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Just keep breathing

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Harry couldn't really pin-point the first time it happened. Nightmares were a regular occurrence after the war and he was used to his magic lashing out while he was asleep, so he didn't think anything by it when he woke up to find his bedroom in disarray. Merely shrugged it off and took some precautions for the next time. He also didn't really notice any other incidents, though in hindsight he was sure that there must have been quite a few. Maybe he had deliberately overlooked them.

The first time he really became aware of it was about two months after the end of the war. The dead had been buried and the memorials were finally over, as were most of the Death Eater trials. Kingsley Shacklebolt had been named new Minister for Magic and the Ministry was slowly re-organizing itself. All in all things were starting to quiet down a bit after the hectic following Voldemort's defeat and all that went with it.

Harry had mostly been staying with the Weasleys, aside from a few nights spent at Grimmauld Place and regular visits to Andromeda and Teddy. Maybe it was the fact that Mrs. Weasley had settled him in Fred and George's old room, or maybe the war had changed him more than he'd thought, but the Burrow hadn't held the same comfort and feeling of home as it usually did for him.

The first incident, as he would later come to call it, happened on a regular Sunday afternoon. All had been normal, or at least as normal as it could be these days, so far. But then Ginny asked him to accompany her on a walk. Swallowing down his feeling of unease he agreed and followed her out of the house, never noticing the hopeful smile on Molly's face as she watched them go.

They walked around aimlessly for a while, both mostly quiet, until Ginny stopped next to an old oak tree and turned to look at him. And then she asked the one question he'd been fearing for weeks. She asked what would become of them now. Whether he was ready to continue their relationship or still needed some more time.

Caught off guard, despite having anticipated something like this, Harry stammered around for a while, but in the end he somehow managed to tell her that he didn't want to continue their relationship at all. Things had changed. He had changed. Too much had happened. He wasn't the same boy who had fallen in love with her any more.

Ginny didn't understand. Of course she didn't. He'd only broken up with her to protect her, while he went off hunting Horcruxes. That had been his reasoning back then. Now that the war was over and Voldemort finally defeated for good, the danger had passed. She didn't need protection any longer. They could start their life together like she had always envisioned.

She reminded him that she'd waited for him and got angry when Harry pointed out that he'd never asked her to. He tried to explain that his feelings had simply changed. That he had changed. But all of his stuttered excuses only made it worse. They only made Ginny's anger rise. She wouldn't understand and accused him of cheating on her, even going so far as to ask who he was leaving her for.

Harry didn't really know how it happened. One second he was trying to defend himself against Ginny's hurtful accusations and the next something inside of him snapped. Only when the ginger haired girl stumbled back a few steps, her eyes wide in fear, did he notice the dark waves of magic pulsing all around himself. It felt like his magic was alive, coiling around him like a snake, ready to strike. And the worst thing was that he had no control over it.

He started to panic and his magic lashed out, hitting the old oak tree right next to them. It split in the middle and the two halves crashed to the ground, branches and leaves raining down around them. Ginny shrieked and dove for cover.

Having found their outlet, the lingering traces of magic faded away, leaving Harry feeling tired and drained. And utterly confused.

“I'm … I'm sorry. I didn't mean to...” he stammered.

Ginny looked horrified and flinched away when he stepped closer to her. But she visibly reigned in her fear and forced herself to nod.

“We should go back.” she suggested.

It was the last thing she said to him that day. Harry had no idea what exactly she told her family. Once they were back at the house he fled to his room and stayed there until Molly called him down to dinner. No-one but Ginny was looking at him much differently, so he suspected she hadn't told them what had happened exactly. But everyone seemed to know that their relationship was over for good.

Harry didn't feel comfortable staying at the Burrow after that, so he thanked Molly for her generosity and went back to Grimmauld Place. He wasn't really sure yet if he wanted to keep the house or not. It held a lot of memories, both good and bad and it was the only thing he had left of Sirius. On the other hand it was way too big for one person and he wondered if it would even be possible to make it habitable. But for the time being it seemed like the best place for him to stay. He wouldn’t go back to the Dursleys, now that he actually had a choice. And what other option did he have?

He kept most of his stuff in Sirius' old bedroom, but slept in the room he'd shared with Ron during the summer before fifth year, so he wouldn't accidentally destroy something valuable while having a nightmare. He pushed the incident with Ginny from his mind and was happy to ignore all the other, strange little things that happened.

Like that one time he got angry about something in the Daily Prophet (why Hermione still insisted on him reading that rag was beyond him) and suddenly the teapot exploded. Or the time when a strange noise outside spooked him and the mirror shattered. Or all those times he woke up to find cracks in the walls and his bedsheets ripped to pieces.

The second time he really had to acknowledge that something was wrong was a few weeks after the first. Hermione and Ron were stopping by for a visit and they all sat in the kitchen, drinking tea and enjoying Kreacher's biscuits.

“Do you have any idea when our book-lists are going to arrive?” Harry asked.
“Our what?” Ron asked.
“Our book-lists. You know, from Hogwarts. I'm not really looking forward to visiting Diagon Alley, but I guess it's better if we get it over with quickly, right?”

His two friends didn't answer. They looked uneasy for some reason. Ron was fiddling with his napkin, while Hermione stared at the far wall, biting her lip.

“Okay, what's wrong?” Harry wanted to know.
“Well, actually... Ron and I aren't going back to Hogwarts.” Hermione finally admitted.
“George offered me work at the shop. I won't need my NEWTs for that.” Ron added.
“But … when the letters came you said you'd go back. We all agreed that it would be good. You were excited about it.” Harry reminded them.

Newly appointed Headmistress McGonagall had offered every student from Harry's year the chance to return to Hogwarts and take their NEWTs, since the war had prevented them all from completing their education. They would be called eighth years. Despite the now bad memories tied to his old school, Harry had immediately jumped at the chance to return to the one place where he'd always felt most at home. And he had thought that his two best friends felt the same.

“I thought about it. We both did.” Hermione assured. “And at first it sounded like a good idea... But it's like Ron said and … now that most of the remaining Death Eaters have been caught, I can restore my parent's memories. So I'm going to Australia next month and … Ron is going to come with me.”

Harry couldn't believe his ears. They were going to Australia. Without him. They were abandoning him. And they hadn't even had the guts to tell him until now.

“And when were you planning on telling me?” he wanted to know.
“We were waiting for the right time.” Hermione claimed.
“Yeah, it just never came up, mate.” Ron added.

“It never came up? The letters arrived weeks ago.” he reminded, getting angry. “We've been talking about Hogwarts nearly every time we met. Or at least I have.” Now that he thought about it, he realized that his two best friends had been rather quiet the last couple of times he'd mentioned the school.

“You were so thrilled to be going back. We didn't want to spoil it for you, mate.” the red-head claimed.
“And of course I'm going to continue studying on my own and I'll sit my NEWTs with you in June. McGonagall already gave me her okay.” Hermione chimed in again.
“You've got it all planned out I see.”
“Harry, we really didn't...”

Suddenly her voice was drowned out by the strange ringing in his ears. Her mouth snapped shut and she stared at him in shock. Only then did Harry realize that it was happening again. His magic was rising around him in waves, ready to lash out. He fought for control, tried to push it back down, but his powers wouldn't respond. His breath was coming in short, painful gasps. Panic was overwhelming him as he realized that he would hurt Ron and Hermione if he didn't get away from them right now.

Mustering his last bit of strength he got up and stumbled out of the kitchen, desperately trying to reign in his powers. Somehow he made it into an unused room. He just managed to shut the door behind himself before he lost the weak hold he had on his magic. It exploded outwards, shattering some old pieces of furniture stowed in a corner. A chandelier crashed down next to him and two paintings were ripped from the wall.

