Pairing(s): Harry/Draco, Draco/Astoria (more towards friendship), past Draco/Pansy, Harry/Ginny, Hermione/Ron, a very brief mention of Patil twins/Theodore.
Summary: Shortly after the war, Draco Malfoy wakes up with a new understanding, and Harry Potter needs firmer ground to walk on. Unfortunately, life is never easy, especially with the burdens of N.E.W.T.s looming closer. As Draco struggles to maintain his sanity, Harry is back to his old routine—stalking Draco.
Rating: R (Mature)
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made.
Warning(s) (highlight for details): * Language, emotional and behavioural issues, eating disorder, angst (but with lots of fluff, too . . . all right, it'll make it hurt/comfort, lol), mild violence, a brief mention of (very) minor character death(s). *
Epilogue compliant? EWE.
Author's Notes: See part 1. :)
"I hope you understand this cannot go on any longer," McGonagall said. "Hogwarts is a school, Mr Malfoy."
Draco pressed his lips into a thin line, his hands clenching on his thighs as he stared at the spot beyond McGonagall's right shoulder. In his peripheral, he could see the portrait of Snape trying not to notice him, and Dumbledore rubbing his chin in silent observation. The other former headmasters and headmistresses simply escaped Draco's attention.
"I do understand, Professor."
McGonagall seemed to resist the urge to sigh, her worry lines grew more visible across her face. "If I may ask, Mr Malfoy, what is your purpose in coming back to Hogwarts?"
"I'm sorry, Professor," Draco said, "I don't understand. Isn't it obvious that I came back for my N.E.W.T.s?"
At this, she at last gave up to sighing. "Mr Malfoy, you were invited to finish your N.E.W.T. level education together with your other year mates, of course. And I could say I am very pleased by your enthusiasm to take six N.E.W.T.s instead of the usual five." She paused to thread her fingers on the desk. "You are even taking the additional course of Extra Alchemy this year."
Lifting an eyebrow, Draco waited for whatever McGonagall was planning to tell him. Surely she wasn't calling him here only to—praise him? Merlin forbid she favoured a Slytherin. Besides, he picked six subjects just so he didn't have time to think about anything, but McGonagall didn't need to know that.
"Now if only that enthusiasm could be proven to be true. Potions and Charms—from what I've heard, you're so conveniently insisting on not attending the lessons. And your other N.E.W.T. choices are also . . . ." She paused again, levelling her eyes more firmly at Draco's. "Based on your O.W.L., I see that you are more than capable of taking the N.E.W.T. for Defence Against the Dark Arts. More so than Herbology, and I believe your Head of House has approved you to take —"
"I feel it's better to take Herbology rather than Defence Against the Dark Arts," Draco said, not caring at how McGonagall's eyebrows tweaked in disapproval for his rude interruption. "I don't think I can handle more than six N.E.W.T.s, so I had to choose, Professor."
"May I ask why you made that choice, then? I presume you're well informed that every area of expertise requires different sets of N.E.W.T.s, but you have changed the courses the late Professor Snape approved of in your fifth year." She leaned forward a little. "What is your plan after Hogwarts, Mr Malfoy?"
Biting the inside of his lower lip, Draco knew what McGonagall was trying to say now. This was one of those 'Pity the Death Eater Children' speeches. "I don't have any specific plans, Professor. Aside from . . . continuing my life, assuming I can still find a job. In fact, I'll be lucky if I get any job at all, won't I?"
"That's not something you can be sure of," she said, but Draco could see how unsure she was with her own words. "But now I'm certain you picked your N.E.W.T.s randomly—without purpose."
"Not entirely true." Draco shook his head slightly. "I picked the ones I enjoyed the most, or the ones I found easier."
"And Herbology is one of them?"
"Anything other than Defence Against the Dark Arts."
McGonagall merely stared at him for a moment, then nodded. "Very well. But I expect you to think more about what you want to do after graduation." She broke the eye contact and started browsing through the piles of parchment on her desk. "And I would hate to hear more reports about your absence in Potions and Charms." She handed him a bundle of blank parchment. "You will be serving detention with Mr Filch for skipping lessons until the start of the Christmas holidays, and you are to write your future plans using this parchment every Saturday."
Draco jerked his head up to stare blankly at her. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Your future plans, Mr Malfoy. Write anything you can think of, no matter how mundane they seem to be. The parchment is charmed so it will be sent directly to me the moment you finish writing, and you will be continuing to write every week until you are sure about your choice—or until graduation. Whichever comes first, I say."
"What—but—why? I'm not aware that it's within your authority to—"
"I would say it is within my authority," McGonagall said. "As long as it is connected to your study at Hogwarts, and I assure you that every future plan is connected to your study."
Draco was tempted to crumple the parchment into rubbish. "Is this because I skipped lessons?"
"One of the reasons, yes." She inclined her head slightly. "But also because of other reasons."
"Do I even want to know what the other reasons are?" Draco let out a wry laugh, then shook his head in mock surrender as McGonagall opened her mouth to say something. "No, no, it's fine. I can do it. I'll write every weekend. But I can't promise that you'll be satisfied with what you'll read."
McGonagall's lips thinned slightly. "My satisfaction has nothing to do with your education. This is in your own best interest. Do understand that, Mr Malfoy."
It was all Draco could do not to snort in McGonagall's face. "Yes, I'm sure it is." He nodded. "Now if that's all, may I leave, Professor?"
At McGonagall's wave of dismissal, Draco tried not to look too eager to leave. He gave her one last polite nod as he stood up, persistently ignoring the way her gaze seemed to be radiating several emotions that he refused to name, and the penetrating stares of all the portraits behind her.
"Here." Another set of parchment was shoved in his face as soon as Draco slouched on an armchair in the common room. "Pansy wanted me to give these to you," Daphne Greengrass said with a huff. "Really, Malfoy? Are you planning on dropping out of school?"
"First of all, Greengrass, why didn't Pansy give these—" He squinted at the parchment to read Pansy's artistic scribbles. "—Potions notes herself?"
"Because she's upset with you." She rolled her eyes as though it was the most obvious answer.
