Chapter 17: Except it isn't

Draco wipes away his eyes with the back of his sleeve, feeling stupid for crying in front of his father - again.

Lucius sighs and kneels down at young Draco's eye-level. "What's happened?"

"I was -" he bites his lip to keep it from trembling. "I just wanted to scare it, but it stopped moving."

"Draco, you're not explaining yourself very well," Lucius says with forced patience.

Draco angrily rubs his eyes, wishing once more that he was grown-up and strong like his father. "There was a bird, outside my window. I threw my ball at it - and it-" Draco can't help but sob, "it fell. Then it stopped moving."

His father gives him a smile that's both regretful and sympathetic. "Oh, Draco - you'll quickly learn that life is fragile and death is strong."

Draco peers at his father through his tears, "I don't feel strong."

"That's because you're still young. It gets easier as you grow older. The stronger you become, the easier it'll be to take life."

"I don't like feeling like this," Draco admits quietly. "I wish I could be like you."

Lucius stands up with an approving look, holding out his hand for his son to take, "in time, Draco."

Dec 12

Dear Draco,

We're back at Hogwarts. Everyone's getting ready to leave but I've decided to stay over the break. Maybe catch up on some work. You made it on the front page again - Not that I care about the sorta thing, but I know you do, you Narcissist. I'll save the paper for you.


Dec 15

Dear Draco,

Classes are finally done and everyone's gone, which means I don't have to sneak in here anymore. Tomorrow a Healer from St. Mungo's is coming to check on you, which is a relief. Seeing you like this is really getting to me.

Oh- The House Elf just came in with food! I've requested green apples - tempted?


Dec 24

Dear Draco,

The castle is empty - I think we're the only two left behind. Not even Hagrid is around - tried to visit him earlier. At first I didn't mind - it was actually rather nice to be on my own. But now it's just too quiet and I find myself saying things out loud just to break the silence. I'm starting to look a little mad.

Draco, do me a favour and don't let this Christmas be a quiet one. Let's fly around all day, and then maybe get drunk afterwards. I have loads to tell you. So, come on, do this for me?


Dec 28

Draco -

I'm pretty tired. I didn't really sleep much. You had a really rough night - the worst I've seen. It was awful. You just … wouldn't stop screaming. You looked like you were being tortured. We tried everything for hours, but nothing helped. I wonder what could possibly torment you like this...

I told Pomfrey to go rest for an hour or so, that I'd keep my eye on you incase you vomited again. You'd be relieved - or horrified - to learn I figured out how to make the screaming stop. You only calm down when I comb my fingers through your hair. Yup, that's utterly gay of you. Of me too, I guess - but I'll take it.

The only downside is that Pomfrey came rushing towards us, seeing as it was the first time in hours that it was quiet. It's kinda - awkward doing that in front of her. I'm afraid both our reputations are at stake, so please wake up before it happens again.

Dec 31

Draco - I'm running out of ideas. Just open your eyes.

Everything about this scene is wrong. A pale light creeps through the window, signaling a new day, and it should matter to Harry because he's missed the sunrise more than he cares to remember, but it's all wrong. It's too bright, too white - the colour of forlorn. It's insensitive to what's before him: his pale hair a mess, his eyes closed and his lips dry. He's too still, too quiet and too cold. None of it seems to belong to the Draco he knows.

Draco lies in the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts, and if Harry didn't know any better, he'd say he looks peacefully asleep. But it's been weeks since they got back from the Malfoy Manor, and Draco won't wake up. No one knows why, but he's trapped in a deep, restless sleep. When Draco dreams, his eyes move frantically behind closed eyelids and sometimes utters nonsense to no one. In such moments Harry whispers back to him, even if he's sure the words land on deaf ears. But when Draco begins to scream, a chilling, blood-curdling scream that can only reflect whatever nightmares he's facing, all Harry can do it clutch his hand and run his fingers through his hair.