His feet gave out and Harry dropped down to the floor in the middle of the chaos his wayward magic had created, shaking like a leaf and panting like he'd just run a marathon. For a long moment he just sat there, unable to move.

A timid knock at the door made him look up.
“Harry? Are you okay?” Hermione asked hesitantly.

He struggled to his feet and shuffled to the door, opening it only wide enough to slip through. Judging by Hermione's shocked gasp, she still managed to get a look into the destroyed room.

“Sorry.” he muttered softly.
“Are you okay?” she asked again.
“Yeah, fine. I just... I didn't mean to scare you. I... I couldn't control it.”
“Don't worry about us. It's fine.” Hermione assured, though she still looked shaken up.

But she wouldn't be the girl he knew if she'd let something scare her for long. He could practically see how she pulled herself together and started analysing the situation.
“Has that happened before?”
Harry shrugged. “Once or twice.”

He could see his friends sharing an apprehensive look and tried to reassure them.
“Hey, it's nothing. I guess I'm just... stressed or whatever. Won't happen again.”
“Harry, that didn't look like nothing.” Hermione pointed out.
“It looked like you wanted to attack us, mate.” Ron agreed.
“You know I'd never...”
“Of course we know that you'd never hurt us intentionally.” the girl hurried to assure. “But you said you couldn't control it. Harry, that's not normal. I think you should see a healer.”

***

Harry didn't want to see a healer. Anything but that. But Hermione kept insisting, telling him over and over again that she only meant well and that she was concerned for him. And when that didn't work, she pulled her trump card.

“What if it happens when you have Teddy? You wouldn't want to hurt him, would you?”

It wasn't fair, mentioning his godson. Because Harry had promised Remus that he would look after the boy. That he would be there for him and protect him. He would do anything to make sure that Teddy didn't get hurt. Even going to see a healer.

So he finally gave in and made an appointment at St. Mungo's, hoping that the press wouldn't catch wind of it. The last thing he wanted was another story in the Daily Prophet, speculating about his mental health.

***

Healer Matthews was a tall, elderly man, with bushy eyebrows, a long nose and a thin white beard. After listening to his explanation of the incidents, he poked and prodded Harry for what felt like hours, pausing only to jot down notes. When he was finally done, he asked his patient to wait while he consulted a colleague.

So Harry waited. Long minutes later healer Matthews returned with a woman in tow. She was a stout little witch, probably around Molly Weasley’s age, with horn-rimmed glasses and her blonde hair done up in a messy bun.

“Margaret Ivers, mind healer. Call me Maggie.” she introduced herself.

Then she settled down in front of him and proceeded to ask Harry all kinds of uncomfortable questions about the war, his childhood and his current living arrangements. He tried to be patient and answer honestly, but soon his temper flared and both healers got a thorough demonstration of the reason he was here.

Once Maggie had taken down her hastily created shields and healer Matthews had crawled out from under the table where he'd sought cover, they sent Harry into another room to wait again while they discussed their results. And probably fetched someone to repair the damage done to the first examination room.

After another long bout of waiting, Maggie joined Harry in the new room and started explaining.
“I believe we have found the reason for your... outbursts.” she stated rather confidently. “You have told us that when he-who-shall-not-be-named tried to kill you as a child, a piece of his soul latched onto you, correct?”

She waited for his nod, before continuing: “Well, it appears that this piece of soul has been … dampening your magic, for lack of a better word. It has been feeding off your energy. You're a very powerful young wizard, Harry. And now that this dampener is gone, you finally have full access to your considerable magical strength. But as you're not used to harnessing that much power, it needs an outlet.”

“So... you're saying that … these things only happen, because I've got more power now?” Harry asked.

“Yes and no. It's only part of the reason for your outbursts. The other, bigger part is the fact that you're obviously suffering from a severe trauma. Which is very understandable in your situation. Your powers however, react to your inner turmoil. So when you're highly emotional, especially when you're angry I suppose, your magic surges. It becomes an outlet for your anger.”

“Okay. And... what can I do to stop it?”

“Well, it's a very complex problem, so I would advise regular sessions with a mind healer to treat your condition. I think we should start off with ten sessions and see where we go from there. Since I'm already familiar with your medical history now I would be the best choice. But of course you can also choose one of my colleagues, if you prefer. ”

Great. Just what he wanted. Regular sessions with a mind healer. If the Daily Prophet caught wind of that they'd have a field day. Finally they'd get proof that he was the nutcase they had made him out to be back in fifth year.

“Isn't there anything that works a bit quicker?” Harry asked.

Maggie frowned, obviously not at all pleased with his lack of enthusiasm. “Well, of course we'll discuss coping methods in case of another outburst and I can also prescribe you some calming draught, but those can only be a part-time remedy. To stop the outbursts for good we'll have to tackle the real problem. And that will take time and patience.”

“Alright. And what about those coping methods? Can you show me some now?”
“Of course I can. I was thinking that breathing exercises will work best in your situation...”

***

When Harry finally left St. Mungo's (with a full bottle of Calming Draught, as well as a bottle of Dreamless Sleep potion, but without having made an appointment with Maggie or any other mind healer) it was already getting dark. He sighed in defeat when he found Ron and Hermione waiting for him in the kitchen at Grimmauld Place. He should have known.

“How was the appointment? What did the healer say?” Hermione asked immediately.

Harry explained their diagnosis and told them about the breathing exercises and potions, but conveniently “forgot” to mention that he was supposed to go back there for counselling. He felt no desire to discuss his childhood and the war with that woman. Or anyone else for that matter. And he also didn't see how that would do him any good.

Hermione seemed to notice that he wasn't telling them the whole truth, but surprisingly enough she didn't push. She only reminded him that she and Ron would always be there for him and that he should listen to the healers.

Harry decided to ignore the healers instead. What did they know anyway? He didn't need counselling. He just needed some peace and quiet. Some time to relax. And he needed people to stop annoying him. But he swallowed his pride and told Andromeda about his condition.

“I understand if you don't want me to see Teddy.” he assured.

But Andromeda wanted to hear none of that. “Nonsense. You can still see Teddy whenever you like, Harry. You're his godfather and I know that he means a lot to you. We have all suffered during the war. I know that you would never hurt him.”

Harry felt choked up. He wondered if she had any idea how much her trust, her confidence meant to him. A simple “Thank you.” didn't seem to be enough, but it was the only reply he managed. Judging by Andromeda's gentle smile, she understood.

Chapter Text

Things went okay for about a week. Harry stayed at Grimmauld Place and put all of his energy into making the house more habitable. He also visited Andromeda a few times, took little Teddy for a walk or read to him. There were no incidents during that time. No exploding teacups or outbursts of magic. He felt calmer than he had in a long time and was positive that he'd been right. He didn't need counselling. He just needed some time to himself.

Of course there were still the nightmares, which made his magic lash out in his sleep. He knew that he couldn't rely too much on Dreamless Sleep, since it would affect his health if he took it too regularly. But he found that he could sometimes keep the nightmares at bay when he was just tired enough. So he got up early and worked on the house until he felt ready to drop. Then he took some Calming Draught and went to bed. It worked. At least sometimes.

He was starting to think that the worst was over. He was obviously getting used to his new strength, so there would be no more outbursts. At least that was what he was telling himself. Until he was proven wrong yet again.

***

It was Saturday and he didn't feel like working on the house, so he decided to visit Teddy instead. Andromeda had assured him that he could stop by whenever he liked, without having to call first, so he simply apparated to her house and knocked on the door. Andromeda welcomed him with a smile, like she always did. Even if she looked a bit apprehensive this time.

“Harry, how nice of you to stop by. Teddy is asleep, so why don't you come to the living room with me? I have visitors, I hope you don't mind. But there's actually something I needed to tell you.”