Draco snorted. "Second, you don't need to worry. Apparently McGonagall thinks detention is enough of a punishment."
"Really." She nodded thoughtfully.
"What?" he asked.
"I think you'll be fine, Malfoy," said Greengrass unconvincingly, as if she was forced to say something nice about him. She absentmindedly played with the sleeve of her long, slim black robes. "Well, at least your family is unscathed."
At first, Draco almost opened his mouth to argue, because what the bloody hell did she know about him and his family? She was never involved in the war, her family never took sides, and of course she wouldn't know how messed up everything was for everyone in the war, would she? But then he snapped his mouth closed the moment Greengrass continued, "Some of us aren't that lucky."
Because he had forgotten—he had forgotten how Mr Greengrass and his brother had been victims. He had forgotten why Greengrass always wore those black robes of mourning outside classes. Because even though her family was never officially in the war, they were dragged into the mess and mistakenly killed. And no one remembered the Greengrasses were never Death Eaters in the first place. People conveniently thought they were on the wrong side of the war simply because they were Slytherins and an old pureblood family. They weren't heroes, they weren't victims from the Light side, neither were they from the Dark side. Nobody mourned their loss—
Taking a sharp breath, Draco clenched his jaw as he remembered who had said something along those lines before. Slowly, he looked up and trained his eyes on Greengrass longer than necessary, observing every curve of her features.
"What?" Greengrass snapped.
"Hmm." He nodded, then shrugged with his best nonchalant look. Shuffling through the parchment, he feigned interest in reading Pansy's notes. "Thanks for this, could you tell Pansy that I'll be in classes again starting tomorrow?"
"Well," said Greengrass, her eyebrows raised a bit in suspicion. "Maybe you'd better surprise her."
"Right." Draco nodded once more.
Greengrass was still staring at him, yet as he didn't say anything more and insisted on ignoring her existence altogether, she at last gave up and left towards the girls' dormitory. Draco only looked up once her steps were no longer audible, sinking deeper into the squishy armchair.
The Christmas holidays were coming closer. It was, Draco thought, uneventful and boring, though he refused to admit that it was mainly because Potter was missing. Potter's existence as of late was like an annoying fly—always there, lurking in the background and in the corner of Draco's eyes, but wouldn't outright approach him so he could snap his palms together and smash it once and for all. Instead, that lingering stare followed Draco everywhere like the buzz of a fly's wings. It made Draco's neck prickle. Yet as time went on, it turned out he was getting used to receiving such attention from Potter. Weeks without seeing the git proved to be bland and—well, it felt strange.
He went to N.E.W.T. Potions and Charms without absence, despite Draco's difficulties following the first two lessons after his constant truancy. Detention with Filch was also—well, the usual. As long as Draco kept his mouth shut and obeyed Filch's instructions, he could pretend nothing had happened—not that he favoured the notion of obeying a squib. The only thing that made his lesson hell was Potter's Potions work, which Draco failed to recognise from the colour and smell. He recalled Slughorn did ask students to come up for new versions of the known potions as their N.E.W.T. projects, but—
Sniffing the cauldron one more time, Draco wrinkled his nose immediately as though the odour could cauterize his nasal passages. It was—foul, one of the nastiest things he had ever smelt. It reminded him of shit, vomit and decaying animal corpses in the Forbidden Forest, but even those couldn't do this one justice. Yet, unlike the usual potions, the smell didn't linger in the air. No one had noticed the vile concoction, if his fellow classmates were anything to go by. When Zabini got up from his seat to take some more ingredients from the back of the classroom, Draco nudged Zabini's arm and raised an eyebrow as his hand gestured to the offending cauldron on his desk. "Smell anything interesting?"
Shuffling over to Draco's desk, Blaise looked at him askance. "Mm, should I?"
"You should. Come closer."
Zabini obeyed warily, taking a tentative sniff at the cauldron before his dark skin turned a bit blue. "Fuck."
"Language, Zabini." Draco smirked.
"What the—how—what did you do to produce such a disgusting thing?" Zabini shuddered, stepping backward and taking a frantic deep breath as though it could help cleanse his nostrils and lungs from the traumatic odour.
"Didn't do anything. I'm lost as to what I'm supposed to do with this, actually." Draco shrugged. "Potter has one impressive skill in potions making, it seems."
"Why don't you ask him what he's trying to do with this . . . ." Zabini shuddered again. "Ugh."
"Maybe I'd ask him if he actually showed up." Glancing over to where Slughorn was praising Granger and Boot's cauldron, Draco pouted. "It's been two weeks. I'll fail my Potions N.E.W.T."
"Funny you didn't seem to care about that two weeks ago."
"If I go to lessons, might as well get O's for all my N.E.W.T.s. That's the plan."
Rolling his eyes, Zabini snorted. "Outstandings for all subjects. You're not Granger."
"Thank Merlin," Draco snapped. Zabini had the grace to snicker as he sauntered lazily away. Biting his inner cheek, Draco frowned, glaring at the cauldron before he resolutely announced to himself that if Potter didn't show up by Friday, he would start the project all over again with another potion.
As it turned out, the weekend came, younger students were getting ready for the holidays, and Potter was still nowhere to be seen. Draco was already shoving his Potions textbooks into his bag so he could formulate a new potion project in the library, when he caught sight of the parchment McGonagall gave him. He shifted from one heel to the other, then sighed, grabbing the parchment and heading out of the dungeons.
What the bloody hell was McGonagall's intention? He had written two—letters? Journals? Reports? Whatever they were, the contents were stupid and he was sure McGonagall would call him the moment he finished writing. But so far he hadn't been summoned, and now he had to write the third one. Not that it would make a difference. He would write the same random short sentence again this week—continue living. McGonagall probably didn't even bother reading them.
Shrugging to himself, Draco walked out of the common room, absently thinking if he had been invited to design the new Hogwarts, he would make sure to destroy Gryffindor Tower completely, or just petition to close the barbaric house altogether. Then, he spotted someone who made him hasten his steps. Draco had never been this proud of having longs legs before, but clearly they made everything easier at times like this.
