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it’s a long way up (when you’re falling down)

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On the last day of the Christmas holidays, his father took him to their library. Now, given that Draco had spent most of his holidays and his childhood in there when he was not entertaining guests (his friends, his mother’s friends’ children), he was quite certain that he knew where everything was - he could tell you, for instance, where to find a book on the care and breeding of Frost Snails.

Which was why his thoughts were mostly occupied with worry as he dutifully followed his father to the back of the library. There had once been an armchair, royal blue and regal, that he’d accidentally transfigured into a squashy formless cushion and stashed near there.

‘Should have banished it,’ he thought a little frantically when it appeared that they were heading towards that corner of the library. But it really was comfortable, certainly more comfortable than it used to be. And he had done it five years ago, so he could not really be faulted for making a mistake. Besides, he hadn't yet learned the spell for vanishing objects then, had he?

There was nothing he could do now, except for pasting on the frigid smile he reserved for occasions in which he was in trouble. Even if he did wish that his father had chosen a day not so near his birthday to do this.

Except, right before rounding the shelf that would take them to the former-chair, his father came to an abrupt stop and Accio’d a book – it flew off the third shelf from the top, further up than Draco would usually peruse. Flipping it open, Lucius tapped on the dedications page with his wand and muttered something under his breath, before closing the book and handing it to Draco.

For the first time in his lifetime, Draco had the honour of seeing his father flustered – a state he had only heard about from his mother while he was still young enough to sit in her lap and listen to her stories of their courtship.

“Well,” Lucius began. Halting for a moment, he appeared to be searching for words, before he continued, “You are almost an adult, Draco.” A pause. “The book will clarify any doubts you might have.” Yet another pause. Draco was growing more mystified by the second. “If you have any queries, you are welcome to… clarify them with me.” He finished the sentence stiffly, before he turned in a clear dismissal and fled.

Or, well, as close to it as Draco had ever seen.

Draco looked down at the book.

A Veela’s Guide To Preparing For Your Sixteenth.

A nice, sensible title. Flipping the book open to a random page, he stared, a little gobsmacked, at the graphically detailed pictures that were…. Flames rose in his cheeks, and he slammed the book shut and attempted to send it back.

He was not going to read that. Ever. Never.

When the book refused to be sent anywhere, he gave up with a sigh and took it with him to his room. It taunted him from his desk until he sat up, strode over to the desk, grabbed the book, and stuffed it into his childhood chest of toys. He let the Harry Potter doll Tipsy made for him bury it. Out of sight, out of mind.

Feeling infinitely better, he crawled into bed and drifted straight into slumber, forgetting all about the book and its implications.

~~~.~~~


Now, the thing was, he didn’t actually hate Potter.

The fact was, he had finally given up on living in denial. Which, in turn, meant accepting that he didn’t actually hate Potter. He had, after all, spent most of the previous year staring at Potter’s hands (and his lips and his hair – Merlin could he please brush it or not leave it looking like he had just had wild sex) instead of the Snitch. There were the times in lessons, too, his attention drifting over there before he could catch and bring himself back to his conversation with Pansy or Blaise or Theo.

It really, really didn’t help that during the week of final exams, on his birthday, he woke up feeling completely out of sorts and kept noticing things, like the way Potter pushed his glasses up when he was caught not paying attention in class, or the way his lips flickered out a little every now and then, or the way he twirled his quill around his finger, or…

Pushing that disturbingly attractive image to the warehouse of unimportant stuff in the back of his mind, he glared at the plate in front of him until Pansy sat down next to him and started yammering about the Astronomy test they'd had last night. Smoothing out his expression, he joined in the conversation, determined not to let anything show.

That did not suffice, however.

Throughout the rest of the year, he spent half his time being too distracted by Potter’s invasion of his thoughts to focus on catching miscreants. The other half was spent drifting somewhere in his own world, which made Pansy worried.

That was the only reason he really put in effort to do something big, to prove that nothing was wrong, that he hated Potter and Gryffindors and their self-righteousness. Snagging Potter and his gaggle was a gigantic bonus, even if the way the year ended wiped out any lingering pride.

~~~.~~~

When he got home, he discovered that someone had taken the book from where he hid it and placed it on the desk. The book seemed to be glaring accusingly at him, quite loud in its silent disapproval of his negligence.

Oh dear, he thought a little faintly, realizing that it must have been one of those sentient books. No wonder it refused to be sent away. All thoughts of Potter dissipated; he approached the book carefully, uncertain as to whether it would be pissed off enough at him to actually hurt him – how, he was not sure, but books had a way – and reached out for it.

It opened to his touch to a chapter on inheritance, thankfully without the randy pictures.

Skimming the text briefly, he noted that dominance appeared to be the most common trait to manifest during the inheritance on the day the veela matures. So that was why, Draco thought, his hand falling to his side. The restlessness, the uneasiness, the distraction. He needed a focus, and he did not have one.

He’d have to find one, then.

~~~.~~~

It was not to be. As the holidays passed, he found himself initiated (he shuddered to even recall the ‘ceremony’) into the Dark Lord’s service. Suddenly saddled with a task that he could not afford to fail, he now had a new set of priorities. One that did not involve frivolities such as searching for a focus.

Of course, he had to seem appropriately excited at the prospect of having to murder the greatest wizard alive; he must have done well enough, for even his mother seemed to believe him – but he was not really blind, or deaf, or an idiot. He had no wish to serve the slimy, noseless, slit-eyed, brainless bastard. He had standards, damnit and he would rather not have to serve anyone, period.

But his father wasn’t there anymore, so he had to stand up and take his place to keep the rest of family from being seen. His father wasn’t there to protect them from the maniac, so he had to do this and he had to do this right.

He had to succeed, because he refused to see his mother dead.

Which was why, right before boarding the train, he closed his eyes and combed through his priorities, sorting them out and then vowing that he would not spend this year vying for Potter’s attention, too. Quidditch, Potions, the taunts and the jeers – they were not important this year.

Not at all.

When the opportunity arose, however, he really couldn’t resist it.

Potter was eavesdropping on him. Him. It wasn’t flattering, really, no, and he was not pleased that it took 5 years to finally be important enough for Potter to listen to.

He was not pleased and Potter needed to know that, so he put his foot down and grinded it. In. It had to hurt. In a flash of Ravenclaw brilliance, he grabbed the cloak and hid Potter under it.

Maybe then, he’d be unable to come to school this year, and Draco would finally be able to concentrate. On the important things. That were not the way Potter’s bloody hands gripped the broomstick when he flew. Or on his lips. Or on anything about him. And if he was lucky, maybe the Mudblood (who seriously needed to start using hair potions) and the Weasel (who was a hopeless case, no amount of potions would save him from being a ginger fool) would go on a manhunt for him and manage to get booted from the school, too.

The slight twinge in his gut when he sat down in the Hall and Potter wasn’t there was not guilt. The feeling when he saw Potter come back with a bloody nose was not relief tinged with guilt, either.

It was not.

~~~.~~~

Three weeks into the term, Draco gave in and admitted to himself that he was not being paranoid, because, yes, Potter was actually following him around. Everywhere.

How Potter was actually going about this Draco had no idea, because the only class they shared was Potions as that doffer didn't take Ancient Runes or Arithmancy. And after his classes, he always took care to take the most winding and complicated route he could, if only to ensure that no one could follow him. How Potter still managed to keep showing up baffled him, even if he did always manage to shake him off. Never mind why Potter chose now, of all times, to start tailing him.

Hadn’t he made it clear, right from the start, that he didn’t want to be Draco’s friend? Didn’t want to be his anything, really. He couldn't even be bothered when Draco wasn’t right there in front of him, wanting to hex his face off, that urge growing into something stupid as he grew older but never quite changing the fact that he had always seen Potter, but Potter had never even tried.

Oh, right.

The irony.

Five years, doing his best to make Potter notice him, provoking him just to get him to look, and the one year he didn’t want Potter to see him, Potter finally decided to deem him worthy of attention.

The situation was just so hilariously ridiculous that he would have laughed if he wasn’t so fucking tired of this.

Most days he was exhausted, alright. Keeping up with schoolwork while doing illegal activities and dodging Potter was hard. So much harder than it sounds. Made even harder by how much hewanted. Because, Merlin, he wanted, his veela wanted – it had made itself clear, giving him dreams every night, vivid, detailed dreams that left him gasping in a wet mess every single morning. It was a real exercise of self-control to prevent himself from preening whenever he caught Potter looking. Walking away was easier said than done, as was hoping Potter would take the hint and leave him alone.

Couldn't he just understand that Draco didn't want his attention because it was too much of a distraction, didn't want to pick a fight because he didn’t have the energy to spare and didn't want him to be there because he absolutely couldn’t fucking deal with natural veela-ish urges while trying to kill the most powerful wizard in the entire wizarding world?

He didn’t have enough self-control, not really, and it had gone on long enough that if he saw Potter again he would snap. There was only so much he could hold his veela back from. He swore he would jump Potter and snog him senseless the next time that scarhead dared show his face, Merlin help those spectators, because –

No.

Focus, idiot, he chided himself, taking an abrupt turn and slipping into the room, allowing himself to exhale in relief. Not a pretty place for his thoughts to go.

Except…

That would deter Potter, wouldn’t it?

If he actually went and kissed Potter, he would be distracted, too. And likely disgusted. His veela flinched at the prospect, and yes, it kind of hurt a little to think of that, but it was a good thing. If Potter was disgusted, he’d go away, right? He’d stop distracting Draco by always being around. And that wasn't just good, that was great. He wouldn't have Potter distracting him from his top-secret-super-illegal mission, amongst other things.

Such as the fate of the Malfoy bloodline.

But…

He didn’t want to be rejected again.

His veela didn’t, either.

Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and shuttled the veela out of the way, sweeping it into the corner of his mind together with his other miscellaneous thoughts. He needed to focus.

And he focused.

He made some significant progress that night, and he was proud when he slipped out and snuck back to the dungeons. But his mood was ruined when he spotted Potter lurking, close to the dungeon entrance.

He would have approached Potter, except that something made him hold out. Some pride, perhaps, or just common sense telling him that if he didn’t go there, Potter wouldn’t notice him.

It wasn’t a disappointment when Potter simply left after a while, without even looking around.

~~~.~~~

The necklace was a doomed operation from the start – he knew it, but he had to try, hadn’t he?

