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burning low - with apologies to dirgewithoutmusic

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First-year Draco Malfoy is not kind, he's stuck-up, he's a snotty spoiled rich kid, but racism and supremacy isn't a birth-given thing, it's taught. He's been living with Death Eaters and people who perpetuate violence for the sake of family, honor, for things they are afraid of losing.

Harry raises an eyebrow and says "I can tell the wrong sort for myself, thanks." Draco would recoil, and be upset about Harry Potter not wanting to be his friend. He's only ever known that if you want something bad enough, if you make someone twist someone's arm hard enough, if you just call them enough mean things, you'd get it. Harry has seen this before, in Dudley.

For a while, Harry thought he could take it. But he also thought about the moment before they were sorted where Draco asked to be friends, and remembered that sitting on that chair, Malfoy had been scared, too.

After the fourth paper scrap hit the back of Harry's head he turned sharply and said "What's your problem?" and when Draco laughed in his face Harry shushed Ron and added "You were the one who wanted to be friends first."

He noted that Draco ceased fire for a day afterwards, and at some point in second year, instead of sneaking about - Remember, Harry knows that Draco secretly wanted to be friends, and so couldn't be that bad - he pulled up a chair with Ron and Hermione in a tow in the library and said "Draco, we need your help. We think someone's trying to open the Chamber of Secrets."

Draco would have raised his eyebrows, shocked, but quietly elated- Harry Potter! Asking him for help! - But he was too dignified to do that. Harry had caught him without his droogs, and the three knew that without those two, Draco Malfoy only had his lips and words to defend himself. What from, they had no idea.

Remember; Draco Malfoy's family was not kind, they were integral to the return of Voldemort, and he is a child who just wanted to be friends with Harry Potter on that first day, if only in part because his father had wanted him to. But remember, Harry had met Draco before school even began- In a tailor's shop, getting fitted for robes. He had thought Harry was quite alright, then.

But Draco still buried his face back into the books. "I'm busy, go bother someone else."

Ginny Weasley still fell under the curse Draco's father had planted, Harry still faced down an echo of Tom Riddle and stabbed a diary. But this time Harry had asked Draco first, and so he hunted him down to ask him why.

I like to think Draco would have been shocked- On one hand, why hadn't his father told him? On the other, oh Merlin, his dad almost got Ginny to kill people, and he knew his dad wasn't Imperiused, his dad caused this, and he hadn't seen it coming. Draco was not kind, but he was twelve and his father almost killed a bunch of people. Mudblood or not, spoiled, sheltered and young Draco still felt sick thinking about violence. He had wanted to help the heir- But did he really understand what that meant? He would not relay these thoughts to his father, but he started doing a lot of thinking that year.

Draco was terrified of Dementors, and he still laughed at Harry for it. This time, Harry rose his eyebrows and handed him a chocolate bar, because Harry understood what it was like to be scared, to be fed back your own fears and feel as if everything you once had would be lost. Draco was many things- spoiled, bully, hypocrite- but he was not cruel the same way Dudley was. Dudley was fuelled by entitlement, the feeling of having big fists and knowing he could get whatever he wanted with them.

Draco's actions were his own, but the intention behind those actions had always been fear. Harry could comprehend that, and by this point Draco had done enough thinking on his own to realize that everything he had known could be wrong, but not enough to turn him away from the darkness.

Draco would accept the chocolate, if only because he was too surprised to do anything else.

He still dressed up as a dementor in an attempt to sway Harry's performance, was still knocked back by a successful Patronus. But this time, Draco pulled up a chair in a corner of a library to find Harry without his friends and said "Potter, what spell did you almost kill me with?"

Harry would locate the book Lupin had given him for additional reading, feeling like Hermione. Draco would not thank him, but he would nod and check the book out, and Harry would think that was the last he would see of Draco Malfoy. But Draco still approached Harry by himself, asking grudging questions about the Patronus Charm, until Harry decided to just bring him to Hermione, who wrinkled her nose and told Ron, but she was never one to reject a teaching moment.