"Astoria Greengrass," he called as she was just about to turn a corner. She paused, looking over her shoulder slowly while Draco caught up with her.
"Yes?" she asked with a blank expression. Draco wondered why Greengrass—Daphne could be so snappy and annoying, when her little sister was so . . . um. A bit odd, but definitely a vast improvement.
"Are you heading to the Astronomy Tower?" he asked once he was an arm's length away from her, just because he didn't know how to begin.
"No, I'm just finished packing and I'm meeting a friend before I have to leave."
"I see." Draco nodded and tried not to fret with the hem of his sleeve. "You're going home."
"Yes." Raising her eyebrows—they almost disappeared behind her fringe—she pinned him with an unreadable gaze. "But you're not stopping me just to ask that." That made Draco take a steadying breath.
"Actually," he began, "I just want to . . . ." He cleared his throat. "I'm Draco Malfoy, pleased to meet you."
"Ah." Astoria's eyebrows relaxed and she smiled, a dimple appearing on her left cheek. "But you're not suggesting I didn't already know who you are, are you?"
"Play along, please?" Draco feigned a sigh. "It's just I wanted to believe our meetings were anonymous. It was much . . . easier for me that way. But now that I've known you, I think it's time for a new start or something."
Astoria seemed to ponder over his words for a moment, her thin lips pursed slightly. "You want me to think I was talking to a complete stranger before, and now I'm going to talk with the real Draco Malfoy."
"It's not that wrong, in a sense." Draco turned over to lean against the wall. "About me being a complete stranger. But yes, I wanted to be a . . ." He worried the inside of his cheek. ". . . nobody."
"I'm surprised you know my name," she said after a short gap.
"I remembered the Sorting Feast, when Green—Daphne said you were her sister."
"But then you spent almost six years forgetting about me."
Despite the statement, she appeared to be amused, lifting the weight from Draco's chest. For the first time since he had returned to Hogwarts, he smiled without thinking about his secret, about Potter, about McGonagall, or even life in general. It was just a simple tug at his lips' corners, which relaxed his face muscles and made everything seem light and all right.
"So, do you think we . . . ?"
"Astoria Greengrass," she said, offering her hand for him to plant a light peck. "Pleasure, Draco Malfoy."
Then Draco almost let out a chuckle while still holding her hand. Something ticklish was spreading from his stomach that got Draco wondering whether it was happiness or another, nameless feeling, and whether he had ever experienced it before, or if it was new to him after all. Almost, because before he could, he caught sight of Harry sodding Potter standing in the opposite corner, a hand gripping a window sill and looking grimmer than usual.
Draco's mouth felt dry.
"Oh Harry, can we just get on with it?" Girl Weasley emerged from behind Potter, obviously escaping Draco's vision because of the simple unimportance of her existence in general. Not that Potter was important by any means, but seriously? With all the stalking he had done, anyone would recognise him in a flash. "Harry, I honestly think you have things to do." She frowned at Draco, and he could hear the unsaid, with me, at the end of her sentence. But Draco, for once, noticed Potter's eyes weren't on him, but rather on— "Harry!" Girl Weasley shook Potter's arm in exasperation.
"Yeah, er." Potter, still staring at Astoria, put his hand on top of Girl Weasley's on his arm and looked suddenly more distressed than ever. That kind of threw Draco off balance, because now that he thought about it, since the first day they arrived at Hogwarts this year, he had noticed Potter's crumpled and unhealthy complexion—yet now he looked even worse than that. "Er, yeah, let's . . . ." Potter, the ever eloquent hero, nodded once, avoiding Draco's scrutiny to tug Girl Weasley's hand as he walked past Draco and Astoria.
Draco wanted to trip him over and demanded how long he had been listening, or where he had been these past weeks, or what the bloody hell that horrid potion was, or if he was plotting to fail Draco's N.E.W.T. just to flaunt the fact that as everyone's hero, he didn't have to worry about a proper education and all that bollocks. But Draco remained silent because he glanced at Astoria's hand in his own, and realised he didn't want to sacrifice this moment of peace between them.
Potter, with his privilege as a hero, kept avoiding him and never came to Optional Classes—or at least the ones that Draco signed up for. But now Draco would catch him hovering somewhere behind, sometimes looking ashen and sometimes just blank, before he noticed Draco's gaze and running away with his tail between his legs. So much for being a hero of the Wizarding world.
Once, Draco saw him lingering outside the Owlery, pacing back and forth before deciding to come inside and head out not long after. He didn't realise Draco was watching, and Draco had no intention of making him notice, because somehow, this stalking and life-saving thing and then running away like Draco was a disease didn't seem right. Potter never ran away—if he did, Draco might still be cowering in fear under the Dark Lord's regime right now.
Then when the Christmas Feast had begun, with all the seventh and eighth year students sat at the Ravenclaw table, Potter plopped down opposite of Draco as if he hadn't just spent weeks evading Draco. Weasel was clearly objecting to the seating arrangement, red-faced with poorly suppressed rage, and Granger kept eyeing Draco—and Pansy—with a frown. Nott elbowed Draco's ribs subtly, though he could only reply to the unsaid question with a raised eyebrow.
The heavy silence was unnerving, though Draco merely knew it from Pansy's stricken expression and the twitches by Nott's left eye. Even the other houses' students were glancing at them as though there would be Slytherin versus Gryffindor confrontation any second—which admittedly, could still happen. But then Zabini, the ever carefree bastard, broke the tension by insulting Potter with barely masked glee.
"So Potter, I heard Malfoy is having to make a new potion for his N.E.W.T. assignment because yours had a really interesting scent. I wonder what you were actually trying to brew, hmm?"
Potter was surprised for a moment, and then his face grew so red it was almost amusing. "Um. I knew it would be a failure . . . ."
"That doesn't answer the question," Zabini sang.
Weasel bristled. "What's it to you? Leave him alone."
"In case you didn't notice, I asked Potter, not you." Zabini smiled charmingly, the kind of smile that always made Draco shudder inside. Granger frowned disapprovingly, and Draco prayed it would be permanently stuck on her Know-It-All face.
