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Draco drew his cloak around himself as he stood looking out at the snow falling over Hogwarts' grounds. He didn't want to go home, but he was about to.

With a sigh, he turned to face the stone gargoyle guarding the Headmaster's office and uttered the ridiculous password.

"Ice mice."

The gargoyle leapt aside to reveal a spiral staircase. Draco hopped onto it and let the moving stairs carry him towards his fate. He was in no particular rush.

At the top, he knocked on the door. He was certain the pounding of his heart was louder than his knocking. Whichever gave him away, the door was yanked open to reveal Professor - Headmaster - Snape, who scrutinised him for a moment before ushering him in with a jerk of his head.

The office was warm and bright. Books and shiny silver instruments took up most of the space. It was clear that Snape hadn't yet left his personal mark on the office with his characteristic pall of darkness. In the centre of the room was an ornate desk, with numerous portraits dotting the wall behind it. Draco flinched when he saw Dumbledore, who smiled and waved merrily.

He wondered then if he could say something - anything - to Snape that might get him out of going home. It felt like his last chance to save himself. He had no desire to return to the Manor, to see it overrun by people who had no business being there, and to see his parents reduced to little more than servants in their own home.

"If you're looking for Floo powder, it's on the mantel," said Snape, who stood with his arms crossed, still watching Draco.

"Oh." He wasn't looking for anything, but he knew a suggestion when he heard one. He really didn't want to leave. "What are you doing for the holidays, sir?"

"Nothing remotely celebratory."

"Right." Draco felt awkward all of a sudden and shifted his feet. "Are you going to be coming to the Manor?" he asked quietly. Everybody else was, according to his mother.

"It is a distinct possibility. Now stop stalling. Your parents are waiting for you."

Draco felt his spirits lift a little at the thread of hope that Snape might be there. He picked up the phoenix-shaped jar of Floo powder. "Sir," he began, "when do you think this will all be over?"

"Whenever the Dark Lord kills Potter and suppresses those working against him, of course."

He swallowed hard. "And what if - if -" He winced to say it, to voice a hope he dared hardly even think.

Snape was in front of him in the blink of an eye, gripping a shoulder with one hand and his chin with the other. Draco blinked several times in the wake of Snape's harsh stare.

"No 'ifs', Draco," Snape said in a low voice. “Don't play that game when the Dark Lord is privy to your thoughts.”

"I can Occlude," he protested.

"Not well enough. I suggest you practise hard over the holidays and keep your head down if you want to stay safe."

"Sir, please, isn't there something you can do? Something to keep me safe? I don't want to go back." His voice broke. Heat and shame rose in his cheeks, but he was desperate.

Snape let go of Draco's chin, and the hand drifted down to his other shoulder. "You must."

"Please come," he said. He didn't even bother trying to mask his fear.

"I'm quite certain my presence will be requested." Snape rubbed his shoulders for a moment, and Draco closed his eyes. He felt safe just then, and he knew that feeling was about to vanish. "You'd better go," Snape said. "You don't want to be late."

The hands vanished, and Draco opened his eyes. He realised he was still clutching the jar of Floo powder to his chest. It separated him and Snape by mere inches. With effort, he turned away and tossed a handful of powder into the fireplace. It should have been a luxury that he didn't have to sit on the Hogwarts Express for several hours, but right now, he would have given anything to delay his return home.

With one last pleading glance back at Snape, whose eyes were still fixated on him, Draco stepped into the dancing green flames.

****

In the days leading up to Christmas, Draco experienced several flavours of despair at every turn. Everything had changed in the few short months he had been away at school. His parents looked tired and bedraggled, like they rarely slept and constantly endured rough handling. Draco didn't want to think about what sort of rough handling might have given his father a black eye, or his mother a large bruise on her cheek. He had known they were little more than servants now, the equivalent of house elves, but to see them cowed and servile, bruised and beaten - that was another thing entirely.

Despite all this, his parents had somehow been able to meet him upon his return. They scooped him into their arms, and he inhaled the familiar scent of home. All too soon, his mother pulled back and looked into his face.

