Title: What it Means to be a Malfoy
Prompt: #13 Submitted by comicsbycate
Warnings: Angst, character death (not Harry or Draco)
Word Count: ~9400
Summary: After the war, Draco learns that his name automatically means something to most people. Now he must figure out just what the Malfoy name means to him.
What It Means To Be A Malfoy
Ever since Draco could remember, he had been taught what it meant to be a Malfoy. The lessons ran the gamut—from a simple “wash up this moment. Malfoys do not play in the dirt like Muggles,” at age three, to “you will not cry. Malfoys do not have displays of weakness and emotion,” at age sixteen. The latter had been especially stressed. In the days when he had been trying not to fail his father’s Lord (because, of course, Malfoys did not fail), not showing weak emotions had seemed the most necessary lesson he could learn.
The most traumatic, however, had been when his father had pulled him aside to discuss the facts of life. “Malfoys take responsibility,” his father had said grimly. “They always use Protection Charms.” Draco had nodded. While he was starting to wonder if he would ever need the contraception spells, as he was beginning to look more and more at blokes, the other forms of protection would keep him safe, no matter his partner. And then his father had looked him dead in the eye and said, “And above all things in this matter, while Malfoys otherwise take what they want or need, it is different in the bedroom. The pleasure of your lover is paramount. Malfoys are extremely generous lovers.” Draco had nearly fled after being dismissed, wondering if Self-Obliviation was feasible and likely to work against the horrid mental images that had forced their way into his brain.
Draco was not sure why that lesson had come back to him at this particular time, but he could guess it had to do with the stress of the situation, and his brain equating it to moments of distress and wanting to be anywhere other than where he currently was.
He sat straight up in his seat (Malfoys do not slouch) and took a series of deep breaths (Malfoys do not panic). He looked out at the crowd before him. Not a friendly or a sympathetic face was to be found. The trials, while not open to the general public, were still well-attended. It seemed as though his fate was already decided.
Once the trial had officially begun, Draco nearly forgot all the lessons about poise and self-control. The list of charges against him was read off, and then statements (Katie Bell’s amongst them) were read in lieu of in-person testimony. The entire process seemed to stretch on forever, though it was only an hour by the clock on the wall. “Almost done, Mr Malfoy,” the head of the Wizengamot said at last. “Just two more matters to take into consideration. First: would you please roll up your left sleeve and display your forearm to the council?”
Draco felt all blood drain from his face. His entire body went cold, but he undid the buttons at his wrist with trembling figures and shoved the material to his elbow. The Dark Mark was faded but clearly visible on his pale skin. He heard a number of gasps. If his fate hadn’t been sure before, it was now. Arguing that he had taken the Mark under duress would do him no good. He knew that.
“Thank you, Mr Malfoy. You may do up your sleeve. There is only one final order of business.” He looked up at someone guarding the door to the chamber. “Bring in the witness.”
Draco’s mind whirled. Witness? Weren’t all of the statements that had been read enough? There was no one alive who might be able to provide anything to help him. The heavy doors to the outside corridor groaned open and immediately, people began to speak in hushed tones. A moment later, he caught sight of a familiar head of untidy black hair, and his heart sank. Potter. The final nail in the coffin.
The head of the Wizengamot eventually got the crowd under control and began the proceedings with Potter. Draco noticed through his anxiety that Potter had taken pains to wear formal robes for the occasion. One must be dressed well when condemning his enemy. Some voice in the back of his head said that was a philosophy his father believed in. “Mr Potter. We appreciate your cooperation in this matter.”
Potter stood facing the council, his eyes firmly on the wizard in charge of the proceedings. “I trust you viewed the evidence I gave you.” His words had a faint ring of Granger about them, and Draco wondered if she had coached Potter on his testimony. If so, he was sunk…not that he had had much of a chance, anyway. Maybe he would have if he had Snape’s testimony, but that was impossible.
The elderly wizard waved his hand dismissively. Draco swallowed hard. If Potter was getting the dismissive treatment, then his testimony wasn’t even needed for a conviction. “Of course. Though it means much more for the other case than for this one. For now, all we need is what you’ve volunteered: Mr Malfoy’s defence.”
Draco’s gaze snapped to Potter, but the other boy didn’t so much as glance in his direction. Defence? He wasn’t the only one who appeared shocked. Why would Potter, of all people, come to his defence? And why would he do it voluntarily, at that?
Not once during his short testimony did Potter even acknowledge Draco’s presence. Draco listened intently, hearing Potter recount how he had not positively identified the three of them at the Manor, and apparently reiterating that left on his own, Draco would not have killed Dumbledore. “I do believe the evidence I submitted excuses him from that.” There was a bit of steel in his voice at that, and Draco began to feel a small bit of hope bloom within his chest.
“Yes,” the older wizard replied, less dismissive now. “Just one final question: It is no secret that you and Mr Malfoy here have never been friendly toward one another. Why volunteer for his defence?”
“Because no one else would.”
Draco tried to hide the sting of those words. They were true, but hearing them wasn’t easy.
“Very noble of you, Mr Potter.”
