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A New Morning's Dawn

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A loud scraping sound cut through his dream. Draco awoke with a start and turned around, seeing two Magical Law Enforcement Patrol Guards standing at the entrance to his cell.

“Malfoy. Time to go,” the larger guard said.

Draco sat on his mattress, feeling panicked, unsure what the guard meant.

“Come on, move it,” the same guard said, raising his voice a bit.

Draco quickly got up, not wanting to anger him.

The guards moved to the side so that he could go through the cell door. His mind was spinning—it couldn’t already be time. They were probably just moving him to another cell, and he couldn’t possibly have a visitor, so that was the only option.

One of the guards walked in front of him and one behind as they went down a set of stairs and a few dark winding hallways. The guard in front of him finally stopped and opened a door.

Draco walked in and found himself in an office. He stood in the middle of the room not knowing what to do and feeling incredibly overwhelmed by the new surroundings, until one of the guards gestured to a chair next to his desk and then walked out of the room through a door in the back. Draco sat down, trying to manage his hopes and expectations. If he’d learned one thing over the past few years, it was that it was best to not hold on to hope.

The other guard sat at his desk and pulled out a long rolled up parchment. He unrolled it. Draco could see that it appeared to be some sort of form. The guard started writing in some of the blank fields. After a few minutes, he duplicated the parchment and handed one to Draco.

“Hold on to this - you’ll want to give this to your Probation Officer when you meet up with him today,” the guard said.

Draco felt his heart skip a beat. This was it. He’d made it.

The first guard came back in the room with a pile of what appeared to be clothes and walked over to Draco.

“You can change in one of the empty offices in back,” he said and gestured to Draco to follow him.

The guard closed the office door behind him and Draco stood frozen in the middle of the empty office for a moment, clothes in hand, shaking slightly. He mentally shook himself and dressed quickly in the provided clothes. He put on the worn trousers, noting how odd it felt to be in slacks again after all this time. Then he carefully buttoned up the white shirt, hands shaking. The robe was dark grey and had seen better days, but it was far better than the rags he had been wearing those past few years. Once he got the socks on, he realized he had no shoes. He folded his prison rag of a robe and opened the door.

The guard was still waiting for him in the hallway, and had a pair of old black shoes in his hand. He traded Draco for the prison rags, and Draco immediately put on the shoes, still standing in the hallway.

“Let’s go.”

 

As they walked through the Ministry atrium an hour later, Draco held his release parchment tightly in his hand. He’d been directed to another small room where he was given a hasty shave and haircut by one of the guards and hit with a strong cleaning charm. Then, he was promptly put on a boat and then into a shack with a floo connection that connected directly into the Ministry.

No one told him where they were going or what they were doing—when the guard had turned his wand on Draco with no warning for the haircut, he’d nearly panicked. It all felt so surreal and his world was spinning, so he just kept quiet and followed. His throat felt too constricted to speak anyway.

All the lights and sounds and people were overwhelming; he kept his eyes on the guard in front of him and followed as closely as he could, not making eye contact with anyone and fighting the panic rising in his chest as he was bombarded by noise and smells and so much light. He also quickly felt weak and winded after not walking or moving much for so long, but tried his best to keep up the pace so as to not be left behind. The circular walks around his cell he took every morning for the past four years had clearly not been enough.

“Sit here,” the guard said, gesturing to a chair once they had arrived outside a set of offices in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.

Draco sat, parchment still clutched tightly in his fist, and waited.

Some time later, one of the office doors finally opened.

“Malfoy,” the man said.

Draco stood up and walked into the office, sitting in one of the chairs that faced the desk. The nameplate on the desk read “Probation Auror Gates.”

“You have your release form?”

Draco handed him the slightly crumpled parchment.

Gates unrolled it and read through the details, looking bored.

“It seems everything is in order here. I’ll be your Probation Auror for the next two years. Today, we’re going to go over your restrictions and what will be expected from you while on probation.” Gates looked at Draco until he nodded.

“According to our records, you have no immediate family you can live with and your family vaults were cleared out in restitution fines, is that correct?”

Draco nodded his head, his stomach twisting cruelly.

Auror Gates nodded and wrote something down on a piece of parchment. “Given your situation, you will be placed in a Transitionary Home. These have been created as a part of the Minister’s reforms on the prison system, such as getting rid of the dementors. You will find that the support for transitioning back to society has increased substantially over the past few years, so consider yourself lucky. A few years ago, you would have found yourself completely on your own.

“You will be allowed to live there for up to two months while you look for employment and housing. After that, you will be on your own, so I suggest you don’t waste time. Your wand will be returned at the end of this meeting. It is set at a Level 2 restriction, which means highly restricted. You will be able to perform basic hygiene, cleaning, a few personal spells and a standard shield spell, but that’s about it. You will not be permitted to use any wand but your restricted one. After one year, if you have had no infractions, you can go down to a Level 1 restriction, which will only restrict offensive spells, hexes, curses and other spells that have been deemed potentially dangerous.”

Draco nodded again, trying to control his breathing. Even though he knew his wand would be restricted when he got out, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of panic at being back in the real world without it. At the same time, he felt a small shred of hope at the thought of having somewhere to stay, even temporarily.

“The Committee on Prison Reform recognised that these restrictions severely limit employment options, so we have worked with the Muggle government to provide Muggle documentation to all transitory citizens. This will allow you to find work in the Muggle world should you so choose. Given the nature of your crimes, the reform committee considers possible integration with Muggles one of the benefits of the new system,” Gates continued.

“During your probation, you will not have any contact with anyone with a criminal record and will be expected to meet back here for review hearing in one year. I hope it goes without saying that you need to stay out of trouble. If you break any conditions of your parole during probationary period, you will find your probation revoked and be sent back to Azkaban.

“Any questions?”

Draco shook his head. He felt like the room was spinning.

“Here’s the address for the Transitionary Home. You will be restricted to floo and Knight Bus travel due to your wand restrictions. There’s an envelope in this bag with your Muggle documents and a small amount of money for the Knight Bus to get to the Home. There’s also some Muggle clothing and a pamphlet on probation and your wand restriction.” Gates passed over a small tote. “Make sure you check in to the home by tonight.”

Draco nodded.

Gates reached into his drawer and Draco watched as he pulled out his mother’s wand.

“I understand this was the wand you were using at the time of your arrest?”

Draco nodded again.

“As I said, the restrictions have been placed on it, and at the end of the year, you will go under review to see if the restrictions can be lightened.”

Gates held out the wand and Draco slowly reached out for it. He felt the soft magic curl through him as he grasped the handle. It was never as strong as his own wand had been, but it had always worked well enough for him. And, maybe, he could save enough money after he found a job to buy his own wand, so that his mother could have hers back when she was finally out, he thought, his eyes burning slightly at the thought of his mother. He missed her terribly. Then the realization that he’d probably have to get a Muggle job finally hit him fully and he felt short of breath, his vision swimming slightly.

“Ok, that’s it. I’ll see you back here next June.”

“Thank you. Erm- is there a toilet I can use?” Draco asked, voice hoarse. It had been eight months since he last used it, by his estimate.

“Sure - down the hall and to the right, just past the lifts.” Gates pulled out some paperwork and set to work, not giving Draco another glance.

Draco walked out of the office, feeling strangely uncomfortable at the freedom to just walk down the hall unaccompanied. He couldn’t shake the gut feeling that he was doing something wrong. He looked resolutely at the ground as he walked, trying to limit the amount of sensory input he was being bombarded with, trying to drown out the conversations and sounds of parchment whizzing by as memos flew past him overhead.

With only one wrong turn, he found the toilets. He went in and took a deep breath, thankful that it was quiet in there. Draco turned on the tap. Clear water ran freely. He found himself frozen, staring at the water as it poured out and circled down the drain, his chest suddenly tight. It was such a simple thing. He glanced around to ensure he was still alone and cupped his slightly shaking hands under the stream, bringing the water up to his mouth and drinking deeply.

Remembering the last time he’d drank clean water after so long without, he forced himself to slow down.

Once he’d had his fill, he splashed water on his face trying to calm down. Getting his breathing under control, he turned off the taps and dried his hands and face on one of the Everdry Towels by the door.

With some water in his stomach, he started to feel the hunger pains more acutely. He wondered if there was food at the home or just a bed to sleep in. He figured he should be grateful regardless, but couldn’t help feeling a little panicked that he didn’t know where his next meal was coming from. Over the past four years, he had a new appreciation and fear of starvation.

Before exiting back into the whirlwind of the Ministry halls, Draco took a fortifying breath.

When he finally got up the courage to walk out into the hallway towards the lift, someone walked right into him. He startled and grasped his wand in his robe pocket, feeling suddenly alarmed.

The shorter man looked up at Draco, and then seemed to recognise him, and narrowed his eyes.

Draco ducked his head and quickly walked to the lifts. He was all nerves as he waited. Ministry workers walked by and around him, occasionally brushing against him as they hurried past. Memos flew over head, swooping as they changed directions. After nearly four years in solitude, it was all too much. He wanted to run or scream and hide or find a dark corner somewhere that he would be safe.

Eventually a lift arrived and he forced himself to move and get in, keeping tightly to the side of the car. As the lift stopped, letting workers on and off at every floor, he kept his hand tightly around his wand, if only to help ground himself. Just as he was feeling his panic reach epic heights, the voice in the lift announced, “Atrium.” He pushed his way past the people that were trying to get on, and took a deep breath. He needed to get out of there and find this blasted Transitionary Home.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone walking right towards him and looked up. Potter.

Draco felt like the air was sucked out of the room, so many emotions warring for space in his head that he couldn’t pinpoint any of them. Harry looked good - full of life and better than he had at any point in the prison.

“Draco,” Harry said, smiling, but looking surprised to see him there.

“Harry,” Draco said, just above a whisper, emotions whirling at the unexpected reunion.

Even though Draco fully expected that Harry probably never thought about him again once he’d gone back to his life, he still found himself just a little disappointed that Harry seemed so surprised. A tiny part of him, a part that hadn’t quite been fully destroyed by the war and the terrible years at Azkaban, had hoped Harry would be waiting for him when he got out, ready to pick their friendship back up where it had left off.

Draco was realizing now what a dangerous fantasy he’d created over the past year, distorting a simple friendship born out of boredom and necessity. He tried to remind himself that this Harry, the real Harry, had not spent the past year replaying every conversation they’d ever had and holding out hope for seeing him again - conversations that after so much replay in his mind may have been distorted way beyond what actually happened.

At the point that he’d run out of conversations to replay, Draco had even taken to making up his own in his head. Pretending that Harry was there with him had gotten him through some really dark nights, but now confronted with the real Harry, he found himself slightly panicked and confused.

Draco needed to remind himself that while that fantasy might have been necessary over the past eight months to keep him going, keep him alive, it would only hurt him now, and he needed to let it go. It wasn’t real.

“You’re out,” Harry said, smiling brightly.

“Er, yes, as of this morning.”

“Oh, that’s great! I was just heading out to lunch. I, erm- skipped breakfast, so I thought I’d grab a bite a little early. What are you doing right now?” Harry asked.

“I, well I was going to head back to my… housing,” Draco replied, feeling suddenly ashamed of his situation, even while realizing that Harry had seen him in much worse shape. He clutched his tote bag to his side.

“Oh, you have somewhere to stay already?” Harry asked. For a split second, Draco thought Harry sounded almost disappointed, but then Harry continued, “Would you like to join me? For lunch, I mean?”

“Oh.” Draco felt his heart skip a beat, but then also felt a sudden instinctual need to protect himself.

“It’ll be my treat,” Harry said.

Draco’s brain was fighting itself, but ultimately he was in no position to turn down free food at the moment, especially having no idea where his next meal was coming from. “Sure, I suppose lunch would be fine.”

“Okay, great.” Harry smiled.

“Okay.”

“Is a Muggle restaurant okay?” Harry asked.

“Sure,” Draco found himself answering. He had no idea what to expect from a Muggle restaurant. Frankly, he was still in such shock from the day’s events, he wasn’t sure he could handle much else. He considered for a minute changing his mind, telling Harry he had to get going, but then he remembered that he desperately needed to eat.

“Great.”

“You might want to...” Harry gestured at Draco’s robe, as he removed his own robes, shrinking them and putting them in his pocket.

“Oh, right.” Draco took it off and shoved it in the tote bag.

Once out of the Ministry, they made their way down a bustling street in London. Draco kept getting jostled and was becoming increasingly panicked by the crowd. His chest felt tight, like the air was too thin. He could feel his hands shaking, and there was a rushing sound in his ears.

They walked by an alley, and Draco ducked in abruptly without a word to Harry, who stopped at the sudden movement and followed.

He leaned up against the wall, breathing heavy from both the exertion and the overwhelming situation.

“Are you okay?” Harry asked, looking concerned. Draco felt like a right idiot. He couldn’t even walk down a street in London. He realized how absurd he must seem, how broken.

“Is it the crowds?” Harry asked. “Oh- or is it the walking? I didn’t even think-”

“I’m not sure I can do this,” Draco finally admitted.

“Sorry, I just- if you think you can manage just another minute out there, it’s really right around the corner. And it’s a quiet restaurant, they are normally more of a dinner place, so it’s pretty empty at lunch, which is why I thought it might be a good place, but I didn’t even think about the walk there.”

“Okay,” Draco said after a moment. He realized he needed to pull it together and get some food; he was so hungry. And, even though he knew it was a terrible idea that would only lead to his heartbreak and probably the loss of his last ounce of hope in this terrible world, he wanted to spend time with Harry.

“Okay, here- why don’t you walk behind me so that people aren’t bumping into you? Hold on to my shirt if you need to,” Harry suggested, stepping in front of Draco to part the Muggle pedestrians.

Draco held Harry’s shirt tightly, fighting back the humiliation he felt in the act. He managed to keep up with him for the last half block until they found themselves in front of a small Italian restaurant, that as promised, seemed to be nearly empty.

As soon as the door opened, Draco was hit with the smell of garlic and bread, and his stomach cramped a bit in anticipation. They found themselves quickly ushered to a small table in the corner. Draco looked around. It didn’t look that different than Wizarding restaurants he’d been in, maybe a little more run down, but it looked just like... a restaurant.

The waiter brought out a bread basket and a pitcher of water. Draco felt his heart race a little at the sudden proximity of the Muggle, but forced himself to remain outwardly calm as the waiter poured them some water before heading back towards the kitchen.

Draco looked down at the bread and realized a piece of bread might be as much as his stomach could handle at the moment. But, his self-preservation instinct told him he had better eat something at least somewhat healthy, if his stomach could handle it. He thought pasta would likely be too heavy, so he finally settled on a salad that looked like it had a little bit of everything in it. Even still, he couldn’t resist taking a piece of the freshly baked bread and taking a small bite, reminding himself to go slow.

“So, where will you be staying? You said something about housing before,” Harry said.

“Oh. They call it a Transitional Home- just a place to stay for a little while until I can get my own place,” Draco replied, flushing slightly. He didn’t know why he should feel so ashamed about this, given that Harry had seen him in literal filth for months. But, somehow everything at Azkaban felt... apart, outside of real life. At the prison, there were only guards and prisoners, nothing in between. Out here - this was where there were tiers of society, the hierarchy that his parents taught him was so very important. And, he was suddenly very acutely aware of how far he’d fallen.

“Well, that’s good, I suppose. That you have a place to stay,” Harry said.

Draco really didn’t want to talk about his situation for one more minute. He was already feeling flushed and panicky from just being in the restaurant, his focus flitting from one unfamiliar thing to another.

He tried to change the subject and focus on Harry.

“You aren’t in Auror robes.” He was pretty sure Harry had told him he was leaving the Aurors and that wasn’t one of his made up conversations from the past eight months, but he wasn’t really sure of anything anymore.

“Ah, yes.” Harry smiled. “I quit pretty much the moment I got back. Robards was fairly unimpressed.”

“I’m sure,” Draco replied. He wasn’t sure what kind of an Auror Harry would have made at the end of the day, particularly since he clearly couldn’t follow rules, but he was sure that losing the Chosen One from the ranks couldn’t have looked good.

“I was able to get a job in Magical Sports and Games within the month though. My official title is Junior Engagement and Regulation Advisor, which sounds much fancier than it actually is. I have to help work out how to get more people to games and also handle all the paperwork for league regulation issues. I still don't really know what I want to do, you know, in the long run, but this is fine for now. Most of my day is just filling out paperwork or following up with Quidditch teams that didn’t fill out their paperwork correctly. Basically, I’m still just doing paperwork all the time” Harry smiled.

“Yes, but at least you are doing paperwork in London and not in a prison in the North Sea,” Draco replied. He felt himself relax marginally as he listened to Harry talk. Draco felt like it shouldn’t be that easy. Since that morning, Draco had felt like he was drowning in rough waters—feeling almost separate from his body as he went through everything, only the panic in his chest grounding him. The people and the conversations and all the noise was just too much. But, somehow, sitting here with Harry he felt okay, if only for a moment. This was familiar.

“Very true. But, really, you would think there was a job out there that wasn’t all paperwork,” Harry complained.

“Are you ready?” The waiter asked as he walked up to their table.

Harry looked at Draco for confirmation. “Yes, I’ll have the Grilled Chicken Pesto baguette”

“And for you?”

“The Antipasto Misto,” Draco replied, forcing his voice to be steady. Like so many things that day, this felt so strange. Ordering food—this simple thing he’d done a thousand times in his youth at restaurants with his parents or friends, but it now felt foreign at the same time, and he felt a rising panic as he spoke to the Muggle waiter.

“Very good.” The waiter took away their menus.

“So what is the Transitional Home like?” Harry asked.

“I don’t know. How’s your home coming along?” Draco asked, quickly changing the subject again.

“Oh, it’s good. It’s nearly done actually. The bathrooms took a lot longer than anticipated. I wound up having to hire a professional. Apparently there are certain jobs I shouldn’t try to do myself,” Harry cocked a self-deprecating smile. “Let’s just say I flooded a good portion of my house trying to remove bath fixtures.”

“Oh no,” Draco replied. He found he wasn’t having a hard time imagining Harry doing something daft like vanishing his tub without cutting off the water. He felt the sudden urge to smile, but his lips never curved as if the muscles in his face couldn’t remember how.

“Fortunately, the flooded areas hadn’t been fully renovated yet, so the damage was minimal.” Harry smiled, his eyes crinkling.

Draco nodded.

Harry continued to talk, updating Draco on things going on with his life and his friends and the Weasleys. Draco found it hard not to get wrapped up in the comfort of the conversation, in listening to Harry talk and felt some of the anxiety mellow as he focused on the other man.

A short while later, the food arrived. Draco suddenly felt overwhelmed by emotion looking at his plate. He mentally chastised himself; he was not going to fall apart in the middle of a restaurant over a salad in front of Harry.

He took a deep breath and gingerly took a bite of artichoke and mozzarella. It took all his self-restraint not to moan out loud. It had been so long since he’d had anything edible, let alone that tasted so good—really since Christmas the year Harry had been there, he realized with a start. They had barely even been friends then. Draco had been so affected by Harry’s gesture of kindness. He never had even told him, and he suddenly found himself wondering if Harry even knew what that year had meant to him. Then, he suddenly felt embarrassed at the thought that Harry did.

Draco kept his eyes on his plate as he slowly ate as much as he could, making sure to get a little bit of all of the different ingredients. Too soon, he knew he needed to stop to keep from getting sick. His salad looked barely touched.

Harry made his way through his messy sandwich, stopping every once in awhile to tell Draco another story of something that had happened at his new job or with his friends or with his house renovation over the past eight months. Draco nodded and made small comments to show interest every so often, but found himself so overwhelmed by the whole day that he just wanted to get out of there.

Eventually, they were done and the waiter brought the check, for which Harry quickly paid.

As they got up to leave, Draco eyed the leftover food on his plate. He remembered years ago mocking the American sensibility of taking leftovers home when he’d first heard about it after Blaise took a holiday there. Now, he felt mildly ill at the idea of leaving so much perfectly good food behind.

Harry must have guessed at his thoughts. “Do- erm… do you need some food? To take with you to the transitional place? I mean, we can stop- there’s a corner shop just down the street and I could get you some food to take back.”

“No. There will be food at the house. Let’s go,” Draco said quickly. What shreds of dignity still remained were mortified at the idea of accepting any more help from Harry. It was bad enough in the prison when he had no other choice, but now, out here, it felt even worse. Accepting lunch was one thing, something done amongst friends—he could pretend this was just lunch with friends—but the idea of being Harry’s charity case and letting him do his shopping was too much.

“Are you sure? I it’s really not a problem-”

“Leave it, Potter.” Draco grabbed his tote bag with all his belongings in the world from under his seat and walked out of the restaurant, not waiting for Harry.

“I’m sorry. I was just trying to help,” Harry said as he caught up to him.

“I don’t need your help.”

“Okay. I’m sorry,” Harry said carefully.

They stood on the pavement awkwardly.

“I need to go,” Draco finally said.

Draco tried to pretend he didn’t see the hurt and confusion on Harry’s face as he turned and walked away. He knew he’d just behaved very rudely, not even thanking Harry for lunch, but he needed to get out of there. He’d need to call the Knight Bus to get to his destination, but he’d wait until he was out of sight. He couldn’t stand being there for another minute.

Chapter Text

“Your papers seem to be in order, so let me give you a quick tour of the place and show you to your room.” Abby, the Transitional Home manager, stood up and headed towards the door of her small office on the ground floor of the home. Draco followed, still clutching his tote tightly.

She walked down the hall, pointing out a sitting area with books and a wireless, a large dining room with two large round tables, and, finally, a small kitchen.

“We serve a small breakfast of bread and fruit, and then soup and bread for dinner nightly. You are on your own for lunch,” she explained. “We also keep tea and sugar in stock, so you can help yourself to that any time. The mugs are up there.” Abby pointed to one of the cabinets. Draco felt an immense weight lift off his shoulder at any food at all being provided. He could work with this.

“Breakfast runs from seven to eight o’clock in the morning, and dinner from seven to eight o’clock in the evening. If you miss the meal, you’ll have to fend for yourself, so make sure to not oversleep. I’d recommend keeping any of your own food in your room.” She stepped past him out of the kitchen and walked up the stairs. There were several shut doors on this floor.

“We have four rooms on this floor and another four upstairs, your room is right here,” Abby continued, opening the second door on the left. There was a small single bed pushed up against the wall, a small nightstand with a drawer next to it, and a thin wardrobe on the opposite wall. It was better than anything he’d had in years, and for a moment Draco wondered if he even remembered what sleeping on a real bed felt like.

