal letters?” I challenged.
“Why?” He repeated, volume increasing. He checked himself, brought his tone down to a dangerously repressed shake as he demanded again, “Why?”
“Why does it matter so much?” As if I didn’t know.
“Because,” he said, leaning in so our faces were only inches apart. His breath smelled like bacon. “He. Killed. Dumbledore.”
“And you know nothing about it,” I hissed.
“Fuck you. I bloody saw it.” His eyes flashed perilously. I remembered a day in a bathroom, flashed spells and then I was on the ground, bleeding almost to death. The day Harry almost killed me. I don’t think he knew what he was doing; he didn’t understand the spell he used. But to use it at all… he was reckless in anger, and for the first time I felt a bit afraid. Because he was angry now, a livid anger more intense than I had ever seen from him.
“I saw Dumbledore beg,” he continued. “You were there, you saw it too. Don’t tell me I don’t understand. I damn well understand. Snape is a lying, back stabbing double crosser and you want us to fucking help him. I HATE him. Do you understand that? HATE. We all do.”
My heart was beating in my throat. Harry’s breath was hot against my face and his radiated fury was getting to me, getting inside me so that I was ready to scream back, fight back. But I didn’t, because if I wanted to help Severus (because I didn’t hate him, I loved him, the surrogate parent of my Hogwarts days. An unrelated uncle, and I didn’t care what they rest of the world thought about him) I needed to be allowed out of the house. Out of everyone’s sight long enough to get ready.
“You’re so ready to see the bad in everyone—”
“Bullshit. I believed you, didn’t I, Malfoy?”
That stung, hearing him use my last name again. It surprised me how much. Was he renouncing our truce? Were we back to being enemies, was that what that meant? Was the one thing keeping me sane gone? And I wondered if it was only for the sake of my mental well-being that my stomach sank at the thought. But there were more important things than Harry’s friendship, weren’t there? Like Severus’s life, that mattered the most. If Harry was too obstinate too see that then he wasn’t worth anything. So why did I feel the smart of tears rising?
“Fuck you, Potter. You’re too short sighted to imagine that maybe, just maybe everything wasn’t what it seemed, and a man’s going to die for it. Fuck you.” I did try to get out from his grip, wiggling my shoulders and attempting to slip down and out, but he had me pinned too tightly.
“What are you going to do?” He glared at my book again.
“What I have to,” I said simply, and jutted my chin up, daring him to question me.
Harry’s eyes narrowed, and he pulled backwards to study my face. “You’re going to go by yourself?” he asked uncertainly, as if he suspected it but didn’t believe that I would ever actually try to do anything that impulsive and foolhardy. That Gryffindor. But then, I still didn’t quite believe it either, so maybe it wasn’t unfair of him to doubt me.
“If I said yes, would you try to stop me?” In response he let his hands fall from my shoulders and folded his arms across his chest. He looked at me like I was crazy, but gave no reply. “Then, yes. I am,” I said.
“Are you insane?” he asked, eyes widening. He seemed calmed by his awe.
I rolled my shoulders around, rubbed the one he had been pressing on the longest. Shrugging once and then leaning causally against the shelves, I kept the history clutched defensively across my body. It felt good to be free (to have won our little standoff, at that), but without Harry so near, so aggressive, some of my energy disappeared.
“Am I?” I asked wearily. “It strikes me as the kind of thing you would do for someone you loved.” He started at the word ‘love,’ but didn’t reply. “I mean, playing the hero is right up your alley, isn’t it?”
“It’s not something I would advise,” Harry said after a few moments. “It doesn’t always end well.”
I laughed dully. “Yes, well, I can guarantee Severus is going to end badly if someone doesn’t do something, and since clearly no one else is going to rise to the moment, I’m going to. Unless you’re going to try to stop me,” I added, eyeing him. He took a few steps backwards, and raised his arms in the air for a second before crossing them again.
“I won’t, I promise” he said. And then he added, “Draco.”
My heart leapt, but all I said was, “Good.”
“Where is he?” Harry asked.
“What, so you can find him first and kill him?” I asked, only half joking.
“I’m not telling you unless you plan on helping me,” I said firmly.
“What?” Harry asked, irritation leaking into his voice. “You don’t trust me?”
I rubbed my shoulder pointedly. “At the moment, not particularly, no. Not about Severus.”
“Fine,” Harry said testily. “I was just wondering how much of a suicide mission this is.”
“Why? Worried about me?”
“A bit, actually.”
My breath caught. “You are?”
“You’re about to go try to save Snape for Merlin knows what reason from what I assume will be a collection of Death Eaters! Of course I’m worried! I don’t particularly want to see you die, you know.”
My cheeks flushed. It was, I believe, the first time someone outside of my immediate family, besides Severus, had ever expressed such a sentiment. He didn’t want me to die. Harry Potter, who I had wished painful death on countless times (and likewise he to me), telling me he didn’t want me to die. Another completely improbable event had occurred that was definitely on my list of things I never even thought about even thinking could happen.
“Oh,” I said.
Harry scuffed his foot across the rotting, matted rug. “Listen,” he said gently. “I’m not going with you. No one will.”
“Yeah, I got that.”
“Just listen for a second, will you? I don’t take back anything I said. I hate Snape. Hate him. But I don’t hate you, and I even still believe you. I don’t think you’re running off to rejoin the Death Eaters, and even if you are, there’s nothing you can tell them that they won’t know from Snape.” He ran his fingers through his hair, and paused, as if deciding something. “I don’t know why you trust him or forgive him or…care for him or whatever it is that’s making you do this, but I do believe you’re doing what you think is right. I think you’re wrong. We all think you’re wrong. But if you succeed we’ll take him in and go from there. We won’t be as nice as we are to you, but we won’t kill him on the spot, I’ll make sure of that.
“And I don’t want to see you die over Snape, really. And I think I have something that can help. So…Er…yeah. I’ll give that to you, if you want.” Now his cheeks were beginning to glow a faint red. “So, right. That’s what I have to say.”
“Nice speech,” I replied weakly.
“Thanks.” He gave me a small grin. “Friends again?”
I nodded. “Friends again.”
Friends. It was the first time we had put it out there like that, confirmed it. Friends.
It was the first time I had been in Harry’s room. It was more welcoming than mine, more colourful and personalised, with clothing strewn around and a picture of Harry, Hermione and the Weasleys waving at me from the dresser. There was a blank picture which I prodded gently as we entered.
“That’s Phineas Nigellus’s second portrait,” Harry explained as he made his way to the dresser and started rummaging through it. “He has another one at Hogwarts, he used to be headmaster. I suspect you two would get along well.”
I poked the portrait again. “Yeah, I think I’ve heard of him before. Not very popular, was he?”
“Not as far as I gather. He was rather rude, if his portrait is anything to go by. Here, look,” Harry added, turning around and waving a silvery cloak dramatically.
“Merlin,” I breathed. “You have an invisibility cloak?”
Harry nodded proudly. “It was my dad’s.”
“That explains a lot,” I noted. “I never guessed,” I added.
“I know. It made things so easy,” Harry said with a smirk.
“I know,” Harry said, tone suddenly serious. “You have no idea how important that advantage can be.” He tossed the cloak at me, and I caught it, startled. “It could save your life.”
“You’re giving this to me?” I asked, shocked. We may have just declared friendship, but an invisibility cloak—his father’s invisibility cloak—was a generous thing to donate to a cause he didn’t believe in.
“Lending it. I full well expect it back, so if you take it you can’t be going and getting yourself killed, ok?”
I rubbed the soft fabric between my fingers, marvelling at its lightness. He’s right, this could make a difference, I thought. And for the first time, I felt real hope.
“Ok. I promise. I’ll bring you your cloak back.”
A few hours later I was ready. Or as ready as I could be. The family history had given me the location and a brief description of the Carrow’s manor; all pureblood families are interconnected, and we all love to brag about our homes in the histories, I had counted on that. I had Harry’s cloak and my wand. I had briefly talked to McGonagall; she confirmed Harry’s promise that Severus would be granted protection, at least long enough for him to make his case. What other preparation was there?
Harry stood with me on the lawn. I held his cloak up.
“Just put it on and I’m invisible,” I stated. Not a question, just something to stop myself from thinking about what I was risking. Harry nodded. “Okay,” I said, and shook the cloak. “Just put it on,” I said, more to myself than Harry. I stood there, still.
Harry gently took the cloak out of my hand. Reaching around, he rapped it about me, fastening the clasp at my neck. I looked down and jumped when I saw the ground where my feet were supposed to be.
“Thanks,” I said faintly.
“You’re going to need to pull it over your head.”
And suddenly I was enveloped in a quick embrace.
“Good luck,” Harry whispered in my ear. He pulled back, blushing, before I could react.
“Er…thanks,” I replied. And then, strengthening my resolution, I tugged the cloak up over my head. I turned a complete circle. “See me?” I asked.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Harry asked, squinting at a point somewhat to the left of my head.
I nodded, and then, realising I was invisible (my heart leapt; it was an advantage. A huge advantage) I said, “Yes. I’m sure.”
“Right. This is it then, I guess. Remember, you promised to return the cloak.” He cracked a smile.
“I know. And I will.” (I certainly hoped I would).
And then I took out my wand, focused my mind, spun, and was gone.
It was an impressive building, but then, that was to be expected. Rising at the edge of a woods, it loomed over the trees around it, imposing. My mouth went dry. At least I ended up where I was supposed to be, I told myself. Seeing the manor I was supposed to penetrate, I wasn’t sure that that was a comfort.
A gust of wind hit my back, and I stumbled forward, towards the manor, as if nature itself were telling me to get on with it. Every second counts, I reminded myself. Straightening up I stalked forward with a bravery I was only pretending to feel. But if I kept pretending, maybe I could get through this alive.
I had Apparated close to the manor, and reached its intimidating stone walls quickly. I pressed my hand against them, felt their coldness, their solidness. This is real, I thought. I’m doing this. I’m going back to the Death Eaters, and there’s no forgiveness this time, if I’m caught.
I headed towards the back of the house, weaving through the garden, with the flowers smiling up at me like they were surrounding an innocent home. It was overcast and windy and I was cold, even beneath Harry’s cloak and my own robes. I shivered and kept my eyes focused on the building, looking for any window or door I could enter inconspicuously.
No door or windows were mistakenly left open. But I hadn’t counted on it; that would have been too much to hope for. But I did find the next best thing: a plain door on the left side of the manor, radiating the smell of pork. The kitchen. I pressed my ear against it, and thought I could hear a House Elf humming to itself.
A little backtracking led me to a stone lined pathway. I knelt, pried up a fair sized rock. I hefted it onto the path, and, after a moment to collect myself, transfigured it into a small, grey kitten. The animal looked dazed, stumbled about a bit, and then mewed in fright as I swept it into my arms.
I dashed the protesting cat back to the kitchen door, and dumped it there. It quickly caught on that the pork smell was coming from inside, and began to mew and claw angrily at the door. Hear it, I thought, hoping that I was right about the House Elf being just inside the door. Please hear it.
I spent agonizing minutes outside that door, bouncing on the balls of my feet. I couldn’t even pace, in fear that I would miss my chance to get my foot inside the door. It took all my resolve to keep from turning and bolting. But those images, the ones from nightmares, they kept running through my head, kept me in place.
And then it happened. The door cracked open and a small head peaked out.
“Kitty!” the House Elf exclaimed, pushing the door open wider. “Are you lost?” The elf glanced around the yard and, content that the cat was alone, reached out to pick it up. “Master won’t want no kitty, but I think I can feed you a little, yes?”
The cat mewed its approval and, slipping between the House Elf’s arms, rushed into the kitchen. As the Elf turned to pursue it, I jumped forward and stuck out my hand, grabbing the edge of the door.
Preoccupied with the kitten, which was dashing around the kitchen, mewing loudly, the House Elf didn’t notice that the door didn’t close completely. Nor did it notice when, a few second later, the door opened again, and then closed with a small, barely audible click.
Getting in was the easy part, I decided, as I hurried along the hallways on tiptoes. I had found my way up a flight of stairs and out of the kitchen, but from there I wasn’t sure where to go. Purebloods brag about our Manors in the histories, often time with fairly detailed descriptions of lavish dinning rooms and impressive bedroom counts. But the location of the stairwell to the dungeon is normally a less accessible fact.
I dodged in and out of open rooms, noting nothing particular in any of them except a few impressive bookcases. But if the dungeons were hidden behind a staircase or portrait, I would need a password to get in. The most logical thing to do, I decided, was to find one of the Death Eaters guarding Severus, and follow him.
I worked my way to a central hallway, lined with portraits of ancestors. There were a number that I recognized from my own home, and that made my heart ache. I passed under a tasteful chandelier that lit up the off-white walls that were so different from the deteriorating, dusty, dark Grimmauld Place. And yet this was so much more threatening; more sinister in its misleading beauty than Grimmauld Place’s cobwebs could ever be.
Having seen nobody, and knowing how possible it was to get lost in such a large house, I decided to wait by the front door. With any luck at all, that would be where the next guard came in. And with even more luck, that would be soon. I settled myself against the right wall, facing the door, and waited.
I don’t know how long my waiting would have gone on. It’s quite possibly they didn’t even use the front door. I don’t know. After a few minutes of staring fixedly at a portrait of a clean cut Wizard with sleek grey hair and a bulbous nose pacing regally about his frame, I heard voices echoing down the hall. I recognized Aunt Bellatrix’s voice first; she may have been in Azkaban most of my life, but it only took a few months for her shrill, crazed voice to become ingrained in my mind.
“This is ridiculous,” she screeched. Someone murmured a reply, but it was incomprehensible. “I could make him talk! The muggle-loving traitor!” Her ravings subsided into incomprehensible mutterings. My chest contracted. So he was still alive. I rushed down the hall towards the voices, heart pounding.
I found them inside one of the rooms I had passed over. A tapestry had been pulled back from the wall, revealing a gaping passage. I licked my lips and silently observed the scene. Amycus Carrow was standing firmly in front of the passage, his arms crossed and shoulders back. He was clearly taking a stand against my aunt. He was short and lumpy but nevertheless impressive, with a fierce gleam in his eye.
“You can’t stop me!” Aunt Bellatrix hissed.
“I very well can, it’s my house!” Amycus said, and giggling slightly, and wreathing. “The Dark Lord said no more today and you know it!”
Aunt Bellatrix breathed heavily threw her nose. “I know what my master commanded, Amycus!” She made a move forward but he thrust her back, shaking his head. “I know my master’s words better than you,” she spat. “He’s given me permission to do what I may,” she added haughtily.
“Did he now?” Amycus asked, apparently unimpressed. “Well, as soon as he lets me know that, I’ll let you do whatever you want.”
Bellatrix tossed her head imperially, a motion left from the days when she was beautiful. She snarled, “He expects you to believe me, of course.”
Uncertainty crossed Amycus’s face; surely he was reflecting on the punishment he would receive if Bellatrix was right. But he stood his ground, shaking his head firmly. “You need to swear you’re just going to guard him, before I left you go down,” he said. “I don’t want you driving him to madness when The Dark Lord said not to.”
That jolted me. Severus was alive and sane. Probably malnourished and broke, but physical injuries could be fixed. I gave the situation a once over. Aunt Bellatrix was still fuming, and neither Death Eater looked ready to give in. Amycus was planted only a few feet from the entrance, but it was big, big enough to slip through. It was even possible that no one was with Severus, at the moment. This fight was already tying up two Death Eaters, and there could only be so many guards for a prisoner they must have thought no one would come for.
This is it, I thought. This is my chance.
And before I could think too hard about what I was doing (because the more I thought, the more I hesitated. And hesitation could mean I would lose my chance, and by the look on Aunt Bellatrix’s face that could mean all chances were gone) I moved forward, skirting the walls around to the tapestry.
It was easy. They were shouting, absorbed in their fight, so any sound I may have made, any suspicious fluttering of the curtain as I slipped by was completely missed. Not once did either give a sign of noticing my path, even when I crept behind Amycus, not a foot away from him, and darted into the passage. But I held my breath the whole time I was near him anyway, so that my lungs burned and I had to force myself to exhale slowly (quiet, quiet, I told myself) as I made my way down the stairs.