“I wasn’t finished,” Potter said, and there was both annoyance and conviction in his voice now. “No one else could. Severus Snape is dead, as is Albus Dumbledore. And though I supplied testimony that freed Narcissa Malfoy this morning, I am aware anything his parents would have said would have counted for exactly nothing.” Draco felt faint. His mother had been freed this morning on Potter’s testimony? No one had told him. “Draco Malfoy was only trying to save his family from the very real possibility of their deaths. He was never a true Death Eater, Mark or no Mark. I doubt there is anyone here who would not do something desperate to save the ones they love. His family turned their backs on Voldemort at a crucial juncture.” Now Draco was positive Granger had at least helped Potter prepare. Potter did not speak like this. “And if I, with the history that exists between us, believe Draco Malfoy deserves a second chance, then that should say something.” And without bothering to wait until he was dismissed, Potter turned on his heel and walked out.
There was silence for a moment more, and as Draco tried to process what exactly had just happened, the Wizengamot put his fate to a vote. He was too dazed to even bother counting. So when he was announced free to go, it took a repetition of that fact to get through to him.
He was led out of the packed room, with a few witches and wizards making their displeasure at the trial’s outcome known. He was escorted into a small bathroom, given his own clothes, and told to shower and where to go next. He managed to wait until he was left alone to collapse to his knees in the shower, both grateful and terrified at what this second chance might mean.
There were moments when, as Draco watched the life he knew crash down around him, he wondered if the second chance the Wizengamot had given him (thanks, of course, to Potter) had simply been a way of making sure he suffered as much as he would have in Azkaban. Perhaps more.
One such moment occurred when he, along with his parents, had to sit by and watch the Ministry auction off so many of their belongings. The villa in France had already been sold, the money going toward war reparations. While Draco and his mother had received little in the way of punishment, Lucius Malfoy had not been as lucky. Potter’s testimony had kept Draco’s father from serving time in Azkaban, but it had not meant he, and thus the rest of the Malfoy family, was let off without punishment.
There were, of course, those who believed anything short of incarceration was far too lenient. Howlers were a common occurrence, and cursed letters made their way through the owl post with regularity. There were people who were not above throwing hexes when any member of the Malfoy family appeared in public. They ventured out less and less these days. It wasn’t as if they had the money for frivolous shopping trips anymore.
The three of them had sat down to dinner in their sparsely-furnished Manor, when Lucius cleared his throat. Draco tensed. His father only made that sound when he wanted to make a point—one that was either important or unpleasant. “Draco, your mother and I have a matter to discuss with you.”
Draco laid down his soup spoon. “Yes, Father?”
“You are aware our finances are not as ample as they once were. It seems as though it is time for you to seek employment. Your mother and I will be selling the Manor and will be seeking a much smaller residence; somewhere we may find some peace. You are eighteen. It is time for you to find your place in this new world of ours. You are young enough for some doors to remain open to you.”
Draco tried not to gape at his father. Was this what he had heard his parents arguing about the previous night? “Employment?”
“Yes. It’s not what you had planned for yourself, I know. To be frank, it’s not what we wanted for you. If things were different, you could live off the Malfoy vault, go about getting yourself a position of power within the Ministry, and you would inherit the Manor in due time. But those plans have been erased and we must all build anew. You should begin your search tomorrow.”
Draco was too surprised to argue. It would be pointless. He wanted to shout at his father that this was his fault. It was his father who had gotten caught up with a madman, dragging his wife and son along into the mess. It hadn’t really been about blood purity. How could it have been, with a raving mad Half Blood at the helm?
Instead of voicing these things, Draco stuffed the emotions deep within himself and simply said “Yes, Father.” He forced himself to finish the soup before him and asked to be excused. He lay in bed, unsure how to even begin what was laid out before him. He had always taken for granted that he could use his family name to get where he needed in life.
He seriously doubted that would be the case anymore.
Draco had expected finding a job to be difficult, but he had not counted on his particular array of setbacks. There were plenty of potential employers who shut down the moment he mentioned his last name, and that he had expected. But those rare few who still seemed willing to give him a chance—devout fans of Harry Potter, nearly all—still turned him down. It was a reason so simple he should have seen it coming, and he could not fault the business owners. Draco simply did not have the mandatory NEWTs, and any position he was willing to take (and even some of the last resorts) required them.
The evening his father had told him he had found a potential buyer for the Manor, Draco was sitting in his room, sifting through rejection letters. “You have two weeks to find something, Draco,” his father said, leaving him alone again. Draco’s stomach churned and he wondered absently if he was developing an ulcer on top of everything else.
There were two options left to him that did not involve the horror that would be trying his hand in the Muggle world. Both options required him to swallow a large bit of his remaining pride. He could take the one position he kept seeing advertised and did not require any NEWTs—stock boy and product ‘tester’ for Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes—though the likelihood of the remaining Weasley twin hiring him was quite slim. Or he could answer the letter that had arrived three weeks ago, bearing the Hogwarts seal.
He rather thought being a test subject, even for a Weasley twin, would be less painful.
He read through the letter once more, to be sure it had not changed.
Due to the circumstances surrounding your last year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the administration has decided to offer a programme for students who wish to finish their formal education. Classes that would normally have been taken during seventh year will be offered to you, in addition to new accelerated career options. You will have the opportunity to sit your NEWTs at the end of the school year.
Please inform us of your decision by the eighteenth of August. For students returning to take part in this programme, term begins two days early, on the thirtieth of August.