“The door on the end of the hall is the bathroom—you’ll be sharing with everyone on this floor, and there’s another bath upstairs for those rooms. Be considerate with your time in the mornings, as others will also need to shower and get ready, and we don’t need any fighting.”

Draco nodded. He didn’t care if he had to get up in the middle of the night to shower he was so happy at the idea of being able to get clean and stay clean every day.

“The wards of the Home have been set to allow you in and out, and there’s no curfew, but we ask that you are respectful if coming in late. Your door is also warded to only you and the Home caseworkers, in case of emergency. Any questions?” Abby asked.

Draco shook his head, feeling overwhelmed again.

“Alright, I’ll be downstairs if you need anything. There’s always someone here, just in case of a problem. I’m here most days, and Oscar works evenings and most nights. We also have a couple volunteers that cover the weekends. So, if you have any questions or problems later, just come down the office and let someone know.”

Draco watched as Abby disappeared down the stairs at the end of the hall and turned to his room.

He closed the door, feeling relieved at the solitude. Funny how after all those years of wanting any sort of human contact, now he found he could barely stand it. Exhaling a long breath, he put his tote on his bed and sat down. Springs creaked underneath him on the old bed.

He dumped the tote out on the bed, the clothes and a few papers falling out.

With a sigh, he picked up the pamphlets. The first one was titled, “So You Find Yourself on Probation” with a drawing of a man walking out of a Wizengamot courtroom.

He opened it to find a description of probation and what it meant. The second page had a bulleted list that explained all the actions that could break his probationary terms—mostly just a list of illegal activities, but it also included breaking the statute of secrecy and having contact with criminals, current or former.

After flipping it around to make sure it didn’t include any more pertinent information, he tossed it on the bed and picked up the restricted wand pamphlet.

The pamphlet was fairly vague, mostly explaining the rationale for restricted wands. The fold-out to the far right had an explanation of the difference between the levels of restriction. Level 3 meant the wand would perform no spells at all. It was the new equivalent to having one’s wand snapped. Level 2 would allow for cleaning spells, personal hygiene spells and “personal charms that have been deemed safe under all circumstances.” There was a small drawing of a Wizard casting a tempus next to the blurb.

He tossed down the pamphlet with a sigh and shuffled through the rest of the items.

There were two pairs of boxers and socks, a pair of dark grey slacks, and a light blue button up. All of them had a slightly worn look to them, but appeared to be in otherwise good shape. Draco walked them to the wardrobe and hung up the shirt and slacks and then put the pants and socks in a drawer. He put the Muggle documents and the pamphlets back in the tote and shoved that in the wardrobe as well.

Draco sat back down and took his mother’s wand out of his pocket, rolling it back and forth in his hand. It felt so familiar and yet so strange all at once. He wondered for a minute if he’d even be able to manage a spell after all this time. He pointed it at a dust bunny on the floor and cast a simple dirt expelling charm that he used to use on his broomstick occasionally after games.

He could feel how out of practice he was, but it worked—if only just. He felt a weight lift off his shoulders that he hadn’t even realized was there and a heavy fatigue settled over him. He felt like he should feel elated to finally be out of that hell hole of a prison, but he just found himself exhausted and completely overwhelmed. Feeling almost drowsy from the strain of the day, he eyed his pillow, but he wanted to make sure he didn’t miss dinner. He wondered if an alarm would be covered under “safe” personal charms.

Draco cast the charm, and felt the wand vibrate slightly suggesting it had taken. He was determined to never miss a meal while at the Home.

Sighing, he scrubbed his hands over his face, slightly jarred by the lack of beard.

He set the wand on his night stand, removed his shoes, and laid down on the blankets, full dressed. Feeling an overwhelming need to sleep all of a sudden, he curled up on his side and fell quickly asleep.

 

***

 

Draco startled awake at a noise, immediately flinching in confusion as the mattress underneath him shifted. It took him a moment to remember where he was—he wasn’t on a barely-there mattress on a stone floor. He was in a bed, in a room. There was a crack of light streaming out from behind the drawn curtains. He took a steadying breath as he remembered he was out; he was done with that place.

He grabbed his wand to silence it and cast a tempus. He had a few minutes before dinner, so he took a moment to look around the room, opening the drawer of the nightstand and looking through the small drawers and shelves at the bottom of the wardrobe. They were empty as expected.

The reality of his new situation was starting to creep up on him. While a part of him was obviously relieved to be off that island, he had no idea what he would do for a job. Without his wand, he wasn’t even sure he had any skills. And while he didn’t know almost anything about Muggles, he was pretty certain he had no skills that would transfer to a Muggle job.

The idea of working with Muggles was nerve wracking. He knew his name was dirt in the Wizarding community, and if he’d had to find a job there, well, he was pretty sure he’d be out on the streets in two months, no question. But, at the same time, Muggles were an unknown, and that was scary in its own right.

He had found plenty of time over the past few years, and even during the war, to recognise that perhaps the lessons and values he had grown up with were skewed—enough to plant the seed of doubt, at least. And, ever since developing a sort-of friendship with Harry, he found himself viewing his thoughts and beliefs through Harry's eyes.

He didn’t know if it was the respect he’d developed for Harry during his time at Azkaban or the months of imagined conversations with him, but now Draco couldn’t get him out of his head.

When Draco found himself having a particularly unkind thought about Muggles or people, in general, he found himself all too often wondering what Harry would think if he knew. He’d imagine what Harry might say to him, imagine him arguing the other side. Eventually, Draco couldn’t even remember his childhood and his time at Hogwarts without hearing Harry’s voice, always there questioning Draco’s decisions and beliefs. Draco found himself trying to be kinder, less cruel and judgemental, even in his thoughts, lest he disappoint the other man.

But, that didn’t mean he felt comfortable with the idea of suddenly living a Muggle-life, and the idea of living around Muggles all day, every day made his stomach twist painfully. It was a sort of exile, he realized, being allowed out of prison, but not being allowed to fully reintegrate back into society. While his probation was only two years, he knew full well that wouldn’t be the end of his exile. He doubted he’d be able to find work and a life amongst Wizards any time soon, if ever.

He sat back down on his bed, feeling the crushing weight of his near future.

Draco took a deep breath and reminded himself to take it one day at a time. If there was one lesson Azkaban had taught him, it was how to stop trying to look past today. It was all too overwhelming—so he would just take it one day at a time. And today, he needed to get down to dinner so that he had food in his stomach.

As he left his room, he heard voices travelling up the stairs from the ground floor. Draco was finding being around other people incredibly overwhelming, but he knew he needed to go down there and get dinner anyways. He slowly walked down the stairs and to the dining area, where he saw a sideboard off to the right with a large crock of soup, large bowls and a platter of rolls.

The soup smelled like it might be beef with vegetables. Draco inhaled deeply, his stomach immediately hungry.

“Hey, you the new guy?” Draco turned to see a younger man sitting at the table. His long dark blonde hair was knotted at the back of his head and he wore the type of casual Muggle clothing Draco had original seen on some of his Muggleborn classmates at Hogwarts on the weekends. There were two women sitting at the table with him, one older and one who looked to be around his age, maybe just a few years older.

Draco nodded to the man’s question and walked over to the sideboard, spooning a large serving of soup into a bowl. He grabbed a roll and walked to an empty seat at the other table that was still unoccupied.

“I hear you came from Azkaban. Is that true?” the man asked.

“Grant!” the younger woman chastised.

“Sorry, you’ll have to excuse Grant here. I’m Jane and this here is Ellie,” the older woman, Jane, said.

Draco nodded and continued to eat his soup. He heard Jane attempt to include Grant in another conversation, but Grant seemed disinterested.

“So what’s it like there? I heard the dementors are gone now.” Grant stood up and walked over to Draco’s table, sliding into one of the seats across from him. Draco pushed down the mild panic he was feeling over the attention, and kept eating quietly, trying to hurry up.

“Grant- leave the poor man alone!” Jane said, crossly. “Regardless of where he is coming from, he clearly wants to eat his dinner in peace.”

“I’m just making conversation. I came from the rehab program at St. Mungo’s as did Jane. Ellie, here, is on probation, but didn’t have nowhere to go, so they’re letting her stay here for a couple of months to try to get ‘acceptable housing.’” Grant continued.

Draco took his last bite of soup. “Excuse me,” he said, standing up and starting towards the door.

“Oi, you need to clean up your bowl, mate!” Grant hollered after him.

Draco stopped just outside of the room and took a deep breath and walked back in, but saw Jane was already grabbing it.

“Normally, you’ll want to wash it up in the kitchen and put it on the drying rack after a meal, dear. But, I’ve got this tonight,” she said, kindly.

Draco felt like he should probably take the bowl back from her to wash, but found himself nodding his thanks and walking quickly up to his room, shutting his door firmly behind him.

He stood in the middle of his small room, breathing hard. He felt something in his hand and realized he was still holding his roll. Not feeling like he could eat anymore, he put it in his bedside drawer for later. Then, first toeing off his shoes, he climbed under his covers, trying to escape the panic that was crawling in his chest.

With a start, Draco realized he should probably keep his clothes as clean as possible as he only had two outfits, and he didn't even know how to perform a clothing cleaning charm, having never had the need to do his own laundry before Azkaban. He quickly hung up his outfit in the wardrobe and climbed back under the covers in only his pants.

As he felt his body slowly warming under the thick blankets, he suddenly felt like crying. He felt ridiculous. In the four years in Azkaban he’d only ever cried twice: the first night he’d been there and the night that Harry had left, and he’d felt foolish enough about that at the time also. He wasn’t going to cry on his first night out like some homesick first year. He fought back the tears and curled up facing the wall on his right side—the same side he’d slept on for the past years in order to keep his back to the cell door, the only semblance of privacy he could get in that blasted place. He refused to let a single tear fall, and eventually fell into an exhausted, fitful sleep.

 

***

 

“What was your favorite thing about Quidditch?” Harry asked.

“Winning,” Draco said with a smile. “When I could manage it at least.”

“You actually won?” Harry teased.

“Oh shut it- there were other teams. I’ll have you know, I beat Hufflepuff several times.” Draco replied.

“Mine was the feeling of freedom that came with flying--the weightlessness, feeling like nothing could get me up there.” Harry looked wistful.

“Do you miss it?” Draco asked.

“Yes, definitely. I thought maybe I’d still get to play for fun once in awhile after school, but so far I’ve just been too busy, or like now, stuck on this stupid rock in the middle of the North Sea. It’s not exactly conducive to getting to play pick up games.” Harry smiled a little sadly.

“No I’d imagine not.”

 

Draco awoke with a start, and then like earlier after his nap, found himself startled by his unfamiliar surroundings and the odd feeling of being on a bed again. He checked the time with his wand. It was only ten o’clock at night. He’d probably been asleep for only an hour.

He’d been dreaming of talking to Harry. Draco wondered if it was a real conversation that had actually happened or one of the ones he’d made up in the months that followed. He had no way of knowing anymore. It was all a big muddled mess in his brain.

The first two years he’d been there, he’d survived by just shutting everything down—trying to not think of anything at all. Which isn’t to say that worked entirely, but he was pretty sure he had been thoroughly depressed enough that everything had felt slow and disconnected, as if in a fog. It was easy enough to just let the depression take him and hold him.

But then, Harry Potter, of all people, had shown up and turned his world upside down. He had shown up out of nowhere with his kindness and compassion and warming spells and food and conversations. Draco had felt himself slowly come back into himself, into his body and his mind. Things were still confusing sometimes, and his mind felt slow, but he could be present.

Then Harry left.

And, as Draco had feared, it was worse than ever. Draco couldn’t find the fog again, so he had to be present, day in and out, completely alone. At first, he just remembered: conversations, the way Harry looked, his clothing, his face, the sound of his voice, the stories he told, the way he laughed. But then it wasn’t enough, he couldn’t remember any more conversations, and things were becoming faded, too far away. Draco was afraid as he replayed his memories over and over that they were changing, he was remembering differently. He worried that he was going to destroy the memories of the only good thing that had happened to him in years. So, he tried to make up new stories and allowed himself to get lost in the fantasy.

Every night at the time of the last Auror round, he would hear the footsteps of whatever Auror was on that shift. He never turned around to find out who it was; he didn't want to know. He would hear the footsteps and he would pretend it was Harry. And he would imagine that instead of those footsteps continuing down the hall that they stopped at his cell. He would imagine Harry sitting down at the bars, telling him some ridiculous news and Draco making running commentary. He would imagine talking to Harry about all the things he was afraid of, far beyond anything Draco had told him in reality. He’d imagine that Harry told him that he cared about him and would be waiting for him when he got out.

At first, he knew the difference—he could keep the fantasy separate from reality. But, after eight long months, some of the fog had come back and with it the confusion that sometimes settled over his brain. He no longer knew after so many fantasies, so many made up conversations what was real anymore.

Now that he was out, and some of the fog was lifting slowly, deep down in the pit of his fears was the fear that none of it had been real at all. That he’d made all of it up. He tried to convince himself that Harry wouldn’t have invited him to lunch had it not happened. And, in the moment of their conversation at the restaurant, when Draco asked questions without thinking about them too hard, Harry answered. So, Draco had to have known some of these things from previous conversations. Some of it must have been real.

And that lunch at the restaurant was confusing on its own—he didn't know what any of it meant. Harry seemed concerned for him in the alley, but he also just talked about his life like no time had passed, as if Draco had just been a co-worker he’d run into at lunch. Draco didn’t know what to make of any of it.

Draco fought back tears and then internally chastised himself. It didn’t matter. Harry wasn’t a part of his life anymore, and he needed to move on. He couldn’t keep obsessing and fantasising anymore. He knew that this way lay madness.

He tossed on the bed, trying to get comfortable.

Draco remembered, vaguely enough, beds he’d slept on in his previous life: at home, at Hogwarts, on holidays. The bed in his new room wasn’t particularly soft, he thought, but it was so much softer than anything he’d slept on for years.

Now that the sheer exhaustion of the day had worn off from a little sleep, he couldn’t settle down. Everything was too strange. The light that streamed in behind the curtains from the artificial Muggle lighting on the London street, the way the bed moved underneath him and curved to his body, the smell of the room, the lack of beard and long hair, the scrubbed clean feeling of his skin, the warmth of multiple blankets over his body.

He felt himself grow angry. It was ridiculous that he should be so jarred by a few basic comforts and a new room. He felt like he should be thrilled to be free—he should feel relief and happiness at having a place to stay, even temporarily, with a bed and bathroom and food. But instead he felt constantly overwhelmed and scared and agitated. This is ridiculous, he thought, as he continued to toss and turn.

He couldn’t get comfortable.

Finally, he sat up. Feeling that he must be completely unhinged, he grabbed his blankets and laid down on the rug-covered floor. He cocooned himself in the blankets as best he could for warmth, and felt some of the strain melt away at the familiarity of the hard floor. He found that he still couldn’t sleep right away, but he could lay there and not feel the impending doom that he had been feeling just a few moments prior.

He tried to fight down the feeling of shame at what he’d become, at how broken he clearly was, and eventually in the early hours of morning fell asleep.

 

***

 

There was a buzzing noise in Draco’s cell. There shouldn’t be any noises in his cell; he awoke with a start. He looked around rapidly, taking stock of the room with a bed and a wardrobe and feeling confused. There was still a buzzing noise.

Suddenly, Draco remembered his wand. He’d set the timer for breakfast. He was out; this was his room. He cancelled the charm on the wand, and sat on the floor where his blankets were still wrapped around him from the night before.

Knowing there was edible food downstairs, he worked his head clear of the confusion and worked past the anxiety in his chest at possibly seeing the other people of the Home downstairs and quickly dressed.

When he got to the dining room, he saw that he was the first one down and exhaled in relief. The sideboard was filled with fruit, large pieces of fresh baguette, jam and butter. He grabbed a banana, an apple and a large piece of bread.

Remembering what Abby had said the previous morning, he went into the kitchen to find the tea and a mug. He found a teapot already steeping and mugs set out. Relishing the smell of the steam, he poured himself some tea. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d had a cup of tea; it was most certainly years.

Draco wondered if he was allowed to bring a mug up to his room while he ate. He decided to chance it and headed back upstairs.

Once in his room, he sat on the middle of the floor to eat. A voice in the back of his head reminded him that he had furniture and should probably sit on his bed, but the overwhelmed part of him still felt more comfortable on the floor. He slowly ate the banana and bread. He was about to bite into the apple when he realized he could save it for later. He hadn’t been particularly hungry for lunch the previous day, but he knew he wouldn’t be getting three meals a day, so he should probably keep some extra food around. Plus, he rationalised, he never knew when he’d accidentally miss a meal if he was out looking for jobs eventually, so he really should keep some food in his room, just in case.

He opened the bedside table drawer and placed the apple next to the roll from the night before and wondered if stasis spells were in his acceptable spell list. They could be used to preserve food outside of a food preservation cabinet. He tried the spell, but found that the wand felt flat, dead even, when he tried to cast. So, no food preservation. Well, he thought, the bread and apple should both be good for a few days, maybe even a week. He could rotate them out when they had been in there for awhile.

He heard activity in the hall; the other residents must have been waking up and going about their days. He wondered if all of them had jobs yet, or if they were still looking. Draco thought about getting up and going out and looking for a job—that was what he was here to do—find a job so he could leave here and live on his own.

As soon as he thought about it, his chest constricted. The idea of having to leave this room and go out there, with all the people and Muggles, was too scary. Surely, he deserved a few days rest after all he’d been through, and he had two whole months to find a job. Decision made, he curled back up with the blankets and laid back down on the floor. He wasn’t tired, but the familiarity of the position and the floor was enough to calm his nerves, just a bit.

 

Chapter Text

After a week of only coming out for meals, showers, and to use the toilets, Draco started to feel a new panic overwhelming him stronger than the panic at the idea of going outside. He realized if he couldn’t manage to leave the Home, he was never going to get a job. His fear of winding up on the streets far exceeded the fear he had of leaving the safety of his room.

Draco checked his bedside drawer as he did several times a day, four pieces of fruit, two pieces of baguette and a few rolls. He noted that one of the oranges was looking a little overly ripe, he’d need to eat that tomorrow and switch it out for something else.

He took a deep breath and closed the drawer, feeling calmed by his new routine.

“Ok, you can do this,” he said to himself.

He checked that his wand was in his pocket and walked out of his room. As he walked down the stairs, every step felt harder, as if his body was physically rebelling at the idea of going outside. Draco knew he just needed to push through this and then he’d be outside. It would be fine.

He walked out the front door. The Transitionary Home was on a side street that wasn’t particularly busy, but there were still people walking down the pavement, most likely on their way to work. He took another deep breath and turned left, not having any idea where he actually was in the city or where he was going. There had to be shops or restaurants or something if he walked far enough.

He made it to the first cross street before the enormity of the city, the Muggles everywhere, and the number of buildings became overwhelming. He’d convinced himself that if Harry thought Muggles were okay, that maybe all the beliefs that Draco had been taught about Muggle and muggle-borns was wrong, that maybe there was something to it. He allowed himself to trust that even if he didn’t really understand what he believed anymore that he could trust what Harry believed. But, right then, in that moment, in the overwhelmingly Muggle city, Draco felt himself panicking. He didn’t really know anything about Muggles, he couldn’t trust them, what if some of the worst stories he’d heard were true? What if Harry was wrong?

Muggle vehicles flew past and Draco felt his heart speed up.

He stood on the corner, frozen, when suddenly a loud noise came from one of the vehicles causing him to jump.

He needed to go. He needed to get out of there immediately.

Draco turned on his heel and walked as fast as he could back to the Home, forcing himself to walk and not break out into a run. When he got to the front steps, he couldn’t hold back anymore and took them two at a time, running straight in the door and up the stairs to his room.

By the time Draco got into his room with the door closed firmly behind him, he was shaking from head to toe, and fighting back tears.

What the hell was wrong with him?

He quickly grabbed one of the blankets he’d folded up on his bed and shook it out quickly. He wrapped himself up and curled up on the floor on his right side, facing the bed.

He laid there shaking. Mentally beating himself up for being weak.

After several hours, he finally forced himself up long enough to set his wand for dinner, and set it on the floor next to him, curling right back up and trying to not think of anything at all.

 

***

 

Draco reached the cross street and took a deep breath. He needed to do this. He would do this.

Today was his fifth attempt in three weeks to make it past this street corner. He could see shops and cafes in either direction on this street, so he just needed to pick a direction and walk.

His first few attempts he found himself so quickly overwhelmed by the noise and the people that he would run back to the Home and his room and cocoon himself for days trying to recover. He slowly realized that certain times and days were busier than others and tried heading out a little later in the morning, after the Muggles were most likely at their jobs for the day.

The last couple of attempts, he’d managed to stand at the street corner for a few minutes before he finally caved to the panic in his chest.

Today, he was determined he was going to move past this corner.

Draco stood there frozen for several minutes and then finally convinced his feet to move forward and crossed the street, trying to ignore the irrational thoughts that one of these Muggle vehicles from hell was going to suddenly lurch ahead from their stopped position and run him over.

When he got to the other side, he felt a smile creep over his face. He did it. Using the feeling of relief to propel him even further, he quickly turned left and walked down the busier side street.

A couple Muggles walked past him, but he took a deep breath but kept going. He kept reminding himself they were just people. Before he knew it he was halfway down the long block. There were stores, cafes and restaurants on either side of the street. His heart jumped when he saw a sign in one of the windows that read “Staff Wanted.”

It was a small shop that appeared to be some sort of food market. As he stood there, a young woman came out the doors to the shop with two crying children. She proceeded to scold them as they walked away. Draco felt himself freeze. Somehow in all the time he’d been imagining and mentally preparing himself for the idea of getting a job in a shop or cafe, it never dawned on him he would likely have to interact with customers, Muggle customers at that. He wasn’t sure he’d ever spoken to a Muggle in his life, and he couldn’t even manage to speak to the other residents of the Home most days. He felt the cold dread fill his chest again.

“Do you need help?” An elderly man stopped on the pavement next to Draco, looking concerned.

Draco shook his head quickly and turned back in the direction of the Transitionary Home, walking quickly.

“Stupid, stupid,” he muttered to himself in a whisper. “You’re such a bloody idiot.”

A woman with a young girl who had been walked towards him pulled her daughter closer to her and kept her eyes firmly on the pavement.