Healers that specialize in sleep disorders are at a loss because there's nothing actually wrong with him- Draco just can't wake up. He's not a coma, they've all stated. It's normal sleep, which means he should wake up at any moment. They've all reassured him of this. But with each passing day Harry has a harder time fending off his hopelessness.

There is some good news which Harry reminds himself of. All of Draco's wounds healed quickly. And in a surprising turn of events, the Ministry's reports concluded that Draco had no fault in what happened at the Manor. He won't be charged for murder. If Draco was awake, he probably wouldn't believe his luck. If he was only awake, things could go back to normal. The new term is set to begin within a few days and students are already coming back from the break.

Hermione and Ron tried to persuade him to leave, but it just didn't feel right. He couldn't bear the thought of Draco waking up alone and confused. The consequence is that Harry's only had a sleeping boy for company these last couple of weeks. He tries to busy himself with his homework but keeps dozing off and having either nightmares of what happened or conflicting dreams - ones he can't seem to remember. They always leave him feeling like he's missing something important. There's something beyond the reach of his awareness, something he's sure will help Draco, but try as he might, all the images are fleeting.

With a sigh, he closes the textbook on his lap and sets it aside. He checks quickly to see that they're alone, as he's done so many times recently, and absently reaches out to fix his hair, combing his fingers through it. "I should bring a comb in," he whispers. "But I don't own one… I'm sure you'd find that hilarious." Touching his hair like this soothes Harry as well as Draco. Harry can almost fool himself into believing that they're just waking up together after a long night - and he momentarily forgets this ache. "Draco - Why aren't you waking up?"

A hand hesitantly falls onto Harry's shoulder and he looks up, startled. He can make out Hermione's concerned face. Harry snatches his hand back and he's glad it's only Hermione that caught him. "You're back!" he says happily. He stands up to give her a hug. "Happy New Year."

"Happy New Year," she smiles before looking down at Draco with a pained expression. "Any news?"

"Nothing." His eyes travel back to Draco and Harry as an urge to draw the curtains around him. He's sure Draco wouldn't appreciate people seeing him like this. "None of the waking concoctions had any effect. Did you have any luck figuring out what Lucius was trying to do?"

She shakes her head sadly. "There's no record of the Potion he used. It's very old, from the looks of it. It's strange, but the ingredients don't have much to do with sleep."

Harry nods and sits back on the chair in front of Draco, picking up the heavy textbook. "I suppose we'll just have to wait."

"Harry, Ron's on his way - I think we should meet him at the gates."

Harry shrugs, not really in the mood for a stroll.

"What should I tell him when he asks me why you didn't go home for Christmas? Or why you choose to spend every moment waiting for Draco Malfoy to wake up?"

Harry makes a face but doesn't look at her, "I dunno."

"The truth isn't so awful, Harry."

"Which truth - that this is all my fault? That he's stuck in his nightmares - because of me?" he shakes his head to keep the vivid images out, but he catches a glimpse of Draco bloodied and broken on a cold, stone floor.

"That's not what I'm talking about-!" she begins.

"How did I manage to do that - again? Why would you ever trust my judgement?"

"Harry! We had no way of knowing how serious it all was. If we had known, we would have called the Ministry sooner. Please stop blaming yourself! He's going to be fine. He's going to wake up. The healers have said so!"

When Harry doesn't say anything, she sighs and tugs at his arm, "Come on, Harry. You really need to talk to Ron. He isn't angry - just explain to him- just tell him why this is so important -"

"I can't - I can't tell him." Harry says in exasperation, running a hand sloppily through his hair. "He won't get it!"

Hermione yanks at his arm and Harry scrambles out of his chair in surprise. "Then you lie to him. I'm not going to do it for you." She marches him to the door and roughly pushes him out of the Hospital Wing, "Go! I'll watch Malfoy for however long it takes, but you're going."

"Hermione-" he begins to protest, but she slams the Hospital Wing door in his face. He rattles the door handle and realizes she's locked it from the inside. "You can't make me!"