"My dear Draco," she said as she took him in. She reached out to card her fingers through his hair, gently rubbing his scalp. "You must hide."

He frowned. "Hide?"

"The Dark Lord isn't here right now," she said. "So many people are in and out that it's hard to keep track of anyone, so nobody knows for sure that you're coming back home."

"What about when the Dark Lord does return?"

Fear shadowed her eyes. "Then it will be unavoidable. But for now, you can hide." She lowered her voice. "Please, Draco, hide. You don't want the others to find you."

And so Draco hid.

It felt wrong to sneak through his own home. He stepped quietly and peeked around corners and looked behind his shoulder often as he crept towards his bedroom. All the portraits looked at him like he had lost his mind, and perhaps he had done. But he saw the suffering his parents had endured, and he knew he would endure far worse if anyone found him.

Fortunately, it was quite easy for him to stay hidden, as long as he didn't leave his room. He summoned the house elf whenever he needed food, and he had his own bathroom. There was plenty of comfortable seating, a fireplace, and more books than he could hope to read. Still, he felt hollow inside and mostly sat staring listlessly outside. It wasn't snowing, so even the grounds looked barren and miserable.

He wondered when Snape would arrive. Not that Draco would know since he was stuck. Hiding. And Snape didn't know where his room was. He wondered if Snape would come, if he did know where Draco's room was.

He promptly squashed that thought.

Or, he tried.

Ever since the disaster on top of the Astronomy Tower at the end of sixth year, Draco had begun to feel differently towards Snape. In the immediate aftermath, he'd been certain the Dark Lord would kill him, but Snape stepped in on his behalf. Again. Snape, who had tried to warn him all that year. Snape, who had insisted that Draco had no fucking idea how deep he was in this, how expendable he was, or just how little anyone cared about him.

Snape didn't owe him anything, and yet he'd saved him. That was when Draco really understood Snape was untouchable. At least, it seemed that way, since the Dark Lord had actually listened when Snape suggested keeping Draco - the entire Malfoy family, in fact - alive. He had suggested the Malfoys could still be of some use, that the Dark Lord could use Malfoy Manor for headquarters, and that further humiliation and punishment could be exacted by keeping the Malfoys alive.

Draco went from feeling grateful to hating Snape. He hated Snape all that summer as he watched the Manor turn into a glorified, third-rate hotel and meeting space. He hated Snape as he watched his parents stripped of their power and respect.

When he returned to school earlier that September, Hogwarts was overrun by Death Eaters. As the son of the lowest-ranking among them, the Carrows spared Draco no mercy in extolling punishment. Even his housemates had turned against him and had taken to slapping him around and hexing him on occasion. It was humiliating.

And Snape noticed.

He called Draco to his quarters - not his office, curiously enough - and offered to heal him. Confused and suspicious, Draco accepted and closed his eyes as he half-expected Snape to lay his wand on him and cast the Killing Curse. Except Snape only cast healing spells and sent him on his way.

It all left Draco feeling very confused and curious, and it left him with plenty to ponder as he sat alone in his room at the Manor.

And he was tired of sitting in his bedroom, staring at nothing. He glanced at the clock, saw that it was late, and decided he'd chance going out. Just for a bit. He crept to the end of the hallway and shut himself in the library there. It was small, and the books were obscure and boring, but at least it wasn't his room. He collapsed in a settee facing the window and stared at nothing from a different angle.

Draco had no idea how long he sat there. It must have been really late. He certainly wasn't expecting the door to open.

He did his best to disappear into the cushions. Just in case, he shut his eyes and held his breath, hoping against hope that whoever it was wouldn't notice him, would just see that this was a disused library and leave. Merlin, what had possessed him to leave his room?

"Good evening, Draco," came Snape's voice, and Draco felt the cushions sink as Snape took a seat next to him.

His heart was pounding. It didn't deign to slow down even after Draco opened his eyes again and let them take in the prim, straight-backed form of Snape.

"You came," he croaked.

Snape raised an eyebrow and glanced at him. "I said it was quite likely. You should be keeping out of sight."

