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Title: When the Songbird Stopped Singing

Author: [livejournal.com profile] nherizu

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. :)

Part 1, Part 2




In nearly eight years of knowing Harry Potter, Draco had never had a single pleasant moment with the git. He had humiliated Draco even before they were officially students at Hogwarts, had made all Draco's brilliant plans fail, had almost killed him with a single spell, and ironically, had also saved his life. But none of those things were supposed to matter anymore—Draco had fallen into the deepest of every low thing imaginable, so he shouldn't care what Potter did to him. But he did, and Draco knew it was the start of a new torture.

Draco didn't know who was avoiding who. Potter was subdued in Potions, whilst Draco tried to convince himself that staring more intently at the cauldron would increase the success rate of their Felix Felicis variation. Charms was better. Pansy and Granger being a nice distraction, though Draco prayed to any Deity that Pansy wouldn't ask even if she noticed something different with him. But McGonagall was less cooperative.

After nearly five months, she decided to combine all the seventh and eighth year Transfiguration N.E.W.T. students into one big class and assigned them to work in groups of four. Given his luck, of course Draco just had to be partnered with Potter, Longbottom and the Hufflepuff prat, Smith. On top of it all, there were still those reports for McGonagall. Draco could sense her scrutiny crawling on his skin, and he longed to shout in her face. But he didn't—not if she still kept her mouth shut.

As the middle of March slowly approached and the scent of spring had forced the freezing winter to melt into submission, Potter had begun to start talking to him again. They were only little, mundane things like Quidditch and the weather, but they no longer tried to ignore each other's existence. Still, every time Potter tentatively tried to warm up, Draco would remember that night, that body heat, that soft tongue and moans, and he would flinch. Potter, despite being famous for his insensitivity, caught the hints and recoiled. He went back to being subdued, until the next time he tried to reach out again.

By the end of March, on a Hogsmeade weekend, Draco finally decided to go after having repeatedly declined Pansy's invitations for the previous trips. He wondered if he should invite Astoria along since the Easter holidays were coming up, but then he remembered Pansy's visible dislike of her and shrugged the idea off. Goyle was coming, though, so it wasn't a date.

It was quite refreshing, Draco had to admit. After months of being cooped up in the castle without a break, even drinking tea from a pink tea cup in Madam Puddifoot's Tea Shop was nice. Not that he would admit it out loud.

Pansy was beaming, telling him how she had missed going to Hogsmeade with him, because Blaise never stopped flirting with other students, and Nott, in spite of his intelligence, was worse than Potter when it came to stringing words together into a sentence. She gave Goyle dirty looks once in a while, unquestionably annoyed at his presence, though Goyle being Goyle, he only cared about the cakes. After chattering almost nonstop for two hours, at last Pansy noticed that Draco had stopped listening at all. Actually, he had tuned her out right after she finished telling him the first story, but she didn't need to know.

"So, tell me, Draco," she said, a bit annoyed that he had almost dozed off. "How're things going with Potter?"

Draco choked on his tea. "Er, what."

Brilliant. Draco had just fallen to Potter's level of fluency. Or maybe even Nott's.

"Potter? Harry Potter?" Goyle stopped shoving cakes onto his face. Pansy sighed wearily.

"Yes, that Potter. And Draco, where do you think you're going?" She shot him a look as he scrambled to stand, his chair screeching a little louder than necessary.

"I just remembered I have an appointment," he said mildly, trying to sound nonchalant and hoping his expression was blank enough. Pansy's eyebrows tweaked in suspicion.

"With Potter?"

"Don't be ludicrous, Pansy," he said, rolling his eyes. "I'd rather die than have a date with Potter." He turned to Goyle who looked like he would rather die than leave his cakes. "And you can stay, Goyle."

Goyle was beaming, but Pansy huffed in irritation. "Watch it, Draco. Don't say what you don't mean."

"I don't understand what you mean." Shrugging, Draco headed to the door and tried to breathe calmly. Girls, why were they always so sharp?

Rushing alone along the path back to Hogwarts, Draco tried to empty his mind. But Potter was always there, laughing with glazed eyes and flushed cheeks, with his warm breath and soft lips. Even the way Potter settled on his lap had felt right. Draco swore vehemently. Was he that frustrated? Was it because he had practically gone celibate since the beginning of sixth year and now his hormones were catching up? But even Draco knew that libido had nothing to do with the way he wanted to snap his quill every time he saw Potter recoil from him.

Shaking his head, Draco rubbed his nose, passing Hogwarts' main gate. He made his way through the entrance and walked aimlessly, anxiously trying to dismiss every sickening thought about Potter. He wanted to see Astoria, wanted to hold her hands and listen to her talk about making amends in weird, roundabout ways. He wanted to take her to the Astronomy Tower, watching her glowing with every word she said. But instead, he saw Potter.

Draco stopped dead in his tracks, holding his breath. Potter was looking morose, the circles under his eyes now more visible than ever. He paced around, deep in thought, not in the slightest bit aware of Draco's presence. After a while, he messed his hair, doing it no favours in Draco's eyes, and then climbed the stairs two at a time. Draco considered this, narrowing his eyes, and as Potter had started on the second flight of stairs, Draco silently followed him. He cast a spell so his shoes wouldn't make noise, wishing not for the first time in his life to have that blasted Invisibility Cloak Potter owned.

Potter kept mounting the stairs—Draco realised where Potter was going. He was right. Potter was making his way through the Owlery door. Something wasn't right, though. Draco remembered months ago when Potter was pacing in front of the Owlery, and now Potter was looking like that again—only worse. Slipping inside, Draco kept his breathing as silent as possible, trying to catch whatever Potter was doing. But the thing he saw made his stomach cold.

Potter was talking slowly, handing an envelope to an eagle owl. Narcissa Malfoy's eagle owl.

Suddenly everything clicked. Every why and what and how were answered. The puzzle that had been driving him insane was now fully solved, and the final image it revealed was an ugly, mocking picture of what he believed was his own fucking life.