Bloody hell, he was so unhinged he was scaring Muggles, he realized. He shook his head to clear the self-deprecating thoughts and quickly went straight back to the Home.

Draco opened the bedside table drawer: four apples, two oranges, one banana, two pieces of baguette and five rolls. He tapped on each one as he counted and then expelled some of his anxiety in a breath.

After removing his shoes, he wrapped himself in a blanket and curled up on the floor.

The weight of his current situation was crushing him. How was he supposed to get any sort of job in this state? It was obviously hopeless. He cleared his thoughts, and trying to not think about any of it--the job, his housing situation, his apparent inability to be around other human beings. 

For hours, he laid there, berating himself, feeling completely and utterly ashamed of what he’d become. 

A knock at the door started him out of his thoughts. He kept the blanket around his shoulders. He was sure his hair was sticking up, and last he’d checked the dark circles under his eyes from stress were more pronounced than when he’d arrived. He found himself not really caring at the moment. 

He opened the door and found himself face-to-face with Harry. 

Of course it was Harry. It seemed whenever Draco was at his absolute lowest, he was bound to run into Harry—in the bathroom at Hogwarts when he’d been crying, in Azkaban, filthy and starving, and now in a temporary home for people with no where else to go after having spent the day in a panic because of his inability to function around other people. Why shouldn’t Harry, the person he wanted to care about him more than anyone, be witness to every moment of absolute humiliation in his life? 

At the same time, though, he felt a spark of hope, even though he knew he shouldn’t. 

“Hi,” Harry said, looking at him with some concern.

Draco cleared his throat, wishing he’d removed the blanket and made himself remotely presentable. “Hello.”

“I just had to stop by to talk to Abby… for a, erm- charity thing. So, I thought I’d stop by and say hi while I was here.” Harry said and then bit his lower lip. Draco wondered if he immediately regretted the decision now seeing what a mess Draco was. 

Draco felt like he should be happy to see him, but just found his heart breaking a little more. It was somehow worse, this odd acquaintanceship with Harry. After nearly a year of pinning all his hopes and even his sanity on the other man, he found himself growing angry with Harry’s casualness. 

“So… how are you doing?” Harry asked after Draco didn't reply.

“Fine.” Draco answered, a bit cooly. He knew Harry hadn’t done anything wrong, but he couldn’t help his irrational anger at the man all the same. 

“Do you maybe want to grab dinner?” Harry asked hesitantly. “Since you’re here… and I’m here. And, I- er- don’t really have much food at home and was going to grab something on the way…” he continued to explain himself. “Company would be great though… you know what it’s like... spending so much time alone…” Harry rubbed the back of his neck, awkwardly.

Draco tried to work out what Harry had said in that jumbled speech, but the only thing he took away from it was that Draco was conveniently available to keep him company. He felt his face burn. 

“Sorry. I’m not really hungry tonight,” Draco replied.

“Oh. Erm- okay. That’s- Okay.” Harry looked at him for a minute and then nodded. “I should be going then.”

Draco gave him a short nod.

“Okay, bye.” 

Draco watched as Harry walked away, fighting back the burning sensation in his eyes. 

Draco huffed loudly, and balled himself back up on the floor, trying to get his emotions under control—trying to pretend that his heart hadn’t broken just a little bit more. 

 

***

 

“Evening, Draco,” Jane greeted him as he sat down at the table for dinner. There were several other residents at the other large round table, so he chose the table with Jane and Ellie. Trent had moved on a couple weeks prior. Draco still didn’t converse with anyone at dinner often, but he would listen to Jane and others talk and nod his head occasionally when asked a direct question. Everyone had mostly stopped asking him questions by now.

He nodded to both of them in greeting and sat down with his soup and roll.

“I was just telling Ellie about the place I found,” Jane explained to him. She had found a job at a small cafe in Diagon Alley a few weeks prior and had been looking for a flat. “It’s just a room that I’m renting, but it’s Wizarding—I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to find a place available on such short notice and have to rent Muggle. Which isn’t terrible, my mum was Muggle and all, but still, it’s exhausting to have to constantly lie and hide things,” Jane continued.

Draco nodded. He didn’t know, not really. He still couldn’t even bring himself to talk to Muggles let alone apply to a job. He had to fight back the nausea that threatened to overwhelm him at the idea that his safety and future was wrapped up in his ability to get a Muggle job. For a moment, he entertained the thought of trying his luck at a Wizarding job, even though he knew it was highly unlikely anyone would hire him. At the thought, a vision of faceless Wizards and Witches sneering at him and throwing hexes at him for all the things he’d done during the war popped into his head. With a simple shield charm as his only defence, he would be a sitting duck. He blanched at the thought and resolved to not set foot in Wizarding England until he could defend himself. 

“It took me weeks to save up enough money from my job though. Everyone always wants first months rent right away. I remember when you could rent your own place in Diagon from just a shop job. The city is so expensive now,” Jane said, shaking her head.

“I’ve heard Muggle flats are even more expensive than the ones in the Wizarding areas,” Ellie said, sounding anxious.

“Will you look at Muggle places?” Jane asked.

Ellie shrugged. “Don’t know yet. Since I’m on probation, my wand is at a Level 1 restriction. I could probably get a job in Diagon, but I’m not sure I feel really safe living in a Wizarding area with the restrictions. It just feels like I can’t defend myself, you know?”

“I wouldn’t worry so much about that, dear,” Jane said, patting Ellie on the arm. “Draco, have you found anything yet?”

He shook his head and then looked down at his soup, hoping no one asked any more questions. He’d lost his appetite, but he forced himself to take another bite.

Draco had never considered that he might need to work for several weeks to have enough money to get a flat, or more realistically, a room in a flat. It never even dawned on him. He’d been working under the assumption that he would get a job and then he’d be able to immediately go find a place. It wasn’t like he’d ever had experience with things like working. He’d never even thought he would work when he was grown up. He was supposed to eventually take over the family finances and investments some day, of course. But, he wouldn’t have had a job unless it was one to improve social standing or influence, such as board or committee positions at the Ministry.

He tried to take another bite, but his stomach was just done.

Draco nodded to his two housemates, and quickly walked to the kitchen to clean his bowl, pocketing his bread en route.

He scrubbed the bowl harder than necessary to stop his hands from shaking. It was too late, it was already too late. He hadn’t even applied to a single job. Fuck, he hadn’t even walked into a single business place that had a sign saying they needed workers. He rinsed the bowl under hot water, burning his skin slightly, and put it on the drying rack.

He grasped the edge of the sink, trying to ground himself.

“Are you alright, dear?” Jane asked as she came up to his side, empty bowl in hand.

Draco nodded.

“Don’t worry too much. Sometimes it takes time is all. I had to apply to several places before I was able to find a job,” she said, kindly. “Just keep applying and it will all work out.”

He nodded again, and turned on heel, heading to his room as fast as possible.

Draco leaned up against his bedroom door once he shut it behind him, breathing hard. He tried to be rational. He still had a few weeks left, maybe if he could get something in the next couple days, he could find a job and save up enough money to find something, anything. Not that he even knew how to go about finding a Muggle flat.

He walked over to his bedside table, and placed the bread inside, counting everything twice for good measure, before curling up on the floor in his usual position trying to keep the panic at bay.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow he would walk into that market and ask for a job.

 

The following morning, Draco stood in front of the food market, trying to will himself to step forward.

He screamed internally at himself, but stood there frozen, body unwilling to move. What the fuck was wrong with him? He didn’t even recognise himself anymore. Who the fuck couldn’t walk in a damn door?

The self-directed anger took a bit of edge off his panic, so he used that to finally propel himself forward. He walked in and looked around. It was thankfully nearly empty. There only seemed to be one or two customers walking around, and he saw one worker at a counter behind some Muggle machine. Before he could talk himself out of it, he walked straight up to the woman behind the counter.

“I saw your sign that you needed staff… out front,” he said as calmly as he could manage.

“Oh, right.” The woman ducked down behind the counter for a moment and came back up with a piece of paper. “Just fill this out and bring it back when you are done.”

Draco took the paper. “Thank you,” he managed.

He quickly left the market, paper in hand. Once outside, he took a deep breath and felt a smile on his face. He did it. Not only was he able to talk to a stranger, which he still struggled with on the best of days, he spoke with a Muggle, and it was fine. Nothing catastrophic happened at all.

He stepped to the side of the door and looked down at the paper. At the top said “Job Application,” followed by a form with small print and blank boxes. As he read through it, he started to relax. It was mostly familiar information: his name, address, he assumed he could use the Transitionary Home, and what days and hours he could work. He didn’t know what a phone number was, but he could probably find out.

He flipped it over. His stomach dropped. School information, and then, work experience. Nearly the entire back page was blank fields to be filled out with previous work experience.

Not that he could put Hogwarts down, regardless, but he hadn’t even finished there really. And, work experience… he had none. He didn’t actually know that was required, perhaps they would hire someone without experience. Somehow, he doubted it.

Feeling dejected, he walked back to the Home, more in a slow daze than the usual panicked pace that he normally set.

Once in his room he threw the form down on top of the bedside table. “Fuck!” he yelled as loud as he dared.

Draco wondered if Abby in the office could help him. Abby had been routinely asking if he needed any help with anything, to the point he'd taken to nearly running by the office door to avoid her questions about how he was doing and if he was making any progress and if he needed their assistance. 

As much as he had tried avoiding talking to, well, everyone, he knew he needed help here. After pacing back and forth in his small room for a few minutes, he finally grabbed the form and went downstairs.

The office door was slightly ajar, he stood there for a moment and then finally knocked.

“Come in,” she said. “Oh hello, Draco.”

“Hi. I- er, I was wondering if you could help me with something,” he stammered out.

“Of course!" She exclaimed, eyes lighting up. "What is it?”

He held out the application to her.

“Of course, why don’t you take a seat and we can go through it together?” Abby said, smiling and gesturing to an empty seat next to her desk.

For the next twenty minutes, Draco filled out the form with her assistance using some Muggle quill called a biro. She told him to put a fake school name that others used for Muggle paperwork when had gone to Hogwarts, but apparently had a phone number set up to the Muggle-Wizarding Relations office if someone were to check that they had attended. Draco wondered why this information hadn’t been provided to him from the start, but put in the information diligently.

“Ok, work history,” Draco said, moving on to the next part of the form.

“You’ll have to leave that blank for now.”

“Can’t I just put something? Like some Muggle place?”

“Businesses will generally call the previous places you’ve worked. If they call and you didn’t actually work there, you will definitely not get the job. I know it’s not ideal, but you’re going to have to find a place that will hire you for your first job. You’re young still, though, they will understand.”

“But you think that I could get a job without experience?” he asked.

“People have to get their first jobs all the time. I think it will be harder and you will probably have to put in more applications, but it’s absolutely possible. Plus then once you get a job, they will know that they are training you from scratch.”

“Okay, so now I just take it back to them?” he asked.

“Yes, and normally they will take it and then call you if they think you are a good candidate. If they call you, they will have you come in for an interview. If you want, we can practice what that might be like before you go in,” she said.

An interview sounded terrible to Draco at the moment, given that this was the longest conversation he had held in a month. But, he would have to do what he had to do.

“Thank you,” he said as he got up.

“Of course, and please let me know if you need any more help. We want to see all of you get back on your feet here, okay?” Abby jotted down something on a small piece of paper and handed it to Draco. “That’s the phone number and the school information in case you need it for future applications.”

“Thank you, again.” He smiled shakily, and walked back to his room, application in hand. He put it on his nightstand, feeling for a moment like maybe everything would work out.

 

A week later, Draco had filled out another five applications, and turned them all back in to their respective shops.

He was feeling lighter than he’d had since arriving there. He was slowly getting more comfortable going outside and was even able to speak to the Muggles in the shops with little incident. Only once, in a particularly busy bistro, had he panicked and found himself back in his room, shaking and without an application in hand. He still found himself nervous around Muggles, and well people in general, four years in solitary had clearly taken its toll. But, after a week of job searching he was... maybe not comfortable... but feeling like it might be okay for the first time, and really believing it.

On his way back up from breakfast, he stopped by the office to see Abby.

“Any calls?” he said, as he popped his head around the door. He’d been checking daily since putting in his first application.

She shook her head. “No, Draco, I’m sorry. You should probably keep putting in applications though, something is bound to give eventually.” She looked at him a little sadly, and he felt his mood drop.

“Ok, thanks anyways.” He walked back to his room, feeling the stress of the previous weeks returning.

He had three weeks. Three weeks to somehow find a job and then find a room to rent. It was starting to feel like an insurmountable task.

Draco was becoming increasingly convinced that not lying on his application about previous work experience was not the way to go about this, but he knew Abby wouldn’t help him with that. If this were a Wizarding application, he was certain he could work out what to put on it without raising suspicion, but he knew nothing of Muggles still. He doubted a couple of weeks of walking down one specific street in Muggle London counted as any indication of their entire culture.

He paced back and forth in his room for a few minutes, getting increasingly frustrated at his situation. How, for the love of Merlin, was he supposed to find a job under these conditions? Draco felt like this was all a big joke. Put ex-convicts in a situation where they could only find Muggle work, give them Muggle papers and a temporary place to stay so that it looked like the Ministry was so very supportive, and then provide no training or information on how to go about living in the Muggle world.

He felt like the entire program was stacked against pure-bloods. Had he been muggle-born or even a half-blood, maybe he could navigate this world. But, he was suddenly expected to just integrate completely with Muggles with no prior knowledge, no training or even a handbook to explain all the differences.

How couldn’t they see this was no different than what their precious muggle-borns complained about with suddenly being integrated at Hogwarts? He suddenly felt the wind knocked out of him, realising this was what this might have been like for some of his classmates. The classmates that he had mocked and taunted and bullied for being different. He sat down, feeling exhausted.

Well, he supposed, this would be poetic justice then, wouldn’t it? He wondered if it was intentional—if it were a setup. Maybe he wasn’t even supposed to succeed.

On the other hand, he knew from listening to his father and from his own experiences during the war how incompetent many Ministry departments were. It was just as likely that they hadn’t even thought about the issues as it was that it was some plot to get even with ex-Death Eaters. Most likely, it never dawned on them that they were setting them up for failure. They hadn’t even bothered to give him the school information or what specific spells he could or could not cast, leaving him to navigate all of this on his own. 

And, even if he could somehow manage to move past all the ways he found himself completely broken from four years in prison, he still wouldn’t be able to navigate this world without help. 

Feeling the anger fully drained out of him, he just felt tired. He curled up on the floor. He couldn’t deal with any of this anymore, he couldn’t stand thinking about all the ways this could go terribly wrong for him in the next few weeks. He let his mind drift.

“What kinds of plants will you put in your garden?” Harry asked.

“For starters, every vegetable that will grow under climate charms in England,” Draco said, smiling. “And fruit, can’t forget the fruit.”

“So, just food?” Harry asked.

“No, but that will be first. I certainly have gained a new appreciation for fresh food in the last couple years,” Draco said wryly. “I’m sure even you can appreciate that by now, Potter.”

Harry laughed. “Yes, I can.”

“I’ll probably plant some flowers also. Maybe some Lavender or Roses. And, of course, some basic potions ingredients, as any self-respecting Wizard gardener would do.”

“I’m quite certain no one wants me making any potions, at least not that they might drink, so I’ll probably lay off the potions ingredients,” Harry said with a smile.

“True. You should probably stick to the apothecary for your hangover potions.”

 

Draco awoke with a start. It was dark in his room, but his wand hadn’t alerted him for dinner. He hadn’t set it, he realized suddenly. He felt panic wash over him; he never missed a meal.

He wasn’t even particularly hungry, but the idea of missing a meal made him illogically terrified. Draco jumped up and opened his drawer; he knew he could just eat something from his stash even though it made him anxious to not replace it. He quickly counted every item. Then, he removed the oldest apple and a mostly stale piece of baguette and, fighting back the queasy feeling he was getting from diminishing the size of his stash, he closed the drawer back up and sat back on the floor.

He filled the mug he’d been keeping in his room with water, fortunately a spell covered by his probation. He realized with a start how familiar this was: sitting on the floor with a blanket around his shoulders, eating fruit and stale bread and drinking conjured water in a mug. The thought calmed him, even though it shouldn’t have.

As Draco slowly ate, he remembered his dream somewhat foggily. He knew it was of Harry—most of his dreams were of Harry these past couple years. Draco missed him so much. He knew he missed the fantasy and not the real man, but he missed him all the same. 

Now, weeks later, he regretted not taking Harry up on the dinner offer. Surely even being acquaintances with Harry would have been better than nothing, better than being only left with an incomplete memory. He wondered if it would be better if he could just forget, but even the cloudy memories were like a lifeline. Draco felt like they were no less necessary now than a year ago, something he could hold on to when life was at its scariest.

Once he finished his meager meal, he laid back down, tucking his blankets around him. He allowed himself to fantasize, something he rarely did anymore—imagine conversations, the feeling of being cared for and about, and eventually fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Three days. Draco had three days to leave the Home.

He had never received a single call from any of the places he’d applied. Over the past week, he’d grown more desperate, walking further away from his little corner of London, and eventually even lying on his applications, making up different stories and jobs at each place that he applied, hoping that something would stick.

Every day he checked with Abby, and every day she looked on him with an increasing amount of pity in her eyes and told him that no one had called.

So, this was it. He had three days with shelter and food and then he was out.

Draco had taken to grabbing extra rolls and fruit when no one was looking in the dining room, trying to stockpile as much food as possible for the inevitable.

He didn’t bother leaving his room anymore other than meals. What was the point? He might as well take his last few hours of solitude and safety.

He couldn’t sleep, his nerves too shot, but he could lay there on the hard floor, wrapped in blankets, pretending that this wasn’t really happening. He could get lost in his fantasies. He hadn’t allowed himself, not really, to let go of reality again since he’d been at the Transitional Home. He was too afraid that if he let himself, here, back in the real world, that he’d never come back out. But, now, what did it even matter?

So, as he’d done for months in prison, he let himself go wherever his mind took him. He made up conversations and a life that would never be his. He imagined Harry coming for him, finding him and taking him somewhere safe. That’s what he did, right? He saved people. Draco let himself believe, if only in fantasy, that he would come for him too.

 

Draco startled awake. Someone was knocking at his door.

He pulled himself off the floor and opened the door. Abby stood there, looking pained.

“I’m really sorry, Draco,” she said.

He nodded. He knew. It was time.

“I’ll-” He cleared his throat. “Just give me a minute, I’ll be right down.”

She nodded and walked away, looking sadder than Draco felt for himself. He found himself feeling bad for her, even though he was the one about to be kicked out. She only ever tried to help him.

He grabbed the tote he’d been given in the Probation Auror’s office and filled it with his spare clothes and carefully placed every piece of food from his bedside table in the bag, using his clothes to protect the more fragile fruit. He took the pamphlets and the robe that he'd been given at Azkaban out of the wardrobe. Unsure of what would constitute a breach of the Statute of Secrecy, he folded the robe and left it with the pamphlets on the bed, deciding to not take any chances.

Draco looked around, there was nothing else to take. His Muggle papers were still in the bag, since no one had ever called him for an interview, he’d never even had reason to remove them. So, that was it.

He felt like he should be more panicked, but he just felt numb.

He walked downstairs where Abby was waiting outside of the office. She looked like she might cry.

“I have some friends I can stay with,” he found himself saying to her. There was no reason she had to suffer for his terrible luck.

She nodded, but looked like she didn’t entirely believe him. He started to leave, but suddenly felt a hand on his arm.

“Draco- if- if your friends don’t work out, or you find yourself needing somewhere to go, there are Muggle places you can go for help. There’s a church about a half-hour walk from here, if you go to the park a few blocks east and then turn right, keep walking until you see a church, okay?”

Draco nodded. He found himself becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the pity in her eyes and left without another word.

He stood on the pavement for a minute, gathering his thoughts and courage.

Not having any better ideas, he decided to follow her directions and see what came of it. Worst-case scenario, he was in the exact same position.

He walked, not feeling any of the dread that normally came from being out in the city, instead feeling almost trance like as he walked through several neighbourhoods until he finally found the church.

He walked up the stone steps to the main doors, but found them locked. Looking around, there appeared to be a walkway going around the side of the building. He followed the path until he found a small wooden door, propped slightly open. He pushed it open and peeked in. He could hear voices down the hall, so he entered.

As he got closer, a young woman walked into the hallway.

“Hello. Can I help you?”

“Hi- erm. I heard that you can help people here…”

“Oh, are you homeless?” she asked.

He nodded.

“We have a rough sleeper space that provides breakfast and showers in the mornings, and we have specialist workers that can help you get back on your feet, but the morning session is already over. It only runs from nine until ten thirty. You can come back tomorrow, though, and we’ll be happy to help you,” she said, kindly. “I’m sorry. I wish I could offer you more help right now.”

“No- it’s fine. Thank you,” Draco said quietly and left.

Everything felt so surreal. He kept waiting for the panic, the anxiety as Muggles walked past, as the vehicles flew by with their smells and noises, but it didn’t come. He wondered if he’d finally broken. He couldn’t feel anything.

He walked and walked, with no plan or destination, through trendy neighbourhoods and dodgy ones, near beautifully landscaped parks and by train tracks and stations with random bright paint and trash. After what must have been hours, he finally felt exhaustion take over and stopped on a bench near a park, holding his tote bag with all his belongings tightly on his lap.

A few Muggles walked past him and looked at him askew. He suddenly wished he’d showered in the past few days, but he hadn’t had the energy. He supposed if he found somewhere private, he could cast a few cleaning charms, but he wouldn’t attempt it anywhere near Muggles. That would break his probation terms immediately. Even as he thought of it, a cold fear washed over him at the idea of going back to Azkaban. No, he’d have to do without magic. He wouldn’t take that chance. It wasn’t like he could do anything other than a few hygiene and personal charms anyway.

The sun started to set eventually, but Draco didn’t move. He wondered if he could sleep there, not that he expected to sleep much that night.

The street was quiet, so he didn’t think anyone would bother him.

After another hour of sitting there debating the merits of moving on or staying there, he finally gave into exhaustion and laid down, curled up on the bench, holding his bag tight.

Only a few minutes later, he heard someone approach. He looked up and saw two Muggles in uniforms walking towards him. He sat up abruptly. They looked like law enforcement based on what little he knew from his couple months in the Muggle neighbourhood.

They stopped right in front of him. He felt panic rising in his chest. He wouldn't go back to Azkaban. He couldn’t.

“You’ll have to move on, you can’t stay here,” the taller Muggle said.

