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I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell

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Draco couldn't breathe, his jaw was locked tight together and a faint shiver ran the length of his body. He snapped his bedroom door closed behind him and fell back against the mahogany, closing his eyes and trying to temper his racing heart.

He was out of time and out of options.

He'd known, of course he'd known, that he would be in this position sooner or later. He'd hoped that maybe he would be granted a stay of execution and remain unseen by the Dark Lord. Unfortunately, like with a lot of things in his life, his hope was in vain. 

It had been a year of Death Eaters coming and going as if Malfoy Manor were King's Cross Station. The Dark Lord's presence seeping into the air and casting terrifying shadows on the walls. Before the nightmare at the ministry he'd been relatively unnoticed, his parents had managed to keep him out of the Dark Lord's sight and off his radar until his father had been arrested. 

His father was to rot away in Azkaban until the Dark Lord and the Death Eaters staged another breakout and his mother had more important matters to deal with than keeping Draco out of sight. She had her hands full with running the Manor, keeping the Dark Lord comfortable, not to mention the birth of his sister only six weeks ago. 

Elladora Celeste Malfoy was unplanned to say the least and that was all the information Draco ever wanted on the matter. She was here now and with a healthy pair of lungs that required a strong silencing charm on any room she inhabited. It meant that his mother, who had been stressed before her arrival, was now drawn out to the last. Draco helped as much as he could with her but neither of them were able to escape the noticeable absence of Lucius Malfoy.

Lucius' absence and Ella's arrival had forced Draco into the forefront of his family, acting as both spokesman and messenger for his mother. And the Dark Lord had noticed. It was this that had led to the Dark Lord announcing he wanted an audience with him, Draco had done his duty and met with him in his father's appropriated study.

With little build up the Dark Lord had announced that Draco would have the great honour of joining his ranks; as a Death Eater. He'd told him of his plan, for which Draco would play an important role, a role in which he could prove himself and gain the favour of the Dark Lord himself. A role in which he would be both murderer and traitor.

He had felt himself begin to tremble before the Dark Lord had even finished, the colour was gone from an already washed out face and he had to grit his teeth to stop them from chattering. The plan was so out of his reach that he couldn't begin to comprehend it, he had been mean before, cruel even, but never someone so irreparably evil. As the Dark Lord divulged his plans Draco had felt his heart crumbling, his commitment to his family's cause right along with it.

He was a coward. He could not be the man Father wanted him to be and he knew in his heart he could not do what the Dark Lord was offering. He would never be able to have the Dark Mark tattooed on his skin, he felt nauseous even thinking of it, it had seemed to far away when it had only been etched into his father's skin. Now, at the idea of being so completely controlled by another person he knew he could never willingly go through with it.

In a numb shock he had said all the right things in response, he had promised to be a faithful servant and to see the Dark Lord's plans out to the end or die trying. It had felt so emotionless, his body seemed to be in a strange transit from health to hysteria and he just had to make it long enough to retreat to his room.

He had all but raced out when the Dark Lord had dismissed him, scarpered from the study and up the stairs all the way back to his room where he had closed and secured the door behind him.

Draco slid to the floor and rested his head on his knees, foggy and panicked he tried firstly to regain a normal breathing rhythm. He counted with his breaths like he was shown when he was little and let himself settle into a state of meditative peace. He just needed enough clarity in order to figure out his next step; whatever that was.

The way he figured he had three obvious options: 1. He stayed here and agreed to the mark, the plan and everything to do with the Dark Lord, wherever it led him and his family. 2. He refused the mark and simply hoped he lived to tell the tale. 3. He ran away and obliterated any hope of coming out of this thing with his family intact.

He scrunched his eyes closed and counted his breaths. None of those options sounded particularly good for his well-being, not to mention the effect on his family. His family who he'd probably not see again no matter which path he took, his hope at seeing his own family still standing at the end was fracturing with each breath in and out.

Draco feared he'd never see his father again. It would be a while yet before they could manage a break out and what would happen in that time? He would never succeed with the Dark Lord's plan; it was a fool's errand and busy work. Draco was sure no one believed that he could do it, he would only fail and be punished for it... maybe his mother and Ella as well.

And Ella, what about her? She was a tiny, innocent thing. Nothing had hurt or damaged her yet but seeing her in this place, surrounded by these people and Draco realised it was only a matter of time. Could he follow the plan and try and succeed, for her?

Even if he was willing, Draco knew he was not capable. He was a coward. He did not have the strength to actually kill someone. Childish pranks and meaningless nasty words were about all he was good for.

And that left running away as he knew his second option was not viable; there was no refusing the Dark Lord.

Where would he go? Back to Hogwarts and Dumbledore? They would never accept him as one of their own; he would be dried of information and let go to try not to drown. Into the muggle world? He would be found immediately and killed for deserting. He would have to survive where grown wizards had failed and he would have to do all of it knowing he was leaving his mother and sister behind for he knew in his heart his mother would never leave her home.

In all of his confusion only one path seemed doable. He would think about the consequences later but for now any hope of survival lay with Professor Dumbledore; he could not kill anyone and so the only solution was to shift his allegiance to the other side and hope for a better outcome than he was promised here.

Draco knew what he was going to do but he still couldn't move, frozen in place with thoughts of Ella and his mother.

The door handle behind him rattled and he flinched not expecting any visitors.

"Draco? Let me in, we have things to discuss".

Draco sighed softly in relief and lifted his head, once again his mother seemed to know what he needed more than he did. He needed to see her desperately and here she was.

Narcissa Malfoy swept in harried and anxious, her pale face pinched and her mouth turned down in a frown. She carried Ella close to her chest, fast asleep in her arms and a satchel over her shoulder. She stepped inside Draco's room, closed the door behind her and pulled out her wand.

Draco watched silently as she muttered spell after spell, he caught only a few words but it was enough to know she was protecting every inch of the room as best she could. From intruders to eavesdropper, they would be safe.

"Mother?"

"Draco, sweetheart, we don't have much time," Narcissa said, smiling softly and brushing her fingertips over his cheek. "The Dark Lord has asked the impossible of you and now you have to leave".

"You know?" Draco whispered, his mother nodded.

"I told him you would be proud to serve him, to fill the place Lucius has left and that it would be my greatest pleasure to watch you succeed," Narcissa said, her eyes focused and intense.

"You lied?"

"I lied".

"I can't do it, Mother, I thought maybe I could- to protect you and Ella- but I can't," Draco said, his voice trembling.

"I didn't think so, my love, no grown man has ever done what he's asking of you- he hasn't done what he's asking of you," Narcissa gave him a firm look, "this place is no longer safe and I won't have you here a second longer than necessary".

"To school?" Draco asked quietly, the unspoken question of 'to Dumbledore' thick in the air.

"Yes, to school," Narcissa confirmed, her voice not cracking or hesitating, "it is the only safe haven for you now".

"How? How do I even get there?" Draco asked, his voice thick with oncoming panic, "what if they don't believe me? What if they think I'm a spy? They'll never trust me".

"I have a way to get you to a safe house and in contact with him," Narcissa continued, "and you'll have a reason for them to believe you".

"What?"

Narcissa looked at him carefully, studying the new lines on his faces and the deep bruising under his eyes. She reached out a hand and swept his hair back once more to tuck it gently behind his ear.

"You'll have Ella with you".

Draco stopped, frozen in disbelief.

"Mother, no. She has to stay with you," Draco replied quickly, his brain still trying to catch up, "I can't look after her, I have no idea how".

"You'll do just fine because you have too," Narcissa said softly but with resonance, "if you are no longer safe here than neither is she, I won't put another child of mine in the path of danger. And whether we believe in him or not the Dark Lord is dangerous, he will not be careful of her life and so I will have her with someone who is".

"I don't know what to do," Draco whispered, his eyes set on Ella's sleeping face. He knew that his mother was right, he hadn't even considered taking Ella away but his mother was determined and if he was being completely honest with himself he would feel a lot better with at least one of them in his immediate space. He felt a little stronger knowing he was getting Ella out of danger.

"Come with us," Draco whispered, knowing her answer before she even said the words.

Narcissa smiled softly at him and said, "no, I cannot abandon this place. Even filled as it is, it is my duty to care for my home- your Father's home- in his absence. and besides, There must always be a Malfoy here who calls this place home, if I leave, the protections surrounding this place will dismantle".

"Wouldn't that be for the better?" Draco asked.

His mother shook her head, "this way the two of you will get a head start, if we all leave then the Dark Lord will know immediately".

"Oh..." Draco whispered. He knew in what she wasn't saying that she still felt she was in the right place. She knew enough to know that Draco nor Ella would never have a future here but she still needed to be on this side, whether because she was waiting for her husband to return or because of a long life of ingrained beliefs, Draco didn't know.

"Come now, we have things to do in very little time, take your sister and I'll pack," Narcissa said. She bowed her head and kissed her daughter softly on the forehead before very gently passing the infant over to Draco.

She felt heavier than before, her weight settling in his arms and in his heart. He was her protector from now on and he would have to get his shit together in order for her to be safe.

"How do I get out?" Draco asked. A wall was forming in his head, strong and sturdy enough to block out anything emotional for the time it took for them to escape.

"You can walk out," Narcissa said, "you are a Malfoy so you won't set off any alarms and if we time it right, no one will see you".

"I just walk out?" Draco asked, incredulous.

"You'd be surprised at what you can do when you don't involve magic," Narcissa said, "it is such and intricate part of all of our lives that no one ever thinks to do anything without it".

"Alright then," Draco said, trying to focus, "and where do we go? You mentioned a safe house?"

"You'll need to get there without magic, you still have the trace on you and any wrong move will have you either in front of the Wizangamot or the Dark Lord himself".

"I understand... but I don't know anything about muggles," Draco said tensely.

"Good thing I've done a little research..." Narcissa said with a grimace and outlined in great detail exactly what Draco had to do. 

Narcissa Malfoy never said specifically where they were headed but she promised with a strained voice and an aching heart that if they reached their destination they would be safe. And far away from here.

 

***

 

Narcissa had left Ella with him an hour ago, she was sound asleep and wrapped in blankets, dressed for travel in the cool morning. It was 3am and the Manor was at its quietest, Narcissa said that it would be the safest time for them to leave.

He had only his own rucksack and Ella's satchel, his mother had informed him to drop both at once at the sign of any danger. He had enough clothes for maybe a week, Ella had more, but if they were going anywhere uncivilised they would be woefully unprepared.

Draco marked the time, took in a deep breath, and stood up from his chair. He went to the big bay windows and opened them up, the bags went out first and then he turned and picked up Ella from her place on his bed, cuddling her to his chest and wrapping the straps of her carrier over his shoulder so he could use both his hands if he needed too.

His wand in his pocket, he climbed up onto the windowsill and glanced back at his room. The four poster bed and green quilt, his Nimbus 2001 leaning in a corner, his schoolbooks and robes and the portrait of his family- back before Ella. It had been his home, his sanctuary. Maybe one day he would get to return. 

Draco dropped gracefully from the window and straightened up, the rucksack and satchel slung over his shoulders and he pulled his wand from his pocket to hold it at the ready. With everything he needed he tread softly away from the Manor and up the long driveway without looking back.

His heart hammered the whole way but nothing out of the ordinary happened. He walked through the magical border to the property and kept going without making a noise. It was a long stretch of road and it took him the better part of an hour to walk it but when he reached the little muggle town he only sighed softly and went looking for the muggle communication device.

Draco eyed the 'telephone' warily but with Ella starting to fuss he picked up the receiver and dialled the number his mother made him remember.

"Hello," Draco said loud and slow, "I - need - a - cab!"

"Loud where you are, is it? Right now, you need a cab? Where are ye' and where're ya headed?" a voice replied down the line.

Draco jumped but steeled his nerves. This was no different than a firecall, he tried to tell himself.

"I'm in Wiltshire... I need to go to London," Draco said, lowering his voice and firming his tone.

"That's a long way, son, running from someone?" The man laughed uproariously, Draco narrowed his eyes and waited for him to be silent.

"I have the money," was all he replied.

"'Course, but for a trip like that we'll need it upfront," the man replied.

"Fine," Draco said.

"I'll send a cab to ye' now, where are ye'?"

"I'm out the front of a place called Roly's Fudge Pantry-"

"Ah, I know the place! Someone will be with you soon," the man said, finishing up just as Draco remembered the most important part.

"Wait! I'll need something with a baby seat," Draco said quickly.

"No problem, son, cab'll be there in a few, sit tight," the man replied, "have a nice day!"

Draco only had to wait 12 heart-pounding minutes for the cab to show up, the muggle woman driving offered him a confused but friendly smile and helped him get both himself and Ella situated in the back of the cab.

"Heard we're going to London, any place in particular?" she asked as she accepted the money Draco offered and peeled away from the sidewalk.

"King's Cross," Draco answered. She tried to engage him with more questions, asking about Ella and what he was doing in London, Draco only answered when he had to and finally silence fell between them and he was free to stare out the window.

Little more than two hours later and he was standing at a 'bus stop'. Ella had awoken half an hour before but now they were out of the cab and standing stationary, her face was pinching. Draco paced. He walked back and forth down the concrete stretch and waited, hoping Ella would settle and that Death Eaters wouldn't jump out from behind the bushes.

His mother had said that if everything went smoothly he should be at his destination before they even realised he was gone. His pulse was starting to rise with the sun, before it could get too out of control his bus rolled up.

 

***

 

An hour later and he was standing on another sidewalk. He knew by now his mother would be up and screaming that Ella was gone, that Draco's bed was empty. Hopefully her ploy worked and that the idea of Draco, uncertain and afraid, had stolen away his little sister and run for it, was believable.

He stared at the little cottage house with narrowed eyes. Was this really the safe place his mother had meant? This dinky little cottage with hedges and a rather tiny flowerbed seemed to be suited for the help rather than a safe haven for himself and his sister.

There was nothing for it though, he would have to knock on the door and give the owner his mothers letter. He'd promised her and he wouldn't go back on his word. Hefting Ella up so she sat more comfortably and squaring his shoulders he stepped up to the main gate and went to push it open.

A pulse ran from his fingertips through his whole body and he jerked back, blinking and wary. There was a magical ward around the property and a very strong one at that. He wasn't waiting for more than thirty seconds before a woman stalked out of the front door, robe over her nightdress and slippers on her feet. She was glaring intensely at Draco.

