Title: Some Kind of Miracle (ch 11)
Author: Annie (_pinkchocolate)
Pairings: HP/DM, HP/GW
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to JK Rowling. Well... almost everything.
Summary: Draco is determined to live the last nine months of his life with no regrets. But when a series of unfortunate events exposes a list of his innermost wishes, ambitions, and desires to Harry Potter’s eyes, he might find that facing his imminent death is not so easy after all.
Word Count: 8,170
Notes: Vana and Christine have my love and thanks for helping me out with this chapter.
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You can't shake hands with a clenched fist.
- Indira Gandhi
The days passed fairly uneventfully. Malfoy continued to dart away or deliberately avert his eyes whenever he spotted Harry in the hallways or elsewhere. Harry supposed this was an improvement to being slammed against a tree and snogged mercilessly without warning, but it was a far cry from what he wanted. Then again, aside from some acknowledgement and perhaps even appreciation, he didn’t know what he wanted from Malfoy, so his dissatisfaction wasn’t really Malfoy’s fault. Blaming it on Malfoy, though, was easier than blaming it on himself, so he continued to do so.
“Harry?” said Ginny, one Tuesday afternoon in the crowded Gryffindor common room. December had arrived with a vengeance the day before, and the frosty weather had chased most of the Hogwarts students into their common rooms earlier than usual.
“Hmm?” said Harry, as he chewed on the end of his quill, wondering how best to start his essay on the benefits and risks of weather alteration spells.
Ginny put down the textbook she was taking notes from. “I was wondering if you’ve decided whether you’re going to stay here over the holidays yet,” she said nonchalantly.
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I?” Harry asked distractedly. Frowning at the sheet of parchment on his lap, he scrawled down a few words and then crossed them out. He had a faint suspicion that Professor Flitwick wouldn’t appreciate his beginning his paper with “I don’t know anything about this subject”.
“Oh, I don’t know. I thought maybe you’d like to come to headquarters with us.”
Weather alteration spells were suddenly the last thing on Harry’s mind. “You’re going to headquarters?” he demanded, his eyes snapping up to meet Ginny’s.
“With Ron and Hermione.” She grinned. “Lupin wanted us to tell you.”
“How come he didn’t tell me himself?” Harry grumbled. “He hasn’t been avoiding me, has he? I hardly ever see him outside of class, and even in class, the most he ever says to me is ‘Harry, keep your attention focused on the target’.”
“Isn’t that his job?” said Ginny teasingly. She laughed, and Harry was glad to note that it was a real, genuine laugh. Being at Hogwarts had distracted Ginny from thinking about her parents and the war, giving her the time she had needed to return to being her former lively, forthright self. For that Harry was grateful. After all, even if he wasn’t entirely content, it was still reassuring to know that Ginny was.
“Anyway,” said Harry, getting to his feet, “I think I’ll go visit Lupin right now.”
“What will I tell Hermione if she asks about that?” Ginny asked, raising an eyebrow and pointing at Harry’s unfinished essay.
“Tell her she can write it for me, since that’s what she always seems to end up doing.”
“You really are turning into Ron,” Ginny joked. “Careful you don’t sprout red hair and a few more inches, or I’ll have to start fending off Hermione, too.”
Harry laughed. “I don’t think you have to worry about that happening any time soon. Besides,” he added, adopting a mock-serious tone, “red hair would clash terribly with my eyes.”
“Very true,” Ginny agreed solemnly. “Anyway, let me know about your plans for Christmas break at supper, will you?”
“Right,” said Harry, though he had no doubt that he would be accompanying his friends to the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. “See you then.”
He gave her a quick peck on the lips and then left the common room. The hallways were relatively empty, so he made it to Lupin’s office without any trouble.
At first there was no response when Harry knocked on the door. Then, just as Harry was about to turn around and return disappointedly to the common room, Lupin’s muffled voice beckoned him into the office.
Harry grasped the door handle, pushed the door open, and stepped inside, closing the door behind him. He looked around and saw Lupin sitting at his desk, his head in his hands as he read what appeared to be a newspaper clipping. When Harry entered, he looked up.
“Harry!” he exclaimed, sounding surprised but pleased all the same. He gestured at the chintz armchair across from him. “Sit down.”
“Hi, Professor Lupin,” said Harry. He crossed the small room and seated himself where Lupin had indicated. “I’m not interrupting you, am I?”
“No, no, not at all.” As if to prove it, Lupin folded the article he had been reading and slid it aside. “And call me Remus – there’s no need for you to be formal when we’re in here. So, what brings you here this evening?” he enquired, steepling his fingers and resting his chin on them as he gazed at Harry questioningly from behind his desk.
Harry shrugged. “I thought I’d drop by and see you. It’s been a while since we talked outside of class.”
“It certainly has.” Lupin leaned back in his armchair and smiled pleasantly at Harry. “How are your classes?”
“The same as always,” Harry replied. “It’s good to have you back, Prof – Remus.”
“It’s good to be back, and as your new Head of House, too.”
“Yeah, everyone’s really glad it’s you,” said Harry, grinning. “They were scared we’d end up with Professor Slughorn.”
Lupin chuckled. “He’s not that bad, is he? Sirius and James rather liked him back during our schooldays.”
