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THE DAILY PROPHET 22nd July 2000

HARROWED HARRY POTTER CONTINUES TO AVOID PUBLIC EYE

Figure one: Harry Potter stands amongst the ruins of Hogwarts castle with Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, and Ronald Weasley (left to right). Figure two: Potter leaves Ministry for Magic looking more a weathered war veteran than an 18 year old young man.

Three years after one of the greatest battles in all of wizard history, and Harry Potter is still in hiding. But this time, he isn’t avoiding the evil grasp of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named- rather, the public eye.

He surprised the world in September 1998 when he announced that he would not, in fact, be joining his colleagues in becoming an auror. Potter, it seems, has decided he’s had enough of saving the wizarding world from evil.

At a press conference following the reopening of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for a new year (and the unexpected breakup with Ginerva Weasley), Potter made the following statement: “I’m well aware there’s a lot more work to be done… [it will] be impossible to restore the wizarding world to what it once was. But I want to make it clear that I’ll never stop trying.” He also said that he “will be out of commission for a while”. He has not been seen, or heard from since.

Three years down the line, and where is Harry Potter now? Is he rebuilding the wizarding world in quietly heroic ways, beneath the hood of a cloak, the veil of an obscurus charm? Or has he withdrawn somewhere darker, somewhere that is filled with traumatic memories of his battles with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?

Many have condemned Potter’s retreat from the public eye as ‘cowardly and concerning’, whilst others view it as, in Ronald Weasley’s words, “fair enough- if anyone needs a break it’s him”. The Prophet’s psychologist and agony aunt, Aurora DeMaude, has her say: “Harry Potter is a particularly interesting read more on page 21.

 

THE DAILY PROPHET 5th January 1999
NO MORE FOR MALFOY MANOR

Figure one: Draco Malfoy turns his back to the home of generations of Malfoys. Figure two: 12 year old Draco and his first Quidditch Win at Hogwarts, 1992.

Draco Malfoy, the only male heir of the long established Malfoy family, has locked the doors of Malfoy Manor for good.

After the arrest of his father, Lucius Malfoy, Narcissa and Draco Malfoy have shirked the public eye and sheltered in the family home. Now, however, the famous manor, located in the Kent countryside, is home to nobody.

Recently used as the base for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and his followers, it is fair to assume that it has been a long time since the manor has been considered a real home. However, many attribute this vacation as a result of the economic crash following the Great Battle and the downfall of many wealthy Death Eater families.

Draco Malfoy made no comment on the reasons for this decision. It is unknown where he and Narcissa Malfoy have relocated.

 

000

August, 2001

Harry stares at the snow globe on Hermione’s ministry desk, struck by a sudden feeling of nostalgia.

Her desk is small, her office isn’t much bigger. It’s filled with books, of course, and paperwork that she’s trudging through for the most recent Minister (who’s only just clinging onto his post for dear life). No one has stayed in the Minister’s position for more than 6 months since the battle of Hogwarts. Hermione, on the other hand, remains one of the few examples of stability within the entire Ministry; so much so that she, to her own frustration, has yet to be promoted from Minister’s secretary.

Harry knows that she would do a better job than any of the deer-in-the-headlights politicians who’ve attempted to keep things steady after the war. For the time being, however, her office will remain small, walled with the Ministry’s trademark, claustrophobic green tiles. Despite this, it is very much Hermione’s office. Tidy. Filled with books. The occasional Muggle object, much to each passing Minister’s bafflement.

Harry tips over the Muggle snow globe. The white fluff showers over a mini-Eiffel Tower. To his surprise, it continues to snow when he puts it down, one minute, two minutes later. The snow turns into an angry storm. Maybe not so Muggle, Harry muses, a vague and confused sense of disappointment passing through him.

Hermione bursts in. She storms over to her desk, hair in natural, but lovely disarray.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, Harry,” she says sincerely, shuffling papers on her desk. One pile is so tall it almost collapses, and she charms it so that it wobbles from side to side precariously, but never toppling.

“I should bloody hope so, you’re the one who invited me here,” he says playfully, though Hermione doesn’t seem to have the mental presence to play back.

“This one really is an arse,” she hisses in a low voice, talking, Harry presumes, about the new Minister, Magnolius Horn. She collapses into her chair opposite Harry. The window behind her lights up the edge of her silhouette with summer afternoon light. The sight of Hermione behind a Ministry desk suddenly hits Harry; how far they’ve come. Well, how far some of them have come.

Harry’s not really gone anywhere.

“What is it you want to talk about, Hermione?” he says, trying not to sound impatient. He wishes they could have met at Hermione and Ron’s. Hermione seems convinced that that’s a sore spot for Harry- which it isn’t, he’s happy they’ve moved in together without him. The office, secure as it is, with no one to spy on them, is suffocating and impersonal.

She sighs.

“We need to talk about this, Harry. You can’t hide forever.”

Harry exhales wearily. “Get right to the point, why don’t you…”

“This isn’t healthy,” she says, ignoring him completely and bulldozing his next words. “We all know you’ve been through more than any of us can imagine. But you can’t lock yourself away, and you certainly can’t avoid Skeeter forever.”

“Why not?” he replies shortly. “Hermione, we’ve talked about this a hundred times, are we really doing this again?”

“Yes, you stubborn arse!” she almost laughs. “This is… it’s terrifying, Harry. Watching you withdraw like this. It’s totally understandable, wanting to avoid the spotlight, live a normal life- but that’s not what you’re doing, Harry. Living like a hermit-”

“You’ve said this all to me before. And I’ve told you, I’m just trying to figure out what to do with myself-”

“It’s gone way beyond that, and you know it,” Hermione says in that soft but severe voice she’s so good at. “You said it would be a break. This isn’t a break. It’s been three years. You’ve given up.”

“Hermione, no offence, but when have you ever known me to give up on something? What was it Ron said to me the other day- ‘more stubborn than dragon herpes’?”

Hermione couldn’t help a reluctant laugh at that. “Yes. And you’re being stubborn now. You’ve decided this is what you have to do. You’ve decided giving up is the best choice.”

Harry hadn’t thought of it that way before. He isn’t happy with how that sounds.

The snow globe is more like a blizzard globe by now. The Eiffel Tower is covered in snow. In a minute it’s going to fill up and break the glass. Harry sighs loudly.

“Hermione…. I would. Honestly, I would do something. You know, other than helping to organise war charity stuff behind the scenes. But you know I can’t be out there saving the world anymore. I… I just can’t do it anymore.”

“I know.” They look at each other for a moment, and it’s like the past 10 years replays before them. Hermione suddenly directs her attention to a folder in front of her, charms the sheets inside into various different piles. “That’s why I have an idea.”

Harry lets his head drop back. Gazing up at the ceiling, he closes his eyes. He’s heard plenty of ideas from Hermione, Ron, Neville, Luna, Dean and Seamus, even Molly and Arthur. The best one so far was setting up a magic shop in Muggle London. That had been George’s idea, naturally. And it was a really fucking terrible idea.

“Hermione…”

“Go back to Hogwarts.”

He groans. “We’ve talked about that one before. Actually, we’ve talked about all of this over and over and-”

“You don’t have to teach, Harry. There are plenty of things you could do, like help rebuild the castle’s protective charms.”

Going back to Hogwarts has been very much crossed off the list of what-Harry-should-do-with-his-life-now-he-has-no-purpose. Not only does it, quite obviously, hold some pretty bad memories. But Hogwarts doesn’t belong to him anymore. It would always have a place in his heart, but it wasn’t his world anymore. It also doesn’t seem to be the best idea to hire an unbalanced, traumatised war hero. Ron made the admittedly astute point that Hogwarts basically exclusively hires unbalanced, traumatised war heroes, and always have done. That doesn’t mean Harry thinks it’s a good idea. Nor does helping to rebuild the charms around the school sound like something he could do; revisiting all the destruction from the battle that pretty much ended his life. And when he considers that it can take centuries to reconstruct the kind of magical security that had protected Hogwarts, that it’s something which requires several hands, that he could be useful… well, Harry just tells himself charms were never his forte.

The point isn’t that he doesn’t want to go. There’s certainly something tempting about returning to Hogwarts, even with all the memories. There’s still that instinctive pull to help.

The point is that The Boy Who Lived has fulfilled his prophecy. There’s nothing else to fulfil. Rather, nothing fulfils him anymore. It’s depressing. More than that, it makes him angry. His temper has never been so short.

Not an ideal teaching role model.

Hermione knows this. Which is why he’s rather blunt when he says, after a long pause, “What is it you’re really trying to say, Hermione?”

She opens her mouth, closes it again, hesitates. “I’m saying that you can’t hide away forever. I know you’re scared-”

“No, you really don’t know, Hermione. You have no bloody idea.”

“-but you can’t keep doing this,” she says, voice cracking. “We can’t- we can’t keep-”

She falls silent, purses her lips, looks over Harry’s shoulder. The tower of paperwork swings from side to side between them.

“You can’t keep looking after me anymore?” he supplies. Hermione closes her eyes. “Yeah well, I never asked for you guys to look after me. I never asked for Ginny to hold my hand through all of this bullshit, and I’ve never asked any of you to either.”

“For God’s sake, Harry, we’re your friends! If you can’t help yourself then of course we’re going to try! We just…”

The snow globe explodes, making Hermione jump. Harry sits still, watching the enchanted snow as it covers the paperwork towers until they almost look enticing.

Harry closes his eyes again. He takes several deep, steady breaths. He never wanted anyone to feel responsible for him. After the war had ended, this sort of stuff was meant to stop. It was meant to stop. He was meant to have stopped dragging the people he loved into this kind of mess. The steady breaths are more shaky now. The dark red of the back of his eyelids starts to give way to dizzy stars.

“I don’t want to impose on you. I never wanted to…”

“You aren’t. And… I know. It’s just… Harry. Even if you don’t want us to look after you, we’re going to. And not because we think we owe you,” he says, reading his mind and making him close his open, dumb mouth. “You’re my best friend Harry. But… it’s killing us. Watching you… disappear.”

The word makes his stomach lurch. It makes him sound like a ghost. As if he really had died that day. And hadn’t he, in a way?

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologise, just, do something!” Hermione cries. “Do… something. Live. Please.”

They sit in silence for several minutes, measuring their own breaths and looking anywhere but each other. Harry picks at his cuticles. The snow has melted. Hermione dries the parchment with her hand.

“What if… what if I can’t do it, Hermione?” Harry whispers. His eyes are stinging.

He catches her smile at the corner of his eye. “No one’s asking you to save the world Harry. I’m not even saying you have to do anything when you get there. You can go and eat Hogwarts food again. You can use the libraries. Do a bit of Quidditch.”

Harry snorts. “You make it sound like a holiday.”

Hermione shrugs, a very strange gesture for her. “Maybe that’s what you need. A real break. Just to reconnect with the things you used to enjoy.”

It’s logical. He hates it when she’s right, which is always. The silence in the office, thanks to the muffliato charm Hermione has permanently cast, is thankfully less tense now. Hermione stands and walks over to Harry’s chair, sitting on the arm beside him. Taking his hand, she smiles down at him.

“So I’ll just send a letter to McGonagall and ask her if I can come chill at Hogwarts?” Harry jokes.

A letter with the unmistakable wax stamp hovers over to Harry’s free hand. It’s addressed to Hermione.

He exhales in disbelief.

“Hermione, you’re ridiculous. You didn’t even ask me first?”

“I mean, I told you, just after the fact. That’s fair, isn’t it?”

“No! No. It’s actually totally unfair,” Harry laughs, nudging Hermione’s shoulder with his head. He scans the letter. It would be a pleasure to have him here. It’s sincere, as McGonagall always is.

Maybe there’s something to this plan, Harry considers, though he can’t shift the anxious nausea in his stomach as he folds the letter and puts it in his back jeans pocket, stepping into Hermione’s fireplace and flooing back to his apartment.

He doesn’t see Hermione watch him go, a teary smile. She fixes her snow globe, which beams with bright sunshine over a tiny Eiffel Tower.

000

The rain is pouring in London today, but then again, when isn’t it. Draco watches
Muggles covering themselves with umbrellas and hoods, some of them are running into nearby cafes for shelter. It’s a late summer afternoon in Chelsea, and people are beginning to leave work and go shopping.

Draco wonders what that’s like. To live a normal life, working from nine to five. To come home from the office, cook dinner for oneself, sit around the table with the family. Above all, to do it without magic. The mind boggles.

It’s oddly endearing, funny even, to watch the Muggles run around like headless chickens in the rain.

People -watching had been a regular pastime for him at Hogwarts, and here he was, still doing it. Never truly living. It was enough to make him feel enormously lonely. There was something especially lonely about living in London, too. So many people, not talking to each other.

It almost makes him miss the manor.

Since his father had been sent to Azkaban, he and his mother have been living in this flat, far away from the magical world and the judgement that comes with being a Malfoy. Had his father been deemed innocent, had they all stayed together, they would never have lived so immersed amongst the Muggles. Their apartment isn’t even hidden by charms- like the Black house had been, according to his mother. At first, there was something freeing about living here, rather than cowering in the magical world; hiding in plain sight. But now, he has found that the peace of it all has turned stale.

In many respects, three years is not a long time. Three years after the battle of Hogwarts, and it has not been enough for Draco to find his place in the world. It is not enough time to forget, or properly heal. He doesn’t know if there’s enough time in this world for his particular wounds to heal. It’s not long enough for the shame to fade, either, or, even, the fear.

But in some ways, it’s far too long. Three years is far too long a time to spend going through your past mistakes over and over again, digging up things that have been said and done or not said and not done. It is far too long to spend replaying conversations and re-imagining the awful things that had happened to him and the people he knew.

And then, in one way, three years is just the right amount of time. It is how long it takes for Draco to feel that he can begin, at last, to move on.

He has been waiting for his owl to return. He watches through the rain-streaked window. The grey light seems to absorb all the greens and blues of the living room, the almost-black wooden desk he’s sitting at. He doesn’t know how he’ll be able to see his snowy owl arrive, with this sky as a backdrop.

Draco often wonders why Muggles don’t question the constant flurry of owls coming in and out of the flat. He is sure someone must have noticed an owl carrying a letter; he’s been informed it’s not a Muggle custom. Well, if they have noticed, they haven’t bothered to say anything. Though he has never explored Muggle London, he reckons- if it’s anything like his London- there are too many strange things happening everyday for anyone to question the odd owl or two.

He has never been so anxious to receive a letter in his life. Usually, he dreads receiving an owl. Usually, it means a letter from his father. There is a drawer full of those letters, unread, in his desk. Unread by him, anyway. His mother always reads them. Thankfully, she never relays any of the details; she always reads them, a look of complete apathy on her face, and puts in the desk drawer without a word. Draco has never been tempted to see what they say, and they never talk about it.

He spots the owl only when it flutters to a landing on the windowsill. It pecks the window impatiently, desperate to get out of the rain. Draco jumps up, pulls up the window, lets her in. The wind and rain blows the parchment on the desk onto the floor- he closes the window again with a flick of his hand, doesn’t bother to rearrange the parchment.

The red seal of the Hogwarts letter, the excitement running through him; it is almost as if he is eleven again. The thought makes him smile to himself.

He opens the letter. It is short. Unexpectedly so.

Dear Mr Malfoy,

I must start by saying that I was surprised by your letter. After all this time, I had rather hoped that I would never hear from you, or your family, again. That is not to say I am not encouraged by what you have written.

If what you say is true, then my answer is: yes. After all, according to the late Albus Dumbledore’s words, “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.”

I look forward to seeing you in September.

Kind Regards,

Professor Minerva McGonagall

He can’t help but read it in McGonagall’s thick accent. The air rushes out of him, and he collapses onto the desk chair behind him. He barely notices the owl flutter over to him, settling on his shoulder. He registers that she’s waiting for a treat- opens the desk drawer and offers her one.

Hogwarts. He’s going back to Hogwarts.

He spent weeks, almost a month, painstakingly writing the letter to McGonagall. He practically begged to be offered the chance to help rebuild the castle’s charms- to do something good, to choose something good. He is still terrified now, of course. It’s still overwhelming, walking towards something that he doesn’t know or understand and without the guidance of his father. But at least, this time, he knows it is towards something better.

Perhaps it is the case that nothing he did, no matter how good, would compensate for what he has done. Perhaps he can never fix the damage he caused when he let the Death Eaters into Hogwarts. He doesn’t even think he has the potential to be particularly good person. But he can at least relish the independence of it all, of tearing himself away from the planned-Malfoy-route- no matter how difficult, how terrifying that is.

It’s nice to have the space to reach this sort of decision. Even if that space is there because his father is gone.

Yes- some small part of him takes solace in the fact that going back to Hogwarts and rebuilding it is not something Lucius Malfoy would have encouraged. It is against everything he’s been brought up to believe, contradictory to the fibres of his being, to intentionally go against what his father would want. But he’s found this small part of him, at last.

He holds the letter, stares at the words on the parchment. Not only has he asked McGonagall to help repair what he has done. He has asked to train to become a Master in potions. He remembers how useless Slughorn was and hopes that McGonagall will see it as a favour to have an extra hand. Though she doesn’t say anything about this explicitly, Draco interprets ‘my answer is: yes’ as an approval to both of his requests.

Hogwarts.

He can’t believe he’s going back. He can’t believe he’s really doing this. He can’t believe he’s really doing something. There’s still time to back out.

No, he tells himself. Time to buck-up, Malfoy.

He didn’t hear his mother come in, but now he senses Narcissa standing behind him, reading the letter over his shoulder. Her hand rests on it.

“What are you going to do?” she asks simply.

Draco folds the letter, puts in on the desk, stands up to meet his mother. They hug each other, something they do a lot more often these days.

“I have to go,” he says quietly, and he’s surprised by the decisiveness in his voice.

Narcissa Malfoy pulls away, looks at her son. He is taller than her now. He has been for years. She looks at him with apprehension and pure, unreserved affection. Draco is often surprised by this. Particularly as he finds he looks an awful lot like his father.

Her hand rests on his cheek. “Then you must go.”

They hug again. The rain patters against the glass. Draco thinks he will miss his mother more this time round.

000

Harry almost misses the Hogwarts Express. It might have something to do with the fact that he only finished packing ten minutes before he was meant to leave. He quite confidently assured Hermione that he was ready to head off, but was lying through his teeth. In all honesty, he can’t remember feeling so nervous about anything in his life.

That isn’t strictly true. He’d been pretty apprehensive about walking to his death in the Forbidden Forest. But that’s sort of not comparable.

Mrs Weasley appears to have been rubbing off on Hermione a bit, because she’s made Harry a packed lunch the night before for him to take on the journey. It’s really very touching, but also a bit unnecessary, because he’s planning on eating his body weight in pumpkin pasties on the train. Luckily for him, his appetite is much the same as it was when he was a student at Hogwarts, and he’s still just as skinny, so he reckons he can fit both meals into his schedule without feeling too guilty.

He almost drops his briefcase and Hermione’s little lunch bag as he charges through the wall at 9 ¾- he’s forced to fight his way through a pretty fearsome crowd at Kings Cross who keep jostling him. He doesn’t remember it being so busy when he was a child. When he emerges on the other side, he’s overwhelmed by quite how many people there are here, too. Parents waving off their children, everywhere. Harry braces himself for the onslaught of ‘can I have your autograph’s and ‘HARRY POTTER?’s and gaping stares.

It only takes a minute before the whole platform seems to fall into near silence and watch him.

And then the chaos begins.

A gaggle of students run up to him- many of them 6th and 7th years who remember him from school, a few brave first years who evidently considered him an urban legend. All of them shouting over each other to ask him questions, all trying to touch him.

Some parents are trying to pull their children away, obsequiously apologising- one of them even bowing, not knowing what else to do.

This is why he has been keeping himself to himself. And the longer he’s left it, the worse the situation’s become. He really wishes now that he hadn’t. He hasn’t done himself any favours by putting off the issue. And it’s only a matter of time before The Prophet get whiff of the fact he’s here, so he’d better get on the train, sharpish.

Just as he’s finished signing a couple of textbooks and receipts and any pieces of random parchment people can find, he makes his awkward goodbyes and tries to escape and find a space on the platform. He had been running late. But the train conductor is staring at him with amazement, the whistle hanging out of his mouth lazily like a cigarette.

He clambers through the crowd that’s gathering round him, is about to reach the safety of the train, when there’s a pop and-

Oh bloody Nora, of course Rita Skeeter has found out. She and her gang of photographers have apparated on scene, and her eyes fall instantly on him, following the gaze of the crowd. She gasps dramatically, points an acid green finger nail at him.

“Harry Potter is back!”

Harry responds by slamming the train carriage door, locking it from the inside- the remaining students will just have to get on another carriage- and drops to the floor. He’s not above crawling along the train floor to avoid Skeeter, so that’s precisely what he does. It’s hard to do when you’re wearing a long cloak and you keep trapping it with your knees, so he almost trips and falls flat on his face as he goes.

Not quite the start he was hoping for.

And definitely not what the students of Hogwarts School will be expecting to find; Harry Potter, crawling on his hands and knees, sweet wrappers stuck to his trousers and robes. Thankfully, most of the students just stop and stare, looking through the windows of their compartments- perhaps ask, a little anxiously, “Is that Harry Potter? Is he OK?”. But he’s not prepared to stand up until the flashing of cameras and shouts of parents dies down outside. He can hear Skeeter’s shrill voice over everyone’s excited chattering.

Eventually the train begins to move, thank Merlin, and they pull out of sight. Harry stays put, just to be sure, in the train empty carriage corridor. On his hands and knees, popcorn kernals and pastry flakes stuck to his hands.

And then a young pupil drops down to a crouch in front of him.

“Mr. Harry Potter?” he says sweetly.

Harry exhales through his nose.

“That’s me,” he replies tensely.

“Um, Mr Potter, sir, it’s just- there’s an empty compartment just there, if you’re looking for one.”

He looks up at the child. He doesn’t have any house colours yet, so they’re a first year. He’s got white blonde hair and big blue eyes, beige freckles all over his nose. He looks anxious by the unexpected meeting, but he’s not run away like the others have and he’s brave enough to talk to him. And he reminds Harry an awful lot of Colin Creevey. He smiles at him.

He hasn’t even thought about finding an empty compartment.

“Thank you…?”

“Jason. Uh. Jason Touley.”

Harry sits back on his heels and stands up unsteadily, the train beginning to pick up speed and wobbling from side to side. He brushes the crumbs and dust off his robes. He offers the boy his hand. Jason looks at it with wide eyes. And suddenly, he’s reminded of not just Colin, but Ron, when he first spotted Harry’s scar. His heart breaks a little at the thought. Jason takes his hand.

“Thank you, Jason Touley. Good luck today, not that you’ll need any.”

“I’m really nervous,” Jason blurts, and seems surprised to hear his own voice, his tiny hand gripping Harry’s fiercely.

Harry chuckles. He doesn’t need to ask Jason why. “You don’t need to be. You can be in any house you want. But, for the record, there’s nothing wrong with being in Slytherin, if that’s what you’re nervous about.”

Jason’s eyes seem to widen further, and Harry reckons his eyes might actually pop out in a minute.

“Really?”

“Really. I mean, think about it. If Slytherin was really all that bad, they’d just get rid of it- Hogwarts would just stop admitting Slytherin type people.” A little bit of Hermione Granger wisdom, there. “Besides, one of the bravest people I knew was a Slytherin.”

Jason blinks. “Oh.”

Harry could have told him that the sorting hat had actually wanted to put him in Slytherin, that he’d chosen Gryffindor instead; but he decides that this is rather a lot of information to offload on this poor, tiny little eleven year old, so he leaves it there.

He lets his hand fall, and opens the empty compartment door. When he turns to say goodbye to Jason, the boy is glued to the spot, but he no longer seems anxious- he’s just smiling, a little dazedly.

“Nice to meet you, Jason Touley.”

“Nice to meet you, Harry Potter,” he says, in what Harry reckons is his attempt to sound as casual as possible- before disappearing.

Harry stands there and smiles distantly out the compartment door window. Then, he decides to take a leaf out of Remus Lupin’s book- putting his hood up, curling up in the corner, and going to sleep for the remainder of the journey. Hopefully there won’t be any dementors to wake him up.

000

After Draco finished unpacking, he’d sat in his quarters for three hours, wondering what to do with himself before the staff meeting.

He’d watched the Giant Squid swim around for a while out the window, read a few of the things on his book shelves- which the previous inhabitant had left behind. He’d gone up to the owlry and sent his mother a letter to let her know he’d got there safely. Then he’d sat in the staff meeting, where McGonagall had introduced him as the new Potions ELM (Education and Learning for Magic) trainee, and volunteer to help with the castle charms. He’d been polite and formal. The teachers had been anything between sneering and cordial. It was as he’d expected.

It’s not like he’s been hoping to make friends, so he doesn’t take it personally when none of his old teachers come over and ask how he’s doing.

Now, he tries to ignore the stares and whispers of the older students as he makes his way to the great hall. Many of the older students remember him as ‘Malfoy’, the one who seemed to be immune to the Carrow’s punishments. The one who’d been under Umbridge’s thumb and who’d run away at the battle.

He doesn’t think it worth mentioning that he’d wanted to stay.

And then, there are the younger students, some of whom have heard about him and stare inquisitively- no doubt recognising him from articles in the Prophet and spotting the tell-tale white hair- but most of whom don’t know and don’t care about who he is. They’ll learn soon.

He tells himself he’s prepared.

When he opens the doors to the great hall, almost all eyes are on him. Nausea creeps up his throat and for a moment, he’s forgotten how to breathe. He does what he’s been trained to do, tilts his chin up in confidence- pride- and makes his way to the top of the Slytherin table. The whispers turn back to chatter and people begin to lose interest.

Apart from those at the Slytherin table, who all look at him. Two long rows of inquisitive, judgemental, Slytherin eyes.

Draco takes a seat, with his back to the wall, clears his throat and turns his head away from their gazes, sipping silently on pumpkin juice.

Nobody attempts to speak to him. Although he does notice the stare of one young girl. Her dark eyes are wide and amazed, and just a little bit frightened. Draco’s eyes flit over to her in acknowledgement, hoping she’ll stop looking. She doesn’t.

“Are you Draco Malfoy?” she blurts. The girl by her side smacks her hard on the arm.

“Tallulah, shut up!”

“What? What’s the harm in asking?”

“Because he’s obviously Draco Malfoy and it’s a stupid question.

“No it’s not,” the girl says, turning to look at Draco more confidently now. “My dad says you’re misunderstood.”

Nobody stops her this time. Four expectant eyes rest on him as his cup of pumpkin juice hovers in front of his lips. His eyes dart over them all. The girl in question, Tallulah, must be a second year. The others are of varying ages. He swallows, but it somehow makes his throat dryer. Draco definitely hadn’t prepared for this.

“Is that so?” he says, putting on his usual sarcastic tone.

“My mum used to be a Death Eater, but she’s not anymore,” says another girl, whose black hair is tied up in what looks like a painful topknot. Draco wonders whose child she is. “She said it was the biggest mistake of her life, getting caught up in that stuff.”

They wait for him to reply, as if he should be coming up with kernels of wisdom to share with the group. Draco has none.

“Oh,” is all he says, a little weakly.

“Do you regret it?” asks Tallulah.

“You can’t just ask Draco Malfoy whether he regrets being a Death Eater!” the same friend hisses.

“Why not?”

“Because, obviously he does, dipshit,” the oldest of them all says, that upper-class drawl dripping from every word, head resting on his fist. He looks bored rigid. “Don’t you?”

Their heads turn to him. It looks like they’re watching a tennis match. The ball is in his court again, though he has no idea how to play this game. “Uhm,” Draco stalls. “Yes. Well, yes. It was never really a choice.”

“Was it scary?”

Her friend face-palms. “Was it scary? Are you fucking serious? I’m sorry, this one’s a moron.”

“Am not.”

They bicker, almost forgetting he’s there, and Draco’s relieved that they’re distracted because it gives him a moment to centre himself and reign in the temper that’s rising. If he wants to not be universally hated and deemed automatically evil, he’s going to have to grin and bear it.

“What are you doing here, anyhow?” the posh, older one asks.

He doesn’t want to talk. He just wants to keep his head down. But it occurs to him now that plan A isn’t going to work. He’s going to have to be polite. He’s going to have to make conversation.

“I’m training to be a master in potions. And helping a little with the school’s protective charms.”

“Wow,” says Tallulah’s friend, who’s suddenly a lot more interested in Draco, and she looks alarmingly like she’s about to launch into a tirade of questions. Another girl interrupts her.

“Will you be teaching us?”

Then someone else: “Can you help with my homework?”

“Will you be living in the Slytherin dungeons?”

“Can you give us house points if we’re really good?”

Draco doesn’t respond to any of it. He thinks he’s giving off an air of closed-off-but-polite, but perhaps his expression is more disgruntled than that, because the older boy leans forward slightly, and says, “You’d better get used to this.”

Before things get any more awkward, McGonagall takes the stage and the hall falls, thankfully, quiet.

Her speech is much the same as Dumbledore’s had been. It’s still filled with school rules and news and little pieces of advice and vignettes. This time round, Draco finds it’s less boring, and is taken away by the nostalgia of it. She introduces the school to the new staff- including Draco, to his horror- and adds that they’ll be expecting another volunteer, though he is curiously absent. This is news to Draco. McGonagall looks unimpressed by the lateness.

It’s at that exact moment that the Hogwarts alumna in question enters the great hall. It’s impossible to open those giant oak doors during a speech without causing a scene- he’s seen it happen plenty of times before. Everyone turns around to stare at their arrival.

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Harry Potter freezes for a moment, suddenly aware that he’s come in at just the wrong moment, finds all eyes on him. And then he beings walking stiffly down the aisle in the middle of the four house tables to the end of Gryffindor’s. The room erupts into clamorous chatter.

Draco can’t believe what he’s seeing.

Potter sits at the opposite side of the hall, facing Draco, though he hasn’t spotted him. He looks taller than before but just as scrawny, and he looks tired, his hair even more of a mess than before. He’s grown a scruffy, half-hearted sort of beard that makes him look even more of a slob than he already had. His robes are a wrinkled mess and his stupid, circular glasses are skewed- he readjusts them as he sits down and pours himself some juice, trying and failing to appear nonchalant. Students are staring, wide-eyed and open mouthed. His responding smile is not very convincing, and he looks like he’d rather be eaten alive by thestrals than be there on that bench.

Anger flares within him. McGonagall had failed to mention this.

“Bloody hell, we’ve got the whole chocolate frog card collection today,” posh boy mutters. “First Draco Malfoy, now Harry-sodding-Potter.”

Draco is staring, and the Slytherins are staring at him staring, and the room is staring at Potter, and McGonagall is trying to regain their attention to no avail.

“Settle down, please, settle down- yes, you too Mr. Oswald- indeed, Mr. Potter will be volunteering to help rebuild the school’s charms. As you are all aware, we need all the help we can get, and Mr. Potter kindly offered his extensive skills to keep you all safe for this school year and the foreseeable future.”

Potter purses his lips in another attempt at a smile. Draco grinds his teeth. Still considered a bloody saint, then.

The rest of the speech is drowned out by Draco’s frantic, furious internal monologue- all the seething hatred he had for Potter returns in a clamour of scattered thoughts. Saint fucking Potter. Mr. High And Mighty. Mr. No One Can Touch Me, I’m the Boy Who Lived. THAT WANKING BASTARD.

And then, Potter spots him.

He does a comical double take. At first, he just looks confused. Then surprised. Then angry. Then in denial. It’s like watching the stages of bloody grief. And then, his expression settles into something close to disgust- like he’s personally offended by Draco being there at all.

What are you doing here? Potter mouths at him.

And suddenly, it’s just like they’re teenagers again, glaring at each other and sending crude hand gestures to each other across the great hall.

I’m volunteering, he mouths, nodding his head to the table of professors at the front of the hall, giving off as much disdain as he possibly can from across the room.

Potter's mouth drops open a little again, aghast. And then he decides he’s had enough of the ridiculous, silent conversation, and shakes his head to himself, ruffles his hair angrily and somehow makes it even messier.

The speeches go by slowly. The new teachers say their hellos. The first years are sorted. The meal begins and Draco doesn’t have much of an appetite.

His time at Hogwarts is going to be a lot harder than he’d anticipated.

He’d been so, so desperate- excited- to start afresh, do something good, move on with his life and leave everything, including Potter, behind him. And yet there he was, shovelling roast chicken in his gob and talking to a gaggle of fan-girls and fan-boys. The Slytherins have steered conversation away from him, wisely reading Draco’s furious, threatening aura.

He can’t take this. It’s outrageous and wrong and unfair and he’s going to talk to McGonagall about this.

At the end of the meal, he does just that. McGonagall is standing by the lectern, which flutters its wings impatiently at her to take her speech away. She’s talking to Horace Slughorn; despite him being reintroduced to Draco, Slughorn seems determined to make Draco’s life difficult and run away from him whenever he tries to start a conversation. It’s going to be awfully hard for him to train if his teacher scampers off in fear every time he sees Draco’s face. This time, Slughorn sees Draco approach, and once again, takes it as his queue to leave, giving McGonagall a quivering smile and shuffling off.