The stairs were dark, but dry and clean and with a banister to grip, so I could make my way quickly but quietly. Even near the bottom of the long, twisted staircase I could, at times, hear my aunt shrieking her protests. I had to stop myself from being too pleased at how well things were going. It was all Harry, I thought, and his cloak. I’d have been dead already with out it.
The stairs opened up into a small antechamber. Dimly lit, stone and damp. In the back the room opened into an even smaller cell, in which a dark figure huddled, motionless. In front of the cell on a stool a figure slumped, elbows on knees. I recognized the hulking figure of Goyle Sr. and I felt a flash of pity. This was going to be the second time he failed at protecting someone because of me. Me and Severus. His punishment was not going to be light. But such was the price you pay, I thought, for being a Death Eater. That was why I left, wasn’t it?
I silently stunned him. His body slipped off of the stool and landed with a thud. Severus’s head shot up, and I could finally see his face. Gaunt, bloodied and even paler than Harry’s had been, that first day, with his hair knotted in clumps. But his eyes were still bright, and they shot from corner to corner of the chamber suspiciously. I dashed over to his cell.
“It’s me!” I whispered. His eyes snapped to my general direction. I slipped the cloak down, so he could see my head. “It’s me, Draco!”
Severus stood, wobbling, then rushed towards me. Or maybe rushed is too generous a word: he stumbled towards me like he hadn’t used his legs properly in days.
“What in Merlin’s name are you doing here?” he whispered. Up close I could see the bags under his eyes, hear the way his voice, normally so confident and commanding, rasped and broke. His breaths were shallow.
“Rescuing you, what do you think?”
“How—how—” He scowled in disbelief.
“Mother,” I whispered urgently.
“Your mother sent you after me?” he exclaimed, scowl deepening.
“Not exactly. I’ll explain later. We’ve got to get you out of here.” I shook the bars like that would make them open.
“Goyle has a key,” Severus said, indicating the figure prone on the floor. I scrambled over to it and knelt. “He had it in the front of his robe,” he added, as I began patting down the sides of Goyle’s large figure.
“Great,” I muttered: Goyle had fallen face forward. I wrapped my hand under his arms and pulled, a process impaired by the cloak tangling itself in my arms. I knocked the stool over, and if fell with a clatter, but I managed to flip Goyle. I ripped open his outer robes and frantically ran my hands through the pockets, until I found the key. I held it up and smiled at Severus.
But he didn’t smile back. His eyes were narrowed. “Put that cloak back on,” he hissed.
“Wha—” But then I heard the footsteps trampling down the stairs. I drew the cloak back over my head just as Aunt Bellatrix came flying into the dungeon. She stopped short at the sight of Goyle.
“What did you do!” she screeched, pointing her wand at Severus. “Where did you get a wand?”
Severus held his hands up, waved them. “No wand,” he said, simply.
“Liar! How did you do it? ”
“I think maybe he had a bit too much to drink before coming down here,” Severus said, so collected for someone faced with the wand of a crazed witch.
“WHAT DID YOU DO?” Severus didn’t reply, just glared, his skeletal face defiant. “CRUCIO!” My aunt yelled.
And he screamed. His body crumpled to the floor and he twitched and screamed like I had seen so many times before. But this was Severus, and his screams were coming broken and gargled and more on the verge of just disappearing into nothing than I had ever heard.
“EXPELLIARMUS!” I yelled, and my aunt’s wand flew from her hand. Severus’s screams cut off, replaced by shallow rasps. Aunt Bellatrix whipped around, searching for me. “Who are you!” she growled. I said nothing. “Come out and play,” she whispered madly, leering in my direction. When she got no response, she lunged for her wand.
I stunned her. And then, for good measure, created ropes to bind her arms and legs (as an afterthought I did the same to Goyle, who was beginning to stir). There are some tricks you pick up as a Death Eater that are worthwhile.
I rushed over to Severus’s cell, shoved the key in the lock. “Severus?” I questioned as the door slipped open. “Severus?” He didn’t respond, just lay there. I dropped to my knees beside him and, pulling the cloak off of my head, rested my ear against his chest. I thought I heard—or felt—a faint beat. I moved down his body, leaned in close to his face and heard the faintest rattling of breath. Alive, but barely. Trembling, I raised his body (so light!) onto my shoulders, and ran for the stairs. At the top I found Amycus stunned (or worse). Stepping over his body I hastened for the front door. It was only a matter of time before another Death Eater came, and the cloak was only covering my body. (What a strange scene we must have cut: a head and a dying man floating along just behind it, groaning and rasping). The door came, and then the chill cutting into my as I stumbled onto the lawn.
As I stood there, supporting Severus, catching my breath, I realised I had succeeded! And with that thought filling my senses and making me tingle with relief, I Apparated back to Grimmauld Place.
Harry, Lupin and McGonagall were at the door as soon as I banged on it. Lupin breathed in sharply as he caught sight of Severus’s bloody face, and he quickly took him from me, gently cradling the limp figure in his arms.
“The Cruciatus,” I explained. “He needs help.”
McGonagall nodded. “We’ll take care of him.” She gave me a concerned look. “You just stay down here, we’ll get you,” she commanded, tone unreadable. She rushed off, practically leaping up the stairs, taking them two or more at time. It was the least dignified I had ever seen her (or have since, for that matter). Lupin followed her, quickly, but careful of the body. I watched them go, heard McGonagall call for Moody and the Weasleys. When they were out of sight and earshot, I sighed. It was only then that I realised I was trembling. I blamed it on the door being open, the cold air.
I slipped inside the hall and shut the door. Harry was watching me with his head tilted, an amused expression on his face. He kept flicking his eyes across my body, and I almost asked him what he was staring at, until I realised I was still wearing the cloak. I was nothing but a floating head, and I couldn’t blame him for smiling. Grimacing, I slipped the cloak off.
“Here,” I said, holding it out to him. “I told you I’d return it.”
“I’m glad you did.” Harry reached for the silvery material bundled in my first. As it passed from my hands to his our fingers brushed. A spark of warmth flushed through me, something like the opposite of the adrenaline rush I had felt as he shoved me against the library shelves. Something like comfort. Momentarily disoriented, I stammered out a grabbled reply.
“You look exhausted,” Harry said. “You should eat.”
I nodded, self consciously rubbing my hand. Human contact, I decided, as we made our way to the kitchen. That was all. That was why Harry’s touches sent jolts down my spine. Human contact in this unfamiliar, disorienting new life I was living. Human contact was something I could still understand, that’s why it got to me, pleased me. Yes, I thought firmly, it’s as simple as that.
I sat at the kitchen table over a mug of hot cocoa as Harry stood over the stove, frying eggs. In blue jeans and a maroon sweater, cooking with his hands and wand nowhere in sight, he looked the perfect picture of a Muggle. One would never have guessed that he was the proclaimed saviour of the Wizarding World. For some reason, I found that funny.
I poked at the marshmallows, observed as they bobbed in and out of the dark liquid. Once my body relaxed, warmed by the drink, my mind began to clear. It didn’t make me happier. I tried not to think about how shallow Severus’s breaths had been, how he could hardly even scream. I was back and he was here now, and here was safe. Yes, I told myself, there were wizards here who know how to heal. Here is safe. Safe.
Harry scraped the eggs onto a plate and handed it to me before slipping into the seat across from me. I attacked the food ravenously.
“Why didn’t you use magic?” I asked after a few minutes, more to fill the silence, than because I cared.
Harry shrugged. “Habit, I guess. It’s just as easy, really.”
I nodded. “They’re good.”
I stared morosely at my plate, trying to think of something else to say. I couldn’t remember anything from the newspaper that morning; no topic of idle chatter came to mind. I wanted to pound and scream in frustration. I was supposed to be happy now. I had done what I said out to do! But Lupin’s deep frown, McGonagall’s tight voice, kept flashing around whenever a swell of delight tried to rise in my stomach. I wanted to sleep; just let it all fall away. But I wasn’t going to do that until I knew, definitively, that Severus was alright. I wanted my first peaceful night’s sleep since arriving at Grimmauld place
And so I kept staring into my mug as the minutes passed by, sipping the cocoa down until only the marshmallows were left, melting around the ceramic bottom. Harry made me more eggs, and bacon. He moved quietly around the kitchen, apparently attempting to make as little sound as possible, so that all I heard was the fizzle-crack of eggs and bacon cooking. He seemed to be waiting for me to talk.
As the silence dragged on, I was reminded of the Shrieking Shack again, of counting floorboards and waiting for Severus (and waiting and waiting and waiting).
“The cloak,” I said finally, when it was getting to be too much. Harry was seated across from me by this time, his head buried in hands. He looked up quickly at my voice. “Thank you. I…I wouldn’t have been able to do it without it.”
“You’re welcome,” he said, tone encouraging. As if he wanted me to talk. (Looking back, I realise he must have been using his own experiences, to know enough not to push me to talk, but support me when I did.)
I sighed, pushed a stray bit of egg around the plate with my fork. I didn’t have anything I wanted to say, not about that night. What good would giving an account of it be? It wasn’t like my little rescue mission was bothering me. It went well, and I didn’t see anything I hadn’t before. No, it was the waiting that was getting to me, and what was there to say about that? I wasn’t about to break down and cry in front of Harry. I didn’t break down and cry in front of people, period. And I wasn’t going to bare my soul about the nightmares and the way Severus could hardly breathe. I just wasn’t.
I rubbed my temples, tried to think about anything else. About…what was it that had shocked me? My mind groped around in vain, and I realised just how tired I was. Then I remembered. Why no one else would help me rescue Severus in the first place.
“Earlier,” I said. “You told me…The Astronomy Tower...” I trailed off. Harry looked surprised for a second. He hadn’t expected that. But then he bowed his head. “You…you were there? ”
“Yeah,” he said, and sighed. “I was.”
“The whole time?”
“Oh.” I didn’t really know how to respond, what to make of it.
“Listen, Draco,” Harry said after a pause. “You…that night…you, you did the right thing.” I cracked a weak smile. Harry ran his eyes over my face and bit gently at his bottom lip. And then: “You lowered your wand, didn’t you?”
I started. That I hadn’t expected. I had only lowered my wand a fraction before other forces intervened. I hadn’t even been sure Dumbledore had seen it. Regaining composure, I nodded. “Yes, I did.”
Harry smiled encouragingly. “That’s why I trusted you, at the beginning,” he said.
“What, it wasn’t my natural candour?” I asked, giving him a small grin.
“No, not really.”
I laughed. It was half hearted, but at least it was a laugh. It felt good.
“I regret it, letting the Death Eaters in,” I said. It seemed like the right thing to say, then, though it wasn’t precisely true. Not that I was proud of it, I wasn’t, and I did regret being involved with the Death Eaters at all, though at the time it had seemed inevitable. But that day, I couldn’t have done anything differently. I had to let them in or put my family at risk, and I had no qualms about choosing family over others. But my words, as much as they stretched the truth, seemed to please Harry. His smile widened.
The conversation lapsed. “Um,” I started up again, searching for a topic. “Why were you with Dumbledore? That night.”
Harry immediately stiffened, his smile disappeared. “I…we…were doing…something,” he stammered.
“Oh, well, that clears it up then.”
“It’s not your business!” he bristled.
“Whoa!” I exclaimed, taken aback by his irate response. “Fine, I was just wondering. Never mind.” But my curiosity was piqued, and decided that if I ever got the chance, I would like to know what it was that made Harry so upset.
“Sorry,” he said. “Could we just…talk about something else?”
“Yeah, whatever. I don’t really care.” I just wanted to keep my mouth running, my mind occupied. “Why aren’t you back at Hogwarts?” I asked.
“Just…helping with the Order seems more important.” His eyes flicked down for a second, and I wondered if there was more there than it seemed.
“Weasley and Granger too?” I prodded.
“Where are they, anyway?” Not that I wanted their company. But I thought that Hermione, at least, would want to be at the scene of everything going on in the Order. She seemed the type.
“I don’t know,” Harry said with a shrug. “The library, probably. Researching…or something.” He grinned sheepishly.
“That’s a mental image I’d rather not have, thank you,” I said, adding on a mock shudder for effect. “The Weasel and the Mud—”
“Hey!” Harry snapped, suddenly flushed. “Don’t you dare call her that!”
“Merlin. Okay, okay, sorry.”
“Don’t you dare,” he added for emphasis. “They’re my friends.”
“Sorry.” Harry glared at me for a few more seconds, making sure the point sunk it. “Sorry,” I repeated. “I get it, friends.”
New topic, I thought. “So, er…Ginny Weasley sounded pretty upset about going back,” I ventured, saying the first topic that came to mind (first that didn’t involve death and pain and the knot sitting heavy in my stomach). “Was she not allowed to stay and help?”
At Ginny’s name Harry jolted upright, looked almost eager for a second. Then he slumped back into his chair. “Yeah,” he said. “Everyone agreed it would be better for her to go back.”
“Everyone but her?”
“Yeah.” He sighed, forlorn. That sigh prompted a memory: Pansy with her arms around my neck, whispering in my ear that Harry Potter had a stupid, blood traitor of a girlfriend. I had forgotten about that; it was the kind of thing that any other year I would have latched on to, figured out how to torment Harry with it. But Pansy’s gossip had come when other matters were more pressing, and had hardly penetrated my conscious.
“Do you miss her?” I prompted. Harry look startled, and then nodded. “Oh.” I wasn’t sure why that bothered me. “Sorry I brought her up.”
“No, it’s alright. It’s…Hogwarts is better. She’s safer there.”
“How very self sacrificing of you, Harry. You’re quite the hero.”
“That I am,” he muttered, more to himself than me.
“Is that bitterness I hear?” I asked slyly.
“No.” I raised an eyebrow. “Just self pity,” he finished with a wry laugh.
We lapsed into silence again. I went back to watching the marshmallows melt, and he sat there, drumming on the table lightly and watching me. It was a little unnerving. I didn’t like that his gaze was making my face burn, my entire body sweat a little. It was too damn perceptive, I thought. It seemed like he could see right through me, and that was frightening. But that wasn’t even rational: he hadn’t made any deep insights into my mind, really. It was just the way he drew his brow together and set his mouth in a small frown, like he was considering every part of me carefully.
Merlin, I thought. Pull yourself together! It’s just a stare; he’s just a person. I picked up a last piece of bacon and ate it, then glanced around the kitchen for a clock. How long had it been, anyway?
Harry, reading my movements, said, “There isn’t a clock in here.”
“Great,” I said. “That’s fine.”
Harry tilted his head and leaned back, thinking. He chewed on his lip few a few seconds, and then came forward, leaning across the table. He reached his hand out, as if considering putting it on my arm, comforting, but then rested on the table instead.
“It’ll be alright,” he whispered. “He’ll be all right.”
I nodded at the table, and told myself not to cry.
It was an hour later (and hour that dragged on for days) before Lupin came down. He came in from behind me. I heard his heavy foot steps and saw Harry’s worried frown, before I turned with a plummeting heart towards Lupin’s ashen face.
“You’d better come upstairs,” he said. His voice quivered.
I opened my mouth to speak, but it was too dry, my heart was beating too fast and hard for me to form words. Harry spoke for me.
“How…is he?” he asked, reluctant, because of course the answer was obvious. Harry threw me a concerned look.
Lupin shook his head, and I collapsed forward, head into hands. I heaved, breathing deeply into my palms (still smeared with dirt from digging up the rock-cum-kitten). I didn’t cry, didn’t even want to. After the waiting with tears barely held back, the reality, the knowing, it only brought a wave of numbness. Every bone in my body felt heavy, like the weight of the past weeks finally came crashing down on me. After everything, after I’d done everything I could, and still, and still. I’d failed. I’d failed him. After everything he’d done for me, and I’d failed him.
I was startled out of my misery, for a second, by Harry’s sudden movement. He slid onto the bench next to me, so that the sides of our legs grazed. Cautiously, he finally put his hand on my arm. I flinched, surprised at his touch, but didn’t protest because at least it was warm (alive), when I felt so numb. Human contact.
He slid the hand up to my shoulder and then around, in a half embrace. He hunched over like I was, and whispered in my ear (mouth grazing flesh. Shivers), “Do you want to go up?”