“Really?” Noticing the guilty look on Lupin’s face, Harry hastily added, “Don’t worry, I don’t mind talking about them. It’s nice hearing stories about your years at Hogwarts.”
Lupin nodded in a relieved sort of way and continued. “Well, as you know, Slughorn is quite fond of picking and choosing favourites. Every year he goes around and selects whom he considers to be the brightest, cleverest students to join his inner circle, for lack of a better term. I believe it’s referred to as the –”
“Slug Club,” Harry finished. “Yeah, I know.”
“Yes, the Slug Club. Well, as you have probably already guessed, James and Sirius were two of the – I suppose you could say – fortunate souls to be taken under Slughorn’s wing.”
“Why weren’t you?” Harry asked curiously. “I thought you were near the top of your class.”
“I was, but I wasn’t enough of a character by Slughorn’s standards. You see, he wanted students who were not only academically superior, but witty, popular, unique, and, above all, brimming with potential to be the next big celebrity, as well. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them.” He smiled at Harry’s indignant expression. “Oh, I didn’t mind. Being the centre of attention was never really my forte.”
“Slughorn’s never said anything about my dad, though,” said Harry. “He’s mentioned my mum loads of times, but never my dad.”
“That’s because by the end of the year, Sirius and James were his two least favourite students in the school.”
Harry furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. “But I thought you said they liked him.”
“They liked him because it was easy to play tricks on him,” Lupin corrected. “After they swapped Davey Gudgeon’s armadillo bile for Erumpent fluid, however, he threatened to have them expelled. Needless to say, that was the end of their Slug Club days.”
Harry laughed as he pictured Slughorn standing over a smoking cauldron, his moustache singed and his round belly quivering with anger. “That must’ve been some Potions class.”
“That would be putting it mildly.” Lupin shook his head, and the reminiscent gleam in his eyes disappeared. “Anyway, enough of that. Did you have anything in particular you wanted to discuss with me, Harry?”
“Well,” said Harry slowly, “there is one thing… Ron and Hermione told me they visited you and you gave them updates on the Order’s efforts.”
“I did. I suspect they’ve already relayed all the information they received from me to you.”
“They have. But that’s not the thing I wanted to ask you about. Ginny said that they’re planning to stay at headquarters over the Christmas holidays.”
“Yes, we did make that arrangement while they were here.”
Harry frowned, feeling somewhat resentful about being left out of their plans. “Can I go too?”
“I don’t see why not,” said Lupin.
Harry waited, but Lupin did not elaborate on his invitation. “Should I ask them for details, then?” he said, trying to mask his rising annoyance.
Lupin reached across the desk and laid a palm on Harry’s arm in a fatherly manner. As if reading Harry’s mind, he said gently, “Harry, if you feel like we’re excluding you in any way, you can come right out and say it…”
“I don’t,” said Harry loudly, getting to his feet.
But Lupin’s tone was a little too understanding as he replied, “Very well.” He motioned for Harry to sit back down. “One more thing, Harry, before you go.”
“What is it?” Harry asked, obediently seating himself despite his less than pleasant feelings towards Lupin at the moment.
“Two, actually. Firstly, how are you feeling?”
“I don’t mean just on the surface,” said Lupin cryptically. He studied Harry gravely. “I’d be lying if I told you I knew everything that happened between you and Voldemort the night you defeated him, but I do know that you were clinging to life by a fine thread when we found you afterwards. Something significant happened that night, and even though I won’t press you for the particulars – it’s up to you whether or not you want to disclose them – I’d still like to make sure you’re all right.”
“Of course I’m all right,” said Harry, his irritation surfacing again. “I have a few nightmares every now and then, but who doesn’t?”
“True,” said Lupin, leaning back once more. He seemed satisfied by Harry’s answer, as curtly as it had been delivered. “The second matter I would like to bring up, then, is your friendship with Draco Malfoy.”
“It’s not a friendship,” Harry replied automatically.
Lupin looked thoughtful. “Hermione told me –”
“She’s wrong,” Harry interrupted. “He did me a favour, I repaid it by giving McGonagall’s case an extra vote at his trial, and now I’m helping him get back on his feet.”
“That’s very kind of you, Harry,” said Lupin carefully, “but Draco is a Death Eater.”
“Was. He was a Death Eater.” Harry shrugged his shoulders as casually as he could manage. “It doesn’t really matter, anyway. Nothing’s changed between us. It’s just a couple of debts that need to be settled.”
“I see,” Lupin murmured, more to himself than to Harry.
“Actually… there is one thing…” Harry began to say, remembering his dream and how it had accurately warned him of Malfoy’s condition. He was certain that it hadn’t been a mere coincidence, but was at a loss for possible explanations. Ron had mentioned asking Lupin for his opinion, citing the professor’s experience in “these things” as reason to consult him. Now, however, Harry realised that doing so would mean having to explain everything all over again, and promptly changed his mind about bringing the subject up. Perhaps another time, when he was feeling less disgruntled towards his professor.
“Yes?” Lupin prompted.
Harry cleared his throat. “Er… congratulations. About the engagement, that is,” he said, referring to Lupin’s recent proposal to Tonks, the news of which had been brought to Harry by Hermione.
Lupin’s weary face broke into a wide smile. “Thank you, Harry.”
“Yeah,” said Harry, feeling slightly guilty for snapping at Lupin. It’s not his fault I’m so paranoid these days.