McGonagall sighs wearily, and turns to Draco. She measures his expression instantly and sighs again.

“Can I help you, Mr. Malfoy?”

Before he can say I don’t know, can you? or something along those lines, Draco feels a presence at his side- turns to find Potter, looking betrayed and- unbelievably- hurt.

“Professor-”

He finally notices Draco, his square jaw locks, and he’s the very definition of self-righteous as he turns back to McGonagall without saying anything to Draco.

“You didn’t tell me he’d be here,” Potter argues.

Draco turns on him. “I have as much of a right to be here as you do.”

Potter raises his eyebrows, looks him up and down. “Seriously? Seriously, Malfoy?”

They both turn back to McGonagall.

“I’m sorry, boys,” she says, hands up in defence, not sounding sorry in the slightest. “What did you expect me to say? ‘Dear Mr. Malfoy, Dear Mr. Potter, Thank you for your offer to volunteer, though you please be advised that the boy you hated so much at school will also be there, so please avoid any petty arguments for the sake of those who have to put up with you’?

Yes,” they both say in sync.

They stare at each other with a look of disgust for agreeing with each other- even if they are agreeing that they hate one another’s guts.

“Och, for pity’s sake, neither one of you are children anymore. Can you both try to put the past behind you?”

Potter looks like he’s thinking about it- his chest rises and falls as he tries to control himself. Draco, meanwhile, knows when to respect his superiors.

“Of course,” he says, though he does so through gritted teeth.

Potter doesn’t answer immediately. McGonagall looks at him expectantly like a harrowed parent. He hopes she doesn’t force them to shake hands, or hug, or something.

“Yeh. Fine. Don’t worry about it, Professor.”

“Oh, I’m not worried at all, Mr. Potter. I couldn’t care less about what’s going on.... here,” she asserts, a hand gesturing vaguely between them. “Now that neither of you are students, and now that I’ve let you into this school again, I’m trusting you two to both behave like adults.

Draco hates this.

Potter has ruined everything.

“That means, no silly accusations,” she continues, looking at Potter- who looks like he might dare to argue, but McGonagall holds a hand up at him- and then looking at Draco, “and no nasty remarks. Do I make myself clear?”

Draco juts his chin out, doesn’t make eye contact.

“Yes, Head Mistress.”

“Yes,” Potter mutters grumpily, the bloody child.

“Good. Now, go on. I expect to see you tomorrow after afternoon classes in the staffroom. We’re working on finding various charms to keep the magical creatures out of the school building. Last week, one of Hagrid’s crups escaped and ate all the sausages in the kitchens; the elves were quite beside themselves. So you can understand, it’s rather urgent.”

“Yes, Professor,” they say unison. McGonagall looks them both up and down, as if trying to decide whether she can leave them alone without tearing each other’s eyes out, and then turns to exit the hall. Draco follows, and, lamentably, so does Potter.

Once the great hall doors shut behind him, Draco grabs his arm and pulls him to a rough stop. “Listen Potter- if you fuck this up for me, I’ll-”

“You’ll what, Malfoy? You can’t threaten me. You can’t do anything to hurt me anymore.”

He looks so defiant, exactly the same Harry Potter he’s always known- even if he does look more tired. Older. It brings him back to that moment when he first met him. The excitement he’d felt at meeting the sacred Harry Potter, his misinformed attempts at making friends, thanks to his father’s influence. The shame at his cutting rejection. They had been so young then. It had been so simple.

But the pure hatred in his eyes reminds him that this all went far beyond schoolboy pettiness, as McGonagall described it. This is about Death Eaters and fiendfyres and curses that scar skin- and minds- for life.

“Don’t speak too soon,” Draco sneers. He turns on his heel, relishes the way his masters’ robes swoop, and hopes that Potter is watching him walk away.

000

The first couple of week goes by slowly, and Harry finds at first that he doesn’t have much to do. Reacquainting himself with the grounds, exploring areas that were once forbidden to him, now that he isn’t a student (not that that had ever stopped him, of course). Pacticing quidditch again. None of it’s enough to keep his restless mind preoccupied, and he finds himself thinking far too much about the Hogwarts that he grew up with and the one he finds himself at now. How much all of it has changed, how much has been lost, how lost he feels. No amount of dinners in the great hall, no amount of Hogsmeade trips or walks round the lake will make him forget how things have shifted.

He throws himself into DADA and charms research to distract himself.

When he’d first found out he’d be helping rebuild Hogwarts’ defensive charms, he hadn’t thought much about what he’d actually be doing. When he had imagined it, in his mind’s eye he’d been casting spells and actively rebuilding the magical shields; what he’s doing instead is, more or less, reading. Almost exclusively.

Harry reckons he should’ve have figured out that, if it were as simple as getting enough people to recast a few charms, reinforcing the school’s shields wouldn’t have taken very long to do. But then, naturally, he hadn’t thought very hard about the issue at all, until now. It’s become apparent that ‘rebuilding the school’s protective charms’ actually means ‘try and find out as much as possible about what the founders did to fortify Hogwarts, because they didn’t leave us any notes and we have no idea what we’re doing’.

Ordinarily the enormous amount of research and the extensive library days would grind Harry down to a miserable, grumpy pulp. Now, he’s finding that having a task at all is satisfying enough- even if he’s getting terrible headaches from the constant reading, and his concentration often wanders. Adulthood hasn’t made him a better studier or helped his miserable attention span.

Nonetheless, he throws himself into it. He hopes Hermione is proud. He never believed he would think it, but he’s actually missed the library.

He manages to avoid Malfoy almost entirely- save when they ignore each other in passing through the corridor.

When he isn’t helping with the castle charms or helping Hagrid find better means of keeping the magical creatures from bursting through the castle’s protective shields, he’s writing to Hermione and Ron. He misses them. Hogwarts is strange without them. But then, he has Hagrid still, at least. Their afternoon tea sessions have picked up again, and Harry finds those hours in Hagrid’s hut, talking about everything and nothing, so wholesome that he almost forgets that he’s twenty-one years old, not eleven.

During the first teatime session they’d had in years, Harry noticed that Hagrid has a photo of the four of them; it was taken the summer after second year, just before the holidays. He remembers Hagrid clumsily propping up the camera on a pumpkin outside his hut and running back to join them before it took the photo. He only just got there in time, so he looks a little flustered as he tries to smooth the various wrinkles in his baggy clothing. Meanwhile, Hermione is grinning broadly, her hair awry as ever. Ron is producing his dopey, lopsided smirk. Harry- well, Harry is laughing. Probably at Hagrid fussing over his clothes. He looks so young and his glasses are too large for his face. It breaks Harry’s heart to see him like this, before everything that happened. But, at the same time, it brings back a pleasant nostalgia.

Maybe, despite it all, Hogwarts is still his home, he thinks. Maybe, even with all that’s happened, he could still find a home here; just not in the way he had before.

Chapter Text

Draco finds his Potions Master training both satisfying and frustrating.

Pursuing the academia route appears to have been exactly the right choice for him. When he’s not pouring over potions texts and experimenting in his free time, he’s absorbed in charms and dark arts research for the castle defences. It feels like he’s at school again- only this time, he has both more time and motivation to learn. It’s nice to be busy and put his mind to something good. It’s nice to have a second chance at a normal school life.

The frustrating aspect is that Slughorn is bloody useless.

Almost all of his work is independent. Draco is happy with this. However, sooner or later, Slughorn is going to have to teach him something, and right now the man’s too scared to hold a conversation with him, let alone train him.

In the second week of term, McGonagall encourages Slughorn to let Draco assist in classes. Both are reluctant; for Draco's part, he'd like a little bit of pedagogical teaching from Slughorn first, but that doesn't seem likely. In class, he notices Slughorn, typically, paying attention to the ‘interesting’ students and ignoring those who need his help most. At first, Draco only watches. He tells himself that it’s not in his place, or his interests, to start taking pity on struggling students when he’s not the teacher. But after one particular lesson, when he notices a young Hufflepuff almost blow off her eyebrows- Seamus Finnegan style- he finds he can’t help but do something. Not through any particular concern or sense of obligation- rather it is almost painful, witnessing Slughorn’s teaching methods, from the other side of the classroom.

More than that, he wants to make a good impression on McGonagall. He can’t undo seven years of bad behaviour, but can certainly try to not be such a prick now. Better late than never.

000

Three weeks into the first term, and Harry has, thankfully, managed to avoid Malfoy. Most of the time.

He’s once or twice had to share the same room as him, during staff meetings. When he’s been doing research, he’s evaded the library and taken the books up to his little living quarters- or, any time he catches sight of a flash of Malfoy-blonde hair.

Sometimes he works in the great hall or the student study rooms. Most of the time, though, he works in his own room. He likes the reds and golds, emulating the Gryffindor common room- the fire burning, the view out of his window over the Quidditch pitch. Although, he finds that shutting himself off from public gaze feels more lonely at Hogwarts than it did at home. It feels like 5th year all over again.

He misses his friends, more than he ever has before. He has absolutely no idea how to make any new ones in this context. The fact that he’s the only twenty-something year old in the school doesn't make it easy.

Well, almost the only one. Malfoy doesn’t count.

The letters from Ron and Hermione help a lot. He even gets a couple from Ginny and Neville- who’s thinking of training for a Herbology ELM next academic year.

Now, Harry finds himself daydreaming and staring out the window as he considers how to reply to Ron.

Hey Ron

I can’t believe your girlfriend really persuaded me to do this. do you realise how much reading I have to do? I read the entire history of Salazar Slytherin’s family tree yesterday. Just in case there was something useful in there about the school’s foundational charms. It’s torture.

Ginny sent me the photo of you lot at her match against the Brighton Bombers. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there. Looks like your dad went all out with the tent this year too- how come when we used to go see the world cup you and I had to share a bed, but now everyone gets a four poster to themselves??? Has the fatherly pride gone to his head?

Do you reckon you’ll be able to come visit sometime?

And don’t worry I’ll keep my eye out for Skeeter. What’s she been writing about me? I’m avoiding the prophet like dragon-pox right now.

Harry

p.s. Merlin, I almost forgot to mention that yesterday I saw Malfoy coming out of a first year potions class covered in soot and looking particularly pissed off. I think it was this Hufflepuff, Sophie Wimble- she’s got that explosive, Seamus charm about her. I feel like I owe her my life for making Malfoy look so fucking angry.

He goes up to the owlry and uses McGonagall’s tawny to post it. He watches the owl fly off and thinks to himself that he’d really like another one himself- even if they could never replace Hedwig.

000

Draco can feel his eyelids getting heavier and heavier as he reads The Healing Properties of Boomslang Skin. Not only is it rather dry reading, but he didn’t sleep last night.

Even now, at the old oak table of the restricted section in the library- it’s always empty there, naturally- he can’t stop thinking about it. About how, two days ago, a second year Slytherin had run up to him in the corridor, expression anxious and hopeful, had thrust a folded up piece of parchment in his direction, and run off as soon as Draco had gingerly taken it.

The contents were not what he expected.

He’d been preparing himself for hateful words, a story of how Draco’s kind had killed one of his family members, etcetera, etcetera. Instead, the letter explained in painfully formal, thought-out words that this young boy- Julius Summerstone- was, is, in fact, the son of a Death Eater. Draco is embarrassed that he still can’t remember the boy’s father, even after racking his brains for two days. Apparently he is in Azkaban. Julius has been rejected by almost the entire school- as have other Death Eaters’ children. But apparently, now that Draco is there helping to rebuild the school, teaching potions, trying to change, Julius’ life is becoming a little easier. Draco, according to Julius and his friends, is a symbol of reform.

In short, it was a thank-you letter.

It ended with the phrase ‘thank you for being my role model’.

It had frightened Draco so much that he’d laid awake all night.

Now, he is staring at the same page that has been open for half an hour, absorbing nothing, and trying to calm his whirring mind.

He can’t be a role model, not for anyone. Malfoys don’t make good role models. Draco saw how damaging, insubstantial, how fragile his father’s guidance was as he grew older, but particularly in 7th year. He remembers noticing Lucius’ five o’clock shadow become more frequent, seeing how easily he crumbled under pressure. How sick all the hatred he cultivated made him. It wasn’t an easy thing to witness.

No. He can’t be a role model- that isn’t his intention at all, and if that’s what’s happening now that he’s at Hogwarts, he’s going to have to do something to change that.

Draco stretches, sits up straight, looks up and sees Potter wander into the restricted section. He looks tired too. The moment he spots Draco, he rolls his eyes- as if Draco’s doing something to intentionally piss him off- and does a U-turn to leave.

000

Hermione’s letters are becoming increasingly short. In the literal and angry sense.

Dear Harry,

I’m getting the distinct impression that you’re isolating yourself at Hogwarts again. Please don’t. It’s not helpful, you know it isn’t. I didn’t send you there so that you could hole yourself up and avoid everyone and everything, you daft sod.

Please look after yourself.

Love, always, Hermione

P.s no offence Harry but I really don’t need to hear about Malfoy in every single letter, even if it is about something as fascinating as “how stupid his floppy hair looks”. I heard enough about how much you hated him at school. I’m a little alarmed that your obsession has been rekindled so easily. Are you sure you don’t fancy him?

Harry almost spits out his pumpkin juice at that. Instead he chokes on it for a second, and an-overly eager third year pats him on the back.

He can’t really stop the students from sitting next to him and asking him questions at meal times. It’s getting quite frustrating. It’s even reached the point where they’re asking him for help with DADA homework. The new professor, Hobbleworth, seems to be absolutely useless, and it’s become Harry’s problem.

That being said, it’s nice to teach again.

He folds away Hermione’s letter and puts it in his jeans’ back pocket. It’s another long library day today, and he’s trying to gather up enough mental energy to get up to leave when he notices a wave of tittering and chattering. The owls have just dropped off the last of the post, most of which are copies of The Prophet. Harry’s happy to ignore it, as he usually does, until he notices that people are looking at him. More so than usual. Looking, then quickly turning away.

He knows what that means.

“Pass me that?” he asks the third year who helped him through his near fatal pumpkin juice incident moments ago. The girl looks at him, wide-eyed and uncertain. Harry holds out an insistent hand, and she reluctantly passes the newspaper to him.

Oh, Merlin.

Someone has managed to get a picture of him whilst he was out for some quidditch practice yesterday, as a little break in between his research. In his defence, he was very tired, so when he’d almost dropped the quaffle from 20 feet off the ground, juggling it ridiculously until he managed to get a hold of it, he didn’t think it particularly embarrassing.

This picture, however, is embarrassing. It shows him dropping the quaffle and desperately trying to retrieve it from his broom, the ball slipping from his fingers several times and his expression alarmed. It reminds him of a trick Arthur does to make Teddy laugh. He juggles and fake-drops things, making clownish faces till Teddy is screaming with joy.

He’s been photographed doing worse, but he does look really fucking stupid.

Not only that, but next to it is probably The Prophet’s new favourite picture of him- Harry Potter, standing behind the Hogwarts Express train carriage door, frantically dropping to the floor and hiding like his life depends on it.

This is exactly why he’s been avoiding reading the papers. And, funnily enough, one of the many reasons he’s been trying to avoid public appearances. How on earth the paparazzi managed to get past the castle’s defences is-

Oh. Yes. Those defences that are currently being repaired.

Harry is gritting his teeth in anger, feeling utterly exposed- a feeling he’s never going to get used to. The first thing his eyes find is Malfoy, across the great hall, laughing at the front-page image of Harry dropping the quaffle. The bastard is leaning against the wall, legs crossed in front of him, looking absolutely delighted.

And as if he’s been waiting for Harry to glare at him, he finds his gaze immediately and begins to juggle an empty china cup with a stupid expression that looks nothing like Harry’s thank you very fucking much.

Harry throws him a gesticulation so crude that some of the younger students blush. The older kids burst out laughing. Malfoy just smirks.

000

Breakfasts have become Draco’s favourite part of the day- because that’s when the Prophet is delivered. He is absolutely loving Potter’s resurgence of tabloid fame. Not that it ever disappeared of course, he’s the subject of at least one article every week, despite never being seen in public. Now that he’s back, however, Skeeter is managing to paste the papers with some truly wonderful shite, and Draco is living.

Week five of term, Wednesday morning, and Draco nurses his cup of tea with a copy of the Prophet- something he generally tends to ignore, until recently. Potter is, lamentably, absent from today’s issue. That doesn’t stop the good mood he’s in, however.

What does throw cold rain on the metaphorical parade is the sight of his own face, on page six.

He’s walking through the school’s courtyard- it must have been taken yesterday, because he recognises the grey shirt he’s wearing under the black robes and waistcoat. But that’s not the thing he’s occupied by; no, he’s more concerned by the big red circle that’s directing the reader’s attention to his, apparently, receding hairline.

Draco audibly gasps. The students are avoiding his gaze entirely.

The sound of Potter’s raucous, shameless laugh makes his eyes snap over to him.

The bastard is always bloody determined to get his attention, to laugh at him even with all these people around, and heat crawls up his neck until he’s almost shaking from anger. He picks up a crusty bread roll and launches it across the room at him in retaliation. Thanks to his excellent snitch based hand-eye coordination, it hits Potter square in the chest.

The fact that Potter seems to be enjoying all of this so much makes him feel incredibly hot and bothered. It takes him all day to shake off the frustration.

000

Harry walks past Malfoy every day at 9:30am as he makes his way to the library. He tries not to tell him him to fuck off every time.

He keeps reminding himself that Malfoy, according to Ron, isn’t worth it.

000

Draco walks past Potter every day at 9:30am as he makes his way to Potions class. He tries to sneer at him so obviously that it’ll somehow get a rise out of him in the busy corridor.

He keeps forgetting that he’s not meant to be letting Potter get to him.

000

It’s week six and McGonagall invites Harry up to her office. She tells him to take a seat opposite her desk, whilst she pops out for five minutes.

Harry takes the worn leather seat and leans back. He hasn’t been in this office in a long, long time. It still feels strange to not have Fawkes watching him from his perch, or hear the tinkle of spells and memories by the pensieve. It’s tidier than Dumbledore’s had been. Technically, the décor is much the same- and yet it feels so very different. More like a teacher’s office. There was something about Dumbledore’s that felt like a dream. A dream that became progressively nightmarish.

The thought makes him sigh. He remembers sitting on those stone steps with Dumbledore, discovering horcruxes with him.

Harry fidgets nervously at the sudden tidal wave of feelings, fiddles subconsciously with his shirt cuff. He registers Dumbledore’s presence in the portrait above McGonagall’s desk as soon as he appears.

“Harry. My dear boy.”

Harry doesn’t look up at first, continues to fuss with the cuff of his shirt.

“Hello, professor.”

Neither one says anything for a while, but Harry knows that Dumbledore’s waiting for something. Even in his death, he has that measuring, thoughtful aura. When Harry eventually looks up, he knows his expression isn’t as blank as he’d like it. Dumbledore peers at Harry over his half-moon glasses.

“I say ‘dear boy,’ but you are no longer a boy, of course. I had hoped to be around to see you reach adulthood.”

Harry has nothing to say to that.

“You’ve grown a beard. It suits you,” Dumbledore remarks.

Harry snorts, hand instinctively rising to stroke the short beard in question, not much longer than stubble. “Yeah. Sort of. It’s not really intentional, mostly I just can’t be bothered to shave.”

“Ah,” Dumbledore says wisely, stroking his own beard. The opal beads that tie the white hair appear to clink together, although he can’t hear the movement. It’s an oil painting, Harry reminds himself. “This is something I can understand. It did take rather a lot of effort to grow this, however.”

Harry nods. He’s thought about seeing Dumbledore again for years, and this isn’t exactly how he’d imagined it going. He’d imagined more of a shouting match- or rather, Harry shouting and Dumbledore nodding sagely and sadly. He hadn’t expected chatting about beards. But then, Dumbledore never was very predictable.

“Minerva tells me that you’ve been helping research the castle charms.”

“Really? Are we really going to make small talk like this?” There we go. Harry can hear the anger in his voice, feel his throat close up with the threat of tears. “Shall we talk about the weather next?”

Dumbledore doesn’t react, not that Harry expected him to. “What would you like to talk about?” he asks simply.

Oh Merlin, there are so many things, he thinks, and nowhere near enough time or energy. Perhaps how Dumbledore left him at the Dursley’s. Or maybe how he’d known Harry would die all along. Instead, Harry finds nothing coming out, save his slightly shaky breath.

“No number of apologies will make up for the damage I caused you, Harry,” he says.

Harry stares at his bitten nails. “No,” he agrees.

Nobody speaks for some time- he doesn’t know how long. And yet Dumbledore doesn’t disappear.

“I miss you,” Harry whispers. It’s the truth.

“I miss you too,” Dumbledore says quietly. Harry doesn’t know if Dumbledore’s ever told him the truth.

“Did McGonagall tell you that Malfoy’s here, too?” Harry says, suddenly desperate to change the subject if the old headmaster is going to hang around.

“Mm. I am inordinately relieved. I had feared that he had gone beyond the point of no return.”

Harry frowns at him. “He has. He did. He tried to kill you.”

Dumbledore strokes his beard thoughtfully, the action transporting Harry back to his first year. His heart aches. “Perhaps,” Dumbledore ponders.

Harry frowns to himself, doesn’t particularly want to unpack that statement.

“I had wondered…” Dumbledore continues. He shakes his head slowly. “No. It is not worth mentioning.”

Except, Dumbledore is a manipulative old sod, and despite Harry’s knowledge of this, he finds that he takes the bait. “Go on.”

“It is nothing. Only, I had once wondered whether you two would become friends.”

It’s shocking and random enough to make Harry wince at Dumbledore’s portrait, like he’s trying to see the point he’s trying to make but can’t find it anywhere. “Friends with Malfoy? Were we at the same school?”

That makes him chuckle. “He reminds me a lot of myself, in some respects. When I was a young man. Ambitious, troubled. Determined to seek respect from the wrong people.”

Harry is speechless, for so many reasons, and he finds he can’t take his eyes off Dumbledore- who meets his gaze unwaveringly, almost like a challenge.

“Why are you saying this?”

Dumbledore doesn’t look away, but he does appear to be thinking of the right thing to say. Harry correctly assumes that he’s formulating a kernel of wisdom to impart. “Only that, my dear boy, perhaps you need to look ahead. You ought not to cling onto the past, when all it does is cast a dark shadow on the present.”

Harry lets his head loll back in frustration. “I thought the past was important. That you’re meant to learn from history. From mistakes.”

“Naturally.”

“So how can you do both? Ignore the past and learn from it at the same time?”

Dumbledore tilts his head from side to side in thought. “That is… not entirely what I meant, Harry. You can learn from the past without letting it control you.”

“So what you’re saying is, I should forget that Malfoy is a murderer and walk off into the sunset with him?”

Dumbledore chuckles again. “You are still just as stubborn, my friend. And quick to come up with witty banter. I’m happy to see that what happened hasn’t changed you entirely.”

“Maybe it’s the Slytherin in me. The sarcastic bitchiness never really shifted.”

“Ah, well, that was all you, Harry. Not Tom.”

Harry huffs a quiet laugh this time. “Yeah.”

There’s another silence. Only this time, it is more comfortable. Harry can’t help wondering why Dumbledore had thought he and Malfoy would get on. This is, apparently, evident by his expression.

“I believe I should clarify,” Dumbledore begins. Harry looks at him, arms crossed over his chest. “I did not expect you to enjoy Draco’s company when you were both young. It was quite clear that you disliked each other. I believe there wasn’t a person at Hogwarts who could have missed the taunts you directed at each other at meal times.” The fact that Harry had been so obvious at getting Malfoy’s attention suddenly makes him hot with humiliation. “However, I did wonder, if, after all that had happened, you would come to empathise. You are, after all, one of the kindest people I know. For, you must know by now that not everything is so simple as good and evil.”

Harry thinks that Dumbledore is referring to himself. He looks up at him again.

“And,” he adds, casually, like an afterthought, “you know what it is to be manipulated. To be used, lied to, to question everything you believed in.”

Now Harry knows that Dumbledore is referring to himself, and is surprised to find that, despite the offhand tone, his eyes seem to sparkle with moisture. Then again, perhaps it’s just the way the light hits the canvas.

Harry doesn’t know what to say. He feels his own eyes prick with tears, his throat constrict again. He stares at his hands gripping his knees. He tries to figure out what to say, tries to come up with that ‘witty banter’ that Dumbledore had joked about, but nothing comes.

It’s an enormous relief when McGonagall comes in.

She greets Dumbledore with a hello, takes one look at Harry, and her expression flickers with recognition that he is trying not to cry. But she knows him well enough to not comment.

“Thank you for waiting, Mr. Potter- I’m sorry for the delay. I had to retrieve Professor Hobbleworth from his fourth year Defence Against the Dark Arts class. One of the students had set a swarm of Cornish pixies on him. He’s quite beside himself,” she remarks sardonically.

Dumbledore nods sagely.

“No offence, but why have you two struggled so much with appointing Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers? I’m pretty sure the only one that hasn’t been either useless or evil was Lupin.”

“It is not an easy subject to teach. You know, more than most, how true that is,” Dumbledore says.

And then he waves goodbye to both of them, as if he doesn’t want to intrude, before walking down the bright, sunlit corridor in his portrait. The exit feels so sudden that Harry doesn’t even formulate the words ‘goodbye’. He opens his mouth and closes it again dumbly.

McGonagall speaks, thankfully bringing Harry’s attention back to her- “I see, from the Daily Prophet, that you’ve been making the most of the Quidditch pitch since you’ve been here, Potter.”

Harry’s mouth twists. “Yeh, that was great. We really need to figure out a spell to keep Skeeter out of the school.”

“Well, forgive me for saying this, but the paparazzi are the least of our problems when it comes to the school’s defensive charms.” Harry knows she’s right, but he feels the urge to argue anyway. McGonagall stops him before he gets the chance. “Whilst I wouldn’t be pleased to be in your position, Potter, perhaps you should spend time researching the matter yourself, if you are that concerned.”

Harry nods. “Yeah. Yeah, fine.”

“Now, to the matter at hand,” McGonagall begins, sitting up straight in her seat. “I have a prospect for you.”

“Oh?”

“As you might be aware, Professor Hobbleworth is… struggling,” she says, and Harry smiles at the metaphorical eye-roll he can sense her in the pause. “And, it is remarkably difficult to find a teacher both experienced enough in the Dark Arts and able to teach. Regrettably, Hobbleworth is neither.”

Harry laughs at that.

And then he realises what McGonagall is suggesting.

“Professor…”

“Minerva, please.”

“Min… Professor, no, you know I wouldn’t be the right person for this, I mean, I’ve barely stepped outside of my own home for three years, and you want me to be responsible for hundreds of students? I can’t do that. I couldn’t-”

“You are not so unstable as you believe you are, Potter- Harry,” McGonagall says, leaning forward and peering over her glasses.

“I mean… I am though,” Harry argues. He feels breathless. “I mean… you have absolutely no idea, I’m sorry, professor, but you don’t. It’s enough that I’m here, with Skeeter following me around the school and putting the students under line of fire. I’m better off alone-”

“Oh really Potter. Did your time at Hogwarts teach you nothing?”

Harry controls the urge to argue and looks at his hands gripping his knees again.

“You know that’s not true- you do more harm than good thinking that way. Goodness, you are still the stubborn child I met when you were eleven.”

Harry doesn’t say anything to that. He’s been getting a lot of people calling him stubborn recently. It’s getting really annoying.

“Please, just consider it.”

Harry nods.

There’s a sort of quiet chime noise, and Harry realises that it’s a security charm telling McGonagall that someone’s at the office entrance.

“Come in, Mr. Malfoy.”

Harry frowns at her, feeling suddenly betrayed, then spins around in his chair. Malfoy steps into the office carefully from behind the gargoyle statue. His white blonde hair is pushed out of his gaunt face, black waistcoat revealing his slender frame, robes billowing in a way that’s reminiscent of Snape.

Harry scowls. Malfoy spots him and scowls in return, stands dead still by the staircase as it disappears behind the statue again.

“Oh for goodness’ sake,” McGonagall exclaims, stands up, gestures to the seat that draws itself magically beside Harry.

Malfoy looks like he’s smelled something bad as he sits in the vacant chair. Harry tries very hard to ignore him.

“Professor,” Malfoy finally says in greeting, because whilst he might be a smarmy bastard, he’s always sickening polite. “May I ask why you wanted to see me?”

“Well, I have an issue which concerns both of you.” She looks at them both and Harry once again gets the sense that he’s twelve years old and in terrible trouble.

“Is this because I threw an orange at Malfoy at dinner and accidentally hit that first year in the face?” Harry asks.

Both Malfoy and McGonagall look at him wearily.

“I don’t want to know,” McGonagall says, hands up in front of her as if to stop him from trying. “No, this is a problem of a rather more serious kind.”

Harry peers over to Malfoy, who peers back, and they look away quickly as if any prolonged eye-contact will cause them to immediately burst into flames. Harry is suddenly aware that, in his periphery, Malfoy is sitting perfectly straight, one leg crossed over the other, hands folded neatly in his lap. Meanwhile, he’s slouching. He sits up a little straighter.

“Despite our efforts, we have tried and failed to put out the fiendfyre in the Room of Requirement.”

Harry sits up even straighter at this. Malfoy doesn’t move a muscle, and the waves of tension coming from him are palpable.

“What?” Harry asks, and it sounds more demanding than he meant. “I’m sorry, it’s just- you mean to say that the Room of Requirement is still on fire?”

“That’s obviously what she’s saying,” Malfoy snaps.

“What- I mean, why-”

“We have made many attempts to put it out,” McGonagall explains. “Many of the teachers here are unable to put any fiendfyre out- I myself know the counter-curse and have successfully put out several fiendfyres, however I have been unable to extinguish this particular one. I must commend you on your skill, Mr. Malfoy,” McGonagall adds drily.

Malfoy looks at his lap, brow furrowed and concerned.

“What?” Harry asks, feeling completely lost. “I thought it was Crabbe who started it?”

Malfoy doesn’t say anything, won’t look at either of them. “No. Carrow taught him the curse, too. But it… was me who cast it.” He swallows, before adding more quietly, “It was an accident. I didn’t know what I was casting.”

“Has anyone else tried to put it out?” Harry asks, ignoring Malfoy and feeling utterly furious.

“We’ve had several aurors give it a go, though, naturally, they have more important things to be getting on with. And none have been successful. It seems a pointless task to try.”

“Why hasn’t it worked? Do you know?” Malfoy asks quietly.

He has that expression on his face that Harry’s seen several times in his time knowing him. It’s the face he makes when he’s scared- his eyes go wide and he looks like he’s going to both be sick and cry at the same time. He’s seen it in varying intensities in varying situations; the moment after he’d been retransformed from a ferret to a human. The moment when his dad had called him over to his side of the battlefield.

McGonagall looks at Malfoy, and Harry can’t read her expression so easily. “In short, Malfoy, it’s incredibly strong magic. Fiendfyres of this type are usually only put out by the one who cast them.”

Malfoy doesn’t look like he believes her. Harry’s pretty surprised too. He’s always seen Malfoy as nothing short of pathetic.

“So, Malfoy’s got to put it out then. What do you need me to do?” Harry asks. He sounds so tired when he says it.

“Make sure Malfoy doesn’t get himself killed,” McGonagall says simply.

“I can go by myself,” Malfoy says curtly. “Do you even know how to put out a fiendfyre, Potter?”

He doesn’t answer his question. “Do you?”

“Yes.”

Oh, Harry thinks. “Well, it’s not like I have to go with you, right? McGonagall, can’t someone else-”

“We all have more important things to do, Mr. Potter, and, judging by the photos in The Prophet, you have more time on your hands than us.”

Malfoy sneers at Harry. He scowls at him.

“Fine. I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to stop him from getting himself killed, though.”

Malfoy seems to suddenly remember what he’s being asked to do. He looks frightened all over again, looks Harry up and down. “Professor, I’d appreciate it if someone else could-”

“I’m not saying it again. Besides, given Potter’s track record, I think we can rely on him to be quite useful in the given circumstances, don’t you?”

Malfoy looks even more nauseous than he already did. He doesn’t agree, but he also doesn’t argue. Harry sighs. And begins to feel frightened himself.

Neither of them look at each other as the leave the office side by side.

000

It feels unnatural walking alongside Harry Potter. It occurs to Draco that the last time they walked with each other with a united purpose was when they were in the forbidden forest, at eleven years old. Apparently, the sight looks just as odd as it feels, because students are staring and whispering to each other as they go. Draco fights the self-consciousness that rises within him. He’s developed quite the aversion to being noticed. Even after all these years, he’s frightened of being seen.

Well, hanging out with Potter is going to make him bloody well seen, isn’t it. At least they’re almost at the 7th floor.

Draco clears his throat uncomfortably.

“Can you really produce the counter-curse for fiendfyre?” Potter doesn’t look at him when he says it.