"I thought I was. Nobody comes here. Usually." He clasped his hands in his lap. "I've kept out of sight so far," he added.

Snape nodded. "Good. That will change, soon. The Dark Lord will be arriving."

Draco tensed. He thought of his parents, their bruises, how much they had aged in those few short months. He would have to make an appearance once the Dark Lord arrived, and then everyone would know. He was young and weak, and everybody knew it. Draco shuddered to think what he might have to endure, and how nobody would care. He'd be powerless to stop anything. But maybe Snape could intercede.

Again.

It was getting embarrassing, except he had nobody else to turn to. And Snape cared, didn't he? Maybe not much, but nobody else cared at all about him.

"Sir," he said, trying to work out the words. "Please help me," he whispered. Draco was so humiliated he couldn't even look Snape in the eye. He stared out at the wasteland before him instead. It wasn't much better.

Snape waited a long time before saying anything.

"Draco," he finally began, and Draco could hear the regret in his voice already.

"Please sir. Please." This time, he did look Snape in the eye. "I'll do anything," he blurted. He wasn't sure where that had come from, but he realised it was true. Snape had shown him tenderness and mercy. It was more than anything Draco could hope for.

"You don't mean that, surely," said Snape. "You can't possibly know what that means."

"I do though," he said. "Please, sir, you don't understand. I'm a-afraid to exist in my own home. Do you have any idea what that's like?"

Well, he really hadn't imagined it would be so difficult to convince Snape. That hurt, for some reason. Perhaps the kindness was feigned, after all. Perhaps Snape didn't care, just like everybody else.

And that thought, more than anything else, brought forth an unexpected wave of tears. The next thing he knew, Snape's arms were around him, and he felt himself being pulled closer. It was humiliating. It was exactly what he needed, and he needed more.

"Please, sir. They listen to you," he whispered into Snape's shoulder.

Snape placed a hand on Draco's back and began rubbing. For a moment, enclosed within his arms, Draco felt he was finally able to relax. Under the warmth of Snape's hand, his breathing slowed, and with one last deep breath, he felt his eyes fluttering shut.

"I'll do my best," Snape said at last.

****

The day before Christmas Eve was when the Dark Lord chose to make his return.

It was ironic that it happened while Draco sat cross-legged in his room, practising his Occlumency. He couldn't do much, but he could do this. He was making progress.

His Dark Mark burnt, ripping him from his place of calm. He hunched over, thankful he was at least sitting. He forced himself up and scrambled off the bed, rushing downstairs towards the drawing room. No use creeping around now. Running through the hallways, he felt exposed. One of the portraits shouted at him to slow down, but Draco ignored it, only slowing as he reached the drawing room. There were already a number of Death Eaters present, as though it weren't nearly midnight. He looked around for his parents. They had to be here...

"Draco!" a shrill voice called. Draco flinched and turned around to face his Aunt Bellatrix. "How exquisite to have you here for the holidays,” she said. “Yaxley, weren't you just saying how you looked forward to seeing him?" A wild smile painted her face.

Yaxley approached and stood close to Draco. Too close.

Draco kept his eyes to the ground. A clammy hand crept around his head and pulled him close. Yaxley whispered, "No more hiding. You'll be mine soon."

He whimpered in spite of himself, and Yaxley chuckled, amused. He stroked Draco's hair and released him.

Draco moved away as quickly as possible and began scanning the crowd for his parents. He froze when his eyes landed on Snape, who began making his way closer.

"Draco," he called.

Draco nodded and followed. In the drawing room, he saw his parents at last, seated towards the end of the long table there with cowed expressions. They knew their place. He took a seat next to his father, and was surprised when Snape sat across from him. The rest of the chairs began filling up. Silence fell immediately once the Dark Lord appeared and sat at the head of the table. Draco cowered in his seat, and the Dark Lord began to speak.

It wasn't a long meeting. It was mercifully short, actually. Draco didn't really pay attention. He didn't care anymore about what anybody was plotting, because he was just so sick of it all - the secret meetings, the constant parade of Death Eaters and Snatchers in and out, seeing his parents acting so meek. Nothing would help his family improve their situation anyway.