“We’d rather there wasn’t any trouble, so if you just move on quietly and don’t come back, we’ll forget this conversation even happened. Understand?” The other Muggle looked at Draco sternly.

Draco nodded his head and quickly walked away, hoping they didn’t change their minds. He didn’t know if sleeping on the streets was illegal, something he’d be taken in for, but he couldn’t afford to find out.

He wondered if he’d have to keep walking all night, and as the shock of the day started to wear off, he was aware of how sore his feet were and how tired his legs were becoming. He might have been in far better shape than a couple months prior from his job searching around the neighbourhood, but he was a far cry from fit.

The night felt like it was unending. He wondered if a night had ever been so long before, and he was becoming increasingly scared of his situation. Draco fought back tears and forced himself to keep walking, afraid of what might happen if he stopped.

Just as his eyes started burning, tears threatening to overspill, he saw a few figures under a large, wide, raised roadway. It looked like people were sleeping under there. He wondered if it might be safe to stop—at least safe from the Muggle law enforcement; he refused to think about all the other dangers that might exist out here.

Draco approached slowly and saw a few hunched figures sitting against the wall, as he kept walking, he saw a few more huddled under blankets, most likely sleeping.

He walked until he found an area that wasn’t occupied, and allowed himself to lean up against the concrete wall and slide down until he was sitting.

As the exhaustion and fear and shock came crashing down on him, he felt a tear slide down his face and quickly wiped it away. He reminded himself not to think about tomorrow. He had a place that seemed safe enough; he had cover under the bridge if the weather turned bad; he had food in his bag at least for a week. He wrapped his arms around himself for warmth, too afraid to attempt a covert warming charm with Muggles all around, and allowed himself to marginally relax.

He would be okay for tonight. And tomorrow he could worry about tomorrow.

 

***

 

“Do you go there every weekend?” Draco asked.

“Usually. They always have a large family dinner and Mrs Weasley cooks far too much food for everyone. It’s typically on Sundays, but whenever Ron and I are home for the weekend, she has been having it on Saturdays,” Harry answered, leaning up against the bars. “Not everyone can always make it, since there are so many of them, but there’s always a lot of people there.”

“I can’t imagine having that many siblings.”

“Me neither. I’ve always been a bit envious, though, to be honest.”

“Really? I don’t think I would have liked it,” Draco said, wrinkling his nose a bit.

“Why?”

“I’m not sure, just… and I know what you are going to say, but I liked having all my parents' attention. I don’t think I would have liked sharing.”

Harry cracked a smile. “What am I going to say then?”

“That I was spoiled,” Draco said, “It's fine—you can say it.” Draco mocked an eye roll and smiled.

Harry laughed. “You? Spoiled?”

 

Draco sat, huddled up against the concrete wall, with a blanket wrapped up tightly around him. The previous week, a Muggle car had stopped and a young couple had gotten out with sandwiches, bottled water, blankets and some spare clothes for the people under the overpass. He now knew that was what it was called.

Even though he kept to himself, he was slowly learning a lot.

He knew that food could be gotten in rubbish bins near fast-food restaurants, as people often ordered too much and couldn’t finish it all. He learned that the bins behind the grocery stores were the best place to get food; the food would often still be in its packaging and taste just fine. He knew that he should always keep an old water bottle with him to be refilled if he could ever find a public toilet to use and a sink to refill it at. He was learning the places he couldn’t go, places that Muggle Patrolmen would arrest him or “relocate” him if he were caught. He hadn’t had to test that one out, he just relied on other people’s stories for that one. He learned the names of Muggle things, like cars and motorcycles and traffic lights. He learned that people like him were called rough sleepers and there were a lot of them in the city. He learned that occasionally people were kind and would give them money or food or supplies, but mostly Muggles would drive or walk by and pretend they didn’t exist, and occasionally, especially late at night, they would holler at them or throw trash at them. He learned to stay out of sight under his blanket on those nights.

Draco didn’t bother with reality too much anymore either. There wasn’t much point, as far as he was concerned. He quickly reverted to his fantasies, letting his mind wander and making up conversations and sometimes even imagining he had a different life altogether.

He was slightly embarrassed the first time he found out from Russ, the bloke that usually slept in the spot next to him, that he sometimes had those conversations out loud. But, he found that the other homeless didn’t mind much or even seem to judge him. He noticed that he certainly wasn’t the only one that did so.

The strangest thing of it all was that out there, on the street with those Muggles, was the first time he had felt anything akin to being understood since he’d been out. He could see and feel that they were broken like him; he understood them and he could tell that they understood him as well. He didn’t feel safe, exactly—it could still be very dangerous around the other rough sleepers—but he didn’t feel the pressure to pretend he was alright anymore. He saw that other Muggles, the ones with cars and jobs and homes, were afraid of all of them, often avoiding eye contact and walking or driving by quickly. Draco found some strange humour in the fact that he was finally not afraid of Muggles; he finally understood what everyone was saying—how similar they all were, but it was only because he’d found the other broken people that he finally got there.

Sometimes, it was scary, as fights broke out, or another rough sleeper had an “episode,” as one of the other guys had called it. Draco knew none of them were exactly the most stable individuals in society. But most of the time, it was just boring. There wasn’t much to do, but Draco was used to that. Laying on the hard ground with nothing but time he could do. Draco knew how to do this.

Late at night, Draco sometimes wondered if it were better this way. The familiarity of it all was almost comforting at times. Sometimes, all the other people around still made him anxious, but mostly he got used to them and just kept to himself. He wondered if he would have ever been able to make it in the rest of the Muggle world anyway. He doubted it. So, this was fine. In many ways, it was still a step up from Azkaban, he could search for food. And even if it were someone’s scraps, it was a far cry better than anything that had been served at the prison. And he was still free, in some ways even more so, he could go wherever he wanted whenever he wanted.

The nights became colder as September turned to October, but it was manageable. He knew in the back of his mind that the weather wouldn’t hold, and he was still far too terrified to attempt to cast any sort of spell around the other homeless, lest he land himself back in a cell, but he knew better than to worry about tomorrow. And today, he was okay.

 

A fancy Muggle car whipped past on the street running under the overpass, blowing the red light on the other side.

“Hey Blondie, d’you see that sweet ride?” Russ asked him.

Draco nodded.

“Someday I’m gonna get me one of them. Think of all the fanny I could get me with a ride like that.” Russ laughed, brown eyes crinkling. He then launched into a story about him and his mates back when they were on leave and went to Southern Italy and all the trouble they’d gotten up to.

Russ didn’t seem to care if Draco responded at all; he seemed to just want to talk and have someone listen to him.

Russ had been on the streets for years, never having adjusted to being “back in civilization,” as he called it, after spending years in the British Army. He loved to tell stories, and would often tell Draco stories about when he was deployed in the Middle East. Usually the stories were funny, pranks he and his friends in his unit had played on one another, but occasionally, when he was in a more maudlin mood, Russ would talk about some of the more terrible things he’d seen and done while over there.

Draco understood more than Russ could possibly know—having made his own decisions he could never come back from, having seen things he’d rather never think of again. He couldn’t talk about any of it, of course, couldn’t tell his own stories of the things he’d seen and done and release some of the pressure on his chest that seemed ever present. But he could listen. At the end of the day, Russ’s stories weren’t that different—countries being taken over and controlled by power hungry people, causing divisions amongst the people because of race or religion or some other meaningless difference. Like blood purity, Draco had realized with a start the first time Russ had explained some of the reasons people were fighting over there. It ultimately was much of the same, and it seemed Muggle or Magical, history endlessly repeated itself over and over.

 

Draco woke up slowly, stretching his aching body. Over the past few weeks, he’d been able to get another blanket and another worn out coat. It was a small woman’s coat and didn’t quite fit him, even as thin as he was, but he could use it on the ground to buffer from the cold, allowing him to use both blankets to wrap up in.

The weather was turning colder and Draco found himself dreading the coming winter. His stomach grumbled a bit, having not found quite as much food as of late. He decided he should probably get up and get looking, in case he had to go a few blocks out further than normal. He guessed it was about mid-day from the slightly bright spot through the clouds.

Sleep was erratic on the streets. Some days he slept and slept, through both day and night, and others he found himself up in the middle of the night, sleep eluding him. Those nights were often the worst. They stretched on endlessly, morning feeling like it might never come. Even though, logically, he knew his situation was the same whether it was night or day, somehow it always felt a little worse during those never-ending nights. Even the cloudiest, most grey days felt more manageable.

He hoped it was shortly after lunch, as that was when he seemed to have his best luck with scavenging for binned food. When that didn’t work, he’d sometimes need to find a busier street and find a place to sit and hope for charity. He hated that.

After checking a few bins along the pavement, he went into an alley to check the larger back alley bins. He saw another person a little way down the alley.

“Blondie, blondie, come ‘ere.” Crazy-cat Carol, as Draco had mentally dubbed her, called him over. Carol had an ugly squashed-faced cat that she kept on a leash with her at all times and always gave a portion of whatever food she could scavenge to the cat. The cat seemed to like her well enough, but hissed and growled if anyone else got too close.

He went over; he found it was better to just humour her otherwise it would lead to an argument.

“Look at this,” she said, showing him a magazine with a Muggle woman on the cover.

“Very nice,” he replied.

She nodded and tucked it in her bag.

He peeked in a few bins, but they looked like they’d been recently emptied.

He wasn’t in the mood to sit on a street and have Muggles look at him in disgust or, worse, pretend he didn’t even exist that morning. So, he decided to head back and see if he could get more sleep—if nothing else it would pass the time.

As he walked closer, suddenly several Muggle cars with flashing lights pulled up. Draco froze. The Muggle police got out and were yelling something at the people under the bridge. He saw them start grabbing stuff and throwing it in the back of a larger truck—pulling down the few small tents that some had and grabbing blankets and chairs.

His first instinct was to go save his stuff—it was only his blankets and extra coat since he carried everything else in his tote on him at all times. And, his wand never ever left his pocket. Even still, he owned so little. It had taken so long to accumulate those things, and the nights were getting colder every night.

“This is our stuff, man!” Russ started yelling at one of the officers, starting towards him.

Draco watched in horror as he was suddenly grabbed and thrown on the ground by one of the Muggle policemen.

What little self-preservation Draco had left finally kicked in and he turned and ran. He ran for at least ten minutes straight, occasionally turning and heading a different direction, until he was so winded that he needed to stop, and then he kept walking as fast as he could. He had no idea where he could possibly go, but he needed to get as far from there as possible.

Fortunately, over a month on the street had made Draco wiser. He might have rarely talked, but he always listened. And, he had learned where someone like him could stop and where he’d get harassed. He’d learned that if people thought you were just moving through an area, they’d leave you alone, but if they thought you might camp out in their doorway, the police would be called. He’d learned the look of neighbourhoods and streets that were run down enough that he’d be left alone.

So, he walked. And he kept an eye out for somewhere else that he might stay safely.

It was near the middle of the night by the time he finally stopped. After he passed a few other rough sleepers in various doorways, he decided this was good enough for the night and searched for one that might work. Ideally, he wanted a stoop that was big enough for people to ignore his presence and of a place that looked like it got little traffic.

After another block, he finally found one that fit the bill. It smelled a little of piss, so he hoped it hadn’t already been claimed and he wasn’t going to wake up to a fight. But, the exhaustion he was feeling made him decide to take the risk.

Draco sat in the corner and pulled his knees into his body for warmth. He was thankful he at least had the old wool coat he was still wearing, a donation from one of the nicer Muggles that stopped and saw him shivering one day. She had left and come back with a few old coats, giving one to him and the others to a few of the other homeless who didn’t have appropriate clothing for the weather that was quickly changing. Over the next few weeks, he’d been lucky enough to acquire two blankets and an extra coat that someone else had abandoned and never came back for. With those, he had finally been warm enough at night. Now they were gone.

“Idiot,” he muttered to himself. He should have kept them with him.

Reminding himself to just focus on right now, he forced himself to let it go. What was done was done. He just needed to worry about tonight, and tonight he had a stoop.

Remembering that he also had his spare clothes in his bag, he quickly stripped off his coat and pulled them out and put them on over what he was wearing. That would help, at least. He put the coat back on, feeling a deep shiver run through his body, and bounced in place for a minute to warm up before sitting back down.

For a long moment, he considered pulling out his wand and casting a warming spell. He was hidden away in the doorway, surely no one would see.

Just as he reached in his pocket, two young men walked by, talking quietly to one another.

Fuck, he thought. He couldn’t risk it. He curled back in on himself for warmth and attempted to find some sleep.

 

***

 

A cold wind whirled around alcove of the doorway, it seemed to be coming in all directions. Draco shivered. He knew he needed to find a blanket or several soon or he wasn’t going to be able to survive the nights. He’d finally cracked a couple nights ago and cast a warming charm when no one was around. The idea of having to rely on that for survival soon made him nauseous. In a completely Muggle area, he was very aware that every time he used his wand he was gambling with his freedom.

There were too many people around tonight for that anyways. It was most likely the weekend, Draco thought. He rarely knew what day it was, and frankly, he wasn’t even sure of the month. He was reasonably sure it was mid-November, but he hadn’t bothered looking at the newspaper or magazine stands in awhile. He found himself not really caring anymore.

Mostly he just sat in his alcove and let himself get lost in his thoughts. He thought he might have been talking to himself more lately, if the looks of passer-byers were anything to go by. He didn't find himself caring much about that either.

He felt another chill wrack through him.

It was going to be a rough night. Draco often wondered if he would die out there eventually. He used to assume that he would die of starvation, but somehow he always managed to find enough food—not enough to never be hungry, but enough to keep him alive. When he couldn’t scavenge enough, he could often rely on strangers feeling guilty enough about his situation to throw him a few coins or some food. But, now that autumn was in full force, with winter right behind it, he realized warmth was going to be the bigger issue.

He pushed the thoughts away, and went back to his fantasies. It was safer there. It always was.

“Draco?” he heard Harry ask.

“Yeah?” he replied.

“Oh my god- it’s you.”

Draco opened his eyes confused. He’d never said that before. Harry stood in front of him, just inside the alcove.

“Come on, let’s go,” Harry said, gently, putting out a hand.

“What?”

“Here, just- take my hand.”

Draco held out his hand and let himself be pulled up. Then, without warning he felt the squeeze of apparition, and found himself in front of a different door.

Harry moved past him and pushed through the door, gently dragging Draco in behind him.

Draco stood in the entryway, frozen, having no idea what had just happened.

Harry turned to him when he didn’t follow him further into the house, and went back to him.

“Hey, it’s okay. It’s going to be okay now,” Harry said, softly.

“I don’t understand- where are we?” Draco asked, suddenly concerned he’d fully gone around the twist. He’d never had a hallucination before—that he knew of—but he wasn’t sure he’d put it past his mind at the moment.

“We’re at my home.”

“But- why?”

“Just come with me, I’ll show you to the guest room. You look-” Harry seemed to struggle with words for a minute. “We can talk about all of it in the morning, okay? Let me just show you to the room, your room. You can stay there okay?”

Draco nodded.

Harry started towards the stairs, checking behind him every few seconds to see that Draco was following.

Finally, Harry stopped in front of a door, walking in.

“You can sleep here, okay?”

Draco looked around, there was a large bed and a matching wardrobe and bedside table. Near the window was a stuffed wingback chair and footrest. It was a nice room.

“Erm- why don’t I go get you something to sleep in and you can get settled okay?” Harry said, walking out of the room.

Draco stood in the middle of the room, still not quite comprehending what was happening. Harry couldn’t actually be saving him—that was one of his more frequent daydreams, not something that actually happened. It never happened, no matter how much Draco wished for it.

Harry came back in the room, clothes in hand.

“Here, they might be a bit large, but the bottoms have a drawstring.” Harry handed him the clothes. “I know it’s late, but would you rather go to sleep right away or do you want to use the bathroom? There’s one just at the end of the hall with a shower and tub.” He stopped talking as if waiting for Draco’s input.

“Draco, I’m not sure what you need right now,” he finally said.

“I don’t know,” Draco answered. His head was spinning.

“Okay, why don’t you just change and get in bed? We can deal with the rest of it in the morning.” Harry put his hand on Draco’s arm.

Draco looked down at Harry’s hand, and then back up at him. He nodded.

“I’m- my bedroom is right across the hall, alright? I’m going to go to bed, but if you need anything at all, come get me okay?”

Draco nodded again.

Harry hesitated for a minute and then finally left, closing the door behind him.

Draco felt his hands start to shake suddenly. He wanted to believe this was real, but he was so very afraid. Because, if it wasn’t, if this was a dream, he wasn’t sure he would be able to handle it in the morning. He wasn’t sure he could take a blow that big, not after everything.

He quickly dressed and climbed under the covers, feeling his body warm up slowly.

He shut his eyes tight and hoped to every power in the universe that he was still there in the morning.

 

Chapter Text

Draco woke slowly, groggily realising how warm he felt. It was not a feeling he was used to.

As he slowly blinked awake, he became aware of his surroundings. He was in a bed, in a room, likely in a house. He drew a sharp breath in and he remembered the night before, and felt his eyes start to burn. It was real. It had been real.

He took deep breaths in trying to calm himself and will himself not to cry, not to completely fall apart.

He remembered Harry saying there was a bathroom down the hall, he quietly left the room and walked to the end of the hall, finding a small bathroom.

After relieving himself, he turned towards the sink and caught his reflection in the mirror. He looked terrible. His hair had the look of having gone too long without a cut, not stylishly long, but shaggy, unkempt and dirty. His face was again covered by a beard, not as long as he knew it had been at Azkaban, but it had grown out a bit over the last couple months. It looked scraggly and uncared for. His eyes had dark circles under them and his face had an overall hollow look to it. He had the look of someone who didn’t take care of himself. Draco realized with a start how much he looked like many of the other people he’d seen out on the street during the last few months.

As he went to wash his hands, he saw the caked dirt under his fingernails. He flushed as he thought about Harry having seen him like this the night before, and really the entire time at Azkaban, as he must have looked significantly worse than this.

Draco quickly made the decision to shower before going downstairs. He’d had enough humiliation for a lifetime.

He turned on the taps and watched as the water started to steam, after adjusting it to a comfortable temperature, he undressed quickly and stepped into the stream, letting the water roll over him. The warmth felt so good on his sore muscles and bones. Living on the streets had a way of making the body feel much older than it actually was.

Looking through the bottles on the ledge, he finally found some shampoo and poured a generous amount in his palm. After washing it through, he realized his hair still felt dirty, so he poured some more and worked it through his hair; this time it sudsed up suggesting it had finally worked through the layers of dirt.

He took his time scrubbing the rest of his body inch by inch, trying to get the grime of the street off him.

When he was finally done, Draco allowed himself a few minutes to just stand there, letting the water run off him and enjoying having a hot shower and a clean body.

Eventually he turned off the taps and grabbed a towel from a tall cabinet next to the tub. He towelled off and then decided he’d have to put the pyjamas back on. They might be a little dirty from last night, but his clothes were in far worse shape and he’d still never learned how to do any proper laundry charms.

Looking back in the mirror, he quickly cast a haircut and shaving charm. The haircut wasn’t great, a little longer than he preferred it, but it was still a vast improvement.

He carefully hung the towel to dry on a rack and, taking a deep breath, went downstairs. He could smell what might be bacon as he went down a flight. He wasn’t sure where the kitchen was, but he knew they were often on lower levels in old houses like this, so he kept moving down the stairs until he finally reached the lowest floor. The smell of food cooking was much stronger down there.

Draco carefully opened the door at the bottom of the stairs and heard the sounds of cooking: a sizzling noise, pans being shuffled about.

“Good morning,” Harry said as he turned towards him. They were in a large kitchen which looked to be newly renovated, with a large range and counter space along the far wall, plenty of slick white cabinets above, and an island in the middle. There was a solid wooden table on the other side of the island from the kitchen area that looked to seat about six comfortably.

“Morning,” Draco replied.

“Take a seat. I’m just finishing up breakfast,” Harry replied, giving him a smile over his shoulder and then turning back to the range that had several pans going at once.

Draco walked over to the table and pulled out the chair on one of the ends, feeling incredibly awkward. Questions started spinning through his head. Why Harry brought him back here? Why he was helping? He wondered if this was just for the one night or if Harry might let him stay for a while. Draco wasn’t sure what was better—would it be better just to get back to the streets? Not get too used to comfort? Or should he take advantage of every moment he got somewhere warm and safe?

As he sat there lost in his thoughts and panicked questions, Harry brought over two plates piled high with food and sat one down in front of Draco. He took the seat around the corner of the table to Draco, instead at the other far end and gave him a small smile.

“I hope this is okay.” Harry gestured to the fry up.

Draco nodded quickly and tucked in.

They ate in silence for a few minutes, until some of the questions spiralling around his head got to be too much for Draco.

“Why- What were you doing out there last night? It’s not anywhere near any Wizarding areas.” Draco finally asked.

“Oh, erm- looking for you,” Harry mumbled.

Draco froze, fork halfway to his mouth. “What?”

“I was looking for you.”

“But- why?” Draco asked, confused.

“I- okay, look. I know that you said you didn’t want my help when we went to lunch that one day, and I wanted to respect your space. So, I left you alone, but, er- I may have checked up with Abby at the Transitional Home a few times just to make sure you were okay. And, then that day when I came to see you… you didn’t seem to be interested in my company, so I kept my distance after that.

“But, when you left, she was worried about you, so she contacted me to let me know she didn’t think you had anywhere to go. She said she’d sent you to a church and hopefully they would be able to help you out to start. But, when I got there they said that they had told you to come back tomorrow, so I went back the next day, but you never came,” Harry confessed, looking nervous.

“But, that was months ago.” Surely Harry hadn’t been looking for him this whole time; he could have been anywhere at that point.

“I know. I’m sorry it took me so long,” Harry said quietly.

“But, what? How? How did you find me?” None of this made any sense. Harry had seemed so disinterested, so aloof. Why on earth would he have even been looking for Draco in the first place? And the idea that he could find him in a city of millions was crazy. Draco had assumed it was some turn of fate, possibly to his advantage for the first time ever, that allowed Harry to stumble on him last night.

“It wasn’t easy. I spent most of my weekends wandering through the city, finding spots where someone might sleep if they didn't have anywhere else to go. I thought I almost found you a couple weeks ago, there was an area under an overpass where a few people recognized your description, but they’d said you’d moved on after the police had broken up the camp.”

“I don’t understand. You looked for me for two months?” Draco asked, chest tight.