~~~.~~~

Two weeks later, he conceded defeat. By that time, he was about ready to jump out of his skin at every whisper of the shadows whether he was with anyone or not. Even when there was no one there, it still felt like there were eyes on him all the time, always on him, watching, judging, finding him wanting. Lacking.

At that rate, he wouldn't need the Dark Lord to finish him off. He’d take a nosedive off the cliff of sanity first.

He couldn’t have known, but his veela somehow came with a built-in tosspot-who-wouldn’t-die radar. What with how much the usually docile veela side of him acted up, clamouring for him to do something, anything to get Potter’s attention as if he needed it, he really could not focus enough to work on anything.

It was decided, then. He had to give Potter something else to think about.

With that in mind, this time when lessons ended, he took his time heading towards one of the deserted corridors. His friends had already stopped inquiring after him, leaving him to do as he pleased, so that was one less worry. Knowing that Potter was following him was a heady power that truly bolstered his confidence and kept him going, barely tempered by the knowledge that after this, if it worked, Potter would not be following him around anymore.

Whirling around abruptly at the end of the corridor, he caught Potter standing on the other end, starting guiltily, as if only now realising that he had been had. Without waiting – knowing that he’d lose the courage he’s somehow gathered – Draco simply went for it, striding over and pushing Potter up against the wall. He was a coward, but in that moment he felt like a Gryffindor for the first time, putting his mouth against Potter’s and letting instincts take over and –

Merlin, it was fantastic, Potter was responding and opening his mouth a little bit, and then –

He flipped them around, so it was Draco trapped between Potter and the wall, and, for a brilliant, heat-seared moment, he forgot –

Forgot that he was here to make Potter leave him alone, that he had already anticipated the outcome long ago and had done this because he knew that Potter wouldn’t welcome this –

But, it was pulsing with an unfamiliar beat –

Oh, their heartbeat, and –

Potter shoved him away.

Except, he was already against the wall, so it was mostly just him banging his head against the wall a little more, dazed from the kiss that had gotten out of hand, and Potter staggered backwards, his hand coming up, covering his mouth –

And Draco didn’t flinch. Not even when Potter’s face, completely unguarded for a moment, displayed a shock that melted away into disbelief and disgust and a heavy dose of suspicion. Wiping his mouth decisively, he turned and stalked away –

The wordless dismissal wasn’t a rejection, he told his veela silently, because he wasn’t sure if he would believe that himself should he have said it out loud, either.

It wasn’t.

~~~.~~~

But.

Potter still followed him around.

Rather uncertainly at first, of course, which was a huge reprieve, but it was barely a week before Potter resumed his stalking as if nothing had happened. As if Draco hadn’t kissed him and gotten the kiss of his life in return, only to open his eyes afterwards and realise that Potter looked as if he had been given a Kiss, not a kiss.

It was kind of funny how the rejection still stung, even though it was precisely what he had been looking for. Why Potter would still trail him after that was a mystery, really – if it were him, he would have stayed away, as far away as he could physically get.

Then again, Potter had never been normal, had he.

It was a Tuesday when Potter dragged him into a broom closet after Herbology. He shoved him against the closed door and proceeded to snog the living hell out of him, one hand cupped firmly on Draco’s groin, heel of his palm grinding into his dick (which actually started to take an interest in the proceedings.) His other hand was planted beside Draco’s head on the door. It was pure ecstasy, and he was –

Potter broke it off, stumbling backwards again. Draco couldn’t see him in the darkness, but he could imagine it – and Potter, Potter had the audacity to shove past him and out of the closet, leaving him standing there. Alone. And, quite unfortunately, still really, really hard; Potter's residual heat gradually dissipating and the feeling of Potter’s lips on his own so hard to forget. “Screw you, Potter,” he hissed with feeling, his hands wandering unbidden. It felt like a betrayal to bring himself off, for some unfathomable reason. So, rather painfully, he tucked it aside and went to the Slytherin Quidditch locker room, only a corridor down, and took the coldest shower he could stand to take. It wasn’t hurt that he felt, not really.

It was just disappointment, that’s all.

~~~.~~~

The days following, Potter accosted him twice, thrice… in a supply closet, Filch stalking around the corner, in the quidditch locker room after a practice session, in a girl’s toilet, with its unfixed everything and flooded, dirty floor. Fortunately, perhaps, no one was ever around, and Potter always, always broke it off first.

Unfortunately, this all made it quite clear just what Draco was worth to Potter. A kiss and a grope in hidden away corners of the school where no one would look. A dirty little secret, that’s all this was.

By their sixth encounter, however, Draco had given up on putting up any resistance, because, damn Merlin to the deepest pit in the ocean, he couldn’t resist, couldn’t reject Potter. He blamed it all on his veela, but, honestly. Life, in general, just sucked, alright, with the Vanishing Cabinet refusing to work, and schoolwork piling up, and his friends finally wising up and leaving him alone, and Christmas rolling around with no results to show for the amount of work he put into everything the Dark Lord had asked for. Potter had become his focus because their encounters was a welcome break, even if they were brief and unsatisfying and always left him wanting, standing there alone still stuck in the moment.

~~~.~~~

“Well, Potter,” was on the tip of Draco’s tongue, when he ran into Potter after Arithmancy. He swallowed it back down when he saw Potter’s company, though.

Potter he could handle.

The Weaselette? The one who smiled coyly at Potter whenever he spared her his attention (which was too often)?

Well, Draco might end up hexing her if she spoke to him.

~~~.~~~

The problem with Potter, Draco found, was that he never stuck around long enough for Draco to give him a piece of his mind. He was a Malfoy, damnit, and Malfoys weren't supposed to be a dirty secret on the side. He had pride – not that it had been rearing its head lately – and Potter should have had more respect for him. Well, Draco should have had more respect for himself and put an end to this before (what, exactly?). But he hadn't, and now he was stuck being Potter’s little toy. (Draco didn’t like that arrangement at all, not because he wasn’t the one in charge, it was just that, shouldn’t they have been equals?)

The other problem was the pesky little fact that, for people who were supposed to find trading insults as easy as breathing, they had yet to exchange more than the few insults Draco could muster the strength to give. For all that they regularly found themselves in small, confined, dark spaces, they had not talked at all. All was silent apart from the occasional grunt. If he thought about it, he could have made an effort to get Potter to stay, but asking him tasted too much like defeat and ashes. Instead, he swallowed the thought every single time, engaging Potter in a battle of wills to see who would be the first to crack and make a sound.

Eventually, he started coming to terms with the fact that he could live with this, that he could (and probably would) subsist on apples and Potter and less than four hours of sleep every night. It wasn’t perfect, not anything he had ever wanted, but then again, it wasn't a good time to want things, was it.

It wasn’t ideal, but it was what it was.

~~~.~~~

Then, Christmas happened.

~~~.~~~

To be fair, the day of the Christmas Party had started out badly. A shock-cold sensation, the only remnant of a nightmare he couldn’t quite recall, lingered after he startled awake, keeping him from sleeping and leaving him with a bad disposition. Since he hadn't really wanted to go and face the Vanishing Cabinet again, he glanced at the table, trying to recall if there was any homework he should finish up –

And, there, there was that stupid book. It seemed to appear whenever he didn't want to do anything. He didn’t have anything more important to do, though, so he picked it up. As always, it fell open to the chapter the book wanted him to read – one about mating habits (he hadn’t even realised those were not just myths) and bonds.

By the end of that chapter, he sat there in his bed, hair all mussed up (since he hadn’t washed up yet), remembering all the times he couldn’t seem to say no to Potter.

According to the book, every veela had someone who would complete them, their one and only, who they would wait for and search for. For all that they were the embodiment of carnal desire and capable of making others crave them, they had never been a race who would settle for anyone less than that one who would love them completely and unequivocally, cherishing them as a gift, a blessing.

But Draco had always let Potter take him wherever and whenever. He wasn’t against Potter pinning him, kissing him, touching him –

The point was, he wasn’t pining.

Like he should be. According to the book.

It actually… made a screwed up sort of sense. That the one time he would be the special one, it would be that he was the only veela in the world who didn't need to wait for someone who would care, because he didn’t have that someone. That would be the only reason he was able to accept (and appreciate) Potter as much as he did, after all. Potter was so definitely not submissive, and he, as a veela, was the dominant one – Potter was not his.

And there was a bright side, really. Since he didn’t have anyone to wait for, he could fulfil his duty to his family and be able to participate in a proper marriage to a nice pureblood girl of good standing without hurting anyone.

There was still that persistent niggling feeling though, that it was because – well, all veelas had someone, right? And, he had to be good enough. Whoever the fates had arranged for him to be with would have been lucky to have him. Even if he wasn’t good enough to be his father’s son or a Malfoy, he had to be good enough for someone, right? This must have just been a mistake. Or, they had his birthdate mixed up, and – oh, or maybe it was because he had to wait until the other person turned sixteen?

It couldn't be because he wasn’t good enough for anyone.

Not particularly wanting to think about it anymore, he put the book aside and started getting dressed. Grooming was important, his mother always said – you can’t look like a Weasley, dear, you have to put in an effort to always look good – you never know when someone was watching.

Having already missed breakfast, Draco opted to go to the little cave he had found by the cliff a while back, a quiet space that was his, safe like the blanket forts he used to build with Crabbe and Goyle when they were children. Hogwarts had even given him a passage straight there from the dungeons – the portrait of little Miranda which hung shadowed by the locked cabinet in an abandoned classroom at the end of the corridor, held a stairwell that was his.

Coming up with other ideas to fix the cabinet and kill Dumbledore was time-consuming, and before he knew it, lunch had passed and it was close to dinnertime. Deciding that he needed to eat something, he packed up and stretched, satisfied with the little bit of progress he had made. There were still a few erroneous runes that he needed to switch out, and he should probably use an arithmetic base he had just read about to ground the cabinet – there was a feeling, an absence of an anchor.