In that moment, all I wanted was to stay like that, with Harry’s arm around me, a warm safety blanket shielding me from everything. It was too much, I wanted to scream. I’m done, just done. Just let me ignore it all!
But I nodded, and Harry slipped away and stood, offered me his hand. Trembling, I took it.
I had never believed that corpses could look peaceful. At least not the corpses of Death Eaters victims. I had seen the empty eyed, contorted bodies of tortured Muggles. That was as far from peace as possible. But Severus did, he looked peaceful.
Still gaunt and pale, but lying on a large bed with closed eyes in perfect stillness, the pressure of a hard life was lifted. I almost envied him.
I sunk to my knees at the bedside, reached out and took his hand in mine. Cold. Dead. And I thought of Harry’s touch, just the opposite. I pressed my forehead into the mattress, squeezed my eyes shut. Now the tears wanted to come.
“We’re so sorry,” Lupin said; a disembodied voice from behind me, filled with true empathy. As if he hadn’t refused to help, as if they all hadn’t left me to my own devices (my own devices that weren’t good enough).
“We did everything we could,” McGonagall said. Everything they could. Everything they could. Everything they could. A low growl escaped my throat. I stood violently, and turned to stare them all down. Harry, McGonagall, Lupin, Moody and Mrs. Weasley all blinked back at me, all frowning gently, the perfect picture of do-gooders who were disappointed in a failure, but nothing more. Who were only pretending to be touched by this death, were perhaps even pleased by it, really.
“Did you?” I challenged, voice even. “Did you?”
“Mr. Malfoy—” McGonagall began.
“No. No. You only helped after it was too late, and you know it! You had doubts, so you’ve let an innocent man die!”
“We don’t know that, sonny,” Moody broke in.
“Fuck you,” I hissed, muscles tensing. “Fuck you.” Striding confidently—the shinning example of wronged yet dignified—I pushed through the group towards the exit, banging hard against Mrs. Weasley and not flinching. I stopped at the door, and gave them all one last contemptuous look. “You don’t know anything,” I spat, and left.
I kept that confident stride through the halls, and into my room. And then I collapsed onto my bed, buried my face in my pillow. I didn’t cry; without the presence of the corpse, my tears were repressed against, replaced not by numbness but a cold anger that swelled in my stomach. Anger at myself and at my insane sadist of an aunt and anger at the Order members and at fucking fate whose damn wheel was always down for me. I screamed into my pillow, enjoyed the way the fabric drew into my mouth when I breathed in. Almost like it was suffocating me, and that one moment of panic, thinking maybe it was all over for me too, that felt good. I didn’t want to die, not really, but it made my heart race and adrenalin pump and as I kept breathing in, in, in the fabric, my head spun a little.
I rolled back onto my back, and saw a crack that worked its way across the sealing. Like at home. Home where mother would be hearing about this soon, and maybe she’d be questioned and Merlin, I hadn’t thought of that! Because questioning was never just questions, and what if they found out everything? I gritted my teeth, squeezing my jaw together so it throbbed.
I lay there and lay there (I’m starting to think all I ever did, back then, was lay and lay and wallow in my own thoughts). And I wanted something to just make it all go away. Make me warm and maybe not so filled with fury. I wanted to just fucking forget. I had been under pressure for a year and this was the final straw and damn it, I was just finished.
And, of course, Harry came eventually. Because…because why? I was his little pet cause, maybe. Or because he needed the company as much as I did. The distraction, and he didn’t want to lose that. I prefer that version of the truth.
He just waltzed in, and for the first time since everything had changed, I wasn’t happy to see him. He was one of them too. He was why they hadn’t come with me, hadn’t supplied the force that could have stopped Aunt Bellatrix before she started. And I had been willing to forgive him that, when I thought things could still go right. But my anger was for him too, as much as anyone.
“Fuck off,” I said, keeping my eyes on the ceiling.
“I said, fuck off.”
“No.” It was the harshest he had spoken all night. “I’m not going to let you wallow in self pity.”
Self pity? I thought. That’s what he calls this? When I hate me just as much as I hate him?
“I don’t see how it’s any of your business,” I told him.
He walked to my bed, settled himself right next to me, his leg almost grazing my torso. He was warm. “It’s my business because it…things may have been different if we had supported you more. Even with the cloak…I could have done more,” he said, and I thought I heard an edge of confusion in his voice, as if this wasn’t just his way of trying to comfort. As if he really wasn’t sure that he shouldn’t have done more.
“You hate him,” I said quietly. “You did a lot for someone you hate.”
Harry paused at those words, looked up that the ceiling. He sighed, clenched and unclenched his fist nervously a few times. “He—apparently—before he—well, he was coherent, for a bit. Long enough to…say something about a pensieve at Hogwarts, and a memory.”
I kept looking blankly at the ceiling. “So?”
“He…I don’t know, I wasn’t there. But Lupin seems to think it may…explain things. And…well, they’re going to look into that.”
“So?” I repeated dully.
“So…I…may have been wrong about Snape.” He said it with the air of someone who was repeating a worn line, and hated it. “Sometimes not everything is as it seems,” he added. “We’ll see.”
“Great,” I said angrily. “I’m really quite thrilled that you’ve decided to change your opinion. Really great timing, Harry. Bloody brilliant timing!” I pushed myself up to sitting so that he could get the full impact of my angry stare.
“I’m…sorry?” he said, knowing it wasn’t enough.
Sitting had brought me closer to him, almost face to face. His legs dangling over the edge, and mine curled, knees near chin. He radiated heat, warming the parts of me closest to him. It felt good. That human contact thing, I told myself. That again.
“Sorry,” I parroted back. “Of course you’re sorry. That doesn’t change anything. Being sorry is meaningless.” I felt myself breathing heavily and wondered why. And why was my heart beating so quickly?
“I know,” Harry whispered. “I’ll go, then.” He began to rise, and instinctually I grabbed his wrist. It was so fucking hot, and I could feel his pulse and that made my stomach jolt, so even when he sunk back onto the bed I didn’t let go.
“Stay,” I told him.
He stared, confused. “What do you want, then?”
To feel something different, I thought. To feel more of his aliveness. This, I realised, this is how the pain goes away. By human contact.
“To forget,” I said.
“I—Draco, I can’t make you—”
But he was cut off by my lips on his mouth. It wasn’t a thought, wasn’t a decision, to kiss him. He was a boy and I didn’t kiss boys, he was a half-blood and I wasn’t supposed to kiss those, either. He was Harry-fucking-Potter, the last half-blood boy I ever imagined kissing. But his was human contact and so I pressed my lips to his, wrapped an arm around his torso, placed a hand on his chest, felt his heart jump in surprise. His lips were chapped and rubbed roughly, but that was real. I kissed hard and angry and passionate and squeezed his back tightly as if I was never going to let go. I felt a stirring in my groin and for a moment I thought I could just melt into him forever. Human contact, I thought. This is all I fucking need.
But he pulled back, pushed me away.
“Are you insane?” he sputtered, wiping his lips. His face was pale, not the flush I could feel on my cheeks. “Are you out of your bloody mind? ”
I tried to calm my ragged breathing before I replied, “No.” I almost went for him again, barely held back. But I couldn’t let him know how much I wanted to feel his lips scrape against mine again. Couldn’t let him know how much better I felt, with his body near me, touching mine. It seemed insane enough just to me.
Harry stood, smoothing out his shirt. “I think you need to get some sleep,” he said shakily. “You’re overwhelmed. You…just…sleep.” He turned and stumbled out.
I fell backwards, head hitting pillow with a thud. “Fuck,” I told the empty room. There goes the one friendship I have anymore, I thought.
And I dreamt of hands and lips exploring bodies, green eyes and messy black hair, and woke hot and panting. I told myself it was just human contact, and anyone could have been in Harry’s place.
Just human contact.
The next morning, while I was reading (of course), Lupin came to my room with a tray of toast and a solemn expression.
“Harry told you about what Snape said?” he asked, placing the tray in my lap.
“Er…yeah,” I said, wondering what else of our conversation Harry had shared. But Lupin looked like he wanted to console, and maybe apologize like Harry had, as if all he knew was that I was upset over Severus. I wasn’t about to change that.
“We’ve retrieved the pensieve,” Lupin said simply.
“And…well, we think you deserve to see it at the same time as we do.”
“You do?” I asked, surprised at the gesture.
Lupin nodded, and expressed no sign of ulterior meaning as he added, “It was Harry’s idea.” My heart leaped unexpectedly on my chest.
“Oh? And when did he suggest this?”
“This morning, before Minerva brought the pensieve back,” Lupin replied, with no hint of understanding why I would ask. No, I thought, Harry hasn’t said anything. And he had still thought of me. Still. Maybe our relationship wasn’t ruined.
“Okay,” I said, and picked up a piece of toast. “I’ll come see it.”
McGonagall, Moody, Lupin, Harry. It was like they were the only ones in the house; the only ones I ever saw, at least. They sat around the kitchen table, a stone pensieve resting in the middle. Harry was steadfastly focused on the basin; he didn’t look up even when I slid into the seat across from him.
Next to the pensieve sat a small bottle, silvery grey flowing around it. The memory. McGonagall uncorked it, silently poured its contents into the pensive, where it swirled discontentedly. She poked it with her wand, and a scene formed itself: Snape and Dumbledore. Dumbledore’s office. Perfectly picturesque, with Snape sitting straight and confident across from the old man, face serious. The very model of a teacher listening to his headmaster. This was supposed to matter?
McGonagall gestured towards the pensive, and we all pushed forward. One by one into the memory, falling through time into the past. Entering pensieves always made me shiver. I landed unsteadily, flapped my hands about for a few seconds until I found someone’s arm to grab. It was Harry’s, and I felt him flinch. For a moment I felt a flare of anger. I wanted to grab his arm tighter, make him face me again, explain how he could be flinching at my touch but still suggesting I see the memory with everyone else. I wanted him to know that I still needed the feel of heat and chapped lips, his slim body in my arms. But I let go. Because I was afraid. Afraid of losing him completely. Because of my own insane desires.
And so I stood apart from him and watched the scene unfolding in front of me. Severus, greasy hair and wax pale skin as always, looked at Dumbledore with pure opposition.
“You can’t ask this of me!” he said shakily.
“Severus, you know you must do as I say,” Dumbledore replied with that calm that could drive you mad. Why was he always so in control, even while the rest of the world was falling apart? It never seemed fair.
“I will not kill you!” Severus snapped in return. I glanced over at Harry. His face was drained of colour.
“Severus, if you don’t you will die. That was the bond you made, when you came to me.”
“Not if you take back your order!” Severus replied widely. “Don’t ask this of me, Albus. Please!”
“I’m dying anyway, you know that as well as I,” Dumbledore said. He shook the robe off of his right arm, revealing the twisted, deadened mass that had passed as a hand in his last year of life. “If you don’t kill me, my death will be useless.”
“Severus!” Dumbledore replied harshly. “You know better than to let your emotions interfere with your logic! Let me live, and I will die within the next year anyway. The Order will waste its time on me, and nothing good will come of it. If you kill me you can save Draco Malfoy, and you can be there to save Harry Potter if he is caught before he is ready.”
Severus stared into his hands. “You’re asking me to give up everything,” he said quietly.
There was a flicker of sorrow in Dumbledore’s eyes as he responded, “Yes.”
Severus nodded, eyes still on the table. “I will do what you ask.”
The memory faded away as we floated back to the present.
Four sets of eyes on me, sorrowful. But damn them, I wasn’t about to give the forgiveness they sought for with those sad eyes. Not now that they knew I was right and it was their fault. They didn’t deserve it.
“You see?” I said simply. “You see?”
Something that might have been an apology formed on McGonagall’s lips, Lupin gestured, hand unfurling towards me, but I stormed out before I could hear their excuses. The cold fury that had been subdued by passion and confusion, piercing green eyes and inviting flesh, resurfaced, smouldered slowly and deeply.
I shut myself in my room with a pile of books. I locked the door and shouted angry words whenever someone tried knocking. Even Harry (and he tried, again and again, murmuring apologies) I shouted away. I won’t deny that I yearned for him, but I knew the fantasies (unbidden and confusing and nothing I had ever expected or wanted but so appealing) could not be real, because my lust (need) was not returned, that was clear at least. And I didn’t want to talk to him, didn’t want to see him repent and yet pull away from me, when I tried to seek comfort. Couldn’t deal with it, wouldn’t. And so he was driven away, as was Lupin and even Moody, who thumped up to my door. I yelled for him to go away before he could even knock.
I wasn’t going to forgive so quickly. Not know that I knew I had been right all along.
I didn’t think about the pensieve, much. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t expected, and anyway, I didn’t want to think about Severus. I was still angry but as long as I was angry I couldn’t be sad, so I clung to that. There was no funeral that I know of; I don’t know where the body is, not even now. There must be a record of it somewhere, but I’ve never had the chance to find out.
In the ensuing weeks I buried myself in books. I stayed away from potions, but the Black’s library was extensive and I found plenty of history to occupy my time. It was odd (but perhaps understandable), that I was able to forget things when I was reading, after Severus’s death. The worst had happened and I was numb to anything else. My mind went the path of passion, which I could ignore more easily than imagined screams of pain. And ignore I did, or tried. Succeeded mostly, except at night, when I gave into thoughts that were undeniably about Harry. Not just skin and hot breath, but Harry’s skin, Harry’s breath. Nights and the moments brushing past him on the way to the kitchen, when I’d restrain myself and arrogantly not meet his eye. He began to stop bothering with friendly words, and I almost convinced myself that that was a success.
I talked to mother once; she was whispered and harried and absolutely furious when I told her what I had done. (“You swore, Draco! You swore to me!”). She cried when I told her about Severus and made me swear that I wouldn’t do anything so dangerous again (“And really mean it, my darling. Really swear! On my life! On my life.” What else could she do, than make me give my unreliable word?). She was leaner than before and I wasn’t sure I believed her when she insisted everything was going fine, fine, fine, perfectly fine. But then, what could I do but take her unreliable word?
Are you tired of hearing about these swatches of time where nothing happened but my sulking and reading and lusting and morning? I don’t blame you if you are, but this memoir is supposed to be for my own sake, remember. To sort everything out, and those days—though they blur together—are still stark in my mind, as important as the scenes I can recall detail for detail. So forgive me my indulgences.
What I’m trying to say is that time (weeks: two or three, or two and a half) passed, and I remained in self-imposed isolation. That is the simple way of putting it.
And then one day as I was perusing the library there was a hand between my shoulder blades. A gentle touch and a soft voice that practically begged my name, so desperate for me not to run. I could hear the fear in Harry’s voice so I stayed, faced him (regretted his hand falling from my back). His looked more tired than I had ever seen, more drained and terrified.
“What?” I asked, not hostile, but not friendly, not yet. Not even when he looked like he was anticipating a ghost.
“I’m leaving, for a little while,” he said, face paling further (how was that possible? I was reminded of Severus and tried not to be).
“Oh?” I replied. Not too interested, I told myself.
“To…do something. For the war.”
“You aren’t going to go fight the Dark Lord, are you?” I asked. It was the first thing that came to mind, and, after all, wasn’t that what he was supposed to do? Harry Potter, saviour of everything good and right, of course it would be his job to strike the final blow. I had to catch my sigh of relief when he shook his head.
“Not exactly, no,” he said.
“Not exactly?” I nudged, curiosity piqued again. That was an evasive answer if I had ever heard one.
“I’m…going to be gone for a while,” he responded. Definitely evasive.
“What’s a while?” Casual. Cool and casual and not already missing brushing by him in the halls. Not at all.
“A week, a month,” Harry paused, licked his lips (I shivered), and then looked me in the eyes, “Forever, maybe.”
My heart skipped a beat and I almost stuttered as I echoed back, “Forever?” Harry’s chest rose and fell in a deep sigh. “You aren’t serious!” I exclaimed. He couldn’t die, he couldn’t. What was he planning to do?
“I hope not.” It was a heavy phrase, and we stood silently. This time I knew that despite my inappropriate longings, despite the anger still burning in my chest, despite the weeks of silence and whatever hesitations he might have had, we meant something to each other. Friends. It wasn’t for lust that I pulled him into a hug. He hung back for a moment, and then, assured it was just a hug, he clung to me, quivering. Instinctively I ran a hand over his hair, the way my mother did when I would be crumpled in her lap, after meetings with the Dark Lord.