Headmistress Minerva McGonagall
Pulling a fresh sheet of parchment from his desk, Draco chewed his lower lip before putting quill to paper. The eighteenth of August was two days from now. He had not responded earlier, thinking that going back to Hogwarts, having to face all the old memories and guilt, was not something he could bear. He was in many ways a coward, and that was something he could now admit. Never to anyone else (Malfoys do not openly admit weakness), but he knew it deep within himself, and it shamed him. He was finding that emotion filling him a little more these days.
The thirtieth of August found Draco waiting on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, wondering at how very different it felt. There were no small children looking excited or intimidated, no large crowds of families laughing together, no younger siblings throwing jealous glances or parents fussing over letting their First Years go. Instead he spotted a handful of students from his year, Longbottom’s grandmother, and three other adults—one a Weasley he did not recognise. He had come with no one and climbed aboard the train as quickly and quietly as possible. Finding an empty compartment, Draco ducked inside and made himself comfortable. It was a completely different experience without Crabbe and Goyle sitting across from him, ready to start things with Potter and his little group should an opportunity present itself, and Pansy sitting as close as she could manage without actually fusing to him. Once or twice during the trip, someone walked by the door to his cabin, paused, and left without entering. Draco thought little of it.
The closer the train got to Hogwarts, the more Draco began to question his decision to return. It had seemed like the logical choice. Not only would he be able to learn what he needed to sit his NEWTs, but it meant not having to worry about finding a place to live or where he would get money for meals. He had his own vault at Gringotts, but it was much less than most would expect. The main Malfoy vault, to which he would generally have some access, was quite depleted. The punishments handed to his father had been severe, and both he and his mother were forced to suffer right along.
The gamekeeper met them all at the platform, like he had when they had all seen the castle for the first time. The bit of chatter amongst the group died as each individual caught sight of Draco. It was Weasley who broke the silence. “What’s he doing here?”
Draco stood still, hand gripping his replacement wand. It still felt awkward in his hand, even all these months later. He opened his mouth to snap back something like, “Taking the second chance I was afforded, thank you.” But before he could, the gamekeeper beat him to it. “The Headmistress invited him, same as you lot.” His voice was gruffer than usual and it was obvious he did not particularly agree with the decision, but the finality in his tone and the way he shoved Draco’s trunk into the carriage made it clear that he did not wish to discuss it further.
Weasley rounded on the other ginger next to him, the elder Weasley Draco had seen back at King’s Cross. “You’re teaching this year! Why didn’t you tell us he would be here?”
“I didn’t get a list of students yet, Ron. And in case you forgot, your best friend defended him.”
Weasley struggled to find a counterargument and came up with nothing. He just muttered something to himself, climbed into the carriage, and pulled Granger up with him. Draco had a moment to wonder why Potter had not said anything himself, and then he spotted him in front of the carriage, offering one of the Thestrals something it didn’t seem to want. It took Granger calling Potter’s name twice to snap him out of his daze and get him into the carriage, where he sat chatting quietly with Longbottom.
Being the last up into the carriage presented another problem. Between luggage, students, and half-giant gamekeepers, there wasn’t much room in the buggy. No one seemed to want Draco anywhere near. Students shied away like he had the plague, or spread themselves out to keep him from fitting next to them. Finally Granger, who was sitting on the edge of one of the benches, moved over nearly into Weasley’s lap and cleared her throat. “You could sit here, Malfoy... If you want.”
He once again bit down on his instinctual response, this time smothering “Why would I want to sit anywhere near a filthy little Mudblood like you?” behind his lips. He heard his father’s harsh voice in his head: If you expect doors to open for you, oil the hinges. Don’t rust them shut with caustic remarks. He didn’t think his father meant to imply that he should behave himself around Mudbloods, but this was a new world, and his father could sod himself. This whole mess was his fault. Taking a deep breath, Draco nodded slightly. “Thank you, Granger.” He did not miss the look of shock on her face.
The ride up to the castle was silent, but he could feel he change in the air when they all caught sight of what lay before them. The castle, always impressive and somewhat regal, now had a dilapidated air about it. And as they drew closer, they could see that some of the walls and towers were still damaged in places, most of it due to the giants’ involvement that night. There were obvious signs of repair, and places where the new bricks were darker than their older, weathered counterparts. In the twilight, the castle simply looked lonely and damaged.
Hagrid led them all into the Great Hall, pausing only to have a brief discussion with Filch, who looked exactly the same as he always had—wretched and bitter. They stepped through the heavy oak doors and Draco noticed that in addition to the four house tables, there was a smaller fifth one up near the head table where the professors all sat. It was this one the gamekeeper directed them to. “The Headmistress will be along in just a mo’.”
“You aren’t staying, Hagrid?” Granger asked, looking nearly as disoriented as Draco felt. It was so odd to see this room absolutely empty. He had thoughts of bodies gathered as respectfully as possible, of sitting here with his parents, away from those who were celebrating, wondering what the world would now hold for them.
“Not right now, Hermione. Charlie and me have some things to take care of before it’s too late. I’ll see you all ‘round, soon enough.” And with that, the gamekeeper and the other Weasley walked out of the hall, their footfalls echoing off the high ceiling.
“I guess this means we won’t be sitting at the Gryffindor table,” Weasley said, flopping down onto the bench. “Why do you think we have to sit here?”