Dinner was almost over when he got there though, so he snagged a few apples and headed for the Vanishing Room. No one would be lurking around anyway – not even Potter. They were all at the Sluggy Christmas Party.

~~~.~~~

The changes he made didn’t work, though.

Oh, sure, the apple was finally able to disappear completely, and it actually came back this time around, but a huge chunk – more than half – of it just… vanished. It went to whatever null space the Vanishing Cabinets passed the objects in it through, and it hadn't come back out. Chewing on his bottom lip, he tried to make more modifications, but at the end of it – the apple still wasn’t whole.

Frustrated, he decided to leave it be. Oh, he couldn't forget about it, no matter how much he might want to, but for a moment, at least, he could pretend that nothing was wrong, right?

As it turned out, the three sisters truly despised him. He was no more than a floor away from the Vanishing Room when he ran into Filch. Remembering the party, he made up a rubbish excuse about having been invited to it. When Filch dragged him there, causing a huge commotion and getting the attention of everyone, he wasn’t so much upset and humiliated as he was just fed up. Done with it all. Especially since, curses to curses, Potter was there. Severus was there.

And Severus wanted to help.

“Draco, you obstinate child, do you understand the consequence if you were to fail?” (Well, he understood it perfectly well, there was a reason he refused to fail) “How could you let your pride stand in the way?” (If it was just his pride, perhaps he would have accepted the help offered, but –)

The problem was, he loved Severus and he respected Severus, but Severus didn’t understand what was at stake. Severus mattered. Severus was his godfather. That meant that he was family, to Draco and to the Dark Lord, and he couldn't, he couldn't have a failure, if he failed –

Draco had to be the one to kill Dumbledore, whatever Severus may offer, because he knew the Dark Lord would accept nothing less than that. But if he told Severus he had to kill, Severus would do it for him regardless, because Severus cared, too –

Arguing with him was a nightmare. Not only was this an argument he didn’t want to win (assassination of the wizard who made the Dark Lord wrinkle his (non-existent) nose? Come on, he couldn't do that), he had never, ever disagreed with Severus – but then, he had never had to kill, had he? He had never lost his father to Azkaban before, either. That was what sealed the deal for him, actually – he absolutely refused to see Severus end up there, too. He walked out on Snape, keeping himself from shaking, intending to go somewhere where he could be alone. The cave, perhaps, since it hasn’t been tarnished, not yet.

To make it all worse, however – because it couldn’t get better, of course it couldn’t – Potter was there. He didn’t really wonder how much Potter heard, because he was sick and tired and scared and furious and Potter was there. And, for some unfathomable, weird reason, he had never wanted Potter to ignore him, he had always wanted Potter to notice him, and seeing Potter walk away from him – well.

It wasn’t an excuse, really, but everyone does things they’re not really proud of, right?

Jumping Potter was just one of those things, that’s all.

Of course, Potter let him – in fact, Potter pinned him after he got over the initial shock, switching their positions and –

Oh, hey, there was a nice closet conveniently located right there (like Hogwarts herself approves of this) –

And.

Well, it would feature in his dreams for a long time to come, that’s all he could really say. It transcended mind-blowing – Merlin’s dirty underwear, it was a few thousand times better than any of the dreams he'd had. Potter, pressing him against the wall, his chest to Draco’s back and his fingers invasive but welcome, his harsh breath against the back of Draco’s neck while he took in a way that was so purely Potter, Draco’s pants pooling around his ankles – there was no space, not enough room between Potter and the wall for him to do everything he wanted with that magnificent –

The burn was delicious and he was almost delirious, the heady power of the knowledge that Potter was there – Potter was holding him, crowding him in. Potter had his hands all over him, bringing him off, and then squeezing down on his hips so hard that there would definitely be bruises come morning as he reached his release, too. It was too hard, really, but Draco found that he didn’t mind, the same way he didn’t mind that it actually bloody hurt to have that dick shoved up his ass – he hadn’t time to prepare, just a quick spell he’d picked up from listening to Zabini wank – and he didn’t whine when Harry pulled out, because –

The sounds Potter made, Merlin. Draco made him sound like that. Draco made Harry Potter sound like he had just had a revelation, and –

Potter stepped away.

He took the warmth, leaving Draco standing there, still chasing the feeling of completion, the exhilaration, the thrill of being actually wanted because that was what it felt like –

Wasn’t it?

And Potter, Potter – of course he would ruin it. Annihilate it, destroy it, shred it into all the trillion tiny pieces it could become and shoving it into his face

“This shouldn’t have happened,” Potter said, voice uneven but cold, uncaring. Hard. The bucket of ice water dumped over his head at that didn’t stop Draco from turning around, though, because he was a fool and an idiot and an optimistic one to boot. Reaching out a little hesitantly, unable to even see his own hand, he attempted to tell Potter that –

But it didn’t matter, really. He had barely touched Potter when his hand was batted away unceremoniously.

He barely had the time to process the rejection – again – while Potter zipped up his trousers – he hadn’t even dropped his pants while Draco had lost most of his clothing – saying something to the effect of this being a mistake that wouldn't happen again. “Nobody finds out about this, Malfoy. Nobody.” As he opened the door, he waved a hand, lifting a Muffliato Draco hadn’t even noticed him casting.

The door shut after him, leaving Draco standing there in the damp darkness, mostly unclothed, the semen not yet dried and dripping down his inner thigh, telling himself that it didn't matter even as he shouted uselessly after Potter, “Oh and here I was, eager to go sharing this wonderful experience with everyone!”

It didn't make a difference, really, that Potter was his first or that this was literally the most satisfying experience in the whole of his paltry sixteen years plus. That even included the one and only time Severus had told him that he had done decently in brewing a NEWT-level Liver Repairing Potion last year.

It felt kind of like how it did the first time Potter turned him down, only a million times worse. Then, it had only been his pride that was damaged, but now –

It wasn’t his heart that was damaged, damnit.

He was a Malfoy and Malfoys didn't have hearts.

Then again, Malfoys didn't get fucked over by Potters (figuratively or literally) either, did they?

~~~.~~~

The little note delivered by an unknown owl had only a single word on it.

Mentally, Draco made a note of this Potions Master – she was good, reliable and speedy, efficient. He had penned a letter to her after he had cleaned up, determined to get at leastsomething right (even though his arse was still sore, and the bruises on his hips, arse and pretty much everywhere else made themselves obvious on his too-pale skin, all a reminder that he’d already gone and screwed it all up doing what he shouldn’t have done), but it had barely been a day.

Done.

And, with the new books Artemis had just delivered from his family’s archives, maybe he’d make more progress, too.

He’s not upset about that.

~~~.~~~

He spent Christmas in Hogwarts for the first time.

It wasn’t bad, actually, even if no one was around.

Somehow though, one thing led to another and he found himself slipping into the nearest room to avoid Peeves (he didn’t feel up to it at the moment, the alcohol going a little to his head) – a while later, he looked around and realised that he was in a toilet.

“Hello,” someone said from his left.

He didn’t startle, but it was a close thing.

“Did you come to visit me?”

Oh. The female toilet ghost. Moaning… Myrtle, was it? The answer was no, but the sadness in her voice gave him second thoughts. Besides… It would be nice to have a hideout here. It wasn’t as if he needed to make another enemy. Or make someone else sad(der).

Draco almost snorted at that. He was turning into a pile of Hufflepuff mush, wasn’t he?

Whatever it was, though, he nodded at her and turned to face her.

She was the most miserable creature he had ever seen, even when her face lit up – as much as it could – and she drifted up to the ceiling for a while, before swooping back down and hovering beside him, something much like excitement covering her glum voice as she went, “How… delightful! No one’s ever… come to visit…Not even that girl with her potions…”

She drooped then, and swirled around a little desolately, before she stopped and beamed at him again.

At the word potions, though, Draco paid more attention and looked at her. “What potion?”

Moaning Myrtle looked up at him and cocked her head, turning upside down and floating there. “Polyjuice, I think,” she replied after a while.

She drifted upright again, but Draco could see that her mind was far away again.

~~~.~~~

Recently, his veela had been completely subdued. Which, naturally, made it clear that Potter actually kept away this time – no stalking, no looking, no acknowledgement.

He wasn’t sure if he should be glad or upset that this time round, Potter was actually keeping his word and his distance. Well, actually, he knew that he should be glad, but it was kind of unnerving to have Potter’s eyes skip over him all the time – he didn't even seem to remember Draco existed anymore. Draco had gotten very used to having his every move scrutinized by the speccy git during the past three months, and the sudden lack of attention just left him… unsettled.

At least, that’s what he was sticking with, since he’s not going to be whining about the fact that he could actually focus on his task now and give it his due attention.

But.

It really didn’t make life easier, actually.

The problem was he had not realised just how much he had been depending on Potter’s kisses to get him through each week, until Scarhead just wasn’t there anymore. With nothing to look forward to, nothing to anticipate, it was getting excruciatingly hard to get himself through the monotony of failures, failures and more failures.

It didn’t help much that he was tired all the time, too – it wasn’t even the slight sleepiness he had started to get used to. No, this was a heavy sort of weight on his eyelids, weighing them shut with no regards to whether he was standing or sitting. He had resorted to taking Pepper-Up and drinking as much tea as he could possibly ingest just to give himself some semblance of wakefulness. Given the chance, he’d sleep the whole month away, but, well.

Duty called.

And then there was the little fact that the shirts that used to be just fine were starting to feel too scratchy. For some unfathomable reason, too, his stomach kept cramping. As in, every once in awhile, it would feel like someone had just kicked him in the stomach with a steel-capped boot and straightening up really, really hurt. Some days, his Malfoy upbringing was the only thing keeping him upright, which made him thankful his father had been as strict as he was.

Towards the end of the third week after, Draco found himself more miserable than ever. Sure, the cramps had gone away, but he was starting to feel kind of bloated all the time now, even though he had definitely lost weight.

The headaches had gotten better, but the fatigue hadn’t – he just wanted to sleep. For reasons unknown, occasionally he’d feel kind of cold – or hot – and it didn't even really make sense. He’s used to the draft in the Potions classroom, the corridors weren’t part of the Arctic Circle and the Transfiguration classroom never used to be stifling.

The most disturbing part was his veela’s continued silence, though. It had never, ever been quiet for this long, not since he came into his inheritance. Even without the usual distractions, it had made sure to bother him at least once every other day. If he thought about it, his veela hadn’t made any bid for attention since Potter had walked away (again) and didn’t look back, but he refused to let Potter be the reason for this. Potter was not going to be the one to have screwed this up, too.

The weekend brought with it nothing new, what with the two days spent almost entirely in the Vanishing Room, attempting to coax the cabinet into working conditions.

Unsuccessfully.