Draco, however, was quite quickly losing whatever grip on reality he had left. For a quick second, it was his Aunt Bellatrix and then she came into focus. She had lighter hair, kinder eyes and lines that must have come from laughing. But she was most definitely a Black.

"Aunt Andromeda?" Draco questioned.

Andromeda stopped and looked at him properly, Draco saw the moment she figured it out, her body froze and her eyes narrowed and anxiety flooded her features. 

"What's happened? Where's Narcissa?" she asked abruptly, stepping forward but not making any indication she was going to let him onto the property.

"She's still at home," Draco said, meeting her eyes, "she gave me this to give to you".

He held out the letter but Andromeda shook her head, "put it in the mailbox".

When Andromeda had the letter in her hand a few moments later she opened it and read it carefully, ignoring Draco entirely. Draco watched her face as she read it, watched her mouth turn down and and the colour fade, but it must have been believable because soon enough the letter was placed back in the envelope and slipped into the pocket of her robe.

"Left arm out," she ordered.

Draco glared but did as he was told, he pulled up the sleeve and showed her his clean white skin. No Dark Mark. She nodded and her eyes finally studied him properly, setting down on the bundle in his arms.

"You'd best come in then," she said and pulled out her wand.

Draco stepped through the wards and followed her into the house. He could feel Ella moving and he braced her in his arms and held her tight to his chest. She'd been so good this whole trip, sleeping on and off for hours and waking only to be fed and to blink blearily at Draco before going back to sleep.

As they crossed the threshold of the little home Draco was hit with warmth and a smell of bacon, his stomach grumbled reminding him he hadn't eaten in hours. He followed his Aunt into what must be the kitchen where a middle aged man sat at the table, he looked up and frowned at Draco.

"One of your lot?" he asked Andromeda, she just nodded and gestured for Draco to take a seat. He was too tired to argue so he just did as he was told.

"Blimey, Dromeda, is that a baby?" the man gasped, going to stand and scraping his chair on the ground.

"Her name's Ella," Draco replied coldly.

"Ted, this is Draco and Ella... Narcissa's children," Andromeda filled in, "it seems they've found themselves in quite a bit of trouble".

"Is your sister OK?" Ted asked, looking to his wife and watching her carefully. Andromeda nodded.

"As OK as she's always been, I believe," she said, "not in immediate danger".

"I thought she only had a boy?" Ted asked, talking as if Draco weren't in the room.

"She did," Draco said tersely, "until she had a daughter. Seeing as my mother hasn't spoken to her sister since she betrayed her family and married a muggle. I assume Ella's birth notice was lost-"

"First rule of the house, nephew mine," Andromeda interrupted sternly and her tone so like his mothers Draco snapped his attention to her at once. "You will respect Ted and myself as much as you would your own parents, any blood purity shite and you'll be back on the street. Understand?"

Draco narrowed his eyes and stayed silent. He could argue and get turned out... or he could agree, for now.

"Fine," Draco huffed.

"If Ted and I are risking ourselves and our home to give you protection the least you can do is offer a little respect," Andromeda continued and Draco felt a flush crawling up his neck. "You are safe here for now but I need to go and inform Dumbledore- there's tea in the kettle and no house elves to get it for you".

With that his Aunt strode out of the kitchen and into another room, after a minute he heard muted chatter coming from her direction.

Draco was merely looking at the tea forlornly. He needed a cup, desperately, but the effort it would require to do it wasn't quite worth it. He sighed and slumped in his chair, jostling Ella and waking her up.

"Cup of tea, Draco? Spot of breakfast?" Ted asked. Draco looked up and saw Ted standing by the kettle, waving a mug at him.

"I'm perfectly capable of getting my own tea," Draco answered sharply as he got heavily to his feet. Ella weighed so much more after he'd been sitting down.

"Sit down, son, I'll get it. You look as if you've been ten rounds with a hippogriff," Ted waved him off as Draco barely contained a snarl. Was the muggle mocking him or was it a turn of phrase? Draco was too tired to try and puzzle it out.

As Ted made tea, Draco gathered Ella out of her carrier now that she was awake. He slipped the carrier off his body and dropped it to the floor next to his bags. One handed he tried to rifle through one of them to get Ella's bottle out but he struggled enough that he started to curse at the bag.

"Drink your tea, Draco, I'll get Ella her bottle," a voice said from beside him. He jumped but it was only his Aunt, she was still studying him intently and glancing between him and Ella.

Andromeda crossed her arms and gave him a look.

"We say thank you in this house when someone offers to do something for us," she said.

"I'll do it myself," Draco muttered darkly and went back for the bag.

"Fine," Andromeda echoed in the same tone. Draco felt rage flaring up his body until a soft laugh broke the tension.

"Ah, he reminds me of you, Dromeda! This should be fun," Ted said and got a withering look from both his wife and Draco. "Both of you sit down, Draco drink your tea and Dromeda, you're breakfast is getting cold. I'll get Ella her bottle".

And with that Ted went to work, he placed a mug in front of Draco that read 'I'm a fun-gi' and had a little illustration of a mushroom underneath it. Draco sneered but sipped his tea anyway. The only noise in the kitchen was of Ted moving around and readying Ella's bottle.

"How did you get here anyway?" Andromeda asked after the silence had gone from awkward to truly unpleasant.

"Cab".

"A cab, are you joking? Narcissa's son, a Malfoy, took a muggle cab?"

"And a muggle bus," Draco informed her snidely, "they both smelt and took far too long".

"I suppose you would have apparated? Oh wait, you can't and even if you could you would have been found immediately," Andromeda replied with a quick smile.

"I could have taken a broom," Draco shot back.

"Oh yes, a broom would have been the perfect way to get Ella ill".

"Floo, then!"

"You wanted to alert the Floo network? I can go tell them now if you're so desperate for the ministry to know exactly where you are".

Draco swallowed, the ministry was still filled with Death Eaters and the Dark Lord's followers. He would be caught very quickly if they knew his whereabouts. Draco kept a stony silence.

"This was the only way to get you out safely and keep your mother guiltless," Andromeda said, her voice a little kinder.

"Quite right, Andromeda," said a soft voice from the doorway.

Albus Dumbledore had arrived.

Chapter Text

"Are you alright, Harry?" Hermione asked softly, her eyes seemed to take in every new line on his face and worry in his eyes.

"Fine," Harry replied.

"Are you sure?" she worried, "you've been looking ill".

He knew the sleepless nights were becoming more obvious, knew his face was betraying him even as he lied through his teeth.

"Just tired, Hermione," Harry said softly, "I'm sure after I get some proper sleep I'll be fine".

She eyed him but he looked away. How could he tell her that he wasn't alright? Hadn't been since the Ministry. How could he tell her that with every part of him that wasn't sick with worry over Sirius was freaking out over the Prophecy?

"He's going to be fine, Harry, he's in the best hands he could be," Hermione said, trying to reassure him. It only reminded Harry that Sirius was in the spell damaged ward at St Mungo's and that no matter what she said, Hermione had no more idea whether Sirius would be alright than he did.

"Sure".

"Please come in for some dinner, it's getting late," she tried again.

Harry nodded and pulled himself up off the back steps of the Burrow. The least he could do was not make everyone else worry, fake a smile here and there and pretend to be OK, it wouldn't be that hard. He could try and write to Sirius again. Not that Sirius could read it at the moment. Not that he'd actually send it.

Harry sighed internally, the heaviness in his chest weighing him down. Suddenly dinner with the Weasley's sounded like the hardest thing in the world. 

"Actually, Hermione, I'm really tired. I think I'll just go to bed," Harry said and before she could reply he'd left her behind and pounded up the stairs, right to the top where he still shared a room with Ron.

He dropped into his bed without changing and rolled over to face the wall. How had it been 6 weeks since the Ministry and he still hadn't been allowed to see Sirius? Mrs Weasley said that Sirius wouldn't know he was there anyway but Harry needed to see him, needed to make sure he was still in one piece.

Harry had only brief reports on his Godfather's health, all of them through Mr Weasley who heard it from Remus Lupin. As far as Harry knew his old Defence Professor was staying with Sirius most of the time, leaving only for the full moon. He'd stopped carrying out missions for the Order, Harry had heard whispered the week before that Lupin had even argued with Dumbledore about his priorities.

Harry respected Dumbledore, thought he was the greatest Wizard he'd ever known, but on this one he sided with Lupin. Harry had been cheering on the inside knowing that Sirius wasn't alone for once, he had someone who cared with him.

Hours passed and sleep alluded him. Ron came to bed around 11 but Harry feigned sleep. He tried to close his eyes and fall to sleep but images burned into his brain forbade it. Wand lights flashing chaotically, screams and laughter, spells and shouts of triumph. The sound as multiple curses hit Sirius at once, the silence that followed, Sirius' body hitting the ground.

Harry tossed and turned, alternating between thoughts of Sirius and premonitions of the future. Neither can live while the other survives. And the simple thought: how can I defeat the darkest Wizard ever known?

It all seemed so completely hopeless.

 

***

 

"I don't know what to do, Arthur," Molly sighed. 

She sat at the table with her husband, holding her cup of tea with both hands and staring at the staircase. Harry had disappeared before dinner. She hadn't seen him eat a proper meal with them in two days and it was getting worse.

He kept disappearing, retreating out of sight, he answered her with short sentences and fake smiles. He never met her eye anymore.

"He's worried about Sirius, Molly," Arthur replied tiredly. "I've tried but Dumbledore says it too dangerous, that Sirius is still unconscious- he doesn't think it will help. And personally, I don't know if it'll make him better or worse".

"He's back at school soon... only Ron and Hermione to keep an eye on him and you know what they can be like," Molly whispered.

"I know but what can we do?"

"I don't know," Molly said, "I'm so tempted just to sneak him into Mungo's, nothing else is helping him".

"We can't, Molly," Arthur said shaking his head, his head already filling with everything that could go wrong.

"I know, I know," Molly sighed again. "I don't think he's sleeping either".

"I've seen the bruises under his eyes," Arthur agreed.

"How do we help him? He's only a child, Arthur, and he seems so lost- there's so much pressure on him".

"We can tell the teachers to keep an eye on him, Minerva particularly and maybe Poppy? They can make sure he's OK".

"I suppose it's all we can do. All I want to do is cover him in a blanket and hug him," Molly murmured and smiled faintly. 

Arthur returned her smile sadly, "Merlin knows the boy could do with a few more hugs".

"I'll write to Minerva tomorrow," Molly said, "if you could have a word with Remus, maybe a letter to Harry would help? I know he won't leave Sirius but the least he can do is write to Harry".

"I'll try".

 

***

 

Dear Harry,

I'm so sorry for not writing sooner, I was holding out for good news hoping to send you something other than much more of the same. But it's been weeks now and there's been nothing. The healer's say Sirius is stable but he's still unconscious, we don't know how many curse's hit him let alone what they were but we're working tirelessly to figure it out. As soon as anything changes I promise, Harry, you'll be the first to know.

For now, hold onto the knowledge that he's alive and while he's alive there's hope yet. I'm not leaving him (no matter what the healer's threaten) except for the full moon's in which I leave him in the care of Tonks. I'm sorry, Harry, I wish you could visit- I know Sirius would love it- but it's not safe here for you and when Sirius wakes up (in his own time) he needs you alive and well.

Hogwarts and Dumbledore are best for that. Sixth year will be a great year and I know how much you love Hogwarts and how much it means to you. Try and think about the good, Harry, Sirius is still alive and the healer's say there is a good chance for recovery. 

                                                                                Remus                    

P.S. Arthur says you're tired and Molly is anxious, I'm going to be blunt- get some sleep and stop making us worry.

 

Harry laughed for the first time in months. The weight on his shoulders lightened ever so slightly as he folded the letter up and clutched it in his hand. He could always rely on Lupin. He had known Lupin was with Sirius but somehow hearing it from the man himself made him feel more sure.

"Harry? Ginny and I are going to throw around a Quaffle, want to come?" Ron asked, poking his head into their room.

"Yeah," Harry answered, surprised that he meant it.

"Really? Brilliant," Ron said with a grin. "Fred and George are coming around in a bit, with Bill here we can play 3 on 3".

"Great," Harry said, offering Ron a smile.

"Who wrote?"

"Oh, it's from Lupin," Harry replied, standing up and digging out some fresh clothes and boots- he looked down and noticed for the first time that he looked awful. He surreptitiously smelt himself and wrinkled his nose- he really needed a shower. "Ah, give me like 10 minutes? I'll meet you outside".

"Done," Ron grinned and clapped Harry on the back, "good news then?"

"Not really, Sirius is stable but nothing else has changed - Lupin's with him though," Harry replied.

"Oh OK, I guess that's good?" Ron said. Harry just shrugged. It wasn't good precisely but it was something and he felt better for it. "Meet you out the back, yeah?"

"Yeah, sure," Harry said, already writing a letter back to Lupin in his head.

 

***

 

It took two days for the nightmares to return. And they did in full force. Mr Weasley was shaking him awake in the deep hours of the night, he was screaming and sweating with tears running down his face. Ron stood frozen beside him, Ginny and Hermione in the doorway, he could see a few redheads bobbing behind the girls but couldn't make out faces.

Mr and Mrs Weasley were beside him, Mrs Weasley murmuring softly that it was over now and Mr Weasley with a fixed look of worry. He'd woken the whole house with his screaming. 

He closed his eyes for a second and saw the nightmare again. They were in the ministry and Sirius had been hit with curses, a green mixed with all the red and blue. He'd seen him falling and falling- Harry was frozen, he couldn't run to him, couldn't get close. And then Sirius was gone. Only a body on the floor. He blinked and he was in the graveyard again, Sirius' body had turned into Cedric's and spells were flying at him too, that too easily remembered pain of the Cruciatus curse reverberating through his body.

That's when he'd started screaming.

Bodies were strewn before him. Ron and Hermione, Ginny, Fred and George, Mr and Mrs Weasley, Sirius, Lupin, Cedric. He had closed his eyes to shut out the bodies and felt only the remembered pain of being tortured.

He'd screamed because there was nothing else he could do.

"Harry, dear?" Mrs Weasley murmured.

Harry opened his eyes and met her warm, brown ones. He pulled in a deep breath and then another, he kept going until his voice was strong enough to speak.

"I'm fine, sorry for waking you up," Harry said.