"Wormtail," said the Dark Lord as the discussion came to a close.

A short, ratty man bowed his head and said, "Yes, master?"

"Bring Fortescue up from the dungeon. Bind him."

"Of course, master." Wormtail scrambled from the room. He returned all too soon with the greying figure of Fortescue bobbing in mid-air behind him.

"On the table, Wormtail," the Dark Lord commanded. He flourished his wand. His snake, curled on the floor beside him, floated up and onto the table.

Draco's heart began pounding in his ears. He looked over at Snape, who watched him with an unreadable expression, then at Fortescue, who looked wasted and broken. He feared he knew what was coming next. He averted his gaze upward, trying to stave off the nausea. His father reached over to grasp his wrist. Snape still watched him, unblinking. He seemed to be beckoning Draco to look at him and not the scene about to play out on the table, so Draco did. Even when his father's grip tightened around his wrist, and even when the snake gave a great hiss before lashing out, Draco did not look away from Snape's eyes.

****

For several minutes after the meeting had ended, Draco sat in disgust and horror as the scene he'd just witnessed played through in his mind again and again. He'd seen enough from the corner of his eyes. He'd certainly heard everything.

His collar tightened as someone yanked hard.

"Come with me," Snape said brusquely. "You're mine now."

Draco pushed back from the table and stood, wondering what he meant by that, but Snape didn't let go. He dragged Draco out of the drawing room, past others who were already standing up, talking with each other. They leered at him. Every single one of them. But Snape pulled him through and down the long hallways, upstairs, and towards the guest quarters. Draco stumbled behind at every turn. It was hard to match pace with Snape, especially when he felt like he was being strangled. It made him think of Fortescue, and panic rose in his throat.

Eventually, they came to a halt outside of a guest room door. Snape unlocked it and shoved Draco inside.

Draco fell to his knees and burst into tears. Behind him, he heard Snape locking the door and casting a Silencing Charm. He shut his eyes, but - no. That only made things worse, made the memory burn more vividly across his vision.

Hands came to rest on his back. Something soft brushed against his face, and when Snape's voice whispered, "It's all right," directly into his ear, he realised it was hair. Snape's hair. He shivered in spite of himself.

Draco was coaxed to standing and led to a settee in the corner of the room. Once he sat, the arms circled his waist, holding him tightly.

"It's not all right," he said into Snape's neck. "What happened just now - that could be my parents one day." It hurt to say, to think, but that didn't make it any less true. They were expendable. "That could be me," he whispered.

"It won't be you."

"You can't promise that," Draco croaked. His life felt over already.

"I can. The Dark Lord promised me a reward for killing Dumbledore. I never claimed it, until now."

Draco lifted his head. "A reward? What -"

One of Snape's hands drifted up Draco's back, his neck, and gently grabbed a fistful of his short hair to pull him back. "You're mine. You're my reward."

Draco felt himself tremble all over. "And what - what does that mean, exactly? Sir."

"It means whatever I want it to mean."

Draco swallowed hard. He understood what that meant. "I'll do anything."

Snape's eyes seemed to grow darker, if that was even possible. "So you say."

Draco brought a hand up to Snape's face, resting it on a hollow cheek. His skin felt warm, soft. Draco stared, transfixed. He watched himself drag his thumb towards Snape's mouth, over his thin lips. Each tiny movement caused his heart to beat faster. Without pausing to consider what the hell he was thinking, he stared as his thumb gently parted Snape's lips and pressed inside. Was this what Snape wanted it to mean? Draco couldn't tell. His face was inscrutable.

Snape loosened his grip on Draco's hair. His other hand reached up to grab Draco's wrist and pull it away. "That won't be necessary," he said quietly.

Draco didn't know whether he should feel relieved or rejected. He just felt confused. It must have shown, because Snape then said, "We don't really need to engage in anything. The others will make plenty of assumptions on their own."

Draco nodded.

Confused and rejected. That was how he felt. Nobody cared about him.

But at least he was safe.