Lupin nodded. “Well, then, I trust you have other matters to attend to, so I’ll let you go. Please feel free to drop by whenever you want.”
“I will.” Harry got to his feet, walked over to the door, and reached for the doorknob. Just before he left, he paused, wondering if he should tell Lupin about Malfoy’s list. There wasn’t anything particularly threatening about it, but nevertheless, it seemed like something a member of the staff should know about, especially since it was in the hands of a fugitive.
“Harry?” said Lupin enquiringly, noticing Harry’s hesitation.
Malfoy trusted you when he showed that list… in his own obscure, grudging way, that is.
“It’s nothing, Remus,” said Harry, pulling the door open and stepping outside. “See in you class tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, in the back of the library, Draco was busy reading Hogwarts: A History. He had dashed up to his usual reading spot the moment the bell signalling the end of Defence Against the Dark Arts had rung, both because, according to the deadline he had set for himself at the beginning of the year, he only had one day left to finish the fourth section, of which he was presently only half-way through, and because Potter had showed every intention of saying something to him as everyone filed out of the room.
Naturally, after the Nott incident in the dungeon, the last thing Draco wanted to do was confirm that he and Potter were associating with each other in their free time. It had been humiliating enough returning to the common room that day after classes; enduring the taunts and threats from his housemates had been unbearable, so much that Draco had forsaken all attempts to be dignified and stand up for himself, and hurried down to his dormitory like the pathetic coward he was. He had realised then that perhaps he really did need Potter by his side after all. As much as Draco hated to face it, Potter had the advantage of an influential name, whereas the only thing Draco’s name influenced now was contempt.
Draco stared resolutely at the words on the yellowed pages before him, trying to forget the disturbing thoughts plaguing his concentration and focus on the task at hand. He would not let Potter interfere with his efforts to achieve the goals on his list, directly or not.
They say this book will tell you everything you’ll ever want to know, but I definitely could have done without knowing that Slytherin and Gryffindor were rumoured to be lovers, Draco thought, making a disgusted face down at a large, faded picture of Slytherin’s snarling face. Who knew the founders were so…
He stopped mid-thought, for he had turned the page to find an equally-large image of Godric Gryffindor. “Handsome,” he finished softly, taking in the founder’s striking features with a mixture of surprise and awe.
Before Draco had time to realise that he’d just called another wizard handsome, he was rudely interrupted by an amused voice saying, “Saying it out loud won’t make it come true.”
Draco didn’t even have to turn around to recognise the voice and experience the familiar sinking sensation in his stomach that he had grown to associate with it.
“Potter,” he said flatly.
“All right, Malfoy?” Potter asked coolly, walking around Draco to the other side of the table, placing both palms on the wooden surface, and leaning forward.
Draco forced himself to continue reading the page opposite Gryffindor’s picture so as to appear uninterested, but the words registered by his eyes failed to reach his brain. “Didn’t think the library was your scene, Potter,” he said casually. “Figured you’d go for something more… extravagant; something more worthy of your larger-than-life existence.”
“It’s your lucky day, then,” Potter replied. Without asking for Draco’s permission, he pulled the chair next to him out from under the table and sat down. Glancing over at Draco’s reading material, he added, “Hermione really likes that book.”
“I’m sure she would,” said Draco scathingly.
“I take it you’ve been avoiding me.”
“You don’t waste a second, do you, Potter?” Draco snapped. He flipped the page. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I have. I’m sure you know the reason why, too, so spare me the interrogation and just get on with whatever you came here to do.”
Potter rummaged around in his pocket and pulled out a wrinkled scroll of parchment, rolled up loosely. “My Charms essay,” he explained, waving it about.
“Good for you.” Draco pointed at one of the cubicles pushed up against the far wall of the study area. “Go finish it.”
“I thought I’d do it here,” said Potter, shrugging. He raised his eyebrows at Draco. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“Actually, I –”
“Great,” said Potter cheerfully. He dropped his bookbag on the floor, bent over, and pulled out a bottle of ink and a quill. Humming tunelessly, he unrolled his essay, scrutinised it for a brief moment, and then began writing.
Draco stared at Potter incredulously. He couldn’t be serious. There was no way he was serious. But, as the minutes dragged on, it appeared that he was serious, and that he really did intend to sit at Draco’s table and write his bloody Charms essay.
“Fine!” Draco huffed, pushing his chair back. “I’ll leave.”
Potter looked up. “Come now, Malfoy,” he said, with the air of one explaining to a toddler why it was necessary to defecate in the toilet, “we’re not first years. We can resolve our differences without resorting to childish measures like running away.”
“I’m not running away,” Draco said angrily, but he sat down anyway. “Honestly, Potter, I really don’t have time for this. In case you haven’t noticed, Hogwarts: A History is a very long book, and –”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” Potter cut in, eying the thick text apprehensively. “Anyway, what I really want to say is, I reckon we should stop playing this little game of cat and mouse and figure out what we’re going to do.”
“You came up here to tell me that?” Draco scoffed. “Or is the happily married couple too busy snogging in every deserted corner to pay you the unconditional attention you crave?”
Potter scowled. “No, I really did come up here to finish my essay. Happening across you was just a fortunate accident.”
“Well, that’s the first time anyone’s ever said that,” Draco replied sarcastically. “Go on, then. What do you propose? I personally fancy the option of never seeing each other again.”