“Well, yeah,” Harry answered, looking up at him.

“But, why?”

“Because you’re my friend and I care about you.”

“But why didn’t you say anything? I thought you were just stopping by for Abby… I didn’t know.”

Harry rubbed the back of his neck. “I wasn’t sure you’d want to see me.”

“What?” Draco asked, but then he remembered how rude he’d been at lunch that first day, and thought he might understand why Harry had been hesitant.

Harry worried his lower lip. “I’m really sorry. I should- I should’ve said something.”

Draco looked carefully at Harry; he seemed so sincere. Draco felt like he was going to cry. This was all too much.

After a long silence, Draco finally whispered, “I didn’t think it was real.”

“What?” Harry asked, looking concerned.

“You, our friendship, I didn’t think it was real. I thought maybe it didn’t really happen.” Draco looked down at his plate.

“What? Why?”

Draco sat quiet for a minute, unsure how to answer that question. “Things got… they were confusing there for awhile,” he finally said.

Harry looked at him for a long minute and took a deep breath. “Well, you are here now, okay? You’re safe. You can stay here as long as you need. The room is yours, understand?”

Draco nodded, unsure if he wanted to believe that was true, afraid of hoping for something so big.

“When we’re done here, I’ll go get you some clothes. You’ll have to just make do with some of my things for now, but I can get you some that fit you better when I get a chance to run to a store.”

Draco felt suddenly overwhelmed. “You don’t have to do this. Having a place to stay is enough, more than enough really. You don’t need to buy me clothes and take care of me. I can get a job; I just didn’t have enough time before. I’m sure I could find one if I had longer to look.” He wasn’t even sure that was true, but he would have to just find a way.

“Draco, I’m sure you can, but I don’t want you to have to, not right away. You’ve been through so much—it wasn’t fair for them to expect that you were going to just run out and get a Muggle job after everything. Please, I have more than enough house and I have my inheritance, okay? You aren’t going to be a burden.” Harry looked at him so sincerely, Draco found himself needing to look away.

“But what does that even mean? I can just live here indefinitely?” Draco knew this wasn’t how this would work, and this certainly wasn’t how his life worked. The other shoe always dropped.

“Sure, if that’s what you want,” Harry said simply.

“You can’t mean that. Just stop—don’t say things you can’t possibly mean. I can’t just wait here until you change your mind or realize you made a big mistake, never knowing when that is going to come.” Draco felt his heart start racing. He was so sick of his life not being in his control.

Harry started to say something, but then stopped himself and looked deep in thought for a few minutes.

“Alright, I can understand that,” Harry said slowly. “I want to tell you that won’t happen and that you can trust me, but I also know a little bit about feeling like you are always at other people’s mercy. How about this then- let’s agree to six months. And then, after six months, we’ll talk and reassess whether this is working or not. But, I will give you my word that you can stay for six months no matter what; I will even sign a legal document if that would make you feel better. Will having a guaranteed amount of time make it less stressful for you?”

Draco took a minute and thought about it. He’d certainly prefer being there for the next six months than trying to survive winter on the streets. He wondered if he could possibly get a job or work out something else out during that time. And, it wasn’t that he didn’t trust Harry, it was that he didn’t trust anyone. Not anymore.

“Okay. At least this way it won’t be a surprise, if it doesn’t work, I’ll know when I need to leave.”

“I have one more condition,” Harry said.

Draco felt his stomach twist.

“During these six months, you let me buy you some clothes and food and anything else you need. No being too proud to accept help, okay?”

Draco hesitated and then nodded. He may not have loved the idea of being Harry’s charity case, but it wouldn’t make any sense to turn down this help, he knew, even if it made him a little sick to his stomach.

“Good. Do you want to come with me clothes shopping or do you want me to just go get some things?”

The thought of clothes shopping in public, around other people, made him immediately blanch. He shook his head. “I think you’d better just go, if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all. Would you prefer robes or Muggle clothing? I, erm- I wasn’t sure since you’d talked about getting a job eventually, which is not to say that I’m expecting you to, especially not right away, but just that you might want clothes that work for both,” Harry said, stumbling over his words a bit.

“It’s fine. Muggle is fine.” Draco hoped they could move on from this humiliating conversation soon.

“Okay, good. I’ll go out later today, if that is okay?” Harry asked.

Draco nodded.

They sat at the table, awkwardly for a few minutes, both done with their breakfast.

“I’m a bit tired. Do you mind if I...” Draco trailed off.

“Oh! No, go ahead. Can you- I mean, while you are here, can you just consider yourself my flatmate?”

Draco stood, picking up his mostly empty plate.

“I’ll get the dishes, just leave it okay?” Harry smiled and quickly stood up, staring to clear the table.

Draco nodded and then quickly retreated to his room. He paced back and forth for a bit and tried to settle down. This was a good thing. Frankly this was the best thing that had happened to him in a very long time, so he couldn’t understand why he felt so nauseous about all of it.

He was finding it very difficult to trust it—not that he thought Harry was in any way being disingenuous, Draco was pretty certain that Harry didn’t have a disingenuous bone in his body—more that he didn’t trust fate to not find a new way to fuck him over. He felt like if he let his guard down, this whole situation would come crashing down around him. At least on the street, he knew where he stood. And, really, it couldn’t get much worse from that. He could relax. He could trust that it was as bad as it got. Or at least close to, he knew with the weather getting colder, it probably could get worse. But, he knew how far he had to fall, and it wasn’t so far. Here, in this house, in Harry’s house, with Harry offering to take care of him... this fall could kill him.

Draco eventually pulled a blanket off the bed and went to the far wall, curling up in a corner, facing the wall. He let his breathing slow and tried to remind himself to just focus on today. Today he had a place to sleep that was warm and food to eat. That was enough.

 

***

 

“Draco?”

Draco slowly came to, feeling that strange sensation of waking up in an unfamiliar place.

“Are you okay?”

Draco sat up, he was still on the floor by the wall. Harry was standing in the doorway, one hand on the doorknob, the other holding a large shopping bag.

“Yeah,” Draco finally answered.

Harry walked over, slowly, and sat down on the floor a few feet from Draco.

“Do you have a hard time sleeping in beds?” he asked.

Oh, he realized, that’s why Harry looked concerned. He’d nearly forgotten how odd that was—to have a perfectly good bed and choose the floor. Realizing Harry was still waiting for an answer, he nodded.

Harry just nodded. “Do you think it would help to move the mattress on the floor? There should be enough room.”

Draco felt shame and appreciation both fill his chest. He didn’t understand how Harry could be so understanding—Draco had clearly lost the plot some time ago, why should Harry understand any of this? Harry bit his lip and Draco realized he had said that last part out loud.

“When I was a kid, I didn’t have a real bed or bedroom until I was eleven. I remember how weird it felt. It was really hard to adjust to, even though I felt like I should be happy and grateful...” Harry trailed off.

“What? Why?” Draco asked, confused.

“Why didn’t I have a bed? Well, it’s a long story, but the short version is that my aunt and uncle hated me, so they made me sleep in a cupboard on an old rickety camp bed. They probably would have kept me in there forever had my Hogwarts letter not been addressed to me in the ‘cupboard under the stairs.’ I think they were a bit concerned about anyone knowing about that bit.” Harry smiled wryly.

Draco felt his stomach twist in knots. He’d had no idea. Memories of all the things he’d said to Harry, things he’d made fun of him for, flashed through his mind. Fuck. He suddenly felt terrible for eleven year old Harry; who would do that to such a small child?

Draco must have shown some of that on his face, because Harry quickly said, “I don’t like talking about it, but I just wanted you to know, so that you understand that I get it, okay?”

“Okay.” He knew what it was like to not want to be pitied, and he wouldn’t do that to Harry.

“Why don’t we just start with a smaller mattress? It might be better to work your way up.” Harry said.

Draco got up and moved out of the way. Harry grabbed a pillow, tossed it on the floor and transfigured it into a mattress a few inches thicker than his prison mattress had been.

“How’s that?”

“Good,” Draco said, feeling his throat constrict at the kind gesture. “Thank you.”

“Here,” Harry said, putting the shopping bag on the bed. “Let me know if anything doesn’t fit, but I think most of it should. I’ve got to start dinner, but erm- I’ll let you get settled. Dinner should be ready in about an hour.”

Draco nodded again, emotions wildly vacillating between utter humiliation and incredible gratitude.

“Okay,” Harry said and then turned and left.

Draco sat on the edge of the bed and slowly opened the bag. He began pulling out clothing item after clothing item. Shirts, jumpers, slacks, pants, socks, pyjamas, even a new pair of shoes. He felt his eyes start to burn.

He felt like whatever part of him left that had sorted Slytherin all those years ago should take whatever he could get out of this situation before life chewed him back up and spit him out on another street corner. But, he was too broken. He would accept the help, he had to, he had no other options. But, he hated this feeling, and he couldn’t help but feel like such a useless burden.

 

***

 

As the week went on, Draco found he had a lot of time to himself, for which he was grateful. Harry would make breakfast every morning and then leave for work at the Ministry. Then, he’d come home around six in the evening and make dinner. Draco felt like he should probably help, but he didn’t know the first thing about cooking, Magical or Muggle. On the weekend, Harry went to dinner at the Weasleys and to visit his godson, but most evenings they spent together.

Draco spent his days alternating between wandering the house and laying on his new mattress curled up in a blanket when everything felt too overwhelming. He thought he was doing a little better already; he was at least pretty sure he wasn’t talking to himself anymore, at least not out loud at inappropriate moments.

He wandered around Grimmauld Place, looking into spare rooms and behind closed doors. Most of the bedrooms were still empty, with only the flooring redone and walls painted. The study looked exactly like what Draco imagined the Gryffindor common room looked like—with dark wood wainscotting and built-in bookshelves. There were a couple large overstuffed chairs in a warm dark red leather and gold accents throughout the room. Draco smiled to himself, thinking the only thing missing was a full blown Gryffindor banner on a wall.

One day, he even peeked into Harry’s room out of sheer curiosity. He had fully expected it to be decorated in a similar style as the study with too much red and gold, but it was nothing like that dark room. The walls were a soft blue, with white sheer curtains over the large windows, letting the daylight stream in, bright even on a cloudy day. The bed and wardrobe seemed to be beechwood, giving the entire room an airy and light feeling. Draco felt like he could spend all his days in there happily.

For a moment, he thought about laying on the really soft looking bed, but then immediately felt guilty for intruding on Harry’s personal space. And, he thought wryly, it wasn’t like he’d be able to fall asleep on it anyways, broken as he was.

Eventually, Draco found some mystery novels on a bookshelf in the study that, while not particularly good, turned out to be entertaining, and he found himself occasionally sitting in front of the fire reading.

As he read more during the day and talked to Harry in the evenings, he was finding it easier to stay in the moment, not get lost in his daydreams. It helped that he had a real-life Harry to talk to and was no longer relying on memory or fantasies.

They would sit in the sitting room and talk. It was so much like before—comfortable conversations easily moving from topic to topic—but it was also so different, sitting on real furniture with a fire in the hearth. Sometimes, Draco even felt like himself again, making sarcastic quips about the news or a Quidditch game.

Other times, he was acutely aware of how changed he still was. Draco could not get used to having food and water available whenever he wanted it. Harry kept the pantry well stocked and had told Draco to help himself to anything he wanted. Even though he knew it was illogical, he found himself taking a few things back to his room and storing it in his bedside table: some crackers, an apple, a piece of bread wrapped in a napkin. Just knowing it was there lowered Draco’s anxiety just a bit.

In the back of his head, though, he felt like he shouldn’t relax, shouldn’t let himself get too comfortable. He knew this safety would be fleeting, like everything else in his life.

After Harry left for work one Friday morning, Draco decided to attempt to find work again. He was afraid of wasting time now that he’d been given another chance; he wouldn’t wait until the last minute to do something about it this time.

He went upstairs, showered, cast a shaving charm and took his time getting dressed. The idea of trying to go out there again was daunting; he wanted nothing more than to stay hidden away in this house for the rest of his life, only ever having to talk to Harry. But, the little part of his brain that still held some semblance of sanity and rationality, knew he was eventually going to need to take care of himself.

He found little things to do all day to push off actually having to leave the house. He trimmed his hair, then realized he had little hairs in his clothing, so he had to change. Then, he realized it was already lunchtime and went downstairs to eat. After lunch, he allowed himself to rest for a while.

Eventually, though the nagging feeling in the pit of his stomach became too much to ignore. He knew he needed to do this. He couldn’t rely on anyone else.

As he got to the front door, he was surprised to feel his chest tighten in panic as it had so many times before at the Transitionary Home. He’d thought that after over two months living out on the streets of the city he was so scared of, he’d be over this. Somehow now that he was back in the safety of a home, the fear had come back full force.

But, he’d managed this before, he reminded himself. So, he took a deep breath and forced himself out the front door. The house appeared to be on a fairly run down street, with little landscaping and buildings all in slight disrepair.

He walked for nearly twenty minutes until he found himself past the edges of the residential area into a much busier area. Cars were whipping by, Muggles hurriedly walking on the pavement. Draco realized with a start he’d waited so long to leave the house that he’d managed to put himself right into the afternoon rush hour.

He never went out during rush hour.

Even when he was homeless and finally learned what Muggles called it, he always stayed under his blanket or curled up firmly against the wall while the crush of the millions of Muggles in the city all left work and travelled home.

He stopped dead in his tracks, feeling the squeeze of anxiety at all the people and activity. A Muggle ran squarely into him from behind.

“Oi, watch it!”

Draco was jostled to the side as the man pushed past him. He started walking again quickly, trying to match the pace of the Muggles around him.

Turning on what appeared to be a slightly less busy side street, he kept walking at a brisk pace, continuing to take deep breaths and calm himself down.

When he got to the intersection, he saw the Muggle light showed he could walk and stepped off the curb. Just as he did, a motorcycle came flying past him, missing him by mere inches.

Draco froze.

He stood there, unable to move, just past the curb until the light changed again and cars started flying past him.

Suddenly a bus whooshed past, forcing Draco to snap out of it. He turned and pushed past several people on the pavement and flattened himself against a small section of brick wall between store windows, breathing heavy.

“You just need to get home, just step away from the building and walk, and you can get home,” he said to himself quietly. He eventually forced himself to move, turning right to avoid the busy street and hoping that the streets were parallel enough that he could work his way back to Grimmauld Place without too much backtracking.

Fortunately, he’d become reasonably adept at navigating the Muggle city streets over the past couple months.

As he passed by crowds and crossed more streets to get back home, Draco continued to work on keeping himself calm, muttering under his breath that he could do this; he just needed to keep walking and he would get home and it would be okay.

“Just a few more minutes,” he told himself, trying to keep down the panic when he wasn’t quite sure he was moving in the right direction. Eventually, he saw the familiar street ahead of him and nearly broke out in a run.

Once inside, he leaned up against the wall and started shaking.

Whatever panic he’d managed to push down long enough to get back there crashed down on him at once. He slid down the wall and pulled his knees to his chest, hugging them tightly and continued to shake and tell himself that it was going to be okay.

“The bus didn’t hit you. You are okay. You are alive. You are going to be okay. They are just people. They weren’t trying to hurt you,” he quietly whispered to himself over and over trying to settle down, rocking gently.

Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder and nearly jumped out of his skin. Harry was crouched down next to him.

“Sorry, I tried saying your name, but I don’t think you heard me,” Harry said, looking very concerned.

Draco squeezed his eyes shut. He hadn’t even heard Harry come in. He was still shaking and couldn’t seem to stop.

Harry started rubbing circles on the part of his upper back not pushed against the wall.

“It’s okay. It will be okay.” He heard Harry say to him quietly.

Draco just shook his head. No, it wasn’t.

He felt Harry settle on the floor next to him and suddenly there was an arm around his shoulders. Draco let himself lean into Harry, still shaking slightly, and just let himself be held.

 

Chapter Text

Draco sat at the kitchen table with a knitted afghan wrapped around his shoulders, drinking a hot cup of tea, while Harry cooked dinner. He was feeling better, although a little embarrassed now that he was past the initial panic.

Once he finally had calmed down enough, Harry had gently led him into the kitchen and put him in the chair and placed a large mug of hot tea in front of him, leaving for just a minute after to grab the afghan from the sitting room. Without a word, Harry got started on dinner and let Draco settle down.

Harry worked quietly, not trying to engage Draco in any conversation like he normally did while cooking.

Eventually, Harry walked over with two plates of spaghetti bolognese and garlic bread, and placed one in front of Draco and one in front of the seat across from him.

They ate in silence.

When they were done, Harry took the plates over to the sink and then came right back to the table and sat down.

“What happened today?” Harry asked softly.

Draco bit his lip. How could he explain that he couldn’t even go outside without falling apart? He’d already survived enough humiliation for a lifetime in those last few months, he found himself really not wanting Harry to know how broken he truly was.

Eventually, Harry sighed. “Okay. I understand if you don’t want to talk about it. But, if you do, at any point, I’ll listen.”

Harry waited another minute and then said, “I’m going to go upstairs and listen to the wireless- Lee Jordan’s show will be on in a few. Do you want to join me?”

“Sure,” Draco finally said and followed Harry upstairs.

Draco sat down on the end of the sofa, in his usual spot and pulled the afghan tighter around his shoulders. After turning on the wireless, Harry sat on the other end, and relaxed into the sofa. Draco could feel Harry look over at him every once in a while, but he never said anything more. Draco wanted nothing more than to move over to Harry and just let himself be held again. But he kept to his side, so they quietly listened to various shows until they were both ready for bed.

 

***

 

Draco didn’t try to leave the house again the next week. He went back to his routine of wandering the house and laying on his mattress, curled up, always facing the wall. He still read occasionally, but found himself on his mattress, buried under a thick duvet, more often than not.

Saturday morning, after showering and getting dressed, Draco went downstairs and found Harry in the sitting room, not in the kitchen, where he would usually be found, making breakfast.

“Morning,” Harry said, looking up from a magazine.

“Good morning,” Draco replied.

“I was thinking we could go out this morning. There’s a coffee shop a few blocks from here that has some breakfast foods and pastries. I thought it’d be nice to get out of the house for a change.” Harry smiled.

Draco felt his chest tighten slightly.

“Come on. It’ll be nice.” Harry stood up and went over to the coat rack, shuffling through it for a minute. He came back with two coats and scarves. He handed Draco one of the coats and a somewhat lumpy green scarf that looked handmade.

Draco wanted to refuse, but he also didn’t want to have to explain himself. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad with Harry anyway, he thought, as he took the offered coat and scarf and put them on. He felt his hands shaking slightly, so he stuffed them in the pockets of the coat as he followed Harry towards the door.

As Harry opened the door, Draco felt his chest constrict even tighter and took a shaky breath. Harry held the door open for him.

Draco forced himself to walk through the door and down the steps, waiting for Harry at the pavement.

Harry bounded down the steps. Draco matched his pace as Harry turned in the opposite direction than Draco had walked the other day.

It was a cool crisp early December morning, the sky a light grey from thin clouds, and the streets had little traffic since it was a Saturday morning. Draco allowed himself to marginally relax, but he still felt the tension in his shoulders and chest.

He could feel Harry taking small glances over at him as they walked, as if checking on him, and Draco suddenly wondered if Harry had guessed at what had happened the other week. He felt his face flush at the thought.

Suddenly a door opened on one of the buildings and a large man barged out nearly running over Draco.

“Sorry, excuse me,” the Muggle said as he sidestepped Draco and Harry and continued to a parked car in the street.

Draco stood there for a second too long, taking deep breaths. He could feel Harry watching at him, so he forced his feet to move again.

“Are you okay?” Harry asked.

“I’m fine.” Draco stuffed his hands back in his pockets and kept his eyes on the ground in front of him as they continued to walk.

A few blocks later, they arrived in front of a small cafe with the word “Costa” over the door. Harry held open the door, and Draco walked through, immediately getting hit with the rich aromas of coffee and baked goods. There were a few Muggles at the counter and a few more at various tables throughout, but it wasn’t crowded.

After purchasing two cups of coffee and two muffins, Harry led them to a small table in the corner of the cafe.

Draco sat and tried to relax. It wasn’t terrible. There were strangers around, Muggles at that, but the cafe had a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. He took a sip of the hot coffee and felt it warm him slightly from the chill he still felt from their walk.

“How is it?” Harry asked, as he took off his coat and scarf and got settled.

“Good, thanks.”

“There’s a game on later, Puddlemere and Harpies. We can listen to it when we get back.”

“Sure.” Draco broke off a piece of his muffin to eat.

“Is this okay? Being here, I mean.” Harry looked at him carefully.

“It’s fine,” Draco replied.

“Are you sure? Because you seem like you’d rather be anywhere else but here. I thought maybe it would be good to get out of the house for a bit...” Harry trailed off.

“I just don’t like crowds and lots of people around, okay?” Draco said, hoping that was enough explanation for Harry to drop it as he ran a hand through his hair.

“Is that what happened the other day?” Harry asked tentatively.

Draco sighed. He should have known Harry wouldn’t leave it alone. He was like a damn crup with a bone once he got interested in something. But as frustrating as it was, Draco was well aware he’d still be in that alcove if Harry was capable of letting things go.

“Does it matter?” Draco replied, trying to sidestep the question.

“I’m worried about you.”

“Well, don’t.”

“Draco, I just-”

“I’m fine. Can’t you just leave anything well enough alone?” Draco didn’t like feeling cornered, and he could feel his defensiveness rising.

“If we can talk about it, maybe we can find a solution,” Harry explained.

“I’m sorry, did I miss the part where you became a mind healer in all this?” Draco shot back. “Or does that just come standard with the Chosen One package?” He knew he was being mean, but he couldn’t stop himself.

“Just stop,” Harry said a little too loudly, and then as if remembering where they were lowered his voice, “I’m just trying to help you.”

“You can’t help me! Merlin- you really do have a thing with saving people don’t you?”

“As opposed to what? Just standing by and doing nothing?”

“I can barely get out the front door, Potter!” Draco said in a loud and harsh whisper, not caring to share his personal business with random Muggles at a coffee shop. “You can’t help me- I couldn’t find a job because it took me a fucking month to work up the courage to even talk to someone to ask for a job application. A month! I’m a bloody broken mess that you should have left in that fucking alcove.” He tried to ignore the clench in his stomach when he saw the hurt look on Harry’s face.

“Look- just leave it.” Draco looked back down at his coffee.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said quietly.

Draco nodded and went back to picking at his muffin.