****

On Christmas Eve, the Dark Lord exploded in a frenzy of anger unlike any Draco had ever seen. Or heard, as was the case.

He had accompanied Snape to a late dinner, and they had just left the dining room when a scream of outrage froze them in their tracks. Draco felt the hair on the back of his neck rise. He looked up at Snape, whose face had gone completely white.

More screaming and yelling, this time from others, and the sound of glass breaking jarred Snape back to reality. He turned to Draco and said in a low voice, "Run. Hide."

"Where?"

"Now!"

Draco took off running like his life depended on it. It probably did. He wondered if he should go to his room, or Snape's. Was anywhere in the Manor safe right now? It certainly didn't feel like it. He ran for the rear entrance and dashed out through the grounds, into the gardens. He didn't stop until he was well within the maze of shrubs.

Looking around, he realised where he was - his mother's rose garden. Long ago, she had enchanted the plants so that they bloomed year-round. Large bushes hung heavy with pink, white, and yellow blossoms, and Draco felt his heart squeeze at the thought of her and his father. He hoped they were all right. He considered going back, only he knew Snape would probably kill him for it. If the Dark Lord didn't first.

He slouched down into a nearby bench. He'd never felt so useless. So empty. So worthless. It was exactly the opposite of how one should feel at Christmas. And of course, it hardly felt like Christmas. It should have been a special time, with trees in every room and fairy lights strung throughout the hallways. Cinnamon sugar should have perfumed the air, and Draco and his parents should have spent the days leading up to Christmas donning some of their finest robes as they attended holiday parties.

But not this year.

This year, there was only fear and misery and subservience. And to cap it all off, Draco noted as he stared at the barren earth, it still hadn't snowed. Nature couldn't grant him that one small mercy.

He leant back and closed his eyes, wondering when it would be safe to return. Snape had told him to run, but not where. How would he find Draco? He was freezing, too, since his travelling cloak was inside.

Just then, as he was ready to give up and return to the house, Draco thought he heard something. Someone. He hoped it was Snape, but he worried it was anyone else. Bellatrix. Or worse, Yaxley.

He held his breath.

Snape stepped into his vision then, and Draco exhaled in a tremendous sigh of relief.

"How did you find me?" he asked when Snape sat down next to him.

"I cast a tracking spell on you as you left."

"And where did you go? Why did you leave me?"

"I wanted to make sure your parents were safe," said Snape. "The Dark Lord doesn't care who he kills when he gets that angry. And your parents are already deemed..."

"Worthless," Draco finished for him.

"But alive."

Draco nodded. Snape had a point. At least they were still alive. He had Snape to thank for that. For everything, really. His heart swelled, and he looked over and blushed to see Snape watching him.

"You're freezing," Snape said. Before Draco could protest, Snape unfastened his cloak. He shifted closer, so that their thighs were touching, and draped the cloak over both of them. Draco stared at Snape's leg against his. A wild urge seized him then, and he reached a hand out towards Snape, buried it in his hair, and pulled him close, so that their foreheads were touching.

"Kiss me," Draco said, and closed his eyes in anticipation. He wanted Snape to want this, to want him, to prove he wasn't worthless to someone.

"No," Snape whispered.

Tears burnt his eyes. Fuck it. Draco leant in and pressed their mouths together, massaging Snape's thin lips with his own while he shifted on the bench, moving to straddle Snape. He panicked when there was no response. Just as he dared to press his tongue into Snape's mouth, he felt a hand grasp his hair and pull him back, exactly as Snape had done the other night in his room.

"This is unnecessary," he said, shallow breaths escaping.

"I meant it," Draco said. "I meant it, the other night, when I said I would do anything." What he hadn't realised was that he wanted to do anything he could for Snape. "I j-just want you to know I'm not worthless." To prove he wasn't worthless. To have this man care about him.

A strange mix of sadness and something indefinable crossed Snape's eyes. "I already know that," he said.

"Then why don't you care about me?" Draco said. He squeezed his eyes shut again. Snape had seen him cry so much recently. He couldn't let it happen again.