"None of that, now," she said shaking her head, "do you want me to make you some tea?"

Harry was about to refuse but the idea of going back to sleep was not a happy one. So, he nodded and pulled himself out of bed still trembling slightly. On the way down the stairs Mr Weasley spoke softly,

"Anything we need to worry about, Harry?" 

"No, Mr Weasley... just a nightmare," Harry replied, trying to convince himself.

 

***

 

The nightmares continued for the rest of summer but Harry learnt how to hide them. When he did sleep, he set an alarm on his phone to wake himself up every hour, hoping vainly to destroy any chance of falling deep enough asleep to dream.

When he didn't sleep he just laid in bed for hours thinking but nothing he thought of helped. He couldn't figure out a way to get rid of the nightmares and now the insomnia was taking hold as well, he was simply being plagued by nightmares either sleeping or awake. Harry knew everyone was watching him carefully, he had to fake smiles a little better and more often and join in on more conversations in order to try and fool them. He was too tired to notice if it was working.

By the time the panic attacks start up again, Harry isn't even surprised. He used to get them all the time as a kid whenever the Dursley's would lock him in his cupboard, after a while he learned how to get through them but it had been more than 6 years since his last attack and this one caught him by surprise.

It had been after another nightmare, he woke sweating but not screaming the house down. Ron was still asleep when he felt that familiar feeling race through his body, he jumped out of bed and as quietly as he could he ran down the stairs and out the front door. He sat on the front steps and curled in on himself trying to breathe in the crisp summer air.

Harry had no idea how long he was out there but when he turned his head he saw Ginny beside him. She smiled softly and gave him a blanket to put around his shoulders.

"I used to get attacks like that after my first year... kept thinking Voldemort was somehow still in my head," she whispered. "You're a bit of a mess, aren't you, Harry?"

Harry choked out a bitter laugh, "just a bit".

"You seem like you've had attacks like this before," Ginny asked softly. Harry just nodded but didn't answer. "When we get back to school, you should go and see Madam Pomfrey- mum and dad took me to Mungo's after mine started and it really helped... she won't tell anyone and you can keep it to yourself until you're ready".

Harry nodded again but said nothing.

"Promise me you'll think about going?" Ginny asked, "please, Harry, just think about it".

"I'll think about it," Harry promised.

 

***

 

The last day of summer brought all of the Weasley's around to the Burrow, as well as Fleur and a few of the Order. Mrs Weasley made a huge dinner and they all sat outside, it felt almost like it had years ago before Voldemort had returned.

Harry had been hoping to see Remus but was disappointed when instead he got a head shake from Tonks and a brief explanation that trying to pry Remus away was likely to do her physical harm.

Ron and Hermione sat on either side of him, glancing at him every now and then and surreptitiously adding more food to his plate every time he took a bite of something. He rolled his eyes but slowly kept eating, listening to the conversations around the table.

Fleur was talking about her wedding plans to Tonks, who was changing her nose every time Fleur looked away and seeing if she'd notice. Harry watched their interactions curiously and rather than not noticing he guessed that Fleur probably just didn't care. Beside Fleur, Bill and Mr Weasley were talking about muggle attacks that had happened only the day before and across from them Fred and George were talking Quidditch with Ginny. Everyone was noisy and loud and Harry both enjoyed the lively atmosphere and desperately wanted to leave, he felt as if his presence alone was bringing everyone down.

"Pudding, Harry?" Ron asked.

"Sure".

"Do you three have your things packed? We have to leave quite early tomorrow," Mrs Weasley called down the table as Harry played with his food.

Harry and Hermione nodded while Ron frowned and answered, "uh, almost?"

Mrs Weasley gave him a look and Ron looked away, "I'll do it tonight..."

Harry smirked despite himself, Ron always left his packing until the last minute. Dinner continued in much the same way until Tonks was called back to the Ministry and Fleur was drifting off on Bill's shoulder.

All those who were overage helped to clear up the table in a matter of moments while Hermione pulled Harry and Ron away to a spot on the back porch, where they could sit in private. Harry still hadn't told them about the Prophecy, Dumbledore said it was alright but there would be an expectation on him after he spoke about it. It would feel more real and more terrifying than it already did.

But as they sat in silence Harry felt a building pressure to talk, he'd trusted them for so long and with practically everything in his life. He knew he should trust them with the rest of it.

He opened his mouth, closed it again and then opened it with a deep breath.

"I need to tell you something..."

 

***

 

"No wonder he's been acting so weird," Ron muttered. Harry had left them to go to bed a half hour ago but Ron and Hermione had stayed outside. 

"It's a lot to deal with on top of the fallout from the Ministry and Sirius, it's a miracle he hasn't tried to run away or punch someone," Hermione replied.

"I'd have probably lost my mind trying to deal with everything he has to, I get the nightmares now," Ron sighed.

"We have to do more to help him, at least he's talking to us now," Hermione said, "I'm really worried about him".

"We'll keep a better eye on him, help him out more," Ron agreed, "he's going to need all the support we can give".

Lost in thought, they sat peacefully together on the porch until Ron burst out, "did you hear what Tonks was saying at dinner?"

Hermione shook her head, "what?"

"Something about a cute baby? I only got bits, she was talking about how she was surprised about someone and that they might actually be a decent person? I was hoping you were listening- she was talking to Mum," Ron said.

Hermione shrugged, "we can ask her next time we see her".

"Do you think we can get Ginny to sit with Harry on the train tomorrow? We have to do rounds and I don't want him to think we've abandoned him straight after he's talked to us".

"Sure, she'll definitely help out- maybe she can find Neville and Luna as well," Hermione added with a hopeful smile.

"Oh, good idea!"

 

***

 

Harry lay in bed thinking about Hogwarts. Home. Going back was all that had got him through the summer and what was happening with Sirius, he was surrounded by people and somehow he felt adrift. He wanted those familiar halls and his own four poster bed, he wanted to go to sleep to Neville's snoring and to walk the corridors to his classes. Hogwarts was home, it was the only place he'd lived that felt like it had wanted him back.

He didn't even hate the idea of seeing Snape again or Malfoy's pointy face; he was caught up in sunny afternoon's at Hagrids and long nights in Gryffindor common room. And Quidditch. He was captain this year which meant he had another responsibility but this was one he could handle. He wanted lazy evenings flying over the Quidditch pitch and heartstopping games where he handed Gryffindor the win. 

Harry sighed and rolled over in bed, keeping his eyes closed and dreaming of Hogwarts. He might have to go and see Madam Pomfrey, if not for his panic attacks then for his sleep deprivation. There was no way he was going to be able to function through hours of lessons and homework every day in the state he was in. Seeing Pomfrey was an admission though, Ron and Hermione would find out and they would plague him and give him pity. 

Maybe not, Harry thought. He'd coped this long and besides Hogwarts would be different, as soon as he got back he'd be able to sleep again. He'd never had an attack at school before and doubted they'd follow him. He felt a little better at the thought; one more night and he'd be back on the train and then everything would be fine.

A few more hours and he'd be home again.

Chapter Text

Draco was going back to Hogwarts. Somehow, miraculously, he was going back. And even better, Dumbledore was allowing Ella to come back with him. He would just have to stay with the Tonks' for the rest of summer, get used to caring for Ella, pass his OWL's... hope the Slytherin's didn't murder him in his bed or that Death Eaters didn't track him down...

Draco swore and dropped onto his borrowed bed. There was too much happening, too many variables. He needed a nap. The bed was lumpy, his Aunt said it was his cousin Nymphadora's old room and from just looking around he could have guessed that all on his own.

The quilt was a patched yellow and black for Hufflepuff, the walls were covered in moving photos of the all female Quidditch team, the Holyhead Harpies and the rest had photos of bands both muggle and wizarding. She had an assortment of muggle stuff strewn about as well, an obvious influence from her father. Draco sneered, Andromeda at the very least should have stopped the muggle belongings.

A cry sounded to his left. There was no crib for Ella yet and obviously he hadn't brought hers with him so he'd just pushed the bed against the wall and put her down. He now lay between her and the edge of the bed.

"Hey there," Draco whispered, rubbing her tummy to settle her down and hoping to get her to fall back to sleep. She soothed a little but her eyes were blinking open. "Shh... it's OK- I know it's not home and that it's small and smells a bit funny but we're safe. We're actually quite lucky, you and me, imagine us actually getting away from the Dark Lord? It should have been impossible".

Ella was still blinking awake but she wasn't crying, her eyes focused on Draco. Draco shrugged and kept talking.

"But you see, we have an amazing mother. She thought of everything... I was only thinking of me. I- I didn't even consider taking you with me. Of course, leaving you with your mother rather than your 16 year old brother kidnapping you is definitely the smart option if you ask me. I can barely take care of myself..."

Draco sighed and closed his eyes. It was dawning on him just how big a responsibility he had now, he had a whole other life in his care- he would never be able to face his mother again if anything happened to his sister.

"But I'm going to do better, you'll see, I can't promise I'll be anywhere close to good but I'm going to try- and with any luck you won't even remember the brief moment in time when you were under my care. Enough of that though, let me tell you about Hogwarts. You weren't meant to see it for another 11 years but we Malfoy's tend to be overachievers..."

Draco talked until his voice cracked and Ella was deep asleep, he rolled off the bed and grabbed pillows and blankets to create a little fort around her so she couldn't fall off the bed. His bags were by the door, smaller than he remembered, he held in an annoyed sigh at the lack of belongings he had with him now. He had nothing for school, either.

"Draco?" Andromeda called from outside before knocking softly, Draco just opened the door and went back to his task of taking stock of his clothes.

"Everything in order up here?" she asked. Draco breathed in and nodded. Learn not to offend your host. Do not offend Andromeda. This room is better than the street and much better than the Manor. Even if it is covered in muggle rubbish.

"Fine," Draco answered tightly. Andromeda hummed and looked around.

"I'll be going into London tomorrow, write me up a list and I'll pick up whatever you need. It goes without saying that you'll be staying here with Ted," Andromeda continued, voice stern.

"Fine," Draco repeated. He'd expected no less, he was actually a little touched Andromeda had known he'd need things, although with what they brought it was fairly obvious.

"I'll write a list, keep the bills and I'll pay back whatever I owe you," Draco said tightly.

Andromeda hesitated before nodding, "that will be fine, I'll leave by 9, if you can have the list before that?"

Draco nodded again. 

"Will you two be OK for the night?" she asked, her voice softening a fraction and her eyes going to his sleeping sister.

"I know how to care for my sister," Draco shot back.

"That's not what I-" she sighed, "Ted and I are the first door to the right up the stairs, if you need anything. Goodnight, Draco".

She turned briskly on her heel and left the room. The door clicked shut behind her and Draco was left to finish taking stock of his belongings.

 

Two hours later and Draco had a comprehensive list of everything he'd need to survive. An hour after that and he had a much smaller list of everything he could afford. His mother knew her way around a wand and had enlarged Ella's bag to fit a lot more, Draco hadn't been as lucky.

He was missing all of his school supplies, no uniforms or books, no parchment or quills and no broom. But then again, he thought, would the Slytherin team have him back now? And who would look after Ella if he was playing Quidditch?

She was asleep again, Draco opened the door and left the room only long enough to drop the list on the kitchen bench before returning. Like she'd somehow sensed him leaving when he came back, Ella was wide awake and ready to scream.

Draco moved in and picked her up quickly, bouncing her in his arms, he soothed her softly in French, the soft cadence of the words flowing from his mouth. He mostly only spoke French with his mother and and Pansy, she had made sure he was fluent quite early on in his life and by the time school started he had no problem swapping between the two languages whenever he chose. It had felt good knowing a second language, very few of his classmates could say the same, and he had taken any opportunity to show off. Now that Pansy was probably no longer speaking to him and his mother was not in the picture, he turned to Ella. If his mother couldn't teach her like she had done for him then he'd just have too.

He checked his watch. Damn it, when was the last time he fed her? Or changed her? Draco groaned, he was going to be so bad at this.

 

***

 

Ted and Andromeda were watching from the top step, soft smiles on their faces. Draco hadn't noticed them, in the state he was in he probably wouldn't notice Voldemort himself even if he was sitting starkers at the kitchen table.

"Were we this bad?" Ted asked with a little grin. Draco was trying both to change Ella and not throw up in her diaper all the while picking the best curse words from French and English. 

"Maybe... but we were allowed magic," Andromeda replied.

"Ha, speak for yourself, dear," Ted laughed, "we did also have some time to prepare... poor lad".

"He won't ask for help though," Andromeda said, sounding just a little proud. "He has to learn, anyhow, if he's going to survive this year".

"And what do you make of your long lost nephew?" Ted asked, watching Draco redress Ella badly.

"He's very like his mother," she said, "same face, same hair- he has the Black chin and nose. The same arrogance".

"I noticed that," Ted said and nudged his wife with his elbow. 

"He's strong and stubborn, that should be enough to get him through the worst of it," she said, "we just have to shave off 16 years of that blood purity rot he's grown up believing and we might have a decent kid on our hands".

They watched Draco for a little longer as he picked up Ella and tried to make a bottle one handed, it took forever but he managed it. He even tested it on his wrist first before moving over to Ted's favourite armchair and sitting down. 

"Merlin Ella, you're going to have to put up with a lot..." Draco whispered, it echoed down the hall and up the stairs, "can't even get you changed and fed without it taking the better part of an hour".

Andromeda rested her head on her husbands shoulder and just listened, she knew she shouldn't eavesdrop but she couldn't help being nosy and besides, she needed to know if Draco was worth this effort.

"How are we going to manage at Hogwarts?" Draco continued, "I'll change you between lessons and sleep with you on my lap in class, huh?" He laughed harshly and shook his head. "This is going to be worse than when Father found out that filthy Granger beat me in all our classes..."

"Can we make a deal?" Draco asked softly, "I'll do my best for you, do anything you need me to do if you promise you'll try and take it easy on me?"

And then Draco laughed almost hysterically and continued in a murmur that Andromeda and Ted only just heard, "I'm a 16 year old virgin, who probably almost definitely likes boys, and yet I'm still the one who ended up with a kid? I must have done something truly shite in another life... at least your cute".

Draco tipped his head back and rested on the lounge, still holding the bottle up. Ted nudged his wife and together they stood up and headed for bed.

"There's hope for him yet, Dromeda," Ted whispered.