“Yes. Of course,” he says, and it’s the truth, yet the cadence of his voice makes it sound insincere. “After what happened… well, I wanted to make sure I could put something like that out. In case it happened again.”

“Maybe you should have learned that before you cast the spell in the first place,” Potter mutters.

Draco can’t really argue with that. He regrets it sorely, of course he does. But he doesn’t want to agree with Potter either, so he just grits his teeth and they make their way to the 7th floor in silence.

As ever, they have to walk past the entrance three times before the door appears. He and Potter stand outside, both appearing to take a moment to prepare themselves for what’s to come. Draco takes out his wand, and Potter does the same.

The portrait of Barnabas the Barmy, opposite the Room of Requirement’s door, makes a derisive snort.

“I wouldn’t try that if I were you,” Barnabas says.

Draco doesn’t even turn round to look. “Like we’re going to take advice from you. You tried to train an army of trolls for the ballet.”

“Yes, well, even that is more sensible than what you’re about to attempt.”

“Sod off, Barnabas,” Potter says.

That seems to shut him up. Draco takes a deep breath. Potter casts protego totalum around the both of them. He can see the film of magic ripple, the brick work appearing to shimmer until it settles.

“Ready?” Potter asks. Draco looks at him, is surprised by the sincere concern in his expression. As much as he dislikes and distrusts Potter, and as much as he dislikes Draco in equal measure, the man is remarkably earnest. It’s bizarre to be on the receiving end.

“Yes. You?”

Potter nods briskly, green eyes keen with determination. “Let’s get this over and done with.”

Draco takes another deep breath, wand at the ready, and opens the door.

The heat is incredible.

It’s lucky that Potter’s magic is strong, because the fiendfyre is so intense that it presses against the magical shield and forces them backwards, feet skidding along the floor.

Their robes billow out behind them, the light is blinding and Draco holds an arm up to his eyes, as if it makes a difference. The protego totalum is enough to stop them getting scorched- for now- but it doesn’t stop it being so hot that the air in his lungs seems to disappear, burning his insides. He gasps, trying to catch his breath. The magic of Potter’s shield charm is beginning to fail already, and they haven’t made it through the door yet- they’re only just managing to stop it from spreading into the corridor. Draco casts his own, and they force their way forwards, their protective bubble only allowing them as far as the threshold of the room.

“Malfoy, counter-curse!” Potter shouts over the roar of the inferno. And it really is roaring- not like an ordinary fire, but like a wild, untameable animal.

He wonders how he created something so strong. Perhaps it is because he had been so, so scared when he cast it. All the pain and fear of those years, put into one spell. Now, he’s feeling the consequences of it, and it’s hellish. It’s not only screaming and bellowing like some beast, but it’s wriggling and writhing like one too- seems to take the shape of all sorts of horrific things all at the same time.

Draco tries to swallow, but his mouth goes dry immediately in the heat. It’s almost impossible to say the words- the times he’d taught himself to put out fiendfyre, he’d done it almost as soon as he’d cast the curse in the first place. It never got too out of control. But this- this has been raging for years.

He doesn’t know if he can do it.

He feels a hand grip his arm- he finds Potter looking up at him, the light dancing in his glasses.

“You can do it! You have to do it, Malfoy! Come on! I’ll protect you!”

And the ridiculous thing is, despite everything, Draco knows he will. Because he’s Harry Potter, and that’s what he does.

Draco plants his feet and firmly as he can. Both his hands grip his wand. He can barely hear the words leave his mouth- the only thing that tells him he’s saying them aloud is the fact that the action leaves his throat hoarse from the heat.

Stiguere absolutum!

A giant pool of water erupts from his wand. It’s nothing like aguamenti, which is more like a jet. This is dark and massive and threatening. It’s an ocean. It’s almost as terrifying as the fiendfyre, and Draco begins to tremble with the power of it. He’s never had to cast one this large before, and it’s a hard enough spell to cast anyhow- to counter fiendfyre, you need something equally powerful, and it needs to be the manifestation of control. That is something that Draco has been forced to cultivate his whole life. Perhaps that is why he can cast it.

Where the fiendfyre is thrashing and uncontrollable, the deep blue water seems still, even as it rises like a wall around the two of them. It doesn’t extinguish the fire like water typically would; it seems to absorb it, absorbs the heat and the noise, seems to drink in the light of the fire. It seems bottomless and cold. Draco is panting with the strain of holding it; the fiendfyre is retreating, but not fast enough. He can feel his vision wavering.

“Fuck!” Potter is struggling too- they can’t afford to let down the shield, not yet. The fyre is still too strong.

Draco takes one look at him, sees the sheen of sweat on his face, the way he bares his teeth, his knuckles white, and he knows they can’t last.

This really would be a terrible time for them both to die. They’ve survived this fiendfyre before, it would be ridiculous for them to burn to death because of it now.

His vision blurs at the edges. He summons his weak will into a ball, holds onto it tightly. Taking a deep, burning breath, his eyes flutter closed and he breathes through his nose until it slows and evens out.

Draco has always been able to control himself, when he’s had to. He has always been able to compartmentalise. It is how the Malfoys have always lived. It is how he is able to master occulmency and legilimency. It’s how he’s going to put out this fire.

He might be weak, he thinks, but he can bloody well do this.

He mentally dives into the pool of his magic, cold, dark, and deep. He lets it flow down his arm and through his wand. His eyes remain closed and he focuses on his own measured breathing.

When he opens his eyes again, after some indefinite amount of time, the fiendfyre is gone. What is left is a black sheen of water, which seeps into the ground. There are no ashes of the things that were once here. The Room of Requirement is empty.

The breath rushes out of him at once. He falls to his knees. Potter collapses onto his backside shortly afterwards.

“Fuck,” Draco breathes.

“Fuck,” Potter agrees.

They sit there for a while, neither one of them saying anything. Potter sits a few metres away, runs a hand through his hair. The sweat slicks it back out of his face, revealing his scar. Draco looks away, feeling suddenly uncomfortable at seeing Potter like this. He wipes his forehead with his sleeve, before standing up unsteadily. Potter makes no move to get up.

Just as Draco takes note of the soreness of this throat, imagines how nice it would be to have a cold glass of water, a jug appears by his side, on a little table. He pours himself a glass. Quite amazing. A pleased little “hmm” escapes him. When a second glass appears, he pours it and passes it to Potter.

“Well. At least you stopped the fiendfyre,” Potter says. “So. Yeah. Well done, I guess.”

Draco looks over to Potter, who’s avoiding his gaze, hands thrust in his pockets. He rolls his eyes. “Thank you for your congratulations, though I really didn’t ask for it.”

Potter growls. “Fuck’s sake, Malfoy, just take the compliment and let’s go.”

Draco gladly takes the door handle and turns it. It won’t open. He rattles it.

“Um,” Draco says.

“Move,” Potter demands. He shakes the handle just as Draco did.

“Well, that was certainly a revelation, turning the handle, who would have thought to do that?”

Potter ignores him. “Alohomora.” Nothing. They both try several spells. The door doesn’t shift.

After a moment of silence, they turn to look at each other in horror.

They’re trapped in the Room of Requirement.

Chapter Text

Harry spends another couple of minutes trying to open the door.

He knows it’s pointless, and he knows that, for whatever reason, they’re trapped in here. It’s not fear that drives him to rattle the door handle, kick it, blast several diffindos at it- rather, he feels personally attacked by a room that he thought had his back, as such. In the past, Harry and it have got on quite well. Now, he wonders if the Room of Requirement has some sort of cruel agenda against him, literally locking him in a room with Draco Malfoy.

Speaking of which, Malfoy seems to have accepted his fate much more quickly than Harry. Malfoy is sitting on a comfortable looking sofa, which has appeared to accommodate him, though he looks anything but comfortable. His hands are clasped tightly in his lap, his back is straight against the support of the sofa. He has that expression that seems to be ingrained in Malfoy genetics; brows knit slightly together in indignance, a faint hint of a sneer. He also looks a little injured- perhaps for the same reason Harry does, like this is a personal vendetta against him.

Bloody room. Thought it was his friend. Which in retrospect, is a bit of a stupid thing to think of a room.

With that, Harry gives up and growls, hands flying up in resignation. “Great. This is fucking brilliant.”

“It’s not exactly a dream come true,” Malfoy agrees, but maintains that sneer that implies that he doesn’t take any pleasure from it.

He stands on the spot for a moment, feeling useless and drained from it all. The room is empty, and has shrunk significantly since the last time he really, properly looked. It’s no longer accommodating for a vast library of things, rather, just two very grumpy men. It occurs to Harry then that everything that had been in here has been burned to a crisp.

And then it settles on him- the magnitude of what Malfoy has just accomplished.

Granted, Harry has never really considered learning to combat fiendfyre. But Malfoy, apparently, thought about it enough to teach himself the counter-curse. Harry wonders if he had anyone train him to pull it off; because he can’t quite believe that the power that he just witnessed came from Draco Malfoy, boy-weasel.

The wall of water that had come from Malfoy’s wand- it was so vast and dark and foreboding and terrifying, so cool and calm and threatening. And yet, as much as Harry wants to associate the magic he saw with evil, with dark magic, he can’t. He can’t imagine Bellatrix Lestrange with that kind of magic, not even Lucius Malfoy. There was something not only controlled, but confident and aware about the spell. It doesn’t seem particularly Draco Malfoy at all. It’s the opposite of the frantic, terrified, torn-apart person that cast the fiendfyre those years ago.

“I didn’t realise you cast the fiendfyre,” Harry says out loud. “I swear I saw Crabbe do it.” He sits opposite Malfoy, finding another, separate sofa manifest itself beneath him. The rest of the room remains empty, the castle’s pale, limestone brick showing no sign of being under fiendfyre for three years.

“I’ve told you already,” Malfoy says, looking at nothing over Harry’s shoulder, “it was me. You were quite distracted by whatever it was that you were doing in there, I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw things wrong.” Malfoy pauses, tilts up his proud chin. “Crabbe was never really capable of that sort of magic.”

“And you were,” Harry says, and it’s not meant to be an accusation, for once, but that’s how Malfoy apparently takes it by the growing sneer on his face.

“Yes. I didn’t know what I was doing.”

“Yeah, you said that before.”

“Well it’s true,” Malfoy argues, pitch rising slightly. “I wouldn’t have… if I’d known.”

“Sorry if I find that hard to believe,” Harry mutters, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

He’s expecting Malfoy to argue some more, expecting him to defend himself or gloat, or something. Instead, he’s met with a wall of silence. He’s frozen still, hands clasped so hard together that his knuckles are white. There’s a sheen of sweat across his forehead and cheekbones, giving away the physical exertion of the fiendfyre counter-spell. On top of that, he looks exhausted- there are dark shadows under his eyes that didn’t seem to be there before. Harry isn’t surprised.

He’s not sure if he’ll ever forget, or understand, the sight of Malfoy, feet planted firm, eyes narrowed in concentration, the electric-like charge of his magic making Harry’s skin prickle and his own blonde hair fly in disarray.

That silver-blonde hair, which was swept back carefully before they entered the Room of Requirement, is now hanging around his face. Strands of it fall in front of his eyes, but it doesn’t do anything to hide the fierce look in them. Harry assumes that he’s angry at him. He usually is.

“Why do you reckon we’re stuck in here?” he says, surprising Harry.

“Uh. I don’t know. I mean, maybe it’s… broken.”

A dark blonde eyebrow raises. “Broken?”

That familiar spark of frustration catches in his chest, that feeling of having to argue, defend himself against Malfoy. “Yeah, I mean, it’s been on fire for three years. That probably does something, right?”

Malfoy’s eyebrow ticks again. “I’m not sure if a room like this can be broken.” Harry thinks he’s finished, as he swings on leg gracefully over the other. Then he mimics Harry, crossing his arms in front of his chest defensively. “It must be because it thinks one of us wants to be stuck in here.”

Harry snorts. “Oh yeah. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

Malfoy still doesn’t look at him. “Well, it’s the only thing I can think of. Perhaps it’s what it thinks we need. I don’t bloody well know.”

Harry is suddenly reminded of Dumbledore’s comment. Perhaps you need to look ahead.

He ignores the thought, and the plummeting feeling in his stomach.

They both sit opposite each other in silence for a long time.

000

Potter is unbelievably loud, even when he’s trying to be quiet.

He sighs and breathes deeply, hums strange Muggle songs to himself, picks his nails- the last of which Draco didn’t realise could be a loud activity until he’d been trapped in a room with Harry sodding Potter.

The man in question lies on his back on his sofa, staring at his scarred hand, turning it over in front of his bored face.

“Perhaps we ought to think of a way to get out of here,” Draco says, as quietly as he can without whispering. Even then, the sound of his voice surprises Potter into looking at him. Draco looks away as soon as green eyes meet his.

Potter doesn’t have anything to offer at first. Then, he says, helpfully, “Well, what do you suggest?”

Draco scoffs. “I don’t know. I thought maybe we could discuss our options.”

“So you don’t have any ideas,” Potter says blandly, who has returned to staring at his fascinating hand.

“And you have plenty?” Draco counters.

“No. You were just acting like you had something interesting to contribute. I was wrong.”

Anger flares momentarily within him, before he cools it down again. Calm down. He’s trying to get a rise out of you. Because he’s a total arse.

His decision to take the moral high ground and refuse to argue apparently causes Potter to look over again, a petulant sort of crease between his brows. He looks like he wants to say something else, but apparently chooses to remain silent. Or so Draco thinks.

“So. Let’s talk about it then. How do we get out.”

Draco considers that, if he’s going to have a grown up, calm conversation with Potter, he’s going to need at least one cup of tea. Naturally, a steaming pot of earl grey then appears on a coffee table between the two of them. Before he can even finish the thought in his head, a couple of slices of lemon pop into existence. This prompts a snort from Potter, who shakes his head to himself with a small smile.

“What?”

“Nothing. Tea’s a good idea.”

A little jug of milk appears.

Draco can feel his lips purse. He has seen the expression he’s wearing on his father’s face plenty of times, and doesn’t enjoy the feeling of it on his own. It’s been a conscious effort, trying to erase Lucius Malfoy’s influence on him, and he reckons it might be a pointless task.

“Milk with earl grey. How terribly common.”

Yes, Draco thinks, it’s absolutely futile. Snobbery is in his blood.

Potter pours himself a cup before Draco has the chance to pour his own. He’s surprised by the small show of politeness when Potter pours it for him. Thankfully, he doesn’t add the messy slosh of milk into his. Draco takes the lemon and drops it carefully into the teacup.

“So,” Potter begins. “We’re trapped in the Room of Requirement.”

“Well spotted.”

“Well, as in, it’s, sort of, what you said before. The clue’s in the name. The room thinks that we require each other’s presence.”

“Mm,” Draco replies, a noise that conveys no small amount of disgruntlement.

Potter takes the teacup in both of his rough hands, cradling it like a mug. The sleeves of his red cable knit jumper are rolled up to his elbows. His eyes dart around the almost-empty room, avoiding Draco entirely, his too long, messy hair seems to be everywhere at once, hasn’t been combed in probably decades. One hand flies to his beard, scratches it absentmindedly, and Draco can hear him swallow uncomfortably in the quiet of the room.

So,” Potter continues, giving off unbearable waves of awkwardness that makes Draco want to hide behind the sofa. It’s a singularly Potter feeling. His social ineptitude is remarkable. “Maybe we should try and give it what it wants- or, what it thinks we want.”

Draco’s stomach twists unpleasantly as he hides expression behind the teacup. He takes a cautious sip. Too hot. Suddenly, he feels the steam settle, and he tries again. Perfect. Thanks for something, Room of Requirement.

“What are you suggesting?” he says, trying to affect disinterest.

Potter is looking at him, and he reckons he should attempt to be present for this conversation so he returns the look. The man’s eyebrows are pinched and raised, in the way that they often are. It makes him look anxious, or at least like he’s thinking about something quite hard, which Draco severely doubts, but in actual fact he reckons it’s just a natural, resting expression for Potter.

“I think we should try and… ugh, I don’t know,” he says, frustrated in his inability to articulate whatever it is he’s thinking. He slouches against the back of the sofa.

“Very insightful, Potter.”

They sit in more uncomfortable silence, whilst Draco watches Potter think. His nails tap against the china cup in an irregular rhythm, betraying his nervousness. Draco remains perfectly still, whist the man sitting across from him fidgets.

“I don’t know if I ever apologised,” Potter says. Draco feels slightly light-headed in surprise at the words. There’s a long pause before he continues. “I mean that, I’m sorry. For casting that spell on you in our 6th year. I just sort of… read it somewhere, and didn’t know what it was. It’s hard to explain.”

Draco doesn’t say anything. He examines the delicate flower pattern on his china cup. Rather more chintzy than his mother’s own collection, wherever it is now. Probably still back at the manor.

“I don’t understand,” he says quietly.

Potter frowns at him, looks away, huffs, look back, frustration only increased. “I’m apologising, what’s there to understand?”

“You didn’t know what the spell would do?”

Potter’s expression darkens. It appears that the both of them are remembering the specifics of sectumsempra. Draco has to stop a hand from instinctively touching his ribs, where the largest scar is. Whilst he’s always considered the event somewhat of a sore spot, it’s by far the least emotionally scarring thing to have happened to him during those final years at Hogwarts.

He therefore finds himself at a loss for words- not wanting to forgive Potter for what he did in that bathroom, nor wanting to let him think that he cares enough about it to not forgive him.

All this time, he’d thought Potter had tried to genuinely take him out of the equation.

This doesn’t change anything, he thinks to himself.

He frowns into his teacup. Then, “I suppose that makes us even.”

Potter doesn’t say anything for a moment, and Draco doesn’t want to see his expression. He doesn’t really want to talk to Potter about anything at all, although his brain seems to have different plans. It’s pushing everything to the front of his mind- all the pain and trauma of the war- it’s begging him to talk about it out loud. To tell Potter and make him understand. He has no idea why he has such an urge. It occurs to him that he’s always had it- always tried to grab his attention.

“Except I didn’t try to kill you. You did try to kill me.”

“When,” Draco replies quickly. Looks at him. Demands him to explain.

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe when…” Potter visibly struggles. “You chose the wrong side, Malfoy. You set the bloody Room of Requirement on fire.”

“I’ve told you, I didn’t know what it would do- I had no control then,” Draco says calmly. He’s proud of himself for giving off a calm demeanour when he feels anything but, right now.

Potter seems to consider this, plays with the empty teacup in his hands- dangles it off his index finger, watches it sway. “You really didn’t mean to do it?”

“No,” he says after a while. “I didn’t want to do any of it. I…”

There aren’t really any words to explain how little he wanted to do any of it. How much he was expected to do, how little he could actually accomplish. He couldn’t kill Dumbledore. He couldn’t fight, not on any side. All he could do was be passive, watch the world burn. It’s his biggest regret, that he didn’t at least try to do something. He can only make peace with it now. And he can’t expect Potter to understand.

“I tried to save you,” he whispers, internally curses his mouth for saying what he’s thinking out loud. For this bizarre urge to have Potter see him.

The room suddenly feels too small. It opens out, provides vaulted ceilings as the thought passes through his head. But then, he considers, he’s not sure if that will help the tightness in his chest and claustrophobia.

“In the manor,” Potter supplies, matter-of-factly. “You said you didn’t recognise me.”

Draco nods.

He says it quietly, like he doesn’t really want Draco to hear. “I remember.”

000

Harry lies on his stomach, head resting on his arms, looking away from Malfoy. He can’t stop thinking about what he said. I didn’t want to do any of it. It’s not as if he didn’t sort of realise that already- he’d always sensed how reluctant he was. But somehow, that didn’t change the fact in Harry’s mind that Malfoy was a murderer, with evil intent.

He did choose the wrong side, Harry reminds himself. He always had a choice. Harry could have chosen the easy path himself, but he didn’t. He always held Sirius’ advice close to his heart- that it’s one actions that defines a person. Malfoy’s actions, or lack thereof, were pretty damning.

Despite Harry’s surety in this, and despite the fact that he really doesn’t care about Malfoy, he can’t stop thinking about it. Dumbledore’s words keep replaying in his head. He reminds me a lot of myself, in some respects. When I was a young man. Ambitious, troubled. Determined to seek respect from the wrong people.

Can a man change?

Harry hates how much Dumbledore’s words seem to latch onto his thoughts and swim round his head, lurking, like mermaids hunting him in a dark lake. It’s been like that for as long as he can remember; he’s always received so frustratingly little from Dumbledore that he tries to parse everything he says to buggery. It’s maddening.

And then there’s the fact that, this whole time, Malfoy had thought he’d been trying to kill him in the first floor girls’ bathroom. That’s a whole other thing that Harry can’t really get his head around.

Had Malfoy really thought he’d tried murder him?

He buries his face in his arms, speaks into his wool jumper. “You tried to kill Dumbledore,” he mumbles.

Unsure whether Malfoy could actually translate what he’s said through his jumper, he waits. If he didn’t hear him, it’s not the end of the world. He doesn’t actually want to talk things out with the tosspot anyway. Of course he doesn’t. Why would he? He just has a sneaking suspicion that the Room of Requirement would rather they did, that’s all.

“I didn’t.”

Harry sighs, and his trapped breath makes his face too hot. He turns his head to look at Malfoy. “Yeah, but you tried to.”

“But I didn’t,” he emphasises, carefully holding a fresh cup of tea. Harry reckons if he keeps drinking from the bottomless pot of tea, he’ll just melt into a puddle of earl grey. And lemon. Don’t forget the lemon.

“But you tried to.”

“Right, I don’t see us getting very far with this.”

Harry fixes his gaze on him. Draco never seems very comfortable looking back, it seems.

“You still tried to murder somebody. Fair enough, you didn’t follow through. But you didn’t do anything. You just… let it all happen. You didn’t argue.”

“And that makes me a murderer?”

Harry watches Malfoy’s foot bounce up and down absentmindedly, his frustration- or perhaps it’s nervousness?- showing. He finally puts his cup down on the coffee table, takes off his robes and black waistcoat with the small buttons on it. The shirt underneath is a sort of silky grey. It fits him well, Harry thinks, because he remembers a time when Malfoy lost so much weight, looked so gaunt and sick with anxiety that his white school shirts billowed off him like sails.

“I don’t know,” he finally admits.

“Well, I’ll tell you know, it doesn’t,” he snaps, finally. “If I’d murdered someone, it would make me a murderer. My family- my father, my mad aunt. They’re murderers. I couldn’t live up to their expectations,” he adds bitterly.

Harry can’t imagine for a second what it would be like to have Bellatrix Lestrange as an aunt. What it would be like to have her live in your home and torture people in your front room. The Dursleys were bad, and he let them do terrible things to him. But they weren’t psychopaths.

“Poor you,” Harry says with as much sarcasm as he can manage.

“You wouldn’t understand,” Malfoy replies.

It’s so terribly teenaged and angsty that it makes Harry laugh. “Sorry,” he finds himself saying.

Malfoy glares at him, and Harry’s sort of glad for it. He’s used to that glare. It makes the whole situation feel more familiar and less like they’re trying to get to know each other.

“I know that what I did… or more, what I didn’t do, doesn’t make me a good person.”

Harry blinks at him, surprised, and waits out of interest. He sits up, leans back on the arm of the sofa.

“I daresay I’ll never be able to make up for the fact that I let it happen, that I didn’t fight back, or choose the right side,” Malfoy continues. “I can argue that I was just a boy… too young to know any better. And, you know, I only did what I thought I was meant to. To protect myself, and my family.”

He pauses, his leg stops bouncing. A hand runs through his hair and tries to push it back. And although thinks to himself none of these things are excuses, Harry has never been very good at feeling anything but sympathy when someone is showing their vulnerable side to him.

He’s trying very hard not to be swayed.

Because this is Malfoy.

“I didn’t exactly have the best role models growing up. I only did what I knew. But… there comes a point where it goes beyond yourself. It got to the point where… everything the Malfoy family have stood for. It was really hurting people.”

Malfoy’s voice cracks, and suddenly he stands up, swooping over the other side of the room. It would seem comically theatrical to Harry, if he weren’t so horrified that Malfoy was really telling him all this. It’s making him feel remarkably uncomfortable, but he simultaneously can’t take his eyes off his back. He can see his shoulder blades through his shirt; the material stretches over his back as he folds his arms over his chest.

“I know I was on the wrong side,” he says quietly. Arguing with him. “I know I chose wrongly. But it didn’t entirely feel like I ever had a choice.”

“Everyone has a choice,” Harry says.

And then, memories of prophecies and claustrophobia. Of death sentences and futures he can’t change. Of being a scared boy.

“I don’t need to defend myself to you,” Malfoy whispers.

I wasn’t really trying to argue with you, Harry thinks to himself, but he supposes that he sort of was provoking him. It comes naturally to him. An urge to ruffle Malfoy.

“I don’t think I’ve ever really considered you a murderer. Just, someone who wanted to be,” he says eventually.

Malfoy’s shoulders tense, still turned towards nothing in particular in the half empty room. He can see his head dip, like he’s staring at the floor.

“Mm. Well. I don’t suppose someone who throws oranges at my head at breakfast would consider me a murderer. More, target practice.”

Harry pauses, a little shocked at Malfoy’s attempt at humour that for once isn’t aimed at humiliating him. He laughs, causing Malfoy to glance at him over his shoulder.

“No, I suppose not.”

Harry blinks and then there’s a fireplace in front of Malfoy. A small fire is crackling as he lays a hand against the wall in front of him, leans wearily against it. His hair hangs down in front of his face- of which Harry can only see a fraction. It’s such a tired, unkempt look; it reminds him of the Malfoy he met in the first floor girls’ bathroom, the frightened boy leaning over the sink and weeping.

It starts to sink in that, perhaps, he has rather a ‘black and white’ view of things after all.

“A fireplace?” Harry asks. “Really?”

He can see a frown grow on Malfoy’s face, before he huffs a half laugh in understanding. “I don’t think there’s any risk of burning the place down again.”

000

It’s been a couple of hours, according to the tempus that Draco casts. McGonagall is going to think they’re dead. People will talk. Students will whisper that Draco Malfoy killed Harry Potter.

Bloody hell, he really wants to get out of here.

And yet, there’s a part of himself- that he’s choosing quite stoically to ignore- that finds talking to Potter satisfying. Sating some part of himself that’s been craving it since he was eleven years old. He sincerely hopes that’s not why the Room of Requirement has trapped them in here.

He’s currently nibbling on a sandwich, which the Room has quite kindly procured for him. He’s always known that he’s eaten delicately- politely- but compared to Potter, who practically inhales his own sandwich like he’s been starved during his childhood, he’s positively elegant.

He casts another tempus, because he’s bored and frustrated and beginning to worry that he’s going to be expelled. Or fired. Or something.

“Your fans will be missing you,” he mutters, and having finished his sandwich, decides to lie back on the sofa. His head is at the opposite end of where Potter’s is lying on his own sofa.

Potter sighs loudly, turns his head to examine the felt lining of the cushion his head is propped against.

“You know, I was just beginning to feel a little bit sorry for you, before. But then you go and say something twatty like that.”

Draco’s chest constricts. “I don’t want your pity.”

“Yeah, well,” Potter murmurs. The idea that Potter feels even slightly sorry for him makes him so furious and nauseous that he has to close his eyes and measure his breathing. Don’t let him get a rise out of you. Your voice will do that awful squeaky thing that it does when you’re stressed.

“Did it ever occur to you that maybe I don’t have a choice either? Like, you were going on about how you were brought up a certain way, that you didn’t know any better, didn’t have any control over anything that was happening- but then- oh, sod it. It doesn’t matter.”

Draco tries to translate this, can feel a frown crumpling his face. The darkness of his closed eyes begins to shimmer. The idiot is giving him a headache.

“Go on,” Draco prompts.

“It doesn’t matter,” Potter repeats.

“Bloody hell, you’re a stubborn arse- you’ve piqued my interest. Spit it out.”

The sound that comes from the other sofa is almost like a growl. “Why does everyone keep saying that I’m stubborn? Am I really that bad?” he asks, and it sounds so earnest a question that Draco laughs.

“I’m getting the impression that you are,” he says, because they haven’t actually known each other that long, in the grand scheme of things. Seven years of not really talking to each other except when they’re insulting each other across the great hall isn’t really knowing each other.

“I had this prophecy. Do you know about the prophecy?”

Draco opens his eyes and looks at Potter, who’s picking at his cuticles.

“What prophecy?”

Potter snorts. “I’m surprised your dad didn’t tell you all about it.”

Draco swallows, throat suddenly dry.

“Professor Trelawney made a prophecy about how either Voldemort or I were going to die. ‘Neither one shall live while the other survives’.” He says it in a dramatic voice, a bitter smile playing on his lips. Draco feels suddenly aware of how much older they both are. “And then, I found out that, for Voldemort to be defeated, I had to die.”

It’s said so casually, and Draco’s holding his breath.

“But… is that when Hagrid...”

“Yeah. Your mum, actually. She sort of saved my life. Told everyone I was dead.”

Draco sits up. He hasn’t heard anything about this from his mother before. He feels a simultaneous swell of affection for her, as well as confusion that she never told him. He doesn’t have the words to respond. Luckily, Potter hasn’t finished.

“I’ve never… chosen anything for myself. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t be Harry Potter. But then, I’m The Chosen One. Everything was chosen for me already. From the day that I die to the clothes the Prophet thinks I’m meant to wear, to the… every detail. Of who I’m meant to be.”

Potter continues to pick at his nails.

“You never did seem to enjoy the fame,” he comments, crossing one leg out in front of the other on the sofa. “Saint Harry Potter. Weighed down by a glorious burden.”

Potter laughs, and whilst there is some bitterness to it, it also seems genuine.

I didn’t choose this life,” Malfoy mimics theatrically, one hand flying to his forehead.

Potter shakes his head and scowls, but he’s still smiling, much to Malfoy’s surprise. He wonders if that was sort of what he was aiming for. What he’s been aiming for this whole time.

“Fuck off,” Potter mutters, lays an arm over his face so that his bearded chin is all that pokes out.

They lie in silence for a while. A long while; Draco can’t really tell exactly how long, though.

“Why are you here? At Hogwarts?” he asks. There’s not meant to be any accusation in the statement, but Potter takes it that way, scowling again.

“None of your business, Malfoy.” Potter hesitates. “What are you doing here?”

Draco sneers. “None of your business, Potter.”

They lie there for another long while, and Draco wonders if he’s fallen asleep, face hidden behind his arm.

But then, it seems that Potter has finished whatever internal debate he’s having, and speaks again. “I need to do something good. Something good that I’ve chosen to do. I don’t want my life to be one big prophecy. I have to… I have to do something.”

Draco swallows. He stares at the dancing flames in the fireplace.

000

Hours have gone by and it’s late. Harry wasn’t even the one to cast the counter-spell for the fiendfyre, and he finds himself exhausted; that protego totalum is the most effort he’s put into magic since the war. That, and the time he had to put a flat pack bed together, which wouldn’t cooperate without magic.

When he considers that he’d like to crawl into his rather nice bed in his rather nice quarters, a single bed appears in the corner of the room. The Room of Requirement, quite amazingly, recognises that Harry doesn’t really like sleeping in big beds.

Malfoy appears to take no notice when Harry skulks over to the bed, tears off his jumper and shoes, and crawls under the duvet. He doesn’t sleep though. Lying there, he thinks about the fact that, despite the fact that he resolutely doesn’t like Draco Malfoy, he’s been very lonely. And, against his better judgement, he’s enjoyed talking to him. It’s been weirdly cathartic.

Eventually, he hears Malfoy move to the other side of the room. Harry turns round in his bed and sees that Malfoy now has one of his own. It’s all suddenly very reminiscent of being back in the dorms, though he can’t imagine what it would have been like to share one with Draco Malfoy.

He obviously thinks Harry’s asleep, because he seems relatively relaxed, despite everything. His shoulders slope downwards and he’s rolling his head from side to side, as if trying to get a crick out of it. Harry suddenly feels that he’s spying on a rare moment of vulnerability from Malfoy. He’s not meant to see him like this, when he’s getting ready for bed and thinks he’s alone. A strange fluttering anxiety takes hold of him as he watches him, watches Malfoy run both hands through his silver hair. And then he sits down on the edge of the bed, unties his shoe laces. Whereas Harry had kicked his trainers off, Malfoy’s actions are careful and slow.

“Your hair’s short,” Harry says, breaking the silence, making Malfoy jump a little.

He looks up from behind said hair, which is hanging in front of his face. “Not really. What do you mean?” he demands.

Harry slips a hand under the pillow, lying on his side. “Your dad had long hair in a ponytail. I thought it was a Malfoy coming of age thing, to grow it long.”

Malfoy slips off his shoes and sits up, giving Harry a measured glance. It’s neither disdainful or judgemental. And then, to Harry’s amusement, a self-conscious hand runs through it again and he looks away.

“Don’t worry, it suits you,” Harry jokes.

Malfoy glares at him, before lying on his back and staring up at the vaulted ceiling.

“I didn’t want to look like my father.”

“Oh,” Harry says lamely. He’s hit a sore spot. And he supposes he can understand why.