When he went down for breakfast for Monday (at Zabini’s insistence), he was tired and cross. Snappish too, apparently, because Crabbe and Goyle – good friends that they were – gave him the blueberry muffins (his favourite and their favourite, not that his parents knew) they usually hogged in a bid to cheer him up. For them to actually offer him food, he must have appeared to be in a pretty horrendous mood, but he was still touched by the gesture.

Staring at it, though, his stomach kind of rebelled at the mere thought of trying to finish even one, let alone the five he had right now. The problem was, his mother raised him to be courteous. They were both looking at him so hopefully that he really couldn’t, in good grace, turn down their offerings.

Masking the grimace, he shovelled down three muffins and managed a smile at both of them, before telling them that he can’t finish all five, so they could have the last two. Given the satisfaction radiating off them as they went back to their breakfast, they must not have noticed his queasiness, then.

As soon as he could, he excused himself for the toilets, and headed straight into one of the stalls so he could throw up everything he had eaten. As he knelt there, feeling like his head was going to split into two, he wondered, briefly, just what was happening, before deciding that it wasn’t important. Whatever it was, it’d pass, but until it did, he’d just avoid the muffins. Standing up and cleaning himself up was challenging, but he did it successfully (after three tries) and no one appeared to have been able to tell.

~~~.~~~

It didn’t pass. In fact, it got worse.

Over the following weeks, he started figuring out that there was pretty much nothing in the Great Hall that he could actually eat without feeling the urge to throw up right after (and sometimes before). In fact, apples (more specifically, the green ones) were the only things he could actually eat without needing to visit the loo straight after.

Of course, to keep up appearances, he took the minimum amount. He just made sure that while the others were busy eating and chatting, he dissected his food and pushed it around enough to make it appear that the portion was diminishing. It worked, since neither Crabbe nor Goyle notice what happened to the food after it was on his plate, and the rest simply doesn’t care enough to look.

There was also the magic drainage which didn't make sense because he was a Malfoy, and there was one reason he was proud of his heritage – the Malfoys and the Blacks (Potter didn’t count) were the two families with the largest power reserves. Being a child of both families meant that he should have been able to go his whole life without reaching the limit. The cast-one-more-spell-and-risk-slipping-into-a-coma limit. His reserve was the largest out of the Slytherins, possibly out of Hogwarts (again, Potter didn't count), and he had done nothing to warrant the sort of magic drainage he’s experiencing. He handled it by cutting down on casting during lessons (it wasn’t like his grades would get better if he did more work, anyway).

Really, nothing had been going right, and that was even before the fainting.

As in, throwing up at least twice daily for almost four weeks straight? Horrible. Having to limit his spellcasting as, for some reason, he’d been losing magic? Terrible. Fainting? Well, that was just Mudblood-level pathetic. The only upside to it was that he hadn’t fainted in public yet – he’s only passed out twice while working on the Vanishing Cabinet.

Passing it off as the result of lack of proper nourishment and sleep, he ignored it and got up as soon as he woke to continue on the project. Of course, with the shortage of magic, he couldn’t afford to cast as many spells to test, which meant that he cannot afford to skip any more sessions; he had to get it to work.

~~~.~~~

It was when Crabbe – the brilliant friend that he was – tried to carry him to Madam Pomfrey after he got dizzy and almost collapsed in front of him that Draco decided to address whatever it was that was wrong with him. After all, he could not let Madam Pomfrey see the mark on his arm, which meant that he had to find a fix to all of his problems before they started becoming noticeable to both Crabbe and Goyle (and the rest of the school).

Quite unfortunately, despite burning through the library’s store of books on illnesses and other diseases, even going as far as a foray into books like Magical Maladies and Muggle Medications, nothing shed any light on his situation. There were a few illnesses that showed the symptoms he had, sure, but not all of them at once, and almost all diseases related to magical drainage were either fatal (he wasn’t ready to die just yet) or meant that he was gradually becoming a Squib (oh the horrors). He wasn’t ready to consider that just yet.

Frustrated, he put the last book back on its shelf and went back to the dormitories. For the first time in a long, long time, he was the first one back; everyone else was either still having dinner, or were lounging in the Common Room. One glance at his bed revealed that the book had managed to escape from his trunk – again – and had made itself comfy on his silk pillow.

Glancing at it, he remembered the concerns he had been having about his veela. Reaching for a change of clothes, he headed for the showers. By the time he turned off the water, he felt… well, not refreshed, but better than he had in a long time. Quite a bit of the frustration had been dispelled, and, seeing that the book was still on his pillow, he climbed into bed, intending to just browse through it a bit – not expecting much – before sleeping.

As expected, there was nothing informative. Nothing on magic drainage or extreme tiredness. At least, the tiredness, according to the book, should have worn off by the end of the first month after his inheritance. Before he put the book down, though, he caught a glimpse of a paragraph concerning… rejection?

Frowning, he opened to that page and began reading.

The chapter was brief, actually, because according to the book, rejection was so rare it had only been documented twice before in all of history. It only happened if the one chosen for the veela – the mate – left the veela directly after sleeping together for the first time. Of course, there were a million official rejections, but this was the only rejection the veela would take to heart, so to say, and it’s not one that had ever been recovered from.

Accordingly, the book was disturbingly brief about what happened after, but reading between the lines yielded enough information for him to feel… He threw the book away from him in a fit of anger. It hit the heavy curtains drawn around his bed with a thud, landing on its spine on the duvet.

He kind of wanted to cry.

On one hand, he wasn’t special. He'd had someone, so it wasn’t a glitch, but on the other hand… it was Potter. Harry sodding Potter. The one person in the whole entire bleeding world who wanted absolutely nothing to do with him (which was an exaggeration, he knew, but it felt that way). And, okay, so he wouldn’t die of a broken heart, that was a myth created by all the trashy romance novels, but spending the rest of his life feeling inadequate?

That was just cruel.

Although, to be fair, he was cruel too, wasn’t he, in the past few years. He had never been kind to Potter – Malfoys weren’t kind to anyone, Crabbe and Goyle excepted – so, this was payback?

As the feeling passed, he realised that he had just thrown his book. That was something he hadn’t done since he was five, since it had resulted in him being scolded by his mother for the first (and only) time for being careless with his storybook.

As soon as the realisation sunk in, he scrambled up, apologising to the book as he picked it up and stroked the pages – you never really knew, especially with tomes like this – and that was when he found his eyes drawn to the sketch there. Unlike the photographs that had made him swear off the book, this was a still sketch, and the man in it was not … sans clothing, but the picture was disturbing nonetheless, because.

Well, he was not the sort of pudgy acquired from too many drinks and not enough potions, but, at the first glance, Draco almost mistook him for a lady, because. He looked the way Blaise’s mom did the last he saw her, almost a year ago. She was pregnant, then.

He almost didn’t want to read the text accompanying the sketch, but he forced himself to look at it anyway. Suddenly, everything made sense, only it wasn’t better. It was worse. So much worse than he thought it would be, so much worse than expected, and Merlin's sodding pants, why. Why.

Hands shaking a bit, he closed the book and sat there, hugging his knees for a while. He stared at the emerald green of the drapes (which absolutely did not remind him of anything) until he was sure that he wouldn't start crying. Then he picked up the book, cancelled the spells on the curtains, stashed the book away in his trunk and collapsed back into the bed.

Swish, flick.

Lights out, curtains drawn, and hopefully, he would wake up to find this all a dream.

~~~.~~~

Come morning, he woke up and found out that nope, nothing had changed. He just had an increased awareness of the fact that he needed to pee very badly, and that absolutely everything still smelled horrible enough to induce nausea.

He was early enough this time round that no one was up yet, so after his morning routine, he dug out the book and went to the page he had been the night before and reread it. Nothing had changed. The most horrible part was, if he thought about it, it all did make sense.

Burying the book under everything else again, he stomped back to the bathroom where he stared at himself in the mirror and told himself that he was fine, perfectly fine.

The mirror coughed disbelievingly at his gaunt appearance as he bent over and dry heaved for lack of any food in his stomach. At least it was smart enough not to comment on the fact that he looked ready to drop dead at any given moment. Bugger his dorm-mates and the seven years’ worth of bad luck, he would hex the mirror into a trillion pieces if he felt like it.

~~~.~~~

Life didn’t change much, all things considered. Exhaustion was still an uphill battle, but it was getting mildly better. And while food was still an issue, he had managed to figure out where the kitchen was via a letter to his mother. Which meant that, at the very least, he had an endless supply of apples and chocolate cakes topped with cherries, and mint ice-cream with tobacco and mayonnaise mixed in.

The biggest problem wasn’t even Potter or the baby, it was the pesky little notice requesting his presence at the Manor on the first day of Easter.

He had no progress to report, the poison having wound up somewhere unknown since the Headmaster had yet to shrivel into a corpse and the cursed necklace an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions. The Vanishing Cabinet – well, the only good thing he can say about that is that the items are coming back mostly intact. As in, missing about ten percent of their original mass, but as a whole, in almost one piece.

Instead of worrying over the summons like he should, however, more often than not he was preoccupied with whether or not to tell Potter. On one hand, this was his and Harry’s child, on the other…

It wasn’t as if Potter would have anything useful to contribute either way.

Still, on the day he woke up to find out that he could no longer button up his trousers, he made a spur-in-the-moment decision to let Potter know. While it was late enough that at least half of the Hufflepuff vs Gryffindor match would have already passed, he was quite optimistic that he would be able to snag Potter for at least a few minutes in the locker room showers before the celebrations would take place.

Sitting there watching the match, he found himself feeling guilty about the waste of precious time he could have spent being productive. He shook it off soon enough – he had already given up flying (Flint had been quite sore about having to find a replacement, but Matthias was reasonably decent) and one match couldn’t hurt.

When he sought Potter out afterwards, though, he realised that Potter wasn’t at any of the celebratory parties, nor was he anywhere he usually would haunt (and no, Draco was not thinking about why he knew Potter’s hideouts).

Finding him snogging the living daylights out of the ginger bint in the staircase to the Astronomy Tower was, in hindsight, not surprising at all. But at that moment, it blindsided him. Stumbling out immediately was a natural reflex, but the damage had been done. The rest of the day, he spent vaguely nauseous and jealous for no good reason, frustrated, upset, in a daze and, well, hurt, for the lack of a better word.