“That’s not one of the choices on the table,” Potter said, rolling his eyes. “I mean, think about it… I know all of your deepest, darkest secrets and desires. Or at least twenty-five of them. You can’t cast me away with that fact in mind, can you?”
Draco frowned. “A quick Memory Charm would do the trick of erasing everything from your memory.”
Potter waved this possibility aside airily. “Besides,” he said rationally, “considering how well the option of ignoring me worked out the other five thousand times you tried it, I reckon it’s not your best bet.”
“What do you suggest, then?” Draco snapped. “As much as we’d both like you to, you can’t go back in time and erase the damage you’ve already done.”
“I know,” said Potter quickly, “which is why I think we should go along with it. I mean, the trial was all over the news, and everyone in this school knows that I was the one who brought you to the Hospital Wing after you were attacked by now. So why bother pretending that we’re still enemies? You said yourself that you didn’t mind being seen with me, so why the sudden change in attitude?”
“We are still enemies,” Draco said emphatically.
“First of all, no, we’re not enemies. The war is over. Enemies, friends, acquaintances… all of that is in the past. We may not like each other very much; that definitely hasn’t changed; but we’re not enemies – at least not in the formal sense of the word – anymore.”
“I suppose you gave that very speech to all the Death Eaters your Ministry captured right before you sent them off to receive the Dementor’s Kiss,” said Draco mockingly.
“Second of all,” Potter continued, as if there had been no interruption, “what exactly is your problem? Why do you shy away every time I go out of my way to help you?”
Draco laughed out loud. “Haven’t you noticed by now that your attempts to help me are having the opposite effect?”
“What the hell do you want me to say? ‘Sorry for defending you when you were too scared to stand up for yourself’? I don’t know how that could’ve possibly done you bad,” Potter ground out.
“You weren’t there with me in the common room later that day,” said Draco quietly.
The faintest flash of concern sliced through Potter’s eyes, but he simply hmphed and said nothing.
Sighing, Draco tried a different approach. “So what exactly are you trying to get at, Potter?”
“The same thing I told you on Friday – that we should stop trying to hide from the rest of the school.”
“You’re making it sound like we’re having an affair,” Draco snorted.
Potter turned a deep shade of red. “Not in a million years, Malfoy.”
“Well, I refuse.”
“What do you mean, you refuse?” Potter demanded.
“I’ve changed my mind. I refuse to acknowledge ‘us’,” said Draco stubbornly. “So what if they know about what you’ve done? I can still deny it; I can still pretend that I had no part in it. It’s not easy for me, you know, Potter. You can strut around and boast about your valiant efforts to help the resident criminal turn his life around all you want, but if I show any signs of willingly accepting your… your charity…”
Draco paused to catch his breath. Potter seized this brief cessation in Draco’s rant to slip in a few words.
“What?” he challenged. “You’ll have to face the disapproval of your housemates?” He shook his head in disbelief. “Sorry to say it, Malfoy, but they’ve already disowned you. You’re lost to them. You’ve nowhere to go but up. If anything, being –”
“Don’t say it,” Draco interrupted swiftly, almost afraid to hear the unspoken word lingering on the tip of Potter’s tongue.
“Don’t say what?” Potter asked, his tone bemused.
“That we’re friends, Potter, because Merlin knows we’re not.”
“You’re getting ahead of yourself, Malfoy,” Potter retorted. “I was going to say that being in my favour will at least spare you some of the nasty remarks made by the three quarters of this school that reveres me.”
“My, aren’t we modest…”
In a heartbeat, Potter’s eyes took on their familiar guarded appearance. “When the whole world says it, you feel obliged to believe it, too,” he said quietly.
Disoriented by the sudden shift in Potter’s mood, Draco did the only thing he could: he hastily brought the conversation back to its original subject. “That still leaves the question of why you’re doing this in the first place. You have nothing to gain from promoting my image.”
“How many times do we have to go over this?” said Potter, showing signs of impatience for the first time since he sat down, uninvited, at Draco’s study table. “I told you in the Hospital Wing after you showed me your list. You get something out of my name, and that’s all that really matters. Isn’t that one of the rules Malfoys live by? ‘Exploit others for personal gain’?”
Draco sighed and turned his eyes back to Hogwarts: A History, at a loss for biting remarks to say to Potter. He glanced fleetingly at Helga Hufflepuff’s chubby-cheeked face, and promptly skipped past hers and Rowena Ravenclaw’s sections, wondering all the while what the hell he could say. He hated to admit it, but even Potter’s former miserable, angst-ridden self was preferable to this… this altruistic idiot. Since when did Potter give a fuck about Draco’s well-being?
Since that night in the snow when he let me stay outside, apparently, he recalled. Or maybe even since the trip to Hogsmeade incident. Or…
No. Draco didn’t dare think it possible. He knew very well that Potter had only voted to save Draco’s life at the trial because he had felt obligated to. Thus, the change in his motives must have taken place sometime after they arrived at Hogwarts.