Seeing red, Draco was shaking with rage. He stomped towards Potter, grabbed the thin arm roughly and punched him. Potter was caught by surprise, eyes wide and mouth hung open. He tumbled backwards, sending a number of owls flying wildly around the room, feathers floated like dry leaves in autumn. Draco's breathing was frantic, but he clenched his fists until they burned, struggling to stand and not fall like a useless, trembling coward.

"Happy about having me on, are you?" he said, his voice the very picture of his whole body—filled with tremor and fury. "Are you that desperate, Potter? You need someone to save that badly that you're willing to spy on me for my mother?"

Potter looked like someone had just kicked him in the guts. "Malfoy—"

"That's it, right? Your problem is you're so used to being a hero that now the war is over you're lost." Draco was a fraction closer to shouting. "You don't know how to live if you don't have to save someone anymore!"

Draco couldn't hear Potter's breathing in between his own loud, shuddering one, but he could see Potter's chest pumping rapidly and his nostrils flared. Draco laughed, taut and dry.

"You're mental," he said, breathless. His laughter didn't end nonetheless. "Everyone's rejoicing in freedom, but you." He thrust a forefinger in Potter's face. "You want everyone to be still living in terror."

Potter took a step towards him, jaw set and eyes flashed with anger, but Draco hissed, "Don't come near me. Don't you dare."

"I don't want everyone to live in terror," Potter said, spitting each word with venom. "You don't know what I went through in the war, you don't—"

Draco laughed again, louder. Potter flinched visibly.

"Yes, yes, you want it. Deep down you're still hoping to be useful, aren't you? Now the war is over, no one expects you to do anything ever again. You're used. You're discarded. You can't do anything else now, because saving people is the only thing that you're fit for. You're mental, Potter, you're looking for new victims every day. You're looking for me."

Potter looked pinched, his lips giving a violent tremor.

"Oh, look! Poor Draco Malfoy! He doesn't have money, he doesn't even have a fucking wand! He's bullied and looked down, and can't feel anything because he's wrecked! He needs saving! He's so pitiful—"

"Malfoy!"

Draco kicked the wall, sending more feathers bustling around them. "Shut up, Potter!" He glared, looking straight into Potter's eyes, and found something he could barely recognise in there. Guilt. It was guilt. "Shut up and don't ever talk to me again," he hissed.

Potter looked like he was going to say something, but Draco didn't want to hear it—couldn't hear it. His ears were ringing, something was gnawing him from the inside, and he couldn't breathe. Potter felt guilty, he felt guilty because Draco was right.

Shaking his head, Draco took steps backward, tasting blood as he bit the inside of his lower lip too hard. Potter was staring at him, closing his mouth and only staring at him. Turning around, Draco walked out of the Owlery, his pace becoming faster with each step. As he descended the stairs, he felt rather than heard his own sobs, wiping the corner of his eyes with the heel of his palm. Fucking Potter. He should die a terrible death. He should burn in hell.

Except Draco didn't want him to die.

He broke into the bathroom as he arrived on the third floor, banging the cubicle door open. He collapsed onto his knees and vomited.

It fucking hurts. Draco sobbed harder, fucking hurts, fucking hurts, fucking Potter . . . .

That day, Draco's mantra didn't work. The hole in his chest wouldn't close, and he wished he really had died that night when he fell off his broom.

. .

. .


At King's Cross Station, Draco stood amidst the sea of students laughing and chatting with their families. It wasn't surprising that no one had come to pick him up—he knew his father was busy trying to survive in the Ministry, and his mother was probably coaxing her colleagues into helping her with subtle threats. Still, for the first four years of Hogwarts, his father had always come for him, patting his shoulder in acknowledgement, and that was always enough to make Draco grin with stupid pride. The next two years, his mother had hugged him once he stepped onto the platform, murmuring soft welcome greetings that nearly made Draco suffocate with remembering what had happened to his father, and what he had gone through in those blasted years.

Now, he had no one.

He swallowed, sniffing and forcing himself to ignore the pressure in his chest. Taking a shuddering breath, he tugged on his trunk, searching for a perfect spot to Apparate. Deep inside, he was beginning to regret his decision to cancel all the Optional Easter Holiday Classes at the last minute. He didn't want to go back to the Manor, didn't want to meet his father, let alone his mother after . . .

Sniffing again, he rubbed his nose and blinked the moisture in his eyes away. It was a hard choice, but between his own home, parents and Potter, he chose to stay away from Potter. The betrayal was still fresh in his mind, and the wound was gaping. Draco wanted to laugh. He had thought, after he realised he had changed that morning before Hogwarts, that he could live his life better without anyone's influence. Clearly he had been mistaken, because there was no such a thing as his own life. He did not have the privilege of having his own fucking life. He was born as a puppet, and would be one until he died.

Arriving at the Manor gates with a loud crack, Draco slipped inside as soon as they opened up for him. Slowly he padded along the lane towards the main entrance, his trunk in tow. By the grand front door stood his mother, looking as elegant as ever, yet the hollows in her cheeks spoke more than words could ever describe. Draco paused, watching her mother watch him calmly, and he was lost in the swirl of his own emotions.

Pathetic, look how much emotion can weaken you, he thought bitterly.

"Draco," his mother said, her tone quiet yet melodious. She spread her arms open in invitation. Draco stepped up hesitantly, swallowed, and gave up. Embracing his mother with an arm, Draco took a deep breath.

"Hello, Mother."

"Come, Draco," said his mother as she slid her palm along Draco's back in reassurance. "Your father is in the parlour."

That was new, Draco noted. He followed his mother traversing the main hall and across the dimly lit corridors. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, not ready for the wave of sensations that was barraging him from every nook and cranny of his own house. The shadows were still there, dancing and mocking his sanity. He cursed Potter for this mess, and once again wished desperately he could hide behind the thick barrier of having no emotions. But it was futile.

As the door to the parlour swung open, Draco could immediately smell the saccharine aroma of tea and cakes. His father looked up from his tea, a Daily Prophet in his other hand.

"Hello, Father. How are you?"

His father nodded, and for the first time since the war was over, Draco really heard his father's voice.

"Draco."

Only a word, short and firm. But it carried a lot. Draco missed him, the father he always looked up to, whose simple pat could make him stupidly happy, whose acknowledgement had always been the one he was searching for, whom after the war and until just now, Draco had tried to avoid for foolish reasons. Exhaling slowly, Draco set his jaw, determined not to break over the simple greeting.