Andromeda just nodded, if he dropped the attitude she thought she might end up liking her nephew a great deal.

 

***

 

Days turned into weeks and Draco was getting the hang of taking care of a baby. His day revolved entirely around her, when she ate, when she slept and when she pooped. He was trying to get her on a proper sleep schedule but she wasn't having it, preferring to wake up 4 or 5 times a night. She'd only fall back asleep if Draco held her.

It was better now though, Andromeda had picked him up what he needed and a few things he hadn't thought of. They had a crib in Draco's borrowed room and a pram by the door, he had a stack of diapers and spare clothes which Andromeda said came from one of their neighbours who had leftovers from her own child. 

He'd learnt how to bathe her properly with only a few comments from a passing Andromeda and he could distinguish between her wet cry and her tired cry. Draco himself was completely exhausted. The few hours Ella was asleep, Draco pulled open his school books and started trying to get as far ahead as he could, it was a constant battle not to put his head down and have a nap.

Andromeda and Ted were constantly suggesting he leave her with them for a bit so he could get some sleep but Draco refused. He couldn't get used to help, there would be little enough of that at Hogwarts and he should start training himself to study on very little sleep.

When he was at the end of his limit and couldn't stand being cooped up any more, he submitted to Andromeda casting a few charms over his face to change his appearance and then let her tag along with him as he took a small walk around the village pushing Ella in her new (secondhand) pram.

They didn't dare go too far and the conversation was stilted at best but Draco loved those moments, if he was feeling brave and the day was particularly beautiful they pulled over to a small park and stayed for half an hour. Ella rolling around on a blanket and Draco reading one of his textbooks, Andromeda pulled out a muggle paperback and sitting in silence with them- both with their wands at the ready.

Slowly Draco felt himself relaxing, he smiled when Andromeda said something clever and slightly insulting to her husband and he was feeling quite a lot better towards Ted. He was sure Ted was doing more than Draco was aware but he never caught the muggle at it, he'd come into the kitchen and see all of Ella's bottles washed up or go to get her last onesie from her draw only to see all of them clean again.

Ted never said anything bad to Draco and Draco hated to admit it but he was finding his silent company quite enjoyable. There was a peace when he was in the room, no expectations of Draco and no judgement. He'd never say that out loud, though.

After a month at the Tonks' he finally allowed Andromeda to give Ella a bath, not because he couldn't do it but because she'd been hovering near the bathroom for the last four bath times. He'd looked up from his spot on the floor, Ella lying on a rug next to him and asked quite casually if Andromeda wasn't busy, would she mind bathing her?

His Aunt's face had lit up for a second but she clamped down on it in a way only a Black could. She'd accepted and Draco had resisted the temptation to lurk in the hallway, instead staying in the lounge room and in hearing distance to the bathroom. A clean, warm Ella was plopped back in his lap 45 minutes later and fell asleep almost at once. Draco had managed to read an entire chapter on non-verbal spells and take most of it in.

 

***

 

Two weeks before he was expected back at Hogwarts he was informed his cousin, Nymphadora was coming to dinner that night. She had been informed of the situation and sworn to secrecy. As an Auror and a member of the Order Draco assumed, hoped, she could keep that secret.

She arrived in a mess at half past 6, bursting through the door without knocking and hollering down the hall to her mother and father. Ted grinned and Andromeda rolled her eyes as they got up to greet their only daughter.

"Thank Merlin you're cooking tonight, Dad! I don't think I could manage more than beans on toast and I've had enough of that for a lifetime... Merlin's saggy balls, I'm tired! Be an Auror they said, it'll be fun they said".

Nymphadora Tonks groaned and dropped her bag on the ground. Short bubblegum pink hair framed her heart shaped face and her dark twinkling eyes. She looked as if she were on the edge of laughter.

"And these are the cousins, I suppose? Draco Malfoy, I've heard a lot about you," she said turning to Draco and giving him a suspicious look. Her smiled turning more into a grimace. Her expression softened as she took him in, the bags under his eyes from lack of sleep and the weariness etched into his face. The way he subconsciously held Ella protectively against his chest and straightened his shoulders and back when faced with her.

"I'm sure you have," Draco said coolly. His facade was ruined when Ella spit up on his shoulder. Draco sighed and went to work to clean it up, Ted tried to hand him a towel but Draco waved him off. Instead, with a stern look he passed Ella to his Aunt and went to his room to change.

When he returned, Ella was still held by Andromeda but she had a firm hold on one of Nymphadora's fingers.

"She's really sweet," his cousin cooed, she looked up and noticed Draco again and actually offered him a small but genuine smile. "I can't imagine looking after a baby, I'm dead clumsy- any child of mine would be lucky to make it through the day without an injury".

"We're doing fine," Draco said, his voice still cool, "we made a deal that she was going to take it easy on me".

"Oh?" Nymphadora laughed, "how's that working out for you?"

Draco shrugged, "we're still alive".

Nymphadora laughed again before looking serious and turning her full attention on Draco, "come to your senses then? Realised serving a homicidal madman was probably not such a neat idea?"

"Nymphadora!" Andromeda admonished.

Draco just met her eyes and said coldly, "well, when you're underage and your family is quite involved with said maniac you don't get much of a choice. Tell me, did your parent's beliefs have no bearing whatsoever on how you grew up?"

She stared at him in silence, listening to his every word.

"The Dark Lord asked something of me and I had only a few choices, accept or refuse his offer both choices would probably kill me... or run away knowing I might not be safe and may never see my family again. What would you do?"

She watched him a moment longer and said, "and do you regret your choice?"

"I only regret not being able to convince my mother to come," Draco replied, "but she is set in her ways and her beliefs, I'm just glad she was able to see there was no future there for me or my sister".

"Hmm..." she said and then smiled, "in that case, we should have some dinner before Dad gets mad it's going cold".

Andromeda passed Ella back and after a moment of hesitation Draco followed the Tonks' into the dining room where Ted was just finishing up serving dinner.

"Dora, you haven't been too awful to your cousin have you?" Ted asked with a grin.

"Please, Dad, you know me! I can't be serious if you paid me a thousand galleons," she replied. "Dinner looks amazing!"

"I made your favourites, you don't come around that often anymore so I've got to try and entice you here with something," he grinned and picked up the plate of lamb to pass around the table.

"I'd come here every night if I could, if I'm not at the ministry or on guard duty I'm at St Mungo's," she said tiredly.

"Oh, how is Sirius?" Andromeda asked worriedly.

"No change still, Remus is out of his mind with worry".

"Sirius?" Draco interrupted confused. "Sirius Black?"

"That's the one," Tonks replied with a sad nod, "hit with a bunch of curses at the Ministry end of last term, healer's are boggled as to what to do".

"But Sirius Black? The mass murdered?" Draco repeated.

"He was framed, Draco," Andromeda filled in, "spent 12 years in Azkaban for something he didn't do and you obviously know he's not working for Lord Voldemort".

"No one ever talked about him," Draco muttered, shivering at the idea of 12 years in Azkaban.

"I suppose my dear family talk about him as much as they talk about me," Andromeda sniffed, "glad to be rid of the lot of them".

"Here, here," Tonks cheered, "but yeah, framed and now hospitalised and just when I thought he was getting his life back on track and they're working on properly clearing his name".

"How's Remus?" Ted asked.

"Bloody sick with worry, doesn't leave his side except for on the full moon and I'm sure he'd stay curled up on the floor if he was allowed to stay," Tonks sighed, "and they'd just worked themselves out too".

"I'm so confused," Draco said not able to follow any longer and hating to be in the dark.

Tonks raised and eyebrow at her parents and then grinned at Draco, "Sirius and Remus are together".

"Together?" Draco repeated with a frown.

"As in very, very gay for each other," Tonks said and then bit her lip, "I'm trusting that whatever you hear tonight you won't repeat... not to anyone".

Draco let out a dry laugh, "who am I going to tell? Ella? And besides I don't really give a toss who Sirius Black is fu-" he stopped and looked down at Ella, mentally reminding himself to stop cursing unless he wanted that to be her first word.

"Good, keep it that way," Tonks warned.

Dinner from there devolved into chatter about every day life occasionally dipping into the darker stories about people they know affected by Voldemort or the Death Eaters. Draco heard so many names he knew, each one making him wince. What if he or Ella were next? What's to stop them finding the Tonks' house and murdering all of them?

Draco got a very sudden desire to return to Hogwarts, if only to lesson the target on his Aunt's home. That thought shocked through him and he swallowed anxiously- Merlin, he was starting to care for them.

"Are you on guard duty on September 1st?" Andromeda asked in what she hoped was casual. Her daughter saw right through her and shook her head.

"Harry's got enough protection, I thought maybe I'd come here and help get you guys to London- I assume you'll be escorting Draco?" Tonks answered.

"Obviously, I've requested an Auror to escort us but they've said everyone is busy," Andromeda raised a disbelieving eyebrow at her daughter.

"Uh huh, I'm sure they don't want to waste resources- well, if you don't mind I'll ask Mad Eye and the two of us will get Draco and Ella safely on board the train," Tonks said.

"Mad Eye Moody?" Draco questioned.

"Problem?" Tonks asked with a knowing grin.

Draco glared at her and sipped his water, "no problem, Made Eye Moody will be acceptable".

Tonks just laughed. 

 

***

 

Tonks had been going to leave after dinner but instead she shrugged and stayed a little longer at her parents request. They moved to the lounge room after dinner, the wireless playing in the background and hot teas in their hands. Tonks noticed that her Dad left his favourite chair free and when Draco returned from changing Ella he went straight to it and curled up like he lived there.

She watched him hold his sister, unconsciously rubbing her back and smiling down at her every now and then. She kept glancing at him as he sat so comfortably in her childhood home, she'd never expected to see a Malfoy on their land let alone curled up on their armchair.

Draco fell asleep after about an hour and Tonks turned seriously to her parents.

"How's it going here?"

Andromeda sighed and glanced at Draco, "we like him Dora, he's changed since he first got here- he's even civil to Ted now".

"Never thought I'd live to see that," Tonks whistled, "are we sure about him?"

Her parents nodded decisively and her Dad said, "the way he looks after his sister, there's no going back to Voldemort for him not if it means putting her in even the slightest bit of danger".

Her mother nodded in agreement, "I'm worried about him though, he's going to try and do it all alone at school- no one's going to offer him any help either. I don't think he'll have many friends when he returns".

Tonks silently agreed. Draco Malfoy spurned Voldemort and by association most of Slytherin house, from what she heard he was rather an arrogant little prick at school and most definitely disliked by the other houses. Not to mention he had a child to care for, it would be all too easy for him to separate himself and burn out.

"He's stubborn, Mum, that'll count for something," Tonks said, "and the teachers will help- none of them will want to see another child suffer due to a bloody war".

"We can hope... are you staying tonight, Dora? We'd love you to only you'll have to sleep down here, Draco has your room and it's best to have a closed door between you and Ella during the night".

Tonks laughed, "I'd love too, but I've got work in the morning and it's best if I'm closer to London and Headquarters".

A little while later, Ted was tapping Draco's shoulder and shuffling him off to bed. Draco was so tired he didn't argue or sneer, he just stood up wearily and trod the now familiar path to his room. He even bade goodnight to a happily surprised Ted.

Chapter Text

Two grim-face, bearded Aurors in dark Muggle suits moved forwards the moment the cars stopped and, flanking the party, marched them into the station without speaking. 

"Quick, quick, through the barrier," said Mrs Weasley, who seemed a little flustered by this austere efficiency. "Harry had better go first, with-"

She looked enquiringly at one of the Aurors, who nodded briefly, seized Harry's upper arm and attempted to steer him towards the barrier between platforms nine and ten.

"I can walk, thanks," Harry said irritably, jerking his arm out of the Auror's grip. He pushed his trolley directly at the solid barrier, ignoring his silent companion, and found himself, a second later, standing on platform nine and three-quarters, where the scarlet Hogwarts Express stood belching steam over the crowd.

Hermione and the Weasleys joined him moments later and without consulting the Aurors, he motioned for Ron and Hermione to follow him up the platform, looking for an empty compartment.

"We can't, Harry," Hermione said, looking pained and anxious. "Ron and I have to go to the Prefect carriage and then patrol the corridors for a bit."

"Oh, right... I forgot," said Harry, "that's fine, you guys go- I'll be fine".

"Ginny's around somewhere, get a compartment for us and we'll see you after lunch, yeah?" said Ron. Harry nodded his agreement and together they all boarded the train. 

The whistled sounded and the three of them waved until the train turned a corner and they were out of sight. He turned around and found that Ron and Hermione had already left, Ginny was a little way down the corridor, chatting to some friends. He dragged his trunk the other way, he didn't want to bother her.

People stared shamelessly as he made his way toward the back of the train, looking out for a free compartment. He had expected an upswing in the amount of gaping and gawking since the Ministry but he definitely did not enjoy the sensation of standing under a spotlight. 

"Hi, Harry!"

"Neville," said Harry, turning in relief. Neville's head poked out of a compartment, Harry looked inside and saw a girl with long hair and large misty eyes, she smiled widely at Harry.

"Hello, Harry," she greeted dreamily.

"Hey, Luna," Harry smiled genuinely at her. She was a little quirky but he quickly found he didn't mind her company, Neville's either. They chatted for the better half of the morning, Harry only speaking when they asked him a direct question, happy to listen to them recount their summers and question him about the DA. Both looking quite disappointed when Harry said it wouldn't be continuing.

When the sun was visible almost directly overhead, Ron and Hermione entered the compartment at last.

"Wish the lunch trolley would hurry up, I'm starving," said Ron longingly, slumping into the seat beside Harry and rubbing his stomach. "Hi, Neville, hi, Luna. Guess what?" he added, turning to Harry. "Malfoy's not doing prefect duty. He's not even sitting in his compartment, Hermione and I didn't see him once while we patrolled".

Harry sat up straight, interested. It wasn't like Malfoy to pass up a chance to demonstrate his power as a prefect, which he'd happily abused the year before.

"You didn't see him anywhere?" 

"Not once, but we weren't actually looking for him- could have just been in the loos," said Ron indifferently. "But why isn't he out there bullying the first years?"

"Dunno," said Harry, his mind racing. Where was Malfoy if he wasn't on the train? Maybe he wasn't coming back to Hogwarts at all?

"Maybe he just preferred the Inquisitorial Squad, prefect must seem pretty tame after that," Hermione added.