A sense of panic raced down Draco’s spine as it occurred to him that maybe Potter was clinging to him because he was too afraid to face his own weaknesses and insecurities. Could it be that he was using Draco’s pathetic existence to boost his own confidence? It didn’t make any sense, but it was the only explanation Draco could come up with…
But Draco’s frantic attempts to explain Potter’s actions dissolved away into irrelevant thoughts as it slowly dawned upon him that he didn’t care why Potter was suddenly behaving so selflessly. In fact, he almost didn’t want to know. Just believing that someone was willing to go all out to make his life that much easier was strangely reassuring. Even if that someone was Harry Potter… or maybe because it was Harry Potter, because the truth was that Draco was secretly soothed by Potter’s unrelenting presence in his ever-shortening life, and the possibility of losing that presence by endeavouring to put reason to it really wasn’t appealing at all.
Then again, perhaps the whole thing truly was just a charade to mask selfish intentions. This possibility worried Draco so much that he couldn’t help blurting out, “What about the Weasleys? I was… you saw me there that night. I helped kill them.”
“No, Malfoy, you didn’t,” said Potter firmly. The caution in his eyes had melted away, exposing two green pools of something that was almost sincerity, but not quite, because it still held traces of the suspicion everyone wore in Draco’s presence. “You really think I’d be here and you’d still be alive if you had played a role, minor or not, in their deaths? As far as I know, you weren’t a member of the group of Death Eaters who took them, and you never laid a hand on either of them the entire time they… when I was in the clearing, that is. You’re innocent.”
“I’m not!” Draco insisted, not sure why it bothered him so much that Potter thought him to be blameless.
“Young man, if you would please respect the peace and quiet of the library!” Madam Pince hissed as she shuffled by, her arms full of books.
Dropping his voice to a whisper, Draco said again, “I’m not. You heard the wizard in charge of my trial. I’ve killed. I’ve tortured. I had this” – he jabbed at his left forearm, which now bore only the faintest scar of the serpent-tongued skull that had once resided there – “to prove it.”
“It was war… You think I didn’t kill too?” Potter asked. He roughly pushed Draco’s right hand away from his left arm. “The circumstances were different then. What matters now is that you don’t have the mark to remind you anymore. Don’t you want to start anew?”
“What’s the point?” said Draco bitterly. “I’m going to lose everything in seven months anyway.”
“Then at least make your life one worth losing. Turn it into a life someone would mourn the end of.”
“Ever the saint,” Draco mocked. He swept his fingers through his hair and exhaled deeply. He could think of no other cause to protest. He and Potter had already forged an unofficial agreement that, in order to reconcile his guilt, Potter should help Draco to achieve his ambitions, and there really wasn’t any reason for Draco to go back on it.
“So can we go back a week and forget the whole thing in the dungeon?” Potter asked, almost hopefully.
Draco closed his book, bent over, and busied himself with putting it back into his bookbag, so as to hide the relief he knew was showing on his face. Straightening up, he slung his bag over one shoulder and stood up. “Sure,” he said nonchalantly, as he began heading for the exit.
Potter got up and followed Draco, his Charms essay apparently forgotten. “I almost forgot… What exactly are you planning to do over break?”
“Go home to my spacious country manor and spend Christmas in my warm, cosy sitting room, opening presents and consuming hot cocoa with my loving, affectionate family.”
Potter stared at Draco for a long moment. “That’s really not funny at all, Malfoy,” he finally said.
“What do you think I’m going to do, Potter? I don’t exactly have all the options in the world laid out in front of me,” Draco snarled, quickening his pace. The library was suddenly the last place he wanted to be.
“But what about your Christmas tree?” Potter persisted, as he and Draco left the library.
“What Christmas tree?” asked Draco distractedly, stopping and looking away pointedly as a short girl wearing a Slytherin scarf walked by. Her eyes narrowed as she took in first the sight of Draco and then Potter exiting the library.
Potter seemed to notice the girl’s disdain, because as she marched past him, he said coldly, “What are you looking at?”
She pursed her lips and continued on her way without a word. Just before she turned the corner, however, Draco heard her hiss what sounded unmistakably like the word “traitor” under her breath.
“Bitch,” he spat out once the sound of her footsteps had faded away. “If it weren’t for me, she’d still be the ugly, pathetic cow she was in second year.”
Potter looked amused by Draco’s malicious outburst. “Who is she?”
“Daphne Greengrass,” said Draco carelessly. He resumed his stride, uncomfortably aware that Potter had just defended him. “What were you saying about a Christmas tree?”
“Number nineteen on your list. You said you wanted to open presents by a Christmas tree.”
Draco managed to conceal his surprise just in time, but he still couldn’t help looking over at Potter. “You remembered that?”
Potter flashed a smug smile. “I have a good memory when it comes to these kinds of things. I could recite the whole list, if you wanted me to.”
Draco blinked twice, somewhat thrown off by this minor but, at the same time, hugely significant fact. “I… no, I’d rather you not,” he said, grappling to find his usual tone of cool contempt.
“So what about it?” Potter asked, as he and Draco approached the main stairs. “How’re you going to open presents by a Christmas tree if you stay here with the Slytherins?”
“Who said I was staying here?”
“But you just said –”
“That I don’t have very many options. You just assumed that Hogwarts was the only one.”
Potter grabbed Draco’s arm, forcing him to stop. “So? What are you going to do?”
