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staring at the sky

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Draco sat on the cold, stone bench in the courtyard. His breath puffed in the icy morning air.

Looking over the snowy mountains surrounding Hogwarts, he wondered if being forced to return here, the place where everything had gone to absolute shit, was some kind of sadistic, cosmic joke. At least Hogwarts didn’t look the same as before. Draco didn’t think he could stand a second here if it did. These days, the castle walls glittered with patches of spellwork and stone. Charmed moss, resistant to the cold, curled around the sides of a newly built tower. A massive mural had been painted by hand across one swath of stone near the Great Hall, lovingly and painstakingly created by those who wanted to remember the fallen. Unfortunately, Draco felt nauseous every time he walked past it. Someone had probably cursed the wall specifically so that he’d feel horrible and sick and pathetic whenever he looked at it.

In fact, Draco didn’t care much for any of Hogwarts, for the re-furnished classrooms or the re-designed entrances and rooms and buildings. For any of this re-education or the awkward, forced interactions with other Slytherins at various gatherings. He didn’t care to see the grimacing, wary faces of those he had ran away from in this very courtyard. He didn’t want to drink warm, spiced pumpkin juice or sit around the fire. He didn’t care for Transfiguration, or McGonagall peering at him over those wiry glasses, a pinched look of disappointment and concern on her face when he finally showed up to class. Truth be told, he didn’t care much for anything.

Draco felt the terrible, compelling ache to go home, as if he was a first-year again, counting down the days until he could see Mother at the train station before the holidays. But there was no home to return to anymore. Home wasn’t the cold and ugly Manor that had been seized by Aurors. Home wasn’t Father dying in Azkaban, and Mother in France, on three different potion medications and probably too many Muggle pain pills. So home was nowhere, lost forever, a place that only existed in his memories. 

Draco closed his eyes. He imagined walking off into the end of a still, quiet pond, surrounded by nothing but blue sky.

A little bit after nine in the morning, Draco finally got up. The sun had risen, trapped behind the fog and cloud of a gray sky. He had been outside for three hours now. No matter how many warming charms he cast, his ears still stung from the cold. As Draco made his way through the main hallways, he purposely kept his head down as he passed the Great Hall. The smell of bacon and toast wafted past him. Draco felt his stomach turn. He hurried a little faster. 

“Malfoy!”

Fuck.

“Malfoy, wait!”

Draco turned around, only to see a familiar mop of unruly black hair and a pair of piercing green eyes heading toward him. He’d gotten taller over the summer. Tanner, too, by the looks of it. Draco hated it and hated him.

“Potter,” Draco acknowledged mildly, forcing down a surge of simultaneous self-loathing.

“Professor McGonagall asked-” Potter heaved a breath, adjusting his glasses as he came to a stop. “Headmistress McGonagall sent me to tell you that she expects you in her office during office hours today.”

Draco nodded curtly, wanting to move on but unable to stop himself from asking. “And why are you passing this message to me?”

Potter looked uncomfortable. Probably due to the extraordinary length of their exchange. They hadn’t spoken a word to each other since Draco’s trial. “Er...I’m also to be there. Not sure why.”

“Alright.” Draco left before Potter could look at him with that familiar mix of disgust and pity that everyone seemed to save for him these days.

***

Back in his room, in a single dorm located in the back of the Dungeons where there was almost no foot traffic, Draco sank into his bed and pulled the thick, green blankets over his head. He hoped to sleep until the next morning. Or at least until the 5pm office hours. He closed his eyes again, letting the familiar image of the still pond and the blue sky appear in his mind.

Draco did not sleep until the next morning. Nor did he sleep until 5pm. 

Twice, he awoke, body shuddering, back soaked in sweat, a copper tang in his mouth, and a pain in his chest. Both times he had reached for his wand and clutched it in his fist before he was even fully awake, determined to fight back whatever threat was waiting for him. Both times Draco felt foolish and small, huddled in his big bed, aiming a hex at the dissipating forms leftover from his nightmares.  

The third time it happened, Draco gave up and just laid in bed. He counted the nicks in the stone ceiling (sixty-three) and let the number roll around in his head until it found the quiet pond. 

Sixty-three.

Sixty-three, Draco thought, was a safe number.

When 5pm finally arrived, Draco took his time getting to the Headmistress’s office. He shrugged on a pair of black robes, charming it clean of dust because he hadn’t gotten around to folding his robes in weeks now. The familiar feeling of an iron band tight around his chest only got tighter as he approached the gargoyles that had once guarded a different Headmaster. Feeling like he might throw up, Draco took a few moments to collect himself before speaking to the gargoyles.

“Draco Malfoy, here to see Headmistress McGonagall, please.”

The gargoyles didn’t even reply, nary a twitch or sarcastic remark. The doors simply slid aside and Draco climbed his way up the stairs into Dumbledore’s office. 