He hadn’t even realised that his veela could make him feel that way.

~~~.~~~

In the face of yet another failure, he sat down and glared at the texts sprawled around him. And then he closed the books with a flick. He couldn’t concentrate, and the Weaselette sucking face with Harry was all he could see. Almost unconsciously, he curled an arm around his belly – not showing yet – and promised himself that Eden would freeze over before he told Harry about their child.

No, not theirs.

His.

~~~.~~~

The Dark Lord looked down at where he was kneeling, his lips – or what passed for them at any rate – curled faintly in sadistic amusement. His anger was a cold one, Draco knew from the time watching his father report. His displeasure meant –

---_---

Well hello there, nice to see you, pretty tiled floor. That was a little red and crusty now. And hey, Crucio, my old acquaintance! It had been a while. Can’t say I’d missed you, but.

~~~.~~~

For all that he had a low pain tolerance, nobody could say that he wasn’t good at getting up. He wasn't a quitter, even if he was a coward – he was not denying that.

Which was why when the Dark Lord – and his slimy, slithery presence – was gone, he picked himself up. He didn’t loosen the hold he had on his mind – Yaxley was still around even if the Carrows were not – and if the Dark Lord caught even the faintest hint of what he actually felt, all the work he had done to keep his family safe would be for naught. At any rate, there was one more member he could actually protect, since the Dark Lord didn’t even know it existed – he’s keeping it that way. What he didn't know, he couldn't hurt.

As he held his head high against the spasms still working through his system, he realised that he had gained an extra audience – Greyback. Unlike Yaxley, the werewolf didn’t even attempt to conceal his leer, and Draco suppressed a shudder. Not for the first time, he wished desperately that Severus was here. Severus had always kept him safe from the likes of Greyback and the Carrows, and he made sure that Yaxley and MacNair left him alone. Bellatrix, too, when she wasn’t busy soothing the Dark Lord.

“Well, boy.” This voice belonged to someone unfamiliar, someone new – Rosenwood, perhaps. Or the American. Harding, was it?

It made no difference, whoever it was. He wanted nothing to do with them. At this moment, all Draco really desired was a quiet spot where no one would be watching him puke his guts out.

He never really got what he wanted, did he?

“That’s quite a show. Too bad you kept quiet, eh?” Oh. One of Greyback’s. The claws against the side of his neck were enough to tell, even without the rasp accompanying the words or the stale breath stinking of rotting flesh brushing his cheek.

Disregarding his tensing, the wolf behind him leant in – and yelped, leaping away.

It went from shocked to mildly enraged. “You would hex me?” And that was it. Draco'd had enough. He would not stand for someone – some stranger – from Greyback’s pack talking down to him. Merlin knows he did still have some pride left in him.

Spinning around, he had his wand drawn in one swift motion – not that he’d need it – and he stared up at the stranger. He had the tip of it under the other’s chin, against the soft vulnerability of his neck, and then he drew up the best impression of his father he could muster.

For half a second, it must have worked, because the other looked mildly startled even as he took an involuntary step back. He recovered soon enough, though, likely having remembered that the Malfoy name was worth as much as mud, now.

He wore an ugly sneer as he stepped back in, right before he went a little white in the face – ah, Severus must have returned, then.

“Would you like to return my protégée to me?” His voice was silken soft, but nobody could mistake it for anything but the demand that it was. Greyback clamped down on the were’s neck and dragged him to his side forcibly, glaring at Severus while he did so, making his displeasure clear.

Nobody stopped Severus from guiding him out.

~~~.~~~

That night, he found himself chilled to the bone even though there was no draft in his room – burying himself in the blankets didn’t help. In the middle of the night, when he attempted to get up, he found himself unable to straighten his knees, suddenly dizzy. A chance glance back revealed a spot of blood, a small puddle, really.

Instinctively, he placed a hand on his belly. The baby didn’t kick, but he felt a pulse of – warmth.

Suddenly, it was all too real, too much. He almost went to Severus that night. Then he remembered that while Severus might love him (as much as he’d loved anyone), Severus followed the Dark Lord.

At that moment, he hated the child more than the Dark Lord himself, for making him doubt, for removing every ounce of unshakeable trust he used to have in everyone around him.

~~~.~~~

It reminded him, though, that he was carrying a child. A baby. A living creature.

More than anything, he wanted to run – and if he hadn’t had the baby to consider, hadn’t had his mother to consider, he would have. In fact, had it only been his mother, he would have packed and went long ago (with her, if she would leave); she could defend herself even better than he could. He would have said, screw the world, France would do just as well. But he had a child now, a child who depended on him to defend it. The child was innocent, it was precious, and he owed it to the new life to make sure it would come into this world without the Dark Lord dictating its every motion after.

That was when he first decided.

Family came first, and, as his father had aptly demonstrated, following the Dark Lord would merely endanger them. Doubly so, now that he had ‘engaged with the enemy’ in a not-so-unfriendly way.

That was why he swallowed his pride and went looking for Potter. Because there was someone new in his family now, someone he didn't have enough power to protect. Potter could do what Draco couldn’t. Potter could convince the Order (yes, he knew about that – neither of his parents were particularly misinformed) to give him a chance, to at least take care of it if they refused him (it was St Potter’s child too, after all, and no one would take out his failures on the baby). Potter had to know, because he was now certain that he would not come out of this alive. And for all that he was a coward, a prideful, cruel, petty and selfish brat –

Family came first.

~~~.~~~

“Potter!” he called out when he spotted Potter scurrying down the corridor, thankfully alone. Potter barely paused, so Draco jogged a little (it was getting harder to move fast) to catch up with him – only to get his hand flung off.

“What?” Potter snapped when Draco grabbed him again.

“I’m –“ Draco had no intentions of beating around the bush. He knew himself. If he didn’t say it, he wouldn’t say it. Only, he was interrupted quite rudely by the Weasel hollering for Harry to hurry up – by the time he had regained his wits, he was standing unceremoniously alone, Potter already half a corridor away as the second word fell out of his mouth. “Pregnant,” he finished a little weakly.


~~~.~~~

Attempt number two went much the same, the ginger bint getting there before he did. He stood there for a while, watching and waiting for them to finish snogging – again – until it appeared that they wouldn’t be stopping anytime soon.

~~~.~~~

Somewhere along the line, he did some reading, and realised that the reason the werewolf had stepped away was because he had actually been hexed – just not by Draco. A little wondrously, almost reverently, he stared down at the little bump now visible (only to him, of course).

Magic, he remembers, is all about intent.

And the child – not even born yet – had wanted to protect him.

He couldn’t even find it in himself to get mad at it for forcing him to turn to other living beings to draw magic from, having almost depleted his reserves no matter how hard his body tries to replenish. It took a few tries, but eventually he discovered a reasonably stable way to use the magic around him.

He felt no remorse about the number of Fanged Geraniums that had perished in the name of his magic.

~~~.~~~

Attempt three went mildly better (though it left much to be desired). He actually managed to corner Potter this time, and they were alone, no Weasels or Weaselettes around to call Potter away.

The words wouldn’t come out of his mouth, however.

Because, well.

Many reasons, really, but a big part was perhaps how Harry had stared at him with irritation and dismissal. He looked ready to just leave. Turn around, walk away. The picture of Harry turning the same look on his child – that child – because the child was a Malfoy (not a Potter, not now and not ever) flitted into his mind, albeit briefly, and it stalled his words.

What he said, instead, ended up being – “I’m a veela and you’re my mate”

And the moment the sentence was blurted out, he regretted it. He regretted it the instant it even passed into his mind, but there was no taking back now. Harry regarded him with pure disbelief and then suspicion, and he couldn't even find it in himself to hold Potter back when Potter sneered at him and shoved past him (like he always does) and somehow, that last look was worse.

Okay, so it wasn’t okay. It was a disaster. A completely and utterly unmitigated disaster.

~~~.~~~

Wasn’t this just so precious?

How their positions had changed.

At the start of the year, Harry had been the one stalking him, hadn’t he? Potter was the unwanted stalker.

(What does it say then, that he’s stalking his stalker?)

~~~.~~~

When the Weaselette cornered him, he had expected it to be the result of Potter having gone and spread his confession to the whole school. But Harry hadn’t – the whole school hadn’t known. Draco attributed it to the fact that Potter likely thought he was bonkers and therefore beneath Potter’s consideration. Perhaps this was the other shoe, dropping.

“What’re you trying to do to Harry?” she demanded. “Don’t think that no one noticed you lurking around like a creep.”

He stared at her, mildly blindsided by her line of inquiry.

He recovered soon enough, though. “So Potty’s scared enough to ask his friend – wait, no, his minion – to fight his battles for him?” It lacked the bite and the edge – he was so out of practice – but for half a second, it still looked like she was going to rise to his bait and try to hex him.

Then she swallowed down her anger visibly and said, “I know you’re a veela, Malfoy. And Harry may be your mate, but him being the best choice for you doesn’t mean that you’re the best choice for him.”

“That is for him to decide, is it not?” Draco countered.

“What can you offer him that he would want?” she sneered in response. Before he could formulate a reply, she straightened up and said, “Leave him alone, ferret.” She flounced off, leaving him standing with almost a bit of respect for her.

It was quite Slytherin of her, after all, to be so underhanded in her confrontation. Gryffindors weren't usually smart enough (or mean enough) to be that cruel.

That doesn’t mask his hatred though, even if most of it is because she had brought it out into the open – there was nothing he could offer Harry that Harry would want.