Draco unwillingly turned around to face Potter. He was watching Draco with his head tilted slightly to one side, an expectant look on his face as he waited for an answer. Draco found his gaze drawn to the black locks that had fallen ungracefully into Potter’s eyes. His fingers flexed at his side as he fought the nagging urge to push those few strands of hair away… They really were distracting, and Draco had always been taught to make sure his opponent’s eyes were in clear view before he did anything else…
“What are you doing?” Potter asked sharply, visibly stiffening as Draco, unable to resist, reached out and brushed aside the hair obscuring Potter’s eyes.
Startled by Potter’s tone, Draco dropped his hand. For one very long moment, he stared at Potter blankly. Then, slowly but surely, he felt his cheeks heat up. “It was bothering me,” he mumbled lamely.
Potter, too, looked rather discomfited by Draco’s unexpected gesture. “Sorry,” he said uncertainly.
Had Draco not been so embarrassed, he probably would have found the fact that Potter was apologising absurdly ironic, and mocked Potter for it. As it was, all he could think to say was, “I’ve got a favour to ask of you.”
To Draco’s relief, this seemed to successfully distract Potter from thoughts of what had just happened between them. “A favour?” he repeated, looking dumbfounded, as though he had never dreamt the day would come when he’d hear the word “favour” escape Draco’s mouth.
“Yes,” said Draco, gritting his teeth and steeling himself. It’s now or never. Go ahead and ask him. “I’m… well, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not heading for the Slytherin common room right now.”
“I don’t blame you,” Potter sighed. “What do you want, then? The money to buy a rare ingredient for your potion? A secret to keep? My help in making a miracle happen?”
Potter’s cutting tone sliced across Draco’s conscience like a whip. Rather than retaliate in an equally sardonic manner, Draco could only look away as it occurred to him, for the first time, just how much he had taken and was taking from Potter without giving anything back. It was the closest thing to true, unaffected guilt he had ever felt.
“Something like that,” he muttered, wondering whether it was a good idea to ask Potter after all.
Leaning against the railing, Potter crossed his arms. “Well? What is it?”
“It’s about my plans for break,” Draco pressed on, reminding the warning voice in his head that Potter was the one who had so ardently insisted on lending his assistance. If getting through that list in the next few months meant taking Potter’s offer and milking it dry, then that was what Draco would do.
Potter said nothing, but waited for Draco to continue.
“I…” Draco bit his lip, and then blurted out, “I want to visit my mother in Azkaban.” He continued to stare at the portrait of two centaurs dining hanging on the opposite wall, purposely avoiding Potter’s eyes, which he was certain had filled with scorn towards Draco’s incongruous wish. “I thought… that is, I wanted to ask McGonagall for her consent to leave the school. And seeing as she probably likes you a hell of a lot more than she likes me…”
Holding his breath, Draco stole a fleeting glance at Potter. He was staring at Draco with an unreadable expression. Exhaling loudly, Draco said, “Never mind. It’s a stupid idea. Not even you could convince her to let me go.”
“No, wait, I never said I wouldn’t do it,” said Potter quickly. To Draco’s relief, he had dropped the sarcasm that had bothered Draco so much. “I’m just trying to think. Wouldn’t the final say be the Ministry’s?”
Draco shrugged. “Forget it,” he said, forcing his voice to stay unmoved. “If they won’t even let me step off these grounds, the chances of them leaving me unattended for an entire day are nonexistent.”
“I wouldn’t be so quick to say that. I have quite an influence in the Ministry, in case you haven’t noticed.”
“No, I haven’t,” Draco replied sarcastically. But against his better judgment, a flicker of hope had burst into life inside of him. He tried not to sound too optimistic, though, when he asked, “So… you reckon…?”
“You’ll have to find someone to escort you, of course,” said Potter, as he resumed the path he and Draco had been taking to McGonagall’s office. “I’m sure if I asked Lupin or one of the other Order members –”
“I’m not asking them for anything,” Draco interrupted flatly, hurrying to catch up with Potter.
“You wouldn’t be asking –”
“I don’t want them anywhere near me, Potter.”
“But they could –”
“It’d be nice if you let me get out a full sentence every once in a while,” Harry said irritably as they arrived at the stone gargoyle that guarded the entrance to the headmistress’s office. Harry said the password (“gingerbread”), then led the way up the spiralling staircase.
They walked up to the polished oak door at the top of the stairs. “You really don’t need to do this,” Malfoy muttered from behind Harry, but Harry easily picked up on the underlying tone of gratitude beneath Malfoy’s surly words. He couldn’t resist a smirk.
“Would it help if I said I was doing it for myself?” Harry joked. He then did a double take. He had just teased Malfoy as effortlessly as he might have teased Ron or Hermione or Ginny. It was odd, feeling so at ease with Malfoy, but in a way, it also felt nice – like something Harry had wondered about for a long time, and was finally getting to experience.
This is what it might have been like if I had just taken Malfoy’s hand when he held it out on our first day here, Harry realised, his eyes widening slightly. Then he pictured himself walking alongside Crabbe and Goyle, flanking Malfoy as they swaggered into Potions, and almost laughed.
“In that case, I’d say you were a selfish prick who only thinks of his own needs. Not that you aren’t already,” Malfoy retorted, snapping Harry out of his amusing thoughts.
Okay, maybe it wouldn’t have been all sunshine and daisies, Harry corrected himself, grinning nonetheless.
A prod in the back from Malfoy reminded Harry that he was still standing in front of McGonagall’s office, in a world where a friendship between him and Malfoy was as unlikely as Ron accepting it.