Harry shivers and grouchily tucks his hands into his pockets as soon as he steps outside. He regrets not grabbing his scarf before Hermione kicked him out. It's snowing heavily, making each of his footsteps disappear into the fresh sheet of snow that covers the untouched landscape.

It's surprising how quickly he got used to having his sight back. At first, everything felt like a miracle: seeing Ron and Hermione again and how casual they've become with their affection. Seeing the Malfoy Manor in the light of day was distracting, from its high ceilings and rich furnishings to its tall towers and onyx gates. But what stopped Harry in his tracks was the beauty of seeing Hogwarts again: He remembers first seeing the tall trees that surrounded him, shielding him from the sun. He remembers looking up high above himself, being able to make out the blue skies hiding behind the flock of orange and green. He remembers seeing the Hogwarts gates from a distance, and beyond them, his home. But then he remembers looking down at Draco, who laid cold and limp in his arms.

The little elation he allowed himself to feel was quickly swept away by a chill and a short, anxious breath, because Draco didn't seem to be breathing. He remembers his shock of seeing his own breath form into a white puff against the cold, but nothing coming from Draco. He remembers laying him down on the cold ground, urging Hermione to help him, and his shattering relief when she was able to stabilize him just in time.

Harry breathes out slowly now, watching the breath escape out of him in a long, warm cloud as well as watching the spot where everyone apparates. He's grateful when Ron and Ginny appear with a faint pop, even if he's caught them in the middle of an argument. "-wrong with him?" Ron finishes saying before he noticed his sister shaking her head in a quick and tight manner.

Ginny turns to face him with a smile. "Harry!" She swings the gate open and hugs him tightly.

"How was the break? How's everyone?" he asks, glad to see them both.

"Good! They all missed you of course. Here-" she pushes one parcel towards him with a sly grin, "just a little something."

Ron throws him another parcel, which he catches easily. "From Mum - she expects a letter from you soon. I have something else for you, but I'll show you inside - out of the snow."

The three of them talk easily enough - but when they reach the front entrance, Ron and Ginny begin to head to the Gryffindor Common Room. He stops in his tracks and gestures to the opposite direction. "Actually - um - Hermione's expecting us in the Hospital Wing."

"Really?" Ron asks. "You didn't tell me she was here! Why is she - oh-" Ron glances away awkwardly. "Sorry, I should have asked sooner, how's Malfoy?"

"Still asleep," he tries to sound casual, but from the look Ginny is giving him he isn't fooling anyone. "Er - we should probably relieve her. She just got back herself."

"Okay, I'll meet up with you guys later," Ginny says quickly. Harry can understand why she doesn't want to see Draco, but he can't help but feel annoyed as she turns away without another word and hurries to the Common Room.

Ron and Harry fall into step with each other, and while their conversation is light enough, there's something off about it. It's as if they're each holding back on saying something and don't know how to broach the topic. Harry can't possibly see how Hermione could be right: even mentioning Draco makes Ron terribly uncomfortable. How will he take the fact that Harry has feelings for him?

Finally, after minutes of stiff small talk they arrive at the Hospital Wing and Ron eagerly opens the unlocked door. Ron and Hermione greet each other enthusiastically, embracing each other after two weeks of being apart. He notices the way Ron nervously glances at Draco's bed and Harry can't help but walk up to his bed and close the curtains.

"So - nothing's changed?" Ron asks.

"Nope-" Harry says, wishing he didn't bring him up again. "Er - you two must be hungry. Why don't you grab a bite? I'll meet you soon."

"Why don't you come with us?" Ron asks him hopefully.

"I can't - not until Pomfrey gets back."

"Come on - what's the worst that can happen? He'll wake up?" he jokes.

Harry offers him a tight smile and Hermione slaps Ron slightly on the arm. "Actually he might bite his tongue in another fit and choke on his own blood."

"Honestly!" Hermione throws her hands in the air in defeat and turns on the spot to leave, not before throwing Harry a dirty look.

Ron glances back at the door and looks like his only wish is to get away. "I should -" He gestures awkwardly towards the door. Harry nods quickly, and Ron takes a step to follow her, but not before he turns to look at Harry. "If you need help- just let me know, okay? I get that things are different now."