"It's okay, Ron," said Potter, although his eyes now slid to Draco's. "I wanted to, um, it was Amortentia . . . ."
"Amortentia?" Draco couldn't help but echo in disbelief. Even Granger and Weasel, who Draco knew must have smelt it, stared at Potter in horror. Zabini looked as if he was about to die from laughing. Potter buried his face in his hands. "Seriously?"
"It was a failure, okay? I don't know what's wrong with it, I only wanted to change the colour, not the scent!"
"Oh, God." Draco wiped imaginary sweat from his forehead. "I must be dreaming. It's a nightmare. A nightmare in which Amortentia smells like—"
Suddenly he had to resist the urge to vomit for an entirely different reason from two months ago.
"I told you I couldn't do it alone!" Potter hissed, his cheeks flushed.
"Oh Draco, poor you, dear. Do you think Professor Slughorn will allow you to change partners?" Pansy smirked, dabbing Draco's dry cheek with a handkerchief delicately. "Anyway, we all know even Amortentia won't help Potter get laid."
"Because he's a loser," said Nott helpfully.
"And a specky git," said Zabini, still cackling. "Poor Potty."
"Harry will do better without him anyway," Weasel snarled, baring his teeth at each of them for good measure. Granger glared at him, then narrowed her eyes at Potter, whose face was now as red as the Weasel's hair.
"You don't have time to change partners and start from the beginning again, Harry. And you must stop skipping lessons."
"Actually, thanks to Potter here, I had to start from the beginning again," said Draco, but Granger ignored him wholly.
"Harry, you know you have to start taking this all seriously."
"Yes, Potter, you must get used to being a normal student, no matter how used you are to being a hero," Draco added just because he could. Potter glared at him with a passion.
The rest of the Feast went with Zabini snickering like the madman he was, Pansy fussing over Draco, Goyle being Goyle with lots and lots of food, and Nott busy giving Potter the evil eye. Of course, hearing Potter's incoherent replies and Weasel's splutters for Granger's lecture were only entertaining to a certain extent, and soon Draco found himself bored beyond repair. That was until Girl Weasley stepped into the scene, apparently having purposefully been late to the Feast only to drag Potter away, presumably searching for mistletoe for a Christmas snogging session.
It wasn't until midnight, when Draco was doing his Prefect duty after a nice hot bath, that he met Potter again. The corridor was empty, and the floating candles had deserted the area so Draco was using Lumos to guide his way. And Potter was there, sitting in an alcove that was partly hidden by a suit of armour, his glasses reflecting the light from Draco's wand. Maybe if it was someone else, they would think it was some kind of strange creature skulking in the dark, but Draco was somehow sure that it was Potter. No one else could have those hideous glasses and rat's nest hair.
"You're unbelievable," Draco said. "Hiding in the dark on Christmas Eve."
"It's already Christmas now," said Potter, his expression rigid as Draco came closer. "Happy Christmas."
Draco took a deep breath. "Tell me. Is it one of your games now, to stalk me and then leave me for weeks only to try being all friendly again? Is it some kind of, oh I don't know, push and pull ploy to win my heart?" He cupped his chest to emphasize. Potter's breath hitched, before his eyes shadowed behind those horrible glasses.
"Er. No, of course not. I was just." He scratched his head, his hair sticking up in every direction dreadfully. "I was just distracted—"
"Oh, not that again!" Draco almost snarled. "Distracted, is that all you can come up with, Potter? Funny, because I've heard that word coming from you three times in less than two months."
"That's because I'm telling the truth." Potter scowled, and then his eyes widened a fraction, as though he had just remembered something. "You know, Malfoy, are you always like that lately?"
"What." Draco wrinkled his nose in a way he hoped clearly convey his distaste. "How terrible are your stalking skills for not noticing that I've been like this since I was born."
"No, no, I didn't mean that." Potter licked his lips. "I mean, you didn't eat much at the Feast, and you look too thin. Have you been eating at all lately?"
"Nice, now you're trying to be my mother," said Draco, looking everywhere but at the pathetic excuse of a hero curling on the floor. "Next time you'd fuss about my appearance—not that you could talk about appearance at all."
"But does that have anything to do with, you know, your emotional problems?"
"I don't have emotional problems, thank you very much," Draco snapped. Observing him in silence, Potter tilted his head slightly to the side.
"Yeah. I guess you're doing better now." He seemed to have drawn his own conclusion, ducking his head to stare at his trainers. "I guess that's because, um."
"What? Because of what?"
Potter's voice was steady and calm when he spoke, but he was still not looking at Draco. "Because of her?"
". . . her?"
"You can smile, I mean, a real smile. You can joke with your friends, and you seem a bit angry at me now," said Potter, trying to shrug and give off at the nonchalant vibe to no avail.
"You're meaning to say that you know when I feign my feelings and when I don't," Draco said, almost spitting out the words in distaste. Potter startled and looked up.
"Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I already told you that I didn't spend years hating you in vain."
Draco watched Potter fretting with the loose thread on the hem of his jumper. Sighing, Draco cut the remaining distance between him and the alcove, and took a seat beside Potter—not close enough that they could touch, but enough to feel the warmth of Potter's breath as he faced Draco in surprise.
"Don't think I'm stupid," said Draco, staring at the opposite wall where an empty golden frame hung proudly, shadows dancing on the wall and floor with every movement Draco made with his wand. "No one sane would spend seven years trying to know everything about the people they hate, and really actually know them. That's not how hatred works."
Silence stretched out uncomfortably, at which point Draco drew up his knees and rested his arms on them. After a while, Potter mirrored the position, but he buried his face in his arms.
"Don't tell me you avoided me because of that," Draco said, glancing sideways. Potter didn't answer, but Draco could see his shoulders tensed under that silly jumper. Draco rolled his eyes. "There, there. Care to explain to me why, though?"
"I—" There was a slight choking sound. "I don't know, I don't even . . ."
"What about Girl Weasley?"
Jerking his face up, Potter frowned. "Ginny?"
"Oh," said Potter, already finding his ugly trainers attractive to stare at again. "We're not. We've split up before I—before all of that."