"I'm fine, Father," he said, answering the unsaid question. "Fine."

Later in his room, once he could put away the fragile façade he knew was futile in front of his parents, Draco allowed himself to tremble in his bed, fighting the urge to empty his stomach and failed.

. .

. .


Days in the Manor were slow and haunting. Draco tried to utilize the time to get used to the overwhelming feelings he had locked away for so long, tried to rehabilitate himself with the help of limited sources of meditation and books. But while Draco used to be a good enough Occlument, now his control over emotions was broken, making meditation hard to achieve. Maybe he really was that wrecked. Maybe it wasn't Potter's fault that he found Draco to be a perfect damsel in distress.

His mother never brought up her connection with Potter, and Draco was thankful for it. If possible, he refused to hear anything about Potter. But the lingering stares were there, full of questions and worries, albeit in the distant sort of way his mother preferred. Draco spent his time mostly locked in his room or in the library, trying his hardest to stay away from family dinners or any other gatherings whenever he could. After a week, at last, his mother told him to meet her and his father in the drawing room.

It was the one room Draco had always evaded, the room where the gruesome images of war were the freshest. Draco was certain his parents knew, but because of that, too, he understood the urgency of this order—the importance of the reasons behind it.

As they all settled down against the cushions, Draco strived to focus on his breathing—inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale—and to steer clear of any unwanted scenes that were threatening to happen. His father looked at his mother over the rim of his teacup, and his mother smiled wanly at Draco.

"Draco, the holiday is almost over. Tell us about your days at Hogwarts."

Draco's grip on his teacup tensed.

"As you already knew, Draco, I'm in correspondence with Mr Potter," his mother continued, her expression never wavering. "He's kind enough to provide me with information about your condition."

"Isn't that lovely, Mother, you have a good little spy," Draco said dryly, sensing the much feared nausea that had started coiling in the bottom of his stomach. "But rest assured, I'm fine now."

"Are you certain, Draco?" His father's voice was smooth, but it had that sharp edge that always challenged Draco to speak the truth, or be ready for the consequences. Draco clenched his teeth.

"Yes, Father, I am."

"Then enlighten me, son, why have you made vomiting after meals a new habit? And one, as you must know well, that is unworthy of a Malfoy."

Taking a deep breath in resignation, Draco bit his lower lip. The teacup rattled on the saucer as he put it on the table. His mother's left eye twitched at the plebeian display, no doubt. But Draco couldn't care less.

Was he really this inadequate at keeping his private problems private?

"We have noticed it happens very frequently, and that is something Mr Potter never told me," said his mother.

"Of course, Mother," Draco said. "Potter wouldn't know the things that happened after . . ." He trailed off.

"After you found out," said his mother. Draco nodded quietly. His mother stared at him, exchanging glances with his father, then back at him. Unexpectedly, she only said, "We understand." Draco stared at her in disbelief.

The silence that followed was horrible, as his parents kept staring back at him with the air of eerie composure. Draco could feel that despite the warm late spring air, socks and shoes, his feet were still freezing. His palms were damp, and he struggled to keep himself from wiping them against his trousers. He even guessed that there must be sweat on his forehead.

"Draco, we're selling the Manor."

At first, Draco thought he must have gone deaf as a result of the enormous number of panic attacks he had lately endured, but perhaps delusional was the more perfect way to describe his state. There was no way that his mother would say . . .

"We can't afford the upkeep. The Manor requires more than average attention, and we need the money to—"

"Father?" Draco snapped his face to his father, breathless and wide eyed, cutting his mother mid-sentence. "Tell me Mother's joking."

"Malfoys, Draco, do what is necessary to continue living. No matter how hard it is," his father said. His expression betrayed nothing, but it was impossible—Draco knew it was impossible his father didn't feel anything. The Manor was . . . .

It was their everything.

"I don't believe it."

"As long as we have the name, the Malfoys will not cease."

"You're making it up."

"No, we're not." His father's tone was final. Draco dug his nails into his palms. How much more humiliating could it get? The centuries of history of the great Malfoys, the grand proof of their prominence, it all collapsed under their generation.

"We are of a great breed," his father went on, "we will reach the same eminence as long as we can keep our line alive. And that, Draco, is the Malfoy Pride. To always survive in every—"

"But what is pride?" Draco asked, his voice raw and harsh. He knew his father was making excuses, he knew his mother was not that different. What kind of pride did the Malfoys have now? The way his father kept bringing up how it was something noble for a Malfoy to do just that—to give up their identity, and to just keep bringing up 'Malfoys this and Malfoys that', showed just how desperate his father was to cover his shame.

Still, it was absurd.

"Draco—"

"No, you can't just give it up! You mustn't, after all you did—after—" Draco's voice broke, and he was now standing rigid on his feet. "I—I thought no matter how low we've fallen, we can still—we can, maybe—" He blinked a tear away but it still escaped, rolling slowly on his cheek. But the thing that made him abort his speech was not the tear. It was the shocking fact that despite believing he couldn't fall any lower, couldn't lose anything else, he was actually still hoping.

"Draco." His mother stood and circled the table, gently cradling his face with her palms. "We have to let go."

"Mother!"

"Draco." His mother's voice was stern, the kind of stern he used to hear all the time when he was a child and did silly things. The hands on his cheeks were trapping him, but his eyes were shifting wildly back and forth, between his mother's set expression and his father's vacant one, the mask he always wore to hide his deepest weaknesses, and for the first time, Draco's admiration for his father burnt away. After all, his father was human, and perhaps he shouldn't be admiring him for what he tried to build. Perhaps, he should be caring for him for who he was.

"Draco," said his mother once more, calling for his undivided attention. "What you haven't done, Draco, is to accept." One of her hands freed his cheek, sliding lower to rest on his chest. "And let go."

Draco looked at her incredulously, breathing from his mouth and tried hard not to run outside like a seven year old. He took his mother's hands off him, shaking his head slowly. What should he accept? He had done everything but the world still hated him, didn't it?

"No. I don't understand—I can't . . . ."