Granger gave him an exasperated look. “There’s probably a number of reasons, Ron. First, it shows that we can all behave and interact together, without all the prejudice that exists between houses. Second, since we won’t be attending the standard classes and may not have the same schedule, it forces us to spend even more time together. Third, they probably don’t want to force some of us into the fray with everyone else. There aren’t even…” She paused. “They’ll probably treat us all like one house, in the name of unity. It’s not as if all the houses are represented in equal numbers by those of us here attending an eighth year.”
Well, at least she hadn’t flat-out said that Draco was the only Slytherin student here, even if it was apparent that was what she had meant. Draco hadn’t really expected anyone else from his house to show. A number of his house had had Death Eaters in the family, and the Malfoys were the only ones to abandon their allegiance early enough and obviously enough to count, it seemed. He had not heard from Goyle since the eve of the final battle, and the Parkinsons, though not involved with the Death Eaters, had decided to spend a while in Switzerland. Enough people knew about Pansy’s call to turn Potter over to Voldemort.
There was much awkward fidgeting when it came to sitting and waiting for the Headmistress. Still, no one wanted near Draco. This time, he ended up sitting next to a Hufflepuff who was too busy looking at him like he was planning her untimely death to concentrate on what her friend was saying.
Draco was finally spared the awkwardness of the situation when the Headmistress entered the Hall. With brisk steps, she approached. “I’m pleased to see you all back. Completing your education is a very responsible choice—” Draco saw Granger nudge Weasley, who rolled his eyes “—and I’m proud to see so many of you have taken Hogwarts up on this opportunity. I know this year will require a lot of adjustment. Please know that I, along with the heads of your houses, am here for you if you need us.”
“Prof—, I mean, Headmistress,” Granger started, hand already in the air. “Who’s to be head of Gryffindor House? And who will be teaching Transfiguration?”
“The Defence Against the Dark Arts instructor, Professor Ryves, will be head of Gryffindor. Professor Lydvik will teach Transfiguration. And that brings me to another point. You students have likely already noticed, but this year, we have another new addition to our faculty. Charlie Weasley will be assisting in the Care of Magical Creatures classes, in addition to working with a select group of you. Furthermore, he will be acting as your Head of House. I expect you all to treat him with the level of respect he deserves. Especially you.” Draco winced, but then noticed it was not him she was addressing. Her stern look was fixed elsewhere. “Mr Weasley.”
The ginger sighed, but didn’t dare disrespect the Headmistress. “Yes ma’am.”
“Does this mean we won’t be a part of our former Houses?” Even if he hadn’t recognised her voice, Draco would have known the question belonged to Granger.
“In many senses, you will always be a part of the Houses you were sorted into, Miss Granger,” the Headmistress said with a small smile. “But for this academic year, your actions will not add or subtract points from the other houses’ totals. And I’m sorry to break it to some of you, but you will be ineligible in regards to being a part of the Quidditch teams.”
Potter, who had been sitting and staring over at one of the empty tables, finally chose to pay attention. “What?”
“You heard me, Mr Potter. Unfortunately, you, Mr Weasley, Mr Malfoy, and anyone else sitting at this table will not be participating in Quidditch this year as anything other than a spectator.” She paused a moment, taking in Potter’s wide-eyed look. “Though perhaps we could make an exception, if one of you wanted to apply for the commentator’s position. That is a discussion for another time, however. It’s growing late, and you should all have some time to acclimate. The rest of the staff will be arriving tonight and tomorrow. Dinner will not be formal, but there will be a meal ready for you in two hours, here at this table. Now, unless you have more questions, let me show you to your dormitory.” She looked at Granger, who shook her head silently and got up from her place at the table to follow. Everyone else did the same, Draco last.
The Headmistress led them along, talking most of the time. She sounded quite comfortable in her role, and Draco supposed some of that had to do with the decades she had spent here. On the other hand, he was the most uncomfortable he had ever been within these walls. He wondered if any of the other students felt the same way. He did not plan on asking them.
“This is the entrance to your common room,” she said, pausing in front of a painting of two young girls whispering back and forth. “The current password is ‘second chances’.” Draco almost fell into Weasley, who was standing in front of him. The Headmistress didn’t even glance at him. The little blonde girl in the photo smiled at their group and the painting swing forward to let them in.
“Your things have already been brought up and set in your rooms. We’ve arranged it so that you are two to a room.”
“You mean we don’t get to pick our roommates?” Boot asked. Draco noticed that the boys were split looking at him with disdain and at Potter with hope. The Weasel looked decidedly displeased about the news. Draco clenched his jaw. None of his options were good. No matter whom he was stuck with, he would do well to remain as invisible as possible. Just please not the Weasel, he silently pleaded with no one in particular.
The Headmistress just gave Boot a look that said she had already answered that question, and really, she expected more from a Ravenclaw. "Girls, this way. Granger and Abbot, this first room is yours."
They disappeared up a staircase and the males of the group looked around uneasily. "What do you think the chances are McGonagall lets us share a room?" Weasley asked Potter with a look that said he already knew the answer.
Before Potter could answer anyway, MacMillan snorted. "I'd say we all have something else to worry about." Several sets of eyes came to rest on Draco. The only one who didn't seem to be looking at him was Potter. In fact, Potter hadn't looked at Draco since the night of the final battle. There had been no eye contact during Draco's trial, and Potter had been avoiding him since they arrived at Hogwarts. He wished everyone else would take a lesson from Potter on the matter. Being ignored was much easier to take than being vilified.