Harry thanked her and followed her inside. She led the way to the living room, but stopped just short of entering.

“Oh, I almost forgot. I've got a letter for you. From Hermione.”
“From Hermione?” he asked in puzzlement.
Andromeda went to fetch the letter from a nearby drawer. “She gave it to me yesterday and asked me to pass it on.”
“But... Why would she give it to you? She could've just used an owl.” Harry wondered. Why was she writing to him in the first place? She could have just stopped by.

“I'm not quite sure.” Andromeda had to admit. “She said something about not wanting to upset you. And she didn't want you to be alone when you read the letter. But we didn't have much time to talk. She and Ron had to catch their Portkey. International travel has always been rather complicated and right now with the Ministry still re-organizing itself … It’s a wonder they got a Portkey at all.”

“What Portkey?” Harry asked dumbly.
“To Australia, of course. They were going to visit her parents, from what I’ve gathered. I thought you knew...” she trailed off and gave him an apologetic look.

Harry stared down at the envelope in his hands. He couldn't believe what he was hearing.
“You mean they... they've left already?” he whispered.
“I believe they already arrived in Australia by now. Yes.”
“But... they didn't even say goodbye.”
“It was rather spur of the moment, thanks to the chaos at the Ministry. Hermione said they only got the travel information that morning, which left them only a couple of hours to get ready. And they didn't want to upset you...” Andromeda said again.

But Harry wanted to hear none of it. Hermione's promise that she would always be there for him rang inside his head. Nothing but hollow words. She had left. They had both left. And they hadn't even said goodbye. Hadn't even told him they would be leaving so soon. He hadn’t been worth a five-minute floo-call. Just a stupid letter. His hands started shaking and the envelope slipped from his grasp.

“Harry!”

Andromeda's voice had taken on a shrill tone. He only now realized that she had called his name a few times already and that she had backed away from him. And finally he noticed the dark waves of magic rising all around him. It was happening again. He'd been an idiot to think that it wouldn't. The picture frames on the wall rattled and he could still see Andromeda's lips moving, but he couldn't understand a word.

He tried to fight it. To will his magic to back off. But like all the times before it didn't work. It would find an outlet and maybe this time he wouldn't be so lucky. Maybe this time he would hurt someone. Harry trembled, panic slowly overtaking him. His heart hammered like mad, drowning out every other sound. He couldn't talk. Couldn't breathe. Couldn't do anything to stop it.

Until suddenly strong hands grabbed his upper arms and he found himself staring into the determined grey eyes of Draco Malfoy. The blond was talking and somehow the words made it through the fog in Harry's head.

“Look at me, Potter! It's okay. Just breathe. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Come on, Potter. Breathe with me. In … and out. Just like that.”

His tone was quiet and yet so commanding that Harry found himself obeying without second thought. He took a shaky breath and let it out. His lungs were protesting, but he forced himself to take another breath and another. Malfoy kept his strong hold on Harry's arms and kept talking in that low, intense tone.

“That's it. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Just like that. You're doing good. Just keep breathing.”

Slowly the tightness in his chest was lessening. It was getting easier to breathe. Harry still felt cold and he was still shaking, but the panic was subsiding. And so was his magic. The dark tendrils flickered and faded away. He swayed on the spot and Malfoy's hold on him tightened.

“Easy now, come on.” the blond murmured softly.
Harry allowed himself to be led into the living room and pushed into an armchair. Malfoy hovered in front of him.
“Do you feel sick?”
He shook his head. “Just.. cold.”

Seconds later a blanket was draped over his shoulders and he heard the blond muttering something about tea. He cuddled into the warmth, thankful for the comfort it provided and concentrated on keeping his breathing steady. By the time Andromeda pressed a steaming mug of tea into his hands the shivers had mostly subsided.

He looked up at her tentatively.
“Sorry. I didn't meant to...”
“It's okay, Harry. There's no need to apologize.” she assured.

She exchanged a look with Malfoy, before giving Harry another smile and leaving the room. Accompanied by Narcissa, whom Harry hadn't even noticed until that moment. Malfoy pulled up another armchair and sat down next to him.

“Drink your tea. It'll help.” the blond ordered quietly.
Harry took a small sip, before looking up at his former nemesis. “Thank you.”
“You're welcome.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes, while Harry slowly sipped his tea. It was a strange mixture of herbs he didn't recognize. But it did help to calm his frayed nerves.

“Do you get panic attacks often?” Draco finally broke the silence.
“Panic attacks? No, I've never...”
“So that was the first time?”
“But … no... that wasn't … My magic's just acting up a bit.” Harry protested.

“Potter, I know a panic attack when I see one.” the blond claimed. And when Harry just scowled at him, he swallowed hard and admitted: “I had my fair share of them. Especially in sixth year. I know what I'm talking about.”

It was this admission that made Harry think about it for a moment, instead of giving in to the urge to lash out. “I don't know.” he said finally. “The healer never said anything about panic attacks. She just said that I've got full access to my magic now that Voldemort's gone and that I … need to learn to handle it or whatever. And she claimed I have a trauma.”

He had no idea why he told Malfoy of all people. Then again, the Slytherin wasn't the same git he used to be any longer. The war had changed all of them. And he had just admitted something very personal as well.

Malfoy snorted. “Everyone who fought in the war has a bloody trauma. You don't need a healer to tell you this.”
“Yeah, guess you're right.” Harry murmured. “She wasn't helpful at all, you know? Just gave me some calming draught and told me I need counselling sessions with her.”
“I wouldn't scoff at the idea, if I were you. It's pretty obvious that you need help.”
“I don't need a bloody mind healer to poke around in my past!” the younger boy spat. He could feel the tension returning to his body, his magic reacting to the new wave of anger.

Malfoy reached out and squeezed his shoulder. “Easy. I didn't mean to offend you.” he assured.
The calm tone of his voice surprisingly helped to calm Harry's temper as well. He concentrated on his breathing for a moment and his magic settled.
“Sorry. I just... it feels like I get angry really easily these days.” he admitted.
“It's okay. I should have worded that more carefully.”

Both were silent for a long while. Harry drained the rest of his tea and wondered about the fact that it felt strangely peaceful to sit there with Malfoy. It almost felt like there was a connection between them. He didn’t even mind that the blond was watching him.

“So.. you’ve already seen a healer?” Malfoy finally broke the silence.
“Last week. Like I said, they weren’t helpful.”
“They told you to see a mind healer?”
“Hmm… but I … I can’t. The bloody Prophet would have a field day.”

Strangely enough he never considered the idea that Malfoy might run to the Prophet. He couldn't explain it, but he was somehow sure that the blond wouldn't betray him like this. That he could trust him. Despite their past and the fact that they hadn't seen each other since the Malfoys trial.

“Yes, I bet they would. But still… if it helps.”
“I can’t, Malfoy. They’re already speculating why I was seen at St. Mungo’s. I don't want a repeat of fifth year.”

Again they were silent. The blond kept fidgeting, shooting glances at Harry.
“Maybe... if you don't want to see a healer at St. Mungo's, then maybe you could try talking to my mother.” he suggested suddenly.
“Your mother?”

“She trained to become a mind healer after graduating from Hogwarts. But when she married father he forced her to quit. Obviously it's unbecoming for the wife of a Malfoy to work.” he sounded bitter and for a fleeting moment Harry wondered if he even missed his father.

“And… You think it might help?” he asked.
“I know that she helped me. And I know that she would be happy to try.”

The offer actually didn't sound too bad. Narcissa Malfoy had saved his life. He'd said as much at her trial. Harry knew he would at least feel more comfortable talking to her than to some stranger. And it wasn't like he had anything to lose. Because as much as he hated to admit it, Malfoy was right. He did need help. He’d tried to ignore his problem and it had just gotten worse.