“Maybe if you just start going out a little at a time,” Harry continued.

“For fuck’s sake, Pottery, have you ever heard of letting something go? Is it even in your vocabulary?” Draco asked incredulously.

“I’m sorry, I know- it’s just...”

Draco scrubbed his hands over his face and looked up at the ceiling. Harry could be unbelievably trying at times.

“Sorry,” Harry said a moment later.

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

Then Harry continued, “I’ll let it go. If you really want, I mean.”

Draco nearly banged his head on the table. Harry seemed unable to even let go of letting go. At that thought, Draco felt a small smile quirking at the corner of his lips. “Sure you will.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh nothing. Just, you are really quite good at letting things go. Has anyone told you that? It’s a real skill of yours, right up there with vanquishing Dark Lords.” Draco felt some of his anger dissipating as he needled Harry.

“Oh piss off,” Harry said with a small laugh.

And then after a minute, Harry added, “But maybe we could start going out once or twice a week, you know-”

“Potter, I am five seconds from grabbing your wand and hexing you even though that will assuredly land me back in Azkaban.”

“Okay, okay. I got it.” Harry put his hands up. “So... the Puddlemere game today...”

Draco wadded up his napkin and threw it Harry where it perfectly bounced off his nose. Harry looked back at him, clearly unimpressed, and Draco felt a smile break out over his face.

“Yes, let’s talk Quidditch,” Draco replied.

 

***

 

Draco knew Harry wasn’t wrong, not that he would ever admit it. He knew he needed to start getting out of the house, build up his tolerance for people again, just like he had done almost successfully by the end of his time at the Transitional Home. But, he wasn’t about to have Harry hold his hand through it. He had at least some self-respect left.

So, the following week, once Harry left for work, Draco decided to start taking walks.

The first day, he just walked up and down the street; by Friday, he was able to walk around the block comfortably without feeling like he couldn’t breathe. He felt so proud of himself that Friday evening he found himself almost wanting to share the news with Harry, before realising how ridiculous it was. That wasn’t an achievement, that was something a five-year-old could probably work out on their own.

So when they ate dinner and Harry asked about his day, Draco said that he sat around the house, even though he could see the disappointment in Harry’s eyes.

Later that evening, Draco settled down with a Quidditch magazine in the sitting room. He’d noticed that the more he got out of the house, the easier it was to relax in the evenings. He wondered if it was because he’d felt like he’d at least done something productive—lifting some of the pressure off that he’d been putting on himself.

“Draco?” Harry hollered from upstairs.

“Yes?” Draco went to the stairs to hear him more clearly.

“Have you seen my spare mobile phone charger anywhere?” Harry yelled down.

“I don’t even know what that is.”

“It’s like a long thin cord- it’s black!”

“No, I have no idea.” Draco replied loudly, and then went back to the sofa and the Quidditch magazine.

A while later, Harry came back down with an odd expression on his face.

“Did you find it?” Draco asked, looking up from his reading.

“Erm- no. I thought maybe I left it in the guest room last time Hermione stayed over. Er- can I talk to you about something?”

Draco sat up straight. “Sure,” he replied, with not a small amount of trepidation.

“I just, I wasn’t trying to go through your stuff but I thought maybe it was in the bedside table, so-”

Draco felt his stomach drop. His food stash.

“I mean, you know that you can help yourself to anything, right? I’ll always make sure there’s enough food in the house.”

Draco felt the air knocked out of him. He did not want to try to explain this to Harry. He suddenly felt like he couldn’t breathe.

Sucking deep breaths, he quickly walked out of the room and ran upstairs.

Closing his bedroom door behind him, he saw the drawer slightly ajar. He went over and counted everything twice. It was all still there.

After pacing for a minute, he finally sat against the door, his body weight keeping it firmly closed. He dropped his face into his hands and found himself shaking slightly. He felt a deep pit of shame in his stomach. Fuck, what was wrong with him? His eyes started burning. He was just so very broken. He wondered if he’d ever be okay again, or if he should just give up now—go back to the streets and live with all the other broken people, at least amongst them he didn’t feel so ashamed.

A knock sounded at the door and reverberated through his back, still pushed up against the solid wood of the door.

“Draco?”

He hugged his legs towards him and buried his face in his knees.

“Draco, I’m sorry, can you please talk to me?”

He heard a quiet shuffling and then Harry’s voice seemed to come from right behind him on the other side of the door.

“I’m not judging you, okay? I just wanted to make sure you knew that I will always make sure there is enough food here.”

Not judging him- right, Draco thought. He was acutely aware of how crazy all of his behavior was.

“I know what it’s like, you know? Not having enough food... not knowing where your next meal is coming from...

“When I was a kid... my aunt and uncle- the ones I told you about with the cupboard... they would only let me eat after everyone was done and sometimes there was barely anything left. And sometimes they would just withhold food as a punishment, for days.... sometimes longer. So, I get it. I once kept fruitcakes that Mrs Weasley made me in a space under my floorboards for half a summer. I basically had to survive off that for a month. So, I understand what it’s like to want to keep something just in case.”

Draco felt his eyes prickling. Fuck. He never knew how to respond to these stories that Harry would throw out every once in a while. Having been through what he had the last few years, Draco couldn’t even imagine a child going through anything even close. How was Harry still functioning? Draco was an adult and, conceivably brought some of this on himself, and he was barely getting through most days.

“If you want me to go, I’ll go. I just wanted to let you know. Okay?”

Draco slid back from the door far enough to turn the knob and open it.

Harry was sitting on the other side and quickly moved so as to not fall in the room with the door movement.

“Hi,” Harry said.

“Hi.”

Harry shuffled in the room on his knees. He closed the door behind him and sat next to Draco, shoulder to shoulder, leaning into him slightly. Draco returned the pressure.

“I know I’m a mess,” Draco whispered.

“I don’t mind.” Harry said, softly, meeting Draco’s eyes.

Draco felt his heart speed up and he glanced at Harry’s lips.

The room suddenly felt too hot and Draco suddenly felt like he needed to get out of there.

He cleared his throat, and the moment was broken.

“Do you feel like going out for a bit?” Harry asked.

Draco didn’t like the sound of that.

“I mean, er- what if we could find a pub that wasn’t crowded? Just go for a drink or something?”

Draco closed his eyes and leaned his head up against the door, emotions warring between definitely wanting to spend the evening with Harry and definitely not wanting to the leave the house.

“It’s fine. I shouldn’t have asked,” Harry said finally.

“Okay, let’s go.”

“Okay? Yeah?” Harry looked over in surprise.

“Yes. But, we should go before I change my mind,” Draco said, standing up and offering a hand to Harry.

Harry smiled widely at Draco, taking his hand to stand up.

“There’s a place a little way from here- it’s always half empty. Do you mind a little walk?”

“No, that should be fine,” Draco answered honestly. He was getting more comfortable on walks by himself, and he had noticed on their trip to the coffee shop, he felt even more calm when Harry was with him. So, he was relatively certain—or maybe just a little certain—he could make it to the pub.

They both bundled up in coats and scarves and walked out into the chilly December air. Fortunately, it seemed the cold and damp weather kept people at home and the streets were mostly empty.

Further from their block, Draco started noticing Christmas decorations on storefronts and in windows. As they passed what looked to be a home decor store, there was a large decorated tree in the middle of the shop window. It was so reminiscent of the tree his mother would decorate in his childhood that he found himself stopped in front of it, unable to look away.

It had none of the moving Magical elements, but the baubles were all silver and gold, some shiny, others covered in glitter and reflecting the light, just so. There were ribbons elegantly draped along the branches, and white lights sparkling through the whole tree.

Draco remembered a Christmas when he was probably five or six, watching his mother draping and redraping such similar ribbons on their trees until she could get it perfect. She wouldn’t let him touch the ribbon, but she let him hang some of the baubles that year. She had told him that he had placed everything just right, and he remembered feeling so proud, and then following her into the kitchen for late night hot chocolates.

Draco felt his eyes burn at the memories, and his chest tighten when he thought of her still sitting in a cold, dark cell this Christmas without enough to eat. Right then, he made a promise to himself that whatever happened over the next few years, he would find a way to get a job and make enough money so that she never had to be cold or hungry again. She would be okay. He knew she would probably not be allowed to see him right away given the probationary rules, but he could still find a way to make sure he was okay- he’d find a way to get her money and maybe even a place to stay.

Harry’s shoulder brushed up against his. “You okay?” Harry asked quietly.

Draco nodded and cleared his throat.

He turned and kept walking down the street, Harry keeping in step next to him.

“I used to decorate the tree with my mother every year,” Draco finally said.

Harry looked over at him. “That sounds nice.”

“It was.” Draco cleared his throat again. “It was our special time. My father was never interested in any of it. He thought the house-elves should just take care of it. But, my mother insisted on decorating the tree herself. So, once I was old enough, we’d go through the boxes of baubles and decorations, and she’d pull out each one and tell the story behind it. Some were just decorative, but she still remembered when they’d all been purchased, so she’d tell me about what was going on that year- the year she and my father married, or the year before I was born. But, a lot of them were antiques and had been passed down through the generations, and she would tell me the stories of her family or our ancestors, and then after each story was told, we’d place it in just the right place.”

“I’m glad you got to have that with your mother,” Harry said softly.

“Me too,” Draco said.

A few minutes later, they were at the pub. It had an old large oak door with a fairly sad Christmas wreath tacked on the outside and small windows that were fogged up, making it impossible to see in.

Harry held the door open for him and they found an unoccupied table in a corner. It was mostly empty as Harry promised, so Draco allowed himself to relax a little, still somewhat lost in his thoughts.

“Beer okay?” Harry asked as he unwound his scarf and put his coat on the back of his chair.

“Sure,” Draco replied.

A few minutes later, Harry returned with two pints of an amber-coloured beer and put them on the table.

After a while, Draco finally spoke. “Do-” He took a deep breath. “Do you think you could help me get a job?”

Harry looked up. “Do you think you’re ready? I meant what I said a few weeks ago. I don’t want you to feel rushed if you aren’t ready.”

“I want to be able to take care of myself though. And... eventually I want to be able to take care of my mother, when she gets out. I don’t- she can’t go through what I did, okay? I need to know that she’s going to be okay when she gets out.” Draco said not meeting Harry’s eyes.

“I understand. I’ll help you with whatever you need,” Harry said firmly.

Draco nodded. “Thanks.”

After a few moments of silence, they started talking about the latest Harpies trade and quickly found themselves in a heated debate about the current management, both having to remind each other on several occasions to keep their voices down so that they weren’t overheard by Muggles passing by their table.

 

Saturday afternoon, Harry had run out on some errands for a few hours, and Draco was curled up on the sofa reading. Draco heard the front door open and an odd shuffling noise coming from the front entryway. When he turned the corner to investigate, he saw Harry, red-cheeked from the cold, half in the door with a giant pine tree.

“Hi,” Harry said with a smile. “I might need a little help here.”

Draco grabbed the trunk through the branches and, after several false starts and much careful manoeuvring, helped Harry pull it fully into the house and into the sitting room.

“Why didn’t you shrink it?” Draco asked, as they leaned it against a bare spot on the wall.

“Oh- erm. Well, at first it was because there were too many Muggles around, and then I guess I just didn’t think about it when I got it to the door,” Harry replied, looking a little sheepish at the realization.

They stared at the tree for a minute, neither moving.

“Right. I just realized I don’t have the thing to make it stand up,” Harry said, looking exasperated.

“You’ve never put up a tree here?” Draco asked, surprised.

“Well, no. There was one when Sirius was still here, but I’m pretty sure I vanished all that stuff.”

“Ah yes, the Great Priceless Artifact Vanishing of Aught-Three, how could I forget?” Draco grinned.

“Oh, don’t start again.” Harry sighed with mild exasperation. “Do you see how much nicer it is now? Well—no you wouldn’t have known how bad it was... well, it’s much nicer now!”

Draco started laughing, enjoying winding Harry up.

“Oh, piss off!” Harry reached over and grabbed a pillow off the sofa and smacked Draco with it in the side.

“Do you even have decorations?” Draco asked, wondering if Harry thought this through at all.

“Oh, yeah! I went to Diagon Alley and got those first!” Harry pulled two small bags out of his coat pocket and cast a charm to unshrink them.

Draco found himself smiling at the idea of decorating a tree with Harry, wondering fleetingly how much of this was brought on by their conversation last night.

“Okay, well do you want to go buy a tree stand, or should we try to transfigure something?” Draco asked. “Ours had some charms on it that kept the tree in place and perfectly straight, but I’m sure there are other ways to do it. Muggles have trees, so...”

“I’m sure we can just make something. I vaguely remember what my aunt and uncle’s looked like.”

Harry left the room and came back with a small stool, set it down and transfigured it to something that slightly resembled a tree stand.

“Erm- well, let’s just see if this works. There are screws there on the sides that should tighten to hold the tree.”

Harry levitated the tree over the stand while Draco crouched down and screwed in the three blunt long screws around the base. When he couldn’t tighten any of them anymore, he stood back and Harry released the levitation charm.

The tree wobbled and looked like it might hold. Suddenly, it started leaning hard to the side until it fell over with a crash, taking down the lamp and side table with it.

Draco and Harry stood there staring at the shards of broken ceramic and glass all over the floor and the now broken tree stand which had splintered in half from the weight of the tree. The side table had fallen over, but still looked intact, if not a little dinged up.

“Right. I think I’ll go buy one,” Harry finally said.

Draco felt a small laugh escape. “Ok, I’ll clean this up while you are gone. Did you want to try to Reparo the lamp?”

“I’d need all the pieces right?”

“Generally, if you want it to look the same.”

They both looked around at the tiny shards that seemed to be covering half the room and a few even in the hallway beyond the arch of the entry to the sitting room.

“Yeah, I think I’ll just buy a new one.”

“Good call,” Draco replied.

“Right- I’ll be back.”

Harry went back out the door and Draco heard the crack of apparition as soon as the door closed.

He wasn’t sure he knew the right cleaning spells for gathering all the miniscule shards, as he was still severely lacking in cleaning spell knowledge. He’d had Harry show him some laundry charms his first week there, but hadn’t thought to ask about other household cleaning charms at the time.

Draco went upstairs and got the broom and dustpan out of the cupboard and went about cleaning the Muggle way. Most of the ways he would have known to clear this mess up weren’t strictly cleaning spells, but other spells that could be used in various ways. As he swept the floor the fifth time and still could see remnants of shiny glass, he made a mental note to ask Harry to show him every cleaning spell he knew.

A short time later, Harry walked back into the house with a tree stand in hand.

“I went to Diagon and just got a magical one,” he said, putting the stand down next to the tree that was still on the ground.

“Good idea,” Draco said, no longer trusting the Muggle design for this, even though he was sure the problem was most likely Harry’s transfiguration of the thing.

With a few more levitation charms, the tree was upright and looking much more stable.

“Okay, now we decorate? How does- erm, is there a particular order?” Harry asked.

“You’ve never decorated a tree?” Draco asked incredulously and then suddenly remembered the few stories Harry had shared from his childhood. “Sorry, nevermind. Yes, generally you want to start with the lights if you are using real fairies, but if you are using candles, you want to do that last.”

“Oh, I got these.” Harry pulled out a box of LumiLight Wizarding Fairyless Lights.

Draco took the box and looked at it. It appeared they could just throw them at the tree and they’d scatter and float between the branches.

“Okay, it looks like we do these first then. Do you want to do the honour?” Draco handed the box back to Harry.

Harry grinned. “Yeah I thought this would be fun.” He opened the box and took the ball of clustered lights that were currently unlit and tossed it at the middle of the tree. They both watched as the little balls of light slowly illuminated and spread out over the whole tree. They gave off a warm white light and flickered gently.

Draco looked at Harry who had a wide smile across his face. Draco had a sudden desire to grab a hold of him and kiss him soundly. Lately, he found his thoughts straying in that direction more and more; he knew he needed to get a hold on this. He wasn’t about to jeopardise his newfound safety and security with an ill-advised infatuation. He forced himself to look back at the tree.

Draco cleared his throat. “You know what we’re missing?”

He walked over to the wireless and turned it on, changing the station until he found the seasonal station which played Christmas music for the month of December. A Celestina Warbeck song filled the silence of the room.

For the next hour, they unwrapped all the new baubles Harry had purchased and took their time putting them on the tree, with Draco giving advice about how to balance the decorations to make it look best.

Draco opened a new box to find a gaudy Gryffindor-themed set of baubles and ornaments, including a roaring lion, sparkling banner and a sword that made a swishing and clanging noise.

“Really, Potter?”

Harry looked over to see what Draco was commenting on and laughed.

“What? I like them!” Harry grabbed the lion from the box and put it towards the top of the tree where it would be most visible.

Draco rolled his eyes. “I suppose I should be grateful you didn’t go with only red and gold decorations for the whole thing.”

“Exactly,” Harry said with a grin.

“I will let you put these on. I can’t in good conscious put a Gryffindor banner on a perfectly good Christmas tree.” Draco put the box on the sofa and opened another box with, thankfully, un-themed gold baubles.

Harry grabbed the Gryffindor ornaments off the sofa and immediately started spreading them over the tree, still smiling.

“I’ve got something here for you too,” Harry said pulling another box out of the shopping bag.

Draco opened it and let out a laugh. It was an equally gaudy Slytherin set.

“I don’t know if I should be glad that these will balance out this overly Gryffindor tree or upset that someone would do this to the Slytherin name,” Draco said, secretly both touched and surprised that Harry would get decorations with Draco in mind, as he hung up a writhing silver snake next to the roaring lion.

Harry laughed and tapped the snake which let out a hiss.

When they finished hanging the baubles, and Draco had made a few more jabs at the Gryffindor decorations, Harry pulled out some shiny NeverTangle Tinsel.

Draco, being just a tad taller than Harry, started wrapping it around the top, with Harry continuing it below, with long drapes between the points it hung on the branches. When they got about halfway done, they realized they’d strung it too loose and it only covered half the tree.

“Erm- maybe let’s try again.” Harry started pulling it back off.

“Okay, just, no tighter- like that, a little tighter,” Draco said as Harry started draping it too much again. Draco continued giving non-stop directions until Harry finally turned and looked at him flatly.

“Fine, fine!” Draco stepped back and folded his arms over his chest, forcing himself to not micromanage Harry’s tinsel draping.

Harry finished draping along the lowest branches, tighter this time, and now had an additional three feet on the end.

“Well, we could just...” Harry balled up what was left and shoved it on a branch at the back of the tree.

“Harry! No, we are not hiding our tinsel-hanging failure!” Draco said, laughing. He pulled it back out and started undoing the tree again.

“Okay, but this is the last time, and we’re just going to live with the results. I’m not spending the rest of the weekend rehanging tinsel,” Harry said, holding the garland out as Draco draped it eloquently on the tree.

This time when Draco got to the bottom of the tree, there was only a few inches left, which he tucked up onto a branch.

“There, see?” Draco stood back and admired the tree. It was more, well, Harry than any of the trees he grew up with, with a significant amount of red and gold baubles, but it also felt strangely like home.

“Let’s go make some hot chocolate,” Harry said suddenly, pulling a large smile out of Draco.

“Okay,” Draco said, following him down to the kitchen, his heart close to bursting.

 

Chapter Text

Draco was curled up on the sofa with one of Harry’s mystery books. The lights from the Christmas tree they had put up the day before gave the room a warm glow, and Draco felt a calmness and contentment he hadn’t had in years.

A few minutes later, Harry walked in. “I know you have unequivocally stated that you are not interested in going to the Weasley’s for Sunday dinner.”

“Big word,” Draco teased, as he looked up from his book.

Harry gave him a look and continued, “But, how would you feel about Ron and Hermione coming over. I thought maybe that would be a little less overwhelming than the whole Weasley family.”

“Oh.” Draco tried to keep the grimace off his face. “Harry, this is your house- I really don’t think you need to check with me on inviting your best friends over.”

“I know- but... I’m, look- Draco I’m just trying to... I just know that sometimes you still get overwhelmed around people, so if it’s too much to have them over, just say so.”

“It’s fine. I can always just stay in my room.”

“Oh, er, well I was hoping you’d have dinner with us too. If it’s not too much for you, I mean.”

“But- why?” Draco asked, feeling a slight panic rising in his chest.

“Because you are my friend and they are my friends, and I’d like to all have dinner together.”

“That is a terrible idea. They hate me- and for bloody good reason. You do remember all the awful things I said to Granger, right? And that I nearly got Weasley killed?!”

“They don’t hate you,” Harry replied.

“Potter, while I appreciate your unending optimism, I’m sure that’s not true. I assume you’ve told them that I’m staying here?”

“Of course.”

“And what were their responses to that?” Draco asked.

Harry looked a bit uncomfortable and didn’t respond.

“Right. I’ll be staying in my room.” Draco went back to the book he was reading.

“Fine,” Harry huffed and walked out.

A minute later, Harry walked back in the room. “Just because they aren’t thrilled at the idea of you staying here doesn’t mean they are going to be rude or mean to you. They’d be polite.”

Draco put his book on his lap, pages open and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“So I should have dinner with them because they’d force themselves to be polite to me even though they hate me?” Draco asked, feeling his temper rising.

“No! Yes- I mean it won’t be that bad.”

“But why? Why even go through this charade?” Draco asked.

“Because I’d like you to all be able to be in the same room!”

“Is this because I’m living here? I can just go upstairs- this is your house, you should invite over whoever you want. Just because we don’t get along shouldn’t mean you don’t invite them over, and I don’t know- live your life normally. I really don’t mind staying in my room for the night, really.” Draco said, emphatically. If Harry felt like he couldn’t live his life with Draco there, it would only be a matter of time before Harry realized this living arrangement wasn’t going to work.

“No, it’s because I want you all to be okay with each other!” Harry yelled.

“But why?! Why does that matter?!”

“You know what- never mind! Forget I even said anything!” Harry stomped out of the room.

“Fuck!” Draco yelled at the empty room.

He really did not want to spend time with Weasley and Granger. He had a hard enough time looking at himself in the mirror these days, and spending time with Granger would just remind him of all of the parts of the war and his upbringing he’d rather forget. And Weasley, well, that had just gotten even more complicated, hadn’t it? He doubted he would have gotten along with the bullheaded Gryffindor under any circumstances, even had he not been raised to believe that the Weasleys were blood-traitors. They’d done nothing but fight and insult each other all through school, and Draco knew he’d been particularly cruel on many occasions, and nearly accidentally killed him on another one. But then, to add to it all, Weasley had seen him at his worst, in prison, and Draco couldn’t help but feel utterly humiliated by the notion of knowing what Weasley had seen, what he knew about Draco. He had a hard enough time knowing that Harry had seen him at absolute rock bottom—both at Azkaban and on the street—but he also knew Harry took no pleasure from his ruin; he wasn’t secretly gloating about how pathetic he was.