Draco produced a waning silver light in an empty classroom beside Harry's strong one, and almost quit in anger and shame. But the Granger girl corrected his posture, Weasley suggested various assumed, false (and slightly funny) memories of being surrounded by piles of money, and goody-two-shoes Potter was being so disgustingly encouraging. By the end of the semester Draco could produce a bright silver light, and say he learnt it by himself, and Harry would roll his eyes if he ever heard it.

Draco was still the one who got Buckbeak executed, but not quite by choice. Hermione still punched him, but this time they made up quietly, with Draco's rapid explanations, and Hermione's shushes and equally rapid apologies, and Ron and Harry sat and watched, trying not to laugh.

He heard about Harry's stag patronus and found him in the library. "So yours is a stag, huh, Potter." He said, wringing his hands behind his back, unsure of what else to say. How do you explain jealousy that isn't quite jealousy? How do you explain worry but in a more hating way? How do you say "Hey, I'm sorry I called Buckbeak a chicken," without embarassing yourself? He held his breath while waiting for Harry's answer, but he didn't need to.

Harry smiled, a hollow, tired thing, and said "Hey, you'd get there. And, y'know, you could just call me Harry."

Draco turned up his nose and left, but called him 'Harry' and not 'Potter' in regular, private conversations with Harry and his friends, in empty classrooms, practicing spells that were not patronuses.

He still sat behind Harry during the Quidditch Cup, but this time he said nothing. They were friends, if only in secret. After the game ended Draco broke away from his parents to find the three. Harry happily engaged with him, debating on which team did best, and the conversation including Hermione went all the way to the technicalities of each rule and all the possible exceptions, which Ron had trouble keeping up with because they all talked so bloody fast.

On the train, Draco still sat with his Slytherin friends, but this time he stopped by the cabin shared by the trio to say "Did you hear? They're hosting the Triwizard Tournament in Hogwarts this year."

When Harry's name flew out of the Goblet of Fire, Draco hunted him down to ask him how the hell did he do that, what do you mean you didn't, what the hell, Potter, you'd die out there, Harry.

Harry and Cedric still helped each other out, and Draco still made badges, but he did not make any mocking Harry. 'Support Cedric Diggory' could be made to read 'And Harry Potter' if you hissed at it, but barely anyone knew. He was something like bitter, something like jealous, but also something like worried and something like proud. Pansy and Blaise would roll her eyes in the common room as Draco tried and failed to conceal his concern.

Neville was still the one who snuck out Gillyweed, but Draco was the one who told Neville where it was.

Alastor Moody still transfigured Draco into a ferret, but for a different reason. Someone else still tattled to Rita Skeeter about Harry, and Draco was livid.

Ron dubbed him 'The Amazing Bouncing Ferret', but this time he did so while patting Draco on the back, chuckling. Hermione and Pansy both snapped at people who teased Draco, but both on completely seperate occasions and the two never formally met each other until the Yule Ball.

Harry handed Draco a chocolate frog in the library and asked him if was he okay, knowing full well the answer was no, not really.

Herrmione went to the ball with Viktor Krum, Harry with Parvati, Ron with Padma, and Draco went with Pansy. Hermione met Pansy and they hated each other on sight, but they looked at Draco and back at each other and burst out laughing. Pansy was mean, horribly so, but she cared about Draco when everyone else just thought he was one-dimensional. Knowing someone else saw Draco as he was, even if that person was a goddamn filthy Mudblood, softened her slightly. She barely bothered Hermione, save for a few snide remarks about her hair, but only because she knew something that no one else did.

At the end of the trial, Draco watched Harry sob over Cedric's body and he thought "Oh God, Cedric, Oh God, Harry." because he had never seen Harry cry, and he thought "Oh God, he's back."

Draco was not kind, but Harry jump-started that road to self questioning that would have happened when he was in sixth year, had Harry not given Draco that chocolate bar. In a way, that made Draco think more than he used to. In a way, that helped.

He still joined the Inquisitorial Squad in fifth year, because it was the smart thing to do, he sat with Pansy by the fire and she asked "Merlin, Draco, what are we doing?" and he said "Surviving."