Draco gave a soft hum. "But you're wrong."
Draco took a deep breath. "I almost fell off my broom, I almost died, but I didn't—I couldn't feel scared."
"But you can smile now, that's nice," said Potter softly, so soft that Draco almost couldn't hear him. Draco resisted the urge to grit his teeth.
"Your stalking habit must be stopped," he announced, glaring wholeheartedly at Potter." I find it horribly disturbing that you spoke of Astoria as if you were jealous."
The frown lines on Potter's face deepened. "What? I'm not jealous! I'm not even—" He paused. "Her name's Astoria?"
"Enough," Draco said firmly, and Potter's shoulder jerked a little. "That's just not going to happen, Potter. About you. No, I refuse to acknowledge your . . ." Draco hesitated, sensing his tongue struggle not to say the word. ". . . your whatever. I just can't."
Potter was silent, his gaze roaming and searching on the side of Draco's face. "You don't have to," he said.
"And—and stop thinking about whatever it is you want to do," Draco continued. "Stop doing this to me. I need this. I need to not feel anything. I'd spent too much time hating myself, I—"
"I don't. I never feel safe with you," Draco finished.
He could feel Potter watching him with intensity, burning his right cheek and forcing him to curl his fingers, but he didn't want to see Potter right now. Something was slipping inside him even more, sliding from his grasp, uncontrollable, and Draco knew it would be bad. He would regret it, would long for this peace if he gave up. He couldn't, he just couldn't.
"Okay," Potter said, resigned, and Draco breathed again as Potter's gaze fell to the floor. "I don't know what you're thinking about my 'whatever', or I just don't want to know about it, but—giving up is never my strength . . . I thought I should let you know that."
Draco wanted to sneer, to mock Potter and lash with cruelty that would make sure of Potter's defeat, but instead, he just took a long moment to remain silent, then said, "I know, I didn't spend years hating you in vain."
And he walked away.
"Something's going on, isn't it?" Pansy rested her head on Draco's shoulder, examining her pink nails with an extremely bored face while Draco reviewed his Study of Ancient Runes assignment that was due in February. The common room was empty but for the two of them, the fire from the hearth doing nothing to help warm the late January air. "You and Daphne's sister."
"What about Astoria?" Draco asked, couldn't resist a smile.
"Ha. First name basis," Pansy said, sounding too eager in breaking Draco's defence for a girl with that terribly bored expression. "Are you two together?"
"I'd confuse her with Daphne if I called her Greengrass," said Draco, amused. "And what's with you and Potter, anyway? Does it matter who I'm going out with?"
"I don't like that girl—"
"You don't like anyone but me."
"—and what's with this Potter thing? Are you keeping things from me?" Pansy frowned.
"Pansy, Pansy," he drawled, sinking deeper on the sofa and let Pansy's head follow his shoulder's lead. "Why the sudden interest in my love life?"
"I'm always interested, you know that." She scowled. "And you haven't answered my questions."
"Both. Are you going out with Daphne's sister? Or are you with Potter?"
"Merlin, no." Draco put on an expression of horror as best as he could.
"But I keep seeing him following you around. Except when you're with her, he seems to avoid running into your little rendezvous." Pansy pinched her small nose in disgust. "I smell scandals, Draco. Be honest with me."
Draco was seriously considering that. But Pansy was still Pansy, and telling her one thing would lead to another, and he couldn't imagine what she would think if she knew his problem. Besides, it wasn't like he could really fall in love or be involved in whatever absurd idea Pansy was having.
"Maybe Potter thinks I'm up to something, being an evil Death Eater and all," he said finally. "And Pansy, I'm not even with Astoria that often."
She snorted incredulously.
"You're an exceptionally elegant lady indeed," drawled Draco.
Pansy snorted once more.
Draco laughed. "I assure you, Milady," he said slowly, inclining his head, "you're not missing much."
Pansy rolled her eyes and smirked playfully.
January was rolling to an end, and so Hogwarts was full of over-excited students about the upcoming Valentine's Day. Naturally, now that the war was over and Harry Potter was an official hero, the population of the Potter's fan club had increased dangerously. Everywhere Draco went, he would hear 'Potter this' and 'Potter that', not to mention the giggling girls and the sickening pink aura that seemed to follow them permanently. The sweet scent of love potions lingered in every corridor along with fourth to seventh year students busy practicing various irritating spells, like conjuring flying hearts and tiny bells. That, of course, made Draco's head pound with migraine.
"Do something, Potter," said Draco, his fingers itched to massage his pulsing temples. "That was the ninth pink balloon that exploded our way and it had pink glitter!"
"I can't do anything." Potter scowled, wiping pink glitter from his glasses with his hideous red jumper, already covered with an equally hideous pink substance. Whoever sent that balloon must be cursed until next week because no amount of rubbing and Scourgify could get rid of them. "Ah!" Potter suddenly sounded too cheerful after he gave up cleaning his glasses. "Are you angry? Your hair is pink, Malfoy."
"And so is yours," Draco snapped. "You're enjoying this, aren't you? Is this a conspiracy? A big plan to make the cool, calm and collected me mad? A ploy to make the great me fall into humiliation? And for your information, no, I'm not angry, I'm nauseous."
"Oh." Potter looked disappointed for a second, but then he smiled in satisfaction again. "At least you're now back to your usual melodramatic self. That's nice." Then he frowned. "Actually it's not nice being melodramatic, but—it's still nice now."
Draco wanted so badly to throw Potter from the Astronomy Tower.
"I'm done for today. I can't research anything with this disgusting pink all over my body, and I certainly can't work with you around." He packed his books and quill into his bag almost savagely. The spectators in the library had taken to cackling and giggling in the background.
"But I'm your partner, I have to be around you," Potter said helpfully. Draco whirled around in a flash.
"No you don't, you can't even brew Amortentia!"
Potter frowned. "It was only that one time—"
"And you almost turned our Felix Felicis into the Draught of Constipation!"
"Hmph," said Potter. "How should I know we should crush the rose petals?"