“Your hair is messy. It’s like it gets worse and worse every year.”

Harry frowns. “Hey. I wasn’t judging you or anything. I mean, usually it looks all greasy and slicked back. Now it’s kind of, floppy.”

“Floppy,” Malfoy drawls.

“Yeah, I mean, it is.”

“My hair was never greasy.”

“Yeah, it was,” Harry laughs.

“That was gel.”

“Well it looked greasy.”

“I’m getting the distinct feeling that you are judging me, Potter.”

“I’m not! I told you, I’m not judgemental.”

And then Malfoy laughs.

“What?” Harry demands.

“Potter, you’re up there with me on judgmentalism.”

“Is that even a word?”

“Well, if it’s not, it is now,” he says imperiously.

They lie there in silence. Harry eventually turns over onto his other side, facing the wall, and closes his eyes.

“And Potter- don’t let any of this trick you into thinking that I don’t still hate you. Because I do.”

Harry doesn’t want it to sting, but it does.

“Fine,” he says casually. “And I still think of you as a Death Eater. So we’re on the same page.”

Harry doesn’t look to see if his words have made any impact.

000

Draco wakes up before he even realises he’d fallen asleep. He must have been really exhausted; he hasn’t slept that well, or fallen asleep that quickly, since he was a boy.

He sits up in his bed, looks down at his wrinkled clothes. He wonders why he didn’t think of imagining pyjamas to wear. But then, he reckons he’d rather burst into flames than get changed in front of Potter. Then again, the Room of Requirement probably would have provided something for that, too.

Too sleepy to really care, he swings out of bed and stretches. Potter is sitting on his sofa, eating some toast. He didn’t think bed hair would be possible with him, considering the state of it already, but then, there it is.

He suddenly remembers what he said last night. He decides he has no reason to regret it.

Potter notices him as he stands up. He doesn’t say anything, but continues to munch on his toast, eyes fixed on the wall in front of him.

Draco sighs. “Good morning.”

Potter doesn’t say anything.

“What time is it?” he asks.

Potter casts a tempus. Later than he thought.

“They’ll be properly panicking now,” Potter comments.

Draco takes an apple, which has appeared on the coffee table between them. He finishes it without either of them saying anything else to each other.

He can’t help but feel awfully aware of the fact that he’s been engaging socially with Harry Potter.

It has been lonely these past few years. And, curiously, more lonely being back at Hogwarts with no one he knows around. The thought creeps up on him that, perhaps, he shouldn’t try and hate Potter- especially since he’s always taken some kind of pleasure in winding him up. Perhaps those times of hating him are behind him. That being said, he’s not sure if he’s quite ready to make that giant leap.

“Where do you live?” Potter asks, without looking at him, breaking Draco from his darkening thoughts. He’s holding a mug of tea. He can see this becoming a habit for them- drinking tea and asking blunt questions.

“Here…?”

“No, you twat, I mean where do you actually live?”

Draco rolls his eyes, pours himself a cup. He can make small talk, if it means not thinking about the past. “A Muggle street in Chelsea.”

Potter looks at him for a moment, a smile creeping up on his face. “Obviously.”

“What?”

“Chelsea. So typical.”

Draco quashes the building frustration within him. He’s only just woken up, and he doesn’t want to be mocked. “What? And where do you live?”

Potter’s smile dwindles but it’s still there. “Croydon. It’s- hang on, did you say a Muggle street?”

Draco makes a non-committal noise, sips his tea, looks Potter in the eye and waits for him to laugh again.

“What- I mean- I thought you hated Muggles.”

Draco doesn’t respond, because the answer to that is far too long and complicated to go into. Instead, he sits up straight and lets Potter stare at him.

Eventually, Potter quirks his eyebrows. “Well, shit. Fair enough, then.”

“Yes.” Draco thinks about Potter’s answer for a moment. “I don’t suppose you live in the Muggle world, too?”

He seems to sobre up a bit now. He’s now curled up in the corner of his sofa, looking quite content. It’s bizarre to see Potter like this- a blanket over his feet, steaming mug in his hands, a relaxed, sleepy expression. “Yeah, I do. I used to live with Ron and Hermione in their place, near the Burrow. But uh… yeah, I wanted my own space. And it’s nice to be able to go out into Muggle London without being stared at.”

The last comment makes him roll his eyes. What a burden you must bear. But then, it hasn’t occurred to Draco before that Potter wouldn’t be famous in the Muggle world. In his mind, he’s always been the sickeningly perfect, saint Harry Potter. It makes him wonder what Muggle-Potter is like, what he got up to. What it was like to grow up in the Muggle world, in a Muggle family.

“You lived with Weasel and Granger,” Draco says mildly. Potter rolls his eyes at the names, but nods, trying to give off a nonchalant air but not managing it very well. “That must have been… uncomfortable.”

Potter frowns, tries to hide a smile, and, again, doesn’t manage it very well. “In what way?”

“Oh, come on. You know exactly what I mean.”

Now Potter does laugh, hides it behind his fist as if he feels he oughtn’t. “Uh. I mean, not usually. Not really. The three of us were best friends for years, and they were in love with each other for most of that time. I never felt like I was third-wheeling that much.”

“Hm.” Draco doesn’t believe that this is the entire story.

“Although,” Potter adds, confirming Draco’s theory, making him smile a little to himself. “I did accidentally walk in on them once showering together. Ron never had a habit of locking the door when it was just him, and well. Yeah.”

Draco can’t help the image that pops into his head, and it makes him grimace- which makes Potter laugh liberally, this time.

“It was really awkward for like, days. Hermione wouldn’t look me in the eye for ages.”

Now Draco’s laughing, until he realises that, somehow, he shouldn’t be laughing with Harry Potter, so he stops. Potter seems to register the same thing at the same time, and they both go uncomfortably, suddenly quiet.

Potter stares into his mug for a moment, and then closes his eyes. He seems simultaneously relaxed and on edge, both tired and well rested. Draco can’t really put his finger on it- he’s never really been able to with Potter. Of all his years of people watching, of riling Potter up and taunting him, he’s found that he can predict Potter rather well. And yet, at the same time, beyond knowing what will get on his tits and what won’t, Draco finds he’s remarkably contradictory. He’s both inflammatory and patient, both guarded and open. Draco has seen Potter at meal times, completely shutting himself off from those around him. He’s watched him poke at his food solemnly, avoiding any social interaction from any of those who care about him. He’s seen him quietly listen to conversations, with a look of calm interest and affection for his friends. He’s seen him laugh along with his Gryffindor peers, enjoying the attention without realising he’s the centre of it. Draco has watched the various phases of Harry Potter come and go, has been frustrated and fascinated by how he can be everything, all at once.

He isn’t sleeping, Draco knows- only closing his eyes and pausing, in some way. Both relaxed and tense. He’s never seen him sleep before, never seen him with his eyes closed like this; it appears so vulnerable that Draco feels he shouldn’t be seeing it, but he can’t tear his eyes away.

It’s then that he realises he’s staring. He turns his full attention to the pastries that have appeared on the coffee table between them. That, also, seems to rouse Potter from his half-sleep.

000

Harry’s beginning to lose his mind.

The Room of Requirement shows no signs of letting down its guard. Apparently, as much as they’ve spoken- more than they’ve ever spoken to each other face to face in all the seven years that they were at school together- it’s not enough.

Currently, Malfoy is standing in front of the fireplace again. The room has gained more furniture as the hours have passed; it’s not like the Gryffindor common room, but it’s not like the Slytherin one, either, from what Harry remembers. The Room has saliently chosen to pick out neutral brown colours, rather than choosing reds or greens. There’s a couple of sofas, the coffee table, the fireplace- and there’s a chair in front of it now, as well as a rug. Some bookshelves and a little radio. The place seems to shift in size every time Harry thinks about it. Right now, it’s quite cosy.

Claustrophobic.

And after all these years of not seeing Malfoy, not even really thinking about him, there he is. He can’t quite get over the fact that they’re trapped in here together. But no, there’s Malfoy, looking angstily into the flames. He’s turning his wand over in his hand. Harry has been considering putting on some music to lessen the boredom. He gets bored easily as it is anyway, but this is torture.

Bored in a room with Malfoy is literal torture.

And he wouldn’t ordinarily strike up conversation with Malfoy. But it’s that boredom that leads him to sigh, stare at Malfoy, watch him turn his wand over and over in his hand before saying, “You’ve been staring at your wand for, like, an hour now.”

 

Malfoy’s hands freeze. A grey eye peers at him through a curtain of blonde hair. For a moment he doesn’t say anything, though he looks like he wants to.

Harry raises his eyebrows then shrugs, not expecting an answer. Then:

“That time on the 6th floor. That wasn’t the only time you almost killed me. Intentionally or not.”

Something in Harry’s chest squirms at those words. Even before he’s heard what he has to say, he feels a horrible mixture of defiance and guilt.

“What?”

“You stole my wand.” Malfoy turns slowly towards Harry, casually brandishing the wand. Holding it like it’s a piece of evidence. “You took it from me and left me completely helpless.”

Lying on the sofa, legs crossed over one another and head propped on the armrest, Harry feels like suddenly like he ought to sit up straight. He watches Malfoy stalk across the room, holding his wand and staring at the wall like he’s mentally somewhere else entirely.

“I had to. We had to get out of the Manor alive-”

And what about me?

The sudden loudness to Malfoy’s voice shocks Harry into standing up from the sofa. This whole time there’s been tension building, but he wasn’t expecting this. He wasn’t expecting an argument about this. About anything else, sure. But in all honesty, he’d forgotten he’d taken Malfoy’s wand. Clearly, he hadn’t. Clearly, this has been on his mind.

Malfoy’s glaring at him now, eyes wide and furious and lips pursed. His adam’s apple bobs as he swallows.

And then he walks towards Harry slowly, pointing an accusatory finger.

“You left me entirely defenseless. Oh yes, you had to get out of there- of course you did. You had to go save the world again. But what about the other people who were trapped there? What about the people who had their home invaded by Lord Voldemort, what about my mother, what about me? Imprisoned and threatened with death, any wrong move we made? What do you think about that, Potter? Leaving someone there, with the most dangerous person in the world, without a wand?”

Malfoy sneers. Harry tenses. And then Malfoy shakes his head, a little disbelievingly.

“But then, of course that didn’t occur to you. You decided who was right and who was wrong. You decided who deserved to live. Saint Potter.”

Until now, Harry hasn’t known how to feel. And then the anger rises up. He takes a step towards Malfoy.

“No. That isn’t how it was. I didn’t choose, you did. You all chose the wrong side-”

It wasn’t a choice!” Malfoy yells. And the way he angles himself towards Harry when he does it makes him lean back instinctively. “What teenager chooses to help the most evil magical force in the world? God, and I thought I was narrow-minded- I chose to be with my family, to help the people I loved- how could I have left all that behind without being killed?”

“Sirius did!” Harry bellows.

Malfoy stares at him, shakes his head again. And he turns on the spot, walking away combing his hair with his fingers in frustration.

“Sirius did,” Harry repeats. “He left the Black family. He knew what was right, he actually had a moral compass and he followed it.”

“A moral compass.” Malfoy laughs bitterly, and the sound makes Harry’s insides twists uncomfortably. “I was indoctrinated from day one,” he seethes, back still turned to him. “I was a child. Can’t you get that through your thick skull? I didn’t know how to leave. I didn’t have an escape. I was brought up in a house of Death Eaters and I was taught a different version of what’s morally right. I was a child- and- and- I’m making the right decisions now, aren’t I? Aren’t I? Doesn’t that make me like your beloved Sirius? Doesn’t that make me a better man than I could have been?”

“It’s not an excuse!” Harry begins to pace about the room, keeping his eyes on Malfoy. But he won’t look at him, he’s half turned and grimacing at the wall. “You’re just coming up with excuses- people- people can be brought up by monsters and still know what’s right!”

I should know, Harry thinks, before he continues.

“People can live with monsters and still choose to fight them! To be brave, not help them and do nothing! And, by the way, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that calling someone a mudblood is a bad thing-!”

“Oh for Merlin’s sake, I was a child-”

“Stop saying that!” Harry cries, waving his arms in frustration. “Stop saying that, so was I! We all were!”

“And shouldn’t that make it easier for you to understand?”

The break in Malfoy’s voice makes Harry stop. Till now it’s been anger and frustration and boiling hatred- but that sound is grief. Grief for what they’d lost- a childhood.

Harry’s shoulders slump.

“Shouldn’t that make it easier,” Malfoy repeats more quietly. He’s looking at him now, expression contorted like he’s trying not to cry. “You know how terrifying it was. You had all those friends around you, real friends- I didn’t. I didn’t have any of that, I was entirely alone. All except for my Death Eater father and complacent mother. You had everything that I didn’t.”

“Malfoy-”

“Look at you,” he sneers, waving a had at Harry. He steps back, feeling suddenly self conscious. He doesn’t understand where this has come from. “Harry Potter. The Boy Who Lived. The Chosen One. Everybody chose your side. Even when they hated you, they knew you were the one to follow. Even with the fame and glory, you had friends that actually cared- not people who were just after your title and- you- you have everything. You’re better than anyone else. Aren’t you? You were always better. So much better than the rest of us, and you’ve made it abundantly clear that you think you’re better than me, because I’m just some evil monster to you, aren’t I?”

Harry growls. “I’m not-”

Listen to me,” Malfoy interrupts, hands pressed together as if in prayer, eyes wide in frustration, desperation. “You have always decided who was worth your time and who wasn’t, and you were always better, the most important person in the world, the saviour, you don’t even stop for a second to consider how it might be for someone else because why would you? It’s so hard for you to have everyone on your side, poor you, to have everyone tell you how wonderful you are and to born on the right side of the battle. Well, not everyone is so lucky, Potter. Not everyone’s given those choices. Not everyone’s born brave. Not everyone’s born on the right side.”

And the anger in Harry’s stomach falters. The unadulterated hatred gives way to something else. Everything that he’d understood about their relationship comes apart from the seams, and Harry’s not sure what else is left. It had never occurred to him that Malfoy felt anything beyond disgust towards him. Disgust and anger at his existence, nothing more. Just another target for his bullying and snobbery. But this-

Is that really how Malfoy felt this whole time?

The memory of eleven year old Malfoy, extending his hand and waiting for a hand shake.

Harry shakes his head, scratches his beard, ruffles his hair, takes off his glasses, walks away.

“But you have a family,” he says out loud, finishing his thoughts. He has his back to him; he can’t look at him right now. He doesn’t want to feel any sympathy for him, and he knows that if he turns and looks at him, he will. “I wasn’t that lucky. I had to make my family. I had to build those relationships, I had to find the right people.”

Malfoy snorts. “Well, you’ve rather changed tack, haven’t you?”

“What?”

“You were saying you had no choice at all with all this nonsense about prophecies and fate, and suddenly saying you’re arguing that you’ve been choosing since the beginning.”

Harry stalls. “That’s- I’m- all I’m saying is that you had more than you think,” Harry interrupts, massaging his temples. “You had love and support from two parents. I was lucky, but I didn’t have that privilege. I wasn’t as set up for greatness as you seem to think. With the Muggle family that raised me… it could have gone a different way.”

It could have gone a different way, he realises.

Malfoy doesn’t say anything for a while. The fire crackles and fills the silence. Harry stares at the rug beneath his feet, swirling brown and cream patterns and dancing, fabric horses running along the borders. And The Room of Requirement feels as if it has shrunk. He feels as if he’s being pushed closer to him, but he doesn’t want to. He doesn’t want to acknowledge this.

He feels suddenly too warm. He pulls off his jumper, throws it aside, rolls up his shirt sleeves. Rubs his face and sighs. He hoped that a sigh would take some of the weight off his chest, but it doesn’t.

He’s so tired.

Then, at last, Malfoy takes a breath. A slow, steadying breath.

“You’re right. I was privileged. And I could have done better. I didn’t. I was scared. Impressionable.” A pause. And Harry swears the room is smaller again; the beds have gone. There’s a sad laugh from over Harry’s shoulder. “You know what Olivander described my wand as? Malleable. The wand chooses the wizard, and the malleable wand chose the malleable boy.”

Harry sticks his hands in his pockets, kicks the rug. “I got basically the same wand as Voldemort.”

Malfoy seems to catch his breath behind him.

“Yeah,” Harry confirms with a huff, a half laugh. “Wands don’t tend to say nice things about people. I think it’s better to just ignore them.”

The surprised laugh that Malfoy makes takes Harry aback. He smiles to himself, against his better judgement.

“We both got dealt shit cards,” Harry says.

“I want to do better now,” Malfoy says quietly. Fragile.

Harry nods. “Yeah. Yeah, so do I.”

And there’s the sound of a creak. The sound of a door opening.

Harry looks up, and the door to the Room of Requirement swings open as if it hadn’t been stuck shut for just over a day. It hangs there, showing the corridor outside, as if to say, well come on then, what have you been waiting for?

When Harry turns to look at Malfoy, he sees an expression that quite acutely matches how Harry’s feeling. A mixture of disbelief, relief, and weariness. And humiliation.

They don’t say another thing to each other. They both leave the Room of Requirement and find separate exits from the 7th floor.

000

Harry can’t believe it happened, even now.

This is largely because the rest of the school has gone on as if they haven’t been missing for a day. Turns out the Room of Requirement can mess with time too. It’s an alarming discovery, and one that Harry doesn’t intend to investigate any further. No- the past twenty four hours have been exhausting, frustrating, upsetting and… a lot of other things that he’d rather not dwell on.

He’d said as much to Hermione after he got out, writing out almost everything that he spoke about with Malfoy in a letter. After that rollercoaster, he needs someone to share this with. It’s almost like when they were at school, when they’d stumble upon some new discovery that he found in the library and then spill the beans in the common room. Harry doesn’t feel any obligation to keep what Malfoy admitted a secret, doesn’t feel any guilt in sharing with his best friend.

What he does feel, when he reads her response, is disbelief.

Dear Harry,

Well, that was unexpected. When I said you should stop going on about Malfoy, I fully expected you to continue, but not like this!

All the stuff you’ve told me, I’ve had to translate from Harry-language into Hermione-language. You’re clearly pretty angry at him still and obviously hate his guts which, fair enough. That sounds like an intense experience. But when I reread everything you’ve told me after removing that anger then, well, I feel pretty sorry for him.

Before you get tetchy with me, just think about it. You’ve not told me much about the Dursleys, but I imagine that part of the reason you didn’t turn out like them is because they didn’t treat you like Dudley. You always knew that you weren’t a part of that world and you didn’t want to be. But if you had been? How would you have known that their behaviour was wrong? As much of an excuse as the whole ‘I was a child’ thing is- you WERE. Children aren’t meant to know any better.

And imagine for a moment being Malfoy, brought up by such a frightening family. Imagine not knowing any better. Imagine idolising your father and truly believing he was the person you should be. And think of how badly that family treated him- his aunt, Voldemort coming along. Lucius grooming him for leadership. I mean, it’s sort of like Stockholm syndrome, or something.

Not to get too psychological. I suppose after what you’ve told me, I suddenly find Malfoy very interesting.

It sounds like you do too, although you’ve always been rather fascinated by him, haven’t you?

Anyway. I know you want me to be angry with him like you, Harry, but I’m sorry, all I can think is- poor Malfoy. Yes, even after the terrible things he’s called me and even what Bellatrix did. He was a prisoner there too, remember.

Anyway, onto happier things. Have you heard any decent Muggle music recently? I’m obsessed with Coldplay these days. I’ll send you a Walkman and a few CDs, soon. Don’t let anyone see you, they’ll tease you for years. Ron still won’t stop laughing at me and my tape player.

Write soon. And try not to be too angry at the world.

All my love
Hermione xxx

Chapter Text

The days go by almost like nothing happened in the Room of Requirement. Draco goes to Potions lessons. He teaches, invigilates. He goes to the restricted section and works on anti-crup spells, if there were ever such a thing. It seems quite unlikely.

The fact that the rest of the school didn’t miss them at all- that supposedly no time had actually passed in there- makes the whole event seem even more surreal. What really tops it all, however, is the way Potter completely ignores him.

At least before, they had a common dislike of each other, a united aim in irritating each other wherever possible. Whenever he saw Potter, he’d taunt him, and Potter would taunt back. It was nice and balanced and predictable. Now, though- now, Draco feels very lost. He can’t say that he likes him. He also can’t say that he hates him, anymore. It’s all quite distressingly neutral, and it’s apparently left them both clueless as to how they should behave around each other.

Draco passes Potter in the corridor every morning at around 9:30am. Potter puts his head down and stares at his feet. Draco does the same.

This new awkwardness is confusing and unexpected. After all, there’s no awkwardness in hating somebody. It seemed to come so naturally to them. Draco has never felt anything other than the most intense of emotions regarding Potter, and now it feels like something’s poured water on that fire and left behind humiliation, anxiety, bewilderment.

It’s been hard enough coming to terms with everything else. Having to reconsider his entire world view has been challenging, saying goodbye to seeking his father’s approval even harder. Then the Room of Requirement went and locked him in with Harry Potter and everything seemed to shift again.

It’s just one thing after a-bloody-nother.

Draco opens up the Prophet. Thankfully absent of anything too embarrassing this time. No pictures of his (barely noticeable) receding hairline. Not even any mention of Potter today.

He’s not really reading the article on the developments on Honoria Shoreditch’s recent Quidditch injury; his eyes keep going over the same sentence again and again, his mind in other places. He’s therefore easily distracted when he notices someone sit opposite him. At first, he peers over the top of the paper, merely acknowledging the other person’s presence.

He jumps out of his skin when he notices it’s Potter.

Looking as casual as anything, Potter pours himself a cup of tea and helps himself to the tower of bread. He looks like he’s just rolled out of bed- but then, when doesn’t he?- and he must not have realised that he’s sitting opposite Draco. He can’t have, because he hasn’t looked at him yet, and the moment he does, he’s going to realise his mistake.

People don’t generally stick to their house tables at breakfast. Out of habit, though, Draco tends to gravitate to Slytherin’s, and Potter generally sits anywhere Draco doesn’t. It feels a rather strange coincidence for Potter to have accidentally sat opposite him, at the Slytherin table, but that’s the only explanation he can come up with. Draco can only silently watch as Potter aggressively butters a bread roll, scraping butter from the dish and attacking the bread until it spreads smoothly. The butter is too cold, so it makes the bread fall apart. Potter doesn’t seem to care, or notice, that he’s scattering crumbs everywhere.

Draco is still holding the newspaper, staring at him. Potter doesn’t make eye contact, but he does nod to the Prophet. “See that article about Shoreditch? Bit of a spanner in the works, right?”

Draco blinks at him.

“I’ve heard she’s been doing Muggle physio for months, and none of the muscle-repair potions are working.” Potter tries to drink his tea, scalds his tongue, winces, puts the teacup back down. He’s seen him make that same mistake a hundred times from the opposite end of the room. He has no idea what to make of it now he’s at the same bloody table.

Potter is quite adamant not to look at him, and Draco is unable to look anywhere else.

“What are you doing?” Draco asks, and it comes out a weird mix of confusion and disdain. His mind is whirring so fast that it feels like it’s stalled. It’s like watching a wheel spin so quickly, that it appears still.

Potter starts piling bacon onto the roll, and it doesn’t look like he’s ever going to stop.

“I’m having breakfast, Malfoy. What does it look like?”

He finally meets his eyes- they’re fierce and wide, like he’s waiting for Draco to argue with him. The thing is, Draco doesn’t know what to say at all.

“So, this is it now, is it?” Draco says at last, when Potter breaks eye contact and begins to hoover his bacon roll.

“This is what?” Potter says with his mouth full. Draco grimaces. Potter smiles triumphantly.

“Don’t be obtuse,” Draco snaps. He smacks the Prophet onto the table, leaning forward over a photograph of the most recent, useless Minister for Magic. The sound of the paper hitting the oak table is louder than he intended, and it makes a couple of students jump and send a frightened look in his direction. “Why are you so bloody provocative? You know exactly what you’re doing. I have no clue what’s going on here, but I demand to find out.”

Potter almost chokes on his mouthful. “You demand?” he says with raised eyebrows.

Draco’s stomach plummets at the sound of the words. Old habits die hard, he realises. Anger rises within him; he’s been doing so well at maintaining control, becoming a better person than the one he’d grown up to be. And then Potter strolls into his life again, sits opposite him at breakfast and openly mocks him with his mouth full of bacon.

Yep. Draco still fucking hates him.

“I- look, you can’t- just- Potter,” he stumbles, managing a snarl as he says the idiots name, at least.

“Stop making it weird,” Potter says so simply that it infuriates Draco even further.

I’m making it weird? I’m making it weird?” Oh god, his voice is doing that stressed, increasingly heightened pitch thing. He hates that Potter gets a rise out of him so easily. He stares at him dumbly as the man takes his buttery knife and dives into the pot of jam, getting crumbs inside. Draco can’t cope with this anymore.

“Yeah, you’re being… really weird,” Potter says, and my god, the arse is smirking at him.

“I hate you. I hate you, and you hate me. You do remember that, don’t you?”

Potter shrugs. And it shouldn’t be so infuriating, but it is. Draco audibly sighs, shakes his head.
“It’s just breakfast, Malfoy. I’m having breakfast at the same table as you. We’re not trying to murder each other, but we’re still arguing, so. Everything’s fine. Right?”

The smile on his face when he says this, as he waits for Draco’s reaction, is so unexpectedly sincere that Draco looks away.

“It didn’t change anything,” Draco lies, knowing full well that Potter understands what he means. “Nothing’s changed.”

Potter shrugs again. “Fine.”

They sit in awkward silence for a minute or two. Draco remembers that he hasn’t finished his tea, hesitantly takes a sip to find it’s going cold. And he sits deadly still; as if this moment is explosive, as if it could go horribly wrong at any moment.

“Alright,” Potter announces, eagerly taking the rest of his jam sandwich and standing up abruptly. “See you later, Malfoy.”

He doesn’t give him time to reply, not that Draco has one. Potter storms down the Great Hall like his life depends on it.

Draco is left sitting with his cooling tea, unsure what his life is becoming, and hoping this nonsense will stop soon.

000

Later that afternoon, Draco makes his way to the library for some more research. Potter sits at the opposite end of the room to him, seemingly determined to make what happened at breakfast a one-off occurrence. Draco doesn’t mind one bit.

He only lasts an hour or so before he grows bored rigid and can’t cope with reading the same sentence over and over again- he hasn’t got any further through The History of Magical Defences in China and South East Asia, and A History of Dark Magic Prevention in Europe sits unopened. The fact that it’s quite so dusty should indicate how useless and boring it’ll be. Unable to bear another moment in the library, and feeling like the McGonagall’s endeavours to refortify the school were looking increasingly futile, Draco picks up the pile of five, huge books and makes his way back to his quarters.

That feeling is there- like he’s being watched. Or rather, like Potter is watching him. He could always tell, and it still puts him on edge. At school, it was like whenever they were in the same room as each other, his mind and body went on full alert. Naturally, though, he doesn’t deign to look at him. Nor does Potter appear to look up- judging by what Draco can gauge from the corner of his eye.

Draco doesn’t spot the ginger tabby cat that runs in front of him. He’s not expecting it because nobody’s meant to have their pets down here; he trips for a heart-stopping moment, catches himself. But not the books. They topple out of his arms in slow motion, and he just knows how loud it’s going to be the moment they hit the floor, but he has no control, so all he can do is wince and stand there.

THWAM.

He sighs, opens his eyes again, looks about the room of alarmed students.

“Who’s bloody cat…” he starts, but finds he can’t be arsed to use his ‘I’ll tell the authorities about this’ voice because it’s not really worth it. Instead, bending down, he makes sure he makes his annoyance known with the pronounced frown and exaggerated sighs.

A pair of hands appear beside his and take Olde Magiks of the Worlde. Draco looks up from his crouched position to see Potter’s face level with his.

That fierce, challenging gaze again- daring him to argue with him. And now, there’s a softer edge to Potter’s expression that he can’t interpret. Is it something hopeful?

No. Nonsense.

It takes a long moment for Draco to gather his wits, before he snatches the book from Potter’s hands. He stands up quickly, cloak swooping satisfyingly with the movement, and he stalks out of the room the way his uncle Severus taught him.

“You’re welcome,” Potter says, neither loudly nor under his breath. Enough for Draco to hear and roll his eyes to himself.

000

Draco spends the rest of the day trying to figure out what happened at breakfast. He finds himself sighing loudly, growling to himself as he finely chops lacewing flies back in the Potions lab. He quite dangerously makes a clockwise stir instead of anti-clockwise during his attempt at creating his own version of a sleeping-draught. It almost turns the mixture black, melting his cauldron.

He reckons, at least, whatever Potter was up to that morning, it was probably a one-off. Judging by how quickly he ran away from the awkward situation, Draco thinks they’ll continue to ignore each other.

No such luck. On the second morning that Potter joins him for breakfast, Draco chooses not to argue. He knows better than to ask what he’s doing, knows that Potter is stubborn and determined to see this little experiment of his out. They sit in silence.

On the third day, Draco finds a picture of Potter on page two of the Prophet that almost makes him snort his tea up his nose. Apparently, Helga Featherstone has deemed Potter number three on her list of ‘Helga’s Hotties’. What’s more, the photo has been so obviously manipulated that nobody could believe its Harry Potter for a second. At Draco’s barely controllable snickering, Potter snatches the paper from his hands, stares in horror at the photo.

“Is that my face? Edited over Victor Krum’s body?” he says.

“I didn’t know you worked out so much, Potter,” Draco says at last, wiping a tear from his eye. “Quite amazing that you find the time alongside all the research.”

Potter makes a futile swipe at Draco with the rolled up Prophet. He doesn’t miss the smile that threatens to break through Potter’s scowl.

000

By the end of the second week, Draco begins to feel something like companionship building between them, though he decidedly doesn’t acknowledge it. They don’t talk much, sometimes they don’t talk at all. When there is conversation, it’s about the weather or the nonsense the Prophet’s coming up with today. They very actively avoid mentioning the elephant in the room.

It’s not until one Sunday morning at the beginning of November that Draco realises that he’s beginning to get used to spending time with Potter. That maybe, Potter’s motive is as simple as friendship.

He doesn’t know why Potter doesn’t show up for breakfast that day. He pretends not to search for him as he glances at the great hall’s doors, fools himself into thinking that he isn’t waiting for him.

He’s fooled himself into thinking this for years.

000

On Monday morning, Potter appears at the breakfast table again, as if he hadn’t missed it the day before. The sit in their usual silence, Draco turning the pages of the Prophet quietly, Potter eating like he’s making up for lost time whilst reading a letter written in scratchy handwriting. Draco recognises it as Weasley’s. Potter seems to have his mind elsewhere, but doesn’t say anything.

Then: “Hobbleworth is so fucking useless.”

Draco’s eyes snap up to him, waiting for Potter to elaborate. “You’ve just noticed, have you?”

Potter shakes his head, choosing not to rise to Draco’s taunt. That, in itself, is strange. Funny.

“He’s avoiding teaching Boggarts. I had a Gryffindor third year come up to me yesterday afternoon in the library, asking me to teach her.”

A very brave third year, Draco thinks. He frowns, absentmindedly lays the newspaper on the table. Potter does seem noticeably more tense today, he realises. More so than that first day he, inexplicably, decided to sit opposite him at breakfast. He ruffles his hair, a sign of frustration that Draco recognises.

“Third years have always learned about Boggarts.”

“Yeah, well,” Potter says tersely, and Draco finds it strange that it’s not directed at him.

“Are you, then?” Draco asks.

“Am I what?”

He rolls his eyes. “Are you going to teach her?”

Potter looks at him, stops mid-chew. His green eyes look surprised, puzzled, and Draco feels suddenly uncomfortable as his gaze seems to search him.

“I don’t know,” he replies. Draco thinks that’s all he’s going to get, so he pours himself another cup of tea, but then Potter continues. “Hermione’s been trying to convince me to start teaching. Ron, too. I don’t know.”

It’s the most he’s said since the Room of Requirement, and Draco is momentarily stunned. As much as Potter chose to sit with him, he hasn’t chosen to impart much. Till now.

“Do you want to?” he asks, not sure why he’s still asking questions.

Potter doesn’t seem to understand either, judging by the wrinkle between his brow, but he doesn’t refuse to answer. “I enjoy teaching, but... nothing. It’s complicated.”

Draco rolls his eyes. Potter notices.

“What?” he snaps.

“Oh, nothing,” Draco says nonchalantly, knowing exactly how to reel Potter in. He pauses for effect. “Only, you’re really not as mysterious as you think.”

Potter blinks stupidly. “I don’t think I’m mysterious.”

“Yes, you do,” Draco says simply, feigning disinterest as Potter begins to bristle. “You think you’re this broken, complex man, with a terrible burden to bear that no one can possibly understand. I can tell you now that none of your students would think of it that way. You’re really quite simple.”

Potter grabs a knife, butters his bread roll angrily. Apparently it’s a habit of his. “You’re calling me stupid, Malfoy?”