“Get on with it, Potter,” Malfoy grumbled, indicating that he was in a hurry to get the meeting with McGonagall started – or, perhaps, over with.
Harry stepped forward and rapped smartly on the oak door. After a short pause, McGonagall called them inside.
At the sight of Harry standing in the doorway, McGonagall raised her eyebrows. “Mr Potter,” she greeted.
Then Malfoy gave Harry a push into the office, causing Harry to stumble forward and reveal Malfoy’s presence. McGonagall’s eyebrows disappeared into her severe hairline. Her voice now betrayed a hint of confusion as she added, “And Mr Malfoy.”
“Hi, Professor McGonagall,” said Harry, regaining his balance. His eyes automatically flicked over to Dumbledore’s portrait. The last time he had been in this room was the night of Dumbledore’s death, and since then, McGonagall had made several changes to the décor, the most significant of which was the removal of the silver instruments that had previously occupied the spindly-legged tables around the room. Fawkes’ perch had also disappeared. Harry couldn’t help wondering, as he gazed at Dumbledore’s snoozing, two-dimensional form, how the former headmaster felt about the transformation that had come over his office.
“…your recovery is coming along nicely, Mr Malfoy?” McGonagall was saying when Harry tuned back into the present.
“I bet you haven’t given any thought to finding out who did it,” Malfoy sneered. He had sprawled himself across one of the tartan sofas facing McGonagall’s desk while Harry’s attention had been fixated on Dumbledore’s portrait.
McGonagall met Malfoy’s challenging glare with a frosty one of her own. “Believe me when –”
“Why?” Malfoy interrupted rudely. “Why should I believe you? All that rubbish you fed the Wizengamot about wanting to provide me with an education… I don’t believe any of it. You want me dead, just like the rest of your students and staff. The only difference between you and them is that you pretend you don’t… ma’am,” he finished, putting a mocking emphasis on the last word.
“I would advise you against using that tone with me, Mr Malfoy,” said McGonagall coldly, her nostrils flaring. She shifted her piercing gaze from Malfoy to Harry, who immediately winced. “Well, don’t just stand there and shuffle your feet, Potter. Sit down, and tell me what it is you’ve come here for.”
Harry obediently joined Malfoy on the sofa. “I – we – were wondering…” he said awkwardly. “Well, Malfoy wanted to ask you for permission to –”
“I want to visit my mother in Azkaban,” Malfoy cut in, repeating the words he had said to Harry. His eyes were fixed unswervingly on the headmistress, immovable determination glinting in their depths. “I want to see her one last time.”
McGonagall’s features softened. “I’m sure you know it’s quite impossible for you leave the premises,” she said, gently but firmly.
“What if someone went with him? Someone the Ministry trusts?” Harry suggested helpfully.
“Are you offering, Potter?” she asked, staring at him over her spectacles.
“No, of course not,” Harry replied hastily – too hastily, perhaps, because when he glanced furtively over at Malfoy, he was shocked to see something that looked unnervingly like hurt flash across the other boy’s face.
“Then I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do. As honourable as it is of you to keep Mr Malfoy’s best interests in mind, Potter, not very many people would be willing to undertake the task of accompanying a convicted Death Eater to Azkaban. Not to mention the Ministry is very short-staffed at the moment…”
“Then convince them to let me go on my own,” Malfoy snapped, sitting upright. “Tell them I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going to let them take away my right to see my own mother!”
“You are in no position to be bargaining with the Ministry,” McGonagall replied, showing signs of impatience for the first time since Harry and Malfoy had stepped into her office. “Attempting to induce them into letting up on their restrictions will only give them cause to tighten their hold on you. There is no possible way for you to contact Narcissa right now, Mr Malfoy.”
Harry looked over at Malfoy again and, at the sight of the other boy’s pained expression, promptly felt a surge of simultaneous protectiveness and rage rise up within him.
“That’s not fair, Professor!” he said furiously, rising to his feet. “Seeing his mum isn’t… there’s nothing wrong with that! You convinced them to stay his execution; isn’t there anything you can do about this?”
“The circumstances surrounding Mr Malfoy’s trial were different, Potter,” McGonagall answered, her eyes flashing. “Moreover, it was your input that brought about the final decision.”
Harry swallowed his retort. McGonagall was right. When it came down to it, he had the final say in everything. His position in the wizarding community was a high one, and he had promised Malfoy that he would use it to help him accomplish his list. And now Harry was too selfish, too stuck on the idea of spending Christmas with a houseful of people who cared for him, to grant Malfoy the simple wish of seeing the only person in the world who still cared for him.
The poorly concealed hurt that darkened Malfoy’s grey eyes to near-black intensified Harry’s guilt a hundredfold. Knowing that he would regret it later, but unable to bring himself to allow Malfoy’s life to get any worse than it already was, Harry said quietly, “I’ll do it.”
McGonagall sniffed. “Potter, you and Kingsley Shacklebolt may be on good terms, but even you won’t be able to convince him to –”
Shooing the small voice in his head screaming Harry, you idiot, no you won’t! Retract your statement immediately! aside, Harry interrupted, “I mean I’ll go. With Malfoy.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Malfoy turn to look at him so quickly that he must have cricked his neck. “What did you say?” he demanded.