Harry nods appreciatively, feeling bad about the jibe now. "Thanks, Ron. Happy New Year." Ron nods and closes the door behind him. Only then, does Harry fall back into the armchair and throw his hands over his face. "Oh and by the way, I'm gay and fancy Draco-bloody-Malfoy." He groans and presses his palms into his eyes, a headache forming in the back of his head. Why is this so hard for him to do? Oh yes - because Ron loathes Draco - and he doesn't even blame him for it. But he's clearly making an effort, he probably already knows! Ron isn't stupid. He'll figure it out if he hasn't already. Really, what's the worst that could happen if he tells Ron? Would he be livid? Disgusted? Would he refuse to speak to him? Harry doesn't know if he could cope with that. Ron's the only family he has left. He can't afford to lose him, and by default, the rest of the Weasleys and eventually Hermione.

But what if he's not giving Ron enough credit? Sure, Ron's stubborn and holds grudges, but he's loyal and strangely sensitive. Most importantly, he's Harry's friend. Harry should just trust him. He's sure Ron won't even care… Harry stifles a yawn, leaning back against the chair - Ron'll probably just shrug it off like it's nothing… Who knows, he might even be okay with it. Maybe invite Draco over for dinner - Christmas even. Harry can see it now: Molly makes him a green sweater. Draco makes muggle jokes. The Weasleys laugh. They tease him for being Slytherin. George pulls a prank on him - And Draco's happy to be there - with Harry. Everything's okay.

Except it isn't. When he turns around he sees that Draco is staring at him from the edge of the forest, and Harry starts in shock. "What are you doing here?" he asks as he rushes towards him. Draco's pale face and his white shirt starkly contrast against the dark trees behind him.

"I was waiting for you," Draco says and he gestures for Harry to follow with a jerk of his chin. "I was afraid you'd never come."

Harry follows him without question, curiosity far outweighing the nervousness he feels. "Where are we going? I thought you were afraid of the woods."

"Not anymore," Draco says casually. "You'll find I'm not afraid of anything now." Draco walks deeper between the trees, his eyes scanning the ground. At last, something shines in front of him and he crouches down low to move sodden leaves with his bare hands. Harry watches as Draco's fingers unearth something that's buried in the frozen ground. When he stands, his Mother's pendant, which he had given to Harry, is dangling from his muddied, left hand.

"How did you -?" he begins to ask but stops when he sees Draco turn to him with bright, scared eyes. Harry takes a hurried step towards him. "What is it?" Draco doesn't reply when he lifts the pendant over Harry's head and tucks it carefully into his shirt.

"You're meant to keep this safe," he says solemnly, his eyes greyer than the skies above them. "Keep it close to your heart."

Harry feels the pendant warmly pulse against his skin. "I will."

"You can't let me have it, no matter what," Draco urges.

"But it's yours-" Harry says with confusion.

Draco cuts him off. "I'm going to try to get it back. I'll fool you at first, and then I'll hurt you. But you can't let me have it - Promise me you won't let me have it."

"I don't understand-"

"Promise me, Harry! We don't have any more time."

Something like panic flickers over Draco's face and Harry's hand instinctively reaches out to him. "I promise."

Draco smiles in relief and places his hand on Harry's chest, right on top of the pendant that hides under his shirt, "Don't forget I'm in there. Don't let me go." Just as the words leave Draco's mouth - Harry awakes with a start. He blinks rapidly and is heart leaps into his throat when he sees that Draco Malfoy is sitting up on his bed, staring at him with dark eyes.

"Draco?" he asks feebly, not quite believing what he's seeing.

"What the fuck happened?" Draco asks hoarsely.

Something tears and it burns to the core, an agony that transcends past everything he's ever known. It feels like something whole is breaking, ripping away from the fabric of who he is. He's shattering and all the pieces are falling away into oblivion. Bit by bit, he's becoming nothing except the fact that this is what dying must feel like.