"MacMillan. Weasley." The Headmistress' voice rang out, and both parties in question flinched. No one had heard her come back to the common room. "First room belongs to you. Boot and Longbottom, the next one is yours." She went about pairing them up, and Draco finally stood alone next to the only other student left. "Potter and Malfoy, this last one is yours. You might want to get comfortable before supper. There is a private bath at the end of this wing, much like the Prefects' bath, should you need it. If you will excuse me, I have work to do before retiring. Good evening, gentlemen." And that was it. She left the two of them standing at the doorway of the room they were to share, not sparing them another glance, or even some comment about how she expected them to act as adults.
"Looks like this side of the room is to be mine," Potter said after a moment, nodding toward a trunk at the foot of one of the beds. He moved slowly that direction and opened his trunk. Things looked like they had been haphazardly tossed inside. Malfoys were never messy. Potter did not appear to live by the same sort of rule.
Draco could think of nothing to say that would contribute anything to the conversation, so he kept quiet and opened his own trunk. His textbooks, he put on a shelf next to the window. There was a small photograph of his parents tucked inside his Potions text. When he was sure Potter wasn't looking, he tucked it into the top drawer of his dresser and hid it underneath his pants and school ties. All of his ties were black, a requirement for those participating in their eighth year. Gone were the colours identifying the different houses at a glance. It was just one more detail to point out that things were different, and he really did not belong anywhere anymore.
After a short while, Draco lost the war within himself and realised that while Potter found it easy to ignore him, Draco could not grant the same courtesy. He had yet to apologise to Potter for his actions, and a proper thanks was in order, even if he could never come close to expressing what he felt about Potter's testimony. "Potter, listen, I--"
He stopped, mid-turn. He was alone in their room. Potter had left without a word.
The evening the rest of the students arrived at Hogwarts, Draco entered the Great Hall alone. Every other eighth year was already in place at their conspicuous table, and many of the faculty were sitting at the head table. Draco slipped in to a spot at the table and a water goblet materialised in front of him. Next to him, MacMillan shifted so his back was to Draco and continued his conversation with Abbot. That was fine. Draco was becoming quite used to being ignored. Potter had started a trend, it seemed.
He was halfway through reciting a list of potions he was to be learning this year in his head when the older students made their way into the Great Hall. There was a lot of noise, but it was noticeably subdued for the occasion. Everyone seemed to be quite aware of how different things were, made more poignant by the fact that there were a number of people missing. As the students settled at their house tables, Draco spared a glance over at the Slytherins. Their numbers were much less impressive than those of the other houses. He knew some of them had not returned for political reasons; Death Eaters in the family were a social liability these days.
After several moments, Draco noticed a marked murmuring nearby and looked up from the hands he was resting in his lap. People were whispering and looking his way. He could actually see the news of his presence travel across the room. He clenched his fists underneath the table and set his jaw. He would not let them see that he took note of their behaviour. He would just breathe and pretend everything was fine, that he had just as much right to be here as anyone else. But when those near him seemed to fall silent, Draco wondered if he would even make it through dinner.
He looked up from the tabletop and glanced toward the door. Could he manage to make it out of the hall and to his room without attracting more attention? It didn't seem possible. As he was trying to figure out how many steps were between him and the door, he realised someone was calling his name... someone nearby.
"Malfoy? Can you hear me?"
Draco's eyes snapped to the person across the table. Potter. Potter was staring at him intensely. Draco mentally shook himself. "I'm sorry, what?"
"I just asked which classes you had on your schedule. Are you taking Potions or anything else interesting?"
It took a few moments for Draco to process what was happening. All eyes in the room were on the two of them. Even the other people at their table looked shocked to see Harry Potter making small talk with Draco Malfoy. The only person who seemed to be looking at them in understanding was Granger.
Finally, he found his voice. "Potions, yes. And I have something with Professor Weasley that looks interesting." His voice cracked and he struggled to get control of the tremble in his hands. "I guess we'll see tomorrow." Potter was still staring directly at him and he felt focussed under that stare. "Anything interesting in your schedule?" Draco turned his head to look at Granger. "I'm sure you have some interesting courses this term. Anything you're looking forward to?"
Though she seemed to know that Potter's questions had been an attempt to show everyone else that Draco was simply another student, same as the rest of them, even she looked surprised that Draco had addressed her. "Oh!" she said a moment later, her voice just a little too loud. "There's Arithmancy, of course. I'm hoping to learn more about the Chaldean Method, as I'm afraid I'm a bit rusty on some of the finer points. And of course, there's Ancient Runes, which I've heard the new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor is actually quite skilled at as well, and..."
"Now you've done it," Potter whispered across the table with a smile. The lift of his lips seemed to be the spell that turned the mood of the room. People were still looking at Draco, but now it seemed to be less hostile. "You've gone and gotten her started talking about school work. And everyone else has tuned her out by now and gone back to what they were doing."
Draco looked over, surprised to see that Granger was indeed still going on about her classes. He tried to feign interest and saw Potter do the same. Potter had much more experience at it, but he still seemed to be lacking the skill. Merlin knew he was better at it than Weasley, though. If the ginger looked any less interested, he would be drooling on himself. What he bloody hell Granger saw in the tosser was beyond him.