"Yeah, but you should have at least seen him, the git's not usually one for hiding," said Harry.

"We don't know he's not on the train," Hermione stressed but then frowned, "although the sixth year Slytherin compartment looked pretty intense when we passed. They were arguing about something".

"What-"

There was a knock on the door interrupting Harry. A breathless third year girl stepped inside and stared at Harry.

"I'm supposed to give these to Neville Longbottom and Harry P-Potter," she faltered, as her eyes met Harry's and she turned scarlet. She held out two scrolls of parchment and stumbled back outside as soon as Neville and Harry had taken them.

"What is it?" Ron asked.

"An Invitation," said Harry.

 

' Harry,

I would be delighted if you would join me for a bite of lunch in Compartment C.

    Sincerely, Professor H.E.F Slughorn'

 

Harry took his invisibility cloak with him, hoping to catch a glimpse of Malfoy without being spotted. This idea came to nothing as he didn't see Malfoy on the way to Slughorn's or on the way back, late as it was Malfoy should have been with his cronies in his compartment.

Hermione had been right though, as he'd followed Blaise Zabini back to their compartment he caught an earful of their heated conversation. Malfoy's name came up contemptuously in the thirty seconds the door was open, he'd been tempted to go inside but it was too crowded for him not to be found. Nearly every sixth year Slytherin was crammed inside.

He spent the rest of the journey trying to engage the others in theories until he saw how bored they were of him repeating himself. He clammed up and spent the remainder of the journey staring out the window, slowly obsessing over Malfoy.

 

***

 

Draco was at the station half an hour early, it was completely deserted like he'd never seen before. He suspected the train might have come a tad early just for him. The importance made his chest inflate slightly until he remembered why he was here.

He pushed Ella in her pram and carried her bags while Ted pushed a trolley filled with a new trunk for both himself and Ella and all of their new belongings. It had cost more than he'd had to replace everything and although it pained him greatly most of it was found second hand by Andromeda, he'd borrowed some of Tonks' old books, the ones that hadn't changed since her own sixth year, and for the first time wore clothing that didn't fit to perfection.

It was embarrassing to say the least and for the first time he was glad that most of the Slytherin's would be ignoring him this year. Although if they went down the alternative path of extreme teasing they would have a lot of material to use against him. He flushed remembering the small holes he'd seen Andromeda fixing three nights before, of the tie she tried to secretly get a stain out of and of the new shoes which Ted had tried to pass off as 'given to him by a friend'.

Their kindness was embarrassing and if he hadn't needed it so desperately he would have thrown it back in their faces. Although... maybe not. Despite looking after an infant and being in hiding from the most dangerous wizard the world had ever seen, his summer had been much less awful than he'd anticipated. The combination of Andromeda's familial similarities and the simple fact of having a warm, safe place to stay had helped more than he'd thought. 

On the whole though, they were both dressed and he wasn't missing anything. He'd have to figure out how to order diapers and new clothes for Ella when she outgrew her current ones but thought maybe regular owl post might work... for which he'd have to borrow a school owl.

They rolled right through the barrier to platform nine and three quarters without incident. Tonks had hailed them a taxi to get to Kings Cross and the two Malfoys, three Tonks' and one Mad Eye Moody had all squeezed inside. 

Draco finally took an easy breath, he was on the Platform and one step closer to Hogwarts. Now all he needed was a boring trip back to school and an uneventful night to really ease up the pressure building in his body.

"Alright, Draco, I'll put your things on the train- I believe there's a compartment up the front for you," said Ted, pushing his trolley. Draco nodded his thanks and turned to Andromeda and her daughter.

"Write to me if you need anything, I can organise a few things to be sent if you want me too," Andromeda said, "I believe the staff will talk to you tonight about you're new arrangements and how Ella comes into play".

"Alright," said Draco.

"Look after her, cousin," Tonks added and then grinned, "and look after yourself, you'll be no use to her if you're dead on your feet".

Draco rolled his eyes but nodded. Andromeda then surprised him motionless by coming in and hugging him quickly, followed just as fast by Tonks. They were watching him seriously, studying him.

"If you have trouble finding people you trust this year, I recommend you follow your instinct," Tonks added, "as you are well aware, Slytherin's don't tend to forgive easy and even if they did, there is a lot of family pressure for them not to befriend you this year. Don't be surprised if they ignore you".

Draco swallowed, he knew he couldn't keep his friends. If they had even half the pressure on them that he'd had, it wasn't going to happen. He had held a small flicker of hope that maybe, just maybe Pansy or Theo could be talked around.

Tonks continued steadily, "just try and make a few friends, everything will be infinitely easier if you have people on your side. Finding friends outside of Slytherin will be easier than you think, I promise, if you put in just a little effort you'll be fine".

Draco couldn't believe her. He'd never had a friend outside of Slytherin (not that he'd tried) and didn't expect this year to be any different. Besides, he didn't have time for friends. But he didn't want to argue with them just before he left, he had solid intentions to try and get out a thank you.

"Aunt Andromeda-" Draco started.

"Best get on board, lad, conductor says students will be starting to arrive soon," Ted said, clapping him on the shoulder.

Do it now, Draco shouted at himself.

"Thank you..." Draco managed, "for everything you did for us, I'm in your debt".

Andromeda, Ted and Tonks all shared confused looks and then as one they grinned.

"Nonsense, lad, you're family," said Ted.

"Of course, Draco, you're more than welcome," Andromeda said warmly.

"I think I might actually like having you as a cousin after all," Tonks laughed.

Draco stood there awkwardly feeling a rush of emotion run through him, before he could dig himself any deeper he turned briskly and pushed Ella toward the front end of the train.

"Draco?"

He turned.

"You're welcome back with us this summer if you need a place to stay- and if you'd rather not stay at Hogwarts please join us over Christmas," Andromeda called after him.

Emotion rushed up to his face, he managed an, "I'll think about it", before getting on the train and out of sight. He sighed deeply and trundled up the front, he found the open door with his belongings packed in neatly and pushed Ella inside.

"There's a loo across from this compartment, it's cut off from the student compartments- reserved for teachers, you know," a female voice said behind him, he turned and saw who must be the conductor, a middle aged woman with soft brown curls and warm eyes.

"Right," Draco replied.

"The food trolley will visit though and I've been told to inform you not to worry about Prefect duties and also, to wait for someone to get you before you get off," she said, "I s'spect a teacher will be coming to escort the two of you up to the school".

"Alright".

"In that case, make yourself at home and don't worry about anyone finding you up here- it should be quiet enough for the baby to sleep as well".

Draco nodded and the conductor left, when he was finally alone he organised the rest of Ella's things, only keeping out what he'd need for the journey. She was sleeping soundly in her pram and he dared not move her, instead he rested his head against the wall and closed his eyes. For just a second. He would be home really soon.

 

***

 

Harry missed most of the Sorting, his eyes unfocused on the staff table. He noted that Sprout wasn't there, that Slughorn took up almost two chairs and Snape was looking just as greasy as usual. Nothing else really made it into his head.

Not until the food appeared and he had to make an effort to eat it, while he tried his eyes scanned the hall looking for Malfoy. He raked over the Slytherin table three times before he had to admit that Malfoy was absent. It didn't mean anything, he'd missed half the start of term feasts himself. It was just odd, that was all, not to see Malfoy's annoying pointy face.

"Malfoy's not here," he said, trying again to engage Ron of Hermione.

"Maybe mummy didn't want him coming back?" Ron guessed excitedly, "wouldn't it be great to have a year without having to look at that prat?"

"The Slytherin's don't look at all happy, do they?" Hermione added, frowning.

Harry had to agree, the Slytherin's weren't known for their cheer but tonight there were a lot more dour, pinched expressions than usual. And they all seemed to be whispering angrily up and down the table, obvious gossip running the course from 7th years down to first. At the front table, Dumbledore stood up.

"The very best of evenings to you!" Dumbledore said, smiling broadly, his arms opened wide as if to embrace the whole room.

"What happened to his hand?" gasped Hermione.

"It was like that when I saw him over the summer," Harry whispered back.

She was not the only one who noticed. Dumbledore's right hand was as blackened and dead looking as it had been on the night he had come to fetch Harry from the Dursleys'.

"Nothing to worry about," he said airily. "Now... to our new students, welcome; to our old students, welcome back! Another year full of magical education awaits you..."

Dumbledore continued and Harry only barely listened, he tuned back in when Dumbledore announced that Slughorn would be their new Potions Master and Snape would be taking Defence Against the Dark Arts. At that news he clenched his teeth angrily and glared at Snape's greasy, pallid face. He looked so goddamn smug.

Dumbledore cleared his throat and waited a few seconds for the commotion to die down before continuing.

"Now, as everybody in this hall knows, Lord Voldemort and his followers are once more at large and gaining in strength. I cannot emphasise strongly enough how dangerous the present situation is, and how much care each of us at Hogwarts must take to ensure that we remain safe. I trust you to conduct yourselves, always, with the utmost regard for your own and each other's safety".

Dumbledore's blue eyes swept over the student's before he smiled once more.

"This brings me to my last announcement, it will come as no shock to you to know that one of our own has been embroiled with Lord Voldemort for the past year against his will-"

A great many eyes swung curiously over to Harry, who stubbornly refused to meet any of them.

"We have welcomed him back at Hogwarts with open arms... and Draco Malfoy will return with the full support of all the staff and we hope, the students, as I would wish any one of you back in such tumultuous circumstances".

A shock wave ran through the hall, not one student was left without their mouth open or their brain a little short circuited. Except the Slytherin's, most of whom were frowning and glaring at Dumbledore in quiet rage.

"Considering such circumstances we have had to make allowances for when one of our own is in trouble and unsafe in his own home. Joining Mr Malfoy back at Hogwarts this year and under our protection will be his sister. She is only a small child and in desperate need of protection from her only family. And I must warn you, the staff and I will be keeping a close eye on her. This war does not need another child as a casualty. If you have any questions please ask your head of house, they are all well informed.

    But now, your beds await, as warm and comfortable as you could possibly wish, and I know that your top priority is to be well-rested for your lessons tomorrow. Let us therefore say goodnight. Pip pip!"

"What in Merlin's saggy left ball is going on?" said Ron as they walked back to Gryffindor Tower, still in a thorough state of confusion. "Since when does Malfoy have a sister? Hell, since when does Malfoy have a conscience? Hermione? What's going on?"

Harry turned to her as well and saw her narrowed eyes, she was quite deep in thought. When she finally turned to Harry and Ron she spoke softly.

"I think maybe Lord Voldemort finally asked for something that Malfoy was unwilling to give- something bad enough to make him worry for his own and his sister's safety."

"Nothing could be that bad to that lot!" Ron exclaimed, "they worship the lunatic".

"I don't know, Ron," Hermione added, "he works with fear and you scare someone enough, provoke them and intimidate them enough, eventually they'll try and get away".

"You think Malfoy turned on Voldemort?" Harry asked, open mouthed and disorientated.

"I think from how the Slytherin's and staff are acting, he must have done something big- something that Voldemort didn't like," said Hermione.

"Blimey, I didn't know the prat even had a backbone," Ron muttered.

"He was probably just trying to save his own skin," Harry argued.

"Maybe... but he also presumably saved his sister and well, it looks like they're under Dumbledore's protection so it must be good for our side," she said.

Harry closed his mouth and desperately wanted to go to bed. It was all upside down- Snape was the DADA teacher? Malfoy was apparently now on their side? Dumbledore trusted Malfoy? He groaned in defeat- maybe if he pinched himself he'd wake up and this would all be a weird dream.

 

***

 

Draco waited until the noise from disembarking students died down and then he stood and packed up all his belongings, getting ready to leave. Footsteps sounded down the hall and in no time a familiar wad of short, flyaway hair appeared in his doorway.

"Professor Sprout?"

"Mr Malfoy," she said and then looked down at Ella and smiled, "and company. Come on, leave your stuff- it'll be quicker this way," said Sprout.

Draco stowed Ella's diaper bag at the bottom of her pram, he wasn't sure when his luggage would arrive but he wasn't risking going without for even a second. Sprout raised an eyebrow but Draco just moved passed her and down the empty corridor.

Cool night air hit his face as he wrangled the pram off the train, jolting his sister enough to wake her. He started moving again straight away knowing how much Ella liked movement and praying she'd fall back to sleep straight away. He was too tired to deal with anything else.

"Uh, Mr Malfoy? Do you intend to walk the whole way back up to school?" Sprout called out.

"It's not that fair and I don't want to wake her," Draco called back.

"There's a carriage," said Sprout.

"Yes," said Draco with a sigh, "but getting in the carriage requires picking her up, she's just fallen back asleep after crying for two hours so I'd prefer not to move her. Walking makes her sleep, so we walk".

"You know, I can just use magic to put her in the carriage?" said Sprout and Draco froze. He closed his eyes and sighed. He'd forgotten about magic. He was so tired he thought walking back to school was the better option. He turned on his heel and went back toward the carriage.

The trip up to the castle was blissfully silent, Draco leaned his whole weight against the side of the carriage and closed his eyes. He drifted in and out of sleep as the carriage bumped and jostled, Professor Sprout reading a newspaper next to him.

"Alright there, Mr Malfoy?" Sprout asked softly as the carriage pulled to a stop.

Draco jerked awake and shook himself a little, he immediately leaned forward to check on Ella and make sure she was still breathing. He ran a hand through his hair and looked over at his teacher.

"I'm fine, Professor," said Draco.

"Alright then, let's get Miss Malfoy off the carriage and into a proper bed- it's been a long day".

"Sure has," Draco muttered.

He heard the noise from the great hall as they walked past, his eyes drifting over and breathing in a little deeper hoping to catch a whiff of dinner. Sprout led him down the hall and levitated Ella's pram up the stairs- Draco made a mental note to remember that charm. Sprout opened a door for him on the fourth floor near a portrait of three young ladies- all of whom were whispering behind their hands.

"I'm not in Slytherin anymore?" Draco asked quietly, Sprout clapped him on the shoulder.

"Not in the dormitory, no, but you're still in Slytherin house. We thought having you're own room might be easier on everyone," Sprout said.

"Right," Draco muttered.

"Come on, you'll like your new rooms- lots of space," Sprout said and ushered them into the room. 