He still acted against Harry and his friends and Hermione screamed at him in the hall. Draco's father was still imprisoned for his crimes. But Draco did not blame Harry or the D.A. He had more things to worry about- like filling his father's place, like poisoning mead wine, like keeping his mother safe.

But this time, Draco noticed Harry in the baggage compartment of his train cabin and did nothing. Harry watched Draco grow quieter, paler, drowning in stress and fear and an impending dread that he was going to die very soon. Harry was too disappointed to approach Draco and Draco was too worn out and scared to talk to anyone except Pansy, but she was encouraging where he wanted to be saved. He had too much on his hands- Draco Malfoy was cruel, a bully, unkind, but he was also afraid, so afraid of death, and taking someone's life just felt too much.

When Harry did catch Draco in the bathroom the Cruciatus Curse barely reached Harry and he did not shoot Sectumsempra, because Harry did not hate Draco in this world, instead he asked "Draco, are you alright?" and Draco dissolved because no, nothing was okay, Father's in Azkaban, I have a tattoo I don't want, I have to kill Dumbledore, I have to protect Mother- God, Potter, what do I do? I can't breathe Harry, what am I going to do?

He still disarmed Dumbledore in the tower, Severus Snape still stepped in, but this time when Harry emerged he yelled at Draco to run. Draco still left. Harry still chased after Snape, screaming coward.

In Draco's basement, Harry did not ask why Draco did not expose them, they already knew. Draco's eyes were red from sleepless nights and threatened tears at Hermione's screams, and he handed Harry his wand and said "Please", and allowed himself to be hit by a Stupefy fired by his own wand.

(When Harry told him later that Dobby was killed by Bellatrix's dagger, they visited to the grave together. Draco never really cared for house-elves, but he remembered Dobby bringing him steaming mugs of hot chocolate when he was a small child growing up in an empty, quiet house that was too big for one child to be in.)

He returned to Hogwarts and stayed for the battle, because he had to, because this was his family at stake, because this world was collasping around him and this was what it meant to survive. He led Crabbe and Goyle into the Room of Requirement, lost Crabbe to cursed flames, saved Goyle, tried his best not to cry into Harry's back because he lost his friend, and this wasn't what he wanted, but he wasn't quite sure what he expected, either.

Harry stunned a Death Eater, Ron did not punch Draco, and Draco found himself hiding while Harry had gone to die.

Narcissa declared Harry dead in exchange for Draco, but Harry would have told her even without his life being at stake, he would have shouted it to her- Draco is waiting for you, he's alive, I rode him out on a broom, I stunned someone, he wanted to save you, you and Lucius - and he came back.

Draco bit back his scream when he saw Harry in Hagrid's arms, and thought no, not him too, and he walked straight into his mother's arms because he thought that was all he had left.

When Harry came back Draco shouted, ran to him in the Great Hall and punched him in the face.

"I thought you died, you prick." He said, so full of rage, so full of relief, barely giving a damn about all the strange stares he was getting. Harry rubbed his sore cheek and laughed nervously, a hollow sound, and Draco hugged him. "Thank you." He said, because Draco had always been a sensitve, affectionate boy. He was not kind, but Harry Potter gave him back his family, and so they hugged it out in the Great Hall, barely paying attention to the staring crowd.

Months after the war had settled, Narcissa had to call for help to to drag Draco out of the house for some fresh air because he was still holed up in his bedroom blaming himself for everything.

"Mother didn't let you in." He said, as he opened his bedroom door to the Golden Trio. He hadn't showered in a week, his hair was a mop on his head, and he looked shabbier than ever.

"She called us, actually." Hermione said, looking disapprovingly at Draco's wrinkled and clearly unwashed clothes. "Or more specifically, she called Harry."

"Yeah, she said something about getting you to go outside." Ron added, leaning against the door so that Draco would not close it. "You alright, mate?"

He was not okay, nothing was okay, Crabbe was dead and it was his fault, several of his father's friends were dead, some of his other friends and housemates were also dead or in Azkaban, nothing was okay and it was his fault.