The Sorting Ceremony was a tense affair this year. There were still a good number of students sorted Slytherin, something that made logical sense, but fewer of this year's new students seemed pleased with their placement. One exceptionally small brunette actually burst into tears on her way to the Slytherin table. The sight put Draco off eating. It shouldn't be this way. Being sorted Slytherin should not be a disadvantage or something to fear.
Draco lay in bed for over two hours that night before Potter stumbled in from the common room. He listened as Potter changed into pyjamas and crawled under his covers. After a moment, he decided there was no time like the present. "Potter?"
"Yeah, Malfoy?" Potter sounded exhausted and weary, not at all like someone who had just spent the last few hours sitting up and spending time and joking with his close friends. "Did I wake you?"
"No." There was no way Draco could say everything he was thinking. In the end, he settled for simplicity. "I just wanted to thank you."
Potter actually sounded surprised. "For what?"
Potter didn't respond, and after several moments Draco rolled over and drifted off to sleep. He supposed if the tables were turned, he wouldn't have been able to give an answer, either.
Nearly two months into the term, Draco received his first owl post. He recognised his mother's handwriting right off and tucked the letter into his robes. He wanted to read it in private, not in full view of everyone else. He was somehow still used to the old days, where he heard from his parents at regular intervals--words of encouragement and packages of sweets from his mother, notes that were more like lectures from his father, reminding him to uphold the standards of the Malfoy name, admonishing him for anything less-than-stellar as far as grades were concerned (and worse, for being academically bested by a Mudblood). As much anger as he had toward his father, he still missed hearing from him. But he wished that once, just once, he could hear a bit of praise from the man, some recognition of the effort he put forth.
He ducked into the loo between classes and read the note there. His mother spoke of their new home, detailed how strange it felt, and how small and cold and empty without him there. After two pages of this, there was a note scrawled in his father's hand. It was only two lines: Draco, do make sure you remember the lessons we've taught you. Remember, not all doors have shut to you yet. That was it. No signature, no well-wishes. And why should he have expected any different? He shoved the letter into the drawer with the photograph of his parents when he got back to his room. He used to look at the picture and silently vow not to let them down. After this letter, he did not want to see it.
Draco spun around to see Potter standing awkwardly in their doorway. He had not heard him approach. "What are you talking about?"
"First Quidditch match of the season this afternoon. Gryffindor and Slytherin. I thought... Never mind." Potter turned and walked out the door, calling for Weasley and Granger to wait for him.
Draco stared at the doorway in confusion. They had been sharing a room now for two months, and still they hardly spoke to one another. Oh, Potter was polite enough, that was true, but they certainly were not friends. Draco could not quite bring himself to open up, and Potter did not seem concerned with making him do so. A bit of mutual respect seemed to work for them just fine. It was odd not fighting with the other boy, and truth be told, he missed the banter a little. But then he would remember the ache in his chest on cold, dark nights, the feeling of blood pouring out of his wounds, and think that their limited contact might be a coping mechanism for the both of them: Avoid what you cannot confront. It was not a lesson his father had taught him. Only in a way, it was.
He gave in to the temptation to watch the Quidditch match twenty minutes after everyone else had gone. He climbed slowly to the bleachers, unsure where to sit. He did not fit with the Slytherins. None of them trusted him in the slightest, and he knew what they were thinking when he was nearby. It showed so clearly in their eyes. As much as anyone else had reason to hate him, the members of Slytherin House had more. He was the very embodiment of what none of them wished to acknowledge, the only thing the other houses seemed to see when they caught sight of green and silver patches and ties. His loyalties had been misplaced, tested, and come up lacking. Last minute changes of heart did nothing more than brand him an opportunistic coward. None of them wished to acknowledge the traits they all possessed in common, the ones that had led him to his path in his sixth year.
He caught sight of most of the other eighth year students sitting amongst the members of their old Houses, acting almost as if the war had never happened. There was cheering and laughing, and Draco didn't think he could feel more out of place. He clutched his scarf tightly around his neck and sat as far away from the crowd as he could manage. Coming to the pitch had been a mistake. Everything in his life had been a mistake.
"It feels wrong, doesn't it?"
Draco nearly fell off the bleachers. Potter was leaning over his shoulder, breath forming soft plumes in the cold air. He had come out of nowhere. "What are you talking about?"
Potter sat heavily beside him. "This. Watching the match instead of being out there on a broom. And everyone laughing as if nothing has happened. Sometimes, I think I'm used to it. But then I realise I'm wrong. Everyone else has moved on."
Draco shook his head. "No," he said quietly. "Not everyone."
Potter looked sideways at him for a moment. He nodded. "Bloody freezing up here, isn't it?"
With a shiver, Draco agreed. "Why aren't you with your friends?" This was the longest real conversation he had Potter had had, and since Potter had started it, Draco felt emboldened. This was not their standard bit of small talk, or discussing an assignment, or nagging one another about the other’s tendency to be too tidy or sloppy. There was depth to this, and Draco suddenly had the feeling that he was not the only one who felt out of place. Potter seemed to understand more than he let on. Draco should have seen it from the moment Potter had attempted to show the other students he was not to be feared, the night of the Sorting Ceremony.
"Sometimes...sometimes I just can't. They were with me nearly every step of the way, but they... It's different for them than it was for me. I don't know how to explain it. Things are almost normal for them again. The Weasleys, they lost Fred, so I think Ron understands a bit. Hermione fixed her parents, but she understands on an intellectual level. But for me..." He sighed and wrapped his arms around himself. Draco was surprised to find he knew what Potter meant.