But then it's done. All the pieces that make up Draco Malfoy begin to fall into place- a little too quickly, chaotically - and some of it becomes lost. Something was taken from him, and he can't grasp what it is but he doesn't care. With a strangled breath, he already knows he's better off this way.

Draco opens his eyes and quickly disregards the-something-that-is-missing. He blearily takes in his surroundings and his eyes quickly become adjusted to the light. He can make out the hospital wing with its empty beds, clean sheets tucked over him and Potter fast asleep in a chair beside him, glasses already askew. He blinks away the blurriness and his world sways to readjust itself. Taking another thirsty gulp of air, Draco sits up with a lightening sense of Deja-vu: this scene is too familiar for comfort.

"Potter," he croaks, grimacing at how dry his voice sounds. When he doesn't stir, Draco throws his pillow at him.

With a startled jump, Potter jolts awake and his eyes quickly focus on Draco, something like fearful relief twisting his features. "Draco?"

"What the fuck happened?"

"You're awake!" Potter scrambles off the chair frantically. "I can't believe this!"

He leans in close to Draco and reaches out to touch him, but Draco throws his arm out to keep Potter at a distance, his hand firmly on his chest. "Urgh, why are you looking at me like that?"

"You were out for weeks!" he says with wide, bright eyes that scan his face. Against his better judgment, Draco's glad that Potter can see, even if it makes him feel strangely vulnerable. "Do you remember anything? How do you feel? Do you need Pomfrey?" Potter asks without a pause. He then stands up quickly, frantically looking about the room for assistance.

"I'm fine!" Draco reassures him. 'Fine' is an understatement, he actually feels great. He swings his legs out from beneath the covers, looking around for his socks. "Can you please tell me what happened? The last thing I remember is threatening to kill Rook." He frowns because at the time it was an empty threat; there was no way he could have done it. Now Draco doesn't understand why it was so impossible then.

Potter's face quickly becomes bleak, his relief momentarily stilled. "You don't remember anything?" Potter sits down on his bed now, a little too close to Draco for comfort.

Draco shakes his head impatiently. "Obviously it's bad, by your expression."

Potter bites down on his lower lip, anxiously looking at him. "Maybe I should get Pomfrey first -"

"Potter-" he sees the way the git winces. "Just spit it out."

"Your father casted the Imperius on you." Something within Draco uncoils aggressively, he clenches his fist to keep them from shaking. "He made you kill - he said it was your choice but he made you do it. It was between me and Rook-"

"I killed Rook?" he clarifies.

"Yes." Potter clenches his jaw tightly, looking at Draco with fearful apprehension. "Just - it isn't your fault. You didn't have a choice." Draco can see Potter beginning to move his hand towards his, so Draco casually moves it away, running his hand through his hair distractedly.

Confusion begins to creep into Draco because if he's honest with himself, he can't be bothered to care. Rook had it coming and he doesn't feel at all bad about it. "Mmm.. okay. How did we escape?" Potter gives him an incredulous look. "What?" he asks, annoyed.

"That's not the reaction I was expecting… I mean - You killed someone, Draco."

"Well, better him than us, right?" Draco asks in an attempt for humour, but Potter's gives him a calculating look as he continues to stare at him. Draco realizes his response isn't appropriate. His old self would have probably cried or something. "I'm just - I think I'm just in shock. I need some time to let it sink in." He's relieved to see Potter nod his head slowly, giving him a sympathetic look. "So - what then?"

Potter grimaces here, the memory making him look faint. "Then Lucius - he stabbed you."

A spark of anger flares again, and he has to scoff to keep his features somewhat neutral. "He tried to kill me? Unbelievable." More than anything he hates how vulnerable his father made him, but it's strange that all the usual feelings of betrayal and loss are absent.

"I don't know what he was trying to do, and we still don't know if you're completely okay. I really should get Pomfrey-"

"I really feel fine," he says hurriedly. "And I still don't know how I got here?"