Harry put both hands on Draco's shoulders and looked directly in his eyes. "Put on a coat, we're getting drinks. You can't blame yourself forever, Draco."

Draco could have screamed, what do you know, Potter? You weren't here, with him in your head all the time, threatening the only important thing you ever had, you've never had to look your mum in the eye and say you won't die even if you know you're lying. You didn't have to say it to anyone when you died. You weren't here.

But he put on a coat and got postively smashed, Harry supported Draco home and Hermione apologized to Narcissa who sighed and said "At least you got him to leave his room."

Harry continued asking Draco out for drinks at the Leaky Cauldron, sometimes with Hermione and Ron, sometimes wirh Neville, sometimes with Luna. Harry watched Draco open up a little more every time they sat with their hands around warm butterbeer, and slowly ventured into more of Diagon Alley, sitting in nice quiet cafè with some dry scones and lukewarm tea.

"How's it going with the Mind Healer?" Harry asked, because he managed to convince Draco to go see one.

"Annoying. But not terrible. He keeps going on about taking responsibility for actions but I don't think he gets it." Draco shrugged. "It's almost as if he thought I wanted any of it."

"Find a new one if you don't feel safe." Harry said, "They're supposed to help you."

Harry introduced Draco to his friends, and Draco did the same. Ginny and Pansy looked at each other, at Harry, then Draco, and they laughed.

Draco found himself on Harry's couch sometimes, when it got too exhausting to explain to his father about why he was refusing to continue the Malfoy family bloodline, and Harry's spare bed was so much warmer than his own, and he liked listening to Harry talk Quidditch.

One night, Draco stumbled through Harry's door, smashed, and Harry had to support him to his own bed.

"Fuck you, Potter." He slurred. "You don't know shit- Fuckin- Voldemort in my brain just- Messing everything up-"

"Merlin, Draco." Harry sat beside him, ready with a bucket just in case. "I'm gonna need to explain a lot of things about being a horcrux to you."

And he did. Draco woke up to clean clothes- Not his- and in Harry's bed. He smelled bacon. This was not an unfamiliar feeling, he had collasped drunk in Harry's apartment before. But that day felt different- They talked about what it felt to have someone whispering in your head, to have wanted none of what you got. Harry had not wanted to be the Chosen One, and Draco had not wanted to be a Death Eater.

"Do you think we could have been friends in first year?" Draco asked, at a pub, because he needed to know how awful of a person he is.

"No way, mate." Ron said, chugging down some warm butterbeer. Draco felt his heart sink. "You were too busy being a bloody snob. Second year, though, we considered it. We thought you were the heir."

"I thought Harry was." Draco mumbled.

"Sorry to disappoint." Harry shrugged. "But you changed a lot in third year. I like to think we were a bad influence on you, those spellcasting sessions. We made you think so many wholesome thoughts you broke out of your habit of being a git."

"You're not a terrible person, Draco. We're glad to be friends with you." Hermione said, a warm hand on his cold one.

"I know." He said, and meant it, "I just need to hear it sometimes."

Draco married Astoria, because she laughed when the wind blew his hair in all directions, because she cried at almost every movie they went to see, because she held his hand and kissed him good night before they parted.

He married her and watched all his friends- Since when were there so many of them?- cheer for him and he thought about fourth year, twirling across the dance floor with Pansy, Hermione laughing with Krum, Harry and Ron looking like they wanted to die, Neville stepping on his partner's foot, Luna's odd dance moves, Cedric smiling at Cho Chang as they moved awkwardly but in a strange, synchronised way.

Draco looked out and saw missing people, people who should have been there, but he did not think "I caused this", instead he thought "I hope there's enough wine."

Years later, Scorpius and Albus exchanged chocolate frog cards on the floor of Draco's living room, Draco, Harry, Ginny and Astoria engaged in four-way conversations about anything but their losses, their tragedies. And now there were things did not need to be spoken for him to comprehend. He knew. And everything was okay.