That was a lie, of course. Logically, it was understandable that his parents needed the money to keep on living. And besides, didn't he always write to McGonagall that his purpose was just that? But somehow, that was different. This was . . . .

Their Manor.

"I'm sorry, but . . . ." He swallowed. "This is absurd, you are absurd," he finished his sentence, staring bitterly at both of his parents. They were engaged in a silent conversation, as though mourning the fact that their only heir had just lost his marbles. But Draco couldn't bring himself to care.

Praying that his legs wouldn't fail him until he reached his room, he spun around towards the door, and broke into a run as soon as the door was closed behind him.

. .

. .


The last week of the Easter holidays was the worst. Draco couldn't get his mother's words out of his head, and he spent all the time contemplating what they meant. After that night, he had repeatedly said to himself that there was nothing he could do, thence he had actually accepted everything. But his condition was deteriorating, and his head ached as though he was suffering the consequence of having heard a Banshee wailing for twenty four hours straight.

He kept to himself even more, dreaming and screaming and suffocating at night. Throwing up after meals was no longer possible to hide—he was even more reluctant to touch food. Once, his mother gently probed him to get professional help and assured him that they still could afford to pay a Healer, while his father restrained from commenting. But Draco ignored them.

On the last day of the holiday, when he was too exhausted to even cry, Draco gave up. He knew it would be the last time he would see the Manor before he went to Hogwarts, so after he packed his trunk, he walked to the back garden, the far closed area that even Death Eaters didn't know. There was not a single flower nor was there a green leaf, but Draco stood still for what seemed like hours there, recalling how on top of that dark soil, grew the prettiest flowers of all kinds years ago. Attached to the branch of a huge tree in the middle was his swing, where he spent much of his childhood playing and laughing with his mother.

He slid his fingers over the dead tree's bark, and now could actually see the vision of his childhood more easily. In between the sweet scents, he ran and fell at that particular spot where peonies danced to his mother's magical melody. Then near the lilies, there was a slender but tall tree he didn't know the name of, where he and his mother used to mark his height every month. He smiled slightly at the memories, and unconsciously walked around to recollect more and more of them.

Eventually, he ambled out of the back garden, circling around the building and sweeping his eyes over every corner of the Manor's path, the statues, the grand fountain, the pillars. He used to fly in the front garden, laughing merrily as he watched his father's peacocks hounding their victims, mostly lowly guards or his fathers' guests. He loved to sit near the fountain when he was sulking, listening to the soft sounds of water sliding down, as though it tried to cheer him up. He loved to hide behind the dragon statue whenever he played hide and seek with Goyle, Crabbe and Pansy. And he loved to gallop through the main door every time he heard his father's heavy footsteps, after stubbornly waiting for him to return from work.

Inside the Manor, he remembered his wild magic broke several frames of portraits in the entrance hall once, and he was terrified by the wrath of his grandfather Abraxas Malfoy's portrait. In the halls, he learned to walk as silently as possible in order to gain the Malfoy's refinement, despite wanting only to skip or run noisily. He often played pranks on the House Elves in the kitchen, only to be captured by his father because Goyle and Crabbe wouldn't leave the food alone. The parlour was where his Mother often served her guests, while Draco preened with compliments about how sweet he was as a child. And then the drawing room . . . .

He loved to spend his time there with his parents. They would all drink tea, talk about mundane things and basically be a family. He liked to bring books from his father's library and read them there while his father talked with his mother. Sometimes he just fell asleep there, and woke up in his bed. He was a spoiled kid, and now that he thought about it, his life was perfect with a composed mother and superior father.

But that was before the war.

The bright reminiscence of his childhood changed into dark, sickening images of torture and killings and the horrible laughter of Death Eaters. All the light went from his view, replaced by blood, gore and the way Professor Charity Burbage twisted in the air as a green light shot through her. Draco squeezed his eyes closed, helplessly working on emptying his mind. As he opened his eyes again, he could see his ten year old self sitting on an armchair, a teacup in hand as he glanced every so often at his father, trying to copy every movement. Then it distorted into a huge slimy snake hissing and sliding along the feet of masked wizards and witches, howling Muggles writhing on the floor. Just as fast as it came, it vanished into his own self laughing with Pansy, as he tried to kiss her in the summer before their fourth year.

And it blinked, blinked, blinked, darkness and light, music and screams, until finally all he could see was the emptiness of the room before him. Dusty, old and bland, save for the three cushions and a small square table in the middle. An abandoned place.

Exhausted, Draco dragged his feet towards his bedroom, all the while taking in every spider web present in the hallways just like he did before he went to Hogwarts. But now, he didn't see it as a sign of shame or failure. It was simply the proof his existence. A matter of fact statement of what he had been through—before, during and after the war.

Dropping his back onto the bed, he pressed his arm over his eyes, thinking only about breathing.

He finally understood. He had accepted it.

He just needed to let go.

. .

. .


At the start of summer term Draco decided to actually ask for help. Going to St. Mungo's, as Madam Pomfrey suggested when he told her about his difficulties in digesting food, was not the thing he had in mind, though. He just needed a little more time, he explained, and he was positive he was recovering—his body was just still suffering from the after-effect. After all, human bodies weren't made for healing damage by themselves. Moreover with the N.E.W.T.s just before him, he couldn't afford the time for examinations at St. Mungo's. Especially not when he already knew what his problem was.

In the end, he managed to convince her to give him potions to drink before each meal, to help his alimentary canal work normally. The only problem was just that contrary to its purpose, the taste of the potion was vile, although it worked wonders. He was able to swallow and keep the food down. It was slow progress, and he still didn't have his normal appetite, but at least it was still progress. On top of that, he continued to meditate before sleeping to bring balance to his still erratic emotions.

The most surprising moment after he was back at Hogwarts, however, came from Goyle. After days watching Draco manage to eat, Goyle stared at him oddly, and then let out something that was close to a smile.

"I'll give you one of my muffins."

Draco sent him a horrified glance. "What?"

Goyle looked wistful as he scooped up the small chocolate chip muffin from on top of maybe twenty others, but he shoved it onto Draco's plate and grinned. "Hogwarts has the best muffins."