Snape suddenly pulled Draco firmly against him, and Draco let out a small moan of surprise when he felt their mouths press together again. This time Snape did respond. Snape kissed him with such force and desire, he felt like he could have died right then and it would have been all right. Draco latched his arms together around Snape and let the man do as he wished, groaning when their tongues met. Just as he thought it couldn't get any better, Snape trailed his other hand down Draco's back and gave a light squeeze to his hip. Draco squirmed in surprise, shifting his hips forwards, and broke their kiss with a gasp as he felt his erection brush against Snape's.

Snape's eyes were darker than night, and Draco understood the look. He knew without a doubt now that Snape wanted him, wanted anything he had to offer. He sat back and began undoing the buttons on his shirt, shivering in the cold. Snape found his wand, and in the next moment, a soothing warmth pressed in on Draco like a warm breeze. Snape then reached to undo the buttons on his trousers, and in one swift movement, he'd pulled everything down enough to release Draco's straining erection.

Draco looked down. He felt dizzy. He'd never been so aroused before, and the sight of Snape's hand wrapped around his cock nearly undid him. He groaned when Snape's hand started to move, teasing him, a blissful sort of torture. He leant forwards for another kiss and promptly broke it off with a gasp when Snape's other hand reached up to lightly pinch a nipple.

He looked down again at Snape's hand grasping him, lazily stroking. "Can you go, erm, faster?" he asked, feeling his face flush.

Snape's mouth curled into a smug grin. "I could. I'd much rather watch you fuck my hand."

"Oh god." If there was any blood still circulating around Draco's brain, it all went straight to his cock. Snape pinched his other nipple, as if to say Get on with it, and Draco was powerless to resist. He placed his hands on Snape's shoulders and drove his cock over and over into the hot grip of Snape's surprisingly soft hand until he realised, possibly too late, "Oh god, I'm - come -"

Snape's free hand snaked behind his head and crushed their mouths together as Draco came so hard he was certain he would pass out.

Afterwards, panting, Draco sat up to catch his breath. But then Snape held up his palm, studying the pool of Draco's come. For a moment, it almost looked as though he were examining some new potions ingredient, but then Snape turned his eyes to Draco and said, "My turn now, I think. A little help with my trousers."

Draco scrambled to undo the buttons on Snape's trousers and push them and his pants out of the way. When Snape wrapped his come-filled hand around his own erect cock, Draco felt his breath quicken again. He watched as Snape worked himself deftly, as his long fingers squeezed around the head of his cock on every upward stroke and elicited quick, quiet breaths. Draco reached a hand out to wrap lightly around Snape's, to feel the way he needed to be touched. Another wave of arousal started to build in Draco’s gut, especially as Snape's movements grew quicker and his breathing became more ragged.

Snape's free hand latched onto Draco's thigh. "Look at me," he said, and so Draco did.

Snape's sallow cheeks were flushed. He groaned, and Draco could feel his cock pulse as he spurted between them. Draco didn't dare tear his gaze from the intense black eyes staring into his, didn't even blink until Snape had finished. He was quite certain he had never seen anything more erotic in his life. He just wished he knew what to say, now that... this had happened.

Draco opened his mouth, and his mind grappled for the right words. In the next moment, Snape reached to pull him into a slow, sensual kiss. Draco had no idea how long it lasted, how long he let Snape's tongue massage his own. When they broke, Snape kept his hand on the nape of Draco's neck, holding him close so that their foreheads pressed together. "I do care about you, Draco," he said breathlessly.

Draco nodded. It was strange to feel numb now, after he'd felt so much just moments before. Snape seemed to sense this, because he pulled Draco to him, despite the mess and the undone clothing between them. The Warming Charm had worn off, but that didn’t seem to matter. Draco buried his face into Snape's neck and inhaled, closing his eyes as a clean, woodsy smell spread through him like a calming elixir. Odd, how cold it was outside just then, and how warm he felt. And in that moment, surrounded by hundreds of enchanted roses and with Snape's scent and arms around him, Draco thought the world felt normal, like he could almost believe it was Christmas.

He exhaled, completely relaxed. And when he opened his eyes, it had begun to snow.

At last.