“I’m calling you straight-forward,” he replies. “Although, if you want to think of it that way, I won’t stop you.”

“You’re an arsehole,” Potter mutters, frowning at his breakfast.

“So are you. And besides, you’re not obliged to sit with me, you’re the one who keeps coming back.”

They’re arguing. They’re bickering and it feels so natural and yet not like before. Potter huffs loudly, slams his knife back on the table, looks directly at Draco. He tries not to squirm. “Yes, Malfoy. I decided to not be a twat and thought maybe it was worth putting our past behind us. Especially after… you know.”

Draco does, and he doesn’t want to talk about it. “So we’re friends, now, are we?” Draco mutters, swirling his tea in his mug.

“Yes,” Potter says decisively.

“Oh really?” Draco laughs.

“Yes,” he says again.

“You’ve decided this, it seems.”

“Would you rather we went back to trying to kill each other?” Potter argues.

This takes Draco aback. “That’s not what I meant,” he says quietly. Potter is so incendiary in his reactions sometimes, can be so bitter that Draco doesn’t know how to respond.

Potter hesitates, as if realising this. He shakes his head at his plate. “Look, I just don’t want to be a teacher. That’s all.”

Draco thinks about this, tries to follow Potter’s train of thought back to where they started.

“You’re not helping anyone by holding yourself back.” Draco waits for some biting retort, but finds none. He can feel Potter’s eyes on him. He stares into his tea in disinterest. “You’re scared,” he says simply.

He waits again. Nothing comes, not for a while. Draco suddenly becomes aware of the noise around them, of the students and teachers chattering and going on like normal.

“You don’t know anything,” Potter says. It doesn’t have the conviction that Draco is used to.

Draco sighs. “It must be exhausting. Having so enormous a hero-complex that you can’t do anything without thinking you’re going to hurt somebody.”

At first, he regrets his words. He wonders if he’s shattered this strange, fragile thing between them, whatever it is. And then Potter laughs. Draco stares at him.

“Fucking hell, Malfoy, don’t hold back, will you?” Potter shakes his head to himself, pours tea for himself. He keeps looking at him with such soft, yet fierce eyes, that Draco doesn’t know what to say or do. He doesn’t know what to do with this version of Harry Potter. He swallows down the anxiety that’s gathering in his throat. This is uncharted territory.

“When have you ever known me to?” That has the desired reaction of making Potter smile, and Draco matches it.

“You’re giving me advice now, then,” Potter says, almost to himself.

“No,” Draco argues.

“It feels like that’s what just happened.”

“No. That makes us almost sound like friends,” he says. “And I’m not sure I can stomach that. I still haven’t forgiven you for almost killing me, you know. And for stealing my wand. Oh, and for that time in fourth year when-”

“Oh, come on, I saved you plenty of times, too,” Potter interrupts, and his smile is unmistakable as he chews open mouthed. Draco grimaces.

“Oh yes, that one time you didn’t let me burn to death,” Draco drawls.

Potter laughs brightly.

“Well, I suppose I can accept advice from Draco Malfoy. Since we sort of shared our deepest, darkest secrets already.” Potter says it so casually. It’s enough to set Draco’s heart racing.

“You don’t know anything about my deepest, darkest secrets, Potter,” he says threateningly, and Potter snorts.

“Oh, really? I bet you’re secretly a massive weirdo.”

“You’d enjoy that, wouldn’t you?” he says, and he has no idea why, and he’s enormously glad that Potter doesn’t take it the wrong way. “I bet there’s plenty we don’t know about you, Harry Potter. I bet you have a shrine to Victor Krum hidden somewhere behind an obscurus. I saw the way you stared at him in fourth year.”

He’s quite pleased with this taunt, but Potter doesn’t miss a beat. He snorts. “Not my type.”

Draco snorts back. “Me neither.”

They both stare at each other.

Draco is not entirely sure how far this joke goes, or if he’s just accidentally come out to Harry Potter, when nobody except himself knows that he’s gay. He’s also not sure whether Potter just accidentally came out, or whether he was just joking. They both just stare in silence for a moment, and then Potter decides the best way to avoid the awkwardness is to shove half of his bacon roll in his mouth at once.

Draco desperately tries to find something to do, is itching to run away. Instead, he summons the teapot and pours himself another cup, just to give himself something else to focus on. It doesn’t help that Potter is staring.

“Do I have something on my face?” Draco asks, trying to sound bored, but his heart is racing.

“You just… you can do wandless magic?”

Oh Merlin’s balls, of course. He did just summon the teapot. And he hadn’t planned on ever letting anyone know.

Well, Potter knows he’s gay now, so there’s not much else to lose, is there?

“What else was I going to do, I didn’t have one for most of the war. Thanks again for that, by the way,” he jokes, hoping to diffuse the tension. When he looks back at Potter, there’s something close to awe in them.

“That’s amazing, Malfoy,” he says quietly.

He’s fine with arguing with Potter. He’s even fine with playful banter. This, though? Draco stands up abruptly, hating himself for always wanting to run away.

“I have marking to get on with,” he says matter-of-factly. “Have a good day. And teach those third years about boggarts, Merlin knows Hobbleworth is too incompetent to try.”

“Uh…” Potter tries. Draco doesn’t give him time to say anything else.

000

Draco is marking 5th year practice exams in one of the student work rooms. McGonagall has, inexplicably, put her trust in Draco to invigilate during assignment periods when the students are meant to be doing homework. As it is, most of them seem scared enough of Draco to work without causing trouble. The occasional time that a Gryffindor has dared to disrupt the working environment with chatter, Draco has stared at them, and mildly told them to “Shut up”. It works, even if he does sound extraordinarily bored when he does it.

Marking these papers is gruelling. The pile doesn’t seem to get any smaller. He’s feeling quite despondent about it, and then Potter walks in.

Draco’s not seen Potter outside of the great hall or the library since they returned to Hogwarts, other than passing in the corridor. The only time they ever spend time together is at the breakfast table; Draco has almost forgotten that Potter exists outside of this phenomenon.

Potter looks awkward, as he often does, finds a spot to place what looks like a pile of marking rather than charms research. So, he’s decided to help Hobbleworth after all.

Draco shakes his head, mind stalling at the sight of Potter, continues with his marking. It only takes a few minutes to realise that he’s really not getting any further, and that Emily Copperthwait’s past-paper is just going to have to wait. He looks up at Potter, who’s frowning at his marking and rubbing his forehead.

He talks himself out of the idea that pops into his head. Then he decides- fuck it.

He enchants the blank parchment that he’s brought with him, and begins writing.

You’re looking particularly constipated today, Potter. Has your first year DADA homework stumped you?

The ink disappears. He waits, watches for Potter’s reaction. He knows he’s seen it by the way the frown increases on his face, then melts away into amazement. Draco can’t help grinning to himself as Potter scans the room, looking alarmed and irritated. When his eyes find Draco’s, Draco only continues to smirk. The decisive little huff that Potter gives is visible from across the assignment room.

Draco looks down to his parchment.

Did you just enchant my first year class’s homework so that you could write insults to me? Seriously, Malfoy. That’s going a bit far, don’t you think?

Draco looks up to find Potter’s face betrays a smile. He picks up his quill and responds, Potter’s message disappearing again.

Good lord, your handwriting is terrible. And no, I don’t live just to insult you, you know. I’m merely interested in the fact that you appear to be marking. I was under the impression that you weren’t going to teach?

Draco tries not to watch Potter, doesn’t want to appear needy for a response, so he focuses on the parchment as the writing appears, one word after another, as Potter writes.

My handwriting is fine, thanks very much. And this is ridiculous, by the way. I thought we were past writing each other scathing notes during class? I remember those Potter Stinks badges, too, so sue me for being a little suspicious. And no, I’m not really teaching- just sort of assisting and observing. Although it’s taking some persuading to have Hobbleworth let me even do that.

Draco tries not to snicker to himself. Oh yes. I remember those badges, I consider those my magnum opus, you know. How are you finding assisting? Slughorn won’t let me do much more than wander around the class giving the occasional instruction. It’s frustrating, considering he has the teaching abilities of a nargle.

This time, he does look up to watch Potter’s reaction. His eyes dart from side to side as he reads Draco’s message. A thrill runs through him as he sees Potter pick up his quill and write.

You believe in nargles, then? You and Luna should chat. I pretty much just sit there and watch, occasionally give some input. McGonagall has been eager for me to do some teaching, though. By the way, you know that on Wednesday we’re doing the duel lesson, right? It runs into your Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw Potions class?

Draco blinks at the parchment. He’d honestly completely forgotten.

Oh yes- it was such a long time ago, I’d forgotten that that lesson had run into our other classes. So, this term it’s Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, next term Slytherin and Gryffindor? Strange, thinking back on those days. Remember our little duel? Weren’t we all adorable?

He looks up to find that Potter is writing his response, but instead of it appearing on his parchment, he’s enchanted a paper airplane to fly over to Draco at his desk.

They’ve certainly got half the room’s attention now.

“Get back to work,” he tells the students half-heartedly, thinking that, quite frankly, he can do what he bloody well wants. He’s a teacher- ish. Most of the students listen to his words, a few of them see his blatant disinterest in marking as a sign to mimic and chat to their friends.

Draco catches Potter’s plane, ignoring the Gryffindor’s chatter.

“Oi, settle down,” Potter says, but he’s barely suppressing a smile as he says it. Like he’s going to get the giggles just by attempting to be authoritative.

Draco unfolds the note.

I can’t cope with you writing messages on Jamie Warren’s homework. Sorry if it’s a bit conspicuous but you’re just going to have to deal with a paper airplane. And yeh, its H vs. R this term. I was adorable, you definitely weren’t, you slimy git.

Draco scribbles a response immediately on the other side of the note.

I was a delight. Although you’re right, we weren’t all sugar and spice and all things nice. You were a four-eyed little monster. You turned me down before our first year had even started.

He folds it up into a bird, enchants it to fly over to Potter. Half the room’s eyes are on the bird as it flutters to his desk. Yes, pretty conspicuous.

He can hear Potter laugh quietly to himself from across the room, and that’s when the rest of the students decide it’s about time they stop working as well. McGonagall’s not going to be very happy with him.

A new plane soars over to Draco. He almost doesn’t catch it- thankfully the 5th year Gryffindors behind him haven’t decided they’re bold enough to intercept their conversation.

HAHA. Yeah well I could spot a knobhead a mile off at that age. Shame nothing’s changed, eh? If you want to join the lesson by the way you might as well, since your potions class will be rescheduled. It’ll be hilarious. If you thought Lockheart versus Snape was funny, wait for Hobbleworth versus Slughorn.

Draco almost chokes on thin air, just thinking about it. He turns over the plane, and writes:

Bloody hell. I think we ought to turn up just to make sure nobody dies. I’ll see you there. P.S. I think we ought to stop chatting now, or McGonagall will have our heads.

He launches the bird in the air. Potter reads his message, looks at Draco, nods- not without reluctance, Draco notes.

The students aren’t even trying to hide their chatter anymore. They’re full on talking. One Hufflepuff has started enchanting her friend’s hair various colours, the two of them seriously discussing which shade suits her most. One Ravenclaw boy is drawing a giant cock on another boy’s face- who appears to be fast asleep. This is the moment when McGonagall walks in.

She surveys the room for a moment with a severe glare. The students take notice at once and settle into silence. The glare finds Potter, who purses his lips into an uncomfortable smile.

And then McGonagall finds Draco, makes her way towards him. Draco feels as if he’s about to be thoroughly told off, straightens in his seat, feeling eleven again. The students look terrified. When she reaches his desk, she drops another small pile of past papers in front of him.

“From Professor Slughorn,” she says simply, voice ringing throughout the assignment room. Then, in a lower voice, a glint in her eye. “I must admit, Mr Malfoy, I’m not sure I like where this parley between you and Potter is going. You’re worse than the students.”

Draco wants his chair to transfigure itself into a dragon and eat him whole. Watching McGonagall turn on her heel, green robes flowing out behind her, he can’t help but wince at her words. They really were like giddy school-boys.

When he looks for Potter’s reaction, he sees him muffling his laughter behind his fist. It’s not long before Draco’s caught the giggles, too.

He dreads to think where this ‘parley’, as McGonagall put it, is going.

000

The view of the river from his quarters is about as murky as from any other part of the castle. It’s all dark green, with the occasional flash of the squid, mermaids, or grindylows. He can’t see anything beyond the weeds growing around the window. It’s so dark out there, that he can see his face reflected back more clearly than anything else.

He turns his attention back to his letter, takes a moment to enjoy the fireplace. The flames cast comforting, dancing shadows around the room, across the parchment of his letter. He writes his finishing sentence.

Dear Milly,

I’m extraordinarily sorry I didn’t reply sooner, your majesty. I have been rather busy you know, what with doing a Master’s, teaching, and researching the castle’s defences. And in response to your question about Slughorn- yes, he is in fact, completely ignoring me, the old fart. He’s absolutely terrified of me, the most he can manage in my presence is a nervous giggle. It would be hilarious, if not for the fact that it’s actually incredibly depressing.

How’s things at the Ministry? I don’t know how you can work in the Department of Mysteries. It’s so fucking creepy. Don’t you ever get worried you’ll never see the light of day again? What are your lunch breaks like? Do you and your colleagues sit in a dark room and discuss the afterlife over cheese sandwiches?

Things have changed rather a lot since I last wrote. Harry Potter has started trying to be my friend. It’s a long story, that would be rather exhausting to get into now- I don’t have enough parchment and I really can’t be arsed to accio any more. In short, we sort of hashed things out. And whilst we’re definitely not friends, we also don’t seem to hate each other. I’m taking it really rather badly. Potter, however, seems to relish getting on my nerves.

It’s so bloody cold in Scotland. It always is this time of year, of course, but it’s especially bad this year. It’s too cold to snow. The top of the lake has frozen over already. Potter and I have already had to invigilate a crowd of idiot students trying to ice-skate- to make sure they don’t fall through the ice and die, you know. One of the stupid twits broke an arm. Potter had to take her to the infirmary whilst I stayed put and froze my bollocks off, making sure the others didn’t do anything else stupid.

Do you reckon you’ll be able to come visit? You can bring Pansy of course. How are things going between you two?

Not missing you in the slightest,
Draco x

P.S. find enclosed a hilarious photo I found in the archives the other day whilst searching for a particularly useless book. I think it was after we won the house cup.

Draco takes one more look at said photo. He’s showing a rare grin, and a pair of dimples which he was always quite self-conscious of. Milly and Pansy are laughing uproariously about something together, whilst Blaise is giving Draco a pair of bunny-ears. His heart tightens painfully. He wishes he could remember it.

After a couple of months of busy days and strict schedules, Draco has become used to coming back to his rooms in the evening and spending an hour or two unwinding in the same way. A cup of tea by the fire, perhaps even a book for leisure rather than research. A letter to his mother, or friends, if he remembers (feels like it). He goes to bed each night at roughly 11pm, falls asleep after a couple of hours of tossing and turning. At least he rarely has nightmares these days; Draco reckons he’s so tired at the moment that his brain doesn’t have time to create (or recreate) any of them.

Tonight, however, he finds himself thinking over and over again about the duel class due the next day. His half-asleep mind conjures images of his battle against Potter in his second year, of Snape sneering at his pathetic efforts. Stuck in the limbo between sleep and wakefulness, his mind latches onto the image of Potter as he is now- short beard and messy hair, strong arm pointing his wand at Draco’s chest, a smile in his determined eyes. His thoughts inexorably go to him, obsess with him in the same way it did when he was a schoolboy.

Insomnia induced delirium convinces Draco that he will be duelling Potter tomorrow- and that this duel will mean everything.

000

Hobbleworth and Slughorn look about the great hall nervously. Side by side, standing in front of the catwalk on which they’re supposedly meant to duel in a few minutes time, they seem like a comedy act.

The former is a sallow, skinny looking man- his long, mouse-brown hair falls to his shoulders, his purple robes flowing off him in a way that seems less elegant and more like they were hanging off skin and bones. Meanwhile, beside him is the typically stout Slughorn, a slight sheen of sweat on his forehead from the effort of merely walking to the great hall, his well-cut waistcoat doing as much as it can to hide his belly. Hobbleworth towers over Slughorn, who has avoided Draco’s gaze even more so than usual today. Perhaps it is because Draco now has a wand in his hand, rather than a potions textbook.

Despite the palpable anxiety coming from Slughorn, he also appears excited. The chance to scout this year’s talent and see Harry Potter again? It’s almost too much for the man to handle.

Hobbleworth, on the other hand, looks like he might break under the pressure of having to actually teach Defence Against the Dark Arts.

Naturally, Potter hasn’t arrived yet. He finds himself tense, waiting for him to turn up, constantly aware of the fact he isn’t there- as it always has been.

When Potter does finally turn up, he tries to open the doors quietly, and as ever, fails. The students turn to watch him come in- Potter smiles and says a general hello to the room. He spots Draco almost immediately, notices his position separated from everyone else, and rolls his eyes. Draco raises his eyebrows in response, conveying a sort of, ‘yes, and?’

“Harry, my boy,” Slughorn says, relief flooding his voice.

Draco feels an instant pang of jealousy at the way the room brightens when Potter enters. Everyone seems more at ease, happy to see him. Saint blood Potter. They may doing this whole putting their past behind them malarky, but Draco still can’t help but hate the bastard a little, still. That argument in the Room of Requirement didn’t… cure him of his ailment.

“Horace. I hope I haven’t kept you all waiting,” Potter says, grasping Slughorn’s hand and shaking it in welcome. Slughorn is the only teacher that Potter calls by their first name. The smile on his face doesn’t seem as sincere as he might think it does. This, Draco recognises, is his ‘hello, I’m Harry Potter’ façade- something that Slughorn absolutely laps up.

Hobbleworth fiddles with his wand like a nervous child, not really acknowledging him, or the room full of students, whilst Slughorn waves off Potter’s comment.

“Not at all, not at all, Harry. We were just about to get started, weren’t we?” Slughorn clears his throat. “Boys and girls… good afternoon…”

Draco watches silently as Hobbleworth flanks a floundering Slughorn, Potter on his other side, looking like he’s trying very hard to keep a straight face. Draco tries to restrain an eye roll. The students, of course, pay no attention.

“Everybody… now, really, settle down…”

“Hey!”

Potter’s voice isn’t loud, but it is commanding. In all the years that Draco has seen him train a quidditch team from the other side of the pitch, he’s never seen him be able to pull of any kind of tone of voice like that. People listened to him because they liked him, but he always seemed reluctant to give instructions to his friends. Draco had noticed him rely on Ginny Weasley to get people to settle down.

Now, though, the students have gathered round and their voices lower to excited whispers. Potter looks surprised by his own behaviour, and the positive results.

“Thank you, Harry,” Slughorn begins weakly. The huge stone hall, with its hanging tapestries and rain-streaked, stain glass windows, seems to swallow up his entire voice. “Today, I, and your Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, er, Professor Hobbleworth, will be teaching the art of the wizarding duel.”

More whispers and titters. Draco wonders why the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher isn’t the one making this speech.

“Now, not only will you be able to witness particular spells in action,” he continues, sounding hesitant even as he says it whilst he nervously smoothes out his creaseless waistcoat with his hands, “but you will be able to ask questions and see the traditional forms and stances one makes when performing said spells. Now, if Professor Hobbleworth would take the far end…”

Slughorn spots Hobbleworth looking particularly anxious. They share a glance, and Draco is certain that neither man garnered anything intelligent from the look.

“Come now, Norman,” Slughorn says, voice quiet but loud enough that the students can hear.

How embarrassing for Norman, Draco thinks. The man whispers something to Slughorn, whose expression becomes more uncertain and concerned. He looks about that the increasingly restless students, unsure what to say.

Potter steps in- takes both men by the arm, draws them a little further away so that no one can hear them speak. Draco watches quietly, joins the back of the crowd of students, arms crossed in front of him. Potter is all smiles and encouragement, nods and soothing voice. Hobbleworth looks relieved to the point of fainting, whilst Slughorn looks about as baffled as he usually does.

“Right, well,” Slughorn announces. “Slight change of plan, ladies and gentlemen. Mr Potter will be helping to demonstrate today.”

The room buzzes with excitement, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuffs chattering amongst each other loudly.

This room of children have heard about the famous Harry Potter; he is a man of legend already. They have not seen him in action. It’s a privilege for these people, Draco realises, with a blank sense of acknowledgement. Potter himself looks a little relieved, perhaps with the knowledge that he won’t have to be sending any teachers to the medical wing today. And yet, despite the obvious relief and amusement, it’s clear that he’s also, remarkably, nervous. The way he buttons his cloak to hide his muggle t-shirt, fiddles with the clasp for a moment before taking out his wand, says it all.

Potter’s eyes find his, and Draco realises how closely he’s been watching him.

He beckons Draco over with a tilt of his head.

What? Draco mouths, arms crossed firmly in front of him.

Come here, Potter replies silently, eyes widening a little, as if to emphasise his words.

Draco shakes his head.

“Mr. Malfoy, erm… if you would?”

Slughorn is actually addressing him, and looking at him.

The whole bloody room is looking at him.

He doesn’t think he can stop the heat rising up the back of his neck, or the way his eyes widen slightly. He combats it the only way he knows how- he tilts his chin, stands up straight, strides to the front of the class with a confidence he doesn’t know.

The glare he gives Potter is, perhaps, less restrained. Potter snorts at him. Draco takes his place beside him, feeling very uncomfortable indeed; the children are still staring. One famously brazen Hufflepuff, Ali Woolard, gawps at his friend and says loudly, “What the fuck?”

The class laughs, a couple of students shooting angry or nervous glances at Ali for swearing in front of teachers.

Neither of whom do anything, of course. Hobbleworth has all but dropped out of existence, standing silently behind Potter and Slughorn. Draco should have guessed, really; it was too much to assume that Hobbleworth would even attempt to teach this class. If what Potter said is true, and he’s too frightened to even teach boggarts, then there was no chance this was happening.

Slughorn leans in to speak quietly to Potter- either not caring or realising that Draco can hear. “Harry, are you sure about this…”

The lack of faith that the teachers have in Draco no longer affects him; it’s merely a fact of being on the wrong side at the wrong time. Not that Slughorn can say much, the hypocrite; he heard about how much he liked Voldemort back in his school days.

Potter looks at Slughorn seriously. “It’s ok, professor. Malfoy and I are friends. I won’t hurt him, I promise.”

This is said with heavy sarcasm, but Slughorn accepts this answer nonetheless. Potter looks back at Draco with a conspiratorial smirk, and Draco can’t help but return it. He also can’t help but feel like Potter might, quite possibly, even if subconsciously, have just come to Draco’s defence. It’s a strange feeling.

Potter turns to look at the class. “Right,” he starts.

And then he pauses, as if he’s just realised that he’s done exactly what he didn’t want to do; replace Hobbleworth. When Potter speaks again, his voice has taken a different tone. “If you’re lucky, this is the only wizarding duel you’ll ever see. You guys live in a time when… I hope, you won’t have to be part of one, either.”

Everyone goes very quiet. Draco finds his attention turning from the mischievous anticipation on Ali Woolard’s face, to Potter’s.

“There’s a reason we teach this kind of thing, obviously. You never know what situation you might find yourself in one day, and you want to be prepared. And, well, the theory of Defence Against the Dark Arts has been a subject people have learned for centuries. But this practical side of things- just know that this class isn’t a cop out. One day, you might need to remember this.” The sobre expression betrays a small smile, green eyes brightening a moment later. “That being said, it’s also pretty fun. So it shouldn’t be hard to pay attention.”

That gets a couple of chuckles, and Slughorn looks thoroughly pleased with himself, as if this was his plan all along.

He turns to Draco, that fierce determination in his eyes. There’s no remorse in them whatsoever.

“I can’t believe you’re making me do this,” Draco mutters so only Potter can hear.

A look of smug of triumph passes over the bastard’s face. “No one’s making you do it. I mean, if you’d rather…” Potter nods his head to Hobbleworth and Slughorn. The former is wringing his hands anxiously, the latter staring at Potter eagerly.

“Hmm,” Draco concedes, but that’s all he’s going to give Potter today.

The responding smile is brilliant, and for a moment, Draco thinks that that small thing might make all of this worth it.

Draco lets Potter go first, watches him take the side of the catwalk closest to the teacher’s table in the great hall. It seems more real, now. That he’s about to put himself through this humiliation, rather than keep his head down. Have everyone watch him make a fool out of himself.

But then, there’s that little nagging urge inside of him- that temptation to see what will happen. To stand opposite Potter again, just to remember what it was like.

He turns to take his side of the catwalk. The crowd of students being to clamour excitedly, gather round both sides of them.

Draco smoothens his cloak. When he looks up, Potter is standing a few meters away from him, plain white Muggle t-shirt poking out- his cloak’s buttons keep popping open. He needs new ones, but Merlin knows the man has never owned any decent clothing in all the time Draco’s known him.

Potter rolls up his sleeves, takes out his wand.

Their eyes meet, and it’s totally different to how Draco remembered.

There’s still that fierce determination. And there’s still that competitive fire, oh yes. But there’s something new, too. Some unnamed thing that buzzes between them as their eyes meet. Potter doesn’t look as constipated as he did that time in second year. Rather, this expression is open. Anticipatory. Excited, he’d dare to say.

“Right, keep your eyes peeled,” Potter starts. And as he says it, he doesn’t remove his gaze from Draco’s. It makes him feel bizarrely self-conscious. “We’re going to demonstrate some incantations, and I want you to focus on the defensive charms we use, alright?”

And then Potter nods at him. He feels the heat of firm resolve run through him; he’s going to win this. He’s going to beat Potter at his game. He never could as a teenager, but he’s going to give it all he’s got today.

Judging by Potter’s face, the feeling is mutual.

“Will you call it professor?” Potter says.

Slughorn nods enthusiastically. “But of course! Wands at the ready. Best of three. Make your bow!”

Draco takes out his wand. For a moment neither of them move. And then Draco takes the first step. They walk towards the centre of the catwalk, the patterned moon and stars carpet leading them to the middle. He can’t take his eyes away from Potter’s stare.

They step in time. They meet at the centre. They stand inches away, and in sync, bring their wands in front of their faces.

Potter’s mouth quirks, like he’s smothering a smile. Like this is some inside joke. Like he’s sharing something private with Draco right now. Perhaps they are; perhaps that’s why he keeps forgetting there are people watching.

It pops into his head suddenly. “Scared, Potter?” he says.

The hidden smile bursts across Potter’s face. His eyes focus on him and that smile turning from mischievous to downright wicked.

You. Wish.

And then they’re spinning around, away from each other, walking down the catwalk to their opposite ends. Their cloaks whoosh with the movement, and Draco finds himself smiling to himself. Potter’s going to pay for making him come up here. He’s going to pay for beating him in second year.

He’s going to show him.

“Take your positions!”

He takes his stance, wand arm arced above his head, the other stretched out in front of him. Potter settles into his own position, wand hand pointed in front of him, the other arm braced behind him.

The air goes still.

The energy that passes between them is-

“Begin!”

Potter moves with blinding speed. The spell shoots out of his wand without any spoken incantation, and Draco knows what it’s going to be before he sees the red sparks dancing towards him. But it’s fast, fast enough that he casts a protego wordlessly, and the expelliarmus charm rebounds- Potter diffuses it, flicks it away so it bounces in another direction and is absorbed by the ancient brick of the Hogwarts great hall.

And Draco takes the chance to send his own curse- Potter is quick, instinctive, so he needs to do it now- sends a rictusempra towards him, and he sees Potter’s eyes widen and his face tense as he sees the shimmering air barrel towards him. And just as quickly as he protegod the last charm, he sends sends this one away too. And Draco grits his teeth, feels the frustration in his stomach churn, and just as he takes a step forward, infuriation getting the better of him-

Fucking Potter, how is he so fast, how is he so natural at this-

-the expelliarmus flies towards him. He’d barely seen it being cast, it all happens so quickly-

It hits him, and he stumbles backwards, catches himself as his left foot thuds against the catwalk. And he feels his wand fly out of his hand, turns to watch it shoot away, a mind of its own. Stares at it disappear at the hands of Potter once again.

Potter may be fast; but Draco’s learned a trick or two.

He feels the magic of the accio charm run down his arm to his fingers, summons his wand back to him with all his mental effort- wandlessly, he retrieves his wand from mid air.

It zips back into his hand, snapping back like elastic.

And the moment he turns to send another rictusepmra towards Potter, he sees his confusion. He sees his eyes widen and a frown deepen, sees the moment that the spell connects with Potter and sends him flying down the catwalk.

He flies through the air spectacularly, cloak billowing and body spinning before he hits the floor, arse first, with a loud thud.

At first, Draco can’t believe what he’s done. He stands there, looking dumbly between his wand and the prone Potter, limbs akimbo. The students can’t seem to believe it either, they’re gasping and staring, mouths wide open. Slughorn looks positively aghast.

And when Potter sits up, propping himself up with an elbow, he laughs. Laughs. Mouth hanging open and eyebrows raised like he’s offended. Just the hint of a smile.

“Aha! Bloody hell, Malfoy, don’t hold back, then.”

The students erupt into excited chatter and titters. Draco pays no mind. He stands there, feeling suddenly quite tall. Quite proud. Actually, genuinely proud of himself, for once, not just feigning arrogance. And the sight of Potter looking at him like that- like he’s surprised, in awe, proud, irritated, and delighted, all at once- it makes him feel all sorts of things that he’d rather not dissect right now.

“W-well! Mr Malfoy takes that round,” Slughorn manages. “Although, boys, please speak your incantations aloud, for the class.”

Draco gives Potter a yes, you heard him, do as your told expression. Potter sticks out his tongue. The students laugh in amazement and confusion at this version of Harry Potter- the man-child who resorts to pulling faces.

Ridiculous. The man has no shame.

“Take your positions, round two!”

Draco straightens further, affecting the Malfoy chin-tilt, watching Potter get back on his feet.

“Begin!”

They both speak at the same time.

Expelliarmus-

Levicorpus-”

Potter’s spell hits him this time- he’d been focusing on his own incantation, and now his wand flies out of his hand for good, clattering to the floor behind him. It isn’t a good feeling- it feels as if his wand continuously decides to betray him to serve Potter instead. The irritation at losing this round so quickly is eased by the sight of Potter hanging from midair, dangling by his feet so his robes fall around his head. His hair pouring around his reddening face, glasses falling off his nose, his t-shirt thankfully staying put so that the whole class doesn’t have to see Potter’s stomach hanging out.

Draco does notice a traitorous pang of disappointment at how well his t-shirt remains in place.

“We have a tie, there,” Slughorn calls.

There’s clamour amongst the students. And, quite frankly, Draco isn’t pleased either. “Excuse me, professor, I think that point went to me. I managed to cast levicorpus before the expelliarmus reached me-”

“But,” Potter says, voice weirdly strained since he’s hanging upside down, “We were both incapacitated at the same time. And I still have my wand. So.”

“Tch,” is Draco’s response.

With a dismissive wave of his hand, he drops the incantation, and Potter thuds to the floor.

The class laugh. He can’t help but smirk to himself.

“Would you stop throwing me around?” Potter snaps from the other side of the catwalk, rubbing his arm.

“No. Just be quicker next time if you don’t want to be ‘thrown around’.”

Potter makes an exaggerated, weary sigh. He shakes himself out, extends his wand again.

Draco tries to calm and still himself as much as possible. But his heart is hammering and his hand is shaking a little, and his mind is swimming with the impossibility of it all. The familiarity of it all and the weirdness of it all. How right it feels. Images of Potter’s smile drifting about his mind, settling in his chest like leaves.

“Round three!”

His fingers tighten around his wand.

Potter smiles.

His mind floats.

“Begin!”

Expelliarmus-”

Expelliar-”

This was simply a battle of speed. This time, the spell hits Draco first. His wand jumps out of his hand. Harry catches it-

Potter catches it.

He’s just rubbing it in now, he realises. It makes Draco snarl at him in irritation, and there’s a moment where Potter seems to wonder if he’s done the right thing, where he seems to re-evaluate his attack. But then Draco rolls his eyes and tuts, and Potter breaks into a smug smile.

“And that third round goes to Harry,” Slughorn announces. “Mr Potter wins-”

“Hang on,” Potter says.

The students are all pressed up against the catwalk. Hufflepuffs leaning their elbows on the rug, peering up at Potter like he’s God. Ravenclaws muttering to themselves about the duel’s rules.

“Sir,” Potter announces, “I think there’s a fourth round. Since Malfoy and I tied in the second.”

“Oh,” Slughorn blinks. Hobbleworth blinks nervously between Potter and Draco. “Yes,” Slughorn agrees slowly, then assuredly. “Of course. Yes, yes. Right you are, Harry. Fourth round to win.”

Draco doesn’t hesitate this time. He straightens out his cloak and flicks back his hair as casually as he possibly can. As casually as one can, when they’ve realised that Harry Potter has given them another chance, after decades of fighting each other tooth and claw. How easy it would have been to have accepted Slughorn’s announcement that he’d won. And yet, there he is- there he is, rolling his shoulders with his eyes closed. A gaggle of giggling students staring up at him by his feet. And a good handful of students watching Draco, too; the look in their eyes is one that he’s not used to seeing. It’s something close to worship.