"But for you...everything changed, didn't it?"
Potter shot him a surprisingly grateful look. "Yeah. It did. And not just because I lost so many people. There are things no one else can understand."
This time Potter was the one to jerk as if he'd been surprised. "Yeah. Like that."
Draco nodded and gazed out over the pitch. It wasn't yet Halloween, but it already looked like this winter was going to be especially cruel. "I won't pretend to understand that. I don't know what you went through. But I know something about an event changing your entire life. There's no going back after some things."
"No, there's not. You're right."
Draco let a small smile find a home on his face. "That has got to be the only time in your life you've said that. I'm going to mark this day on my calendar. Harry Potter admits Draco Malfoy was right about something."
Potter laughed then, a truly open sound. "You should outline it in special pen. I doubt it will ever happen again, unless you say something about how good it would feel to get back on a broom and hunt a Snitch."
"There might be something to that, Potter." He heard the crowd cheer and looked at the score display. Gryffindor was fantastically ahead of Slytherin. "If you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to head back to the castle. This is painful to watch."
Potter offered him a small smile. "All right. See you later, Malfoy. Don't forget—meeting with Charlie in the morning. He has something to show us."
"Right. See you around, Potter."
He left the other boy sitting there by himself, arms wrapped around his knees now. But there was a look of complacency that hadn't been on Potter's face before, and Draco did not realise until he was outside of their dormitory that the same look rested on his features as well.
The classes they were all taking were not exactly standard fare. Draco knew that, and expected some odd assignments and approaches to things. What he did not expect was to walk into a stone classroom the next day to find the much more tolerable Weasley scratching a baby dragon on its head.
Apparently, Potter did not expect it either, because he was so busy staring at the odd sight that he forgot to stop walking, stumbling straight into Draco. "Is that what I think it is?"
"A Common Welsh Green? Yes, Harry."
"Er. Mind telling me what it's doing here? Hagrid didn't talk you into anything, did he? Because he promised after the last time—"
Charlie Weasley laughed. "Don't worry, Harry. This is all perfectly legal. A bit of a risk, perhaps, but that's why you two are the only other ones here right now. McGonagall recommended you two specifically."
"Recommended us for what?" Draco had been trying to find his voice since he had walked into the room. It was good to know it was not gone for good.
"Just some basic caretaking."
"Of dragons?" Perhaps he had been wrong about the Headmistress knowing what she was doing.
"With a name like yours, you're going to tell me you're afraid of dragons?"
Draco narrowed his eyes and remembered that he was talking to a professor. And then he caught sight of the large, shiny burn scar on Charlie's arm. "That scar you're sporting says I have good cause to be."
Charlie shrugged. "That was a full-grown Hungarian Horntail, which are quite nasty at times." Behind Draco, Potter shuddered. "This is a two day old Welsh Green. It hasn't even gotten its sparks yet. We're not raising the thing to try to domesticate it, which is a foolhardy venture in any case. You're just going to be doing some feeding and some observation. This little guy will be well on his way to a dragon sanctuary long before you have to worry about something like this," he said, lifting his arm.
"Oh, I feel so much better," Draco said before he could help himself.
Potter, now at his side, laughed. "Oh, come on. You're going to say you've never thought about seeing a dragon this close?"
"Just because you hung around with someone who had one this young all those years ago does not mean I think it's a smart idea." He thought that mentioning he had turned them all in for that was probably not in his best interest. Seeing it through that dirty window had been enough for him. "And I don't recall you looking so calm when one was trying to eat you during the Tournament."
"Careful, Potter, or I'm going to have to bring out my special pen and mark today on the calendar as well."
"All right. Enough, you two. This is work. Harass each other on your own time." He used his wand to float over a surprisingly heavy volume of dragon care tips.
As Potter caught the book, he nudged Draco. "Bet you he gets bit before we send this thing off to sanctuary."
Draco snorted. "Watch it. He'll hear you."
Potter just chuckled and moved close to Draco's side so they could both begin their reading. "Yeah, probably."
When Draco saw the Headmistress talking to Charlie Weasley in hushed tones after supper one night in December, he knew something was very wrong.
There was no one else in the common room. It was late, and Draco had been kicked out of the library by Madame Pince, who did not appear to trust him. Then again, from what Draco remembered, she didn't trust any student. "I'm sorry if I'm out past curfew," he began, but Charlie shook his head.
"It's not about that, Draco. It's... Sit down, please." When he did, the watched the Headmistress and Weasley conduct an entire conversation with just their eyes. "Headmistress McGonagall has something you should know," he said eventually, looking down at the floor.
"Mr Malfoy, I'm afraid I have bad news." She looked lost, and something like a stone dropped in Draco's stomach. "It's about your parents. They...they've passed away."
It took a good twenty seconds of silence for the information to sink in. "They're dead?"
Charlie crossed over to him and placed his hand on Draco's shoulder. "I'm so sorry, Draco."
Draco shrugged off his touch. "What do you mean? What happened?"
"You might as well know now," the Headmistress said softly. "They were attacked not far from their home. I'm very sorry. I know how hard this must be for you right--"
Draco shook his head. "Please don't. Just don't. I need to...I need to leave. I need to be alone." He stood up and looked toward his room. Potter would be in there, but it was late enough that he would be asleep.