“I guess it's worth a try.” he said finally.
“And no-one can be suspicious of you coming here.” Malfoy added.
“We could do it here?”
“Of course. Unless you'd be more comfortable in your own home.”
“No, I don't think so. I just thought I'd have to come to the Manor.” Harry explained.

At the mention of Malfoy Manor the blond averted his eyes.
“You don't know yet.”
“Don't know what?” the younger boy wanted to know.
“The Ministry took Malfoy Manor for war reparations. Andromeda has been kind enough to let mother and me move in here.”

“No, I didn't know. I... I'm sorry.” Harry muttered awkwardly.
“Don't be. We're both glad to be rid of it.” Draco claimed.
“But it was your home.” the younger boy pointed out.

“It used to be my home. But then the Dark Lord came and turned it into his home. So much has happened there. So much death and darkness. I could never view it as my home again. It's better to leave it all behind and start over.” the blond said. “Of course father would think differently. But since he's going to spend the next 20 years locked up in Azkaban, he doesn't have a say in the matter.”

“Makes sense.” Harry had to agree. “I guess that means we're going to see each other more often from now on, huh?”
“Looks like it.”
“Well, in that case maybe we can... start over? Leave the past behind us?”
“I'd like that.”

“Okay, then. I'm Harry Potter. Pleased to meet you.” Harry joked, holding out his hand.
Malfoy stared at it for a moment, obviously remembering how Harry had rebuffed his hand back in first year and the Gryffindor started to feel stupid. But then the blond grabbed his hand and shook it. “Draco Malfoy. Pleasure.”

They smiled at each other.
“Do you want me to talk to mother about trying to help you?”
“Yeah, that would be great.”

The blond got up, hesitated and turned back to Harry.
“I know I should have said it sooner, but … thank you. For speaking up for us at the trials. I know what you did for mother. And for me. And... thanks for returning my wand.”
“I only told the truth. And the wand belongs to you.” Harry said with a shrug.
Draco shook his head with a smile. “Bloody Gryffindor.” The words sounded almost fond.

Harry watched him as he left the room. Then he leaned back in the armchair and thought back to their talk. It had been their first, real conversation as far as he could remember and he was surprised how well they'd gotten along. Maybe they could really leave the past behind and move on.

Chapter Text

Draco hadn't seen Potter since the other boy had spoken for him at his trial. He'd been surprised by the help, but he'd appreciated it nonetheless. He knew that without Potter's testimony he would have gotten a much harder sentence. He would've probably been sent to Azkaban with his father. But with the Saviour vouching for him he'd gotten off lightly.

The Wizengamot had decided that he couldn't be held fully responsible for his actions in the war, since he'd been young and forced into the Dark Lord's service by circumstance. As Potter had pointed out, he'd only done what he had to in order to protect his family. He'd only taken the Dark Mark because he'd been forced to.

So instead of getting thrown into Azkaban alongside his father, Draco had gotten a parole. He had to return to Hogwarts and take his NEWTs, he wasn't allowed to leave the country for the next two years and he would have to endure unannounced visits from an Auror, who would check his wand for any traces of dark magic. If he stuck to the rules and kept his head down he'd be free to live his life as he pleased once he left Hogwarts (aside from not being able to leave the country yet).

He'd gotten a second chance and he was determined to use it. To correct his mistakes as well as he could and become a better man. Of course he knew that it wouldn't be easy. That a lot of people wouldn't be pleased that he'd gotten off so lightly. People who would look at him and only see the son of Lucius Malfoy. Just another Death Eater. But Draco vowed to prove them wrong. He vowed to prove that he was more than his father's son.

His mother (who had been pardoned once Potter had told them that she'd saved his life) had suggested that Draco should go and see Potter. Try to make amends and thank the other boy for his help. And while Draco knew that she was right, he still hadn't been too thrilled about that idea. Had put the visit off as long as he could, claiming there were more important things to take care of first.

Like figuring out where they were going to live. The Ministry had given them six weeks to gather their belongings (at least those they were allowed to keep) and move out of the Manor. Draco had wanted to move out as soon as possible. Money wasn't an issue. Despite the fact that they'd had to pay a hefty fee, the Malfoy vaults were still full of gold. The only problem was that no-one wanted to rent or sell to them. While he hadn't expected them to be welcomed with open arms, he was still taken aback by the open hostility they were faced with.

In the end Andromeda had stepped in and offered to let them move into her home with her. Draco was glad that his mother had patched things up with her estranged sister and that he'd finally gotten to know his other aunt. At first the fact that she looked so much like Bellatrix had scared him a little, but he'd realized quickly that she was the complete opposite of his deranged aunt.

Andromeda was gentle and kind. And incredibly strong. She had lost nearly everyone in the war – her husband, her daughter and her son-in-law. But those losses hadn't made her broken or bitter. They hadn't taken away her ability to love and forgive.

It was beautiful to see her with his mother. To see them talking and sometimes even laughing together. Draco knew that they had been close as children and that his mother had always missed her sister. He was glad that they had reconnected and he hoped that they could heal together.

But of course moving into Andromeda's house meant that he was faced with another challenge. A challenge by the name of Harry Potter. Because his aunt had pointed out early on that Potter was her grandson's godfather and therefore also an important person in her life. She had warned him that the younger boy would be coming by regularly and that she expected Draco to be at least polite.

So he had tried to steel himself for their first meeting since his trial. He had even prepared a speech, intending to thank Potter for his help and apologize for his past behaviour. But nothing could have prepared him for the way that first meeting would go.

He'd been nervous when Andromeda had announced that Potter had just arrived. On her insistence he had waited in the living room with his mother, while Andromeda went to greet Potter and warn him about their presence. But something must have gone wrong, because suddenly he had felt a wave of magic, so strong that it had made the walls tremble.

And when he'd gone to investigate he'd found Potter, in the middle of a panic attack and unable to control his wild magic. It hadn't been a conscious decision to approach the other boy. Draco hadn't paused to think about what he was doing. He'd seen the look of panic and utter fear on Potter's face and just reacted.

What followed had to have been one of the weirdest experiences of his life. Which was really saying something. He'd managed to calm Potter down and then they had gone and had their first proper conversation in as long as he could remember. Of course he’d completely forgotten to apologize. At least he had managed to thank the other boy. And to refrain from insulting him. He counted that as a victory.

The whole thing was still very vivid in his mind two days later, when he went to Diagon Alley to buy his school supplies. The list had finally arrived that morning and Draco thought it best to get it over with quickly.

He knew what the public thought of him, so he wasn't too surprised by the hostility he was faced with. Which unfortunately didn't mean that he was immune to it. He almost regretted not taking his mother and Andromeda up on their offer to accompany him. But he hadn't wanted the two women to have to face this hatred too. They didn’t deserve it. He did.

He was just contemplating giving up, after having been thrown out of yet another shop, when a commotion caught his eye. The camera flashes and crowd of reporters told him who he was going to find even before he pushed his way through the mass of people and saw Potter standing in the street, looking about ready to murder someone.

It took Draco only a second to assess the situation. Then he reacted without thinking (as he was prone to do whenever Potter was involved) and rushed to the dark-haired boy's side. He felt Potter's magic even before he reached him. It made his skin prickle and the hairs on his arms stand up. How the reporters didn't notice it was beyond him.

“Potter.” he greeted cautiously.
“Malfoy!” the other boy breathed, sounding incredibly relieved to see him. Must be a first.
Draco could see the sliver of fear in his expressive green eyes and laid a cautious hand on his arm.
“It’s okay. Just breathe.” he instructed quietly, so no-one would overhear.