But... this was clearly important to Harry. A small voice in his head reminded him that he owed Harry quite a bit, and if he was asking Draco to suck it up and hang out with his friends he should just do it and not complain. And an even louder voice reminded him that if Harry grew unhappy with Draco living there, if he didn’t feel comfortable having his friends over and doing whatever they did before Draco came to stay, his time there would grow limited quickly.

Thinking about it, Draco realized that other than his Sundays at the Weasleys, Harry really hadn’t been going out at all. He vaguely remembered, back in Azkaban, Harry talking about going clubbing and how he wanted to be able to bring Muggle hookups back to his place. Draco wondered if he wasn’t doing that either because of him. He wished Harry would just trust that he could stay out of the way, and wouldn’t make himself a burden... even though the thought of Harry with some random bloke twisted his stomach in a way he didn’t quite want to acknowledge.

Draco let out a loud sigh and made up his mind.

He walked upstairs, checking various rooms on his way up. He found Harry in the study on the third floor and knocked on the slightly open door.

“You don’t have to knock,” Harry said, not looking up from a letter he was writing at his desk.

“You should invite your friends over, and I’ll come to dinner with them,” Draco said.

“It’s fine.” Harry kept writing his letter.

“No, really- you should invite them over. I don’t want you to change your life because I’m here. It’s- if you do, this isn’t going to work. And also... I was realising that you really haven’t been er- going out since I got here, and I want you to know that if you want me to make myself scarce ever, it’s not a problem. I really don’t mind reading in my room and staying out of your way, if you wanted to, you know, bring someone back here ever,” Draco said, a bit awkwardly.

“What?” Harry finally looked up. “Oh! Erm- no, I, er, haven’t really wanted to go out lately, but... thanks?”

“Okay, well... but at least invite your friends over. And, if it matters to you that I’m there, I’ll be there.” Draco forced out.

Harry looked at him, searchingly, for a moment and then nodded. “Okay, thanks.”

Draco nodded and then went back downstairs, palms sweaty, hoping he hadn’t just made a terrible mistake.

 

Dinner was planned for Friday evening.

When Harry informed Draco after work on Monday that it was planned for Friday, he could barely finish his meal.

By Tuesday morning, he found himself pacing the house unable to settle down.

He’d spent half the night awake with his thoughts spinning and he eventually realized what he might be feeling was guilt, both from the things he’d done and at the idea that his presence was being forced on both of them. He felt they should be allowed their anger and their hatred, and he realised that part of the reason he was so uncomfortable was because Harry was forcing this whole thing. He had no doubt that Harry was being just as stubborn with his friends and that they were being made to hang out with Draco, as much as the reverse. Forcing them to be around someone who had bullied and tormented them and worse for years. Draco might accept that Harry, for whatever crazy reason, had chosen to forgive him, but he hadn’t expected it and he certainly hadn’t felt entitled to it. But, Granger and Weasley had not, and Draco felt that was more than fair—he could even respect that.

Draco thought about bringing this up to Harry, but after the last conversation about this, he thought Harry wasn’t likely to budge on it. Once Harry decided to be stubborn about something, it was near impossible to change his mind.

After sitting down and then standing up immediately for the fourth time in a row, Draco finally made a decision and went to Harry’s study. He quickly went through the drawers. Finding some parchment, a quill and ink, he took a deep breath and took his time and wrote two long letters. While he genuinely apologised in both profusely and in detail for everything he’d ever said or done to either of them, he also apologised that they would have to be in his presence at all. He explained that he agreed because it mattered to Harry, but he fully understood that they wanted nothing to do with him and that he held no expectations of forgiveness or amiability from either of them.

He felt a weight lift off his shoulders as he sealed both parchments. At least everyone, except Harry perhaps, could go into this knowing what it was. They could pretend to be polite for Harry’s sake, and then it would be done.

Draco stood up holding the parchments and then realized he had no way to send it. For some reason, Harry didn’t have an owl; he would take his letters with him and owl them on his way to work. Draco would need to go to Diagon to owl them.

He sat back down. There was no way he could go to Diagon Alley. He would rather stand in the middle of the pavement on Oxford Street during Muggle rush hour than set foot in the busiest Wizarding area in England.

He couldn’t apparate to drop the letters off at their home, not that he knew where they lived anyways.

That left the floo.

It would definitely be open for someone coming from Grimmauld Place. Draco’s palms started sweating at the idea of floo calling their home. It was still better than Diagon, he rationalised.

On shaking legs, he went down to the sitting room. At least he’d heard Harry call out their floo address enough.

Draco grabbed some floo powder and kneeled in front of the hearth, taking a steadying breath.

“Bindery Bend,” Draco said clearly before he lost his nerve, clutching the parchments tightly.

“Malfoy?” Hermione asked, stopping in her tracks as she walked through the sitting room.

“Sorry to call like this,” Draco stammered.

“Is Harry okay? Did something happen?” She was turned towards him now, looking concerned.

“No, no! Sorry- no. I didn’t have access to an owl and I didn’t know how else to get these to you. Here- they’re letters, I just- here.” He thrust the parchment through the flames. She grabbed them from his hand.

“That was all. Sorry to intrude.” He quickly pulled his head back, ending the connection, breathing in shaky breaths.

He brushed the soot out of his hair and quickly retreated to his bedroom, where he counted the food in his drawer three times and then curled up on his mattress still on the floor, under his duvet.

He stayed there until Harry got home for dinner.

 

***

 

The following morning Draco couldn’t sit still, instead of wanting to crawl under his covers and hide, he found himself restless and agitated. He decided he needed to get back to his walks. It would get some energy out and help him keep acclimating to being back around people. He thought about Russ, from the underpass, for a moment, and realized he didn’t want to become like him—unable to ever get used to being “back in civilization.” Draco needed to put in the effort to make sure he didn’t become like that.

With that thought strengthening his resolve, he got dressed, bundling up for the cold in his borrowed coat and lumpy green scarf, and went out. He decided he was going to go a little further each day, and turned north from Grimmauld Place, going out into neighbourhoods he hadn’t been before.

Ten minutes later, he was surprised at how well he was doing. The anxious energy around the upcoming dinner with Weasley and Granger seemed to be strangely counteracting some of his anxiety about being out in public around people. He decided to walk just a few more blocks and then he’d turn and work his way back in a circular route.

As he got to another block in he started recognising the signs of an area with a lot of homeless. He found himself on a more rundown street with more than a few rough sleepers under awnings and in doorways. He walked by them, for the first time really understanding the guilt that had led people to tossing food or coins at him. He wished he had something to give as he passed them huddled in their blankets and coats, some with signs and cups for donations, asking for help. He saw the exhausted look on their faces, the expression that said they weren’t sure why they were even holding on any longer.

Draco felt his stomach twist as he turned at the end of the block, heading back to a warm home, with as much food as he could eat and a warm duvet to sleep under. He barely even noticed the other Muggles he walked past for the rest of his walk as he was lost in his thoughts.

When he walked in the front door, he found himself standing there for a moment, unable to take off his coat and just relax for the evening. At once, he made a decision and went down to the kitchen. He rummaged through the cabinets until he found enough ingredients for sandwiches, and sliced up half a loaf of bread.

He made half a dozen sandwiches and wrapped them up in parchment paper he found in the bottom cabinet. Not knowing where Harry kept his shopping bags, Draco went upstairs and found his old tote and brought it back down to the kitchen to fill with the sandwiches. Tote bag in hand, he walked back out into the cold.

His legs were tired by the time he made it back up there, unused to walking such long distances as he was.

Draco walked carefully up to the first person he saw on the edge of the pavement, knowing from experience to move slow. He’d heard stories under the underpass of people that had been attacked randomly by other Muggles and wanted to make sure they knew he was safe and wasn’t going to hurt them. The man looked up at him, but didn’t say anything.

Draco handed him a sandwich. The man opened up the wrapping and smelled it.

“Sorry it isn’t more,” Draco found himself apologising.

The man looked up and nodded.

Draco moved on to the next person, slowly giving out the sandwiches. Some thanked him, some didn’t say anything, and one yelled at him something incoherent. As Draco walked back to Grimmauld Place, he resolved that he would do this again.

By Friday’s walk, Draco had moved well past the neighbourhood around Grimmauld Place. He’d made more sandwiches and scavenged the cupboards for more food. He felt a little guilty giving away food that technically wasn’t his and hoped Harry didn’t mind that so much was going missing. He knew that Harry understood hunger in a way that few did and would likely understand, but Draco still felt awkward at the thought of explaining himself. He resolved that he would need to get a job sooner rather than later so that he could pay him back and buy food of his own.

He was getting farther out to the outskirts of town now on his walk, and found a larger homeless camp around an underpass, not dissimilar from the one he’d lived under on the other side of town not too long ago.

He slowly went around passing out sandwiches and fruit. He stopped and listened to stories when people wanted to talk, or just handed out the food and moved on when they didn’t. He felt more comfortable around the rough sleepers than he did around other Muggles and far more comfortable than at the thought of going anywhere near a Wizarding area these days. He wryly realized that he’d integrated with Muggles after all; he was pretty sure that wasn’t what the Ministry had in mind when they’d suggested that.

Draco approached a young women, sickly thin, under the underpass and handed her a sandwich.

“You got any money?” she rasped.

“No, I’m sorry. I’ve just got food.”

She nodded and took the food. “Thanks. Haven’t eaten in awhile, haven’t been able to. Been sick- not quite around the turn yet, y’know?”

“I don’t, personally, but I’ve heard withdrawal is terrible,” he replied.

“Ain’t that the truth?” she replied, taking a small bite of her sandwich. He suddenly wished he was able to bring bottled water for all of them too.

He’d seen more than a few people like her out on the street, unable to kick their habit, using whatever money they could get on drugs instead of food. In the Wizarding community, he’d heard of potions addicts and had always just thought they were weak willed or stupid and just assumed the same of Muggles when he first heard they had their own kind of addictive potions they called drugs. But, having seen what some of the homeless Muggles he’d met would go through for their next hit, he realized it must be something terrible, to let yourself waste away for it. Russ had said they called addiction a disease now because it messed with the brain. Draco never knew how much Russ really knew about things and how much he was just spouting off ideas he had, but Draco felt there had to be some truth to that.

“Man, I’ve been going way too long between meals, I think,” she said after she swallowed another bite.

“I’ll try to come back on Monday, okay?” He said. There were quite a few people here, and he hadn’t had enough for everyone.

“Okay, Blondie, I’ll see you then,” she said with a smile.

Draco turned with a start. “Did- did you ever stay on the other side of town, down in Southwark?”

“No way, I like it up this way,” she replied. “Why? You see someone that looks like me down there?” She laughed.

“No, sorry, just people used to call me that down there,” he replied.

“What you used to give food out down there too?”

“No, I was on the streets for a couple months down there.” For the first time, he found he could talk about it, or even think about it, without shame. People out here understood. She wouldn’t judge him for it.

“Ah, well I’m glad you got you a place to stay now. I’m Sam—parents named me Samantha after some American TV show, but I hate that, so I go by Sam,” she said.

“I’m Draco.”

“Draco? Your parents not like you or something?” She asked with a laugh. “I think I’ll just keep calling you Blondie.”

“Okay, Samantha.” Draco said with a raised eyebrow.

Sam laughed. “Fine, fine.”

“I should get going, but I’ll see you Monday,” Draco said and Sam nodded, going back to her sandwich.

As he walked away, he heard, “See you later, Blondie!” ring out and smiled to himself.

When he got back to Grimmauld Place, he realized he’d need to get cleaned up for dinner. He was still dreading the whole affair, but the last couple days had felt grounding in a way he couldn’t quite explain.

 

Draco stayed in his room after getting changed until the last possible minute. This was a terrible idea. But, it was Harry’s terrible idea, so he would be polite and pretend that this was just fine.

He heard voices and reluctantly walked downstairs, contemplating momentarily just running for the door and spending the rest of the night walking around the city.

When he got to the sitting room, Granger and Weasley were standing next to Harry, looking equally uncomfortable.

“Malfoy,” Weasley said with a nod.

“Hello,” Draco said awkwardly. They stood there for a moment, no one talking.

“Erm- dinner is almost done. Why don’t we all go down there while I finish up?” Harry asked.

As they walked to the kitchen, Draco wiped his sweaty palms on his slacks. This was going to be just awful.

“Do you need any help?” Draco asked Harry once they got into the kitchen, hoping for something to do other than stand around awkwardly.

“No, I’ve got it, thanks!” Harry said, heading over to the stove and stirring something in a small pot.

Granger and Weasley stood on the other side of the island, exchanging small glances.

“Why don’t we open the wine?” Draco said, grabbing one of the bottles off the counter by the stove.

“Good idea,” Granger said, looking a bit relieved.

As soon as he brought the wine over to the island, Draco realized he couldn’t open the bottle. His wand wouldn’t perform the necessary spell and, as far as he knew, Harry didn’t have any sort of Muggle device to open it. He felt a sweat break out on his forehead. He was going to have to ask someone to open it for him.

He stood there awkwardly for a minute, when Granger finally piped in. “Here, let me. Why don’t you get the glasses?” Granger took the bottle and, casting silently, uncorked the bottle.

Draco tried his best to hide his sigh of relief as he went over to the already set table, bringing back four wine glasses and setting them on the island counter. Draco grabbed the now open bottle off the counter and gave each of them a heavy enough pour that the bottle was empty once he was done.

Weasley immediately took his glass and took a long drink, and Granger made an awkward cheers motion with hers towards no one in particular.

Draco, thinking Weasley had the right idea, also took a long drink, hoping it would calm his nerves sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, Harry seemed oblivious to all of this, continuing to stir the sauce in the pot and check the oven.

“So, Malfoy- how are things?” Granger asked after a few minutes.

“Fine,” Draco replied, wishing he had anything at all going on in his life he could talk about. He wasn’t about to talk about how his life was looking better now that he wasn’t freezing to death on the streets, and he certainly wasn’t about to talk about his time in Azkaban. So, another awkward silence descended on the three—the only noises in the room coming from Harry as he moved around the other side of the island quickly, finishing up dinner.

“Er- what are you doing these days? I hear you are working at the Ministry?” Draco finally asked.

“Oh, yes. I’m working in the Department of Magical Creature Relations. It used to be the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, but we’ve been working on restructuring the department so that it focuses more on building relationships and working with each other,” she explained, her eyes pinning him down as if in a challenge.

Draco nodded, wondering if she was expecting him to go on a rant about magical creatures or half-breeds. “That’s good- that sounds like important work.”

She looked at him for a minute before responding. “Yes, I think so.”

No one spoke again for a few minutes, and Draco finished off his glass, lamenting that he was not yet feeling the effects. When he put his glass down, he noticed that Weasley was also done and wondered if it was bad form to go get another bottle so quickly. The impeccable pure-blood manners he’d been instilled with all revolved around formal dining and fancy parties, not informal dinners amongst people that hated one another. It was probably still bad form, as dinner hadn’t even been served yet, he thought, and then went and got a second bottle anyways.

Weasley gave a slight smile at this and nodded to Draco, who felt a smile escape as well. Draco felt they might have just had their first agreement ever.

Granger looked like she was about to object, but then just silently uncorked it. Weasley grabbed it this time and poured both himself and Draco even larger servings than last time.

“Cheers,” Weasley said, taking another long drink. Draco tipped his glass towards Weasley and also drank.

A few minutes later, Draco felt a warmth start to spread over his limbs and some of the tension dissipate.

“Okay, that should be it!” Harry exclaimed, levitating several platters of food over to the table. It was some sort of Chicken dish with what looked like a thick lemon sauce on it, asparagus and rice.

Harry had removed the extra two chairs earlier; Draco hesitated, unsure as to where he should sit. While he stood there debating the proper etiquette for this situation, Granger and Weasley took the spots on the sides of the table, across from each other, leaving Draco to the far end across from Harry.

Harry sat down, and then jumped back up to grab his wine from the island counter, frowning in what appeared to be confusion when he saw the second open bottle, already over half gone, on the counter, but then also grabbed that and brought it to the table with him.

“This looks amazing, Harry,” Hermione said, as she placed some of the chicken and sauce over her pasta.

“Thanks,” he replied. “I’m glad you both were able to make it.”

Ron nodded and finished off his second glass of wine before pouring himself more.

They ate quietly until they were almost done with their meals.

Draco wondered if Harry was completely oblivious to how terribly awkward this was or if he was just trying to act normal like the rest of them.

Eventually, Granger broke the silence, “How’s work, Harry?”

“Oh, er- fine? There’s not much going on right now since Quidditch season is well underway. We get most of the change requests and paperwork during the summer. We are trying to figure out how to get more people to the games during the winter though; even with all the semi-permanent warming charms on the stands, we just don’t get as many people in the stands. The Canons are, in particular, having a problem at their home games,” Harry explained.

“All those fair-weather fans are the problem!” Ron exclaimed, a little too loudly. “As soon as the Cannons start looking like they are doing better for a game or two, suddenly they are fans again, but have a losing streak? They suddenly disappear... Ha! They’re actually ‘fair weather’ fans if they aren’t coming in winter, am I right?” Ron laughed a little too hard at his own joke. Draco wondered if the wine was finally hitting him; he was definitely feeling the effects himself. Ron reached over the table to pour more wine into his glass, topping Draco’s off while he was at it.

“Erm- right,” Harry replied.

“Because of the snow, get it?” Ron explained.

Draco snorted. “I don’t know, maybe they’re just feeling under the weather,” Draco said, unable to stop himself.

Weasley looked at him in amazement and then laughed. “Maybe they were going to go to the game, but they got cold feet!” He let out a laugh that turned into a hiccup.

“Explains why all the other fans are giving them the cold shoulder,” Draco said between giggles, becoming quickly aware that he was suddenly very drunk. He saw Harry and Granger, neither laughing, exchanging a look with each other. Draco was sure he was acting embarrassingly undignified, but couldn’t seem to stop, his body still shaking with giggles. All the tension he’d been holding onto all day, seemed to be coming out at once, in a most ridiculous fashion. Weasley was also laughing quite hard at that point, face scrunched up.

“We shouldn’t make fun of the poor Cannon’s fans, it’s really s’now joke,” Draco added between giggles. Weasley inhaled deeply, sounding out of breath from laughing.

“Yes,” Weasley said between breaths, “it would be a shame if they mist a game!”

“What?” Draco asked, confused, but still laughing.

“Mist! Mist a game, like when it’s misting out!”

Draco burst out laughing at the absolute terribleness of the joke, which just made Weasley laugh harder.

Weasley grabbed for the wine bottle again, but Granger got there first.

“Oh no, I think you’ve had quite enough for tonight.” Granger said, putting the bottle between Harry and her. “Both of you, clearly.”

“Ha! Clearly!” Weasley exclaimed, still shaking with laughter, “Like -the weather is clear.” He barely got out.

Draco doubled over, laughing. Not one of the jokes was actually funny, but the sheer ridiculousness of the whole situation after a day of high anxiety and now far too much wine had Draco laughing harder than he had in years.

Granger buried her head in her hands and Harry was just staring at the two of them slack jawed.

Eventually they calmed down and slowly went back to their meals.

Granger had taken it upon herself to steer the conversation back into something slightly more sane and continued to talk to Harry about work. They didn't bother including Draco or Weasley in the conversation anymore, and were only occasionally interrupted by a lingering snort or laugh coming from the other side of the table.

After another few glasses of wine when Weasley managed to sneak over and get the last bottle from the counter before Harry or Granger noticed, there seemed to be an unspoken truce called between the three of them. As the evening came to a close, Draco was fairly certain he’d utterly humiliated himself and would only feel the full extent of it in the morning, but he thought it still might have gone as best as could be expected.

“Night, Malfoy,” Weasley said clapping him on the back.

“Weasley, Granger,” Draco said, nodding his head towards each of them.

“Perhaps... we should move past last names?” Granger asked.

“Do we have to?” Weasley asked, slurring slightly. Granger gave him a look that suggested he didn’t get an opinion on the matter.

Draco got the feeling she still didn't trust him, but she also didn't seem to overly hate him anymore, so he would take this as a win.

“Er- of course. Hermione.”

“Draco, it was… good to see you again,” she said, hesitantly.

“Right, you as well,” he returned.

They gave Harry hugs goodbye and were on their way.

Harry stood there for a minute not saying anything.

“That went well, I think,” Draco said, trying to hold back a laugh.

Harry put his hands over his face and groaned. “I guess I should be happy no one actually fought.”

“I’ll help you clean up... and finish that last bottle of wine,” Draco said with a grin; Harry bumped his shoulder into Draco’s as he walked by, with a smile on his face.

 

Chapter Text

Monday morning, Draco woke feeling energised. He’d survived the dinner, and he was looking forward to getting back out into the neighbourhood. And wasn’t that something? He thought to himself with amusement. He hoped Sam was still in the same area, but he knew sometimes people moved around a lot.

He got quickly showered and dressed and went downstairs, hoping to catch Harry at breakfast for a few minutes before he had to leave for work. When he got to the kitchen, he saw a plate of food out on the island where Harry sometimes left it under a warming charm when Draco slept too late, but Harry was at the table in his pyjamas.

“Morning,” Harry said, looking up from the Quidditch section of the paper. He still had a distaste for all things Daily Prophet, and would pull out the Quidditch section and leave the rest of the paper for Draco to read in the sitting room.

“No work today?” Draco asked.

“Well, since Christmas is on Wednesday, and we already had that and Boxing Day off, I just took the rest of the days off to get a proper holiday,” Harry answered.

“Oh,” Draco replied. He went over to retrieve his breakfast and brought it over to the table.

He’d been looking forward to going back out to that underpass area today. While Harry could be oblivious at times, Draco was pretty certain that Harry would notice if he suddenly got up, made a dozen sandwiches, and left the house with them. Draco would need to either tell him or not go.

Draco ate his breakfast slowly while he made up his mind.

“So,” Draco started carefully. Harry looked up at him.

“I’ve been going for walks. I started just around the neighbourhood, and then sort of branched out from there as I got more comfortable-”

“Draco, that’s great!” Harry exclaimed.