He’s been looking for that sort of validation all his life, and he’s surprised to find that it doesn’t matter to him right now. Not nearly as much as this duel with Potter.

One last time. Once more, he extends his hand above his head in an arc, and waits. His other arm stretched out in front of him.

Potter’s eyes fixed on him, all determination.

It’s a typical Potter look. It’s never not made him hot and bothered.

“Round four!”

Slughorn’s voice echoes in his mind. The room is still. Nobody is breathing, not even Draco.

He can see flecks of hazel in those green eyes.

“Begin!”

Expelliarm-

Stupefy!

Draco doesn’t expect to finish his curse before Potter does. Potter doesn’t seem to expect it either. There’s a moment where Draco thinks it’s going to hit, and he’ll have to un-stupify Potter in front of his class which would be so incredibly satisfying. But then Potter changes course and deflects it, the spell dissolving harmlessly in the air above Hobbleworth’s head.

It takes all of the control, all of the cool, calm, collected Black genes in him to think of what to do next without panicking. There’s a spell barrelling towards him- they’ve forgotten their incantations now- and Draco deflects it with a flick like he’s writing his signature with a quill. The next spell has the tell-tale red of expelliamus- Potter is so predictable, even if he is quick. Draco captures it, something he’d seen his aunt do once before, swirls it around his head and throws it back at Potter. Now that’s a trick that you can’t teach second years.

Potter side-steps and watches his spell scatter behind him. He turns back to Draco with a grin. He’s impressed.

Draco grins back.

And then they’re firing at each other wordlessly like nobody is watching, like this is a game and they’re both finally allowed to be the children they never were. The room sings with the whistles of spells shooting here and there, the room breathes with the sound of their flying cloaks. They dance as they duck and dive to avoid. They laugh and cackle and growl at each other.

It could have been like this, all this time.

Draco transfigures a pile of worksheets in Hobbleworth’s hands into a flock of seagulls. They fly towards Potter and blind him, just for a moment- enough time for Draco to cast another spell to bind his ankles and incapacitate him, before he can-

But the birds turn into confetti, fluttering to the ground. Potter can see him once again. He’s concentrating hard. He’s giving it all he’s got. He’s taking Draco seriously.

And that, unfortunately, is enough to make Draco pause.

Draco has cast expelliarmus. But he didn’t prepare for Potter’s protego, and now his spell is coming right back at him. And his body braces for impact instead of retaliating.

His wand flies out of his hand, and he tries to call it back, like he did last time. He reaches backwards to grab it. He doesn’t manage.

He falls. His back hits the catwalk. The room erupts into cheers.

He closes his eyes and sighs.

“The game goes to Mr Potter! Oh, well done, Harry, what a good show!”

Draco opens his eyes and stares at the ceiling. He can’t believe he let his guard down. Why did he let his guard down?

Don’t fool yourself, some small part of him says. You know why.

The room continues to echo with the sounds of clapping and students chattering excitedly. He even hears a few of them congratulate him. It irritates him, to get congratulations when he didn’t win. And so he stares at the vaulted arches of the Great Hall ceiling, and sighs once more.

That is, until Potter appears in his vision, staring down at him.

“Alright, Malfoy,” he says with a shit-eating grin.

“Bugger off.”

Potter laughs. He’s hearing that laugh more often, now; a sort of open, unabashed laugh that he didn’t hear that much, even in his school days. He laughs differently with Draco.

Potter extends a hand to him.

Draco stares at it. It takes him a moment to remember how social conventions work, and what a proffered hand means.

Potter snorts. “Bloody hell, alright then, you proud git-”

Draco takes it before he can walk away.

And that-

Well, that changes everything.

000

The Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs are running a couple of minutes late for their next lesson. Harry had sort of lost track of time. And it’s not as if Hobbelworth or Slughorn were keeping track; even if they were, they wouldn’t have interrupted their duel. Hobbleworth would have been too frightened, and Slughorn would have been fangirling too much.

Harry snorts at the image of Slughorn and Hobbleworth ambling slowly towards the staffroom. Then he turns and measures Malfoy.

He’s rebuttoning his cloak and fiddling with the pocket-watch in his waistcoat. Taking out his wand, he taps the watch gently. Harry hears the cogs and whirs clicking into place as it fixes itself. Harry must have nicked it during their duel. Malfoy carries out this task with a cool look of concentration, blond hair falling a little in his face. It had been perfectly swept back before; now, it’s the only thing that gives away the fact that he’s just lost a battle. There’s something about this quiet, casual scene of Malfoy fixing his watch and tidying it away that makes something stir in Harry’s chest.

Things have changed. He was pretending they weren’t, but they are. And they have.

Funny old thing, this friendship stuff. Making friends with Hermione or Luna was never like this. Definitely nothing like making friends with Ron, which was immediate, and easy. This- this is-

“I suppose you have a lesson now,” Malfoy says. It’s filled with nonchalance, and Harry can’t really tell if it’s feigned or not.

“Um. Actually, no,” he replies. Tries to sound just as cool, but doesn’t manage. He starts wandering slowly down the corridor, and Malfoy falls in step with him.

Malfoy falls in step with him. There’s something new.

“Right,” Malfoy says. “I don’t either. None for the rest of the day.”

“Oh right.”

“I was going to hide in the restricted section and read about…” he grimaces. “Read about crups.”

“Christ alive. Those fucking crups.”

Malfoy makes a noise that, if Harry didn’t know better, is almost a laugh. It’s a sort of exhale through the nose. And that’s about as close to a laugh as he’s ever heard from Malfoy when it hasn’t been at his expense.

“Yes, that’s sort of how I feel on the topic, too,” Malfoy admits.

“You know, Hagrid was telling me that it’s getting worse.”

“Oh?”

“The crups. They’re. They’re mating and so now there’s hundreds of them. Beneath the flagstones in the kitchen. And he hasn’t figured out a way to keep them out, either.”

Malfoy doesn’t seem to know what to say to that. Harry can’t fucking blame him- why, for Christ’s sake, is he talking about crups mating?

“Well, I wasn’t going to do any research this afternoon.”

Malfoy makes that funny sort-of-laugh sound again. “Of course you weren’t, you lazy sod.”

“Oi! I found out a fair bit about how we can keep Skeeter out of grounds, the other day. Shared it in the staff meeting and everything.”

There’s a moment where Malfoy goes quiet. Harry looks over and sees him thinking. His brows pulled together a little, a gentle look of introspection. “Yes, I believe you did. That was a surprise.”

“I… suppose I’m marginally better at studying when I don’t actually have to do it.”

“Typical.”

Harry laughs. He keeps doing that around Malfoy these days.

They both go quiet. Their footsteps aren’t quite in time, but it’s close. The Christmas spirit is picking up throughout the school- Harry can hear the choir practising Carol of the Bells down the corridor. Filch is standing atop a precarious, wobbling ladder, sticking up mistletoe. Flitwick usually casts the ceiling to snowy skies around this time of year, but he doesn’t seem to have gotten around to it yet.

“D’you fancy a drink?” Harry asks.

Malfoy’s step falters for a moment, but it’s only for a fraction of a second. Harry’s delighted to catch the bewildered, panicked expression on Malfoy’s face before he corrects it, regains that masterful control.

“A drink?”

“Yeah. Down the pub. Since neither of us have any commitments.”

Malfoy’s a little wide-eyed at the prospect. “You might not have any issue with breaking rules left-right-and-centre, Potter, but I do.”

“There’s a rule about going to the pub?”

“On a weekday during lesson time? Yes. Did you not read the teacher’s handbook?”

“N- there’s a teacher’s handbook?”

“Potter, I swear to Merlin. Yes, every member of staff gets one, even if they don’t teach. I saw McGonagall give it to you in the staffroom in the second week.”

Harry looks into the distance and tries to remember this. “Oh.” Then, “How is it that you remember that and I don’t?”

Malfoy sighs and shakes his head. Weirdly enough, he suddenly reminds Harry of Hermione.

“OK, well. Is there a rule against having pumpkin juice in my living room?”

That, unlike Hermione, makes Malfoy wrinkle his nose. There’s still that wild-animal panic in his eyes though, which flick over to Harry. Like he’s trying to figure out his ulterior motive. “Well- obviously not, Potter, that would be absurd.”

“Alright, then. Let’s go.”

Harry leads the way. Malfoy is stunned to silence. Or perhaps he feels too uncomfortable to argue, for once.

The sound of the choir’s voices echoes off the walls, a Gregorian monks’ hymn trickling down the corridor. Malfoy waits for Harry to let him into his living room. And Harry takes a moment to watch Malfoy step inside as he holds the door open for him, and gets the strangest sense that this will be the first of many pumpkin juice-and-chat sessions.

He was never very good at Divination. But somehow, right now, he knows.

Chapter Text

The Hogwarts Express is quiet when Draco gets on it. He’s always been early for the train. His mother had always been concerned that he’d miss it and taken him there with far too much time to spare; it had always meant that he’d nabbed a free compartment for himself. This year is no different.

Christmas had been quiet. It had been nice. It had also been strange. Going back to his mother’s flat in Muggle London reminded him of how much has changed in these few months. Somehow, that made his visit home all the more restorative and comforting.

Draco crosses his leg over the other and looks out of the window. The platform is getting emptier and emptier as the pupils all pile on, and steam is beginning to billow. He watches one family emerge from the wall onto the platform, a third year boy running frantically with an owl cage and his father hobbling with two suitcases behind him. The owl flaps about and screeches, shedding feathers. Draco snorts. And then the train conductor’s whistle blows; before long, it begins to pull out of the platform.

Parents wave goodbye to their children. For a moment, he can imagine Lucius and Narcissa in the crowd, smiling as they did when he left for his first year.

The red bricks of King’s Cross turn into suburbs, and suburbs turn into fields. The view rolls by and Draco catches his reflection staring back. He turns away. In a couple of hours’ time they’ll pass York, by which point he plans to read the book his mother bought him for Christmas.

Draco stares at the empty seats opposite and wonders if-

There’s a rap on the compartment door. Potter makes that pressed-lip half-smile through the glass and he waves. Then, he cracks open the door.

“Mind if I join?”

Draco hesitates for a moment. After being home for Christmas, this thing between him and Potter seems even stranger. Being on the Express like kids again, but without throwing curses at each other and without the sneering. It’s like he’s coming back to school in some alternate reality where he and Potter had made friends at that tender age of eleven.

Eventually, Draco gestures to the empty seats. Potter’s smile brightens and he barges in with his bags. He throws one up on the shelf above, and places the other with considerably more care beside him.

“So,” Draco begins, surprising himself. “How was your Christmas then, Potter?”

He poses it like an accusation- out of habit, he supposes. It’s strange, picking up where they left off when it’s still so unfamiliar to them. Potter doesn't seem to take notice, and replies, “Yeah, alright. Uneventful. Which, honestly, is how I like my Christmases.”

“Mm. Yes,” Draco says in understanding.

“You?”

“Equally uneventful.”

Potter leans back in his seat and finally relaxes after faffing about. He sighs, looks out of the window.

“Thought I was going to miss it again, today.”

Draco translates. “The train?”

“Yeah. I’m usually running a little late, but today I was really pushing it.”

And now that he mentions it, he does seem a little red-cheeked; like he’s run here. And Draco laughs, not quite the laugh he used to reserve for when he made fun of Potter, but something close. And all of a sudden he’s forgotten that they’ve been apart at all. “Does Weasel still have that car?”

Potter barks a laugh. “No. It pissed off somewhere in second year, no clue where it’s gone.”

“That is a shame. Nice piece of enchantment, that.”

“Yeah, it- actually, hang about, how did you know about the car?”

Draco raises an eyebrow at Potter, who’s wearing that delightfully endearing frown that he has; confused and indignant. “Potter, we all knew about the car. It was in the papers, if you recall. And most of us students were hanging out of the windows watching the great battle of Womping Willow vs Ford Anglia.”

“That… yeah, that figures.”

“And there was that howler that Weasel’s mother sent him.”

“Oh, fuck I forgot about that!” Potter presses his hands to his head. “Merlin, that was hilarious, and sort of traumatising. Mrs Weasley can be really terrifying.”

Draco almost responds to that with: I know. She killed my Aunt Bellatrix. But that would sort of kill the mood.

“In summary, train is better than flying car,” Potter thankfully continues. “Just- promise me one thing.”

Draco pauses, blinks. “Yes?”

“Don’t break my nose this time.”

Potter grins. And it takes Draco a beat, takes him a moment to splutter and flounder a little. Which makes Potter’s grin widen, irritatingly.

That,” Draco starts, regaining some composure. “...Well. I can’t make any promises.”

Potter laughs. He’d almost forgotten how that sounded. It’s still a new sound to his ears, and not one he’s used to eliciting. Draco likes it. It makes him smile- it’s a smile that runs deep through his chest and makes something shift pleasantly, nervously inside him.

This is all still very weird.

“I could butter you up with some snacks. I have snacks, if you want snacks.”

“Well, that entirely depends on what snacks you have.”

Harry stands up and grabs his bag from the overhead storage. He drops back down onto his seat clumsily- the briefcase on the seat beside him as it bounces a little, and he casts an apprehensive glance in its direction.

“Right, what’ve I got. I’ve got some Every Flavoured Beans, got a couple of pasties…”

“What have you got in that briefcase?”

Potter looks up at Draco then down at the briefcase. Then, he pats it gently. “Christmas present from Hermione. I was hoping for an owl, but I love her to bits. I enchanted the briefcase so she has lots of room in there, not to worry.”

He stares at Potter, who irritatingly doesn’t provide any further explanation, instead pulls out tuppawares of pastries from his other bag.

“So- a pet.”

“Mhm. A snake, actually.”

“Oh,” Draco says a bit stupidly. Then, “How very Slytherin of you. I wouldn’t have thought you’d have it in you.”

“I have plenty of Slytherin in me,” Potter replies. He blinks. “As in. Like, you know. Lots of Slytherin qualities.”

“Yes, well done on covering up that innuendo. Very smoothly done.”

“Anyway,” he presses on urgently- and then he manages to spill Every Flavoured Beans all over the floor of the compartment. He tuts. “Ah, fuck’s sake.”

Potter drops to the floor and gathers up all the beans by hand. Why he doesn’t just use his wand, he doesn’t know. Draco takes a moment to laugh at him from his seat. Eventually, he gives in and shows kindness; he pushes some beans in Potter’s direction with his feet. Potter looks up at him with a glare.

“Good to know you're still a twat, Malfoy.”

“You’re even more all over the place than usual this morning," Draco laughs. "I’m sure it bodes well for the rest of the term.”

“Cheers, yeah, good to know,” Potter grumbles, though there’s not much bite to it. Having recovered the beans, summoning them back into the box, he clambers back up onto the seat. “Anyway, yes, a snake. I have one now.”

“Wonderful creatures. What is she called?”

“Heloise.”

That takes Draco aback. “A French name?”

“Yeah, we thought it might be sort of appropriate considering Hermione got her from a French breeder. Came across the name during my travels through the philosophy section in the library.”

“Do you even speak French?”

Potter frowns, looks at him like he’s mental. “No? I mean, I didn’t speak German and I still called Hedwig Hedwig. Do you even speak French?”

“Yes.”

His expression slackens. “Wh-” He blinks, a strange look in his eye. “What, really?”

“Yes, you lunatic. The Malfoys are French. Or didn’t you know that?”

“Well. No. No, why would I?”

Draco supposes he wouldn’t, unless he’d been told. Nonetheless: “You really are quite gormless.”

“Oi,” Potter retorts, a smile in his voice. “I’ve got lots of gorm.”

Draco sneers in disagreement. Potter kicks him playfully. The train clatters happily through the countryside, the landscape turning a dusty white as it makes its journey through snow further North.

000

Harry’s room is only just warming up when he arrives. The fireplace has been lit in anticipation of his arrival, and the logs are only newly burning. He closes the curtains to keep some of the heat in and unpacks with a strange sense of anxiety humming beneath his chest bone.

It must be to do with the fact that he’s back at Hogwarts. It’s the 6th of January and he’s had a nice long Christmas break with the Weasleys. He didn’t realise how much he needed the break till he sat down in the Burrow’s front room and fell asleep before Arthur had even come back from work. These three weeks have been spent sleeping, eating, playing Quidditch, eating again, and sleeping some more. The marking he was meant to do hadn’t even been removed from his briefcase. The home-made mince pies have done good things for his too-slim waist line. This Christmas was familiar and good.

And yet, a typically jovial Christmas though it was, Harry found himself missing Hogwarts. Just as he did in the early days of school. Somehow, after everything, Hogwarts has become his home again. This feeling in his chest must be excitement, then. He can’t see how it could be anything else.

He can’t stop thinking about the fact that Malfoy is apparently part French. What the fuck is all that about?

It’s impossible not to consider how he’d sound speaking French.

Harry wonders if he’d sound more of a twat, or less of a twat speaking French. Probably less. French is quite…

Anyway.

Harry finds Malfoy as soon as he enters the Great Hall. The nervousness inflames out of nowhere, and he fumbles awkwardly whilst he decides whether he can get away with sitting on the Slytherin table. Malfoy looks at him from across the room like he’s said something incredibly stupid; a little surprised and a little judgemental. Eventually, McGonagall invites them both up onto the teachers’ table. It seems like it’s emptier than usual, though Harry can’t quite put his finger on who’s absent.

He and Malfoy sit on the far right end, bickering and playing childish tricks on each other like they haven’t grown up at all since being students. McGonagall doesn’t seem too surprised by this.

This Malfoy thing is still so weird.

Later that night, Harry receives an owl from McGonagall. He’s sat on the sofa in front of the fireplace, falling asleep with Maldovan Magical Mysteries on his face- he wasn’t getting anything remotely useful from it anyway- when he hears the familiar tap of beak-on-window.

He opens it by the window, unfurling the little, scrolled up note.

Good evening, Harry,

You may have noticed that Professor Hobbleworth wasn’t here this evening. Regrettably, he has had to resign from teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts with very little notice. I would be grateful if you could take over his lessons in his absence.

Until we hire another professor, of course.

Your first lesson is tomorrow morning at 10am, with the third years.

Kind regards,
Minerva

“You’re joking,” Harry mutters to himself. He rereads the note, shaking his head. And he feels that tornado feeling of conflict- torn between wanting to teach, not wanting to step on anyone’s toes, not wanting the responsibility, feeling the urge to help wherever he can, a nice dose of apprehension, imposter syndrome-

Turning the note over in this hand, he sees a little postscript appear in new ink.

You will find the syllabus on your desk first thing. Please don’t wander from the syllabus, Potter, for my own sanity.

He stares at it for a while longer. Then, he lets the hand holding the note drop to his side and heaves a great sigh.

000

In all the years that Draco has learned Defence Against the Dark Arts, he has never been inside this office, never climbed those stone steps to the small room at the back of the class. He is struck by this as he ascends the staircase, looks over the classroom below with a new pair of eyes. He distinctly remembers Lockheart drifting down to their level, a cocky smirk on his face that always made Draco, and everyone else, roll his eyes. Slytherins and Gryffindors found something in common, there.

Draco heard the news of Potter’s new position this morning and had to come and see for himself. He knocks on the door, and it’s strange to hear Potter’s voice saying ‘come in’, rather than a teacher. He is, technically, a teacher now, Draco has to remind himself. A foreign sense of comfort warms him at the idea; how mundane things are now. Potter and Malfoy, no longer trying to kill each other- rather, teaching at Hogwarts and learning to master their respective skills. Neither of them aurors or Death Eaters; nothing Romantic or exciting about it. How wonderfully, exceptionally normal it all seems.

Hobbleworth’s- Potter’s- office is small and sparse. While Draco never saw any of his other DADA teachers’ offices in their time- none of them bloody stayed long enough, he considers- Potter seems to have a significant lack of things. A few books on the vast bookshelves. A cupboard, doubtless hiding a boggart. One framed portrait hangs empty of its occupant, opposite his desk.

Harry is sitting behind his desk, strewn with students’ homework. He looks up at Draco with such a strong sense of relief at the distraction that it sends a spark of something unfamiliar through his chest. He doesn’t think anyone’s ever looked at him like that.

“How is it that you own almost nothing, and yet it’s still untidy?” Draco tries to say with disdain.

Harry doesn’t falter at the criticism. Instead he leans back and rubs his eyes with the heel of his hands, nudging his glasses up and thereby pushing his hair up into a silly quiff. “I’m still moving in. I’m having to nick some of the stuff from the library to make it look less miserably empty.” He flicks through some papers on his desk- there seems to be a note from McGonagall on the top of the pile, Draco can spot her handwriting from here- and he twists his lips in consideration at something that’s caught his eye. “It’s all pretty sudden. I only just got the syllabus this morning, and I just taught my first lesson. It’s...”

Harry huffs some hair out of his eyes. Draco smiles. There's something sort of endearing about him like this-

Anyway.

“What a difficult life you lead,” he drawls. Then, “Well, even if Hobbleworth had given you a handover period, you’re too much of a prat to listen to any advice anyone gives you. Can’t imagine it would have made a huge amount of difference.”

Harry laughs and points at him- you’ve got a point.

Draco looks up at the shelves and studies the names on their spines. Hogwarts: A History. Poltergeists and how to Appease Them. Herbal remedies for the Harshest Curse.

“McGonagall is giving me a few of Dumbledore’s things, too,” Harry continues more quietly.

Draco doesn’t have anything in response to this, so he gives a small nod of understanding. He can feel Harry’s eyes on him as he peruses, so he turns and gives him what ought to be a questioning look, but probably looks more like a snarl. Harry looks away and stands up, joining his side. Draco strokes the spine of one particular book. Reading a Patronus. He wordlessly takes it and opens it, turns the pages and studies the various illustrations. There must be every kind of creature in the book. And every single one has a description; a meaning behind each animal manifestation. A badger. Hedgehog. Dragon. Falcon. A falcon is one of the swiftest animals in the world. It does not lose sight of its true aim. Its nature suggests it is a hunter, a killer. But it is also free.

“What’s yours?” Draco asks quietly.

Harry doesn’t answer immediately. As if it is an intimate question. Which, Draco supposes it is. “A stag.”

He wandlessly finds the correct page. The book falls open in his hands. Stag. The stag is a symbol of bravery and nobility. It fights for what is right and for that which it loves. Though its antlers might be cut back, they always regrow; the stag is a bottomless pool of strength.

“Typical,” Draco says.

Harry snorts. There’s another pause as they both silently read through the pages. Siberian cat. The Siberian cat is small but strong. It is often underestimated but is one of the most skilled hunters in the world. It is, like most felines, unpredictable. Its particular style of protection is to provide a comforting aura. The Siberian cat is complex and contradictory.

“My dad’s was a stag too,” Harry says suddenly. Draco looks at him; he seems surprised that he admitted this. His lips twitch, fidget like he can’t decide whether he should speak or not.

“Your mother’s was a doe,” he supplies.

Harry looks really surprised now. “How did you know that?” He says it quietly, not without a small amount of accusation, as if Draco’s been sorting through his memories without his permission. They’ve both experienced it before, they both know it’s possible.

“Snape told me,” he explains, and he feels he should be defensive and angry at Harry’s question, but he’s not.

Harry’s face relaxes, and then there’s a look of sadness. Just for a moment.

Then he takes the book out of Draco’s hand and drops it loudly on a peeling leather chair. The noise breaks the delicate moment. Draco tuts at the action, though he’s quite pleased to change the tone.

“You can borrow that if you want. I’ve got a couple more about how to cast it too, although I think it’s better to learn through practice.”

“I have enough reading material on the subject to be getting on with,” Draco says. “Although , on second thoughts, I might borrow this, too, if that’s alright.”

“You’ve been reading about the patronus charm?” Harry asks, casting something wordlessly and shifting his desk to the side of the room to give them space.

Draco isn’t sure how to answer this at first. Harry looks at him when he notices the hesitation. “I tried to teach myself during 7th year. Found some things about it in the library.” I needed the company, the protection. But it never worked.

He’s grateful when Harry gives a small nod- not too dissimilar to the one Draco gave a little earlier, a kind of tacit acknowledgement that they don’t want to go down that path of conversation. Draco’s not sure when they stopped provoking each other and when they started actually understanding each other.

“So, you know the incantation and wand movements?”

“Yes. Well, I think I know all the necessary components, but I can’t quite…”

Harry nods knowingly. “It’s not your average charm. It’s seriously advanced magic, you can only really learn with practice and someone else to watch. It took me ages.”

Draco doesn’t believe him.

He leans against Harry’s desk, crosses his arms in front of him and waits. Harry correctly interprets this as an invitation to show him. So he casts, and a silver whisp of light curls from his wand and effortlessly takes the shape of the most beautiful, magnificent stag he’s ever seen. As soon as it manifests, it turns towards Harry almost questioningly, steps around him and scratches the ground. Then it faces Draco, looks at him, and his awe turns to anxiety. It’s giant antlers and blindingly white eyes are suddenly more intimidating.

When it steps slowly, fearlessly towards Draco, he stands up straight, arms unfolding, back straightening. He knows that he is somehow being measured, judged by this small part of Harry Potter’s mind. Harry, meanwhile, only watches in fascination as the stag seems to sniff him. Draco lets it, though he’s a bit terrified. Then it nips at the cuff of his shirt, and Draco yelps.

Harry laughs brightly, the sound drenched in pure amazement. “I’ve never seen him do this before!”

The stag turns away from Draco at the sound of his voice, walks towards Harry, and dissolves into nothing. The afterglow lasts for several seconds, and then the office seems darker and smaller than before.

“It tried to bite me,” Draco said in disbelief, and Harry laughed again, doubling over.

“Maybe he just saw you, figured you were a bit of a git and thought you deserved it?”

“I wasn’t even doing anything!” Draco complained.

“I think you just give off this really threatening, evil air. You know?”

Draco’s mouth falls open, and as soon as he realises, he closes it and tilts his chin up- a look well practised. “A bit tasteless, don’t you think?”

“Too soon?” He’s still smiling.

“Fuck off, Potter. And next time, control your pets.”

Harry doesn’t stop intermittently giggling at the event for the next few minutes. Meanwhile, Draco is actually trying to learn. Harry’s a truly terrible teacher- Draco sincerely hopes he doesn’t laugh at his students in the classroom. He follows his advice and tries to recall one of his happiest memories. It takes him a while to think of one, and all the while Harry gets bored of waiting and distracts him with stories of his DADA classes and bad stag related puns. When Draco eventually tries to cast the spell, it’s no surprise that nothing comes out at all. After a quarter of an hour, he doesn’t even produce a whisp.

“Bloody hell, Potter. Either you’re a useless teacher or this is never going to happen.”

“Neither,” Harry says simply. It’s unexpected when Harry takes Draco’s arm and bends it at the elbow like he’s trying to loosen it. “Relax. You’re not in the right headspace.”

He says it like it’s obvious. Like relaxing is something you can just do. Draco shakes his head at him in disbelief. “And what headspace is that?” he presses.

Harry ignores the sarcasm, stands behind him and shakes his shoulders lightly, as if it’ll make a blind bit of difference. Draco rolls his eyes, and ignores the flutter of surprise at the unexpected touch.

“Happy, Draco. Happy. Obviously.”

“I am happy,” he practically growls. Harry sighs dramatically.

“No, you’re stressed and pissed off.”

“Yes, at you. For being a lousy teacher. And I don’t understand why I shouldn’t be tense- this spell’s meant to be used when you’re surrounded by bloody dementors. Nothing particularly relaxing about that, is there?”

No, but by that point you’ll know how to find the right frame of mind to cast this spell. You need to learn to let happiness literally run through your veins. That’s where the magic comes from. If you can’t do that here, you can’t do that ‘surrounded by bloody dementors’. Alright?”

Draco changes his stance slightly, rolls his shoulders. Harry watches intently.

“Maybe if you’d stop distracting me. You’re being more silly than normal today.”

“I know. I’m doing it on purpose. To make you relax.”

Oh, Draco thinks. Well that makes sense, he considers, though he’d never say that aloud. He purses his lips, closes his eyes. Tries to imagine Christmas 1989. His family, for once, aren’t arguing. They’re eating dinner together and there’s a rare sense of familial affection amongst them. They’d all been drinking, of course, save Draco. At nine years old, he’d been amazed and awed by the relaxation of the moment.

He says the incantation. He tries to relax, bloody hell he does. But nothing comes out.

“For fuck’s sake!” He says, his shoulders slumping. “This is useless.” He falls into the chair behind Harry’s desk.

“No, it’s not. It’s a seriously hard spell, Draco, you need to keep-”

“I was practising all of 7th year, and it still never happened,” he argued.

Harry looks like he’s getting frustrated now. Anger sparks within him at the idea that Harry is somehow expecting him to do better. The fucking cheek of it-

“You’re a really brilliant wizard, Malfoy. You can’t just give up because one particularly hard spell’s thrown a hurdle at you.”

That comes as a surprise. He didn’t realise Potter thought of him that way. He never felt particularly accomplished himself, though he liked to pretend he was for appearances.

Harry’s square jaw is locked in irritation.

“Not so relaxed now, are you,” Draco mumbles.

“Look, it took me months to cast a corporeal spell. Took me hours to get anything at all, and that was with Professor Lupin.” Draco looks away. “I’m telling you the truth,” he continues, somehow able to read what he was thinking. “I had a boggart to help me and everything. Didn’t work.”

“Is this meant to make me feel better?”

Harry stalls. “…Yes?”

“Well, you can stop there. I’m not comparing myself to you.”

“Who are you comparing yourself to, then?”

And there again, Harry seems to read his thoughts before they even cross Draco’s mind. Draco doesn’t look at him. The rain outside, falling down the stained glass window, is suddenly a lot more interesting. “You taught your friends how to cast corporeal patronuses in 5th year.”

Neither of them speak for a moment. Harry rounds the desk, sits in front of him, hands gripping the wood beside his hips. There are moments when he seems to try and say something, but decides not to. Draco finds that Harry does this a lot these days. Before, he never used to hesitate before throwing insults at him. He certainly didn’t hesitate in 6th year, and he has the scars to prove it.

And yet, now, Harry seems to pick his words with care- almost painfully. There’s a line between his brows as he fumbles for the right thing to say. It should anger Draco that he’s treading around him so carefully, but somehow, it doesn’t. His green eyes are focused on the shelves in front of him. Draco realises then that he doesn’t think they’ve ever actually been so physically close to each other as this before. There’s always been a significant distance, even when they were fighting. Now, Draco can see the faint freckles on his brown skin.

“My friends… even Hermione and Ron. Before the war, their lives were… their lives were pretty simple. They had families. Happy upbringings.” Harry swallows. He’s telling him something important. For a second, Draco’s overcome by the pressure of the moment, and he wants Harry to stop. “Neville was the one who struggled most. And, it’s not because he’s a bad wizard. Without him, we wouldn’t be here, you know? It’s… it’s because, this kind of magic. You need to let yourself be overcome with the simplest, purest joy there is. And for someone like Neville, and me…” and you, Draco supplies in his mind. “Our lives haven’t been so happy. Or simple.

“Do you know what my memory is?” Harry says after a moment, and Draco doesn’t shake his head, because of course he doesn’t know. “It’s not even a memory. It can’t be; I would have been one years old, at the oldest. It’s my parents. Before they died. Draco, my memory isn’t even a memory. The happiest thing I can think of in my life didn’t even happen.”

Draco looks at him, but when Harry’s eyes find his, he looks back at the stained glass window. It takes a moment for him to find the right words.

"That's the most depressing thing I've ever heard."

Harry's face morphs quickly between shock, a frown, a flickering smile. And then a bark of laughter that looks impossible to hold back.

"Yep, miserable bastard, me."

Another pause. Then quietly, “Why are you telling me this?”

Harry sighs. “I don’t know. Maybe because… I know how hard it is to cast this spell. I know that it feels impossible for someone like us.” Draco is momentarily amazed by this. Someone like us. “But when you do eventually master this, you’ll be better than anyone else. Happy memories… happy moments. They stand out against all the rest of the shit. The good stuff is stronger with contrast. You know?”

Draco thinks he might know. He thinks he knows how to find the light within the dark- he’s been practising that for three years now. He also knows how hard it is grasp a hold of it.

“This might take a while, then,” he says.

They both look at each other and laugh.

It’s so simple a moment. There is so much understanding in that moment, no words needed, that Draco smiles, lets the warmth of it wash over him.

It comes to him all at once. He understands now why words alone won’t do.

“I know what my memory is,” he says, after they’ve both fallen quiet. It barely sounds like his own voice.

Harry blinks in surprise. He nods and stands up again, stands back to let Draco through to the middle of the room. Draco feels different now. He feels something hum through him, feels that charge. He raises his wand, the words come out, and it’s effortless.

The silver light pours out of him- his wand. Though, it feels like it’s coming from the tips of his fingers. It feels endless. It’s like a shield, expands until it curves around him and sends a thin, silvery light through the rafters of the room. Harry is watching, and Draco wants him to. He draws his magic from the look in his eyes.