Potter nodded and took a few deep, calming breath. The magical energy surrounding him slowly dimmed back to more normal levels.
“Are you here to buy your school supplies?” Draco asked in an attempt to distract him.
He was acutely aware of the many people watching them, the camera flashes going off every few seconds. The onlookers seemed to be holding their breath. Probably hoping for a fight.

“Yeah. You too?”
“Yes. I thought it best to get it over with quickly.” the blond said.
“Me too.” Potter admitted.

Suddenly someone shouldered roughly past Draco, making him stumble and hissing “Death Eater scum!”. The Slytherin did his best to ignore the insult, but Potter glared at the guy, who hurried to disappear back into the crowd.

“We could get the rest of our shopping done together.” the Gryffindor offered.

Of course Draco realized what he was trying to do. He was hoping that his presence would protect the blond from further harassment. Only a year ago he would have bristled at the indication that he needed Potter to protect him. Right now he didn't really care. If it meant that he could actually get his shopping done, he'd accept the younger boy's help.

“Sounds good. Where are you headed next?”
“I was thinking we could go to Flourish & Blotts to buy our books. And then maybe the Apothecary?” Potter suggested, looking a little surprised that his offer was accepted so readily.
“Sure. Lead the way.” Draco agreed, not bothering to mention that he'd already been kicked out of the Apothecary earlier today.

They walked to the bookshop side by side, with a bunch of reporters still trailing after them. People stopped to stare as they passed by. Draco heard the onlookers talking amongst themselves. Most of them didn't even try to be quiet. And it was always pretty much the same.

“Was that Harry Potter?”
“What is the Saviour doing with that Death Eater?”
“A Death Eater? Call the Aurors!”
“Look, it's the Malfoy boy! Walking around like he has no shame!”
“Is that Potter? With a Malfoy?”

The blond squared his shoulders and held his head high, determined not to show weakness. He wouldn't let these idiots see that their words were affecting him. At least in this his father's training was helpful. He'd learned from a young age to put on a mask of indifference.

“Fucking press! Why can't they leave us alone?” Potter growled next to him.
“Just ignore them. Try to stay calm.” Draco advised.
“I am trying. But it's not easy, with those idiots following me around all the time.”
“Ignore them. Focus on something else.”

The Gryffindor took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.
“You're right. I don't want my magic acting up. I'm not giving them the satisfaction to see that.”
“That's the spirit.” Draco said with a smile.

They finally reached Flourish & Blotts and he motioned for Harry to step in first. A small man came hurrying forward as soon as he spied the dark-haired boy, a wide smile on his face. He stopped short however when his eyes fell on Draco and the smile was replaced by a frown. But before he could utter a word, Potter was already talking:

“Hello, we're here to buy our school books. We need two copies of Advanced Transfiguration Grade Seven, the Standard Book of Spells Grade Seven and Advanced Potion-making Grade Seven.” he told the clerk, before turning to look at Draco. “Do you need anything else?”

“Umm, no that's all.” the blond replied. He still had his Arithmancy book from last year. It was one of the few things that had somehow survived the battle at Hogwarts.

The small man made a sour face and went to fetch their books. He kept shooting Draco dark looks, but like expected Potter's presence kept him from saying anything. Only a few minutes later they left the shop with their purchases and headed for the Apothecary.

Once again Potter was greeted with a wide smile. But when the man behind the counter spied Draco, the smile quickly turned into a glare.

“You've got some nerve, boy! I already told you that we don't serve the likes of you in here. Get lost and don't you dare enter my Apothecary ever again!” he spat.

The blond swallowed hard and turned to leave, but Potter caught his arm and pulled him further into the shop instead, before rounding on the owner.

“He's with me.” he declared in a loud voice. “So you're either going to sell him whatever he needs, or we're both going to leave without buying anything. Though I have no idea what all those reporters out there, who insist on following me around and watching my every move, are going to think when I leave your shop empty-handed.”

The man spluttered in indignation and Draco looked at the Gryffindor with new-found respect. By threatening to make him look bad in the press, he left that idiot no choice but to sell Draco what he needed. That was blackmailing worthy of a Slytherin.

Realizing that he had no choice, at least if he didn't want to risk his reputation, the man grudgingly asked Draco what he needed.

“You know what he's done, though, don't you?” he asked, looking at Potter.
“He got pushed into a war by circumstance. And he did what he had to do in order to survive it. Just like all of us.” the dark-haired boy answered without hesitation.
The man snorted. “Circumstance my ass. His bloody family has always been in league with dark wizards.” he claimed.
“And that kind of stupid prejudice is what started the war in the first place!” Potter shot back, his anger rising. A few glass bottles trembled on a shelf.

Draco placed a calming hand on his shoulder.
“It's okay, Potter. Don't bother.”
“No, it's not okay!”
“Maybe not. But getting worked up over it won't change anything.” the blond pointed out.

The younger boy seemed to get his meaning, because he visibly reigned in his temper and contended himself with a glare. The man seemed unnerved enough by this. He worked quickly to full-fill their orders and only minutes later they stepped out into the street again.

“That guy threw you out before?” Potter asked, keeping his voice down so he wouldn't be overheard.
“Yes. And he wasn't the only one.” Draco answered with a sigh.
“But that's... How can you stay so calm about it?”
“Because like I said, getting worked up won't change anything. And it's not like they don't have enough reason to hate me.”

“It wasn't your fault. And you were pardoned.” the Gryffindor argued.
“I've got a parole.”
“Same thing, practically.”
“Not really.”
“But close enough.”

Draco shook his head and gave in. There was just no arguing with Potter.
“Why did you act so surprised?” he wondered instead. “You must have at least had an idea how they're treating me around here. It's why you offered to do the shopping together, isn't it? To protect me with your presence.” He couldn't quite keep the resentment out of his voice, no matter how hard he tried. And he really did appreciate the help, even if he hated to admit it.

“No, it's not.” Potter claimed. When Draco regarded him with raised eyebrows, he muttered: “Okay, maybe that's part of the reason. But mostly I asked you to go shopping with me because I'm selfish.”

“Selfish? You?” That didn't make any sense. And he doubted that it was true.
“Yes, I am. Those bloody reporters pissed me off. Pretty much everything pisses me off right now. And you know what happens when I get angry.”
“Your magic lashes out.”
“Exactly. I don't want that to happen. Especially not here, with other people around. Can you imagine what happens if the Prophet gets wind of it?”

That wasn't too hard to imagine. Draco had seen what the Prophet had done to Potter in fifth year. Hell, he'd even helped those bastards back then.
“And what does that have to do with me?” he still wondered.

“When my magic lashes out, I have no control over it. I can't stop it. But you... I don't know how you do it, but you help me control it. You know exactly what to do to keep me calm. When we met earlier, I was seconds from losing control. And you helped me. Just like you did at Andromeda's. I never managed to stop it before.”

“You mean... everyone else just waited for you to … explode?”

Potter shrugged. “Sort of. They usually.. well, Hermione tried to talk to me, but I couldn't really hear her. And they all... they kept their distance. No-one dares to approach me when my magic whacks out. Not even the healers. But you do.”

Draco didn't know what to say. Those other people were probably smart to stay away, but he just couldn't. Not when the younger boy looked so scared and helpless. In the end he settled for claiming: “I'm not scared of you, Potter.”

The Gryffindor smiled sadly. “Maybe you should be.”
“But I'm not. Never were. Though I have to say you're displaying surprisingly Slytherin traits lately.”
“Was that meant to be an insult?”
“Of course not. It's a compliment.” Draco insisted, pleased to coax a genuine smile from the other boy.

“Well, in that case, thank you. And just for your information, I was almost sorted into Slytherin.” Potter claimed and started walking down the street. Draco stared after him in stunned silence, before he shook himself and hurried to catch up.