He pressed his cheek against mine and whispered, “Goodbye.”
“Only for now,” I told him as he broke away. And then I added, “Wherever you’re going, good luck.”
He nodded, and squared his shoulders.
“Thank you,” he said, and left. I watched his retreating back, hand lingering where his cheek had pressed against mine.
And I fretted. Tried not to, of course, tried burying myself in books again. But I was back to where I had been, with images of death and pain and screaming, but this time the black hair in my visions was messy, not greased. Short, not long. And this time I didn’t know what would cause the pain, the death. The Dark Lord or someone else? Something else? What was he doing, that would make him so pale and talk of being gone forever?
Ron and Hermione were gone too, I noticed. I tried to talk to Lupin about it once. He just nudged his spoon around a bowl of lumpy oatmeal and sighed. Told me not to worry, because I couldn’t control it. I don’t think he believed his own words.
By the third day of Harry’s absence (third night of miserable dreams, third day of wallowing in worry), I decided I couldn’t take it. I was at least going to know what the hell he was doing, even if that wouldn’t make his safer, make my imaginings any less horrifying. At least my curiosity would be abated, even if my heart still spent its time racing too fast, too fast.
And so, I went someplace I had only been once before: his room. It was neater than the day he had given me his invisibility cloak. No clothing everywhere, as if he had put everything together neatly in case he never came back. No, I told myself. That’s not why. He just happened to clean. He’s coming back. I nodded firmly and moved towards the dresser.
I rummaged through the top drawer: socks. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, and began to feel just a little foolish when the only thing of interest my search produced was a mismatched pair, violently red and green, with broomsticks and snitches. Snorting, I closed the drawer and was moving on to the second when I was interrupted.
“Snooping in other’s belongings? What manners you have, young man.”
I snapped around, heart racing, but there was no one at the door. I didn’t recognize the voice, but I tried peering into the hallway anyway; there was often Order members coming and going whom I didn’t know. But the hall was empty too. Shaken, I closed the door behind me.
“I’m right here,” the voice said, mockingly. “Right beside you.” This time I found the source: a grumpy man scowled out from the portrait that had been blank on my previous visit to the room. “Very observant,” he harrumphed.
“Er,” I replied, wondering if he was about to start shouting about an intruder in Harry’s room. With the distasteful way he was eyeing me, it didn’t seem impossible.
“I suppose this means the Potter boy isn’t back yet?
“Um, yes?” I ventured.
The portrait sighed in irritation. “The Headmistress won’t be happy.” It took me a few moments to realise he was talking about McGonagall.
“Right. Would you mind not telling her I was in here?” I asked, not very hopefully.
He sneered at me. “I wasn’t going to bother her with such triviality, but since you are so eager to hide it, maybe I should.”
I wanted to hit myself. Never show your hand! I reminded myself. My father had drilled that into me since I was born, more or less, and here was proof that it was a good strategy.
“No need,” I said with false confidence.
“I’ll be the judge of that,” the portrait snapped. “Uppity children,” he muttered. I bristled a bit (no Death Eater is a child, no matter their age) but didn’t challenge him. “What’s your name?” he demanded.
“Draco Malfoy.” I placed emphasis on the surname.
“Oh, you’re one of those,” the portrait derided. “Malfoys always do think they should get everything they want.”
“We do not!” I snarled.
“Of course you do,” the man said condescendingly. And then, before I could reply in defence of my family: “What are you doing snooping around this room? Do you fancy yourself a spy?”
“No. Of course not. I’m just trying to figure out where Harry is.” Honesty seemed like a better idea than any lie I could think of on the spot.
“You never stopped to think that maybe there is a reason why he hasn’t told you?”
“I never saw that as something stopping me,” I retorted.
The portrait shook its head and muttered, “Malfoys.”
“I’m just worried about him,” I said.
“And that gives you a right to go sneaking around his sock drawer like a common criminal? Typical.”
“Sure it does. I’m not going to do anything wrong.”
“Students never did have a sense of privacy,” the portrait mused. “Except when it was their own, of course.”
I shrugged, and turned back to the drawer. “We’ll, you can’t stop me, so until you send McGonagall, I’m going to do my best to find out what’s going on.” I shifted a few shirts around.
“I’m not going to bother her. You may be a self entitled brat, but you seem harmless.”
“I’ll just go tell her there’s been no word from the Potter boy—there hasn’t, has there?”
“You think I’d be looking through his clothes if there had?”
“Don’t be snide with me, Mister Malfoy.” The portrait began to move sideways. And then, so quietly I almost though I imagined it, I heard “Try the trunk.” Then he was gone.
Lacking a better plan, I did as he suggested, and turned to trunk at the foot of Harry’s bed. Schoolbooks were piled on top of Hogwarts robes; it was packed messily, but still clearly packed, as if it hadn’t been touched since Harry got back from school. But then, why should it have been? It was quite clear that he had more pressing concerns than homework for a school he wasn’t returning to.
I shifted the books around, looking for something out of the ordinary. Clothing, books, quills, parchment. No, no, no, no. As I was beginning to wonder if the man in the portrait had been duping me, I found something resting at the bottom: A gold locket. Plain and small. I frowned at it, and tugged the chain out from beneath a copy of “The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 6.”
“Trinket for your girlfriend, Harry?” I whispered to myself, watching light from the window glint off the metal as it hung from my hand. Part of me blanched when it heard the world girlfriend—the kind of reaction I no longer tried to deny as being not Harry-specific, only ignore. I almost threw it back into the trunk, but, after all, it was unusual, and maybe the portrait had been serious. I opened it, and a bit of parchment fluttered to floor.
“Love letter?” I scoffed, hoping it wasn’t.
And it wasn’t.
It wasn’t anything I would have expected.
I know I will be dead before you read this
but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret.
I have stolen the real Horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can.
I face death in the hope that when you meet your match,
You will be mortal once more.
I read it over again and thanked the blank portrait. I didn’t understand it in the least (and how did Harry have a letter to the Dark Lord?), but there was little question that this was going to be the best clue I could get. So I memorized it and left, before someone more substantial than a painting could catch me.
Horcrux, Horcrux, Horcrux. I knew I had heard the word before, knew that it was dark magic (but then, it was associated with the Dark Lord, so that was far from surprising). Over the following days I poured vainly through indexes for hours at a time. I longed for the library at my manor, where I knew the location of all the darkest books. I didn’t doubt that the Blacks had a book to answer my question (unless the Order had removed it, but I suspected they hadn’t bothered touching the library), but finding it proved harder than I expected. Horcruxes were not to be located. Dark magic, indeed.
For a little while, frustrated by the lack of Horcrux information, I turned my mind to R.A.B., as if figuring out who wrote the letter could tell me anything. A ridiculous hope, but at least (after writing out lists of all the former Death Eaters I could think of, because after all, it must have been a Death Eater, to call him The Dark Lord) I did come to what I believed was a solid conclusion: Regulus Arcturus Black. That was something, I tried to tell myself, but I couldn’t deny I still had no idea what Harry was doing.
But at least my search gave me a concrete task, something that wasn’t burying my head in the sand. The hours passed better than they had when Harry first left.
And so the days slipped by, my frustration and fear and curiosity mounting.
But of course, you know he came back. If he hadn’t, where would we all be now? I’m sure dead or enslaved or whatever it was the Dark Lord had in mind.
It was after midnight, well into the second week of absence. I heard commotion downstairs, loud voices, frantic. Relief flooding me, I raced to the front of the house, ignoring my messy hair and pyjamas. Appearances were not high on my mind.
I stopped at the head of the stairs, took in the tableau spilling out in front of me. Lupin and Moody and Tonks and another Order member gathered around Harry and Hermione, who were supporting a barely conscious Ron. Hermione was whispering urgently, tears running tracks through the dust in her face as she gave the limp red headed body over to Lupin. And Harry. He just stood there, staring blankly at his friend. Empty. And I thought I might know what he felt like.
I couldn’t go down, knew I didn’t have a place in the picture. So I watched as they hoisted Ron off, Hermione and Harry following. Her fretting over the body, his face just blank, blank, blank. He looked up as he passed by the stairs. And he simply looked at me with that desperate, cold face. I returned his gaze just as emotionless, because what was I supposed to feel? I turned as they passed by, and went back to my room, relived but chilled by that look on Harry’s face, startled by how familiar it seemed.
I was lying in my bed, thankful to be able to just stare at the ceiling and not worry, finally, when he came. He opened the door boldly, (flung it, even). I looked over, surprised, as he just stood there, silhouetted in the frame. And he had that empty look still on his face, his eyes frightened and his lips curved not in a frown but just…nothing.
“Um...” I began, not knowing why he was there, what it was he wanted. “How’s Weasl—Ron,” I corrected myself. Harry would need that, Ron’s first name. “Is he…going to be okay?” As if I cared. I truly, truly didn’t, I won’t pretend otherwise. But I would pretend to Harry, because what else was there to do?
“I don’t know,” he said, voice as flat as his expression. “I don’t know at all.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, genuine as I could (but I think that was not very).
“He…he could die.” This time the voice broke, and I knew the pain in it, such familiar anguish. I could have mouthed along with him as he said, “It’s my fault,” through a few stray tears.
“No it’s not,” I told him. As if I knew that. As if I had any idea what any of this was about. All I understood was the desperation, and all I knew was that whether or not it was true, Harry would blame himself and blame himself. Already was, and I knew how it was eating him inside. Hadn’t it eaten me?
So there we were, suddenly more alike than I ever could have imagined. Funny how pain strips away barriers.
I motioned for him to come sit, and he did, curled himself in a ball and wedged himself into my embrace, wiping stay tears into my shirt and my shoulder, the skin around my neck warmed and dampened (and I didn’t mind. Of course I didn’t mind, you know that by now). Holding him so close I could feel myself becoming aroused, but I only stroked his hair, running my fingers through the messy darkness of it, trying to pretend to him or me or both that it was only a comforting gesture.
I was truly surprised, then, when he raised his face, brushed those chapped lips against mine. Should I have been? After all, it was the same desperation that had driven me to him. But I hadn’t expected it (and why should I have? It seemed irrational to me, and he had already rejected me. But maybe that’s what we needed, the irrationality. The raw human contact).
He kept his lips on mine, circled an arm around, ran figures through my hair and pushed me backwards and I lost sight of what was rational or reasonable. My world was only arms entwined, bodies pressed together, chests rising and falling against each other. Lips and teeth and tongue and tears and heavy breathing. Heat and arousal and fingernails grasping cheeks and pain and alive. Even with mother safe and Harry alive I was numb in that house, numb after everything and Harry must have been too, but the contact was the opposite, and that was all that mattered.
He said nothing as he pulled at my nightshirt. No confirmation, no question, no name. Just over my head and his hands were working across my chest, roaming around hard nipples and taut muscles. Tracing across the scar running from my shoulder; that was his work and his finger was soft. I imagined I heard him whisper ‘sorry’ between the gasps and the heavy breathes against my ear. I worked at his shirt, smeared with dirt and dark stains that must have been blood, but I didn’t stop to ask (curiosity was gone long before), only wanted skin on skin.
His chest was cut. Not scared like mine, but new wounds that were rose pink and made me wince in sympathy, though he was too busy biting my ear to notice. Too busy rubbing his hips, his erection against mine, making me moan and lose all sight of running a comforting hand over those wounds, of doing anything much more than just keeping my arms around his back, my lips coving his face as I moved back in time, both lost in feeling and Merlin, but it felt so damn good and so damn right.
I came before him, arching up towards him as he kept at it until he came too, collapsing on top of me with a gasp. The whole time we had said nothing (nothing but that ‘sorry’ I might have imagined). He rolled himself off me and rested, panting, his body against mine.
It must have been ten (twenty) minutes, just breathing and our bodies still overlapping a little, before we said anything. He said anything.
“Draco?” He asked, voice quivering.
“What was that?”
“That was what they would call a heavy bit of frotting,” I said, too brazenly. “Or didn’t Ginny teach you anything?” His body tensed next to me, and I regretted the words. I didn’t want to know that he missed her, reacted to her name. I tried telling myself it wasn’t jealousy. No reason for that, when this was just about lust, or despair or need or whatever it was.
Harry rolled violently off the bed; the mattress creaked sadly as he left it. Chest still bare, cuts throbbing red, he patted at his hair and grimaced at me. “That wasn’t what I was asking.”
“I never would have guessed.” Was I hiding from actually talking about what had happened, rationalizing it and making it real? Maybe, but I didn’t think about it that way then. I just reacted, and my reactions were not to tell him about dreams and stained sheets in the night, tears and fears and everything driving me.
“Never mind, then, if you’re going to be like that. Just…never mind.” He quickly snatched his shirt from the bed, where my fingers were still clutching at it.
“Never mind what, Harry?” I asked, not sure I wanted to hear the answer. I didn’t want to never mind the arms and lips and chest and hair and skin.
“That I asked. That I…I don’t know.” He threw his head back, face up, arms waved limply in exasperation. “Just forget it. All of it.”
Exactly what I didn’t want to hear. He was still looking at the ceiling when I flinched. “Whatever,” I said.
Pause. Back to the uncomfortable silence. It’s like our relationship travelled in circles, or waves. Fight, uncomfortable silence, easy conversation, fight. But when did kissing and grinding and sweat become a part of the cycle?
And then, like he was coming out of the fantasy world we had created, Harry’s head snapped back straight and his eyes were wide and frightened again. He blurted, “I have to check on Ron!” and bolted out of my room. Even then, I knew enough not to think it was about me, that bolting. I truly believe he was remembering again, after the brief amnesia of feeling and shock and confusion and joy, why exactly he’d started what he started. And that came before working out how he could possibly have just snogged me.
I didn’t care about that. Understood, even. Because it wasn’t his leaving that hurt me. It was those words: Just forget it. All of it.
I didn’t want to forget.
I didn’t cry, didn’t do anything. Just rested on top of the wrinkled flower comforter and stared at the ceiling like I had been, before he interrupted me. Slowly accepting what I assumed was fact: I was never going to have another comfortable word with Harry, let alone anything else. Or, if not accepting, per sé, at least adjusting myself to the idea. It shouldn’t have felt odd; it was being comfortable around him that was strange in the first place, out of the normal pattern of my life. But letting go was difficult. Nothing was in the normal pattern anymore, and this new friendship with Harry had been part of the new one I was knitting. And now that was gone.
But then, as pale sunlight filtered into the room, he returned. Stood at the door again, weighing his options, maybe. But it didn’t take long for him to slip through the frame, arms crossed defensively across his chest as he stopped halfway across the room.
“They still don’t know.” The words hung feebly in the air, and there was nothing I could say to counter them, nothing I hadn’t said already. So instead I studied his face, the bags under his eyes and the tear marks through the dust and grime and blood.
“You need sleep,” I said simply, and he shook his head.
“Not until I know if…how Ron’s going to be. No.”
I pushed myself up, shifted so that half my bed was empty. “Then at least sit down.” He breathed in heavily, exhaling in a shaky sigh, but remained standing. “As friends,” I said.
Maybe he needed the disclaimer; maybe he had intended to give in all along. Either way, he came forward, collapsed next to me. Knees pressing into chest, head rested against wooden headboard next to mine, eyes squeezed shut. He wasn’t crying, but he wasn’t near sleep either. Trying to block everything out, that’s what he was doing. I recognized it.
I put a hand on one of his knees, and we sat like that as the sun rose, washing over us in brightening sweeps.
Days came and went anxiously. Ginny returned, a burst of blazing tears and pushiness. She seemed to be Harry’s constant shadow; as I ventured to the library or kitchen in hopes of seeing him, of tossing off a few casual words, she would be there too, across the table, stabbing at bacon or staring at the same page for hours. She never failed to shoot me dirty looks, as if I had no right to interrupt their time together.
Looking back, I think I could have liked her. She has the strength I admire in women (something my mother always possessed, if subtly). But at the time I despised (gut wrenching, bowel churning, teeth gritting, bust-her-head-in despised) her, because Harry would smile so gently at her. Because he still cared for her and I knew and I cared and I knew I didn’t have a right to care. Our relationship was not one that called for jealousy.