She was right, Draco had to stop his mouth from falling open. They had stepped into a small but cosy living room with a comfy sofa and two armchairs in front of a fireplace. There were two doors off to the left and two off to the right- he left Ella in her pram and went to investigate his rooms. 

On the right was the bathroom and a small kitchen, the bathroom was lavish enough with a bath, toilet, shower and sink. The kitchenette had a bar fridge, hot plate, kettle and a little table pushed against the wall- cupboards lined the soft green walls and the draws had little white marble snakes on the handles.

He smiled softly and went to the other two rooms, one of them had a large four poster double bed with green quilts and a tonne of pillows, there was a small cot in the corner and a chest of drawers in the other. His trunk hadn't arrived yet but there was a space at the end of his bed for it and in the room next door was a room for Ella when she was a bit older. Everything a baby could need was ready to go.

Draco ended up back in the lounge room and facing Professor Sprout who was hovering over Ella. 

"She has your nose," said Sprout.

"I know," Draco answered, "this room has everything".

"All the teachers had a little input- the couch was mine, just so you know," Sprout answered, "I have to go to the feast but a house elf will bring you dinner, after the feast the heads of house will be up to talk to you about what to expect this year and to sort out your timetable".

"Fine," said Draco and watched as Sprout walked out the door and closed it behind her. She didn't snap it closed loudly but apparently it was enough to wake Ella. Draco groaned and waited, after a minute her muffled cry turned into a scream and Draco pulled himself heavily off the lounge. 

He had enough energy to calm her and then change and feed her (both a lot easier with magic) and curl up on the armchair with her safely asleep on his chest before he passed out himself. 

 

***

 

Someone tapped him awake and Draco groaned and hugged Ella closer to his chest- it was becoming a habit for someone to wake him up. 

"Go 'way," he muttered and swiped his hand at his unwelcome visitor.

"Mr Malfoy," came the familiar drawl of Snape.

"Ugh..." Draco grumbled but cracked his eyes open and glared at all four professors, "any one of you speaks louder than a whisper and you have to put her back to sleep".

"Tired, Mr Malfoy?" McGonagall asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Why would I be tired, Professor? I've only had about 5 hours of sleep in the last two days, that's normal, right?" Draco replied trying to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

"A new normal, perhaps," Sprout added.

McGonagall drew up two chairs for Flitwick and Snape while she and Sprout took the couch, all of them turning to face Draco. Draco groaned and sat up carefully, glancing around at his teachers, his heart beginning to beat a little faster at what was coming next.

"So?"

"Well, Mr Malfoy, your OWL's are more than enough for you to proceed with any classes you wish, do you have a preference?" asked McGonagall.

"Potions," Draco responded glancing at Snape, "Charms, Transfiguration, Defence, Herbology and Astronomy- I want too but how am I supposed too with Ella?"

"She'll just have to come along," Sprout added, "you can take her to most classes without a problem and although Professor's Snape and Slughorn assure me there's no chance she can attend their classes Minerva and I have a suggestion for her care".

"As in?" Draco asked, his heart thumping at the possibility of continuing school (almost) like normal.

"Madam Pomfrey said she is quite willing to care for her during those lessons - you can drop her off in the hospital wing and pick her up before and after class but otherwise, business as usual," McGonagall said.

"More or less," Draco sighed.

"More or less," Flitwick agreed with a little smile.

"Alright..." said Draco, too tired to protest.

"In that case, the school is well aware of your situation and we'll expect you in class tomorrow. Here's your timetable- I believe Professor Flitwick will see you at 9," McGonagall finished, she stood up and brushed herself off.

"Thank you, Professor," Draco said quietly, she nodded and the others trailed out. Snape hesitated at the door and looked back at him.

"Your mother's alive and well, the Dark Lord believes her and thinks you kidnapped your sister," Snape said quickly, "he is very angry though and he knows your here, it would be inadvisable to leave the Hogwarts grounds this year".

"She's OK?" Draco asked in a hushed voice.

Snape nodded and Draco let out a sigh, dropping his head and allowing himself a moment of happiness at knowing his mother was alright.

"If you need help with the child I suggest Madam Pomfrey or Professor Sprout. I, on the other hand, will be useless to you," Snape finished, "goodnight, Mr Malfoy".

"Goodnight, Professor, I'll keep it in mind," Draco replied.

Chapter Text

"Do you think he'll take her to class?" Harry asked.

"I don't know, mate, how's that even possible?" said Ron, shovelling a spoonful of food into his mouth. 

"Maybe they'll organise a babysitter... or he'll do classes by himself?" offered Harry, "What do you reckon, Hermione?" 

"We'll find out in about 10 minutes, I suppose," Hermione sighed. They'd been discussing Malfoy since Dumbledore's announcement at the feast and it was testing Hermione's patience.

"Why's that?" asked Harry.

"We have Charms with the Ravenclaws, right? I don't think they'll put Malfoy in a class with the Slytherin's so if he takes Charms, he'll be in our class," Hermione reasoned out, slinging her bag over her shoulder and standing up.

"Guess we should get to class then," said Ron with a grin. An out of luck and unhappy Malfoy was something they were both excited to see.

"This should be interesting," said Harry, matching Ron's grin and following Hermione out of the Great Hall and over to Charms.

"You're looking a little better this morning," Hermione commented, walking steadily next to Harry. Harry shrugged, he hadn't been able to turn his brain off about Malfoy and had fallen asleep from exhaustion after casting a silencing charm around his bed. He'd woken only once but the nightmare hadn't been all that bad and he'd drifted back off.

"It's good to be home," was all Harry replied. Hermione smiled at him but there was obvious worry on her face, she didn't entirely believe him.

"What do you reckon happened?" Ron asked, "with Malfoy? Think we'll ever find out?"

Hermione groaned and walked a few steps in front of them so she couldn't hear anymore. Ron had asked that particular question three times already. Harry, however, dove right back into dissecting Malfoy.

"Must have been pretty bad for him to jump ship, right?" said Harry, "I still can't believe that he turned his back on Voldemort-" Ron flinched at the name but Harry kept going, "and that he might even be on our side. That's madness".

Harry kept coming back to this one central question: was Malfoy somehow on their side now? 

"Never thought I'd see the day I was on the same side as a Malfoy," Ron said with a low whistle, "but what about the sister? How does she come into all this?"

"No idea... Malfoy must have a heart after all, right? Couldn't leave his sister behind," said Harry. He had known Draco Malfoy for five years now and none of that time had made him believe Malfoy was capable of something selfless, let alone risking his life for someone else.

"Ah, well that one's not really so hard to understand- I think I'd always go back for family but especially Ginny, you know? She's my little sister, I'm supposed to protect her," Ron explained with a shrug, "even Malfoy's capable of that".

"I suppose," Harry agreed but it was a little hard for him to fully understand, he'd never had a sibling that needed his protection. It was always him getting protected by others, his parents, Sirius... Harry shook his head softly and moved on.

"He might have had a worse summer than me," Harry muttered feeling both vindicated that Malfoy was getting a little payback and maybe just a tiny bit sorry that someone else had to go through what he did.

They wandered into Charms five minutes before class started and found an empty table with Neville. Harry looked around but there was no Malfoy present. He dropped his bag on the floor and sat down next to Ron as the minutes ticked down, they weren't the only ones staring at the door watching students trickle in one by one. Harry looked up- it was a few minutes after the bell and Flitwick hadn't started yet. Apparently they were waiting for someone.

"Think he's even coming?" Harry whispered, Ron shrugged back as they continued to openly stare at the door.

At seven past nine, Malfoy stumbled inside. His face was flushed and his arms were full, he was dragging a pram behind him filled with his book bag as he tried to get through the door on a bad angle. The wheel kept smacking against the doorframe.

A quick spell and the door enlarged, Malfoy was free and trying to get himself together. The baby in his arms was obviously awake and gurgling happily, Malfoy looked around for an empty seat and went for the one close by Harry's. It had a large space free behind it where he pushed the pram, collected his bag and dropped into his seat.

The whole class watched him with wide eyed interest, no one had ever seen him like this before- flustered and pink, trying to juggle a baby and books while not meeting anyone's eye. Harry stared and felt a small amount of glee as Malfoy struggled with his books, it disappeared slowly when he noticed the dark circles under his eyes and the familiar look of fatigue on his face. It was the same exhaustion that met Harry in the mirror every morning.

"Attention, please," Flitwick called and the class tore their eyes from Malfoy as he began in on his lesson.

Harry tried to focus but he kept glancing over at Malfoy. It was incredibly strange to see him with a baby in his arms, even weirder to find that the baby enjoyed being there. Every now and then she would make a noise and Harry would watch as Malfoy looked down and quirked a small, tired smile at her. That was also weird to see.

When they started to practice Malfoy reached back slowly and grabbed the pram, bringing it close and trying to maneuver the baby inside. Whenever Harry glanced over he saw Malfoy unconsciously rocking the pram back and forth with one hand and practising his work with the other.

The rest of the lesson was uneventful, when Malfoy caught anyone looking at him he would glare steadily back until they looked away. When his sister fussed he rocked the pram a little more and Harry could spot the naked hope on his face as she calmed down. Hermione kept nudging his attention back to his work and every time she did, Harry felt a flush rising up his neck in embarrassment at having been caught once more.

He just couldn't get over how strange it was not to see Malfoy sneering at any given chance, he wasn't insulting anyone or showing off his completed work. He just sat quietly at the back of the room, working studiously and not drawing attention to himself. Well, anymore than his baby sister already had.

"Has the whole world gone mad?" Harry muttered in astonishment.

"It was already quite mad on its own," Hermione whispered back with a little smile, "this just proves it".

 

***

 

Draco's entire morning had been a run of shite luck. He'd set his alarm to get up early so he could get to class first and draw less attention to himself, instead he hadn't set it correctly and slept right through until Ella woke him screaming.

He tripped out of bed, stubbed his toe and let his curses join Ella's crying. He felt a little like crying along with her. He'd picked her up and cuddled her, rocking her while pacing to try and settle her again, he had no time to shower so he ran a few cleaning spells over himself and hoped he didn't smell. He'd definitely need to shower tonight though.

His stomach grumbled angrily at him but with Ella crying, she came first. He got her bottle ready and fed her as he scrambled about their rooms, putting her diaper bag back together and stowing it in the pram before grabbing his schoolbooks and his book bag. He ran into the bathroom and tried to run a comb through his hair only to see the bruises under his eyes and paleness of his face, he looked about as weary as he felt. 

Draco closed his eyes, took a deep breath in and held it. He straightened his back, squared his shoulder and let his breath out. He could do this. 

Moving quickly he finished feeding Ella, dropped her bottle in the kitchen and laid her down on the rug in front of the lounge. He was getting to be really quick at changing her diaper and checking to make sure her clothes were clean. He picked her up and bounced her slowly while he finished getting ready, waiting and hoping that she would drift off.

The best she did was settle down but it was enough to allow him to get out the door. He tried to put her in the pram but she screamed when he tried so he dumped his book bag in there instead and levitated it up the flight of stairs, running off towards charms. He was definitely late when he found the room, the door was still open and he rushed inside banging the wheel on the doorframe until Flitwick enlarged it.

He tried to disappear after he took his seat, focusing on listening to Flitwick and only part of his attention stayed on his sister. Ella fell asleep half way through class, he put her back in the pram and rocked her whenever he heard he fussing. He felt eyes on him all through class and couldn't help but glare at them all, he gave the first few a hard look and that was enough to stop some of them.

It took him most of the class though to realise that Potter kept staring at him, he could feel pretty persistent eyes on him and on Ella.

Draco had taken a steady breathe and looked up, green eyes meeting his own and holding his gaze. Draco made his expression hard and cold, he wanted nothing from Potter except for him to look away. As his eyes met Potter's he couldn't help but take him in, bright green eyes dulled by exhaustion and those familiar dark circles from lack of sleep.

He wasn't the only one who was getting little to no sleep. He had a screaming baby, what on earth did Potter have?

Potter looked away quickly though, meeting his eyes for a solid few seconds before turning back to his work. It was enough for them to register each other, this new normal they were faced with. Was Draco now on the same side as Potter? Did Draco now share his fate? Draco rocked Ella and hoped against hope that Dumbledore had something fantastic up his sleeve because Draco really didn't want to die.

Transfiguration was blissfully uneventful. He managed to arrive early and score a seat at the back with a small space to stow Ella, McGonagall raised an eyebrow at him but said nothing as he took his seat and pulled out his books. Something was looking favourably on Draco in that hour because Ella stayed fast asleep and he was able to stay on top of his work and only get minimal homework. (Potter had been given a lot more than himself).

But by the time Herbology came around that afternoon Draco was exhausted and all he wanted to do was go back to his room and collapse on his bed... or the lounge which was closer. He trudged down to the greenhouses pushing the pram in front of him and cursing every time he rolled over a rock and bumped Ella.

When he stepped into the Greenhouse he hesitated, vicious looking plants were waiting for them and Draco had no desire to bring Ella any closer than absolutely necessary. Maybe he should tell Professor Sprout that he couldn't be here... he might have to take Ella up to the hospital wing.

"You can just leave her up the front, Mr Malfoy," Professor Sprout called out, Draco turned when he heard his name and she motioned for him to come closer.

"Professor?" Draco questioned.

"Can't bring her closer to the benches, wouldn't be safe," Sprout explained.

"I figured but-" 

"Scoot her over here and find your bench," said Sprout as she offered him a small smile, "she seems quite asleep".

Draco didn't move, his eyes flicking from Ella's sleeping face to Sprout's and then over to the empty benches.

"Leave her, we'll be fine and I'm sure you'll hear her if she wakes up. We've got a big class today and you need to know this for your exams," said Sprout, "off to your place".

It took him a good ten minutes to settle into his lesson and not focus all of his energy and attention on Ella. He flicked his eyes over every few minutes but she was fast asleep in her pram and as time ticked by his attention became fixed on extracting the Snargaluff pods with his small group, a curly haired Ravenclaw girl and a tall, thickset Ravenclaw boy.

He noted that Potter, Granger and Weasley were on the other end of the benches in the middle of what looked like an engaging conversation. He caught Potter looking at him once and glared back, intense enough that Potter flinched and dove back into the Snargaluff plant. Draco smirked at his reaction and dove energetically back into his own.