“You were not.”
“I was too. The Sorting Hat said I'd do well in Slytherin. But then it put me into Gryffindor instead.”
“Probably better that way. You'd have made a horrible Slytherin.”
Potter just laughed.

***

The rest of their shopping trip was surprisingly pleasant. Potter got better at ignoring the photographers and reporters, who seemed to pop up at every corner and he even stopped bristling at every dark look and nasty comment directed at Draco. With Potter at his side no-one dared to attack the blond openly and he also didn't get thrown out of any other shops.

They both stacked up on parchment, ink and some other necessities, before heading to Madam Malkins. The Slytherin felt the weirdest sense of deja-vu, standing there next to Potter, while two witches flitted around them, pinning up their robes.

“Feels weird, doesn't it?” the younger boy muttered.
“Yeah, it does.”
“Somehow I keep waiting for you to start insulting Hagrid or something like that.”
Draco grimaced. “I managed to get on your bad side at our very first meeting, huh?”
Potter shrugged. “You reminded me of my cousin. He... he used to bully me. And then you said those mean things about Hagrid... And you were acting all superior.”

Yes, he'd acted like a total brat that day, all-knowing and aloof, when in reality he'd been a nervous wreck. It had been the first time he'd tried to make a friend and he had gone about it all wrong.

“Really?” Potter wondered and Draco realized that he'd said that out loud. His face felt hot and he just knew that he was blushing.
“Well... up until Hogwarts my father decided who I associated with. I never got to choose my own friends, so I had no idea how to make friends.” he admitted.
“That explains a lot.” Potter commented drily.

Draco wasn't sure whether or not he should feel offended. But when he glanced over and caught the other boy's grin, he realized that Potter was only teasing. The fact that the Gryffindor felt comfortable enough to tease him made him feel warm inside. So he just snorted and muttered: “Guess it does.”

Potter chuckled and the blond found himself relaxing, grinning along. He hadn't managed to become Potter's friend back when they'd been eleven, but maybe they could really start over. Maybe they could become friends now.

They finally paid for their robes and left the shop together. Potter cast an uncertain look in the direction of the Weasley's joke shop, but then turned away.
“Did you want to...?” Draco offered, but the younger boy shook his head.
“No, I... I don't think that's a good idea.”

The blond decided not to question him further. It was obvious that something had happened between Potter and his surrogate family, but it wasn't his place to ask.

“Well, I think I've got everything.” he said instead.
“Yeah, me too. Guess I'll … head home then.” Potter mumbled.
He seemed reluctant to go and Draco found himself speaking up without really thinking it through. “Do you want to come back to Andromeda's with me? It's almost time for tea.”
“Oh, I... I wouldn't want to intrude.”
“You won't.” the Slytherin assured. “Unless you've got other plans?”
“No. No plans.”

“Okay, then. You're more than welcome to join us for tea. Mother has taken up baking as a new hobby. She's actually getting very good at it, but if I keep eating all the sweets she forces on me I'm going to get fat.”

“Now we can't have that.” Potter said with a grin.
“Of course not. I'm too beautiful to get fat.” Draco claimed, trying to keep a straight face. He managed to coax another laugh from the other boy, who seemed rather happy not to have to go off on his own just yet.

If his mother and aunt were surprised about the guest he brought for tea, they didn't show it. And Narcissa seemed genuinely pleased when Potter ate three slices of chocolate cake.

Chapter Text

Harry shifted awkwardly in his seat, careful not to jostle the delicate teacup in his hand.
“I... I don't know how to go about this.” he admitted quietly, glancing at Narcissa Malfoy, who was seated across from him in Andromeda's cosy living room.

“Try to relax.” she advised. “This won't help if you don't feel comfortable. Same goes for the things you wish to discuss. I'm not going to ask you to talk about something you don't feel comfortable talking about.”

He put the teacup down with a frown. “I thought the whole point of this was to make me talk about the .. the difficult stuff.”

“Well, yes and no. Our ultimate goal is for you to get it all off your chest, instead of bottling it up like you've been doing so far. But I fear that forcing you to talk about some things before you are ready will only cause another outburst.” she explained.

Which made sense, Harry had to admit. But... “I don't know if I'll ever be ready to talk about some things.”

“You will be.” Narcissa stated confidently. “Just give yourself time. There is no pressure. You also don't have to talk to me about it. Talk to your friends or a family member. Maybe even a pet. You could also start a diary. Write it down, if you don't feel comfortable saying it out loud. The important thing is that you get it out of your head. That you start dealing with it.”

“And you think that will help with the … outbursts?” Harry asked hopefully.

“I hope so. There are no guarantees. Mind healing is a very complex matter. And please bear in mind that it's been nearly 20 years since I studied to become a mind healer. I also never finished my education.”

“Malfoy... Draco said you really helped him.”

Narcissa smiled. “I hope I did. Though I believe that was quite a bit easier. He is my son and I've known him all his life. And like I said, mind healing is complex. What worked for him might not work for you. But I will do my best to help you.” she promised.

“I know you will. And I really appreciate it. I didn't fancy visiting some mind healer at St. Mungo's. Talking about all this stuff with a stranger... I don't think I could do that.”

“You are like Draco in that.” she noticed with a smile. “You seem to get along better with my son lately.” Which was most likely a hint at their shopping trip yesterday. Harry hadn't been surprised to discover that they'd made the front page of the Daily Prophet that morning.

“I do. He's … different. Or maybe I'm different. I don't know.” he said, shrugging a little.

“I believe you have both changed. It's no wonder, after all that you've been through. A war does that. It changes your perspective and shifts your focus. It makes you realize new things about yourself, maybe even question your priorities and views.”

“Yeah, I get that. I... I broke up with Ginny.” Harry admitted quietly. “She didn't understand. Of course she didn't. I don't really understand it myself. About a year ago I was sure that I was going to marry her one day, start a family with her. And now... I just … I don't love her anymore. And I have no idea how or when I even stopped.”

For all that he didn't want to talk about his personal life, it felt good to finally say it out loud. He hadn't talked about his failed relationship at all. There had simply been no-one to talk to. Ron was Ginny's older brother. It felt too weird to confide in him. Things had been awkward enough while he'd been dating Ginny. And the same went for Hermione. She and Ginny were friends and now that she was dating Ron she was practically part of the Weasley family as well.

“Feelings can change.” Narcissa told him. “And sometimes we have to realize that our feelings weren't really what we thought they were. That we mistook friendly affection for love. Or bitterness for hatred.”

He took a moment to process this, wondering if he'd understood correctly. “So .. you think that I never really loved her in the first place? That I just thought I did?”

“I didn't say that. I'm merely saying it's a possibility. It doesn't necessarily have to be true. Maybe you really did love her and your feelings have just changed. Things like that can happen, especially at a young age. Or maybe you just thought that you loved her, when in reality it was merely friendship. Only you would be able to tell. But I guess it doesn't really matter either way, since the outcome is the same.”

Harry's head was spinning. He'd never thought of it like that. Could it be true? Had he really never loved Ginny like that? Okay, he'd never been good at analysing his feelings. And they had been friends above anything else. But did that mean that he'd mistaken his feelings for Ginny?

He was glad when a quiet knock at the door interrupted them. Narcissa waved her wand to end the silencing spell she had placed on the room earlier and Andromeda poked her head in.

“I'm sorry to disturb you, but dinner is ready.” she announced.
“Oh, sure. Sorry. I'll better head home then.” Harry said, surprised at how much time had gone by. But the dark-haired woman waved him off impatiently.
“Nonsense, Harry. You're eating with us.” she said in a tone that left no room for argument.

So Harry found himself sitting at the table next to Malfoy, enjoying a delicious meal.
“Did you see the Prophet?” the blond asked. “One would think they'd come up with something a little more creative than 'Harry Potter seen shopping with former Death Eater'.”
“What did you expect? It's the Prophet.” Harry reminded.
“Of course. How silly of me to expect anything but utter bullshit from that fucking rag.”