And what was that relationship, exactly? You may ask. It was a question I asked myself many times, after wanking off to the though of Harry’s eyes closed, head thrown back, neck arched in primal ecstasy. I didn’t know the answer (still don’t, really)—I was afraid to articulate anything too firmly. If I though it in solid words, defined concepts, it might have disappeared again.
Despite his ginger-haired shadow, Harry still found moments for me alone. Instead of drawing back, embarrassed and ashamed of what we had done, he came back to me full force. I almost wonder, now, if I was as much a substitute for Ginny (who he wanted but denied himself. That much was clear), as an escape from everything else. I refused to let the thought cross my mind back then. But maybe that’s paranoia. Maybe it was just Ron’s continual stay in limbo, the solemn shadows across everyone’s faces, their soft steps (as if a creaking floorboard would drive Ron to death’s door), that brought Harry back to my room. Either way, he did visit.
Sometimes, during the day, while the house was still alive with the threat of Ginny or Hermione or Lupin coming to find him, we would just sit, sometimes in silence, and sometimes talking about the same meaningless things we had discussed in my first weeks at Grimmauld Place. He’d bring in the newspaper and we’d poor over Quidditch scores, inwardly marvelling that anyone could play anymore, care anymore (though maybe those players, the fans and announcers and newspaper reporters were all going through the same empty motions we were, propped up by the same fantasy of normality). I avoided looking at the headlines (another twenty dead, another building down, another day of chaos). I avoided remembering that once those bold words would have made me smile. Those were smiles from another life, and now I smiled for Harry’s jokes, not the destruction.
Night was something else: ours. Harry was presumed asleep, no one to follow him to us. He would slip into my room, my bed, and run desperate (despairing) kisses down my neck, across my lips and over my body. With hands through hair and tangled limbs we became, in those weeks (even as Ron recovered and Ginny was shunted back to Hogwarts), familiar with each other’s bodies: thighs and stomachs and backs, and the way to move our hands across each other’s cocks, how we moaned when something was right, gasping ‘yes!’ in each other’s ears.
We didn’t talk much, those nights. Harry would lay silent against me, tracing patterns across my chest. Then, after a period of time that must have made sense to him, he’d slip out of my bed, my room, as suddenly as he had slipped it, leaving me to tuck my body into the sheets where he had been, trying to soak up the lingering warmth. I would like to be romantic, like to say that we intrinsically understood each other, but that would be a fantasy (or maybe a delusion). It was simply too uncomfortable to say any of it out loud.
Once, we tried: Harry, face nuzzled into my neck, whispered (so soft and muffled I felt the words brushing across my skin as much as heard them), “I’ve never done this before.”
“Oh?” I responded, not bothering to ask what, exactly, he meant. Had a secret relationship? A relationship with a boy? A Slytherin? A former Death Eater?
“I don’t really get it,” he continued (apologetic).
“Oh?” As if I did? And was he apologizing for not having the answers, or was he afraid he had offended me? I was constantly struck by how much I did not understand him. It was why I was afraid of the conversation we were having: I couldn’t guess what he felt, his motivations. I was working blind, and it was unsettling. “Get what?”
“This,” he replied, and rubbed his forehead into my neck.
“Then don’t think about it too hard,” I suggested (as if, really, I didn’t want him to think long and hard and decide that he liked it. But not thinking was better than thinking badly of it). Maybe that’s what he did. It would be wrong to assume that it occupied as much of Harry’s mind as it did mine. He had other worries—Ron was still sick and his task was still uncompleted, and the war he was the centre of was still raging. All I had were periodic conversations with my mother (muttered and empty, only to comfort each other that we remained alive), and Harry. And so he preoccupied me. His visits became the centre of my days, passing him in the hall prompted a cold sweat. I partially hated feeling dependant on him, but the thought of backing out of whatever it was we were doing never crossed my mind.
But good things end. Harry had to leave again. He came to me the night before, eyes red and bagged. He pulled the sheets over both our heads, held out a hand to stop me when I leaned in to kiss him. He raised his wand in front of my face, whispered “Lumos.” I squirmed and my eyes watered as light flared.
“I’m leaving again,” he said simply, moving the wand down, away from out faces. We were lit by a soft glow (cream from the sheets that pinned us down, hot in the tight confinement).
“For how long?” I asked, already knowing there would be a bleak warning: the ever-present maybe forever.
“Shorter than last time, I hope. It should be—faster,” he offered lamely. “But who knows? Maybe longer.”
“But you’re coming back,” I told him.
“Like last time. You’ll come back.”
The edges of his lips twitched. “Hopefully.”
“Definitely.” I hadn’t told him I knew about the Horcruxes. Didn’t mention Regulus, because then he’d known I’d gone to his room. I was worried he’d be angry, even more worried it would give him a glimpse of how (irrationally, inappropriately) frightened for him I’d been. So I just ran a finger down his cheek.
“Is there anything I can do?”
His eyes lit up immediately. “Actually, yeah.”
I paused for a second, surprised. I hadn’t thought he would let me in on his adventures, his secrets. “Really?”
“What?” (Eager—I wanted him to open up, prove he did trust me, in a real way. And I won’t discount that there was also the sting of curiosity nipping at my brain).
My enthusiasm cut short, my voice hardened as I asked, “What about him?”
“He can’t go with us. Couldn’t you—don’t say no right away!”
“I didn’t say anything!”
“But you had a look on your face. Just listen. I was thinking maybe you could keep an eye on him, make sure he doesn’t get too lonely.”
I pulled the sheet down, flooding the room with light. Harry blinked fervently at me. “Keep on eye on him. Ron. Me.” I repeated incredulously.
“Well,” he stammered (did his cheeks flush, or was that the light?), “I was—I thought maybe you two could…um…get to know each other.”
I stared—blatantly, unflatteringly stunned. I realised that this must mean something, that he wanted me to buddy up to his best friend. But I didn’t think that Ron would exactly be receptive to any advances I made.
“Oh,” I said. “Um…”
“It was just a thought,” Harry amended quickly, face falling.
“No…I mean…I’ll see what I can do,” I conceded. Why not? If he wanted it.
“Really?” His face lit up. That made me smile too (which surprised me. Since when was his happiness important to me? His body and presence and heat and survival, yes, but his happiness?)
“You haven’t told him about…this?” (There it was again, that uncertainty, that lingering question: what is this?)
“No…NO.” He looked terrified at the idea.
Awkward moment, with our uncertainties exposed. And then he leaned over, kissed me gently. Warmly. Without the desperation, just a kiss; it was wet and soft and longing, with fingers light on my cheeks. He pulled away reluctantly (I even more reluctant to have him stop).
“I have to go sleep,” he breathed, and melted away towards the door, leaving me red eyed, longing for more of that kiss.
The next morning I watched him leave from the top of the stairs.
That afternoon I made my way through an unfamiliar hall (it looked just like the rest). I stood outside a stark wood door and wondered what in the world Harry was thinking. What in the world I was thinking. Harry may have moved past his hatred of me, but Harry was the noble type. The type to forgive someone after they saved his life (after he had seen them at there most venerable, too). Ron, I thought, did not seem that type.
And it wasn’t as if I had saved his life.
But I had told Harry I would. He had wanted me to, and somehow that was enough. It shouldn’t have been (just like I shouldn’t have been jealous of Ginny, shouldn’t have been attracted to a boy, a Gryffindor, Harry Potter. The list was growing long. So many shouldn’ts and yet I was opening that door).
Ron was sprawled like a sick dog, propped up by pillows, but limp. A chessboard rested on his lap, black and white scattered, interweaving in the graceful pattern of the game. His tongue stuck sharp and pink out the side of his mouth, and he didn’t look up as I entered, closing the door softly behind me. He urged a black knight forward.
“Playing by yourself?” I drawled (cool, but not confrontational. Not mocking, because Harry wouldn’t want that, and I was willing to hang my dignity for him.
The tongue withdrew, the red head tilted up, eyes slit. “What the bloody hell do you want?” He demanded. “I’m not in the mood for you.” His raspy voice was firm. I almost shrugged and left, but Harry had smiled so wide when I told him I’d try. One sentence did not qualify as trying. I contented myself with a dignified sneer.
“I wanted to make sure you hadn’t died. Or don’t you appreciate it?”
“Since when have you ever car—” Dawning comprehension rose across is face. “Harry put you up to this, didn’t he?”
“Yes,” I stated bluntly, taken off guard.
“You too?” Ron said irritably. “He’s been telling Hermione and me to give you a chance for weeks.”
I didn’t smile, but it was a close call. “Really?” I asked, and then amended, sarcastically, “Isn’t he just the little peacemaker?”
“That’s Harry,” Ron said, looking either amused or frustrated. His gaze fell back to the board, where the White Queen was squeaking irritably.
“Don’t be so enthusiastic about it,” I said dryly.
His eyebrows arched up. “Don’t tell me you actually want to talk, Malfoy.”
“How about we just tell Harry we talked and didn’t kill each other. We’ve been civil for—oh—a minute. That’s miracle enough.”
I wanted to agree, bow out with the least effort, because I had no interest in a friendship with Ron. But Harry’s smile floated across my conscience.
“How about a game of chess?” I suggested.
He looked back up, pure bewilderment etched into his face. “Why would we do that? Why would we ever do that?”
Because I want to make Harry happy didn’t seem like the appropriate answer (I’ve always thought that whoever preached honesty as the best policy was full of it). So instead:
“Because I have nothing better to do, and it’s less pathetic than playing alone.”
Ron scoffed. “Good to know that I’m pathetic. You’re really bad at making nice, you know that?”
“Is that a no?”
“I’ll play you,” he said. And then, chest puffed: “I’ll beat you, easy.”
“Sure you will.”
So I pulled over a stiff backed chair and rearranged the pieces (the White Queen screamed that she was just about to win: unhand her, unhand her! ). We made the first moves in antagonistic silence, and it was soon clear that he would beat me (I remembered back to first year: he had been awarded points for chess), and I snipped:
“Not bad, for a weasel.”
He reddened (a ridiculous sight: spotted cheeks clashing with hair). Better a weasel than a ferret, Malfoy. Check.”
I tapped my king (white) into a less vulnerable position as the queen lambasted me with insults. “Harry will be pleased to hear we’ve become such good friends,” I said.
“Since when do you care what Harry thinks? Check, again.”
“Aren’t you just so clever? Since I saved his life, maybe? More than you can say.”
Ron’s hand fluttered above a castle, but his eyes rested on me, slits again. “What is that supposed to mean, Malfoy?” His tone teetered on the edge of furious.
“You’re his best friend, where were you when he was captured?” I hadn’t meant to ask it, hadn’t meant anything more by my comment than to get to him. But it slipped out firm and accusatory; I was the one who had done something. An unfair comparison, given our differing circumstances, but once it was hanging in the air, I found myself pushing: “How were you inattentive enough to let him get captured?”
Ron’s eyes rounded and teeth gritted in a frown. “I was at my brother’s wedding reception, you prick. Don’t blame me for Harry getting sentimental and slipping off to his parents’ graves! He was gone less then twenty minutes before I noticed he was gone. Don’t blame that on me.” He shoved a pawn forward.
“Seems like you blame yourself to me,” I said, and moved my queen. “Check.”
“I—what? Fuck you.” He moved, hand trembling. “I shouldn’t have agreed to this.”
“So polite, Weasel. Did your mother teach you manners?” I countered his move.
For a second I thought I had pressed too hard: he looked ready to jump out of the bed and strangle me, sick or no. But then he just said, calm as possible: “Did yours? Checkmate.”
“Easy,” he snarked.
Pride wounded, I challenged him again.
“Tomorrow,” he said simply. “I like beating you.”
Over the following week, Weasel became Weasley became Ron to me. I won’t say we became friends, because they would be stretching the truth too much. But after that first day, only token insults were thrown during our hostile chess games. The only glue holding us together was boredom and Harry’s wishes, but we still got further than I had ever though we could. And even as my ego took a daily beating by violent black chessmen, I glowed during those games. I thought they proved something about my deserving Harry. ‘Look at me!’ they said. ‘I’m such a good person, I’m playing chess with Ron.’ I wanted Harry to see my virtue.
Because as that week passed, as I reflected on that kiss and on the way his smile made my heart dance, I began to remember other things about him, things that hadn’t struck me before. His eyes lighting up as he told a joke, the gentle way he’d place aside the front page. How comfortable he was, how open. Raw. How much better his presence made me, not just at night but all the time. The way his smile calmed me. Without him my stomach was knotted all the time (flashes of Severus’s dead face, panic as I realised I could be stuck in that house forever).
I wasn’t just worried for him.
I missed him.
But his homecoming was not the smiles and laughs, (kisses and caresses) I envisioned. How could it be? How quickly I forgot the first times. It was a repeat, almost exactly. This time, it was Hermione collapsed, crumpled and convoluting just inside the door. But the fluster of Order member, the limp body and Harry’s exhaustion, my place at the head of the stairs: it was all the same.
That night, though, was not. Harry didn’t come, overwhelmed and fraught. He didn’t come at all, left me to lay into the darkness, worrying that he had had a change of heart. It was a long night. One of the longest I can remember, and I’ve had many long nights. It was all loneliness and doubt, and no Harry to come and change that, just empty air by my door.
The next morning I found him on a stool, asleep by Hermione’s wilted body, face squashed into the mattress and glasses skewed. Gently I shook his shoulder, he groaned as he sat up. Seeing Hermione prone, he shrank back with a small moan. His face was still dirty, his hair mattered with mud. I knew there’d be fresh cuts to run my fingers across.
“You should eat,” I said.
He laughed (or coughed. Or choked) dryly. “Food,” he said bitterly, “is not exactly a major concern of mine right now.”
I recoiled slightly, startled by his venom. “You still need to eat,” I insisted, concerned by how weak his voice was behind his defiance.
“It doesn’t matter!” It would have been shouting if he could have managed it. Instead it was a ghostly crackle. I drew back completely, arms hanging loosely (uselessly) at my side.
“Don’t shout,” I told him.
“Don’t tell me what to do! Don’t tell me!”
“Someone’s going to wonder…”
“LET THEM!” That was a shout, and he fell back, panting. I had no response for it. “Just…leave me alone now, okay?” He asked. Imploring, almost pathetic. I hated to hear that.
“At least you should go somewhere else,” I suggested.
“She could DIE!” Harry stood, knocking the stool over and placing a hand on the bed to steady himself. “Do you get that? She could die!”
There was no denying that, and all I said was “Well…”
“I’ve put my best friends through this! BOTH of them! Do you get that? Me. This is my fault!”
I wanted to grab him, hug him and tell him that was ridiculous. They went with him because he was fighting for something they thought was worth fighting for. Because they loved him. That wasn’t his fault, and I hated that he blamed himself. But I didn’t say that. All I said was, “Ron is fine.” What else was I supposed to do with this irrational boy, looming like an angry boy, self-reproaching and furious at fate?
“Only just! Who knows about Hermione?”
“Harry, there’s nothing you can do here,” I said rationally.
“I can stand by my friend,” he spat. “That’s what friends do. But maybe you don’t know that.”
As good as a punch to the stomach. I reeled. “What’s that supposed to mean?” I demanded. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t know! Just leave me the alone!” He heavily against the bed, throwing sharp looks to Hermione, angry ones to me.
“No. Tell me what you meant by that!”
“I didn’t mean anything, Draco. Just forget it.”
“Like hell you didn’t!” Maybe he hadn’t, consciously. But I knew that no one says things they don’t mean when they lose their heads, just things they didn’t mean to say out loud. But this was out there now.
“Hermione’s lying on her death bed, and you’re angry because I hurt your feelings?” But the bite was weaker; he was calming, seeing things more rationally.
“There’s nothing you can do for her. You can tell me what you meant by that.”
He picked the stool back up, slammed it into the ground, and threw his leg over it. Sat. I’d never seen someone sit defiantly before. As if to prove his point, Hermione stirred, groaned.
“Do you really still think of me that way?” I asked, more gently.
He adjusted Hermione’s comforter, stroked her hair. “No.” Quiet and cracked. I could tell a lie.
I nodded, small and defeated. “Fine. Stay here. Maybe someone else will bring you food. I won’t bother you again.”
As I left, I tried to convince myself that I had felt worse over the past months.