Draco was just about to say that he didn't need food recommendations mainly because he had been at Hogwarts just as long as Goyle had, but he paused midway and closed his mouth again. It finally struck him that . . . all this time Goyle was just worried in a very Goyle way.

Draco wondered if he actually wasn't as perceptive as he liked to believe.

It was kind of nice actually. Furthermore, now that Draco no longer had the convenience of hiding behind the shields, he was more aware of the glares and mocking from other houses' students. Like when he wanted to go to the library and couldn't avoid the group of Ravenclaw brats. The boiling rage was almost uncontrollable when he remembered what they said about his parents. For that reason, he was thankful Goyle was more than happy to eliminate every threat that was coming his way and from him.

Still, he could no longer go to the Astronomy Tower.

"I can't right now," he said when Astoria asked if he wanted to help her fold more paper birds. "But when I get over—I mean, no, I can't promise when, but . . . ."

Astoria didn't question him. Draco couldn't ask for a better girl, really. He wrapped his arms around her waist, kissing the crown of her head, enjoying the gentle waft of jasmine and citrus. She patted his back once, twice, then softly, "I've almost finished the drawing. Would you like to see?"

Draco closed his eyes, inhaling the sweetness that was Astoria for the last time, and released her. "Show me," he said, smiling. The way she brightened up was such that he almost regretted his much thought about decision. Maybe he hadn't thought about it long enough—

"Why don't you charm these?" he asked her after he shuffled through sketches and sketches of Hogwarts castle. Astoria pursed her lips as she leaned back onto the corridor's wall.

"I don't want them to move. I want them to be precisely like that. For memories."

"Hmm." He nodded, then stared at her more closely. Her lips looked thin and soft and he supposed if he wanted to kiss her, she might let him. Instead he asked, "Astoria Greengrass, do you know you're perfect?"

"For you or to you?" She blinked.

"Both I guess," Draco said, nodding twice to prove his point. "I think it'd be easy if we were together."

Astoria laughed, smoothing the front of her robes. "Perfect because it'd be easy?"

"That's what most people want, isn't it?"

Smiling sadly, Astoria shook her head. "But you're not one of those people."

Draco smiled back. "Not anymore."

Astoria nodded and then took her sketches, fingers lingering on top of Draco's for a moment. "It's all right, Draco. It's all right."

As always, Draco wanted to cling to her words, taking everything he wanted from her mere presence, and he was afraid that the dreaded regret might have started creeping inside. But for once Astoria was wrong. It wasn't all right. Not when he decided to leave behind someone as wonderful as she was. But he remained still, knowing better than to hide all over again, and said, "I know. You're always right."

Her smile was so beautiful it hurt to see.

The next night at the end of April, Draco rested his head on Pansy's lap, counting the number of torches in the common room absently. Pansy's fingers floated lazily in his hair, her humming was soft and familiar. Draco thought of kissing Astoria, then thought of kissing Pansy. Both were delicious and soft and all curves under his fingers.

"Potter wants to talk to me," he said.

Pansy's fingers paused for a brief moment. "Oh? Did something happen? I thought I saw you both ignore each other in Potions and Transfiguration."

"That's the problem," said Draco. He thought of strength and anger and sharp angles. "I think I'm doomed."

"Interesting, Draco, I never knew you were scared to talk to Potter."

He laughed, laughed and laughed, until she slapped his forehead.

"Explain yourself." She glared.

"The thing is," Draco wheezed, "I want to take my words back."

Pansy's eyebrows rose so high. "What words?"

"At Madam Puddifoot's."

Silence, and then, "Merlin, Draco," she gasped, horrified.

"I know." He thought of the wet, brave kiss, the dull pain of that metal frame digging into his skin, the low moans that sounded too masculine, and was certain those were what he wanted. "I'm doomed."

"You are." Pansy nodded, the corners of her lips tugged into a smirk. "Thankfully I'm used to seeing you in your doom."

Draco laughed again, slapping his hand on Pansy's forehead as she shrieked in protest.

. .

. .


The light from Draco's Lumos swayed as he shifted his position on the tiles. Potter dragged himself nearer, all the while staring at the empty golden frame, his own Lumos making his shadow dance across it as he moved. If Draco were honest, there were better places for them to talk, but Potter only asked him to come with him, a painful plea in his eyes, and pulled him to sit in the same alcove they had occupied on Christmas Eve. Draco pursed his lips in contemplation.

"I should take points from Gryffindor, you know. For disobeying the curfew."

"I don't care," Potter said, shrugging.

"How selfish you are."

"I am, I always am."

"You're kidding," said Draco sceptically. "There's no one more selfless than the Saviour of Wizarding World."

Smiling wistfully, Potter shook his head. "You'd be surprised."

"Give me a name."

Potter looked up, appearing to study the cracks on the opposite wall. Draco noted that maybe this part had been overlooked when they reconstructed the place. "Snape," said Potter after a moment of silence.

"Pardon?"

"Professor Snape." Potter smirked, yet it didn't reach his eyes. "Your mum, too."

"My mother and Professor Snape?" Draco asked edgily. "Are you really Harry Potter?" He paused, thinking. "But you were willing to be a good little spy for my mother."

Running a hand through his hair, Potter sighed. Draco wondered why his fingers weren't stuck in that rat's nest. "You know, that's why I said I'm selfish, and that your mother isn't."

"Elaborate," Draco snapped. "You really aren't as mysterious as you imagine."

Rolling his eyes, Potter leaned back, his shoulder brushing against Draco's. "Snape was doing everything he could in the war because he loved my mum. And your mum did everything—because she loves you. While I only cared about what I should do now that the war is over. Just like you said." He stared up, shrugging. "That's why I'm selfish."

Ouch. Despite already knowing, it still stung.

"I still don't understand. What did my mother do?" he asked instead.

"She lied to Voldemort—" Potter seemed to notice Draco flinch. "—she said I was dead. She saved my life. If it wasn't for her . . ."

"She saved you?" Now Draco wasn't sure if that was his own voice or a Banshee's. "She lied to the Dark—" He gulped. "Merlin . . . ."

"She did it because she didn't want you to die."

"She could have been killed!"