“Draco, mind your language!” Narcissa admonished sternly.
“I'm sorry, mother.” the blond muttered softly and the Gryffindor had to stifle a chuckle. It was remarkable how normal this all felt.

The two women were discussing their plans for the garden. Narcissa wanted more roses, while Andromeda loved the idea of growing garden herbs. And Harry bickered with Malfoy. About the latest edition of the Quibbler no less.

“Don't act so shocked, Potter. I like the Quibbler. If you skip all the weirdness, you get the facts the Prophet refuses to print.”
“I enjoy the weirdness, too.” the younger boy admitted. “It feels a little like talking to Luna. And at least Crumple Horned Snorkacks have nothing to do with me.”
“I bet if you claimed you saw one, the Prophet would agree that they're real.” Malfoy mused.
“Either that or they'd take it as proof that they've always been right and I'm completely barmy.”
“Well, I wouldn't say completely, but...” Draco trailed off with a smirk.

Strangely enough, Harry didn't feel insulted. It wasn't said with malice. The older boy was merely teasing him. Like Ron or Seamus would do. Teasing he could take.
“Takes one to know one.” he shot back with a grin.

Chapter Text

Draco dragged his heavy trunk through the train, scowling at the kids who stopped to stare at him. Some were whispering amongst themselves, others even pointed their fingers at him. The older ones made it very clear that he wasn't welcome to join them in their compartments, while the younger ones looked scared, as if they thought he would attack them any second.

Most of them didn't even bother to lower their voices and he was once again glad that he'd managed to talk his mother out of bringing him to the train. He caught the word Death Eater more than once. And that was actually one of the nicest things people had to say about him.

The blond breathed a sigh of relief when he finally spied some familiar faces. He'd started to think he would never find a place to sit. The three Slytherins looked up when he opened the door to their compartment, but neither of them seemed happy to see him.

Daphne quickly averted her eyes, while her sister stiffened and turned to look out of the window. Draco remembered his father talking about a potential marriage between him and the younger Greengrass girl. Lucius had already started negotiating, as far as he was aware. But then the war had prevented them from making any final decisions. And therefore saved Draco from that fate. Astoria on the other hand wouldn't have been too unhappy about becoming his wife. At least according to Pansy.

The thought of his best friend stung. Pansy was far away, enrolled at Beauxbatons for her last year of schooling and he already missed her terribly. But he couldn't dwell on that now, because Blaise had gotten up from his seat and was blocking the entrance. He seemed conflicted, even if he did his best not to show it.

“I'm sorry, Draco. But I must ask you to leave.”
“Excuse me?”
Blaise cringed. “We can't be seen associating with you. It's going to be hard enough for us this year. If we want to have any chance of being accepted, we'll have to distance ourselves from you.”
Draco nodded curtly. “I understand.”

And he did. A lot of people associated Slytherin with Death Eaters now. Even though the Zabinis and Greengrasses had been smart enough not to get directly involved with Voldemort, they would be closely watched and regarded with mistrust simply for being in Slytherin.

Everyone knew that Draco had been a Death Eater. It was no secret and the faded mark on his arm was a very visible reminder. They really couldn't afford to be seen with him. People would take it as proof that they'd been in league with the Dark Lord as well.

For the first time he realized what going back to Hogwarts would mean for him. He was a misfit now. The former prince of Slytherin had become an outcast. No-one would talk to him. No-one would sit with him. He would be all alone, without any friends. But it wasn't like he had a choice here.

The compartment door closed right in his face with a thud that sounded too loud in his ears. They had shut him out just like that. He was truly alone now. Somewhere to his left he could hear someone snickering.

“Malfoy!”
Startled by the voice he turned in the opposite direction.
“Potter.”
It was still strange to see the younger boy smiling at him, despite their interactions over the past two weeks.
“Are you looking for someone or just trying to find a compartment?”

Draco resisted the urge to look back at the closed door. He had no-one to look for any longer. No-one who would be saving a seat for him.
“Just trying to find a compartment.” he said quietly.

“Great. Me too. Come on, we can look together.” Potter urged, like it wasn't the most ridiculous thing to do. Still the blond followed him mutely and allowed the Gryffindor to steer him into an empty compartment further down the train.

At least he thought it was empty. On second glance he noticed a girl with long, dirty blonde hair, who was reading a very familiar magazine.

“Hi Luna. Mind if we join you?” Potter asked.
She smiled dreamily at both of them. “Not at all. It's very nice to see you both.”

She said it like she meant it. Like she hadn't spent weeks imprisoned in a dark cell in Malfoy Manor. Draco had written to her over the summer, apologizing for the things she'd had to suffer in his home. Apologizing for not doing anything to help her. For being too much of a coward.

Luna's answer had been quick and friendly. She had assured him that she understood. That she knew it wasn't his fault. She even thanked him for the food he'd had the house elves smuggle down to her, whenever he'd managed to get away with it. He was still surprised that she'd realized it had been him sending the elves.

“Hullo Luna.” was all he managed in reply to her words. He still felt overwhelmed that she'd forgiven him so easily. Especially when he couldn't even forgive himself.

“Is that the new edition of the Quibbler?” Potter asked, pointing to the magazine in her lap.
“Oh, yes. Daddy had to reprint again because it was sold out so quickly.”
“Really? That's great. We loved your article about the Wrackspurts, didn't we Malfoy?”

The blond rolled his eyes. “It was very enlightening.” And had led to a completely absurd discussion with Potter, which had lasted for over an hour. Draco couldn't even remember what exactly they'd been discussing. Only that it had been fun.

“Thank you.” Luna said, giving both of them a brilliant smile. “It's good that you read it, Harry. I know how prone you are to attracting Wrackspurts. You should really take some precautions.”
“I will.” Potter promised earnestly and Draco had to stifle his laughter.

“I also really enjoyed the article about the Ministry's new approach to the wolfsbane potion.” the blond let her know. Conspiracy theories aside, it had offered some interesting information. It looked like the new Minister was finally making some progress on werewolf rights.

Potter smiled sadly and Draco guessed that he was thinking of professor Lupin. For some reason he wanted to wipe that sad look off the younger boy's face, so he turned to Luna again: “About the Wrackspurts though... you wrote that you can ward them off by hanging Christmas ornaments over your bed. So I was wondering … does it have to be a certain number of ornaments? Or any particular colour?”

She launched into a complicated explanation that he found himself droning out. But when he glanced at Potter again, the Gryffindor was smiling.

***

The train ride turned out surprisingly nice. Luna shared a few of her more outrageous conspiracy theories, Draco and Potter bickered about Quidditch and they all spent some time musing about the new DADA teacher. When the food trolley stopped by, Potter bought some chocolate frogs and sugar quills for all of them.

The only thing that put a dampener on their mood were Potter's adoring fans. They showed up at the door to their compartment in little groups and then stood there, ogling the dark-haired boy like an animal in a zoo, until Draco got fed up and conjured a shutter over the door. A few more aggressive ones even barged into the compartment, asking for autographs or pictures, but the Slytherin's sharp tongue quickly sent them scurrying out again. Potter actually thanked him for getting rid of the fan girls and joked about hiring Draco as his personal bodyguard, while Luna only gave them a strangely knowing smile.

They reached Hogwarts in no time and got off the train amongst a lot of whispers and curious stares. Draco shuddered when his eyes landed on the Thestrals pulling the carriages.

“They're really sweet creatures.” Luna assured him.
“I know. But I'd still prefer it if I couldn't see them.” the Slytherin whispered.
“Me too.” Potter agreed with him.