~~~.~~~

It didn’t stop him, though attempt number four left him with ashes in his mouth (literally). He didn’t get an attempt number five.

~~~.~~~

He was in the bathroom again – Myrtle turned out to be a really good listener, even if she wasn’t much helpful otherwise. She didn't judge him when he babbled, talking about nothing at all, and even offered him a place in the bathroom with her if he died – wasn't it just pathetic that the only person around that cared wasn’t even alive?

It was the start of May, and he still wasn’t getting past the last block, and he was in the middle of complaining to her – Merlin, he had missed being able to talk so freely (even if he still wasn’t saying why) – when he felt the baby flutter. It wasn’t much, just a little thing stabbing his kidney, and he froze.

The baby froze, too, but Myrtle didn’t. She floated down from her perch on the ceiling. “What’s wrong…” she asked, genuinely concerned. “I can help you…”

Inexplicably, he had a sudden urge to laugh. Or cry. Or do both. So he did the sensible thing and started bawling. He felt ashamed and nauseous and he still couldn't stop himself – the tears wouldn't stop.

Myrtle, bless her, attempted to console him, but her hands passed through him and her words were empty comfort, because – “I can’t do it… I can’t…he says he’ll kill me…” and the baby, but he doesn’t say that out loud.

He couldn't stop now, though, because he’s screwed no matter what and he just had to get through it and deal with it, and he couldn't do that if he stayed here and kept crying so he told himself, ‘I’ll start by opening my eyes.’ Everything else after.

Except that he was in front of a mirror, and in the mirror was –

Potter.

Potter, the reason for this – Potter, the golden boy, the Chosen One, the person who couldn't even begin to comprehend what it was like in his position, to be neck deep in sewage and all other gross things.

He wasn’t sure how it happened, but – “SECTUMSEMPRA!”

He lost his grip, slipping on the wet tiles, his knees suddenly completely unwilling to hold his weight, and it was all so very silent and hot – and wet…

Harry was there, then, kneeling, bent over him – when did he wind up here on the floor, again – and there was so much blood all over the place, on Harry, on the walls, where did the blood even come from – but he couldn't seem to speak, or move. That was when a mild panic started setting in, but with it there was relief, a slight tinge of – okay, it would be over, at least.

When he next tuned in, Severus was leaning over him instead, doing something, and he was still a little fuzzy but it all made sense now – it was his blood everywhere. That was his blood on his godfather’s hands, too, and Severus was saying that they needed to go to the hospital wing.

“No,” Draco said. Potter stares at him from where he was, white as the walls around them (without the blood and the dirt), while Severus merely sighed and repeated what he said about the scars.

“No,” Draco repeated, obstinately. “You can’t make me.” Even to his own ears, it sounded weak, but Severus stopped and stared at him, as if seeing something new. No argument came. Severus simply helped him down to the office in the dungeons and gave him dittany before telling him to stay put; he’d be back after dealing with Potter.

At the moment, though, Draco wasn’t thinking about scars or Potter. All his focus was on the flutter, the really panicked fluctuation of magic, sucking his in and almost draining him dry. He let it as he curled up, trying to calm it, to soothe it.

~~~.~~~

He didn’t realise – he was so out of it that night that he didn’t realise that Snape had healed him, that Severus had held him up.

~~~.~~~

The night he achieved a breakthrough, he hadn’t even realised that he had gotten there. Failure was so constant that he was numb to it, doing only cursory checks on the apples that passed through (the canary was the first and only live animal he tried) – he had been about to chuck this apple and proceed with the next modification when he realised that it was completely round. No missing chunks anywhere. He tried again. Same results.

Draco processed the success a little slowly at the start, then all at once the dread hit him. He’d done it. And…

Trust the Dark Lord to steal the satisfaction of having accomplished something away from him, too, as if he hadn’t already taken everything he could (freedom, trust, family…)

But it couldn't be delayed any longer.

He went to Artemis, who regarded him coldly with a tilt to her head as he secured the note to her feet. “Go, girl,” he said. Giving him a disapproving hoot, she took flight, vanishing into the starless night. He stood there for a while after she left, staring blankly, before contemplating the other big problem: that of moving the cabinet to the Astronomy Tower.

~~~.~~~

As it turns out, he didn’t have to.

~~~.~~~

The problem with himself, Draco discovered, was that he couldn't mean it. For all that the headmaster was ill, weak and defenceless and so easily disarmed, Draco couldn’t do it. He knew that his hand was shaking and that he lacked the resolve, the intent, that even if he said those two words he couldn't kill anyone, because – he didn't want to kill.

And while he stood there, thinking of his family – his mother, his father, Severus, the baby¸ Merlin, the baby – while he was trying, scrambling for something that could make him mean the words when he did cast the spell –

Greyback and the Carrows and Yaxley and Harding and all of them were there, and they were all leering at him, all while Aunt Bella ordered him to do it (like she taught him to), her voice a piercing shriek to keep them from pouncing on the weakness they all sensed, then –

Severus turned up, completely unexpectedly – except not at all, really – and shoved him aside and ended it all for him. It was all over.

Just like that.

Severus grabbed him by the collar, cast some sort of charm on him – and they ran, slipping silently through the battle raging on. Nothing coming their way hit them.

Somehow, they made it out of the front gates – or to some other spot where disapparation was allowed – because the next thing Draco knew, they were at Spinner’s End. Severus had dragged aside the bookcase in his room, Draco noted a little absently through the haze that has started settling in.

Whatever the charm was, it had started wearing off and Draco started swaying, just a little. Instinctively, he reached a hand out to stabilize himself, pulling it back at the last second when he remembered where he was.

“Come,” Severus said at length, his voice cutting through the fog. There was a room, Draco suddenly noticed as he stumbled in assisted by his mentor. He turned around and looked at Severus, realising then that his brain really wasn’t functioning properly.

“Stay here,” Severus said. He looked paler than Draco had ever seen him, and that almost scared him, except that he was not reacting fast enough to catch up with the ‘why’s’. So he nodded and Severus closed the door and cast a few spells verbally (and a lot more nonverbal ones) and there was a scratching sound and then –

Nothing.

~~~.~~~

He must have drifted off at some point, because when he woke up, his mind was clearer and he could actually think. For a while, he was fine – it was dark and cramped and warm and humid and yes, he can see absolutely nothing, but it was good enough for him to sort through his head and get himself put together again.

Then someone stopped by.

He wasn’t entirely sure who was outside – the voices were too muffled, but there were definitely at least two people out there, yelling at each other. Instinctively, he held his breath, before realising that that was a useless endeavour.

Whoever they were moved away, and it was all silent again, except Draco was now entirely too tense for the position he was in to be anything even remotely resembling comfortable. It also gave him another question to think about – this place was new, he knew.

He had played here as a child after all, getting into all the nooks and crannies he shouldn’t have been able to access, getting plucked out of them by a disapproving Severus who would then plop him down by the cauldron and continue with his work.

The point was, Severus must have only just created this space recently, because it was far too small to have been allowed to grow and too dusty to have been used before now. Why, then?

There was Severus anticipating his failure, but he would really like to think that he had more faith in him than that. Besides, Severus would have most probably given him a pack of supplies and a portkey and told him to go and hide out in the States.

Unless…

Severus knew.

How?

~~~.~~~

As he discovered a few days into their arrangement, Severus was being monitored.

It wasn’t that Draco hadn’t already had an idea of why Severus kept shoving him into the space behind the bookcase. He could hear just fine, even if he couldn't cast – the space may have been Wizarding Space, but it still adhered to a certain set of rules, so Draco could hear the people on the other side of the wall that should have been behind the bookcase.

His persistent pestering had worn Severus down, resulting in a space that was like a bubble, really - he could now see everything going on in the corridor outside the room, which was lit, given that the windows were all open; the first sign that something was horrendously wrong.

Severus does not open the windows.

Severus would not even have windows if the combined force of Aunt Bella and his mother hadn’t managed to wear into him the importance of them and then charmed them to be impervious to sealing in case Severus tried to redecorate. (The house agreed with them, too, if the fact that the windows stayed despite Severus' numerous bribes meant anything.)

While he was puzzling over that, the rat came up the stairs, and Draco started slightly before realising that he could not be seen. His shifty, beady eyes scanned everything while he scampered along the corridor. A bag floated behind him.

Severus materialised beside him, face pinched, followed closely by Briar – one of the Dark Lord’s favoured. She reminded Draco of Aunt Bella, although they looked nothing alike; she was composure and high nose, brown hair straight and not touching her collar.

She strode towards the guest bedroom, after Severus. “Pettigrew!” she commanded when the rat hesitated at the stairwell. Obediently, he trailed after her.

After a while, Severus re-emerged from the room alone, looking mildly hassled. Before long, Severus was in his little space with him – for the first time ever, he saw his mentor looking distressed.

“You cannot stay here,” Severus told him.

Draco understood. He had failed to kill the Headmaster, and that meant that he was…

Harmless, perhaps.

But definitely useless.

A loose end.

“I know a place,” Severus informed him.

~~~.~~~

The place Severus had suggested as a rest stop had ended up solving three problems in one go: it got him a nice, if dusty and grim, place to stay, it gave him something to do and – it gave him Potter.

Granted, if Severus had suspected that Potter would be there, he wouldn’t have sent Draco there. He was also pretty sure that Severus had really only intended him to take a while to collect himself there before taking off to France or the States, but the poor house was so obviously neglected that he simply hadn’t the heart to abandon it the way its master must have done.

More than half the rooms had hidden themselves away in despair and the rooms that remained were completely ruined – the master bedroom was shredded, the wallpaper torn and clinging forlornly to the walls. The attic was a mess, everything strewn all over the place instead of carefully stored in trunks and cabinets, the sitting room was dim and dusty, the family tree dull and still instead of glittering and growing. The drawing room was littered with broken things, a desk split open in the centre taking up the light in the room. And the kitchen…. Just looking at its state made him shudder. Only a table, a sink and a stove? How could the master of the house let it wither away to this?

Didn't they understand that houses had pride, too?

His heart really went out to the house. Cleaning up and fixing everything was a momentous task, with such a bare minimum of magic at his disposal, but he got to it as soon as he could anyway. His baby clearly agreed, too, as it had even deigned to assist occasionally, making the room brighter in the evenings. Even his veela had taken interest in the proceedings – it helped him tap into the reserve of wild magic he found in one of the little statuettes in the attic.

The portraits were nice enough, too – apparently his mother had come here to visit her cousins occasionally when she was younger, and they recognised him as one of theirs.

He was working on the weaving room, trying to coax the loom into existence, when the house suddenly became alert. ‘Intruders,’ he thought, as he grabbed the statuette he had taken to carrying around (it was even more useful than his wand right now). He hadn’t known their identity; the doorknob only made it clear that there was someone with hair that really, really needed to be fixed.

He hadn’t a lot of magic – even the magic in the statuette was starting to run a little low – but he had enough in him to hex the hell out of the intruders, who apparently hadn’t expected anyone to be there. Except – that last spell took up way more magic than he had expected, and there was a third person, a blurry ray of light coming his way, and –

Well, Draco thought dimly as everything started blurring.