I think I expected him to apologize. Slip into my room and kiss the hurt away. I was ready to accept that, even if I shouldn’t have been. Ready to pretend that he lost his head and didn’t mean it, on some level. Ready to live in make believe land where it was all good and happy, because I wanted that, even if it wasn’t real. But he didn’t come. That night was another lonely one, and as I wiped away tears I wondered if Ron had told him about the chess: the efforts I had made, in the name of fucking friendship. But I knew Ron would be caught up with Hermione (and who could blame him?). Why would he think something so inconsequential worth mentioning, anyway?
I tore at my hair, curled myself into a ball. I felt so stupid. He’d talk to me, touch me (embrace me), call me Draco. But how could I be anything but Malfoy to him, really? Even if he didn’t mean it, want it, to him, to part of him, at least, I was still the arrogant schoolyard bully he’d always imagined me. Conceptions are hard to change; that I’d changed mine of his was irrelevant. This I told myself, berating myself for getting too invested. I’d been an escape for him, nothing more.
And I would have accepted that (hated it, but accepted it because doesn’t it make the most sense?), if it weren’t for that last kiss, before he left. That hadn’t felt like an escape, an impersonal lusting. It had felt like caring, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. Couldn’t dismiss it as nothing, an anomaly. Couldn’t, or didn’t want to.
So I decided to go back to him the next day. The idea of openness, truth, scared me, but I wasn’t going to let him go that easily. It wouldn’t be the same, no matter what. We couldn’t go back to the ease and urgency; that was clear to me. But I would try to control the flood, direct us, instead of letting us float apart. I wouldn’t have that.
He was still in Hermione’s room, staring at her, a plate of half eaten toast resting on the table beside a stack of books that looked untouched. He frowned as I approached.
“I’m sorry,” he said before I could start the speech I was preparing in my head (formal and as cagey as truth can be). I pulled over another stool and placed it a few feet away from him.
I almost backed down, almost accepted the apology with a false smile. But I had promised myself that wouldn’t happen.
“Sorry isn’t enough,” I said as I sat
Harry sighed, turned his palms up, shrugging slightly. “What do you want, then? I can’t take it back.”
“No, you can’t.” Cold, and that wasn’t a pretence. I wasn’t even sure what I wanted from him, what magic words would make me all better. But I was sure that he should be coming up with them on his own: they should be sincere and heartfelt.
“I don’t think you’re a bad person,” he offered.
“Oh, goody. I’m so pleased to hear that.”
His face darkened. “If you aren’t going to forgive me, why are you here?”
“I do want to forgive you,” I said, earnest.
He rolled his eyes—not the reaction I envisioned after admitting something so raw. “Then why don’t you? I’ve forgiven you for everything you did! You were a fucking Death Eater, Draco. And I forgave you that.”
“Well then, you must just be a better person than me. But you already knew that, didn’t you?” The air in the room was heavy as he gaped at me, moving his lips and saying nothing. “That’s the problem, Harry. You think you’re a better person than me.”
“I...” he began, and then stopped. As if I needed more conformation.
My mouth felt like sandpaper, tongue sticking to the sides as I said, “Maybe you are. But that’s not up to you to decide. If you only…spend time with me to redeem me or something, just forget it. Forget it.”
“I don’t!” he protested. I plastered doubt across my face: if that wasn’t it then he was going to have to tell me what was, admit to using me because I was most convenient. “Okay, maybe at first,” he said. “When you first came to the headquarters. But not after that.”
“Then why do you?” I pushed. “Why did you come to me when you were afraid Ron was dying?”
Harry considered this carefully, and then reaches over and grabbed my hand. “Because you were my friend. I liked you.”
Before I could think about it, I curled my fingers around his. “Is there a reason that was in the past tense?”
He shook his head, squeezed my hand. “No. I still like you.”
“Are we still friends?”
“Draco, I don’t know what we are.”
And there it was: the uncertainty and avoidance, out in the open at last. Well, I had wanted honesty, hadn’t I?
“Neither do I,” I said, and grabbed his other hand, feeling dirt flake off beneath my grip. “But I like it.”
He scooted his stool forward. It squealed against the stone floor. “So are we good?”
I paused, considered. “I’m not a bad person,” I said finally.
“I know you aren’t.” And then a kiss, fast and sweet. His tasted like stale toast. “I know you aren’t.”
“Do you?” I questioned. “Do you believe it? Not what I say, but do you believe I’m not the person you thought I was? Really?”
He cupped my face in his dirty hands, rubbed his fingers on my cheeks. “I’m trying really hard to,” he whispered. “Really hard.”
I smiled, tilted my head and kissed one of those hands (all dirt and blood and Harry). “That’s enough,” I said. “That’s good enough for me.”
That night Harry left his vigil at Hermione’s bed to enter mine. And for the first time, I took his cock into my mouth, felt its texture with my tongue, delighting in the taste. And for the first time, fingers tugging at my hair and muscles taught beneath my hands, he moaned my name as he came.
He didn’t come to me more often after that. If anything, with two friends still bedridden (or close to it; Ron could toddle around for an hour or two by this time), he spent less time with me. I resented it and tried not to. Friends—he called me a friend but it wasn’t the same—came first, and I honoured that. Couldn’t help being a little put out by it, but I kept that feeling locked away in the part of my brain labelled “firmly irrational.”
Sometimes I would sit with him and watch Hermione, our hands resting inches apart on her dust grey blanket. It was then, seeing her take in pained breath after pained breath, stirring only restlessly, that she became Hermione to me, not Granger. Only in retrospect have I dropped the added title ‘the Mudblood’ from my mind. At the time I tried, a little, because I knew Harry would want it. But it’s taken more years and more experience than I had then to overcome that prejudice. But still, she did become Hermione.
Eventually she became well enough to open her eyes: after that my days of sitting vigil with Harry were over. My being around would upset her, we decided; I was still Malfoy to everyone but Harry.
The rest of my time was spent wandering morosely around the house. I was still trying not to think about Severus, the ever-present numbness where his memory used to be, a tickling of guilt in the back of my head. I had stopped reading potions books all together, stayed as far from that section of the library as possible.
In fact, I have not picked up a potions book since the day he died. In case you were getting the feeling I didn’t care. I did. But I repressed it, because that was what I was good at: hiding from emotions. Well, I was good at it most of the time, events at Grimmauld Place withstanding.
Lupin seemed around more often than before, or perhaps I was just emerging from my room more (like a sullen butterfly from a cramped cocoon). Either way, I saw more of him, eating across the table from me almost every meal (except supper, which I routinely avoided). He wasn’t the only one, of course; The Weasleys and Tonks and a black man whose name I never learned seemed in and out every day. But Lupin was the one who asked me when the daily crossword stumped him. I began to like him, forgiving the ever-present sympathy that went with ‘what’s another term for divination with tea leaves?’
Remember that. I liked him.
When Harry wasn’t with Ron and Hermione, he was in the library. I’d see him, nose buried in a leather tome, piles of books surrounding him on all sides. He often looked close to tears, overwhelmed and getting nowhere. One day, lonely and hating to see him so forlorn, I put down my history of the goblin rebellions, and made my way across the library to where he sat, entrenched in literature.
“You need help?” I asked, picking a book off the top of one of the piles and plopping myself into a chair. I noticed that the book had a Hogwarts seal. Smart man, I thought. I assumed he was looking for information on Horcruxes, and I was very sure the Black library had little to offer on the subject.
“Um…” He sighed, taking in the multitude of books surrounding him. “No. Thanks, though, for offering.”
“Oh, come on.” I waved the book at him, its blue leather binding flapping. “You have too much to do, and I’m bored.”
“I—can’t,” he said remorsefully. He looked very much like he would enjoy the help.
“What, don’t trust me?” I gave him a small smile. It was meant to be light hearted, a joke. I knew better than to be upset that he wouldn’t divulge war secrets. But I couldn’t help thinking it was stupid; after all, I knew what he was after.
“Only five other people know what I’m doing,” he said quickly. “And I only told the adults because of circumstance and Hermione’s constant nagging. Please don’t be offended.” He looked at me like I was a stink bomb ready to explode. I was touched by how hastily he explained himself. Clearly he had learned from our fight. He turned back to his volume, glasses slipping down his nose, his shoulders drooped and his head sagging towards his chest. Even his hair seemed falter than usual.
“This is ridiculous,” I said. “Look at you, you’re overwhelmed. You shouldn’t have to read all of this alone.”
“Ron’s helping!” he protested. “And Hermione, when she can. And Lupin—”
“I know you’re looking for information about Horcruxes,” I blurted out.
Harry looked as if he’d been hit by as surprise hex in the back, completely blindsided. He blinked, mouth opening and closing like a dying trout. “How did you?…How do you?…” he murmured.
I still wasn’t going to tell him about my fateful adventures in his sock drawer. I had a lie ready: “I was a Death Eater, Harry, and I was a son of one all my life. Does it really surprise you that I know?”
“Dumbledore’s not always right.”
Harry looked like he was about to protest, leap to blind defence of his dead mentor, former leader. Instead he simply turned another page in his book. “How much do you know?” he asked, after a pause.
“Very little,” I said honestly. Why stretch the truth when it fits with your lie anyway?
He pushed his glasses up on his nose again. “Well, unless you can tell me how to destroy the damned things, you might as well get reading, since you already know.”
I flopped the book open to the index. Nothing.
“You won’t find anything in the index,” he said wearily.
“Than what am I looking for?”
“Do you know how they’re made?” he asked.
“Er…not exactly,” I admitted.
For a moment I was afraid he was going to tell me to just forget it, go back to my room. But instead he shrugged and said, “I don’t know very much. Only that they’re created by killing someone. When you murder it tears your soul—”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that,” I said, eager to not appear completely ignorant. And it wasn’t a lie. I had never been sure about it, I couldn’t remember where I heard it from, but it had been one of the things that weighed on me as I attempted to kill Dumbledore.
“Well, with Horcruxes you somehow transfer that to another object. Immortality, see?” I nodded. It seemed exactly the kind of thing the Dark Lord would do. “So,” he continued, “anything to do with destroying the soul, or removing bits of it from inanimate objects, that kind of thing.”
“Ah,” I said.
“We know that Basilisk poison works.” He gave me a furtive glance, which I didn’t bother trying to understand. “So anything in that vein…we’re just trying to collect ideas, see what works.”
“Do you have it, then?” I asked, beginning to skim the book.
“It?” he questioned scornfully. “I guess Voldemort wasn’t so open with you after all.”
“There’s more than one?”
“Oh.” I settled back to the page I was on.
“Keep an eye out for anyone with the initials R.A.B., as well,” he muttered. “As if we’re going to find them.”
I kept my expression straight and eyes down, but I was thrown by that. I had assumed he knew who R.A.B. was; it seemed an obvious enough conclusion to draw. I was struck by how different our reference frames were: I had thought of Regulus in minutes. But not wanting to appear too hasty, I asked why.
“We need to know, that’s all,” he said guardedly. “Someone who might have fought against Voldemort.”
I pretended to think about this for a little while. Then I suggest Regulus Black.
“Regulus?” Harry repeated, puzzled. “Does his middle name start with and A?”
“Yep. Arcturus.” And then, not to appear too sure of myself:: “Or something like that. But definitely an A.”
Harry kissed me then: excited and passionate, and risky, for the library (there had been no formal mention, but we had a mutual agreement that anything beyond friendship was kept behind closed doors). “You’re brilliant!” he exclaimed. “He was killed for abandoning the Death Eaters, right?”
“Um…yes,” I said, not mentioning that maybe that wasn’t the best subject to bring up around me.
“That makes perfect sense!” He kissed me again and I decided secrecy be damned, I should help him more often. “I have to go tell the others,” he said, more animated than I had seen him in weeks (other than at night, of course, when the world lost perspective and everything was upside down). He gave me a final kiss, hard and eager, and then bounded off, leaving me to skim through the book, jotting down ideas.
Harry’s elation seeped away over the following days. Apparently, the name wasn’t really enough, and while I continued to pour through books for him, he paced around the house, looking dejected. The second day after my revelation, I saw him talking to a scuffed up man with a tattered suit and even more tattered suitcase. Harry glowered at him, and was still glowering when he met me in the library later.
“Who was that man?” I asked.
“A thief, and probably a liar too,” he sniffed. “How would you fancy tearing up this whole damn house with me?”
I shrugged, pushed aside the dusty hardcover I was pursuing. “Doesn’t sound too bad.” And it didn’t, not if I got to be with him. “What are we looking for?”
“A fucking big, gold locket.” I thought the bitterness in his voice seemed too vehement to be purely a reaction to the trouble of the search. But maybe that was my imagination. So many questions about him I never learned the answer to.
So we went through the house, room by room, searching through drawers and desks, and in all the unlikely places we could spot. It was a more difficult a prospect than it sounds. Harry insisted that the house had been cleaned once, but pests still rattled inside mouldy boxes and locked chests. And, as Harry pointed out, there were always secret safes behind paintings to consider, loose floorboards to keep an eye out for. And he seemed to think that the dodgy man might have made off with the locket by then, anyway.
Despite that, I enjoyed myself. Harry didn’t; the longer we searched and did not find, the more anxious he became. Bags under his eyes and unwashed hair growing think with dust. At night he would come to me exhausted, and just lie in my arms as I covered his face with light kisses.
But me, I liked being around him, no matter how frustrating the reason. And there was this: from tossed off comment and accidental illusions and common reasoning skills, I figured out that both times he had been gone he was Horcrux hunting, and with success. And I was sure the locket was another one, which made us on our own hunt. Not as glamorous or dangerous as the others, but it felt good to be included in something so important to him. To have something that was ours. Finally I was spending more time with him than not; that made me cheerful. Even if it was a breaking Harry who spoke little, focused solely on his task, it was still Harry, time with Harry. I could place a comforting hand on the small of his back when he looked most worn, or a quick peck on the cheek. Our time.
And as we raked the house fruitlessly, Christmas crept up on us.
Ron and Hermione had both recovered by the time that the holidays rolled around, but Hermione still tired easily and spent hours in bed, reading, so the Weasleys decided on Christmas at Grimmauld Place, Harry told me. Great, I replied. Lovely. I didn’t ask him what was going to happen when Ginny came back, and he didn’t offer.
As Christmas grew nearer the house grew fuller. I was surprised one day by fair glowing skin and shining platinum hair: Fleur Delacour, the part veela beauty Beauxbatons champion from fourth year. She had married on of the older Weasleys, apparently, and floated around the house huffing and running her fingers along dusty banisters to wave at anyone who would listen to her. “Et ez disgrazeful!” she’d declare, and while everyone else rolled they’re eyes, I privately agreed. (I was also glad, I’ll add, to still find her attractive. The fact that Harry was a boy paled in oddity next to the fact that he was Harry Potter, but I had still wondered about myself). Her husband was a Weasley with long hair and scars, who showed up at the same time as the Weasley twins (with their horrible taste in dragon skin coats and their snide comments for me).
I began to retreat back into my cocoon again, as the house filled. Harry, on Mrs. Weasley’s instance (and lured by the attraction of many friends, I’m sure), started spending less time searching for the locket. It seemed wrong, anyway, to be pursing a dark object (containing a bit of the Dark Lord’s soul, for Merlin’s sake!), while the house smelled like gingerbread and the lines of dead house elves’ heads were donned with Santa hats. There was too much good cheer in the air for it, but that cheer didn’t reach me, and I slinked away into the library or my room.
Ginny returned, of course. Not so much Harry’s shadow, this time, but still around more than I liked. The few hours of half-hearted searching the house were still ours, but she’d insert herself next to him during meals, and grimace whenever he said anything to me, from ‘want to do the upstairs parlour next?’ to ‘pass the marmalade.’ She liked to place a possessive hand on his shoulder, and every time I could hardly refrain from knocking it off and replacing it with my own. He’s with me now, I wanted to say. I’m the one who was there to comfort him. Sorry, too bad for you. But, of course, I kept my mouth shut, and took extra satisfaction those nights, when he came moaning my name.
But despite our nightly rendezvous, pleasurable as ever, the holidays took their toll on me. It wasn’t just that Harry was with me less. Christmas at the manor had always been a subdued affair: elegant green and gold decorations and small holiday dinner parties. Opening presents with my parents, eating the same eggnog pancakes every year. The bustle at Grimmauld place, the gaudy decorations and constant comings and going, pranks and fights, it was all foreign to me, and distasteful. I longed for my mother’s Christmas carols.