***

“Professor--I mean Headmistress--I don’t understand. I don’t get how this has to do with me,” Harry protested. “I’m not supposed to be teaching this year.”

Harry had picked the by-far more comfortable red chair before McGonagall’s desk, leaving the grey one to Malfoy who was supposed to have been here ten minutes ago. Now, Harry was leaning forward so much that he was barely on the seat at all.

McGonagall couldn’t be serious. She wanted him to tutor (imagine!) Malfoy in Defense of the Dark Arts. 

Was the universe trying to send a message? Something along the lines of fuck everything you’ve ever done and stood for and fraternize with someone who was on the wrong side of the war? Even though he knew that Malfoy was just as much a victim of Voldemort as himself (Malfoy had only been a boy after all, misled and used), Harry couldn’t help but feel bitter. And rightfully so. Not that Malfoy was even close to being that same boy anymore. He was withdrawn and pale and cold. Quiet. Harry hated being around him. He was used to scathing remarks, sneers, witty taunts. A silent Malfoy felt so eerie.

The sound of soft footsteps on the stairs made Harry twitch. He shifted to the side so he could keep an eye on the entry..

“Sorry, Headmistress.” A familiar voice drawled. “I ran late.”

McGonagall, looking quite severe in her tightly wound bun and grey robes, only fixed Malfoy with a pointed look. “Please sit and join us.”

Malfoy pulled the chair out next to Harry, sitting in a way that was both inordinately elegant and lazy at the same time. Harry felt himself bristling automatically.

“I was just speaking to Mr. Potter about a learning opportunity that I think both of you should, and need, to take advantage of this year,” McGonagall began. “Mr. Malfoy, I’ve noticed that you have not been showing up to class. Your professors are being very gracious by allowing you to turn in assignments late, but I will not tolerate it any longer.”

Draco only stiffened a bit in response, his angular face smooth and unperturbed.

McGonagall looked at Malfoy for a bit, then sighed. 

“Draco, the Ministry won’t tolerate it either. I’ve already fought tooth and nail so you could retake seventh year, like everyone else who did not get the...best education last year.” Here, McGonagall paused. Her voice softened imperceptibly. “Your penance program, however, is contingent on you graduating. You are a good student, Draco. But I’m not seeing any effort from you lately.”

Harry felt like he was intruding on what seemed a very private and personal conversation. He tried not to fidget. Instead, he let his gaze wander around the office. However, this venture ended almost as soon as it began. As his eyes landed on the old pedestal where the Pensieve used to be, a rush of old feelings and memories flooded him instantly. 

Blood and green eyes and fire and heat and light-

Harry gripped the armrest.

“Harry, are you alright?” He heard McGonagall call his name.

Harry tore his eyes away from the pedestal, the images in his mind receding like waves from a shore. “I’m fine.” 

He took a shaky breath.

Malfoy was looking at him oddly now, and from this angle, Harry could see the gauntness in his face. His skin was no longer porcelain, but tinged with yellow. The bags beneath his eyes were so dark they looked like bruises. Malfoy looked like a dead man walking. Perhaps it was only the lighting. Harry couldn’t help a frown. 

Malfoy glared back at him and turned back to face McGonagall.

“As I was saying, the Ministry demanded your scores for the past three weeks and found them unsatisfactory. They’ve offered you a chance, Draco; they want you to undergo the tutoring initiative created by Harry himself.”

Malfoy briefly looked murderous at this suggestion. 

“Sorry, I don’t see how this is a choice,” Malfoy said. His face returned to its bland, defeated expression.

“It’s not. It’s this or they pull you out.”

Harry grimaced. The Ministry had not been kind to those like Malfoy. Sons and daughters of Death Eaters who had been unwillingly caught up in the middle of a violent war were portrayed as equally guilty, with many of them as young as eighteen being thrown into Azkaban for at least two years. Perhaps it was partially a form of overcorrecting on the course. Harry all too clearly remembered how deeply Voldemort had sank his claws into the very people who were now frantically passing bills that would ensure reparations from the guilty.  He didn’t particularly want to teach a pointy git how to cast a Patronus and tell the difference between ghouls and grindylows for the rest of the year. But he also didn’t want Malfoy to find himself rotting in Azkaban. Just, no matter how many times Harry tried to gather up the same burning hatred he felt toward Malfoy in his younger years, he couldn’t do it anymore. Sometimes, Harry thought of the Fiendfyre. He thought of Malfoy shaking and stumbling and unable to look him in the face. Harry thought a lot about things like that. 

“Why Defense?” Harry heard Malfoy ask.

“Well, they claimed an education from the Light side would be the safest way to teach Defense.” McGonagall didn’t look convinced.

“What’s wrong with Professor Ebenberg? Why can’t he teach Malfoy?” Harry pointed out. 