Harry sighed. “If the Ministry needs someone they trust to go with you, then I’ll do it. It’s just for one day, right?”
His question was met with a sceptical silence. At last, McGonagall said, “You understand that there are preliminary precautions that must be taken, people to be seen, sheets to be signed…?”
“You can take care of all that, can’t you, Professor?” asked Harry anxiously.
McGonagall merely sighed. “You will also need to be with him at all times, including while you are at the wizard prison. Azkaban is not a pleasant place, Potter.”
“I know that. I’ve been there.” Harry looked at McGonagall hopefully, knowing full well that she wanted to grant Malfoy his request as well. “So can you get all the official stuff done in time?”
“The Ministry may want a signed letter from you,” she warned.
“Then I’ll give them one,” said Harry, shrugging.
McGonagall pursed her lips. “Very well, then. I will contact Shacklebolt and have him speak to the Hit Wizard department. As soon as everything is arranged, you will be notified.”
“Thanks, Professor,” said Harry, grateful that she wasn’t asking questions. He headed over to the door, glanced over his shoulder, and noticed Malfoy still sitting on the sofa, staring at the floor with an unreadable expression. “Malfoy?” he ventured. “Come on, let’s go.”
Seeming to snap out of his stupor, Malfoy stood up and joined Harry at the door. Without a further word to McGonagall, he walked past Harry and out onto the landing.
“Thank you, Potter,” said McGonagall in an unusually soft voice, just before Harry left as well. “I’ve no doubt that Mr Malfoy appreciates everything you have done for him.”
Harry smiled briefly at McGonagall. “Yeah. The same goes for you, Professor.”
He left, shutting the door behind him, and stepped onto the spiralling staircase, which brought him down to a stone wall. It split apart the moment Harry got off the stairs, revealing the exit.
Harry walked out into the dimly lit hallway. Malfoy was leaning against the opposite wall, waiting for Harry.
The moment he caught sight of Harry, he exploded.
“What the hell are you playing at, Potter?” he seethed, crossing the distance between him and Harry in two long strides. “Are you out of your fucking mind? Why would you do this for me? You despise Dementors! You won’t survive an hour in Azkaban! I’m not going on a bloody vacation, Potter. Azkaban isn’t fucking Bermuda!”
“Calm down, Malfoy,” Harry said firmly, grasping Draco’s shoulders and holding him out at arm’s length. “I know what Azkaban is like, you stupid sod. I put half its residents in there.”
“I don’t care how many people you put in there!” Draco raged on. “It’s not your scene, and I know perfectly well that it’s the last place you want to spend your Christmas at. I’m not letting you go there just because of me. I don’t need your help!”
Harry almost smiled. “Don’t worry about me,” he said, releasing Malfoy. “As long as you get to see your mum, all’s well, right?”
“Good,” said Harry approvingly. “Now let’s try for a bit of self-control, there’s a good boy.”
“I’m not your pet,” Malfoy snapped, glaring at Harry. He sighed. “Why, Potter? I asked you to help me persuade McGonagall, not all of this.”
“If I’m going to do the job, I might as well do it right.” Harry raised his eyebrows. “I promised I’d help you, didn’t I?”
“Right. The Gryffindor word of honour.” Malfoy made a face like he was going to be sick, but there was a newfound light in his eyes that made Harry feel warm inside.
Harry studied Malfoy as they began walking down the corridor together. The other boy kept his eyes trained on his feet as he walked, shoulders slumped forward and an un-Slytherin-like air of bleakness about him. Malfoy was the picture of despair, and it made Harry angry. What had happened to the confident, composed stride, the smug, dignified posture, everything that was so infuriatingly Draco Malfoy? Day by day, his bitter cynicism wore away, exposing traces of fear and vulnerability. It wasn’t fair of Malfoy to turn into someone so helpless, to make the gallant Gryffindor in Harry so desperately want to protect him and give him everything he wanted – even if it meant lying to his own friends and, at times, sacrificing his own happiness.
Damn you, Malfoy, Harry thought half-heartedly, falling a step behind in order to continue observing Malfoy as they approached the Gryffindor common room. You’re actually making my life miserable without even trying to.
They stopped in front of the portrait of the Fat Lady. Malfoy’s eyes swept over it distastefully before coming to rest on Harry’s face.
“Bye, Potter,” he said.
“Yeah. See you.”
There was a long, drawn-out pause, during which Harry stared at Malfoy and Malfoy stared back. Then Malfoy took a step towards Harry so that their faces were mere centimetres apart and said, with such obvious sincerity that it sent a chill down Harry’s spine, “You’re braver than I thought you were, Potter.”
Harry managed a smile. They were so close that he could feel Malfoy’s warm breath on his lips, could see that his grey eyes were void of malice for the first time Harry could remember, but before he could figure out why these small details stirred up a sudden cloud of butterflies in his stomach, Malfoy stepped back, turned, and walked briskly around the bend.
“Just been on a date, have you?” said the Fat Lady craftily.
Harry shook his head so violently that his glasses nearly flew off. “Malfoy and I? Never!” he snapped at the portrait, petulantly straightening his glasses. “Christmas bauble.”
“That’s what they all say,” the Fat Lady observed, as she swung her frame out from the wall to admit Harry. “You boys are always in denial… Never want to admit that you might –”
But Harry had already slammed the talking portrait shut.