Harry realised this, or at least that I was unhappy. He’d give me apologetic smiles if I was caught in the kitchen as the insufferable twins showed off their latest Christmas gag. (Once they tried to get me to eat a cookie that would have made me puke green and red. Harry put an angry stop to it: “Leave him alone, he’s a guest.” Guest wasn’t really the right word, but it worked). He would squeeze my hand briefly as we passed in the halls, playfully push me under the mistletoe as we searched the house—searches that were more kisses dark halls and behind closed doors than anything, snogs in the dusts of our inability to find the locket. In return for these small gestures I put on the best face I could. I would pretend to find the decorations endearing and fake enjoyment of the tree shaped pancakes Mrs. Weasley insisted on shoving under my nose (I told her that they were “charming,” by which I meant something closer to grotesque. Lopsided and stained green the looked more mouldy than festive).
But when I woke on Christmas morning and heard the rumbling voices of merry Order members rolling up the stairs, instead of the light clatter of silverware, smelled pine and dust instead of eggnog and fresh cookies, I decided I wasn’t having it. I buried myself in my blanket, surrounded my senses with cotton and flowers so I didn’t have to hear the sounds of someone else’s holiday.
I was in the hazy world between dream and consciousness, with visions of giant green pancakes smothering Ginny Weasley and the twins, when Harry tugged the comforter off, hoisted me into sitting position before I could collect myself enough to protest.
“What are you doing?” he asked, eyes sparkling and hand tugging playfully at the sleeve of my green pyjamas.
“Trying not to be awake,” I grumbled, and started to pull the blanket up again.
Harry slapped away my hand. “It’s Christmas!” he exclaimed.
His smile fell, he pushed a strand of hair out of my face. He observed it for a second, apparently enjoying running it through his fingers. Then he kissed my forehead. It was an instinctual gesture, protective and charming. “Is it that bad?”
“You try being stuck in house with a bunch of people who don’t like you on Christmas,” I retorted.
“I did it for the first eleven years of my life,” he said. It wasn’t to show me up, I could tell: a gesture of solidarity.
“Really?” I asked, slightly intrigued.
“Yeah. My aunt and uncle and cousin. Not the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”
“Yes, but has nothing to do with it,” he said, bristling.
I had no interesting in a fight, so I held one of my hands up in a consolatory gesture. “Right, right. Just a question.”
“It’s okay.” I raised an eyebrow at this. “I’m in a holiday spirit,” he explained. “Forgiving, and all.”
“I’m glad.” I started to lie back down, but he caught my shoulders, didn’t let me. He was strong for someone who had been put through so much in so few months (another reason to admire him).
“Nuh-uh,” he said. “I’m not letting you sulk.”
“Good luck with that,” I replied crossly.
He laughed and pecked my cheek. Then, leaning over, he picked something up from the side of the bed. A silver-wrapped something with a bow.
“You got me a present?” I asked, amazed. He handed it too me, nodding. The paper had stars on it, dark grey against the silver, appearing to twinkle.
“You mentioned you wanted it,” he said, “Open!”
So I did, tearing at the paper like a child, letting loose pieces scatter across the bed. Inside was the Handbook of Do-It-Yourself Broom Care. I had mentioned that I was never allowed to have it, because Malfoys ‘do not care for their brooms by hand,’ according to my father. I’d told him that once, in passing. Warmth flooded the pit of my stomach and I whispered, “I can’t believe you remembered this!”
He shrugged, smiled shyly. “You like it, then?”
“Of course.” But it was more important that he had remembered, than that I had a book for repairing I broom locked away in the manor. I wonder if he realised that?
“Good.” He looked positively radiant.
“I didn’t get you anything,” I stated, apologetic, though it was obvious. What would I have done, wandered into the nearest candy store? ‘Hi. Yes, I’m a former Death Eater wanted by both sides. A box of chocolate frogs, please? ’ Still—Harry had and I hadn’t, so an apology was in order.
He hugged me then, big and warm and smelling like Mrs. Weasley’s abominable green pancakes (I scent I didn’t mind so much, on Harry). “I know,” he laughed. “It’s okay.”
“Though,” he continued, grinning wickedly, “if you really wanted to give me a present, you’d come town to Christmas dinner today.”
“You bastard!” I exclaimed. “Now, that’s not fair.”
“I didn’t say you had to,” he said slyly.
“Oh, but proper etiquette does, and I’m a Malfoy through and through. Bastard,” I added again, for emphasis. “Fine.”
“Thank you!” He was exuberant, almost bouncing as he caught me in another embrace. “You’ll love it, the food’s great!”
“Sure,” I replied, unconvinced, before letting him pull me into a kiss.
The table was double the normal size, the kitchen cramped. It smelled of roasted turkey and sweet potatoes: scents familiar from my own Christmas dinners. When I closed my eyes I could almost imagine I was back at home. Almost, but there were too many racketing voices, shouting across the room or murmuring in undertones. Various Order members drifted around. The entire Weasley clan was there, of course, and Hermione, smiling broadly, head resting against Ron (who gave me a small nod when I entered, Harry prodding at my back).
It was different from the last meal I had taken when with a number of people were present, those months before. Not just because it was Christmas, either; I was common enough a figure not to attract more than a few stray glares from the younger Weasleys, save for Ron. I wasn’t liked, but I was accepted as a familiar institution: the ex-Death Eater snob of a bully, the arrogant prat hanging around, only talking to Harry. That I should be allowed a seat at the Christmas table was not questioned. At least, not in my presence.
As the dinner began I melted into the group. Shoved in between Harry and Lupin I ate my turkey and potatoes (Harry was right: they were good). I even joined a debate between Lupin and Tonks about The Weird Sisters, coming down firmly on Lupin’s side: they were entertaining, but not substantial. Tonks stuck her tongue out at me and said I was too young to get how revolutionary they were.
And so dinner passed, uneventful and even enjoyable. I shuffled back to my room, full and more content than I’d been in a while, with Harry’s whispered promises of ‘later’ ringing in my head.
As I sat on my bed, changing from robes to plaid pyjamas, I heard a voice: “Draco! Draco!” My mother. Sliding the mirror out from its hiding place beneath my bed, I grinned.
“Merry Christmas, mother,” I told the figure beaming up at me.
She smiled beatifically. “Indeed!”
It was more sincere than I expected and I lowered my head inquisitively. “Oh?”
“Draco, dear, the most wonderful thing has happened!” He cheeks were rosy, her smile dazzling.
“What? Tell me!” I insisted, imagining tales of how she was safe now, truly safe somehow.
“Your father…he has been rescued from Azkaban!”
My smile froze in place. That’s not to say I wasn’t pleased: part of me was. I loved my father, harsh as he could be at times, and knew he must have longed to be free. But part of me blanched. I didn’t like that he was in jail, but it undeniably made my life easier. He loved me, but he loved service to the Dark Lord too. He would not approve of what I’d done. He wouldn’t demand I come back, no, nor force my mother to turn herself over. You might think differently, but he wasn’t a maniac. Family came first, family always came first. But I didn’t want his disapproval, and I didn’t want a new worry: there was no telling what the Dark Lord would do to him, both because of his own faults and because of mine.
But I kept that frozen smile and mustered an almost enthusiastic, “Really?”
“Isn’t it wonderful?” she insisted.
“Incredibly,” I agreed, with as much conviction as I could. “Incredibly wonderful.”
“He’s back now, and everything will be safe. Don’t you worry about anything.”
“Of course not,” I said, mind already racing with images of Father’s disapproving frown juxtaposed with his tortured body.
“I can’t stay, my darling. But merry, merry Christmas!” And with that she disappeared.
This is where I made my first mistake. Not as large as the next, but I think it made a difference.
I was restless, thinking about my father, his reaction to my betrayal, the punishment he could be receiving. I didn’t want to wait for Harry to come. And after all, why shouldn’t I be able to go to him once in a while? So I wondered down the jovial halls to his room, knocked briskly on his door. He smiled when he saw it was me.
“I got bored,” I said simply, and he chuckled.
“That’s what happens when you insist on locking yourself up alone. Come in.”
His room was strewn with red and gold wrapping paper, sweets and books and trinkets scattered around the floor.
“Christmas presents, much?” I said. “What have you got, a fan-club?”
He tossed me a chocolate frog from a carton on his bed. “Enjoy,” he told me. “Have as much as you want.”
I racked an eye across his body: lumpy red sweater with a snitch on the front, tattered jeans. “Generous as that offer is, Harry, I didn’t come to your room for sweets.” I threw the frog back, unwrapped, to emphasize the point.
He raised his dark eyebrows suggestively, smirking at my forwardness (but why not? I thought. We’ve been doing this enough to be forward about it now and then). He picked his wand up from the bedside table, waved the door shut behind me. I heard the faint click of a lock. Standing, he made his way over to me, removing the sweater and the t-shit underneath as he moved.
“Merry Christmas, Draco,” he said, standing a few feet away.
I leaned forward and encircled his waist in my arms. “Have I told you how attractive you are?” I asked, guiding him towards me, backing up to press against the door.
“No,” he replied as out noses rubbed. “I don’t believe you have.”
“Very,” I breathed. “Very attractive.”
“Oh really?” he smirked, running a finger around the inside of the elastic waistband on my pyjamas.
“Yeah.” He kissed me, tongue flicking around my mouth, teasing. Hands working my pyjamas off altogether. They fell as a bundle around my ankles. “Really fucking attractive,” I gasped as he ran a finger along my hard cock.
He licked behind my ear, nibbled on it, sending shock waves to my cock, where his other hand was rubbing so nice. “Good to know,” he mumbled.
“Mmmmhmmm,” I agreed, tilting my hips forward into his hand, eyes closed. “Yeah, really fucking good. Fucking ama—”
“Oh my!” It was not the voice I expected, and my eyes shpt open. There, only a few feet away, was the man in the portrait, frowning down at us. “Of all the things to slip in on!”
“Jeez,” Harry groaned, thoughtfully shifting to hide my exposed privates from the former headmaster’s shocked gaze. “Phineas, could you please leave?”
“Oh yes, certainly. I don’t want to stay a moment longer!” He began to slip away, but then stopped. “Oh, you,” he said. My breath caught. “If I was known this was why you were snooping around…” He clucked his tongue disapprovingly and disappeared.
“So…where were we?” I offered, not very hopeful that Harry would let that last comment slide. He didn’t.
“What was that about?”
“What?” I tried innocently.
“That bit about you snooping around,” he said, backing away, frown heavy. He bit his bottom lip.
Feeling exposed in more ways than one, I reluctantly pulled my pyjama bottoms back up. “Um…”
“What was that about?” he repeated, more forcefully.
I scratched a finger vigorously at the side of my head. “Okay, fine.” He crossed his arms, looking the model of a disapproving teacher waiting for a student to explain a late assignment. If only it were that trivial, that mundane! I had no lie prepared, and the only one I could think of off the top of my head (‘I was looking for a Quidditch book, I swear!’) was already too late: he could tell it was something bigger than that.
What choice did I have? I told the truth. Told about my worry, wanting to know where he was (his frown only deepened). About searching through the sock drawer, the portraits advice. Finding the locket. Researching Horcruxes as I awaited his return, thinking about R.A.B. I hesitated and mumbled the whole explanation, unsettled by the way his eyebrows drew together, unimpressed.
“So when you said you knew about the Horcruxes from being a Death Eater, that was a lie?” he asked when I was finished. I nodded and swallowed, trying to ease my constricted throat.
“You came into my room and went through my things?”
“Because you were worried about me?”
A vigorous nod: that was the only part of the story that held up in my favour.
Harry rubbed at the top of his nose, just above his glasses, making them bounce a little.
“Do you hate me?” I asked sadly.
“Of course not,” he said. “No, of course not. I wish you hadn’t lied, but it’s really…it’s really not much. In the grand scheme of things you’ve done. Really, it’s okay.” He heaved a heavy sigh. “Now, where were we?” He moved back towards me, made my pants a bundle on the floor again, kissed and rubbed me again.
But the kisses were colder, the hand more mechanic. And when I came, he didn’t seem pleased at all.
The next morning I delayed going down to breakfast. I knew that after eleven the kitchen normally cleared, and that’s what a wanted. Partially I was afraid to face Harry and his cold kisses, but mostly I didn’t want others scrutinizing my reaction to the news: surely my father’s escape (and probably, I reasoned, the escape of others with him) made front pages.
But despite the late hour, Harry was still at the table, mulling over a bit of toast and ham. I cursed to myself, but grabbed an apple from a bowl on the table and sat across to him, casual. I didn’t know anything. That was the story.
“Morning,” I said cheerfully.
Harry pushed the paper across to me. As I suspected, the headline read big and bold:
Suspected to be the Work of You-Know-Who
I tried to display shock at seeing my fathers face smirking up at me.
“Your dad’s free,” Harry pointed out needlessly.
“Apparently,” I said, skimming the article. It called my father a whole host of things, loving husband and father not among them. For some reason this amused me.
“What are you smiling about?” Harry asked, accusing.
“Bias,” I said, taking a bite from the apple. Its crisp crunch filled the silence. He kept looking at me, waiting for some reaction. “What are you still doing in the kitchen?” I asked. “Shouldn’t you be doing something more productive?”
“I’m trying to avoid people,” I told him.
“Me too,” he said, taking the paper back.
“What have you got to avoid?” I asked.
He rolled his eyes. “Shouldn’t you be reacting to the news that your father was broken out of Azkaban?”
“Should I? Is this a test or something?” I took another bite of my apple. He was definitely being cold. Distant.
“No. I’m just curious.”
I rested an elbow on the table, my chin in my palm. I drew my fingers across the wooden table, letting its grain guide my hand. “What do you want me to say, Harry? He’s my father.”
“And what? And I love him. And…I don’t know. He must have hated Azkaban, but at least he was safe there. Safe from the Dark Lord.” Harry nodded thoughtfully. “And Aurors,” I added. His nod stopped short.
“What about them?”
“I’d like it if they didn’t kill my father, that’s what.”
“Aurors don’t kill,” he replied, voice icy.
Silence again. Then he slide the paper back across the table, letting his hand linger long then necessary next to mine as I took it from him.
“It must be hard,” he said, “Having a Death Eater for a father.”
I shrugged. “It’s had its ups and downs.”
“But you love him?”
“Yes, I do.”
I didn’t understand why Harry took that moment to hunch under the table, come out next to me. He kissed me. I didn’t protest, because it was passionate again, like the night before had never happened. Deep and long, fingers meshed in hair. I smiled as he drew away, ran my thumb across his scar.
“You’re wonderful,” I told him. He kissed the crown of my head and left.
It was well past midday, heading into evening, when it happened. I was going through another book looking for clues on how to destroy a Horcrux. I was in my room because Ginny was in the library with Harry, and I didn’t feel like putting up with her nasty looks all afternoon.
Who knows how things would have been if she hadn’t been there? If Harry had felt like searching for the locket further. If I had gotten hungry. Too many what ifs can drive you mad. What if I hadn’t been there to receive the message, would I be someplace different than I am today?
But fate is cruel. Timing is everything, and time was not on my side.
It was my mother again, that started it.
“Draco, Draco, dear,please,” she pleaded once I retrieved the mirror. Her face was shinning with tears.
“Mother! Mother, what’s wrong?”
But she was shoved out of the frame by my father. A version of my father lacking his usual grace: discomposed and face thin from time in prison. He spoke, words saturated in an urgency I had never heard before. “Get to the Manor!” he hissed. “We’re being attacked!”
My heart skitter-skattered. “By who?”
“Aurors,” he hissed. “We’re in the dungeons. The protection spells won’t hold up much longer. We need as much help as we can get. I don’t suppose there is anyone else where you are—”
“No. There isn’t” (The idea of an Order member, even Harry, rushing to my father’s aid was too absurd to be considered). “Just me.”
My father scoffed. “Fantastic Draco. That’s fantastic. Then you come,” (my mother’s protests could be heard from off the mirror’s range). “Get in the back way and surprise them from behind! And quickly!”
I was already halfway to the door.