“The current Defense professor is only qualified to teach up to fifth years at the moment. Next year, we’ll revise the curriculum so that sixth and seventh years can be included. Most of our sixth and seventh year students have had enough practice anyway,” McGonagall said, a strange expression crossing her face.

“I suppose.” Malfoy spoke as if he was attending a wretchedly dull conference, rather than a bid for his freedom.

“It will only be practical spells,” McGonagall explained. “Everything else will be supplemented by readings or the textbook.”

“I mean Potter’s army was in vogue , wasn’t it?” Malfoy examined his nails, crossing his legs. 

“Sounds like the Ministry just wants to rub it in actually,” Harry said under his breath.

“I heard that,” Malfoy snapped.

McGonagall pursed her lips, clearly already doubting their chances. “The Department of Magical Education has kindly provided a skeleton outline of curriculum topics to cover. They’ll be assessing Draco at the end of the year.” 

From an envelope on her desk, McGonagall slid out a sheet of thin parchment. She handed both of them a copy. 

“Harry, I know this is a lot to ask of you-” 

“I’ll do it. It’s fine. If I want to be an Auror, I’ll have to brush up on practicals anyway,” Harry finished hastily.

Malfoy scowled, but didn’t say a word.

***

The Ministry comes up with terrible, awful ideas and Malfoy is still terrible, bigoted, and arrogant no matter how quiet he seems to be now or how much his mother contribued to the end of the war, and that’s the end of that, Harry announced to Ron and Hermione a few hours later in the Gryffindor common room. 

Ron had looked suitably appalled. Hermione looked contemplative, which was not usually a good thing.

“Do you think the Ministry actually just wants to rub it in or is there a real reason they wanted you?” Hermione wondered.

“Because Harry’s best at DADA? Because he’s studious and hard-working?” Ron answered, semi-seriously. He flicked a popcorn kernel at Harry. 

“I wasn’t even going to come to Hogwarts this year, you know,” Harry snorted. “I only attended because you made me because Hermione made you.”

“You know, they’d probably find some obscure reason to send Malfoy to Azkaban anyway. Like Scroll XIV, visitor at Hogwarts waved at the ex-Death-Eater and he waved back but wasn’t facing forty-five degrees juggling two feathers and therefore is in violation of blah blah blah.” Ron waved his arms about and spoke in his best imitation of what sounded exactly like Percy Weasley. 

Harry flicked a popcorn kernel back at Ron.

“Do you think that’s it then?” Hermione exclaimed, setting aside the scroll she had been working on for Arithmancy. 

Ron blinked. “What, the Scroll XIV and the juggling?”

“No, silly. I meant do you think the Ministry is hoping Harry and Malfoy just can’t get along and that they’ll finally have a reason to send him away?”

“I think the only reason Malfoy isn’t in Azkaban is because McGonagall negotiated for him.” Harry chewed the tip of his quill thoughtfully. “Which is weird. But whatever the reason, it’s still a criminal thing for the Wizengamot to do, coming up with a situation like that.”

“Well, McGonagall’s negotiations, but also your testimony, Harry,” Hermione pointed out.

“Still can’t believe you did that,” Ron shuddered dramatically. “Imagine testifying for Draco bloody Malfoy.”

Hermione rolled her eyes and whacked Ron on the head. He made a face at her. “You know perfectly well why, Ron. Be civil, I’m sure he’s having a hard time.”

“Who? Malfoy?” Harry said incredulously. “The only person who’s gonna be having a hard time will be me when I have to teach him DADA. Alone.”

“So? You’re perfectly capable,” Hermione replied. “You’re good at teaching too. The DA were all taught by you, weren’t they?”

At the mention of the DA, the three of them grew somber, lost briefly in memory.

“We’d be dead if not for you,” Ron said contemplatively, leaning his head back against the couch.

Harry had to take a deep breath at that. Something in that sentence made his stomach burn and roil and twist in horrible ways. 

“No,” he said firmly. “You wouldn’t. You guys would have just found someone else to teach you, and you’d all be just as smart and capable and resourceful and able to survive-” 

Harry took another breath, but before he could continue speaking, Hermione placed a hand on his knee. If her eyes were a little shiny and wet, Harry pretended not to see. 

“You were a good teacher, and we were all good students. It was just a time of need, Harry.”

Harry dropped the subject.

They stayed like that, the three of them curled on the couch like the good old days, before they’d lost and lost and lost, before everything in the world became too real too fast, until the only thing left in the fireplace was a pile of glowing embers.

And if Harry went to bed that night with a heavy weight in his chest and on his shoulders because he still wasn’t a good enough teacher to save all of them, teach all of them , well, no one would know. And if no one knew that sometimes he fell asleep with his cheeks wet with tears, waking every few hours feeling like something was burning his throat and lungs, that was okay too. 

Morning would come, Harry comforted himself as he laid in bed, not wanting to ever close his eyes. Morning has to come.