"Exactly," Draco yelled scandalously. "You didn't know, did you? You didn't know but you could win the bloody potion in sixth year!"
"Ah." Potter smiled dazedly. "That was marvellous."
"Merlin!" Draco nearly tore at his hair, which was taboo on so many levels. He grabbed his bag before the sounds of Madam Pince's footsteps could turn in their direction, and stomped towards the exit. Unfortunately, Potter didn't seem troubled by leaving his belongings in the library and caught up with Draco.
"I think," Potter began, "you're angry."
"Sod off, Potter," hissed Draco.
"And I saw you laugh yesterday. Genuinely. You have to admit it."
"Shut up. Shut up. Shut up!"
"I think this is a nice development, you know?"
Draco had had enough.
Whirling around, he slammed Potter against the wall and pinned him with a hand tight around Potter's collar. His whole body was crushed against Potter's, the heave on Potter's chest telling Draco that Potter was surprised, and Draco's knee was flat between Potter's thighs. The look on Potter's face as he stared in shock behind the pink glasses, under pink messy hair, and with smears of pink on his nose and cheeks, was so ridiculous that Draco wanted to laugh. But he didn't.
"Which part of 'stop doing this to me' do you find hard to understand?" Draco whispered low, his words coming out in spiteful hisses. Potter's neck was so stiff that Draco could see the muscles contracted and his pulse drumming frantically. But his eyes were now staring indifferently—the stare he used whenever he saw Draco back in the sixth year, the one that screamed of pity and disdain and superiority. Draco wanted to kill him for staring.
"I told you I'm not giving up," Potter said calmly. "And I'm positive you're angry now."
"Oh, tell you what?" Draco tightened his grasp on Potter's collar, and Potter hitched in mild suffocation. "I'm furious. I hate you. I never hated you this much before. But congratulations, you've taken me to new levels of hatred—who would have even thought it possible?"
"Good," Potter said. "Good. Hate me."
Draco tugged Potter and slammed him back into the wall, morbidly enjoying the painful gasp coming out from Potter's mouth and pressing himself harder to feel the shifts of Potter's tense muscles against him. "What're you trying to achieve?" Draco asked, voice still low and slightly above a whisper. "What're you trying to get by doing this?"
"Do I have to—" Potter wheezed. "—get something in order to do something?"
Draco slammed Potter's head again.
"No, you don't fuck with me," Draco snarled. He wanted to vomit, wanted to kick and punch and tear everything apart. The crisp January air was choking him, and Draco couldn't see sense amidst all the pink on Potter and his own fringe. "You want to stay near me? You want to work on your potion? Don't be daft and leave me the fuck alone!"
Potter's answer a headbutt. Draco yelped and stumbled backward, his grasp loosened from Potter's collar. Potter didn't waste his chance. He knocked Draco to the opposite wall, stealing all of Draco's breath from his lungs, and lunged a punch straight at Draco's jaw. Draco spat, hands wildly scrambling with Potter's, yanking Potter's jumper, while Potter hauled him by the front of his robes. They pushed and pulled, shoved and wrenched each other, until Draco kicked Potter in the shin. Potter staggered, and Draco sent a blow to Potter's nose. A crack sounded and his glasses flew aside, broken.
Potter seethed and squinted his myopic eyes, blood running down his nose. "Fuck, Malfoy, you madman!" He wiped his nose with the heel of his palm as Draco spit out blood. Fuck. Fuck. Potter's punch had made him bite his own tongue. Then he noticed Potter's other hand had been ready with a wand. Brilliant, just when Draco didn't have a proper wand.
It was at that moment that a group of sixth year students strode out of a classroom at the end of the corridor, stopping in their tracks with scandalised expressions as they caught sight of Draco and Potter. The Saviour versus the ex-Death Eater. Right, who wouldn't want to watch that? Draco wrinkled his nose in disgust. Potter didn't feel it was a nice idea, though, for he quickly pocketed his wand again.
"Draco." Astoria was walking slowly towards him from the horde of students, eyes searching back and forth between him and Potter. Draco wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his robes, sniffing. But he didn't miss how Potter's face had distorted into a frown, his hands clenched at his sides. "Are you all right?"
"Fine," said Draco, still glaring at Potter. "At least I don't have a broken nose."
Potter growled. "If I didn't know better, Malfoy, I would have thought you had a thing for my nose."
"Very kinky, Potter, I didn't know if you had it in you," said Draco dryly. He straightened his robes, all the while glaring at Potter. He touched Astoria's elbow lightly, gaining her attention and guiding her away from Potter. Astoria merely gave him a calm look, if only her eyes looked sharper, before she simply followed him to take a turn. Vaguely Draco could hear Potter swearing behind him.
He took a deep breath.
"Do you want me to heal your jaw? It might bruise," Astoria said as they walked further into the dungeons. Some of the Slytherin sixth years were behind them, whispering and keeping a safe distance away from Draco.
"Of course he'll ruin my face, that barbarian." Draco rolled his eyes. "But no thanks, I can do it myself. I'm used to it." He didn't tell her why he was used to it, though. "So, you have a lesson on Saturday? That sucks."
"No, it was a self study session," said Astoria. "And Draco, your hair is pink."
The rest of his body was pink too, but why did everyone have to point out about his hair? Draco couldn't help but smile, though. Typical Astoria to discuss that, rather than asking why he fought in a corridor. And hazily, he remembered how different if felt to hear the same sentence from Potter.
He bit back a scowl.
As it was, the days were a blur to Draco. At first, after their fight, Draco didn't want to look at Potter anymore, let alone talk. But apparently, Potter had succumbed to his Hufflepuff self and said that he didn't mean to push Draco and that he knew what Draco was going through was sensitive. Draco felt the surge of something ugly churning in his stomach, but Potter was insistent with his guilt and thus stubbornly stayed with him no matter how cruel Draco was trying to get him to leave. Eventually, Draco gave up and let Potter stalk him everywhere like before.