 

***

 

Draco collapsed face down on his lounge when he found his room. He had been too tired to face dinner in the Great Hall and had retired immediately when lessons were over for the day. It took Ella all of three minutes to realise Draco was trying to catch a second of sleep and to start crying mercilessly.

Draco groaned loudly. It was only his first day and he was too tired to comprehend doing it again, he was also incredibly hungry having only been able to snatch a sandwich right at the end of lunch and nothing else.

His stomach grumbled, Ella cried and Draco wanted to join her. He wanted to curl up and cry- he wanted his mother badly. She was so effortlessly good with Ella, or at least what Draco had witnessed, and he needed her help now. He needed her to run her fingers through his hair and whisper that everything would be alright, a house elf would bring him a cup of hot tea and he would feel infinitely better.

No one was going to bring him any tea tonight. 

He swallowed one tired sob and rolled himself off the lounge and upright. He had things to do and a person that needed his attention- she didn't care if he was hungry or tired or had piles of homework. 

"What are we doing?" Draco confided quietly as he set up her bath, "I'm not cut out for this. I- I don't think I can do this by myself..."

He bathed her anyway, changed her and fed her. He held her in his arms as he practised charms, he pushed her in her pram as he wrote his homework for Transfiguration and he kept a focused eye on her as she lay on the floor while he finished his Herbology essay. Draco did it all quietly and once his homework was done he picked up his sister and moved them to their room, he cast protective shields around his bed and put her down while he changed. 

Draco crawled into his four poster bed with the green quilt and soft grey sheets, he checked Ella was breathing evenly and that the shields were up safely before dropping his wand and crashing down on his pillows. He was unconscious before his head met the pillows.

 

***

 

Harry had started the week determined to find out what had happened to Malfoy, if it was enough that he defected from Voldemort than Harry thought he should know. It had to have been something serious to make Malfoy find a conscience and something horrible enough to have him running away from home.

As the week trickled on Harry began to care less about the why and more about the effect. Harry's sleep was getting gradually worse as the nightmares came back in full force bringing new and terrifying images into his head, he knew he was in bad shape but he hadn't expected competition.

While the tiny baby Malfoy continued on normally if not a little loud (if her cries were anything to go by), Malfoy seemed to be getting worse. It was almost as if they were connected, the healthier Ella got the more Malfoy declined- like he was feeding his energy into her. Harry had never expected to feel even a fragment of sympathy for Draco Malfoy but as the first week of term wound down he felt an ember rise up in his stomach- a little tiny ember of guilt that was fanned every time he got a glimpse of silvery blonde hair that fell lank around a pale face.

It only confused him more when he started trying to find Malfoy at meals and never did. Had he found the kitchens to avoid the tumultuous Great Hall where he probably felt he was unwelcome at every table? Was he even eating? 

And while he still fully intended to ask Dumbledore about Malfoy, to get the whole story from the headmaster before their lesson on Saturday, he might also drop in that he hadn't seen Malfoy at meals. The headmaster could do whatever he wanted with that.

He had written to Remus to enquire after Sirius but still hadn't gotten a reply, he supposed that meant there was no change but he lived in hope that he'd get a letter back soon. One that was written in Sirius' own perfect handwriting. Malfoy only took up a small portion of his thoughts, only in those moments when he'd seen him recently or Ron or Hermione brought it up again. They were almost as curious as himself as to find out what had happened to him over the summer and were eager to hear what Dumbledore had to say on the matter.

The rest of his thoughts were caught up in his Potions book and on the upcoming lessons with Dumbledore. Both were much more interesting than festering on Malfoy, Harry especially loved the notes and little spells he found scribbled on the pages in messy ink. Spells he was excited to try.

 

***

 

Harry sat by the fireplace in the Gryffindor common room on Sunday while Ron played chess with Hermione. They had finished the last of their homework and as a reward Ron had made Hermione play him, it was cosy and comfortable with the sun coming through the window and the little huffs of annoyance from Hermione. Harry smiled lazily as he thought on Dumbledore's lesson.

He had been especially annoyed when Dumbledore had refused to tell him about Malfoy, he'd only said that Malfoy could be trusted now and if he wanted to know more he would have to ask Malfoy himself. Fat chance of that, Harry had thought. He'd dwelt on it the whole evening, Ron and Hermione joining him and commiserating that they'd probably never know. Malfoy didn't exactly talk to anyone anymore. Harry hadn't given up though, Dumbledore not telling him had simply fired up his curiosity and now he was burning to know the secret.

Harry had played with the idea of just going up to him and demanding that he tell but he knew that would never work. The best he could hope from that would be a cold glare and a turned back. But Malfoy hadn't shown at breakfast again nor lunch and as the afternoon whiled on Harry thought that maybe... just maybe something else might work.

On impulse Harry said, "er, Dobby?"

A loud cracked filled the room and made Harry jump, Ron yelped while Hermione flinched with enough force to knock over their chess board. 

"Harry Potter? Harry Potter wants to see Dobby?" Dobby squeaked and grinned, his eyes welling with tears, "what can Dobby do for Harry Potter?"

"Actually I was hoping you could help me?" Harry asked, pulling a sheet of parchment towards him and scribbling out a short note.

"Of course! Dobby will do whatever Harry Potter asks of him!" Dobby beamed.

"Do you know where Draco Malfoy is sleeping?" asked Harry, "I don't think he's in Slytherin anymore".

"Yes, Harry Potter! Dobby knows where Master Draco is sleeping but Dobby isn't wanting to go there..." Dobby said, his words trembling at the end.

"No, of course not! But maybe... can you slip something under his door?" 

Dobby nodded and beamed again, "Harry Potter is too good and too kind to Dobby".

"Er, right... can you just pop this under his door for me?" he asked and handed over a folded note.

Dobby nodded and took the note, "Dobby will take it at once and if Harry Potter ever needs anything from Dobby just ask".

"Thanks, Dobby," Harry said and with another loud crack, the house elf was gone.

"What the hell was that?" Ron demanded, looking confused.

"I- er, I want to try something..." Harry said noting their incredulous faces, "what? I really want to know what happened to him this summer".

At that they both rolled their eyes but made Harry promise to tell them if he found out.

 

***

 

Across the castle, Draco was unfolding a note that had been slipped under his door at some point that day. The ink was smudged as if written in haste but it was legible:

Down the marble staircase and into the Entrance Hall, turn left at the bottom. Down the stairs and along the corridor until you see a giant painting of a silver fruit bowl. Tickle the green pear and open the door. You're welcome.

He frowned and tossed the note aside, it was probably some trick to try and get him alone. Draco couldn't stop thinking about it though and so at midnight when Ella couldn't sleep and neither could he, they went for a walk, wand at the ready.

The instructions were easy enough and he knew he was on his way to the Hufflepuff dormitory, he almost turned back when he realised that but decided he'd come this far, he should find out. Past a suit of armour and there was the giant painting, he stared at it and hesitantly extended a finger to tickle the pair.

It laughed and turned into a door handle. Draco took in a breath and opened the door, slowly peering inside.

He'd found the kitchens.

House elves ran around until they noticed him and then beckoned him inside, offering him sweets and tea and any number of food options. Draco smiled for what felt like the first time in days- his stomach grumbled loudly and he was guided over to a seat before mounds of food was placed in front of him.

Someone had noticed he was never in the Great Hall and offered a solution, Draco could eat regularly again without worry of being cursed or scorned. Someone had helped him.

Draco took a huge bite from his plate and moaned at the taste of hot food. Relief flooded through him... he wasn't entirely alone at Hogwarts anymore.

Chapter Text

Draco returned to the kitchens early the next day for breakfast, the house elves greeting him enthusiastically and offering him a feast of options. He ignored them, sweeping into his seat, settling Ella's pram and taking the food that was offered. As he ate he thought about the note and about who could have sent it. His first thought was that it was probably a teacher, Sprout or McGonagall, trying to help but the writing didn't match theirs. It looked like it was the scrawl of a teenager, most likely a boy.

So what teenage boy at Hogwarts would help him find the kitchens? Hell, what teenage boy would help him at all? He ran through all of his year mates from Slytherin but knew none of them would dare risk helping him in any way- besides the fact that none of them wrote like a learning deficient 5 year old. 

Next was the rest of his year- he figured some do-gooder Hufflepuff might try to help him and as their common room was just past the kitchens they were the likeliest option. He was pretty sure no Gryffindor or Ravenclaw would help him (the Gryffindors hated him and the Ravenclaws were clever enough to stay far away). 

Definitely a Hufflepuff. The thought made him scowl, as much as he loved knowing where the kitchens were he didn't want to be beholden to anyone, let alone a Hufflepuff. He looked around at all the scurrying elves and sighed, this was the warmest place he'd been so far this year and he knew it had little to do with the ovens. He couldn't give it up for the melee of the Great Hall. Until he knew more he decided to just keep coming to the kitchens- he had to eat and if it was a Hufflepuff than he wasn't in any danger. 

In charms he spent a little more time studying his classmates, watching to see if any of them were paying more attention to him than normal. He only caught Potter glancing at him and a cold look was enough to get him to turn away- not before he saw the dark circles still radiating out from under his eyes.

Not my problem, Draco thought. 

He was 20 minutes into McGonagall's lesson when disaster struck, a loud bang echoed out from Ernie Macmillan's wand- he flinched at the sound and groaned internally knowing exactly what was coming; Ella had jolted awake.

Draco had been on the end of only a few of these meltdowns but he knew the first phase signs. Her face pinched and turned red silently but Draco was already moving, he dropped his wand and lifted her out of the pram as fast as he could. Then he was off. Pelting out of the room as a cry tore from Ella's throat and into the corridor, her screams following in their wake.

The only thing that helped was holding her and moving, so he bounced her in his arms and paced the corridor trying to wait it out. Up and down, whispering words of comfort so she could hear his voice, eventually spiralling into a stream of consciousness. He kept up a live commentary on every thought wandering through his head, he patted her back and rocked her, talking all the while.

Time wasn't exactly a real concept to him when Ella was melting down, he only noticed it passing when the doors opened and students came out, streaming down the corridor past him and staring wide eyed as Ella continued to cry. Draco bore it, he couldn't go back to his room, he was still hoping she would calm down enough so he could continue his classes.

It was only when McGonagall tapped him on the shoulder that he realised the halls were empty of students and that someone wanted him. He had a feeling he knew what McGonagall was going to say- that if he couldn't keep Ella quiet she wouldn't be welcome in classes anymore, that they would be a disruption to the other students. Fine, Draco thought, let her kick him out.

McGonagall motioned for him to step back into the Transfiguration room. He sighed and followed her inside, patting Ella as she finally began to settle down. McGonagall closed the door behind him and sat behind her desk, she didn't say anything so Draco just kept pacing, back and forth, until Ella began to nod off. He looked up when she fell asleep and found McGonagall watching him.

"I understand if you don't want us in your class anymore," Draco said tiredly.

McGonagall raised an eyebrow, "Mr Malfoy, do you think I didn't understand the ramifications of having a child in my classroom? I expect a certain amount of disruption".

Draco blinked, lost for words.

She sighed, "Draco... you are doing exceptionally well given your circumstances and I would rather you didn't leave my class. You have a talent for Transfiguration that most your age don't possess and I would like to see where that goes".

She smiled and gestured for him to sit down, he did so carefully, sitting down opposite her on the other side of the desk. 

"You have been here a week now, I was going to come and see you at some point this week but now is as good a time as any... how are you getting along?" she asked, eyeing him carefully.

Draco felt complaints rising in his throat, he wanted to whinge that it wasn't fair and that he didn't deserve this. He wanted to demand to know why? Why out of all the Death Eater's and their children was he chosen? He swallowed them down and met his teacher's eyes.

"I'm fine," was all he said.

"Hmm..." said McGonagall, "are you keeping up to date with your classes?"

"Of course," Draco replied instantly, he knew he sounded haughty and arrogant but it was shadowing something worse.

"I, nor any of the staff, have seen you at meals. Are you eating?" Draco could have sworn she sounded worried.

"I, er, I found the kitchens," Draco replied, knowing nothing but the truth would help him there. McGonagall actually smiled and nodded.

"That's good, and have the house elves been accommodating?" she asked and then frowned slightly, "and have you been kind to the house elves?"

Draco hesitated. He hadn't been unkind, he just didn't really acknowledge their existence. They were just house elves, he had never been allowed to speak to the house elves at the Manor.

"I haven't spoken to them," Draco offered.

She hummed again and looked at him over her glasses, "they have offered food and made space for you, going out of their way to make you comfortable... and you haven't spoken to them?"

"Why would I?" Draco grumbled, "they're just house elves".

McGonagall narrowed her eyes and waited. Draco felt her hard gaze on him and he felt heat rising up his neck, he'd definitely said something wrong.

"Tell me, Draco," McGonagall said firmly, "what does it cost you to be kind to house elves?"

"They don't care, Professor, they're house elves," Draco stressed.

"I'm talking about you, what does it cost you to be kind to them?" she repeated.

Draco blinked and locked his jaw shut, he knew the answer she was looking for. Nothing. But it didn't feel that way to him, if he started being kind to house elves what was next? Fighting for Werewolf rights? Befriending mudbloods? What else would he do to shame his family?

McGonagall sighed and took of her glasses, rubbing at her temple. She looked older than he'd seen her, weariness resting in the lines of her eyes.

"I'm going to be a little blunt, Draco," she continued, her voice soft but firm. "The position you are in now is a dangerous one, you have no allies excepting the staff and headmaster. I don't think anyone could survive the pressures you will be under this year without someone to lean on. To be quite frank, you need a friend".

"I don't need anyone," Draco replied coldly.

"You missed most of my class today, who will help you to catch up?"

"I can figure it out on my own".

"And when you have more than one class to catch up on? If you miss a day and need all the work? Will all of your professors have time to catch you up? Will you have time to let them?" said McGonagall.

"I won't miss a day," Draco said but knew in his heart it wasn't true. What if Ella became ill? He would, of course, stay with her.

McGonagall eyed him and he sighed.

"I'll find a way to catch up".

"I can promise you that way will be a lot easier with a friend," McGonagall said, "look, I'm not asking you to befriend every student here but one, Draco, one friend will make this easier".

"I don't need anyone," Draco repeated. His head was swimming with worst case scenarios, what if he missed class and couldn't catch up? What if he got so behind he began failing all of his exams? What if he wasn't allowed back next year because his marks were so low?