Potter laughed dryly. "Is that really so hard to believe? You lied to save me, too."

Draco stared for a long time, dubious. "Whatever are you talking about, Potter?"

"You know, at Malfoy Manor—"

"I didn't do anything." Draco sneered. "It was only one lie. It wasn't like jumping into a fire or anything."

Potter laughed, his expression didn't match, though. His eyes were sad and shadowed. "A year ago, I might agree." Picking up the loose thread on the hem of his jumper, he exhaled a shaky breath. "But it doesn't matter what way you took, it doesn't need to be something fancy because . . . in the end it still saved me. I learned about that the hard way." He looked straight at Draco. "From Snape."

Draco was at a loss. He wanted to ask what Snape had done that could change Potter's mind so much. The arrogant, self-righteous Potter. He bit the inside of his cheek, and asked instead, "Is that why you followed my mother's request? Because you owe her?"

Potter nodded. "At first I didn't want to. I was so . . . well, I really didn't know what to do when everyone cheered for the victory. I was so angry, because so many people died, and really, I didn't defeat Voldemort by myself. I don't deserve all that attention, sometimes I wondered if I chose the right thing, if maybe I should have died, but then . . . ." He took off his glasses, blinking too fast as he wiped them with a dirty, small cloth, then put them on again. "I saw you, and I knew there was something wrong with you. Things were weird, I just couldn't leave you alone. I've observed you for years, and that feels familiar. I felt like maybe I can live again . . . ." He sighed, looking apologetically at Draco. "I'm sorry, I know you're right. I'm sorry I used you."

Draco took a deep breath, frantically willing himself not to break down. He set his jaw, looking up at the dark ceiling and staying that way until he was sure he wouldn't cry. "I'm improving. I'm trying to recover, if that's what you're worried about."

Potter didn't answer for a long while, his gaze didn't leave the side of Draco's face. When he answered, his voice was quiet. "Yeah," he said.

"So you can rest assured and stop stalking me. Stop looking at me as your convenient damsel."

Silence again, then, "Yeah . . . ."

"And stop thinking that you should have died or about whatever choices you made."

This time no answer was coming. Draco turned to face him.

"I don't know what happened in your great life as the Saviour, and I'm not sure I want to know because we were enemies and I absolutely don't want to hear anything that can break my still fragile heart—I'm still recovering, Potter, you remember that—but you should shut up about your choices because they're done and what use is it to think about them now?"

Potter blinked, his mouth agape.

"So you don't know what to do after the Dark Lord died? Well, so what? You're only eighteen, doesn't almost every teenager feel lost about their future?" Draco huffed, glaring at Potter. "What you're feeling now is what normal people feel. Shouldn't you enjoy it for once now that your life is no longer mapped out for you?"

Deep inside, Draco felt like a hypocrite because he was no better than Potter. McGonagall could vouch for his hypocrisy. Potter's dumbfounded expression, though, was worth every lie.

"I've . . . never thought of it that way," Potter admitted quietly.

"Why am I not surprised?"

"So . . . you're lost, too?"

"Me? You're kidding," Draco lied smoothly, crossing his arms over his chest and squaring his shoulders. Then he sent a sidelong glance at Potter. "Don't you have it, though? Another dream?"

"Er," said Potter, scrunching his nose. "Killing Voldemort wasn't a dream, but—yeah, I guess I want to be an Auror."

"Huh. Render me speechless, Potter. Good luck finding my substitute then. I'm sure there are plenty of other pitiful victims out there," Draco drawled. "And please stop saying that name."

"What?" Potter cheered up visibly. "Oh, Voldemort?"

"I hate you," Draco mumbled. Sceptically he watched Potter grin, marvelling at why he let himself fall for this dreadful creature beside him, not least because the creature only saw him as an object to satisfy his Hero Complex. Again, the world seemed to conspire against Draco. Well, at least the dreadful creature didn't look so dreadful physically.

Clearing his throat, Draco patted his robes as he stood up. "If you're done . . ."

"Wait!" Potter jumped to his feet, looking a bit hysterical. At Draco's raised eyebrows, he rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. "Uh, so, do you think . . . ."

"I still don't forgive you," Draco said quickly. Potter looked crestfallen, then he dipped his head in defeat. Before he could say anything more, though, Draco continued, "But I'll think about it if you help me with something."

Potter was dumbfounded. "Didn't you say you don't want to be helped?"

"I don't want you to see me like a victim," Draco hissed. "I see this proposition as a mutually beneficial arrangement."

If Potter was cynical, he didn't show it. "Spill then."

Draco smirked.

. .

. .


"Mr Malfoy, while I'm impressed you finally exhibited some change in your report, I have difficulty believing your sincerity," said McGonagall as she tapped Draco's last effort on the desk with her forefinger. "What brings this sudden request?"

"I have thought about what I'll do after I graduate, Professor," Draco said. "I'm aware my position will make it hard for me to jump back into our society, but that's why I'd like to widen my scope. That's the only thing I can do."

McGonagall only stared at him for a moment, before she read Draco's letter again. "You're requesting to increase your N.E.W.T.s to eight subjects, consisting of Potions, Charms, Study of Advanced Runes, Transfiguration, Arithmancy, Herbology, Defence Against the Dark Arts and Muggle Studies. As far as I know, Mr Malfoy, you're not taking Defence Against the Dark Arts and Muggle Studies classes."

"Yes, Professor, but I know we can still take the N.E.W.T.s despite not attending the lessons."

"The likelihood of passing them, however, is limited. And as I hope you're aware, the N.E.W.T. examinations will take place in another month."

"I am, Professor," Draco said firmly. "But I'd like to try. And I have a good tutor for Defence."

Upon Draco's statement, McGonagall raised her eyebrows. "Do you mean Professor Wayne Waterbook has agreed to—"

"No," Draco answered as he tried to remember the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher's face. In the end he dismissed it as unimportant. "But you can trust me." He smiled smugly.

McGonagall was clearly underwhelmed by Draco's assurances. "Very well, I assume you have this miraculous tutor for Muggle Studies as well?"

"Uh," said Draco, a bit unsure. "No, actually. But I'll study, I promise."