Valentine's Day had come, more pink balloons exploded, flying hearts and pink dust contaminated the air, and tiny fairies in their pink shimmering outfits jingled across corridors and the Great Hall. If Draco had thought Valentine's Days in the past seven years absurd, he certainly didn't expect this year would be three times more absurd. Birds were chirping love songs above their heads, circling with their wings flapping ceremoniously. Even the House Elves seemed ecstatic to serve pink chocolates, pink puddings and every other pink food for meals. Draco shuddered inside at the unhealthy amount of pink before him.
At breakfast, owls had delivered cards and gifts for each student, and of course the Golden Hero was almost buried alive under the mass of gifts. Singing cards and poems blared from the Gryffindor table, and all the Slytherins snickered at how red Harry Potter's face was. No doubt, half of those cards were from the Slytherins for the sole purpose of embarrassing Potter. Draco himself found it quite amusing, and temporarily forgot that his own share of Valentine treats this year was reduced by half. The other houses' students were avoiding him like a plague, and his own housemates were convinced he was taken. Draco didn't bother to contradict the notion, though.
Lessons went by as usual, with the exception of various pink ornaments hanging here and there, and some of the teachers even entertained the students by letting them work in partners with the ones they liked. Draco sat with Pansy in Charms, knowing full well she would enjoy the privilege as his girlfriend like in fourth and fifth year, if only for merely one lesson. Potter, luckily, didn't bother him, taking the role as Granger's partner as Weasel chose to attend Care of Magical Creatures N.E.W.T. rather than Charms. And when the last lessons after supper ended right at eight, seventh and eighth year students filed out of the classrooms like giddy first years. They had got permission to use the Great Hall for a Valentine's Ball until after midnight—something Draco almost didn't believe McGonagall would ever permit.
Draco was standing near the spiked Butterbeer fountain, Astoria's fingers hooked around his elbow, and he looked around the hall blankly. A lot of sixth year students were present because they dated seventh or eighth years, and only a handful of fourth and fifth years could be spotted. Nott was dancing with Pansy, Zabini busy flirting with a fifth year Ravenclaw, and Goyle looked as if he was torn whether to stay beside the giant chocolate cake, or the mountain of muffins on the other table. Then Potter passed by him with an unreadable gaze.
"Hey, Malfoy," he said flatly, but he was staring at Astoria. From the corner of his eye, Draco could see Astoria's lips purse slightly. Then Potter shifted his eyes on Draco. "Enjoying the night?"
"Absolutely, as one should be when one has a gorgeous lady for a date," said Draco smoothly, inclining his head and smiling at Astoria. She looked amused, but otherwise remained silent. "Where's your date, Potter?"
"Ginny," said Potter, apparently finding his Butterbeer glass charming. "She'll be back shortly." Draco raised an eyebrow and saw Girl Weasley talking with Granger animatedly near the stage. "Or I'll just, um, go to her." Potter glanced up at Draco, seemingly waiting for something, but Draco only shot another eyebrow. Potter sighed and nodded at Astoria, before heading towards Girl Weasley. Draco stared in bewilderment.
"Well, isn't that interesting," Astoria said.
"Is it?" Draco quickly hid his confusion. "Doesn't matter, he's always been touched in the head since, you know, the perils of being a celebrity." He rolled his eyes as Astoria laughed softly. He tugged one corner of his lips into a half smile. "Would you like to dance?"
"Why, I thought you'd never ask," said Astoria lightly, but her eyes brightened. It was Draco's turn to laugh, shaking his head as he led her to the dance floor.
Before midnight, Draco escorted Astoria to the Slytherin common room, as she said she would have to prepare for her Transfiguration project. He didn't mind, he couldn't say he enjoyed the ball, after all. Astoria's smile, her smooth voice, and her occasional sarcastic remarks were endearing, but somehow with the loud music and the presence of other students, the peacefulness he liked in her became hard to reach. Still, the way she swayed elegantly against him and the assurance her laughter gave, were enough to give him calmness.
The night was still young, though, and he didn't feel like sleeping before all his roommates came back. So he strolled around, watching the portraits interact with each other only to discover that some of them were dating. He wondered, had they been alive in the same era, would they have fallen in love with each other, and what would their original partners think? Maybe things would be different, maybe even change history and there would be no Dark Lord. Or perhaps, there would be a lot more Dark Lords—depended on the changes.
Depressing thought, that was. Draco wanted to kick himself. That was when he saw Potter and Granger arguing outside the Great Hall. Potter's face was flushed and his hands animatedly waved as he spoke, and Granger kept shaking her head with a distressed expression. Curious, Draco crept closer, nevertheless he didn't hide.
"Harry, you know that Ron wasn't really cross at you, it's just he was worried that Ginny got so drunk."
"Well, yeah, and that was my fault, wasn't it? Because I can't—"
"No! No, Ron was drunk too, it's just you were Ginny's date, and Ron hasn't really been himself since the war . . ."
"Hermione, no one is themselves since the war!"
"I know!" Granger sounded far too exasperated, running her hand through her hair only to realise there were flowers pinned there. She tugged harshly at them and crushed them with a trembling fist. "I know, and that's why we shouldn't be like—like this." Her voice shook. "Harry, tell me, what's bothering you? You're just hanging around Malfoy, and skipping classes, and being a prat all the time—"
"Why am I a prat—"
"Oh please, Harry, your temper is worse than fourth year," she screamed. Potter's eyes widened in shock. "And—and you ask me about things, but you never want to tell me what it's about, who it's about, how can you expect me to think that everything is fine?"
Potter was silent, but somehow, his heavy breathing reached Draco's ears. Or maybe it was just an effect from seeing his chest wildly heaving.
"I can't tell you," said Potter in a much calmer voice, but he refused to look at Granger.
"It isn't like I can't guess, Harry," said Granger softly. "It's just I want to hear it from you."
Potter didn't answer. Eventually, Granger sighed, her lips trembling. She looked ready to say something more, but decided to shut her mouth again, and spun in the direction of Gryffindor Tower. Potter closed his eyes, his jaw tensed, and his hand touched his forehead. Belatedly, Draco realised that it was the scar.
Draco continued walking, this time he let his steps echo heavier and saw Potter snap his eyes open.