That could have gone better.

~~~.~~~

When he woke up, he was in the ruined bed of the master bedroom, attached to the bedpost by a – contraption. Closer inspection revealed it to be a transfigured bit of something. Convincing the bedpost to release him wasn’t hard, though he had no idea how to remove the thing from his wrist.

That was when he realised that he hadn’t glamoured himself when he had gone downstairs, having gotten used to being in here alone, and he was showing. He was obviously showing. His belly was so visible that nobody could possibly miss the fact that he was six months along. Especially since he had taken to dressing light.

Before the panic had time to really set in, though, the door opened and – well.

He couldn't have expected this.

~~~.~~~

Surprisingly, the conversation with the Weasel went quite civilly – apparently, even blood traitors valued children. It left him a little off, though, since he couldn’t quite shake the suspicion that the Weasel was actually regarding him with pity after Draco had let it slip that the child was Harry’s, too.

As he sat there, at a loss now (he wouldn't go wandering around the house when there’s a chance of running into – Potter), Potter came in. Because, of course, he would chose now to appear. With food. And Draco really couldn’t turn him away, because what he had actually smelt heavenly. His appetite had not really returned, though the house did provide him with reasonable enough edible food, but this. This was bliss. How did Harry even know what he wanted to eat?

“Did you mean what you said?” Harry asked awkwardly, reminding him that he had an audience just as he finished the last of the bacon (it wasn’t even a different fare from what Hogwarts provided).

Draco put the fork down with as much dignity as possible and looked at Harry. “About?” he asked, as mildly as he could.

“The… veela thing,” he said a little hesitantly, wincing as the words left his mouth. Draco stared at him, wondering what Harry was talking about, until he remembered that declaration. The memory left him blanching, and he scrambled for words before realising that –

Oh.

And then the baby started taking an interest in the conversation. It kicked up a merry hell, managing a jab or two in the direction of his kidney and suddenly he really, really needed to use the toilet – he refused to wet himself.

Hurriedly, he got off the bed (as gracefully as he could manage, even though he was as swollen as a watermelon) and ran for the bathroom down the hall. The house helpfully opened the door for him.

He was washing his hands, crisis averted, when the realisation slammed into his mind, crystal clear and soul shattering, because – he was in love with Harry. His knees gave out (again) and he sat down rather hard on the bathroom floor. The shock didn’t even really register – it wasn’t just his veela, he was in love with Potter. The Potter who had shagged him a grand total of one time and then left him to cope with carrying a baby alone. What was wrong with him?

Harry burst into the room then, rudely interrupting Draco’s mental breakdown. Staring at Harry’s stupidly attractive, bespectacled face, he proceeded on to oscillate between crying about this whole stupid situation and laughing at Potter’s expression of alarm and worry and Merlin, he hated this. Hate hate hated this.

Sometime while he was kind of a blubbering mess on the floor by the sink, the Weasel and the Mudblood popped upstairs to see what the commotion was about. The house must have sensed his mortification, because it slammed the door on the two of them, locking it for him, which left just Draco and Potter in the bathroom (again) with Draco crying (again) and, he really wanted to hex Potter’s balls off for having caused this whole thing in the first place.

Except that Harry was looking really, really concerned, damn him and his stupid eyes and his broken glasses which made Draco itch to fix them, he was actually kneeling beside Draco and reaching out for him and Draco could just see the magic curling out from the hand – the baby joined in the commotion, kicking up another storm.

Then Potter touched him, and he kind of melted, and no, that wasn’t him that was just the veela taking over and basking in this and – hell. Screw dignity and pride. He’d given up on those stupid concepts, hadn’t he, and Potter had already seen him in the middle of a meltdown and was still there and he was already stupidly in love (how could he not have known that, wasn’t he a Slytherin, what sort of self-respecting Slytherin doesn’t know when they’re in love with someone) and it wasn’t as if there was anything more Potter could do to him that he hadn’t already done.

And he was exhausted, but that wasn’t important. Potter didn’t shove him off, so he stayed put and stared at the cupboard under the sink, waiting.

“Hermione explained it to me,” Harry said, suddenly, which prompted Draco to look at him. “The whole… veela… thing,” Harry elaborated, stumbling over the word. Draco wasn’t sure what Potter was thinking, he wasn’t even sure what he was thinking at this point. Why couldn’t Potter just make it clear what he wanted and then leave Draco alone to freak out over how he justcried in front of Harry sodding Potter, the tosspot-who-wouldn’t-die, who also happened to be the best-shag-of-his-life and The One from all the romance novels he’d seen his mother reading?

“I’m willing to try,” Potter said, interrupting him. Draco stared at him, before revisiting the previous few moments and realising that the words must have slipped out.

Oh Merlin.

Harry must have figured where his thoughts were going though, since he tried to distract Draco with, “We can’t do much until Vol-”

Draco interrupted him then, bolting up as much as he could. “Don’t say his name!”

Harry blinked at him, affronted. “Fear of the name increases fear of the thing itself,” he said (Draco was reasonably sure he was repeating something he had heard somewhere).

“There’s a taboo on that name,” Draco explained defensively, slouching a little now that the rush of adrenaline was gone, looking away again.

“That… explains it,” Harry said. Without prompting, he explained himself, “They attacked us at a wedding they weren’t invited to.” That got Draco’s attention. Harry didn’t elaborate though, simply suggested that they should go downstairs to have some tea. Draco stared at him a little incredulously. Sure, there was a truce with the Weasel now, but he had no handle on the other one.

The house opened the door though, the traitor, as Harry tugged him up.

The other two members of the trio stood waiting outside the door, pale with anxiety, and they swarmed Potter before Draco could let go. They spoke quickly and quietly as they herded him out, but before they could drag him out of sight, Potter stopped, clearly waiting for Draco.

That didn’t make him feel warm.

~~~.~~~

As it turned out, Horcruxes were involved (he hadn’t thought that the Dark Lord could have gotten any more twisted). When he told them that this meant that the Dark Lord was effectively immortal though, Harry simply declared, “Nothing’s impossible.”

At the end of the session, Draco grudgingly admitted to himself that the walking hair problem was smart enough to be called Granger instead of Mudblood. Her list was impressive, as was her approach to the task of collecting and killing the Horcruxes. He added a few ideas of his own to the list (Poison, Thought Erosion Potion, Dementors and the like) – the other two had wandered off.

On account of him being…not very mobile, he wasn’t to help them with the retrieval of the Horcruxes, but he was still helping with the planning and the preparation of the ingredients for Granger to brew the required potions (as he wasn't allowed to brew himself).

He was surprised at how readily they shared sensitive information with him, given that he had given them some rather nasty jinxes when they first entered the house (never mind the five years he spent bullying them), but he could never work up the courage to ask why.

Mostly, though, he was just constantly running interference between the house and the trio. For some unfathomable reason, the house detested the three new boarders. It took quite some work, but he managed to convince the portraits not to curse at them while they were in the house, though he couldn’t do much for the cupboards or the doors or the lighting.

The others never seem to notice, which Draco couldn’t really understand – couldn't they see just how much the house hated them? If Draco was in their place, he would have made an effort to please the house he was staying in and take more care to treat it nicely.

~~~.~~~

As it turned out, there was still a house elf left to Grimmauld Place – Kreacher. As he stared at it (blubbering at his feet), he wondered just what the house’s master was thinking, first letting the house fall into such disarray, then abusing the house elf to the point that the house elf looked and behaved like this.

He didn’t express his sentiments, though, merely ordering Kreacher to fetch them the music box with the Cassandra curse on it that his father kept in his study – if he remembered correctly, the compartment in it contains a bundle of recipes detailing how to brew some obscure poisons in it.

When he looked back up, he was treated to the three of them staring at him with varying degrees of horrified fascination. Granger was the first to recover her vocal functions, and she started telling him that he shouldn’t be treating house elves like slaves, and Draco’s estimation of her went down again.

Mudbloods never changed.

~~~.~~~

They had figured out some way to keep in contact with whatever remained of the Order.

Draco wasn’t sure how, exactly, they were doing it. He never asked, though, and they never told – it became just one more of those things nobody talked about. It was just fine by him. He had never been that interested anyways.

Besides, he had more pressing things to worry about than the threat of the Dark Lord looming over them the way Osiris and Hel presided over their halls. Things like trying to learn parseltongue from the world’s worse professor.

It wasn’t that Potter was horrible at teaching. It was just that – for all that they trusted him with their plans, they never told him when they disappeared somewhere to do something. The house was the one who always alerted him to Potter’s absence.

He wasn’t upset about that. It was just fine by him that keeping him in the loop was not that high up on any of their lists. He had things to do, too. There was a reason he was trying to learn parseltongue. It definitely wasn’t because he wanted Potter’s attention.

He was just trying to do both Potter and the house a favour.

It felt wrong, to owe them their hospitality – Potter was the house’s master, of course – and he figured that if he spoke to the house directly, in the house’s original tongue, perhaps he could convince the wards to accept their master.

Then, he would owe them nothing.

Besides, it was the least he could do for the poor house. Potter objectified it, which was – not fine, but the worse part was really that Draco couldn’t get it into the idiot’s head that the house had feelings and that he should be more respectful of it.

Oh, he humoured Draco alright – he talked to the walls, he didn’t slam the doors (and apologized if he did) – but Draco could tell how little of Potter’s heart was in his interactions with his house. In the end, Draco had to put a stop to it all; the way Potter was treating the house was damaging their relationship more than Draco had imagined was possible.

That was why he was trying with this parseltongue thing.

If he couldn’t get the idiot to understand, maybe he could try to get the house to sympathise.

(On second thoughts, maybe not. The house was of the opinion that Potter had no respect for the wizarding ways at all and actually strongly disapproved of his attachment to the not-Master. And, this was the ancestral halls of the Black family.)

(Now that was a vindictive lot if there ever was one.)

~~~.~~~

Objectively, he knew that Harry was trying, to mend, to (re)build what they might have had.

He was setting aside time to spend teaching Draco a language he could learn from the libraries of the house. He gave Draco foot rubs without Draco needing to prompt him. He spent the nights with Draco, just cuddling him when Draco could feel that he wanted more.

Subjectively, however? It doesn’t feel like he was trying at all.

Maybe it was just Draco, but, he kept feeling like he was… replaceable. As if any other person could have walked in and taken his place and Potter would probably only notice after, who knew, a year?