"Mr Malfoy." There was a warning in McGonagall's tone. "Why the sudden interest in this subject? Why not choose Astronomy instead, which you did an adequate job for, as I recall?"

"Because . . . ." Draco sighed, looking down at the wood grain on McGonagall's desk. "I need to prepare myself. Just in case I can't . . . in our society."

Draco chanced a glance at McGonagall and saw her thinning her lips. She then nodded slowly, shuffling scrolls and blank parchment to one side of her desk. "I will take care of the applications. You may take the subjects you've chosen, and I expect you to use your remaining month as best as you can."

Sighing in relief, Draco nodded. "I will. Thank you, Professor."

"And Mr Malfoy," called McGonagall as Draco was about to head towards the door. He turned around, blinking when he saw McGonagall smile. "No need to send me reports anymore. Good luck."

It was all Draco could do not to grin like an idiot. "Thank you, Professor."

. .

. .


"Confringo."

The red light from Potter's Expelliarmus shot through Draco's weak mist, and he had to skip aside to avoid the strike.

"Bloody hell!" He gave up, throwing himself onto a chair and breathing heavily. He could feel sweat rolling from his forehead. "This wand is just useless."

Across the classroom, Potter studied him, wand in hand. It was as if he wanted to say something but didn't know what to say, so Draco beat him to it.

"It's all right, I can't use my wand as long as I don't beat you, anyway." He waved his hand dismissively. Staring at his mother's old wand, Draco traced its silky contour, wishing it would start obeying his will. It should have been a very powerful wand, if only—

"Is that why you didn't take Defence?" Potter asked, shuffling closer to where Draco sat.

"Mm. It's not that bad in Charms and Transfiguration, but in Defence I'm expected to cast a spell in a flash, hence this wand isn't adequate."

Flopping down beside him, Potter looked thoughtful. "You know, maybe if we duel every day, you'll get used to it. But this classroom isn't an ideal place." He looked around the small, abandoned classroom, with too many tables and chairs taking up the space even when they had been shoved back. "Maybe we should check if the Room of Requirement still has its magic—"

"I'm fine with this room," Draco said too quickly. Potter froze.

"Oh," he said, swallowing. "Right, this classroom is fine. Maybe we should just shrink the tables and chairs."

"Yeah, let's do that."

The next fifteen minutes they spent shrinking the furniture and piling it all in a corner. Without any obstacles in the middle, the room was plenty big enough for the two of them, and so Draco secretly blew out a relieved breath. Potter never brought up about moving to another room again, though Draco prayed neither Filch nor Peeves would stop by and notice all the stuff had mysteriously shrunk.

Potter was not a decent teacher, it seemed. He had claimed that he had taught other students in his whatever club to fight evil, but really, he was never patient enough to teach. Or perhaps, it was only because his opponent was Draco that he seemed to always lose control and thus forget the fact that Draco had a useless wand. By their eighth meeting that month, he cast spells so savagely that Draco was forced to react by releasing his wild magic.

The blackboard cracked dangerously before it exploded entirely, sending debris right at Potter's back. Rolling on the floor, Potter panted as he observed his surroundings, his expression shocked. Draco was sure his own expression was not too different.

"Bloody hell, was that yours?" Potter's voice was slightly above a whisper.

"I think so," Draco said, eyes wide. "My magic won't channel through the wand. It went wild." That was embarrassing. Draco had never let his magic loose wildly ever since he came to Hogwarts, but now, in front of Potter of all people . . . . "Fuck, I'm—" Running his hand over his face, Draco shook his head. "What am I thinking, wanting to take a N.E.W.T. in Defence?"

"Hey," Potter whispered, standing up and grasping Draco's shoulder. "Hey, it's okay, we still have three weeks."

"Do you think if I get a high mark for the theory, I can still pass without a decent mark in the practical exam?"

"Honestly, Malfoy, I don't know." Potter shook his head. "But we can still try. You're not giving up, are you?"

Taking a deep breath, Draco stared at the ceiling for a while. As always, Potter's gaze was roaming on the side of his face, and he couldn't help but smile weakly. "No, I've given up for too long. I can't give up anymore."

"Good." Potter squeezed his shoulder, and then proceeded to take his duelling position. His shoulder blades shifted under the thin fabric of his white shirt as he walked. Draco watched until Potter turned around and shot his eyebrows up askance. "Ready?"

Settling his breath and mind—he definitely should stop thinking about someone who wasn't interested inhim—he nodded and took his stance. Potter was more careful this time. Draco wasn't certain if it was a nice thing, though. The rest of the evening, Draco didn't let out any wild magic, but he didn't improve either. Only one thing he was sure of—the more time he spent with Potter, the more he realised how miserable he was.

Potter, it seemed, was getting back with Girl Weasley. Sometimes, before their appointment, Draco would catch him talking with her, and a couple of times she even walked together with him until just before the empty classroom's door. She scrutinised Draco as if Draco was a pest, but when she asked Potter what in the world he was doing every day with Draco in the classroom, Potter didn't answer her.

Good for him, because otherwise Draco would have to kill him.

In spite of the routine duels, though, Draco's wand work was still below adequate. Add the burden of Muggle Studies, which he knew absolutely nothing about despite devouring half the Muggle Theories books in the library, and the other six subjects he had taken for N.E.W.T.s, Draco was beyond depressed. By the third week of May, Draco was ready to drown himself in the lake.

Pansy was amused by the idea, though.

"Draco, if you want to die, isn't it better to haunt the girls bathroom rather than the lake? You'll be lonely with only the Giant Squid as your friend."

"Bathrooms are off limits. They're Myrtle's," said Draco through clenched teeth.

Skipping lightly on the grass, Pansy put a hand on her forehead to shadow her eyes, as she squinted at the calm surface of the lake. The sun was setting on the horizon, but Draco was in no mood to enjoy the normally breathtaking view. He leaned on his elbows, legs spreading on the grass, sulking.

"Don't worry, Myrtle's willing to share. She likes you," Pansy said amiably.

"How about I haunt you instead? So you won't be able to get a boyfriend for the rest of your life."

"That's low, Draco." Pansy tutted. Then she sprawled beside him, smiling all the while. "All right, tell me what's wrong."