"After that happened, everything's a blur. The Ministry came and there was a lot of fighting, but for the most part, the Death Eaters escaped." Harry looks regretful as he continues, "only a couple were captured, your father not included."

"How did the Ministry know?"

"Ron and Hermione realized we would need help getting you out - so they alerted the Ministry just in time."

Draco frowns at him. "But that means the Ministry took the Manor." It's a statement, not a question.

"I'm sorry, it was the only way! I'm sure you can work something out later-"

Draco gives Potter a cold look. "Don't be daft. They've been looking for an excuse to take it for months. My father being alive and evil probably works in their favour."

"It's only until they capture him. They have to monitor who comes and goes for now. But after all this mess, you'll get it back. It belongs to your family."

Draco smirks at him and shakes his head. "What world do you live in that's so just and fair? Now that they have it they won't let it go."

Potter sighs, "If it comes down to that, I'll help you get it back." Draco quirks his eyebrow at him imploringly and it's amusing watching Potter squirm with evident discomfort. "Draco - you sure you're okay? You seem off."

"Yeah, I actually feel really good," Draco says against his better judgement.

Draco doesn't like the strange look Potter is giving him. Potter then gets up quickly and shoves his hands in his pockets. "Okay well - I'll just -Pomfrey should check on you."

Draco nods absently, a faint smile on his face that doesn't quite reach his eyes. He has a feeling that he'll have to work a lot harder to convince Potter that everything is as it should be.

Harry glances back at Draco who's still sitting on the bed, with Pomfrey just finishing her checks. "You seem perfectly fine -" she says absently, and Harry shuts the door the Hospital Wing with a soft click. He walks towards the Gryffindor Common Room, trying to fight this uneasiness he feels.

His steps falls in rhyme of: Something. Feels. Off. He knows better than to ignore this unsettling churning in his stomach. Draco seems too nonchalant about everything: killing Rook, his father stabbing him and then losing the Manor. Harry almost stumbles over feet when he realizes that Draco didn't even ask about his Mother! Not that Harry had any news on that, but after weeks of being unconscious, wouldn't that be something he would wonder?

Stepping through the portrait hole, he's greeted by the sight of Ron and Hermione curled up in an armchair in front of the fire, Hermione's head resting on his shoulder and Ron's arm swung around her. A pang of jealousy hits him to realize he'll never be that casual or comfortable with his own displays of public affection.

Hermione looks up at him and he quickly neutralizes his expression as he walks towards them both. "He's awake!" he says with real enthusiasm.

Hermione sits up straighter with a wide smile, "Oh, I'm so glad! See Harry, you were all worried."

"Yeah, it's a relief," he smiles and sits on the couch next to them. "Everyone kept trying to reassure me of it, but after days of hearing the same thing over and over again - it just sounded like a lie, y'know?"

Hermione nods sympathetically and Ron offers him a smile, "So he's okay?"

"Yeah - everything's good," he says quickly. Harry frowns when his two best friends exchange a glance.

"Are you sure -?" Ron asks him after a pause. "You sound weird."

Harry nods even as that same feeling of unease seeps back in. He feels Hermione giving him a searching look and he sighs, "It's really nothing." He doesn't want them to have any further reasons for mistrusting Draco. "He was just in shock or something - Didn't seem to really appreciate the scope of what's happened."

"Oh, well that's understandable. He probably needs some time," Hermione says. "Does he know what his father was trying to do?"

"He doesn't remember anything."

"Poor bloke," Harry's surprised to hear Ron mutter. "I can't imagine waking up to all that."

"Me neither," Harry says quietly. A comfortable silence falls between them, and Harry leans back into the sofa as he stares into the roaring fire, lost in thought. Even as he contemplates on the strange feelings that something is amiss, he can't help but smile to himself. When he realized that Draco was awake, it was as if all the colours shifted back to their correct hue. Draco didn't look so pale and the light in the room didn't seem so bright anymore. Everything, all at once, felt real again. Now that Draco's better everything's okay - except - Harry unconsciously reaches for the spot where the pendant is tucked underneath his shirt - except it isn't.


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