They ended up sharing a carriage with two nervous looking Hufflepuff boys. Second years, judging by their small size and shyness. The ride up to the castle passed mostly in silence, with only the two boys exchanging a few whispers here and there.

Hogwarts appeared like it always had. Draco looked around as they walked to the Great Hall, but he could see no signs of the battle. No charred walls or rubble. He felt relieved that there were no visible reminders and yet a bit disconcerted that things seemed to be going on like nothing had changed.

When they reached the doors to the Great Hall, Potter gave him a nervous smile and headed for the Gryffindor table. The blond nodded and went in the opposite direction, while Luna joined her fellow Ravenclaws.

Draco took a seat at the end of the table, unsurprised that the other Slytherins kept their distance. He had known that this year was going to be a difficult one. His encounter with Blaise on the train had shown him just how difficult. But he was determined to make it through. He had no other choice, really, since it was part of his parole. But he would have come back anyway, he thought.

He'd just keep his head down and concentrate on studying. Finding a job would be nearly impossible, but maybe he'd have a chance if he passed his NEWTs with perfect results. And maybe he could redeem himself a little. Show people that he had changed. That he was no longer the arrogant, bigoted pureblood brat, but a young man with new ideals. One could always hope, right?

He watched the sorting with no real interest. The kids who got sorted into Slytherin looked unsure and wary as they made their way to the table amidst muted clapping. Taking their cue from the older students they too kept their distance from Draco. They were ducking their heads, as if to hide. His house had lost its pride, the blond realized. And it was at least partly his fault.

Once the sorting was over, new headmistress McGonagall stood up to welcome the students. She talked about the war and how important it was to learn from past mistakes. And she said that it was time to leave the past behind them and turn over a new leaf.

“I will not tolerate prejudice of any kind.” she warned. “If you attack another student – be it with words or actions – there will be consequences.”

Draco was surprised to find her glaring at the other three house tables as she said this. But maybe he shouldn't have been. He'd seen the dark looks directed at Slytherin.

“The war is over. This year is about healing and moving forward. I hope that we can find a new unity between the four houses.” the headmistress declared. Draco sincerely doubted that, but he dutifully clapped along with everyone else.

After introducing the new teachers (for DADA, Muggle Studies and Transfiguration, since McGonagall would only teach the eighth years this year) warning students to stay away from the forbidden forest and informing them about the list of banned objects, she asked the eighth years to remain behind after the feast. Her speech delivered, she finally sat back down and the feast began.

Draco ate with little appetite. His eyes kept darting over to the Gryffindor table almost on instinct. He'd always had this urge to look over and see what Potter was doing. Just like Potter had always looked back. Like he was looking back now. But where they had sneered at each other in the years before, they now traded cautious smiles. It was strange. And yet the only good thing about this year so far.

The blond had never been so eager for the feast to end, but it seemed to drag on forever. He sighed in relief when the plates finally vanished and the students started to get up and head out. When everyone else had left, McGonagall stepped down from the platform and motioned for the eighth years to gather around her.

They were a small group – three Slytherins, five Gryffindors, five Ravenclaws and four Hufflepuffs. A lot of people had not returned. Some never could.

“Thank you all for waiting. I won't keep you too long, but I have some things to tell you before you retire for the night.” the headmistress let them know. “First of all I want to thank you for taking the opportunity to return and finish your education.” They all smiled dutifully and she went on:

“As you all know, this is the first time that Hogwarts offers an eighth year. Unfortunately this also brings a few minor problems. The rooming situation, most of all. Since we're a bit short of space and you're all adults here, we decided to put you in separate quarters. The third floor has been turned into a special eighth year dormitory. I hope that this arrangement will also help to promote inter house unity and I expect you to set a good example for the younger students. If you will follow me now, I shall lead you to your new quarters.”

She led them to the third floor, where a stone gargoyle was guarding the entrance. It leaped aside once she gave the password and they entered their new common room. It was small, but cosy, with a blazing fireplace, couches and squashy armchairs in earthy browns and rugs, cushions and curtains in a soft rose colour.

“Girls dorms are on the right, boys on the left. You will all room with someone from a different house. Room assignments are not negotiable” McGonagall told them sternly. “First room: Seamus Finnegan and Anthony Goldstein.”
“But I want to share a room with Dean!” the Irishman protested.
“Room assignments are not negotiable, Mister Finnegan! I won't repeat myself a second time. Next room: Blaise Zabini, Michael Corner and Justin Finch-Fletchley...”

Despite her warning there were a lot more grumbles and complaints. Lavender Brown was nearly in tears when she got paired with Daphne Greengrass. But the headmistress only dismissed the arguments and kept to her list.

In the end only Potter and Draco were left. The Slytherin wasn't surprised. As soon as he'd heard that he would be sharing a room with someone from a different house, he'd known who his room-mate would be. The strangest thing was that he didn't even mind. He'd actually gotten the best possible option.

“At first I wasn't sure what to do with the two of you.” McGonagall admitted. “But I saw the pictures in the Prophet and I want to believe that you've outgrown your childish rivalry. Don't prove me wrong.”
“Don't worry, professor. We won't.” Potter assured earnestly.

She gave him a doubtful look. “I hope so, Potter. This is going to be a difficult year for all of us. You're adults now. I expect you to behave accordingly and set a good example for the younger students.”
“We won't disappoint you.” Draco promised. He was grateful that she'd even let him come back. And he was determined to use the chance she was giving him.

McGonagall still looked slightly doubtful, but she sent them to bed without further warnings. Draco could hear her muttering something as she left and realized that this would be a hard year for her as well.

Their room was surprisingly big. There were two four-poster-beds – one with hangings in red and gold, the other one in green and silver. The bed-hangings were the only signs of their respective houses. The rest of the room had the same brown-rose colour theme as the common room. Two desks with matching chairs and a wardrobe for each of them completed the furniture.

“It's nice.” Potter commented, flopping down on his bed, which was thankfully the one closer to the window. Draco hated sleeping next to the window, being woken up by early morning sunlight, when he could get away with sleeping late.

“Are you okay with this?” the younger boy suddenly asked, sitting up again. “I guess you were hoping you'd get to share a room with Zabini. And now you're stuck with me.”

“It's fine, Potter. There are worse things than sharing a room with you.” He'd had to endure way worse, but he didn't want to drag up the past. “And besides... Blaise is going to be relieved that he doesn't have to share with me.”

“Why? Are you such a horrible room-mate?”

The teasing tone still surprised Draco. That Potter felt comfortable enough with him to tease and joke around, despite their history. It was a little overwhelming. And yet it was easy to return the friendly banter.

“I'm a wonderful room-mate.” he claimed in his best haughty voice.
“Oh really? And why doesn't Zabini want to share with you? I bet you snore.”
“I do not snore, Potter!”

The younger boy chuckled. “What is it then?” When Draco didn't answer he grew serious again. “Did you have a fight or something? He didn't sit next to you earlier during the feast. Or on the train.”

“No, nothing like that. It's just... when I saw him on the train today, he made it very clear that he couldn't afford to be seen with me. Same goes for Daphne.”
“What's that supposed to mean?” Potter asked, sitting up straighter.

“It means that Slytherin is associated with the Dark Lord now. People will be wary, possibly even hostile towards all Slytherins this year. So if Blaise and Daphne want to have any chance of being accepted, they need to distance themselves from me.”

“Why?”
“Why?” Draco repeated. “Because I was a Death Eater, Potter. And everyone knows it.”
“But you've changed.” the Gryffindor protested.

“And who is going to believe that? You've seen how people treated me in Diagon Alley. Do you really think it's going to be any different here? People look at me and see a Death Eater. They see someone who should be rotting in Azkaban.”

“But that's not fair.”
“It is what it is, Potter. Just accept it. And now I'd really like to sleep, okay?”