His Professor was studying him carefully, "I know how you get on with the student body, I'm not unaware of the issue-"

"Then how can I-" Draco burst out.

"You can make an effort," she interrupted, "one nice word, one small act of kindness could make a world of difference for you this year.... just think on it".

"Fine," Draco said and stood up, gathering everything together and checking on Ella. Still asleep, thank Merlin.

"You're doing well, Mr Malfoy," she said as he was leaving, offering him a small smile, "I just want it to continue that way".

He nodded and left, walking back up to his rooms and closing the door behind him. He sighed and sank to the floor, his head against the door. He let himself wallow just for a moment on the unfairness of his life, before ten minutes was up Ella was making a noise and he was pushing himself off the floor.

The thought of a friend could wait until tomorrow.

 

***

 

Second week of term and Harry spent more time studying Malfoy than on his lessons. He seemed in better spirits than last week although that wasn't much to go on, he still looked like a git. Harry guessed that at the very least he was eating again and that meant he'd followed Harry's note to the kitchen.

When he wasn't studying Malfoy he was doing his best not to fall asleep in class, he was so beyond tired that even the word had lost meaning. Most nights he couldn't fall asleep at all, his overactive brain keeping him wired, but on the nights exhaustion took over, his sleep was always broken by horrific nightmares.

Harry had no idea where his brain was even picking up the images that filled his nightmares, his friends lying dead, tortured and at the mercy of Voldemort. It was enough to wake him screaming, to be glad that he'd cast a silencing charm around his bed but not enough to seek help. He didn't really need it anyway, he just had to fight through the worst of it.

Things took a turn for the worse when he fell dead asleep in Defence Against the Dark Arts on Wednesday. Snape had been droning on about the complexities of performing a non-verbal spell and Harry had started to drift; Snape's voice floating in one ear and out the other. He knew the lesson was important but it didn't stop his eyelids drooping or his body angling itself to lean against the wall. The classroom was warm, a breeze floating in through the open window and Harry hadn't slept more than a few hours the night before, plagued with nightmares.

His eyes itched and without his knowing he slowly, softly fell asleep. 

He was back in the Ministry, running through endless halls, surrounded by glowing orbs. Mist swirled inside of them and then poured out, circling his feet and winding around his legs. He could hear Trelawney's voice, so unlike her, echoing his prophecy around the room. He was running, no end in sight, only mist crawling around his body, attaching itself and not letting go. Harry's breath came in short, sharp gasps, he could hear footsteps behind him and high-pitched familiar laughter. Voldemort was following him. He ran through a door that had appeared to his left, slamming it closed on the mist only to face a sight that had him clawing to escape. 

Sirius was dead. Slumped and lifeless on the ground before him, his hand outreached and his eyes vacant. Bellatrix was laughing in the corner shooting off green spells into his lifeless corpse. Again and again and again, his body twitching with each curse. Harry yelled, tried to run for Sirius but his feet were held prisoner by the mist, curling from underneath the door. And then Lupin was there throwing himself bodily over Sirius to take the curses for him; screaming as one hit and he fell too.

Harry started to cry, unstoppable tears filling his eyes in frustration. He couldn't move, couldn't run, couldn't fight- he could only watch.

The room swirled with mist and he was in that godforsaken graveyard again. Cedric died in front of him, falling once more to the ground, and then the curses were flying. He was surrounded by Death Eaters in cloaks and hoods, curses hitting him over and over. The ghostly shapes of his parents didn't appear, he was kneeling on the ground, letting the pain rule his body.

Voldemort was in front of him, hand raised, "I can touch him now..."

Harry felt the cold tip of the long white finger touch him, and thought his head would burst with the pain. He screamed as though every nerve in his body were on fire, the screaming filled his ears as the scar on his forehead seared with pain. Voldemort was laughing in his ear and his world was tipping sideways...

"Harry! HARRY!"

Harry awoke, drenched in sweat and lying on the floor with his hands over his face, his body was buzzing with electricity and terror and for a moment he couldn't move. Ron and Hermione were knelt beside him, hands on his shoulder to shake him awake, their facees was ashen and eyes wide in terror. The whole class was staring at him as he slowly, carefully sat himself upright.

"Alright?" Ron asked, keeping a sturdy hand on Harry's shoulder.

Harry didn't answer, his eyes searching the room, Voldemort had sounded so close. He felt lit up and on high alert; his eyes finally meeting Snape's at the front of the room. Snape had taken all of two steps in his direction; his face pinched and surly. Harry couldn't think, he just met Snape's eye and said clearly, "I need to go to the hospital wing".

He stood up. The class backed away. They all looked unnerved.

Snape nodded curtly and surprisingly without argument; Harry grabbed his bag and went for the door. His eyes catching on Draco Malfoy as he turned to leave. He was pale like always and watching Harry with an intensity he'd never seen before. And under it all Harry swore he saw concern, for just a second, before he was out the door and slamming it behind himself.

He didn't want to talk to anyone, honestly if it had been in any class but Snape's he would never have actually gone to the hospital wing. As it were his feet carried him to his most viable option; a private white bed and the hope of dreamless sleep. He didn't want to be awake, he didn't want to think about anything he'd seen in his nightmare, he just want to lie down and disappear for awhile.

Before he knew it he was walking through the hospital wing doors and hoping Madam Pomfrey wasn't in. His luck, like always, wasn't great.

"Mr Potter, hurt yourself again?" she said, walking purposefully toward him, "well, you're standing at the very least".

Harry shrugged but stayed silent, she looked him over and hummed deeply.

"This way," she grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the back to an empty bed. She pushed him onto it, summoned a stool over and sat in front of him, eyes narrowed.

Harry buckled, "I had a nightmare in Defence".

Her eyes narrowed further, "anything we need to be worried about?"

Harry shook his head and said softly, "it's just the same one as always".

She hummed in a disapproving way, raised her wand and started muttering spells. Harry just sat there, too tired to fight her or walk away.

"Severely sleep deprived, malnourished, weight loss... when was the last time you slept through the night?"

Harry shrugged again but she didn't look away so he said quietly, "end of last term, probably".

She tutted and Harry looked away. His eyes caught on a cot in the corner and focused in on the familiar pale blonde hair. Ella Malfoy was watching him.

"What's Malfoy's sister doing here?" Harry asked, trying in vain to change the subject. Pomfrey wasn't buying it but she did let out a small sigh; she levelled him with a look and then stood up. She picked Ella up and brought her over to Harry, passing her over. Harry held her, stiffly and awkwardly, the first time he'd ever held a child. He stared at her and she stared back.

"She's here while Mr Malfoy is in classes he cannot bring her too," Pomfrey answered softly, "watch her for ten minutes, I'll be back".

And without another word she'd left the room. 

Harry was stunned, how on earth had he ended up in this position? He thought maybe it might be a clever way for Pomfrey to get him to not run away which he was definitely planning to do the minute her back was turned. He held Ella and just stared at her, she didn't look like she was about to cry but she didn't look happy. She was staring at him with big grey eyes much like her brothers, her nose had the same pointy end which on her was quite adorable and her pale blonde hair was curling around the ends.

They just stared at each other in discomfort until Madam Pomfrey returned, placing a small vial of potion on the table and taking Ella back off Harry. She was returned to her bed and Harry felt the weight disappear from his arms with only a little sadness. She's been so warm and heavy against his chest; his brain had turned off for a few precious seconds.

"I've alerted your teachers that you will not be returning to class today," she said and Harry snapped back to attention.

"I wont be?"

"You're going to eat some food and then drink this and stay put, it's dreamless sleep and enough of it to get you through to tomorrow morning. I'll get you a change of clothes but Mr Potter, this is not a solution. You and I will discuss this more in the morning," Madam Pomfrey warned.

"Right".

"Get some sleep, Mr Potter, I dare say you need it".

 

***

 

That night Draco went down to the kitchens, ready to eat and then retreat back to his room to do the piles of homework he had waiting for him. As he entered the kitchen McGonagall's words come flooding back to him but he tried to ignore them.

As he sat down and dug into his dinner, he heard a squeak and flurry of movement. He looked up in time to catch what he thought was a familiar face. It took a moment to place but then he remembered. Dobby. Their old house elf.

He ignored the reappearance of his former servant for most of his meal but McGonagall's words kept flicking into his mind. What would it cost you? Pride. Dignity. Family. That's what it would cost him. Draco sighed and looked at his sister. What pride had he been left with? What dignity? The only family he had left was his sister and she wouldn't care even a bit if he spoke to a house elf.

It took ten long minutes of internal arguing before Draco sighed again and called out, "Dobby?"

The house elf in question appeared faster than Draco had expected, he was twisting what looked like a knitted tea cosy in his hand. He looked vastly different than Draco remembered, he had hats piled on his head, a small maroon jumper with an R on it covering his body and two odd socks in his feet.

"M-master Draco," Dobby stuttered, not meeting his eyes.

Had Draco caused that fear? That inability to look a wizard in the eye or was that simply what being a house elf meant? Big eyes the size of tennis balls were welling with tears and Draco sat stunned, this creature was so afraid of him that he was crying simply by being in his presence.

"I won't hurt you," Draco blurted out.

That was when Dobby lifted his head a little and Draco knew this moment was important, he didn't know why but it felt heavy.

"You- you're working at Hogwart's now?" Draco asked.

Dobby nodded but stayed silent.

"How?"

"P-Professor Dumbledore is very kind to Dobby, sir," Dobby squeaked unable to refuse a direct question but looking like it took all his willpower to speak. "He is giving Dobby work and- and is giving Dobby paying".

"You have a wage?" Draco spluttered, he'd never heard of an elf being paid.

Dobby flinched at Draco's tone but answered, "Dobby is liking his freedom, sir, Dobby is happy to work but is wanting paying".

Draco nodded, completely dumbfounded. "You like it here?" he asked, the words tripping out before he could stop them. It seemed suddenly important to know that Dobby was happy.

Dobby nodded quickly, "Dobby is liking Hogwarts! Harry Potter is at Hogwarts".

"Harry Potter... right," Draco muttered, thoughts flashing back to Defence, and then narrowed his eyes at the elf, a thought coming to him. House elves saw everything. "You wouldn't happen to know about a note slipped under my door?"

"A-a note, sir?" Dobby fretted, not meeting Draco's eyes.

"Yes, Dobby, a note. It told me how to get to the kitchens- do you know anything about it? Or know of anybody who does?"

"Yes, sir, Dobby is giving you the note..." Dobby confessed.

"You?" Draco said confused, "why on earth would you send me that note?"

"I is passing it on, sir, for- for Harry Potter..." Dobby admitted and then ran sideways and crashed into the wall. Draco flinched and remembered how often Dobby was made to hurt himself because of his family. Pity swelled in his chest.

"Stop that, Dobby," Draco called out, "I forbid you to hurt yourself anymore".

He knew Dobby no longer worked for his family but ties ran deep, especially for house elves, and Draco thought maybe Dobby might listen to his instruction.

"Yes, sir," Dobby said wobbling back.

"Saint Potter..." Draco muttered, of course it was Potter. He didn't know if it was some bizarre trick or not but he hated it. He was indebted to Harry Potter. He cringed, he'd have to fix that immediately.

 

***

 

Draco packed up his things at the end of Potions on Thursday, waiting out the rest of the class to leave so he was the last one left, he needed to have a quick word with Snape.  Ella needed to be retrieved from the hospital wing before his next class, his brain was still short-circuiting over the Potter incident from yesterdaay but he was snatching at the strings of a plan. Potter had looked only mildly better on his return, Draco's eyes following him for extended periods of time during their morning lessons.

"Sir?" Draco asked, glancing at the door and then back to meet Snape's eye.

"Yes, Draco?" said Snape as the last students left the room.

"Sir, I need a favour," Draco swallowed his nerves, "I'm not sleeping well".

Snape raised an eyebrow.

"My mother told me of the potion you created," Draco said and then jumped, "the dreamless sleep one without the addictive element".

"And what of it?"

"I was hoping you might give me some?" Draco asked, trying to steady his voice and not sound desperate.

"And why is that?"

"I don't want to have a scene like Potter," Draco answered quickly but firmly, throwing in a little arrogance for good measure.

"If your mother told you of it I assume she also mentioned how it wasn't ready?"

"She said it hadn't finished being testing by St Mungo's but how it wasn't necessary anymore, that if you'd created it then of course it would be fine".

Snape watched him carefully before he bent down and pulled a few vials from a draw in his desk.

"Do not take it every night. One mouthful will be enough for 8 hours," said Snape tersely. "Do not give it to your sister, it is not meant for children".

Draco nodded and took the vials before Snape could rescind his offer, he smiled smugly as he left the room, feeling better than he had in days.

He raced up to the hospital wing to retrieve Ella before his next class, he spotted her at the back where she normally stayed and swept her up quickly. She was dozing in the pram as he turned to leave, nodding curtly at Pomfrey. Remembering the bag he'd seen on the floor the day before, Potter's bag dropped by a curtain off bed, his stomach swooped again.

Potter was just as fucked up as he was feeling; some bad shit must have happened to him to get him to that point. He gritted his teeth and walked out; his thoughts far from reality as his plan took proper shape in his head.

 

***

 

Harry had returned to class the next day amidst many whispers. 18 hours of uninterrupted sleep had been good but not a solution, when he'd woken this morning Madam Pomfrey had sat him down and discussed his options. She'd told him quite clearly that he was to come see her at the end of every school day and if she saw no improvement in his wellbeing she would be involving his head of house maybe even St Mungo's. All that did was stress him out even more.

The last class of the day ended and Harry pulled himself heavily from his chair. Slowly he packed up his belongings, waving Ron and Hermione off as they waited for him, eyeing him closely.

"Go, I'll catch up," he said.

They hesitated but Harry waved them off, they left chatting quietly, probably about himself. Harry sighed and let himself finish packing his bag unhurried.

There was a small clink and Harry looked up. Draco Malfoy stood in front of his desk, pale blonde hair falling in his face and steel grey eyes watching him. He had placed a small vial of potion on Harry's desk.

"You look like shit, Potter," Malfoy snipped.

"Because you look any better," Harry shot back.

Malfoy smirked at him, "it's dreamless sleep that's not addictive. We're even now- don't send me any more notes".

Malfoy turned his back and stalked out of the room. As fast and confident as one could while pushing a stroller. 

Harry stared down at the potion. The world really was going crazy.