He feels bad about feeling that way, but.

(Sometimes, Draco wondered if that was his fault – if he had put in more effort, would it have been better?) 

~~~.~~~

The birth took them all by surprise.

Well, actually, it only took Draco by surprise. The trio weren’t even there. They had left – the nest of Weasels had called, and Potter went with the sickening duo after a short period of indecision. He informed Draco of his leave this time, though, so Draco decided not to hold it against him.

Left to his own device, Draco meandered around in the library, where he was offered a book on potions he could brew while pregnant.

He was in the middle of brewing Amortentia when he felt the wetness trickling down, and it took him until he was almost done with the potion to feel the first wave of pain.

As calmly as he could (thank Father thank Merlin) he finished up the potion and left it to settle, requesting the house to assist him to his room – he wasn’t prepared he wasn’t ready he hadn’t expected to be alone why was he alone where’s Harry – and the house did as he asked.

Curling up on his side was, perhaps, not the smartest thing for him to do – he had yet to read the book on birthing technique, never thought to, regretting it now – but he really didn’t feel like doing much else. Besides, he had already shredded the room – the house had accepted his nesting rage with surprising placidness, even offering up a few pillows and duvets for him to pick apart – and he was exhausted.

He couldn’t pass out, though, and somewhere in that hazy blur that was the land between wakefulness and sleepiness, the wards whispered to him that not-Master and his friends were back.

He wasn’t even sure how long it had been.

~~~.~~~

Somewhere along the line, he must have passed out.

This was his first thought when he woke up: Lyra’s missing.

(He’d been bouncing between Mira and Lyra and he hadn’t consulted Harry on the naming yet, hadn’t thought to ask, but he carried her to term and he wanted that name for her – even if he hadn’t seen her yet, he’d settled on Lyra and Harry would just have to accept it, he absolutely refuse to compromise on this –)

For some unfathomable reason, the Weasel was the first person to approach his room.

Again.

Weasley broke the uncomfortable silence when he tentatively asked for permission to enter. He even phrased it right.

That was when it struck Draco that Weasley knew the traditions and the lore, even if he never appeared to practice them.

As they picked their ways through traditionally polite greetings and blessings, Draco suddenly realised that he had missed this. He never liked them, but they reminded him of Mother, of home – it was a sickening revelation that the uncouth Weasley was the one to first give him the feeling of being home.

And then he saw Lyra, cradled in Potter’s arm, green eyes and wide open and staring at him as if she could see him. She was ugly, wrinkled and red, but all Draco could think of was that she would grow up to be beautiful, with Harry’s eyes and the Malfoy grace.

Merlin, what was he to do when she starts bringing home suitors?

~~~.~~~

Harry spent the first few days after the birth trailing after Draco like a guilty kneazle kit. He complied meekly with Draco’s every demand, pretty much waiting on him hand and foot, until Draco was starting to panic a little.

Internally, of course. The Malfoy upbringing had instilled in him a sense of decorum that he fully intended to practice.

Externally, he let them know just what he thinks of them confining him to the nest. After the third day, he declared that they were going to find him a house elf to look after his daughter the way Tuffy had looked after him, and that if they didn’t get him one, he would have Kreacher bring him one of the Malfoy elves. He would figure out how to do the breaking and binding ceremony.

The Mudblood looked horrified, but Harry stood on his side. For the first time ever.

Draco spent the rest of the day in a brilliant mood – not even Lyra fussing over her milk (some formula thing?) was enough to make him upset (no, it wasn’t just some warm fuzzy feeling, he was just glad his mate stood up for him).

As it turns out, they had house elves (there were two at Hogwarts who knew Harry?) who were willing to take care of Lyra. In fact, Miffy looked at Lyra with adoration in her large bulbous eyes and she started up the waterworks, too, when he told her that he would be willing to be her Master. Granger came around to their way of thinking after that, so apparently even Mudbloods can be trained.

With the house elves around, Draco was free to accompany them – it wasn’t that he liked putting himself into dangerous situations, but if Harry wasn’t going to stop being idiotic, well. It was the least he could do, to balance out Harry’s utter lack of common sense and decent luck.

Because he wasn’t a lunatic Gryffindor, he had made contingency plans. Well, he had one plan: portkeys that would build on one of the escape charms woven into Arcturus Black’s music box to circumvent Gringotts’ protection measures. Then that dollophead decided to touch one of the goblets and ended up burying the music box underneath a mountain of replicas that replicated itself whenever one of them accidentally brush against it.

There was a point to this – oh, right, that was how he ended up on the Ironbelly when it flew out of the underground vault.

He lectured Potter on the idiocy of trying to ride on a flying dragon when they dropped off, and Potter – that bespectacled git – just smiled at him, before turning and conversing with the other two on what to do next.

(Flying on a dragon was more exhilarating than flying on a broom – he would never admit it to Harry, of course, but the point stands.)

(Screw politics and screw the wizarding world, he’d settle for an Australian reserve if that’s the only one that would take him; when this war was over, he was going to work with dragons. Not humans.) 

He regretted not joining their discussion when they appear to have reached a consensus to head to Hogwarts – were they all that sick of living?

He accompanied them, of course, because he wasn’t entirely sure how to get back to Grimmauld Place on his own.

(Merlin, he wasn’t even going to pretend that he didn’t care, anymore, but. He really couldn’t say that he cared, either.)

(Why must everything be this bleeding complicated?)

~~~.~~~

The trio were welcomed at Hogwarts. He, on the other hand, was… not.

Oh, they weren’t blatant about it. There were no hexes and no whispered curses, there weren’t even hissed insults, but their solution to his presence was to ignore it.

It wasn’t entirely a pleasant feeling.

Draco had no need of their goodwill, however, and the only thing he really cared about was that Potter did not get himself murdered. As long as the crowd loved him, they wouldn’t let him die, and that was that.

(He couldn’t deny that he had been upset when Potter let the Weaselette hug him. Actually, let’s call that cauldron a cauldron – he was jealous, alright. He was jealous and a little angry when she caught his eye over Potter’s shoulder and smiled, before tightening her hold.)

Then, Voldemort announced his presence.

Everyone started streaming out, ready for a fight, and Potter – the dirty, cheating jerk – disarmed him. Holding onto Draco’s wand, that jerk had the audacity to look apologetic as he gave Draco a band instead, a woven thing that was obviously enchanted. “Stay here,” he asked – no, demanded – with an almost plea in his eyes.

Draco didn’t take it, but Harry shoved it at him anyways, folding his hand around it. Then he brushed a brief kiss against Draco's lips, shocking him into stillness – for all that Harry had been making his intentions clear, he hadn't done anything this straightforward since he said that he would try.

It didn't move Draco, though, because –

Well, he didn't really know, but there was still something, something stopping him from accepting again. Maybe it was remembering what being left felt like, maybe it was just him being a coward again, but he didn't return it, and he didn't chase after Harry when he left.

Though he did still join in the fight.

He couldn't let the Gryffindors have all the glory, after all.

~~~.~~~

He followed Harry.

From his spot in the corner by the door, he saw what’s left of his friends – Pansy, Crabbe and Goyle.

Millie’s gone, as was Blaise and Theo.

From an outsider’s viewpoint, they weren’t really friends, per se. He wasn’t nice to them and they weren’t nice to him. They were friends the way Slytherins were, however. They lied and they laughed together, they gossiped and spread vicious rumours about various individuals in the common room, they played word games and power games during breaks, they backstabbed and blackmailed each other to earn respect and rank.

Crabbe and Goyle were certainly the only ones who never truly participated.

When they were even younger, they would sneak into someone’s bed after curfew, too, to trade stories about ancient relatives like Millie’s great-great-great granduncle’s best friend Malcolm who thought he was a merman and drowned trying to live with them.

Draco had a sudden urge to go up to them, to appeal to them to help, to fight, to earn themselves a place in the society (together) after Voldemort was gone, because they were not stupid, all of them knew that he was set for failure, but he didn’t. Because.

None of them were foolishly optimistic lions or loyally just badgers. They weren’t even cold, calculating ravens. They were just snakes (cowards) raised in a culture of hypocrisy, fed with history, traditions and values that the muggleborns (tourists) trampled all over without care.

None of them would fight.

(None of them could fight.)

(Family came first.)

The truth was, their nest had been trampled all over, and it was crumbling. They couldn’t do anything but slither away, scared and scattered. Eventually, they would all settle in different corners of this hostile world, where they would shed their damaged skin and start anew.

(This would be the past, then – the past they all shed.)

~~~.~~~

Losing Crabbe hurt.

Harry had gotten out and Draco could have followed him, but Draco couldn’t leave them. Crabbe was a hothead, yes, but he meant well – he always did – and Goyle, Goyle was just a sweetheart.

As he dived towards them, for a moment it felt like they were still children and he was trying to convince them to get onto their brooms.

In that split second before Crabbe was gone and he could only haul Goyle up and fly like he never did, before, he couldn’t help but remember that, once upon a time, Goyle had called him an angel. Their angel.

And he never once went back for them.

~~~.~~~

There was something the Golden Trio and all the people on the ‘light’ side never understood: Perhaps the purebloods were in the wrong, but the muggleborns were, too.

(They claimed a place in a world that they were visiting and never thought enough to give back what they took – most of them left, after – they never belonged and they never tried, they merely demanded the world to bend to their wishes as if it was their right.)

The other thing they never understood: Family came first.

(When your whole family’s on the ‘wrong’ side, what could you do?)

Years down the road, when Draco sat down for a pint with Greg, Greg asked him why.

(Why would you ask children to fight their family?)

(Why would you blame them for choosing not to?)

~~~.~~~

In the end, it was seeing Harry dead that did it.

Lyra was tucked away in her crib in Grimmauld Place, happily unaware of everything, and all Draco could think looking at Harry, unmoving and dwarfed by the oaf was –

You promised.

And,

I should have gone after you.

~~~.~~~

When Voldemort was dead and buried, Draco stood there and watched for a while, before going off to look for his parents – they were definitely there.

What he found instead was just Harry, standing there next to a boy that looked vaguely familiar – Draco eventually placed him as the kid that used to follow Harry around, taking his photo. Colin, was it? He walked up and stood there until Harry looked up.

This time, Harry kissed him, and he didn’t shove Draco away halfway through.

This, Draco thought.

This could work.