"Enjoying the night?" Draco drawled.
"Shut up, Malfoy," said Potter, but it lacked real malice. Draco shrugged.
"You really should stop hanging around me, you know. We don't want to give your precious friends the wrong idea."
"And if I said I don't want to stop?" Potter's eyes were alight with challenge.
"Suit yourself," said Draco. "They're not my friends."
Potter closed his eyes again, his expression tired and resigned. Then he smiled wearily. "Want to go outside?"
Draco frowned. "Don't be ridiculous. It's freezing out there."
"Says someone who rode a broom in winter without his gloves and scarf." Potter rolled his eyes. As Draco merely shrugged again, Potter's hand fished out a tiny bottle from his robe pocket. "Come on, I've got Firewhiskey." He grinned.
"Very clever, Potter." Draco laughed. For a moment, Potter looked stunned. Draco cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Well then, if you insist," he said.
They traversed Hogwarts' corridors in silence. Sometimes their shoulders brushed lightly as Potter teetered in his walk. His eyes were glazed, but the wrinkles on his forehead showed his determination, causing Draco to swallow any sarcasm. Pursing his lips in thought, Draco kept sending sidelong glances at Potter, and Potter didn't even notice. After the silence had gone on too long and they had reached the moonlit Quidditch pitch, Draco sighed. "You're pissed. Why bother to drink again when you're already this pissed?"
"I want to have a drink." Potter swaggered to the bench. "With you."
Draco gave a humourless laugh as Potter heavily sat. "This is getting creepy."
"You. Towards me," said Draco, shaking his head incredulously, yet he took a seat next to Potter nonetheless. "I should have told my eleven year old self that in another seven years Harry Potter would have a crush on him."
"Eleven year old. Why eleven?" asked Potter, already working on unshrinking the bottle of Firewhiskey.
"Because my eleven year old self was wounded by you."
"Oh?" Potter's eyes were big and honest. "How so?"
Draco scrunched his nose in disbelief. "Figured you wouldn't remember. Well, never mind. You're falling for me, and that's embarrassing enough for you."
"Embarrassing . . ." Potter trailed off as if he didn't understand the meaning. "Falling for you, I'm falling for you."
"That's what I said," Draco snapped, snatching the bottle from Potter's hand to unclasp it. He took a swig and exhaled slowly. His breath came out in white mist, and he quickly remembered to cast a Warming Charm. Potter followed, then took back the bottle.
"Am I falling for you?" he asked after a large gulp.
"No, no, I should hope not." Draco feigned a shudder. "I pray your pathetic crush on me will wither spectacularly."
Potter snorted. "If it didn't wither after all of your dirty stunts so far, I doubt it will any time soon."
"That's because you're a masochistic freak." Draco glared, taking another swig. Potter snickered shamelessly.
They continued spitting insults back and forth, taking turns in draining the bottle, until Draco realised, with unfocused eyes and warm cheeks, that the bottle had been charmed. "Bloody hell, Potter, are you planning to kill us with alcohol poisoning? Spelling a bottle of alcohol to make it never empty is a crime!"
"I thought it was a genius idea," Potter said cheerfully. Draco frowned, taking a gulp, then shrugged.
"It is. Ten points for Gryffindor."
"Er." Potter blinked, alarmed. "That shows how pissed you are."
And Draco let out a horrible sound that was too close to giggling. Blinking several times more, Potter burst into giggles as well, clutching at his side and leaning heavily against Draco's right arm. When they had to stop because the need to breathe became urgent, Potter laid his head on Draco's shoulder, his left side practically on top of Draco's right. The warmth that was emanating from the proximity made Draco dizzy.
"You know," Potter said after a few deep breaths, "I like hearing your laughter." Draco's shoulders tensed, and Potter must have sensed it, for he quickly turned to see Draco, face so close that their noses would touch if Draco just dipped his head a little. "Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you or anything, but . . ." Potter trailed off, his eyes sliding lower, as Draco belatedly realised that Potter was watching his lips.
"What?" asked Draco, his voice came out hoarse and low despite his effort to appear casual. "What?"
Now Potter stared into his eyes, searching. "Tell me, Malfoy." His tongue swiped over his lower lip, leaving a glint of saliva under the moonlight. "Are you with Astoria?"
Draco swallowed. His stomach became suddenly warm. "Greengrass. You don't know her well enough to use her first name."
"Are you with Astoria?"
Trust Potter to disregard decency and Draco's words. Draco was too overwhelmed by the heat and the dizziness inside his head, though, and before he could stop himself, he said, "No, I'm not." And that was all it took for Harry Potter to pull him into a kiss.
Draco liked the way Potter's lips moved against his, and the way they opened up under his tongue. Potter's hands felt right as they threaded through Draco's hair. His tongue was hesitant and awkward, yet Draco's was, too. Potter's glasses would leave marks on Draco's cheek, but Draco didn't care—he wrapped his arm around Potter's waist, pulling him to sit on Draco's lap. No resistance, no protests. Draco pressed himself closer.
Then it all ended just as fast as it started. The Firewhiskey bottle tumbled off the bench, its liquid forming an endless pool as it burned the snow. Snapping out of the daze, Draco pushed Potter's chest roughly, sending him to land on his back in a graceless thump.
"Bloody hell! What—"
"Fuck." Draco ran a hand over his face, eyes widened in horror. "Fuck. Fuck."
Potter's eyes narrowed. "No, I don't think we'll fuck after you just fucking shoved me."
"Fuck, Potter!" Draco snarled, his hands trembling as he rose to his feet. "Just shut up. Oh, fuck." His own voice sounded alien in his ears—so frightened, wavering and cracking.
Draco swore again, again and again, clenching his hands to stop the tremor. In his peripheral, he could see Potter's expression shifting from anger to worry, but Draco couldn't be arsed to care.
Spinning around, he tried to make his way into the castle as fast as his wasted body would allow. Hazily, in between his best effort to ignore the thumping headache, he heard the sounds of Potter following him. Once he had crossed half of the way to the dungeons, however, Potter's footsteps stalled.
Draco didn't hear anything else until he reached the dormitory.