It’s not long before the realisation hits him. Shame crawls up his throat, almost chokes him, and the light is snuffed out, balls in on itself and becomes nothing. His fingers grip his wand.

“Draco! That was amazing!”

He nods his head, registering the words but unable to reply.

“What were you thinking of? Draco, that was incredible. You went straight from casting nothing to filling the whole room with magic-”

“It was nothing,” he says quickly.

“Nothing? Give yourself some credit, mate. Try again!”

He wants to. That hum of energy is still there. But he also doesn’t want to. He can’t. “Maybe next time. I’m actually pretty tired after that,” he lies.

Harry looks like he understands, but he doesn’t, Draco knows he doesn’t. At least he knows not to press him again about what he was thinking about.

Instead, he opens his desk drawer, and takes out a selection of chocolates. There’s so much choice, that Draco unthinkingly takes the mint chocolate from the pile. He doesn’t know why Harry is feeding him sugar- he may be feigning exhaustion, but there haven’t been any dementors involved to suck the energy out of him. And yet he doesn’t complain when they both tuck into the stash- confiscated from students’ desks, he explains. It seems a little harsh, Draco considers, and out of character for Harry, but apparently it was Hobbleworth’s doing, not his.

They talk. They talk about anything and everything except dementors and memories and patronuses. That charge in his blood doesn’t disappear. Every dry joke he makes, every insult he throws Harry’s way makes him laugh. Makes him smile. It’s so simple.

When they go to dinner together, Draco tries to think of another memory. Another pure, happy memory that he can use. Anything but the one he chose.

Anything but the feeling of making Harry Potter smile.

000

Harry thinks he might be getting the hang of this.

He’d been a teacher in 5th year, after all. And he’d been teaching bits and bobs here and there after that, too. It’s not unfamiliar to him. The thing that he’s only just about getting the hang of, though, is the rules. He’d never really thought very hard about syllabuses or teacher policies. Obviously they exist, it makes perfect sense that they do, but he’d never had much reason to consider them. Oh yes, curriculums and pedagogy and school rules are things he’s having to learn about now.

It worries me that you didn’t know the school rules before now,” Draco had said yesterday, after his third lesson with the second years. They’d all tried to convince him that giving homework over three sides of parchment long was against the school rules, and he hadn’t believed them, but there was that sense that he should probably check.

So they were pulling my leg. Just checking. Don’t want to look like a total tool.”

“You already do, all the time, Potter. And yes, they were joking. Obviously. Good lord, how are you going to survive as a teacher if you can’t see that- you’re too trusting.”

Draco’s- Malfoy’s. Malfoy’s words float around his head as he leans against his desk at the front of the classroom. The third years wander in slowly, chattering to themselves. There’s three girls gathered around one desk whispering about something, smirking to themselves and looking about, as if to check no one’s listening; that terrifying, teenage thing where you can tell they’re gossiping about someone. There’s a line of boys talking at an incomprehensible speed about a new board game that came out recently that one of them got for Christmas- they’re referencing characters and people and things that he’s never heard of. All of it echoes off the vaulted stone ceilings. A few kids comment loudly on the fact that the desks have been pushed to the sides of the room, making way for the day’s activity.

“Sir, what’re we doing today?”

Harry goes over to close a window, the view outside entirely obscured by the clinging mist. “You’ll see in a minute, John.”

“What’s that behind the curtain?”

“I’m not going to tell you, am I,” Harry replies easily. The banter is always pretty entertaining with the younger years. “It’s covered for a reason.”

“Is it dangerous?”

“Deadly.”

Harry’s intentionally delaying the big reveal, just to wind them up. He fusses with some paperwork on his desk, listens to the pupils muttering and making complaintitive noises.

“Deadly?!”

“Sir! What the f- flippendo?”

“He’s joking, oh my God, obviously.

“Sir, sir, what is it? What’s behind the-”

“Mr Potter- have you ever played World of the Warlocks? It’s literally amazing, I can list all the characters, they’re-”

“Alright then!” Harry announces, clapping his hands. The pupils form a little group at the back of the classroom and quieten down. Some of the kids continue to whisper to each other. “Alright. Today we have a really important lesson, which- Sam, mate, watch it, or I’m confiscating your remembrall for the rest of the day. It’s an important lesson that all the third years get, and now it’s your turn.”

“Oh my God, sir!” Atticus explodes, and starts practically vibrating from excitement. “Is it the boggart lesson?”

The class erupts into excitement. And Harry would love to be able to do that thing where he stands at the front of the class and waits silently, with a raised eyebrow, sort of like how Snape used to do. But he doesn’t think he can, and he doesn’t actually want to be that teacher either. Instead, he laughs at how excitable thirteen year olds are.

“I dunno,” he shrugs, hands in his cloak pockets. His cloak which is open, showing his cable-knit jumper, which is actually against the teacher's dress-code, but who cares. “Is it the boggart lesson? I dunno.”

Alana Halloran makes a pathetic whining noise. “Sir, you’re torturing us!”

“Don’t whine in my classroom Alana, it’s literally the most annoying noise in the world,” Harry says. “You’re really not going to get the boggart lesson today if you can’t all settle down.”

Now that’s a threat. Because, as illogical as it is, the kids love this lesson. Or at least, they’re all incredibly excited about it, in a morbid way. A magical creature that makes you battle your biggest monster? A magical creature that embarrasses the people you like least, by showing everyone what they’re most scared of? Even better.

Which is why he says, “If any of you are only just deciding now that you want to skip this out and do boggart training one-to-one, then the list is over on my desk for you to sign your name, it’s not too late. No one is being forced to do this now with everyone to see. And by the way, before people start to gossip about the students who aren’t here right now, there isn’t anything wrong in wanting to train one-to-one. Like I said last lesson, you actually have more time to learn, and you get to know the incantation better than here with twenty other people gawping at you. It’s a sensible way of doing it, and it’s probably what I would have done myself in third year if I’d been given the option.”

It isn’t, actually. He would have told himself to grip up and do it anyway, even if the whole class did see his boggart turn into Voldemort. But that doesn’t mean he’s proud of how stubborn he is.

“All you need to do is write up your name on the parchment and head over to the Great Hall to do your homework, where Professor McGonagall will be waiting for you. No fuss.

“So… without any further ado-”

He wandlessly flicks his wrist and the curtain drops.

The wardrobe.

There’s a bubble of chatter- a few kids look nervous, most of them excited. One of them, very notably, looks ashy with anxiety. Harry racks his brain to recall the child’s name; he stands there and tries to rifles through his internal register of pupils, pretending that he’s simply waiting quietly for everyone to shut up.

Aquarius! That’s it. Aquarius Celeste-Star. He’s friends with some of the more precocious Slytherins, one of whom is Tallulah- the second year who’s favourite activity is asking Draco questions every five seconds. Aquarius is pale, straight black hair falling down his back in a pony-tail like a mirror. He laughs a lot when he's with his friends but doesn’t speak that much, choosing to listen before engaging. He’s also very clever, but doesn’t tend to show it in the classroom; it’s his homework that gives it away. It’s insightful and emotionally sophisticated, way beyond his age. That, and the attentive look in his eye that isn’t there today. Today, he just looks like he’s filled with dread, staring wide-eyed at the wardrobe.

“Right, so, there’s a particular spell that helps us overpower a boggart.”

Atticus sticks his hand up. He may be annoying, but he’s also annoyingly smart. “Ridikulus!”

“Nice one,” Harry nods.

He knocks on the wardrobe and it shakes ominously. The pupils take a step back in unison; some of them giggle nervously.

“Does anyone want to tell me why that spell works?” There’s a few frowning faces now. He paces around the wardrobe and continues, “Let’s think of it this way: what does the spell do?”

“It turns the boggart into something ridiculous.”

“Right. And what does a boggart do?”

“It… turns into your worst fear?”

“Yeah. It takes shapes. It shifts into whatever fear is on your mind. So, even though it’s scary, it’s sort of relying on you. Can someone explain what I mean by that?”

There’s a pause. Harry leans against the wardrobe, knocks a jaunty beat against the wardrobe and gets a pissed-off rattle in response. There’s a proper laugh from the class this time.

“So, like…” A nervous but earnest boy starts, who hasn’t quite had his growth spurt yet. “So, if, like, you aren’t there in front of the boggart, it doesn’t have anything to turn into. It’s only there because of your mind.”

“Yes! Yes, you’ve hit the nail on the head,” Harry points at them enthusiastically, and the boy smiles self-consciously. “It’s not just because you’re there physically, it’s because you’re thinking it into existence. So, a boggart isn’t just about reading your fears, it’s about reinforcing it, making you think about it more, giving it more weight. That’s why it’s dangerous. That and, you know, if your worst fear is, I dunno… a dragon or something. Well, then that’s not great for anyone. But mostly, it’s the reinforcing fear thing.

“Right, shall we get going then?” He announces cheerily, and everyone looks a bit more nervous now. “The wand action is really simple, we did it last week but let’s recap.” He demonstrates, and out of habit, the class do the same, taking their wands out. “The incantation, though- that’s the important thing. Say it with confidence. Even if you don't feel confident. The whole point of ridikulus though is the fake-it-till-you-make-it thing.”

Atticus sticks up his hand. Harry points at him to ask his question, just as the engraved oak door of the classroom creaks open.

It’s Draco. He’s slipping into the classroom in a way that, a few years ago, Harry would have described as ‘oily’. Now, it just seems polite. He doesn’t want to interrupt. And yet his eyes find Harry immediately. And that does something to him. It lights something in his chest like a burning flint beneath a pile of leaves. He can feel it smoking.

Anyway.

“... even if you don’t feel it?”

Atticus has posed his question Harry stalls. He can’t believe he just let himself get distracted by Malfoy. Then, “Uh, sorry Atticus, hang on- Mr. Malfoy?”

Draco’s expression flickers between a series of emotions. “Don’t mind me, Potter. Professor McGonagall wants me to check that you’re not doing anything silly.”

The pupils laugh, delighted by this interlude, and Draco smiles. When Draco’s teasing shifted from cruel to friendly, Harry isn’t sure.

“Can’t guarantee that,” he replies easily, and the pupils watch their interaction with fascination. “You’re very welcome to observe, obviously- um, we’re doing the boggart lesson today, Malfoy. You remember that, don’t you?”

He twists his lips into something conflicted. They’d both had the same DADA class in third year, so he’ll also remember that Harry ruined it by summoning a boggart-dementor. Everyone had to redo the class, except for Harry, and they all sort of hated him for it. Not that anyone said as such (apart from Draco, of course) but he could imagine they did.

“Yes,” Draco replies. “Pavarti Patel got a giant snake and turned it into an even more terrifying jack-in-a-box.”

Harry looks at him. He looks back. And something relaxes in him. He’s nervous to have Draco observing- he’d been warned by McGonagall that he’d come along and learn a few things from his fellow trainee teacher- but he mostly just feels at peace. Excited, nervous and comfortable all at once. How weird.

It probably doesn’t mean anything.

Neither does his suddenly dry mouth, and the warmth that’s spreading in his chest, kindling fast. Neither does the fact that he’s recently been turning into the clumsy fool he only usually is when he fancies someone-

Ok, no, we’re not unpacking that right now, or ever, Harry thinks to himself, instantly blaming Hermione for this. He takes a deep breath, tearing his gaze away. “Right, go on then, Atticus, you were saying?”

Atticus fumbles awkwardly, trying to remember what he’d said, his mates elbowing him. Then, “So, uh, if, like, you don’t actually feel confident at all and you’re really scared because your boggart has turned into a scorpion- or something, whatever. Even if you’re faking it, it works?”

“Oh. Yeah, absolutely. Think about it,” Harry starts, “When you’ve had a nightmare and you’re looking around your room trying to convince yourself it was just a dream, or, you’re worrying about something but you know that worrying won’t help- you sort of have to tell yourself that it’s fine. Even if you don't feel fine. You have to tell yourself that it's just a dream.”

“So you’re just sort of, pretending you’re not scared?”

“Not- quite,” Harry nods slowly, understanding the confusion. “It’s more telling yourself, ‘OK, this is something I’m scared of, that’s what the boggart's found in my head. That’s fine, 'cause I can think of what I want and that boggart is just going to have to deal with it.’ Do you see the difference? There’s nothing weak in being scared. There’s strength, though, in recognising you’re scared and helping yourself through it. When you’re thinking of the funny mental image that we discussed last week, that’s what you’re doing. You’re telling the fear to sod off. Are we all sort of on the same page? Kind of?”

The pupils nod. Honestly, he has no idea whether they’re just doing that because they don’t want to admit that they don’t understand at all. But the only way they’ll get it is if they actively do it, anyway. Draco, meanwhile- he’s wearing a pensive sort of smile as he stands at the back, arms crossed in front of his chest. Watching Harry with intense interest.

Harry clears his drying throat.

“Alright. Line up.”

They do. He waves his hand and Lupin’s old vinyl record begins to play a jaunty jazz tune.

Atticus jumps to the front, followed by his gang of mates, then Aquarius, then the three gossipy girls.

“Single file, girls,” Harry warns, and the three of them split up, reluctantly.

Atticus slaps both of his cheeks, psyching himself up. “Let’s do this, sir.”

“Right. Atticus, what’s the incantation?”

“Ridikulus.”

“And the boggart takes shape of your fear because?”

“It senses it in your mind.”

“So the reason you can change it into something is because…”

“...I…? I can respond to what I’m scared of?”

“Yes- and the boggart only has power because?”

“Because of me.”

“So who’s actually in control here?”

“I am.”

Draco’s pensive expression is still there. He’s nodding slowly to himself. Harry puts a handle on the wardrobe door.

“Let’s do this, then. Wand at the ready.”

Atticus takes position. He opens the door. And barrelling out comes a giant scorpion.

The class screams, a few of them jumping backwards. The scorpion is that horrible creamy translucent colour, it’s tail extending high for attack, taller than the wardrobe. It’s legs clatter against the stone floor, and Harry takes out his wand.

“Whew. Look at that big lump,” he remarks nonchalantly. “He’s a big lad, isn’t he?”

Atticus makes a teenage boy, voice-breaking scream that reminds him immediately of Ron. He takes three shuddering breaths, like he’s about to launch into a coughing fit. And just as Harry’s about to cast the spell himself- better safe than sorry- the boy screams, “RIDIKULUS!”

And just like that, the scorpion spins around and shifts into something entirely different- something that Harry doesn’t immediately recognise, because it’s something Muggle, something that he’s never seen in the Wizarding world. It’s a little bird on a spring; the scorpion tail turns into a wooden beak, and the body turns into that of a bird toy, springing backwards and forwards and gently pecking at the flagstone floor.

“NICE one, Atticus!” Atticus doesn’t seem to hear Harry’s words. He’s a bit shaky, and his wand is still brandished. “Back of the line, mate- next!”

Up next is his friend Lucy, who’s greatest fear is broccoli. With fangs and clawed hands. Which she turns into a happy, dancing cloud of candy floss. Honestly, it’s nice to see that this generation of kids have fears as simple as broccoli, and it gets Harry giggling.

Draco is watching the class. Except, he’s not just watching the class- he’s watching Harry. His eyes dart away immediately, a self-conscious little eye roll like he’s remembered he needs to be judgemental and sneering. Arms folded across his chest. A dark silver waistcoat, made out of that velvety material that shines. It complements his skin-tone. Sometimes, Draco looks sort of pasty, like he did in 6th form; sometimes, like now, he looks like he’s been carved from marble. Standing in the misty half-light of the January morning, hair swept back and-

“No, no no,” Harry mutters quietly to himself. He’s returning his attention to his students, because he doesn’t want Kirstie Bottleswain to have fireworks explode in her face.

He also doesn’t want to think about the feeling in his chest that’s turned into a wildfire. It’s a heat that’s been building, smouldering slowly for a while. He noticed it first after their duel, and he figured he’d be over it by the beginning of this term, but then he found Draco on the train and he was nervously spilling Bertie Bott’s Every Flavoured Beans everywhere, and he was teaching him how to cast a patronus and learning how to make him laugh and enjoying every second and feeling it light up parts of him that he never knew were there until he was touching his arm and correcting his wand-stance, and he knew something had changed but he just-

He didn’t want to think about it. He supposes it’s that stubborn streak everyone keeps telling him about.

“Alright Bottleswain, try and enunciate a bit louder next time- good job though- next-”

Aquarius sidesteps inconspicuously out of the queue and shuffles quickly up to him. Harry looks over his shoulder to check that Suzanna Thimble-Topp isn’t going to fall down a cliff edge- nope, she’s turned it into a paddling pool. Nice going.

“Sir?”

“What’s up, Aquarius- could you wait just two seconds-”

But no, it’s fine. The class aren’t going to set themselves on fire, because Draco’s standing at the front, wand at the ready. He gives Harry a nod of acknowledgement, greyish eyes giving away a smile that his lips won’t. And then he turns back with a little swoop of his cloak. Bloody hell, he likes to swoop his cloak, doesn’t he?

Harry clears his throat. Looks down at his third year student, who’s fiddling with the hem of his cloak.

“What’s going on, then?”

Aquarius opens his mouth, shuts it, shrugs. Stares at his fascinating cloak hem.

“You don’t have to do this today in front of everyone, if that’s what you’re worried about. You’ve just got to sign the parchment on my desk, and Professor McGonagall will see it.”

The boy blinks rapidly and twists his lips. Nods jerkily.

“Why’s this just coming up now?”

He shrugs. Harry quickly checks on the rest of the kids- yep, not on fire yet. Draco’s drawling some command that they’re actually listening to. Which is kind of amazing. He’s also threatening them to shut up or he’ll throw them in the dungeon, but all the same-

“Alright. Well, you don’t have to explain, obviously. But if you need to chat to someone, just let me know, Aquarius.”

The pupil’s dark eyes meet Harry’s briefly, before darting away. He opens his mouth, closes it, tries again. And then:

“Aquaria. My name’s Aquaria.” A pause, a loud swallow. “I’m a girl.”

Harry blinks. He’s filled with absolute horror- has he been calling this child the wrong thing this entire time? Why didn’t anyone tell him? Who misspells a child’s name on a register? How could McGonagall have fucked up so-

And then it settles on him.

Harry nods. Smiles. “Got it. Aquaria. Thank you. For letting me know.”

And then it settles further; the only reason she’s come to him and told him this is because she didn’t want to come out in front of the class. This class has forced her to confront this, perhaps before she was ready, and Harry suddenly remembers the last time he stood in front of a boggart. It had turned into a closet.

And it had taken him months to figure out why a boggart would turn into a closet rather than hide inside one.

Aquaria nods quickly, eyes darting around the room, and heads towards the desk.

“Hang on- Aquaria?”

She lingers, looking a little reluctant.

“I feel like I owe you an apology. For putting you in this position. This is an important class, and all our students need to learn this stuff, but. I’m still sorry, for what it’s worth.”

The girl looks a little horrified. “S-sir, it’s fine, I know I could’ve done the one-to-one class with the Headmistress. I just, didn’t really realise what would pop up until I got here today and sort of. Just, like, realised.”

Harry huffs a little laugh and nods slowly. “Yeah. Yeah, I get that. A lot of this stuff is subconscious. You know, the first time I came across a boggart- in this lesson, actually- it was terrifying. Because, I absolutely thought that it’d be Voldemort. And then it wasn’t, it was a dementor.” He sees Aquaria’s face. “Which, yeah, isn’t much better, I see that. My point is, it’s fair enough.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Alright, mate, off you go. Just make sure to sign your name so the Headmistress expects you.”

“Yes, Professor Potter, thank you, sir.”

Harry watches her skip anxiously over to the desk to sign her name down, before picking up her books and heading out. She throws a little wave over her shoulder before closing the door behind her.

It makes him smile again. He hopes that went OK. He hopes he said the right thing. He hopes-

“Potter, get over here, your children are getting snake scales everywhere.”

Draco calls out to him, says this without even turning around, rather, waving an imperious hand in the air for Harry to come over. Which he does. Not just because sort of finds it hilarious when Draco acts like this, but also because he realises that he’s right- there are snake scales everywhere. It looks like Pandora Rabinowitz’s worst fear is a snake, too.

Harry takes Draco’s side, hands in his pockets and a satisfied sigh as he watches Pandora transform her boggart into a row of cute little ducklings.

“This is going OK, isn’t it?”

Draco affects an unimpressed expression that Harry’s learned to see through. In fact, he’s learned to see through it all. And he-

Hang on. Since when did he start thinking of him as Draco?

“Yes, an overwhelming success. Only three of the students are traumatised.”

Harry laughs, rubs his neck nervously. “Yeah, this class is brutal.”

They watch the class’ progress. They barely need to interject, only offering the occasional piece of advice to enunciate or hold a firmer stance.

“Potter.”

“Mm.”

There’s a pause. Harry turns to look at Draco, who’s clasped his hands in front of him, perfectly poised. His expression is incredibly still. Harry finds it fascinating how Draco can switch from expressions of ridiculous panic, to looking this calm and composed. There’s something about it that fills him with a new sense of affection for him.

Harry likes this feeling. Maybe it’s wrong, but fuck it. He sits in it and lets it surround him.

“What are you teaching after this?” Draco eventually asks. Harry tries to answer, but Draco interrupts- like he wants to get the words out before he changes his mind. “Now that lessons are almost over for the week, I was going to do some marking.”

Harry blinks and fumbles.

Meanwhile, Olivier Sanderson’s boggart is a broomstick, and it’s trying to lift him up the floor. Fear of heights, he’s guessing. “You’re in charge here, Olivier. Remember the incantation.”

“Ridikulus!”

The broom turns into a miniature pony. The class erupts into a chorus of ‘aaaaah!’s.

“Go on, Malfoy- what-?”

Draco sighs, seeming very put-upon. “I’m going to be marking, Potter, and I wouldn’t say no to some company.” He twitches his lips, looks pointedly in the other direction.

A smile grows naturally. Honestly, the more he spends his time around Draco, the more he realises he can’t control how much he smiles. “Oh, you wouldn’t say no, would you? That’s. Wow, how could I possibly decline such an invitation?”

Draco glares at him. “Shut up.”

“I really feel warm and fuzzy inside. Really feels like you want me there.”

“I said shut up, Potter,” Draco snarls, looking wide eyed and flustered as all Hell. “This friendship of ours is hideous and wrong and I should never have asked.”

Harry laughs, a satisfied little cackle. He’s always enjoyed winding Malfoy up, and that hasn’t changed.

The miniature pony trots happily around them. None of the pupils seem ready to say goodbye to it just yet; Harry and Draco watch the class pet it.

“Would you say no to marking back at my place? I still have some Christmas chocolate to finish off.”

And for some reason, that makes Draco speechless. Harry can see the cogs whirring, his eyes scanning Harry’s face for- something. It makes him feel seen. It makes him feel good. And then Draco collects himself again. Blinking his silent conflict into submission. Harry marvels at how blonde his eyelashes look at the ends. “I was thinking. Actually. That I have some decent whiskey that needs finishing off. If you felt like you could stomach coming down to Slytherin territory.”

Ah. So that’s what’s got Draco’s wand in a knot; they’ve done marking and butterbeer parties at Harry’s a few times now, but this is Draco inviting him to his place. That, for some reason, makes Harry a bit nervous. The excited kind of nervous.

“Yeah,” he says, before he can think too hard. “Yeah, alright. I’ll bring the chocolates with me.”

A smile flickers across his face, and Harry watches Draco battle with it before giving in. Ducking his head almost bashfully. It’s something pretty special.

He leads the rest of the lesson with that smile in his mind and with Draco sat silently at the back of the classroom. Harry thinks it’s a testament to his good teaching that he can finish the class without spontaneously combusting into bashful flames.

Chapter Text

Harry thinks about Draco. He thinks about him a lot.

He thinks about his grey eyes watching. He thinks about how, not that long ago, feeling Draco staring would have made him furious. That foul, loathsome, evil little cockroach. But now it’s something different, something changed, they have changed, and now things between them have changed.

And he thinks about Draco in his study, practising the patronus charm. He thinks about his eyes closed, diving into that deep, cool well of magic that Harry has seen before in the Room of Requirement. The glow of white light he conjured, the slack look of surprise on his face. The way he avoided his gaze. The way his lips parted, his eyebrows raised, like he might cry, like he might smile, like he couldn’t decide which. His cloak billowing with the waves of light. He thinks about what they shared in his office that day; the vulnerability and the falling apart at the seams.

Harry sits in the common room and thinks of this, instead of listening to McGonagall talk during their staff meeting.

“... dementors. As ever, of course, no students are allowed in the Forbidden Forest. But it is especially dangerous these days.”

Harry frowns, and finally begins to listen.

Professor Flitwick chips in: “Minerva, why don’t we cast them away? Surely a large group of us could send them back to Azkaban.”

Sitting up straight in his seat, Harry catches Draco’s gaze, and they hold it.

“I’m afraid it’s not anybody’s choice, Filius. Azkaban has seen rather an… overpopulation, over the past five years. The dementors have increased drastically in numbers, rather overcompensating, and now, without enough food-”

“They’re spreading,” Filius finishes.

The Prophet…”, Slughorn trails off.

“Is nonsense, as we all know, quite right, Horace.” Minverva gives him a hard stare. “Whatever the tabloids might say, we all know, of course, that the Death Eaters haven’t escaped. The dispersing of dementors is a sign of food shortage and nothing more.”

“Nothing more,” one of the new Quidditch teachers mutters, unconvinced.

Harry never imagined how bitchy the staffroom could get- not until he became a teacher. It seems that people have differing views, regarding what The Prophet has been spouting. Harry’s been ignoring it, as per usual. But he’s heard through the grape-vine that there are articles about the rise in dementor activity outside of Azkaban; and that there are rumours of certain Death Eaters escaping, the dementors following them.

Draco’s knuckles are white as his hands clasp each other tightly.

“Now, as I was saying,” McGonagall continues wearily. “There is a rise in dementors in the Forbidden Forest. There have always been one or two roaming about there, as we all know. However, there seems to be a fair few flocking now. I believe they have been drawn here because of the lowered school defences, and the large population of residents at the school.”

“Quite the food resource,” Sprout laughs bitterly.

“Professor- Minerva,” Harry corrects himself. He fights the urge to put up his hand. “Is there anything we can do about it? Why is it that we can’t cast them away?”

“We have tried, Harry,” Minverva answers. The staff have arranged their chairs in a circle, McGonagall nearest the pinboard- with student profiles, pictures of pupils with toothy grins and huffing hair out of their eyes. “But there isn’t anywhere to send them. Try as we might, they simply return to our land. Until Azkaban correct the issues with the overpopulation and the over-breeding of dementors, there’s nothing we can do. Apart from making sure none of the students enter the Forest. They know, at least, not to approach the schools.”

“For now.”

It’s Draco who mutters this. Everyone stares. Draco looks incredibly uncomfortable with this, realising his mistake, before sitting up too-straight in his chair and lifting up his chin. “Professor- if there are rumours of Death Eaters escaping Azkaban, if there are dementors plaguing the Forbidden Forest, we need to increase our efforts in rebuilding the castle defences. We can’t risk… anything.”

There’s the rumble of muttering amongst the teachers. Harry tries to catch his eye again; Draco’s staring at his hands.

McGonagall takes a long even breath; amazingly, she seems to be smiling a little to herself. “Quite so, Mr Malfoy. Quite so. I can assure you however, that nobody will be getting into this school who shouldn’t- if, that is, anybody were to have broken out of Azkaban. Which, I am certain, they have not.”

The subject topic moves on. The meeting drags on for a little while longer. Draco sits across from him, leg folded neatly over the other, dragonhide brogues glinting unnaturally (the smart toff). Harry can see the giant pendulum of the clock outside swinging past the window. It’s hypnotising.

More dementors in the Forbidden Forest. It doesn’t feel like before, it doesn’t feel like how it did during the war- but it’s not good, either. Things are still unsettled. They will be for a while. And if the tabloids really have been spouting shit about Azkaban break-outs, then people are in danger of being herded by scaremongering. Harry knows that if there were any truth in it, he would have heard something from Hermione and Ron, who are both working from within the Ministry. But there’s still danger in people like Skeeter.

Draco must be feeling like shit right now. No doubt Lucius Malfoy’s name is floating around in these articles. Even if he isn’t, talk of Death Eaters is bound to bring back some bad memories. It takes Harry aback to think of that; he’d spent all of 5th year to 7th year worrying about Death Eaters. He’d seen Lucius Malfoy at the graveyard, the day it all really turned for the worst. But he’d never thought about how it would have been to be the son of a Death Eater. To be in Draco’s position, embroiled in all of that. Not even when Skeeter scrawled Draco’s name all over her articles.

Draco’s foot bounces a little during the meeting.

At the end of it all, Harry waits at the door for Draco. He’s pleased to see that some of the other members of staff are making an effort with him, now- Draco’s talking with the new Quidditch coach, and it seems to be pleasant, if not boring, small talk.

When they catch up, Draco is tense.

“You alright?” Harry asks pointlessly, feeling immediately stupid.

Draco just looks straight ahead. Trademark Malfoy chin tilted upwards, shoulders taut. “No, Potter. Not particularly.”

They walk. Harry spots one of the bricks in the wall trying to wrestle itself out. Whilst rebuilding the castle after the war, the teachers had tried to use the same old bricks, and mend what was left. Old places harbour more magic than renovated buildings or new-builds. However, it seems that some of the bricks feel that they’re in the wrong place, and occasionally, one will find a chunk of limestone trying to shimmy itself out from its wall.

Harry ignores the battle between Filch and the unsatisfied brick, and fiddles with his wand. “Let’s grab a drink. I don't care that it's a week night, let's get a drink.”

Grabbing a drink isn’t new anymore. But it still sort of feels like it. It fills Harry with a nervous excitement every time he suggests it.

Draco sighs morosely. “I’m not feeling very cheerful, Potter.”

“Neither am I. It’s a Monday and I just suggested a drink.”

Draco laughs. He laughs. “Yes, well…”

“There’s a shit match on tonight between the Chorley Charmers and Salford Salamanders. Might be a laugh.”

“I do actually have work to do.”

“Same. Let’s ignore it and listen to some shit Quidditch.”

Draco smirks, and side-eyes him. “And drink whisky.”

“And drink whisky, obviously.”

There’s a moment where Draco seems to mull this over, dragging the moment out as they walk down the corridor. They reach the junction where they either turn left for the dungeons, or right for Gryffindor.

And then Draco nods slowly in concession. His eyes meet Harry’s. And Harry realises that this might be more stressful for him than he anticipated. The invitation was meant to cheer Draco up, but now he’s thinking that it was maybe also his subconscious trying to get Draco to bunk off work and hang out with him. Because-

“Cool. Good. Brilliant,” Harry babbles a little, before shutting up. He earns a judgemental smile from Draco for that. Alright there, Potter? that look says. And if Harry’s being honest with himself- no. No, he isn’t.

***

Neither one of them are on duty tonight, so they’ve been quite liberal with the whisky. Draco has come over to his place a handful of times now, but they’ve always been modest with how much they drink. Tonight is a little different.

Tomi Gyasi catches the quaffle just in the nick of time there, with Sam Sanderson coming up the rear with some incredible speed- look at that, John, I haven’t seen a game like this from Chorely in years.”

“Absolutely, they’re looking really hopeful this year, perhaps it has something to do with their new captain? A bit of young blood just to shake things up- ooh! And there’s Sanderson with a lovely tackle there-”

The radio crackles like a fire, or like an old, dusty record. It makes Harry feel warm. The whisky is probably helping too. He’s leaning against the arm of his sofa, toes wiggling. Draco is draped more artfully than he is, legs stretched out in front of him under the coffee table. The orange side light casts brandy coloured shadows across his pale face. He’s unbuttoned the top of his shirt; he can see the well of his clavicle. He looks older these days- in a good way. In a relaxed way.

Harry pokes him with a socked foot. Draco is distracted from his daydreaming, sends Harry an irritated little frown. He tries to shove his foot away, and Harry kicks back, pressing his heel into Draco’s hand.

“You’re such a child, would you-? Stop-?” And as cross as Draco sounds at first, he starts to laugh. His shoulders slump in resignation, a weary smile on his face. He allows Harry to poke him with his foot until it sneaks closer to his face, at which point Draco swats at him furiously. “For fuck’s sake, stop! What has gotten into you?”

“Whisky,” Harry replies easily. And then he cackles.

“I can see that.”

They fall quiet again, listening to the Quidditch. Harry puts his feet back on the sofa, where they belong. He’s tempted to tuck them under Draco’s legs, but he reckons he might get a slap for that.

.... And you’ll remember, Dan, back in 1987, Chorley came second in the Europa League, which surprised everyone-”

“And then they lost Ramsbottom as its seeker, and it all fell apart from there, really, didn’t it?”

“It most certainly did- it looks like they’ve got a good seeker this year, Chorley bought her from, er, the Ditchling Dragonflies-”

“Yes, yes.”