"Nothing's wrong."

"Potter and Ginny Weasley. Is that what this is all about?"

"I don't understand what you mean."

"Draco—"

"I'm taking eight N.E.W.T.s, Pansy, that's all this is about," Draco said, and was shocked to find his voice was closer to a whine.

"Eight N.E.W.T.s and a Potter-Weasley alliance." Pansy studied her nails, unimpressed. "Honestly, Draco, you don't know if they're really together."

"Looks to me like they are." Draco sulked.

"Honestly." Pansy sighed, crossing her arms over her bosom. "Talk to Potter. You spend time every day with him and yet you haven't used it to your advantage."

"In case you haven't noticed, I'm busy trying not to get killed by Potter."

"That's no excuse. The Draco I know has never backed down when courting women." Pansy harrumphed. Draco rolled his eyes.

"Potter is no woman, and even if he were, I'd never lay my hands on someone who's already taken." Besides, he had only been close with Pansy and Astoria, why would Pansy make it sound like he was a playboy or something? He suppressed a shudder.

"Silly boys." Pansy snorted.

"Elegant as always, Milady."

She laughed, jabbing Draco's waist. He was forced to roll, striving desperately to get away as her fingers started to tickle him. As he laughed and yelled, face flushed and no N.E.W.T.s or Potter occupying his mind, Draco felt vastly better. When he went back to the empty classroom, however, his mood deflated drastically. Potter was chatting by the door with Girl Weasley.

"My, don't mind me, you should find a room," Draco drawled sarcastically, sneering at the display. Potter grinned when he turned, clearly he didn't really hear what Draco had said, but he frowned immediately.

"What happened?" he asked.

"Harry, can't you just leave him alone?" Girl Weasley sighed, looking frustrated. "N.E.W.T.s are less than a week away, shouldn't you study?"

"By study you mean snog the breath out of each other." Draco sneered. "Well, go on, Potter, you're free to go."

"Harry isn't your servant, he doesn't need you to tell him he's free to go." Girl Weasley glared. Potter held her arm confusedly.

"No, Ginny, wait." He watched Draco. "There's something wrong."

"Oh, sod off, Potter," Draco snarled, slamming the door open and filing inside. He locked it just because it gave him some assurance, then stomped to the far wall. Sitting on the floor, he leaned back, head thudding the wall lightly as he ran his hands down his face.

That was unnecessary, he should know better than venting his frustration on Potter. That was even more embarrassing than his wild magic flaunt weeks prior. Draco groaned. He really shouldn't have signed up for eight N.E.W.T.s . . . .

After about ten minutes, there was a sound coming from the door, and Potter slipped quietly inside. He lit the torches on the walls and closed the door again, head cocking on one side. "Should I lock it?"

Draco closed his eyes, suddenly exhausted. "Whatever, people can open it again with Alohomora, anyway."

"Er, if it's necessary, I can cast a stronger spell," said Potter, unsure. But Draco simply shook his head, not even looking. "Okay, then." There were clomping sounds, then suddenly Draco's shoulder brushed against something. Draco cracked one eye open. "So, what's wrong, Malfoy?"

Draco sighed. "Nothing. I was just too stressed out, I guess. I'm still not balanced, you know."

"But you were never balanced before," Potter pointed out, grinning.

"True enough." Draco shrugged one shoulder. "That just means I'm more imbalanced than before."

"You're eating well?"

Draco peered at him. "Are you going to report to my mother again?"

"No, I've stopped. But I will if I must."

Draco drew up his knees, resting his forehead on them. "I've been on potions. Madam Pomfrey gave me enough to last until N.E.W.T.s, I have to ask for more after that, though."

"I see," said Potter.

For a long time, only the sounds of their breathing were there. Draco was content enough to bury his face in between his knees, arms hanging limply at his sides. Yet, to Potter silence was never blissful.

"Are you all right, though? Do you want to cancel our duel?"

"I don't think I can pass," Draco finally admitted. "I don't even think I can pass the other subjects, either, now that I've wasted my time studying a subject I have no chance of passing."

There was a sighing sound. "Malfoy, you're giving up again."

"Shouldn't I be?" Draco shifted so his cheek was on his knees, and he could see Potter's concerned eyes behind his glasses. "I really—I don't know anymore."

"Malfoy—"

"No, don't." Draco held a hand up. "I know I shouldn't give up. It's just—it'll go by, I guess."

Potter nodded, still watching him. His hand came up to Draco's hair, fiddling with the locks lightly. Draco's heart skipped a beat. "What?" he snapped.

Laughing, Potter didn't recoil. "It's just, the fire from the torches are reflected here. Your hair looks nice."

Something twisted in Draco's chest. Half-heartedly, he swatted Potter's hand away. "Don't do that."

"Oh, sorry."

Potter was fretting again, nibbling on his lower lip and staring straight ahead at the door. Draco saw how the fire reflected on his glasses, his cheeks, the muscles on his arms that were peeking from under that short sleeved t-shirt. He remembered how that body felt inside his arms, how it felt to nip at that lower lip—he almost volunteered to replace Potter's teeth with his own. But he asked instead, "Is it all right leaving her like that?"

"What? Oh." Potter's swallowed. "It's all right."

"You're together again, aren't you?"

Potter hesitated. "It's not going to work, though."

"Then why?"

Sighing, Potter leaned his head back. "I don't know. Pressure, I guess. Stupidity."

"You like having your life decided for you?"

"No. No, but—I've always lived like that. I just don't know how not to live like that," said Potter wryly.

"I'm the same as you, but I want to try." Draco shifted to get a closer look at Potter, his fingers brushing against Potter's cheekbone. Potter's breath hitched. "I want to try. Shouldn't you try, too?" He stroked Potter's jaw, then back to his cheek.

"You're trying too hard," whispered Potter. Draco's fingers stilled, and he held Potter's eyes for what seemed longer than it must have been. Eventually he reached down, leaning his head back and observed the boring door instead.

"Yeah, I'm trying too hard and I still won't get anything."

Potter didn't answer. He continued to chew on his lower lip, not even daring a glance towards Draco. Finally, he left without a word.

. .

. .



Part 4

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