The front hall was empty, no one saw me slip out and disappear. I landed in the familiar garden of our manor. That time of year most of the flowers were dead, buried in mounds of snow, icy graves for the cold season. As I hastily worked my way through the maze of empty branched, bare bushing and forlorn ivy, I strained to hear the noise of conflict, but was greeted by only the crunch of my own foot fall threw snow and twigs.
I followed the path past my childhood swing, listened to it creak in the wind. I wrapped my fingers around my wand in my pocket, it was smooth and round and heavy and solidly there, and that gave me confidence.
It’s ironic, I think, that I wasn’t really scared. For the first time in my life I faced something dangerous and didn’t tremble, and it was the one time I really had something to lose. But it all came so fast: sitting in my room (when I had begun to think of it as my room, I still don’t know), then out the door and home again. It was surreal, whispering a password, pressing open the stone door that blended almost seamlessly with the wall. I assumed the Aurors had put no detecting spell on it: it was created not to be seen by those who didn’t know about it. No hex hit me, no feet thundered down the hall when I entered, so apparently my assumption had been safe.
Never underestimate a Slytherin’s ability to always have a back door.
I knew where they’d be, my parents, the Aurors. My parents retreated as far into the dark catacombs of out dungeons as possible, the Aurors fighting through spells, several steps behind them.
If I wasn’t too late.
The mirror rested in my pocket and I pulled it out, called my father’s name. Relief played like music through my mind when his face filled the glass.
“I’m here,” I said.
“Good,” he snapped, even as I could hear my mother urging me to get away. Her impulse was understood, but I ignored it. For Severus it may have been a question, for family it was not. I would help the best I could. “Get to the parlour, and fast! They’re breaking through as we speak.”
I nodded and shoved the mirror back into the pocket, sprinted down the halls (shushing the paintings that exclaimed in delight at seeing me: ‘It’s so good to have you back!’). I could feel the energy pumping through my body. Call it protection instinct: the mother bear’s righteous anger when her cub is attacked, but reverse the roles. I rushed past those historical tapestries, under familiar ceiling mouldings and chandeliers. I darted through the room where our Christmas tree would have been, another where the dinner would have taken place.
My legs were throbbing and my heart beating when I stopped short outside the parlour that had the entrance to the dungeons. The door was open, and, pressing my back against the wall, I stole a glance. The fireplace, opening into a stairwell. Two young men standing alert outside of it, eyes darting around the room.
They had broken through.
I threw myself into the room, stunning one guard immediately, dodging the other’s curse. Arms waving widely as I lunged towards the fireplace, I managed to stun the second guard before he could get me. He collapsed with a thud, wand rolling across the marble floor towards the stairs. As a precaution I stepped on one end, grabbed the other and broke it in two. It gave a satisfying snap and I grinned. I threw it back at the limp figure, making sure to hit him between the eyes.
Pleased with myself, I bolted on. Down granite steps, across a dark underground tunnel lit with torches, my footsteps magnified and echoing, pounding in my head and through my body. The dungeons were huge, running the length and breadth of the manor. I strained to hear echoed voices, the trample of other feet, but I heard nothing but my own thudding.
Through wine cellars (bottles sparkling in candle light like so many intoxicating jewels), past musty rooms with dark objects locked in safes. Past cells where once we held prisoners for the Dark Lord, long before my time.
I was winded and starting to panic when I finally caught the sound of spells whipping through the air, yells and the patter of feet. Turning left I followed the sound, trailing to an open door. Inside, a small room, glittering: another wine cellar, so coated in dust that it must have been forgotten, a collection from another era.
The room was lit in blasts of red and green, figures highlighted in the bursts, the rest fighting through the shadows of flickering, melting candles. I recognized my parents right away, hair stark in the strange lighting. They were backed against a wall; outnumbered at least three to one but tossing and dodging curses effectively as bottles shattered around them, staining the floor red with wine.
As I bounded into the fray with a shout, stunning at random, the rest of the figures were a blur of arms and wands and angry swears. Despite the overwhelming odds my parents seemed to be holding their own, and it took me a few moments to realise I wasn’t their only aid against the Aurors. It was her voice that tipped me off, the frantic depravity of the curses she threw, eliciting anguished cries from her victims.
It was then that I felt fear; it hit me in the gut as my stomach fell completely and my knees gave out. I collapsed into crouching, composed enough to keep shooting curses at the enemy’s feet. The fear that had been overridden by instinct and adrenalin was suddenly there full force, buzzing around me ears, making me dizzy and my eyes blur.
Aurors, they might try to capture me. Aunt Bellatrix would kill me on sight, after everything I’d done. No question.
People ran into me, stumbled around me. No one thought to curse me: they must have assumed I was the body of the wounded. Of the dead.
And now is when I made the greatest mistake I’ve ever made.
What I remember is this: darkness and dust in my eyes and the sweet sent of wine; the metallic tinge of blood on my lips from a cut below my eye, broken glass digging into my knees; screaming and shattering bottles; figures above and around me; trying not to get myself killed, trying to help; the salt of tears blurring my vision, vomit at the back of my throat.
And then my mother’s scream.
My father’s body, slipping down the wall, still and blossoming blood from his mouth.
My mother, dashing forward in a fit of despairing rage.
And for a second, I thought of Harry and wanted to be safe in his arms, the scene unfolding around me all a nightmare.
Then a figure just a few feet away, back turned and wand ready to strike. Strike mother. The flickering candles silhouetted him, raised his shadow like a monster across the wall and I knew, knew with dead certainty that that wand was raised to kill.
It was irrational.
I think it was wrong, too.
But in that moment I knew, and I surged my wand up, yelling the first curse that came to mind.
(Because I had been thinking about Harry, probably).
As blood flew the figure twisted, falling with a scream, and in that moment another curse flew by, illuminating his face.
Lupin, eyes already glazed, mouth contorted. I fell back in horror.
After that it was over quickly (the whole thing only minutes that seemed like eternities anyway). Some one hit me with binding ropes. They got my mother and aunt too, both struggling. Aunt Bellatrix was cursing: at them, at my mother, at my father, at the world, and, when she noticed, at me.
But I was limp, did not protest as strong hand pulled me to my feet, kept a firm hand on my shoulder.
Someone whispered “Lumos,” and it was in white wand light that I saw.
Aurors whose names I did not know, but whose faces leered familiar.
Moody scowled at me as Tonks collapsed next to Lupin’s body, stricken, stringy brown hair stuck to her cheeks by tears. Moody looked almost smug, as if he had expected this all along. He said nothing and I said nothing, but is the way his eyes bore into me, I could feel that he knew who was responsible for Lupin’s death.
In that moment, I realised there would be no forgiveness.
One of the Aurors was saying something, trying to calm us, maybe. He was ineffectual over Bellatrix’s screams, but I didn’t listen to either. The whole scene seemed faded around the edges, sound muffled and people blurred. I was only dully aware of the way the ropes dug into my ankles and wrists, how the Auror holding my wrist was grinding my shoulder.
This isn’t real, I thought. This isn’t real. It isn’t real, it isn’t real, it isn’t real.
Then more footsteps coming from the hall, echoes wondering where are they? In a hazy muddle, I thought the voices sounded familiar. And then they turned the corner. McGonagall. Mrs. Weasley. Mr. Weasley.
The scene shot back into blazing reality. Pain under my eyes, in my wrists and ankles and shoulders and everywhere. The flutter of murmurs all around, my aunt’s protests through gagged mouth, Tonks’s broken sobs.
Harry staring at me, aghast. Moody whispering in his ear, those green eyes flicking to Lupin, then back to me. Harry looked almost unaffected by the body, but his lips trembled and he open and closed fists, grabbing at an explanation that wasn’t there.
It was then that I remember our conversation over breakfast. Recalled how sorrowfully he had gazed at me when I said I loved my father. The way he kissed me.
And as his look grew darker, angry (no. Furious. Furious, hateful, uncomprehending and betrayed) I met it with equal wrath. And before he could say anything, I posed the question I was sure I knew the answer to: “Did you know?”
“Did you know? Did you know they were going to do this?” The hand at my shoulder pulled back harshly as I tried to move towards Harry, disregarding my bindings.
In the way his lips pursed, the way he paused, I knew I was right.
And with that, it all hit me. My father, dead. My mother, bound and doomed. Lupin’s glazed eyes. The inevitable consequence of what I’d done. And I screamed unlike I had ever screamed before. Guttural, animal, enraged and out of control:
“FUCK YOU! I TRUSTED YOU!”
“And you killed him,” Harry hissed, disconcertedly composed: my opposite.
“YOU KNEW! YOU KNEW AND YOU DIDN’T TELL ME!” I struggled against my captors hands, wanted to smoother Harry with my pain, with what he had let happen.
He had betrayed me.
And I raged, cursed like Aunt Bellatrix would, let tears burn tracks down my face as he just stood there and took it, face a mask of hatred, eyes squinted and mouth twisted, body tense, on the verge of attacking me, too.
And I yelled and yelled and yelled and yelled until somebody stunned me and I slipped into blankness.
That was the last time I saw him.
And we come to the end. The rest, my dear reader, is recorded somewhere. My trial, the ease with which I was sentenced thirty years and then death.
I suppose I should be grateful that they gave up using Dementors.
Should count my lucky stars that they let prisoners read now. Have newspapers. Write memoirs. Otherwise I would have gone crazy; I have no doubt about that.
I heard that Hermione had a lot to do with those prison reforms: some muggle idea about justice.
If you’re wondering how I overcame my prejudice, that was a good start. And years spent reading Muggle literature has helped. They are far more imaginative than wizards, I give them that.
Harry, of course, must have found out how to destroy Horcruxes, because he won the war. You know that, of course. Probably better than I, with only one newspaper to go on. I kept all those articles about Harry, his triumph, by the way. Any article about him. They are sitting in a pile under the stone slab I call a bed, edges rough and paper yellowing as the years go by.
But even faded, Harry’s picture is always heroic, peering up out of those clippings.
I like to think that some note I took from one of those many books I read helped. I don’t see that anyone will ever be able to contradict it, so I’ll keep that fantasy and pretend it’s real.
My time is almost up: when you read this I’ll probably be dead. Just one of the many causalities of the Second War, one of the many insignificant prisoners sentenced to die. I saw the articles about me. Saw how I made and interesting story because I was young. Because the Order took me in, and I betrayed that.
The perfect Death Eater bastard.
I noticed that no one bothered with why the Order took me in. If the newspapers reported that I had saved Harry’s life, then it wouldn’t be such a cut and dry case, now would it? I wouldn’t be so easy to paint black, and that’s what people wanted: easy targets for their hate. The cold hearted boy who threw away the chance he had out of spite. Never mind it was his family they were trying to kill.
I kept those articles for a while, next to the ones about Harry. It took me years to get rid of them, but I got tired of being bitter. After enough time, letting go of anger is easier than holding on, no matter how righteous it is.
And that’s how it is with Harry. I’ve forgiven him, as he once forgave me. Perhaps what he did was not so bad; he hadn’t expected me to go and fight. I’ve given up blaming him for everything. The fury has rotted away, as I’ve rotted in this cell. And I’ve been left with one realisation, one thing I still know is true: I loved him.
And maybe that doesn’t change anything. You might not think it absolves me.
Maybe you still think I’m a terrible person. That I deserve everything I’ve gotten, after everything I did. I wouldn’t blame you.
You’d probably be right.
But at least remember this, when you think of me: I did what I did because I loved my family.
Remember: I loved Harry Potter.
And know: There are things that could have been done better, but it’s too late for regrets. My life was what it was and I am where I am because of that.
The guard smiled broadly, missing teeth like pits. His skin glistened with sweat in the heat of the afternoon, condensation twisted in his patched black beard.
“Enjoy yourself, sir,” he said, voice rough as his skin, big as his frame. He was cut out to be a guard, and his small bow as he swung open the gate was ungainly, too dainty for such a figure.
The man inclined his head in return, pushing heavy black frames up his sweaty nose. His face bore wrinkles and bags, lined with too much worry for too many years. He took off his brown felt hat as he made his way down the stairs. He patted at his messy black hair, streaked with grey, as if he didn’t know the cause was hopeless. Surrounded by stone, the air at the bottom was cold, and he wiped away the moisture on his skin, shivering as he reached the last step.
A narrow corridor extended before him, stone, candle lit, with the sound of water dripping into a forgotten corner, the suggestion of rats creeping through the walls.
Straightening his robes and running fingers through his hair in last hopeless attempt to tame it, he made his way towards the cell at the end of the passage. As he approached, the figure inside stirred. A slack, pale face was framed by stringy blond hair past the shoulders. The prisoner, grey eyes peered from features that were too sharp, distorted by skin like clay pulled too thin, almost translucent and stretched back from the nose. The prisoner leaned against his cell door, wrapped spindly fingers around one of the bars.
The two men locked eyes.
“Hello,” the prisoner said, voice gravely and strained from lack of use. “Come to bid me good riddance?”
The dark haired man shook his head, took one of the bars in his own hand, peered down at the prisoner.
“I’ve come to say an unhappy goodbye,” he said, voice obscenely loud in comparison to the prisoner’s. He paused, licked his lips. “I’ve come to say I’m sorry.”
The prisoner grunted. Or it could have been a laugh, small and sad. “Of course you have,” he murmured. “But thank you.”
The other man ran his hand up and down the bar, feeling its rough firmness. “I shouldn’t have let this happen to you,” he said.
The prisoner waved his hand dismissively. “I killed someone you loved. It was understandable.” He paused, and then added, “I’ve forgiven you.”
The standing man crouched, face to face with only the bars between them. “You have?”
“Yes.” It was simple, but enough to make the dark haired man reach through the bars, place a gentle hand on the prisoner’s cheek.
“You look good,” the prisoner said, leaning his head to meet the hand.
“Are you married?”
The dark haired man gave a weak smile and held up a ringed finger. “Twenty seven years.”
“Who’s the lucky girl?”
The prisoner grimaced. “I can’t say I’m surprised. Congratulations, I suppose.”
The dark haired man reached through the bars to brush a strand of hair off the prisoner’s face. “Thanks.”
“Two girls and a boy.”
The prisoner closed his eyes, nodded into the hand. “How old?”
“Do you really care, or are you just making conversation?”
The prisoner opened his eyes again, met the other man’s green pair. “I care.”
“The girls are twenty three and twenty. Their names are Lily and Hermione-Rose.”
“Original,” the prisoner said, with a hint of a grin. “And the boy?”
“What’s his name?”
A pause. Then, “James Draco Potter.”
The prisoner smiled contentedly. “I knew that,” he said. “I read it in the newspaper.”
“Oh? Then why’d you ask?”
“I wanted to hear you say it.”
The dark haired man laughed. “That’s like you.”
“Is it? I’m not sure I’d know anymore.”
They sat in silence for a moment, absorbing the feeling of contact. Then the prisoner asked, “Are you happy?”
The other man raised his eyebrows, then shrugged. “I love my kids. I love Ginny. Ron and Hermione are doing well.”
“It’s hard being famous sometimes, is all,” the dark haired man said, with another shrug.
“Try being infamous.”
After a second they both laughed, then lapsed into silence again. It was the dark haired man’s turn to begin:
“You know, years after…after you were gone, I found an old chess set.”
“At Grimmauld Place. The white queen kept on about some pointy blonde who destroyed her dynasty.”
The prisoner laughed to himself. “She was a complainer.”
“You never told me you played chess with Ron.”
“Well, I did.”
The dark haired man tilted the prisoner’s face so they were looking straight at each other. “I truly am sorry.”
“Me, too,” the prisoner whispered.
The dark haired man shook his head. “You have nothing to apologize for.” Then pressing his face into the bars, he kissed the prisoner’s head and rose.
“Harry?” the prisoner asked.
“Would you be there tomorrow? I’d like to see you again before I die.”
The dark haired man’s bottom lip quivered, and he nodded. “Of course.” He turned to leave, but the prisoner spoke again.
“Harry, can I ask you something?”
“Did you love me?”
The dark haired man was silent. He studied the prisoner’s worn face, the desperate, wide eyed expression. He ran a trembling hand through his hair. He said, “Yes, Draco, I did.”
He turned and walked away down the corridor, aware of a pair of grey eyes following his retreat.