“And I’ll tell you what, the Salamanders are really struggling aren’t they? It’s half time now, and they look just about knackered.”

“That they do, John, that they do.”

“I’m actually surprised,” Draco says, looking at the radio distantly. Looking so relaxed. Harry’s never seen him relaxed like this, he suddenly realises. “This is a fairly good match.”

“It is. I don’t know what Chorley are playing at, being suddenly good. I was hoping for something to laugh at.”

“Well, there’s always the match tomorrow night, I have a feeling that- oh!”

For a second, Harry is too wrapped up in the promise of listening to the match tomorrow night with Draco to realise that Heloise the snake has come to say hello. And that Draco might have completely forgotten that Harry has said snake. She runs over Draco’s ankle, black eyes glinting. Heloise tends towards the mischievous, Harry has found.

Oi, do you mind not crawling over Draco? That’s pretty rude.

One of the things that Harry thought he’d lose after the war was Parseltongue. As it turns out, he hasn’t; when Hermione handed Heloise over on Christmas morning, he surprised himself (and everyone in the room) by asking her how the portkey trip over from France was. He’d thought he’d said it in English, and knew immediately that he hadn’t when Heloise responded in a light French accent.

Now, Draco draws his feet back to allow Heloise room to cross the floor space. She’s decided she’d like to sit between the two of them, where Harry knows she’ll curl up like a smug cinnamon swirl. She makes no response to Harry’s comment on her rude behaviour, choosing to dart her tongue out instead. But then, one of the reasons he likes snakes is because they have a good sense of humour.

“Was she under the coffee table this entire time?”

“Yep,” Harry replies. “She likes to hide under there sometimes, especially when you’re around. I suppose she’s just getting used to you.”

“I see.” Draco says this with the slightest curled lip, as if he’s still deciding whether he’s going to be able to get used to her. Then he looks at her.

“Go ahead,” Harry says. “She doesn’t like being stroked on the top of her head, but she loves it on her back.”

There’s a moment’s hesitance, before Draco moves towards Heloise. The snake dips her head down and lets Draco pet her. She turns her gaze a little towards Harry. “Ze blonde boy is quite gentle. ‘E is a good choice. I approve.”

Harry glares at her. Draco is staring at Harry, looking just a little bit terrified.

“So you can still talk to snakes, then,” he says matter of factly.

“Um, yeah. Apparently. Not entirely sure why- a few things have stuck around, after. You know.”

Draco nods seriously. Then his lips flicker into a brief smile as he strokes Heloise. The radio barbles in the background, and Harry feels suddenly completely at home.

“Does she have a French accent?” Draco asks.

“Aha- actually- yeah, she does.”

“It’s a shame I can’t speak to her, too. You could communicate in Parseltongue, and I could slag you off in French.”

Harry laughs. “She absolutely would bitch about me with you. Right in front of my face, as well. She’s the type.”

Draco smile grows. “She’s quite a beauty.”

“Yeah.” Then, “I can’t really imagine you speaking French. It. Just. Makes no sense in my brain.”

That makes Draco stop his petting. He sits back on the sofa for a moment, like he’s considering how to respond to this. Then, he reaches for the whisky bottle and pours another for them both.

Je parle français depuis aussi longtemps que je me souvienne. Je pensais que les Moldus avaient appris le français, mais je suis content que vous ne l'ayez pas fait.” He says this all so quickly, then takes a slow drink. Keeping eye contact. “Je peux dire que j'aime être avec toi- tu ne sauras jamais.”

“Er,” Harry responds.

Draco laughs, apparently delighted. “Ah, now this could be fun.”

It’s a bit alarming how speechless that has left Harry. Draco might think that his monosyllabic response is purely because he has no idea what he said- which he’s right, partly. But it’s not just that- it’s also because Draco speaking French does something to him that he doesn’t really understand, or want to unpack right now.

“Doyouwannagotothepubwithme?”

Thanks to the mixture of alarming feelings and whisky, Harry had absolutely no idea that he was going to say that. Draco is staring at him, completely baffled.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Uh,” Harry says. He clears his throat- better commit, now that he’s started. “Do you want to… go to the pub with me. On Friday.”

Draco gives him a confused side-eye. “... Yes?”

“It’s not- as in, not just you and me. Although that would be- I’d-” No, try again, Harry, he thinks to himself. “As in- Ron and Hermione and people are coming to the Hog’s Head this Friday for drinks and a catch up. It’d be really nice if you were there.”

The playful look in Draco’s eye disappears, and his expression slackens. “Oh,” he says, blinking too many times. “Well…”

“I totally get it if you don’t want to,” Harry rushes, holding out his hands as if to say stop, it’s OK, don’t panic. “I get that you might find it weird.”

“A little,” Draco admits quietly. “I suppose.”

“But, obviously, it would be nice to have you there. I like hanging out with you. And Friday was organised to see my friends. And, you’re a friend. So.”

There’s a gulf of silence between them. The radio crackles and Heloise hisses to herself, head resting on Harry’s foot as she snoozes.

“No pressure,” Harry adds, inanely.

Draco nods, a tiny, barely-moving gesture. “I’ll think about it. I'll… I’ll think about it.”

Neither of them say anything again for a while. Harry finds himself watching the way Draco’s smiling to himself; as if he doesn’t realise that Harry is watching. Which is silly, he thinks, because Harry’s been gazing him since first year. One would think they’d both be used to it by now.

At some point during the second half of the match, Heloise slithers away back under the coffee table and Draco falls asleep. Maybe not entirely asleep; Harry finds it hard to tell. Draco’s so still when he sleeps, as if someone’s taken a Muggle photo of him. The only thing that gives it away is the gentle rise and fall of his chest, the shadows moving across his neck as his body moves infinitesimally. His feet are tucked up on the sofa now. Harry has to restrain himself from gently nudging him and beginning a foot fight. He’s far too sweet like this.

On one hand, it’s hard to imagine that this is the same boy who bullied him at school, who would make a tit out of himself almost daily and threaten to tattle on everyone to his father. On the other hand, it’s not that hard to imagine at all. What’s becoming increasingly easier to imagine is what Draco might have turned out like, if he’d been raised in a different household- brought up in a different life.

Harry closes his own eyes and listens to the quiet conversation of the Quidditch commentators.

And he must have dozed off a little himself, because his eyes snap open and he jolts awake to the sound of Draco crying.

It’s not quite crying- more a shuddering, choking sob. He’s saying something, he’s talking to someone in his sleep, but his words come out shattered.

“No- please- let me-”

Harry doesn’t wait to see what will happen next. He knows how this plays out, because he’s been through this himself. He turns off the radio, goes to fill up a glass of water, and sits back on the sofa. Waking Draco now wouldn’t be a good idea. He’ll have to wait until he wakes up himself.

He sits as close to Draco as he’ll dare, without touching him. And the words that pour out of his mouth break Harry’s heart; the sheen of sweat across his forehead; his body curling in on itself.

Before long, Draco gasps for breath and wakes. He scrabbles upright and scans the room, pushing himself back into the sofa like a cornered animal.

“Alright Draco, I’m here, you’re awake now. You’re awake now.”

Harry knows better than to say it was just a dream. They never are.

The panic in Draco’s face gives way to a small glimmer of recognition. His eyes still shining too much, his chin wobbling just a little. “Harry?”

“Yeah. It’s alright, mate, you’re in my living room. You fell asleep.”

They look at each other for a long moment. It’s a moment that feels trapped in another time, in some in-between state where everything is flipped on its head. The sort of moment where everyone is too self-aware. It feels heavy, important, sort of like deja-vu. And then Draco rubs his face with both hands. He leaves his hands there, hiding.

“Please leave me alone,” Draco mumbles behind his hands.

Harry sits very still. He holds the glass of water that he’d filled for him. “I mean. I could, if you wanted me to, except this is my apartment.”

A pause, whilst Draco considers this. “Hmmph.”

“Plus, probably not the best idea to leave you alone.”

“Stop being nice to me, I can’t cope with it.”

Perhaps it’s because he’s just woken up from a nightmare, but Draco’s retorts seem a little more earnest right now.

“Alright. I’ll keep being an arse to you, that’s fair, that’s how we’ve always done it isn’t it?”

“Yes, and I’d say it’s worked out rather well for us.”

They let that sink in for a moment. And then, Harry spits out a laugh, and Draco shakes gently behind his hands.

“Yeah, brilliantly,” Harry says.

At that little bit of sarcasm, Draco peels his hands away from his face and stares blankly at his lap. He looks drained. He looks resigned. And Harry wonders for a brief moment why Draco can’t cope with kindness right now; for someone who’s historically been desperate for people to tell him how wonderful he is, he’s not very good at receiving it. And then he considers that it’s probably not rocket science, really, and that Hermione would be rolling her eyes at him for not quite understanding.

Well, if sarcasm and teasing is what Draco needs right now, Harry’s more than happy to give. Not only does it come fairly naturally, but Draco’s the only friend he has who he can tease so mercilessly without worrying he’ll ever upset them. Ron certainly could never be teased without going off in a strop. But with him and Draco- they’ve done the worst things possible to each other. Nothing left to hide, now- or hurt. It’s refreshing.

So yes, Harry could tease Draco, of course. Even so:

“I still dream about it all, you know,” Harry says. “Even the stuff I thought I’d forgotten. Things that I didn’t realise were so bad at the time. Plus… all the really bad stuff, too.”

Draco stares hard at his lap, where his hands lie upwards, open and weary.

“I um. I mostly still dream about Cedric. The moment he died.” Draco winces. Harry has taught himself to say the most painful things without feeling anything, and he has to remember that not everyone has done the same. “And Sirius. I dream about Sirius all the time. I think because… even though he wasn’t my actual father, he was more of a father than anyone else had ever been. He was important and I guess my mind wants to hang onto him.”

“Watching people die does things to you,” Draco croaks, unblinking.

A swell of sympathy, remorse. “Yeah, it really does.”

There’s a long pause.

“The worst nightmare I had, I woke up and Hermione was there trying to calm me down. And, you know, I’d been screaming and crying and I was sweating buckets, so I get that it’s a bit mortifying, but it’s nothing I haven’t seen before. Or been through myself.”

“Was that dream about Cedric too? When you were with Granger.”

Harry doesn’t expect the question. He supposes he could be upset or offended, but he isn’t. He’s relieved someone’s talking to him about it without being afraid he’ll break or burst into tears or something.

“No, actually. Um… that one was... you know how I was saying that I dream about things that I didn’t realise were as bad as they were.?That dream was actually when I was- I haven’t thought about this in forever. That dream was about me running away from the Dursleys. Just before third year started. I just got sick of being their servant and being treated like shit, and I was tired of hiding my magic so I just packed a bag and left one day. As if I thought I had anywhere else to go.” Harry swallows. Is he about to cry? He clears his throat and continues. “I ended up on the Knight Bus. Stayed in The Leaky Cauldron.”

“You got the Knight Bus to the Leaky Cauldron? By yourself? When you were thirteen?”

“I had to be pretty self-sufficient,” Harry replies evenly, staring at the fireplace, unseeing. “Self-sufficient was better than doing everything for them.” He pauses. “I used to sleep in a cupboard.”

“Sorry?”

“I got Dudley’s old bedroom eventually. But I had a cupboard for the first twelve years. And I just- I still just get so angry. I get so angry at them, and even after everything, sometimes I think that I’m going to wake up accidentally break things or make lightbulbs smash and snakes escape from zoos like I did when I was a kid. Because it just makes me so fucking furious. Even after everything. I almost never dream of Voldemort, anymore. It’s always them. And the people who died.”

“You really never dream of The Dark… Voldemort?” Draco manages.

“Not really. Except for The Forbidden Forest. And the graveyard, because of Cedric.” Harry watches the empty fireplace and takes out his wand. He lights it, and the room warms up a little. “Your dad was there.”

They both stare at the dancing flames and remember it all in fragments.

“I dream about him a lot,” Draco says eventually. “Mostly just the mansion. And him there, in the corner. Sometimes he looks like how he did when I was younger, just. Watching and disapproving. Sometimes he looks like he did towards the end, and… I don’t know why, but that’s always what frightens me most.”

“Do you dream about Voldemort?”

“I thought I did,” Draco replies easily, and Harry turns to watch him. He’s massaging his arm, like he’s soothing an old ache. “I didn’t realise, but I don’t think I do. He’s always there, but not physically. He’s there in a sort of, invisible way. In the shadows. And aunt Bellatrix, and my father.”

“Is it always the mansion?”

“It used to always be the mansion. When I was a child, I had awful night-terrors. They always woke up Crabbe and Goyle, it drove them mad. Now, I dream a lot about War.”

The shadows from the fireplace flicker. Draco looks like a Caravaggio painting in this light.

“You had nightmares before the War, too, then.”

Draco doesn’t reply immediately. He sits up a little. And then he closes his eyes.

“Oh yes. Nightmares from the very beginning.”

They sit in quiet for a while, the radio now silent; it must be the middle of the night for the programme to have ended. The fire crackles. They talk for a little while longer, and then they doze off together on the sofa. Their legs end up tangled, criss-crossing over one another.

When they wake up on Tuesday morning, it’s still dark outside. An owl drops off some bread rolls for them, and the morning paper. The Prophet’s headline is about Azkaban again. Harry throws it onto the fire.

Draco watches it burn, thoughtfully eating a white bread roll. He’s standing right in front of the fireplace, his silver waistcoat reflecting bronze. Harry notes that he looks tired, but not too tired. Slim, but not unhealthily. He looks like Draco Malfoy.

“I’ve been thinking, Potter,” he starts, distracting Harry from his last minute marking.

“You have, have you?”

“I’ve been thinking that I would like to come on Friday after all.”

Harry feels the buzzing warmth in his chest and puts it away for another day. “Good. We’ll head down together after prep duty.”

Draco nods to himself, turns to look over his shoulder at Harry. And even though it doesn’t look like he’s smiling, Harry knows that he is.

***

The Hog’s Head is busy and noisy. Draco is nervous. He knows it’s ridiculous to feel nervous; he’s known these people for almost ten years. But he hasn’t really known them, and they certainly don’t know him. The snow crunches under his dragon-hide boots, Harry’s footsteps following his rhythm. Or maybe he’s following Harry’s- he’s not sure.

He can see the locals hanging outside The Hog’s Head, casting heating charms between them as they smoke their pipes. The silence between him and Harry is relaxed, or at least it’s meant to be, except Draco’s overthinking it and wondering why he’s become so relaxed around Harry, and-

He’s beginning to almost look forward to seeing Harry’s old friends again, if not just to distract him from these thoughts.

He pushes open the door for him, and the heat hits them instantly. The boozy smell of firewhisky clogs his throat and warms his insides. It’s overwhelming but familiar, and he takes off his green silk scarf to hang it up on the coat stand beside him. He watches Harry scan for his friends, and Draco spots them before Harry does. Draco points at the table at the back over Harry’s shoulder- a strangely intimate gesture which momentarily takes him aback- and Harry immediately marches over. Draco follows.

Ron Weasley spots them first, and Draco instinctively grits his teeth. He stands up and climbs over Granger- who bears it with an eye roll- and he makes a beeline to Harry. They meet each other with an enthusiastic hug, all back clapping and squeezing, almost dancing in the middle of the room as the move from foot to foot.

When Weasley stands back and measures Draco, eyes sweeping him up and down, he grimaces. He looks genuinely nauseous. It fills Draco with uncontrollable rage.

But he tries. By God he wants to try. For once in his fucking life, he wants to be the better man. He extends a hand.

For a moment he thinks Weasley is going to ignore it, and it brings him right back to first year. I think I can choose my own friends, thanks. He stands his ground, hopes Weasley isn’t as stubborn as Harry. Brown eyes glare at the hand. Harry nudges Weasley, who gingerly takes Draco’s.

“Alright, Malfoy.”

“Weasley.”

Harry looks between them for a moment. He’s barely suppressing a smile, the smarmy bastard.

“Right. Now that’s over. Shall we sit down? Think you’ll both manage?”

Draco quickly lets go of Weasley’s hand, his own dropping awkwardly to his side. Weasley’s arm makes its way around Harry’s shoulders, effectively turning their backs on Draco and showing him to their table at the back of the pub. Draco takes a slow, measured breath. Don’t ruin it. Don’t ruin this. Stay calm.

He watches Weasley attempt to crawl over Granger again, who stops him, and shuffles down to his previous seat, offering Weasley hers spot. Seamus, Dean, Longbottom and Luna are there too, all smiling up at Harry and greeting him. Longbottom acknowledges Draco with a nod and pursed lips. Luna actually smiles at him, which is a surprise. Dean extends his hand to Draco. He shakes it. Seamus very pointedly ignores him. It’s all quite surreal.

What’s more surreal is when Granger greets him. She says, “Hello, Draco.” It’s simple, but seems to carry a lot, which Draco couldn’t possibly unpack right now in the busy pub. All of Harry’s friends’ eyes are on him.

“Gra- Hermione.”

There’s a very awkward silence. A group of locals guffaw in the background. Draco feels quite out of place in his emerald green shirt and combed hair.

Longbottom stands up abruptly.

“Drinks?”

“I’ll get this round,” Draco says quickly. Longbottom tries to argue, but clearly doesn’t know how, face falling and eyes darting down to Luna.

“I’ll have a gigglewater, please,” she says. He’s not going to question the choice, he knows better than that. He’s just grateful that someone is giving him something to do.

“Butterbeer for me,” Harry says in a voice that barely sounds like his own. In all the years that Draco’s watched him from across the Great Hall, he’s learned that Harry has never been very good at acting natural in awkward situations.

A chorus of agreement comes from the rest of the table, and so, with a tight nod, Draco heads off to the bar. Naturally, the moment he leaves, the conversation begins, the awkwardness disappears. He doesn’t know why it hurts, he knew his presence would put a strain on things. And yet he finds his foot tapping irritably against the hardwood floor, finds his fingers drumming against the bar as he waits for the round of drinks and tries to calm himself. The bar man makes no small talk- The Hog’s Head is not particularly chatty or friendly. At least there aren’t teachers here, which was Harry’s reasoning for the meeting place.

Draco takes two pints in his hands and charms the others over with a nod of his head. They float over to the chatty table in the corner of the dingy pub. Longbottom thanks him for his, as does Luna and Harry, whilst the other four talk loudly to each other about their respective days in the office. It’s only when Hermione looks up to take her floating pint glass that she sees that Draco has no wand in hand.

“Draco!” she practically exclaims, making everyone turn to look at him.

“What?” he says, in both confusion and alarm.

“You can do wandless magic?”

Draco stands there, seemingly frozen to the spot for the moment, until he gracefully settles in the empty seat beside Harry. He towers over him when he sits beside him, his posture far better than Harry’s.

“Yes,” he says finally, everyone’s eyes trained on him. He takes his own pint, and mumbles into the glass, “It’s a recent development…”

“Wow,” Longbottom says, not without admiration.

“That’s amazing, Draco,” Hermione says with a sincerity that makes him look away.

Another strained silence settles over them, until Luna takes a sip of her gigglewater and lets out an absurdly loud ‘AHA’, which somewhat breaks the ice. Seamus begins talking about the Quidditch match last night between the Falmouth Falcons and Ballycastle Bats, neither of whom anybody really cares about and yet somehow it causes an explosion of heated sports debate between Seamus and Weasley. Dean, whose arm is draped casually around Seamus’ shoulders, asks Draco what his team is, and miraculously, there is no awkwardness when he replies. People continue to chat around them, nobody stops to stare.

Neville gets the next round. Luna asks him about how teaching at Hogwarts has been. Draco apologises for everything that happened during 7th year, though he knows how empty it sounds. Luna lays a hand on his arm, and he almost jolts back in surprise.

“We all do selfish things for the ones we love,” she says simply.

His drink disappears amazingly quickly, and it’s not till he’s on his fourth that he realises how pissed he’s getting. Malfoys were never good at holding their drink, and in this moment, he’s quite pleased for this fact. He feels, for a short moment, like a normal young man with friends. Though he’s not sure he can call them that yet.

Especially since he can feel Weasley’s glare on him, which he’s not returning- purely for Harry’s sake.

Harry comes back with another round, and Draco doesn’t see them stopping any time soon. Neville places a kiss on Luna’s cheek as she returns from the loo, and Draco’s suddenly aware that he and Harry are the only couple who aren’t actually a couple.

It makes the small distance between them feel charged.

Harry pushes a glass of water towards him. Draco raises his eyebrows at him. “Giving me a hint?” he says.

“No, by all means, keep drinking,” Harry says innocently. “I just don’t think I’d ever be able to face a hungover Malfoy.”

He has a point, Draco thinks, and he takes a sip. He’s surprised at the HA! that escapes his mouth- more like squeaks- and a hand claps to his mouth as if to recapture it. Everyone goes very quiet.

Draco stares at Harry, amazed by the betrayal.

“Gigglewater! Potter, you absolute bastard!” He smacks Harry around the back of the head, and the shithead just laughs, and everyone else around the table falls into uncontrollable fits of giggles. Draco feels like he ought to be horrified by what’s happened, but instead he finds himself laughing too- because it’s actually quite funny. And people aren’t laughing at him with disdain in their eyes- it’s almost like affection.

Apart from Weasley.

“Oh come on, Draco, down it,” Harry says, nudging his elbow and gesturing to the rest of his gigglewater. He fights down the excitement that rises when he touches him.

“Fuck off.”

Everyone laughs again.

“Fine, I’ll have mine,” Harry says pointedly, as if he’s won some sort of contest Draco’s not aware of. He downs it in one, sets down the glass, and barks out the most ridiculous PAH! that sets everyone off again. The table does their round one by one, and by the end of it, the whole party is inconsolable. Draco is laughing behind his hands, and he can’t fight off the spike of anxiety at having his guard down like this.

People start to chat amongst themselves about all sorts of things that Draco can’t keep track of, in the state he’s in. He leans over to Harry.

“Do you reckon Weasley will get over himself by the end of the night?”

Harry’s smile falters slightly, but he senses the amusement in his tone and rolls his eyes. “I dunno. He’s pretty stubborn. Almost like someone else I know.”

Draco frowns at him. “Do you mean you?”

Harry rolls his eyes again. “Touché.”

His unruly hair is pushed back, and the heat of the pub his cheeks are a dark red. His green eyes are brighter than he’s seen in a long time, and he takes off his glasses to clean them with his shirt. Why he doesn’t scourgify them, Draco doesn’t know. A Muggle habit, he figures. There’s something ever so Harry about it. Draco realises he’s staring when Harry looks up at him. Draco looks away again. Heat rises up his neck.

Oh Merlin’s balls, what is happening?

“You’ve got a lovely shade of pink, Draco,” Luna points out helpfully, and thankfully no one hears her.

“Draco,” Dean says leaning over the table to talk to him. “Do you teach an Emily Bumble-Campbell, by any chance?”

Draco is still surprised when people direct conversation towards him. He nods before finding his voice a moment later, leaning towards Dean so he can hear him over the noise of the pub. “Yes, she’s in my second year potions class. Why do you ask?”

“I work with her mum, she’s constantly talking about her.”

“Oh right,” Draco muses, not sure what else to say.

“Terry has a little sister at Hogwarts he doesn’t stop going on about- Suzanna Boot?” Neville asks.

And just like that, they’re making small talk about the teacher’s lifestyle. And Draco is contributing. Draco and Harry talking about the atmosphere in the staffroom, about tricky pupils who wind them both up. Pupils who remind them of their own contemporaries, pupils who are their favourites- although they’re not meant to admit that they have favourites in the first place, but who really cares.

What on earth has happened to his life?

They end up drinking until midnight. Draco finds himself wondering what would happen if it were just him and Harry drinking together, without all these people here.

They say their goodbyes. Weasley hugs everyone, save Draco, whose hand he shakes. Seamus quite studiously ignores him too. It is otherwise a very successful outing, and the first of its kind that Draco can remember; even when he had been able to go to the Three Broomsticks during school, he’d been too busy and frightened to do normal teenage things with friends. And by that point, well, he was pretty much friendless.

Instead of dwelling on this fact, Draco chooses, for once, to focus on the positives. For one, he may well have paved the way to a couple of friendships tonight- actual friendships, no footnotes or conditions. And, on top of that, he’s walking back up to the school with Harry now, arms bumping together as they walk in comfortable silence.

It’s so pleasant he can’t really believe it. He drunkenly considers that he’s stacked up quite a lot of happy moments for the patronus-memory-bank, and all of them include Harry Potter.

He wants to kiss him.

The thought makes him skid to a halt, almost falling face first in the snow. Harry, of course, takes immense pleasure in this, standing there and laughing at him. He lends a hand and grips Draco’s arm to steady him, and when Draco finds his feet again, he straightens up to find Harry standing really rather close. Their breaths fog up between them, and they hover there for a moment, watching each other.

And then, before Draco can question it, Harry looks away. They continue walking- more carefully this time- arm in arm.

“Icy,” Harry explains. As if Draco hadn’t noticed the slush that had frozen over since they walked into Hogsmeade. It’s past midnight and it’s well below freezing. Of course it’s bloody icy.

“Mm,” is all Draco says, his attempt at verbal agreement.

They walk on a little further, the lights in the castle becoming brighter and larger, though they swim a little in Draco’s vision.

“Did you have fun?” Harry asks.

It’s a simple question and yet Draco feels somehow embarrassed to admit that he did, in fact, enjoy himself. He decides to get over himself and says, “Yes, I did. Actually.”

“Actually? As in, you weren’t expecting to?”

They slowly make their way up the small incline to the castle, though the snow and alcohol makes it slow work. Draco’s pissed enough that he can’t even really feel the cold, but his steaming breath tells him he ought to be freezing his bollocks off.

“It wasn’t that I wasn’t expecting to, just that I was nervous about it,” he admits.

“Why?” Harry asks, without missing a beat.

“Because I’m not awfully good at social situations, if you hadn’t realised,” he snaps. God, why does he always have to bloody snap?

“Hey, Draco,” Harry stops him suddenly, turns him to look at him, and bloody hell he’s rat-arsed as well. Drunk Harry is apparently quite physically affectionate, because he’s gripping his arms and standing closer to him that Draco finds entirely comfortable, and-

Harry is pushing a strand of hair out of Draco’s face. He freezes, is terrified to move in case he somehow ruins it. Harry’s lips are parted and his brow slightly furrowed, as if he’s having to concentrate immensely on the action. When Harry meets his gaze, he finds he can’t look away.

“You’re great in social situations. Fucking brilliant in them. You win at social situations.”

“You’re insane,” Draco muses, and he could kiss him so easily right now- Merlin, would he stop thinking about kissing Harry Potter, what’s wrong with him? He’s finally made an actual decent friend who makes him feel good and can’t stop thinking about-

“I’m drunk,” Harry corrects, “but that doesn’t make what I said any less true,” he adds wisely.

“I’m terrible at people. Friend things, people things,” he babbles, he can hear his voice going more and more high-pitched, in the way it does when he’s being especially pathetic. “I can’t do people, I’m too much of a knob.”

Harry barks a delighted, surprised laugh. It makes Draco smile, and he wishes it didn’t, he wishes it made him angry like it would have done before. “Well I don’t think you’re a knob.”

“Yes you do.”

Harry’s hands slide down from his arms and they link up again, continue to walk up to Hogwarts. They aren’t walking in time, so they keep bumping into each other and wobbling.

“Yeh, maybe I do,” Harry finally admits, “But a good one. You’re learning.

“I’m a knob who’s learning,” Draco finds himself repeating.

“You’re a knob who’s learning.”

“You’re making bugger-all sense, Harry.”

Harry stops again, looks up at him raised eyebrows. Draco keeps walking, sighs dramatically like he’s dealing with an uncooperative child.

“Come on, or I’ll leave you behind.”

“When did you start calling me Harry?”

Draco turns round. The expression on Harry’s face is so innocent and amazed that Draco struggles to find any words at all. His mouth goes dry and he’s met with a complicated set of feelings that he really, really doesn’t want to unpack right now.

Except, he’s not sure how much longer he can ignore all of this.

His heart is pounding in his chest. He’s not falling for Harry Potter. His happiest memory is absolutely not making Harry Potter laugh. He absolutely does not want to kiss Harry Potter.

Of all the people in the world, Harry Potter is the absolute last person he should be falling for.

He’s drunk. That’s all this is, he’s drunk. And Harry is drunk. And drunk Harry is awfully silly and awfully sweet and it’s impossible not to find him endearing. That’s all this is, Draco tells himself. Nothing to panic about.

Except Draco is scared of almost everything is and this is really bloody alarming.

“I don’t know,” he says hoarsely.

“Now I think of it, I’m calling you Draco now, aren’t I?”

“I suppose you are.”

Harry purses his lips and nods decisively, and there’s something quite childlike about it that makes Draco laugh. Then they’re walking together again.

“When did we become friends,” Harry muses. “Like, when did we stop trying to kill each other? Do you remember when we used to do that?”

“Vividly.”

“How did we get here? I never thought I’d be walking home with you arm in arm, you know?”

“Bloody hell, you talk a lot when you’re drunk.”

“I mean, to be fair, we also saved each other’s lives a few times too. Plus, we’re older and wiser, and all that, so I don’t think you’re pure evil just because you’re a Malfoy, anymore. Hermione says I see everything in black and white, but I’m trying not to, now.”

“That’s good, well done, Potter.” Draco finds he doesn’t need to say much. He’s quite enjoying listening to the idiot babble on.

“And I reckon you’re probably quite similar, you know, and- hang on, no,” Harry argues. “You can’t call me Potter. We’ve just established that we’re Harry and Draco now.”

“We’re Harry and Draco now,” Draco repeats.

“Right. So you’re not Malfoy and I’m not Potter. Unless we’re in school around students, probably, in which case you’ll probably have to call me Professor Potter.”

“And you’ll call me what? Mr. Malfoy? I mean, really.”

“No, I’m your superior now. Remember?” Harry gives him a smug grin and waggles his eyebrows, and Draco finds it’s better to scowl at him, rather than run away and hide and cry about this whole mess. “So I’m calling you Draco.”

“Absolutely not. We’re on the same level. I am not, under any circumstances, calling you Professor Potter. If I’m Draco to you, in and out of school, then I’m calling you Harry. End of story.”

“Alright.” Harry smiles smugly at him again, and Draco knows then that he’s been duped.

“You bastard. You tricked me. You know, you really ought to have been in Slytherin.”

“Sometimes I think so too.”

They’re walking through the courtyard, thankfully almost indoors. Harry grins stupidly.

“What is it now?” Draco asks wearily.

“Nothing. Just- I like pulling your leg. You’re so easy to rile up.”

“Bugger off.”

Harry laughs. Draco smiles.

“I can’t believe how ridiculous you are after a few drinks. Remind me never to give you alcohol ever again.” They’re inside, now, but still arm in arm.

“You should see me on felix felicis,” Harry muses.

Draco is instantly transported to that potions class, in which Slughorn had quite unbelievably and stupidly offered a bunch of 16 year olds a potion that would literally let them do whatever the hell they wanted for several hours. It was a small miracle that Draco hadn’t won it; he probably would have used it for something terrible. Doubtless, the worst Slughorn would have considered was someone using it to cheat on their homework. Not that that was entirely acceptable, considering that he was a bloody teacher and was meant to be a responsible adult. The man was an idiot and clearly knew absolutely nothing about teenagers.

“God, I’d completely forgotten about that.”

“I was properly out of it. It was hilarious. Like an out of body experience.”

The two of them stop at the staircase up to Harry’s quarters. Draco hesitates, watches Harry fumble awkwardly and tugging at his shirt-sleeve.

“This is me,” he says. The scene reminds Draco of one of Pansy’s romance novels she used to giggle over with her girl friends and leave in the common room.

He absolutely did not peek inside when no one was looking.

“This is me,” she said, as she tucked a dark lock of hair behind her ear and looked up at him through her long eyelashes. His eyes sparkled with love and desire. “Would you like to come in for a coffee?”

“There’s nothing I’d like more,” he said, voice smooth as silk, moonlight bouncing off his sharp cheekbones.

They never drank any coffee. It was written, really, very badly.

Draco realises he’s not said anything, but has been staring at Harry dumbly for several seconds. Heat crawls up the back of his neck. “Yes, I remembered where you live, funnily enough,” he says.

“Er,” Harry says, looking anywhere but Draco, fidgeting. “Do you… want to come in? Chill out? I’m not really tired.”

Draco’s eyes widen. He’s not inviting you in because he wants to shag you, you daft ponce. It’s a bloody coincidence.

Harry looks at his feet. “I have some teacakes left over from the staffroom, we can sober up a bit-”

“No, I’m. I’m going to go now.”

Draco takes a deep breath and makes himself taller. Harry blinks at him stupidly, clearly confused and looking even a little disappointed. He can’t cope with it- with any of it. He turns on the spot and power-walks down the dark corridor.

“….Night?” Harry calls to him. Draco throws a quick wave over his shoulder, which probably looks more like a dismissive ‘shoo’ than anything else. He doesn’t dwell on it.

He’s too focused on how the hell he’s going to deal with the fact that he’s falling arse over tits for Harry Fucking Potter.