“Er, thanks. That- I wasn’t entirely done.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“Right... so I started going for walks, and then I was passing people that were sleeping rough, so I er- started bringing them food. And, I know it’s your food, and once I get a job I’ll pay you back for all of it, but I just felt like I needed to do something,” Draco rambled. “And I couldn’t just keep walking by when so many people helped me and I felt like I needed to do some of that back, even if I’m not-”

“Draco- stop!” Harry exclaimed. “That’s... you don’t have to pay me back. I think that’s great that you are doing that.”

“Oh, alright. Okay.” Draco said, fiddling with his fork.

“You’ve been doing this every day?”

“Just since last week, but yes, during the week, that is.”

“Is that where all the bread went?” Harry asked suddenly, as if something just made sense.

“Oh, yeah- I’ve been making sandwiches.”

Harry laughed. “Oh, that’s great actually, much better than losing my mind. I had sworn I had bought two loaves and was thinking I was going crazy last week!”

“I should have said something,” Draco said, feeling a bit foolish. Obviously, Harry would notice two loaves of bread disappearing in just over two days. “I was planning on going back out today. If you don’t mind if I borrow more food that is.”

“No! That’s totally fine, take whatever you need. In fact, erm- would you mind if I went with you?”

“You want to go with me?” Draco asked surprised.

“Well, yeah. I mean it’s Christmas week, and it’s freezing out, and it would be nice to do something for all those people. It’s really great that you are doing this, Draco,” Harry said, looking at him with so much fondness that Draco felt a sudden flush climb up his face.

“Sure, I mean that would be nice... to have some help that is.” Draco stammered out, suddenly feeling awkward and uncomfortable.

“Okay, great! And fortunately, I bought more bread yesterday on my way back from the Burrow,” Harry said with a grin.

Harry jumped up and started pulling things out of the cupboards.

“I actually bought some extra food so we could have a Christmas Eve dinner, but I think we should just use what we need and I can go back to the store later today, what do you think?” Harry turned towards him with a ham in one hand and a bag of potatoes in the other.

“You don’t mind?” Draco asked, feeling a bit emotionally overwhelmed at Harry’s enthusiasm to help.

“Of course not,” Harry said with a genuine smile.

“Okay,” Draco said, smiling.

Working side by side, they made stacks of sandwiches. Harry also threw a whole bunch of potatoes wrapped in a Muggle thing called aluminum foil in the oven.

Harry pulled several several shopping totes out of one of the lower cabinets and loaded two of them with the sandwiches.

“Is there anything else that would be useful?” Harry asked as he levitated the potatoes out of the oven and onto the counter. He then cast cooling charms on the aluminum foil as he added them to the third tote.

“Well, bottled water was always a really good thing, but I assume you don’t have that laying around anywhere,” Draco replied.

“No, but maybe when I go to Tesco tonight I can pick up a case of bottled water too, and then we can back go out tomorrow too. That is, if you want?” Harry asked.

“Yes, definitely.” Draco felt a sudden swell of emotion for Harry who was so quick to help others. Before now, he’d never really appreciated this about the man, other than when it had benefited him directly in the prison. Draco felt suddenly humbled to consider him his friend.

“Okay.” Harry smiled at him. “Let me go get dressed, and we can go.”

Draco nodded, and, after Harry left, he started washing the dishes in the sink, suddenly feeling the need to leave the kitchen spotless and make sure Harry didn’t feel like there was any housework waiting for him when they got back.

 

They made easy, if not muffled, conversation as they walked towards the neighbourhood Draco had visited on Friday. They were both bundled up tightly against the cold wind. Draco had borrowed a knit hat and the soft lumpy green scarf that he’d grown somewhat fond of, wrapping it around his neck and mouth several times.

“Do you want to go shopping with me after? We can probably hit a supermarket on the way back and pick up more food to hand out tomorrow and something for Christmas Eve dinner,” Harry said, muffled through his gold and red scarf that was wrapped tightly around his neck all the way up the lower half of his face, covering his nose. His glasses were slightly fogged up from where his breath was escaping the scarf and his cheeks and nose tinged pink from the cold. Draco felt his heart clench and forced himself to look back at the pavement in front of him.

“Sure, we can do that,” Draco replied without really thinking about it.

Harry looked at him quickly as if he wasn’t expecting that response. “Okay, good.”

Once they were at the underpass, they walked around the area slowly, handing out sandwiches and potatoes.

Harry listened to people’s stories with a gentleness, and Draco found himself glad for his company. He had worried for a moment on their walk that he would be ashamed with Harry there, knowing Harry knew that Draco had been in that position not too long ago. Instead, he found himself affected by how at ease Harry was around the rough sleepers, always treating them with respect and kindness.

“Hey, Blondie!” Sam hollered out as Harry and Draco walked towards her.

“Hello, Samantha,” Draco responded with a grin.

“I see how it is,” she said laughing. “You going to introduce me to your cute friend?”

“This is Harry. Harry, meet Sam.”

“Hi,” Harry said with a warm smile.

“Nice to meet you,” Sam replied. “You brought more food?”

“We did,” Draco answered, pulling out a sandwich and potato.

“Excellent, thanks. I’ve been hungry for the last day or so, finally. Thinking maybe I’ll try to stay clean this time, you know? Since the worst of it is over. I don’t know- maybe... we’ll see.” She took the food and adjusted her blanket around her shoulders.

“That’s good. I hope you can,” Draco replied honestly.

They stood and chatted with her for a few minutes until the conversation came to a natural close.

“Good seeing you again,” Draco said, adjusting the tote on his shoulder.

“Bye, nice to meet you,” Harry said, as they turned to head to the other side of the street where there were a few additional figures hunched up against the concrete wall.

“Next time, bring turkey sandwiches!” she hollered after them with a grin.

“We’ll see what we can do!” Draco yelled back with a laugh.

Draco saw Harry looking at him out of the corner of his eye, but when he looked over, Harry looked away quickly.

A few minutes later, as they finished up a conversation with an older woman at the edge of the wall, a woman who looked to be in her thirties in a purple wool coat walked over to them. She was bundled up in a matching multi-coloured knit scarf and hat.

“Sorry to intrude- I just wanted to introduce myself. I work at the Winter Grove Shelter and we are always looking for volunteers.” She smiled and handed them a couple cards. “We usually have an upswing in volunteers right around the Christmas, especially for the soup kitchen on Christmas Day, but January and February is really when we need the most help. People who find themselves homeless need help all year long, but winter can be particularly rough.

“Our shelter gets at least some people off the streets every night. And, we also have a soup kitchen where we provide hot food and advocate workers that can help people get the right services and government assistance. We really try to help get people back on their feet, not just off the streets for one night. I just wanted to let you know if you ever wanted to come by and help out, we’re always looking for volunteers. I’m Meg, by the way. Sorry—I’m doing this in all the wrong order!” She laughed.

“It’s fine,” Harry said with a smile. “I’m Harry and this is Draco.”

“Well, nice to meet you both, and I hope you consider it. I’ll let you get on with your day now. Thanks for listening to my spiel!”

“Not a problem. We’ll consider it.” Harry said.

Draco nodded to her as she waved and went on her way.

Having passed out all their food, Harry and Draco turned back towards home. Draco fiddled with the card in his pocket. Since he started passing out food, he felt more grounded than he had in years. And, he actually found himself feeling good about himself, which was also not a feeling he’d had in a long time. Really, he’d never felt good about himself in quite this way—he’d felt pride before, proud of who he was or something he’d done—but it was always superficial and those times were often about things that he now felt sick about. But, this was different. This was something with purpose—feeling good about having done something meaningful.

Part of him had wanted to run after Meg and sign right up, ask her when he could start. But, another part was concerned that he shouldn’t be spending his time on this when he could be getting a real job and making money. He felt that should probably take priority given his current situation.

Harry must have guessed at his thoughts, because a moment later, Harry asked, “Do you think that might be something you’d want to do? Volunteer that is?”

“I’m not sure.”

Harry nodded.

“I just- I should probably get a job, you know?”

Harry didn’t reply for a minute. “I think you should volunteer.”

Draco looked over at him. Harry returned his gaze, eyes sincere.

“Really this could even help with getting a job, right? You could get some experience, get used to working with Muggles.”

Harry stopped and turned to him.

“Draco, I know you are worried about what’s going to happen after May, and you want to make sure you can support yourself, and that’s important, but I really don’t want you to feel like you have to leave. I think this will be good for you, and if you still need a job in a couple months I promise I will help you get one, okay?”

Draco took a deep breath and nodded. “I’ll think about it.”

***

Draco stretched awake. It was Christmas Day.

Emotions warred in him. He felt grateful to no longer be in prison, but today more than any other, he was reminded that his parents were still there.

While he still felt a lot of anger and resentment towards his father for leading his whole family into this mess, he still hurt at the idea of him suffering. He was still his father. And, Draco found himself realising he still loved him even while he hated him most days.

For his mother, he felt nothing but sadness at the thought of her in a cold cell on Christmas morning. He knew that she was also partially to blame for their situation, as was Draco himself in many ways, as she enabled his father and never tried to stop him until it was too late. But, Draco couldn’t quite hold the same anger towards her—whether it was because she was just following her husband’s lead or because Draco had always had a closer relationship with her, he didn’t know.

His mother had been a good mother to him: caring, kind, always looking out for him. She may have spoiled him too much, helped create the bullying git that he’d become in his Hogwarts years, but he knew that even her mistakes often came from a place of love. He’d always felt loved by her. His father loved him, Draco was sure, but he had been harder to please—only proud when Draco behaved within a narrow frame of what Lucius deemed acceptable Malfoy behavior. But, his mother loved him just because he was her son. He never felt like he needed to behave a certain way to earn her affection.

He thought about his last Christmas at Azkaban. Cold, hungry and lonely. He’d only known of the date because he’d heard a couple of the guards talking about it as they walked past. The thought of his mother huddled in a cell similar to his own, cold and all alone made his eyes burn.

Draco rubbed his face, trying to bring himself back to the present. He could do nothing for her today. The only thing he could do was make sure he had a job by the time May rolled around. He would work hard first to support himself and then to make sure that things were easier for her when she eventually got out. That was all he could do.

He took a deep breath and went downstairs. He heard Christmas music coming out of the kitchen and the smell of freshly baked goods—sweet and spicy.

“Happy Christmas!” Harry said, turning slightly to look at Draco, a smile on his face.

“Happy Christmas,” Draco replied, still feeling down from his earlier reflection. He walked over to the island where there was a veritable feast of different dishes.

“I might have gone a little overboard,” Harry explained with a sheepish smile, eyes following Draco’s.

“Is this just for us?” There was the traditional full English breakfast with plates of eggs, large sausages, fried tomatoes, and ham, but then also freshly baked sticky buns, french toast and bowls of cut up fresh fruit.

“Erm- yeah.”

Draco laughed. “Harry, this could feel at least 10 people.”

Harry rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, I just kind of got on a roll.”

“You’re ridiculous.” Draco said, smiling fondly at him, feeling some of his sadness diminish.

Harry flushed a bit and cleared his throat, grabbing a couple plates and handing one to Draco.

“Thanks for making all this,” Draco said.

They sat down with their plates piled high and dug in.

“You’re sure you don’t want to join me at the Weasleys’ today?” Harry asked between bites.

“I’m sure... but, thanks for the invite,” Draco replied.

“I just hate the idea of you spending Christmas all alone.”

“I promise you this is already looking to be one of the best Christmases I’ve had in years, and that is including the couple of years before Azkaban too, okay?” Draco said, honestly. “I really don’t mind. I’m going to sit by the fire and read, and I’m honestly looking forward to it.”

“Okay,” Harry replied. He looked like he wanted to keep arguing with Draco about it, but managed to hold his tongue.

A few hours later, Harry had left for the Weasleys’ and Draco sat on the sofa with the latest mystery novel he had borrowed from Harry’s collection. After reading the same paragraph several times, he put the book down with a sigh.

Ever since that morning, he couldn’t get the image of his mother suffering in her cell out of his head. He needed to get out of the house and distract himself.

He went down to the kitchen and started pulling some of the leftover breakfast out of the cupboards where Harry had put them under stasis spells. Digging around in the bottom cupboard, he finally found the aluminum foil Harry had used the other day on the potatoes.

Draco started wrapping up the food into little meals. He decided to heat the packets up in the oven, hoping they’d retain some of their warmth by the time he got there. When they started releasing some steam from the seams where he’d folded them up, he carefully removed them from the oven with some tongs and wrapped them up in a couple towels to keep them warm before placing them in the shopping totes.

After bundling up tightly, he opened the door and got hit with a blast of cold air. It was turning out to be an unusually cold week for December in London—it was closer to how it usually felt around Hogwarts during winter.

As he walked, he let the freezing air clear his mind, trying not to think of his parents, or Azkaban, or the Christmases of his childhood. When he got to the overpass, he saw very few people walking around; it seemed the cold was forcing everyone to keep huddled up in anything they owned. He desperately wished he had coats or blankets to give them, but he thought that would be taking Harry’s generocity too far. He’d need to wait until he had his own money for that.

Draco walked up to the first huddled figure and crouched down to talk quietly with her, wishing her a happy Christmas and giving her a packet of food. As he made his way around the area, he noticed that Sam wasn’t in her normal spot.

“Have you seen Sam? The woman who normally stays here?” Draco asked an older man he’d seen around there for the last week.

“She took off with someone the other day- think she was bombed out,” he answered as Draco handed him a packet of food.

Draco nodded, feeling disappointed. He knew the chances of staying clean were slim out there, but he still had liked her. Harry and he had talked to her on Tuesday, as well, when they went back out with food and water, and she had seemed to be doing well enough. But, Draco knew that things were rarely that simple.

As he passed out his last packet of food, he shoved his hands in his pockets to warm back up. He felt something in his right pocket and pulled out the business card from Meg, decision made instantly.

Draco walked back to the older man. “Do you know how to get to Heddington and Sturmer Road?”

The man nodded and gave him directions, describing each turn based on objects or buildings on each street corner. Draco tried to visualize as he listened, hoping he could remember all of it.

As he walked to the shelter, he fought back the nagging feeling that he should be spending his time trying to find paid work—something to ensure he could take care of himself eventually. Just a few months, he reasoned. He would volunteer through the winter and then he could focus on working. He needed to do this first.

When he got to the shelter, there were several people that had the look of rough sleepers by the front door, chatting with each other, and other people, most likely volunteers walking in the building as well. Draco walked up the steps and pulled the heavy door open, feeling a blast of warm air as he walked into the building. The air inside was practically tropical compared to the freezing outdoor air, so he quickly removed his scarf and hat, shoving them in the pockets of his coat. He was standing in a slightly run-down hallway, but he could see some doors propped open down a bit, the muffled noises of a crowd filtering into the hall.

“Volunteer?” a middle-aged man asked. He was wearing a green jumper with the sleeves pushed up and looked a little frantic. He ran a hand through his slightly greying brown hair, causing it to stick up in a few spots.

Draco nodded.

“Alright, I’ll show you where you can leave your coat and then you can help back in the kitchen. The person we had on potato duty just left. This your first time here?” the man asked, while leading them back to a small office with a clothing rack, already stuffed full with coats on hangers.

“Yeah. I met Meg the other day- she said you guys would need more volunteers for the winter.”

“Oh! You’re planning on sticking around? That’s great! We always have a lot of volunteers this week- people want to do something nice and give back around the holidays, but then it drops off. Not that we don’t need the help today. We’re always very busy on Christmas. We try to do a little extra, have more of a Christmas feast and we serve straight through from lunch to dinner. I’m John; I’m one of the advocacy workers here, so you’ll see me around.” He took Draco’s coat and hung it up, shoving it in between some of the coats already there.

“Draco.”

“Well, glad to have you here Draco,” John said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Come on, let’s put you to work.”

Draco quickly found himself in the corner of a large kitchen, peeling potatoes for the endless batches of mashed potatoes they were preparing. He got a handle on the Muggle potato peeler quickly and was happy to have work that allowed him to stay to the side of the room and just observe and listen to the other volunteers. He worked out that the people cooking were regular volunteers. Most of the temporary volunteers were serving food, helping keep the dining room clean, or in another part of the building, handing out spare clothes and coats. Some of the staff had apparently made a run to another charity that morning to get more winter clothing because of the unexpected cold snap. He listened to their stories and let himself be distracted, no longer thinking of his mother or feeling the pang of nostalgia for his childhood holidays.

He peeled potatoes until his arms and hands ached from the repetitive motion. Eventually, one of the volunteer cooks, Draco was pretty sure someone had called him Alan earlier, hollered over to him.

“You know how to wash dishes?” he asked.

“Erm- yes, in a sink, at least,” Draco said, having seen the large metal station that someone had been washing dishes at earlier.

“Come on over here, I’ll show you how this works.”

Draco followed Alan over to the dishwashing station, where he was shown how to use a large sprayer that hung down from a hook, how to load the racks, and how to send them through the large metal dishwasher. Draco found himself fairly impressed at the Muggle technology that would let them clean a fair amount of dishes at once.

He spent the next few hours running rack after rack of dishes, pots, silverware, and glasses through the dishwasher. His shirt was half soaked from accidental spray back when he’d hit plates or a bowl at a bad angle and his hands were chapped and raw. But, he felt calmer by far than when he’d left the house that morning.

“That should be the end of it,” one of the volunteer cooks finally said, handing him her last pot.

“Man, am I knackered!” Alan said, pulling up a stool and sitting down, leaning forward slightly, hands braced on his knees.

Draco ran the last couple racks through and wiped his hands on a towel at the end of the station.

“I’m Alan and this here is Deirdre.”

Deirdre gave him a small exhausted wave.

“Hi, I’m Draco,” he said leaning back against the station, too tired to stand anymore. He realized his mistake almost immediately, when he felt water soak into his pants from the end of the counter. He was too exhausted to even care at the moment.

“I heard John say you’d be sticking around? Hopefully hours of dishwashing didn’t change your mind,” Deirdre said with a laugh.

“No, not yet.” Draco returned the smile.

“Well let’s see if any of the cake was left in the dining room,” Alan said with a groan as he stood up and stretched. Draco followed them out of the kitchen, surprised to notice that most of the other volunteers were already gone. He had been so focused on his task, that he hadn’t noticed anyone leave.

The dining room was mostly empty with just a few volunteers milling about, wiping down tables and flipping chairs up on the tables, while others swept and mopped around them. He saw Meg talking to another volunteer on the far side of the room and gave her a small wave that she quickly returned with a smile.

“Draco! Good- you’re still here. I take it we didn’t scare you off yet?” John sat at a table near the front of the room with a few other people.

“He was a trooper—washed dishes for half the day,” Alan informed him.

“Excellent, let’s get you a volunteer form before you leave. We can use all the help we can get around here!” John stood up and motioned to Draco to follow.

When they got back into the office only a few coats were left on the rack. Draco sat down in one of the chairs, legs too tired to hold him up for another minute.

John rifled through some drawers until he found the form he was looking for. “Here. Fill this out and bring it back with either a passport or your birth certificate plus your NI number. We run a regular employment check on our regular volunteers for the safety of the shelter residents since you won’t always be supervised.”

Draco took the form. “Thanks,” he replied, hoping whatever Muggle documentation he’d been set up with would include this employment check.

“When would you like to come back? We can pretty much find something for you to do whenever you have the time. We have the shelter on the other side of the building open at night. During the day we have the soup kitchen, which normally just provides dinner. Plus we have the Charity Closet, which is a room for donated clothes.”

“I’d prefer daytime, but I come come whenever. I don’t have a job right now.”

“Alright, why don’t you come back on Monday and we’ll get your paperwork run and find something for you to do,” John said, eyes crinkling from his smile.

“Okay. Thanks,” Draco replied, standing up.

“No, thank you. Really- we appreciate all the help we can get here. And Happy Christmas,” John said with a smile.

Draco nodded, feeling slightly awkward by the thanks, and grabbed his coat from the rack. He wrapped back up, glad that his coat was long enough to cover all the still wet spots on his clothing.

He walked home slowly, too tired to move any faster, shoulders tense from the cold.

It was dark out, the winter sun having gone down hours before. Christmas lights and decorations twinkled brightly every few buildings and houses. He could see the warm glow coming through slightly fogged up windows as he passed by row houses and buildings full of flats, and he watched as people left the homes of family or friends, still saying their goodbyes as they ambled out the doors.

As he neared Grimmauld Place, he saw something fall slowly past his eye. Draco looked up from where he’d been staring at the pavement in front of him and saw tiny clusters of snow floating gently from the sky. He stopped in his tracks.

Draco stood there, transfixed, watching the bright snow, lit up from the street lamps against the black sky. Snow slowly gathered on his scarf and eyelashes. It was melting as it hit the ground; there was little chance of any sort of accumulation, but it looked like a Christmas painting. He heard someone behind him hollering into a house for everyone to come look at the snow, and the moment was broken. He shook his head to dislodge some of the snow from his scarf and hat and finished his journey home.

He walked in the door and smelled the fireplace burning. It sounded like Harry had Christmas music on the wireless in the sitting room. Draco took off his hat, brushing it off when Harry popped his head into the entryway.

“Hey, where have- is it snowing?” Harry asked, looking surprised.

“Yeah, it just started.”

Harry walked past him and opened the door.

“Wow. It looks like Christmas. It reminds me of Hogwarts.” Harry said, leaning up against the doorframe as the cold air moved past him into the house.

“I know,” Draco said, moving up next to him, shoulders brushing.

Harry leaned into him for a long moment and turned to him smiling. As they stood there, watching the snow fall on Christmas evening, Draco wondered if he’d ever felt like this before, that he was exactly where he was supposed to be in that moment. After a few more minutes, Harry moved back into the house.

“Where did you go?” Harry asked as he closed the door behind them.

“I decided to go volunteer.”

“At the shelter?”

“Yeah. I decided to go ahead and do it. I’ve got a form to fill out, but I’m going to go back on Monday.”

“Draco, that’s great!” Harry exclaimed.

Draco finished brushing the snow off his slacks and removed his shoes, following Harry into the sitting room. He sat on the other end of the sofa from Harry, pulling an afghan around his shoulders and tucking his feet under him. The fire was cracking and the sconces on the wall were dim, letting the light of the fire and the Christmas tree provide a glow to the room.

“So how was it?” Harry asked.

Draco told him all about his day—giving away the rest of their breakfast, going to the shelter and learning how to peel potatoes and wash dishes with Muggle machinery. Harry listened with a soft smile on his lips, and Draco felt the last of the winter chill chased off.