"Draco..." Charlie said beseechingly. "If you need to talk—"
"Then I know where to find you." He needed out of the common room at once. His field of vision was quickly blurring, and he didn't know if he was going to faint or cry. All he had to do was get to his bed. Anything after that, he could figure out as it happened.
They did not try to stop him. And wonder of wonders, he made it underneath the covers before he broke down. He tried to muffle his sobs in his pillow. Potter was indeed sleeping; Draco had seen his still form underneath the blankets as he stumbled toward his bed. Malfoys did not cry; they did not show weakness. And yet, he was a failure in this way as harsh crying seemed to rip from him.
How could his parents be dead? Who had done this? Someone with Death Eater ties, who was punishing them for changing sides at a crucial moment? Someone who hated them for their role in the war? An old rival of his father’s? Headmistress McGonagall had said 'attacked', not 'accident', and that left no doubt the assailants had intended this outcome. He felt like his heart had been ripped out of his chest. He had been struggling through his time at Hogwarts for them as much as for himself. He needed to prove that he could redeem himself. He could not disappoint his father yet again. And it was that thought which shredded him, flayed him open and ripped at him until he thought he might not be able to continue breathing.
The mattress dipped behind him, and in his grief, Draco had forgotten about his roommate. "Shhh," came the whisper from above him. Potter murmured something that sounded like Muffliato, and then he was climbing into bed behind Draco, lying himself down behind him and wrapping his arms tightly around Draco's heaving chest.
Draco wanted to shove the other boy away, to drown in his own grief, but he found he could not do it. More than he wanted that, he needed the assurance that he was not alone. Potter's warm embrace wordlessly offered him a place to rest, a haven in which to let go of himself and deal with this ache as best he could. Sobs racked his body, tears and snot mingled on his pillow, and all Potter did was hold him tighter. Draco could feel Potter's chin and nose at the back of his neck, feel his breath on his cheek, and he let himself be lost in the gesture of comfort. Not once did Potter utter the words “it will be okay”, and Draco was grateful for that. Maybe it would be and maybe it wouldn’t. Potter seemed to understand the feeling.
He cried long past the point where he thought he had no more tears, strong arms around him and holding tight, a promise that someone was there. When he woke in the morning, his bed was empty. Potter was nowhere to be seen. Yet there was the unmistakable smell of Potter on his pillow, just a trace of someone else lingered in his blankets, and Draco clung to that much the way Potter had clung to him hours before.
He was sitting on the dock of the lake three days later when Potter found him.
"I didn't realise you were back," he murmured when Draco acknowledged him with a nod. "You left without saying anything."
Draco didn't reply. He had not seen Potter since the other boy had silently comforted him that night. Potter had been gone when he woke, and Draco had left the school mere hours later. There were things to take care of, legal matters to settle. There hadn't been much in the way of a service, no real closure of laying his parents to rest. Whoever was responsible for his parents' death had made sure of that.
Potter slowly came to sit next to Draco and looked out over the icy water with him. "How are you holding up?"
Draco let out a sharp laugh that was nearly a sob. "I don't even know."
With a sad sigh, Potter crawled on his hands and knees until he was kneeling in front of Draco, apparently unmindful of the frigid cold coming off the water. "I understand, you know." It dimly occurred to Draco that of all people, yes, Potter was the most likely to actually understand, to say these things without them being simply empty platitudes. "And if you want to talk, I'll listen."
Draco opened his mouth to say that was quite all right, Potter had done enough already, but what tumbled out instead was all of the things he had been dwelling on since he had gotten the news. He kept centring on the fact that he had always been a disappointment to his father. He had never, would never, live up to the Malfoy name. His father had been quite clear about what it was to be a Malfoy, and it seemed Draco had never internalised it enough for his father's liking.
Potter listened to all this, then reached a hand up toward Draco's face. He cupped Draco's chin in his palm and used his thumb to wipe away the tears Draco had not noticed were there. "It doesn't matter. I know you think it does. And I understand wanting to live up to expectations, trust me. But you, Draco, are not your father. There is really only one question you have to answer for yourself."
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he recognised that Potter had called him by his given name. "And what's that?"
"What does being a Malfoy mean to you? What do you want it to mean? You're the only one who can really define that. Be what and who you want to be. At some point, we all have to learn to live for ourselves."
"Are you doing that?" Draco asked, pressing his cold face into the relative warmth of Potter's hand. It was surprising how the other boy was his gentle support these days. He had been only slightly aware of it as they studied, as they teased, as they sat quietly in their rooms and did their assignments. He had come to realise it more in the time he had been away, taking care of his parents' final matters. And now that he was back at school, sitting on this dock, pressing himself into Potter's touch, he wondered how he could have missed it.
Potter shook his head. "Not as much as I would like. But I'm trying." He tilted Draco's chin up and leaned in, tentatively covering Draco's mouth with his own. He tasted like hot chocolate and smelled of warm wool, and it was all Draco could do not to lose himself in this. If he had been less numb with grief, he might have been startled. Instead, he was just accepting. They had been slowly building toward this. It was plain to see now. He had someone in front of him who did not care that Draco could not quite move on yet, who truly understood why that was so hard.
Pulling away slowly, Potter let out a slow breath and smiled hesitantly. "I'm trying," Potter whispered.
Draco returned the expression in kind. "Then I'll try too."