DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Beta thanks: Thank you Passo for sharing the experience with me, A Boy for a super-thorough brit-pick and Mike for being here.
And when I feel like
I can feel once again
Let me stay awhile
Soak it in awhile
It was inevitable. Ron and Hermione were bound to notice sooner or later.
"Harry Potter," Hermione said sternly. "You will tell Ron and I what's going on right now unless you want us to go to Dumbledore."
"Seriously, Harry," Ron said uncomfortably. "I've never seen you like this before. Not even when we weren't talking in fourth year. At least then you looked furious. Now you just look... gone."
Harry looked at the friends with which he had shared the best years of his life. They had always stayed on his side, even when he completely screwed up last year and almost cost them their lives. Somewhere inside he knew they deserved a lot more than the scarce attention he'd spared for them the last few months. They were, in the end, the only people who seemed to love him. It was impossible for Harry to believe that they actually did.
"I'm sorry," Harry lied. Then he added honestly, "I don't care anymore."
The days passed lazily, thick and murky in colour. Harry imagined that nothing would feel more close to swimming in tar than this dragging summer. One day passed and felt like the previous, and this one like the next. Not even the weather seemed to change; warm or cold, it was still suffocating. After so many days that blended into one moment, Harry reckoned he had lost most of that vigour that used to push him forward. Nothing was quite clear in his head. He couldn't remember why, in all those past years, he had looked forward to his return to Hogwarts, spending time with his friends, saving the world one more time. As he lay in bed each night he rummaged through his confused mind, looking for one good reason to wake up the next day. He always fell asleep before he did. Still, he kept getting up every morning to his dull life, uninterested in revising his school notes, unopened letters from his friends piling up on his bedside table, mind void of thought. He let the hours pass by inadvertently, days, weeks, until going back to Hogwarts seemed the thing to do. Anything would surely be better than to keep drowning in this routine, so he packed and asked Vernon for a ride.
The Hogwarts Express looked like a phantom train at seven in the morning, when the mist that falls at that hour fades the brightest of colours. Harry walked along the platform, breathing the mist in, trying to change the air in his lungs for that of the days when things made sense. An hour later the platform was filling with students and their families. As Harry observed the usual farewells, he noticed something had changed. Parents were embracing their children harder, longer, and more of them were crying while waving goodbye. There was not much of the excitement that Harry had come to relate with leaving for Hogwarts. He guessed the fear of the war was finally looming over the more common families: the ones who had no children with scars, no members in the Order, no godfathers that would escape from jail just to get killed in a pointless battle. It was just as well.
A hand on his shoulder made him turn, and he saw Ron and Hermione, both with older faces, but still the same. Molly was there too, and soon he was embraced against her bosom. That had always felt like being in a secure place, but now Harry wondered what would make her want to touch him. And then everything felt fake, as if at any moment the curtains would fall and he would hear the applause from strangers that had watched his life without his knowledge or consent. He pushed Molly away and hid his hands in his pockets.
"Harry!" Hermione said with a tone of worry, "How are you? Did you ever get our letters? You look so thin Harry. Have the Dursleys been starving you again? Oh Harry, we were so worried about you." She moved as if to hug him and Harry instinctively stepped back.
Looking at his own reflection in a window Harry was stunned at the face that stared back. He was not thin, he was skinny. His figure was no longer rounded but angular, giving him an arrogant air like that of Malfoy. The contrast between his black hair and pale skin, which had been deprived of sunlight for months, gave him an overall ghostly look that he rather liked.
"I've been fine," Harry said. Then there was nothing left to say because he couldn't remember why he had ever wanted to spend time with these people. They couldn't be such good friends after all, if they didn't know when he wanted to be left alone. He turned around and stepped onto the train, a little disappointed that the mist in his lungs hadn't done much to break this monotony.
Arriving at Hogwarts was uneventful and the Sorting was nothing new. The next few days were boring, except for a rumour that spread across Hogwarts about how Harry Potter had joined the Dark Side. The amusement was gone the moment Harry remembered, with a nasty feeling of déjà vu, how a few years ago everyone had thought he was the Heir of Slytherin. So much for the illusion of change.
When Harry saw Malfoy's face contorted in pure hatred, he remembered how things had ended between them last year. From then on, Malfoy had almost taken his own death-threat seriously and seemed to be investing every ounce of his time and energy in this campaign. He was not exactly putting Harry in any danger, but he tried to make his life so miserable that Harry was sure in normal circumstances he would have considered relocating to St. Mungo's. As things stood, the more effort Malfoy put into the quest, the less Harry was seriously affected by it -and the more he looked forward to it. Harry's blatant indifference seemed to fuel Malfoy's eagerness to succeed. So he kept fiercely, almost loyally, to his task.
It served as a mild amusement to Harry who, while not stirred by his taunts, still held a morbid curiosity about just what Malfoy would come up with next. Over the years, Malfoy had failed miserably at proving his worth in the 'House of Cunning'. His tongue was sharp and merciless, no doubt about that. It was when Malfoy had to walk the talk that he didn't live up to the expectations. After his attempts to get Harry caught out past curfew, sabotage a Quidditch match by dressing up as a Dementor, and sentence Harry to Azkaban for the illegal traffic of dragons, Malfoy had only succeeded in getting himself into more trouble than he ever did Harry. But now that he dedicated his every second to the pastime of driving Harry Potter mad, Malfoy was finally getting the hang of it.
First he convinced McGonagall that Harry had been sneaking into the Hufflepuff girls' dormitory for highly inappropriate purposes. He even had a "witness" for that one, so Harry got points taken off and numerous square feet of floor to scrub. Later Malfoy managed to swap their names on their Defence Against The Dark Arts exam. Harry was sure he would get full marks (not because he studied, but because he already knew the answers) but instead failed completely, earning himself a lecture from Lupin on schoolwork ethics. The best one so far had been Malfoy somehow convincing Hermione and Ron separately (by means of a third person, no doubt) that the other had been the one spreading rumours about Harry joining the Dark Side. Harry had found himself in the middle of an unforgiving fight in which Ron called her names, Hermione deducted house points from him, and Ron awarded Harry the points back for reasons such as "Not loitering" or "Keeping your Firebolt clean and spiffy." Harry tried not to get involved, and after a couple of days both his house-mates realised they had been victims of a plot devised by a cruel mind. Ron was certain it was a Slytherin (at least he got that part right) and according to Harry's calculations there was only one who would go through all the trouble.
That's why, the day Draco Malfoy stopped trying, Harry noticed. At first he thought it was part of a greater plan to try to take him by surprise, so he waited. But after a week of no Malfoyesque schemes at all, Harry had to recognise he had stopped trying for good. He asked around if Malfoy had received any news or had been part of any incidents that would explain his change of behaviour. All he got were worried glances from people whom he hadn't spoken to since the first day, and who were astonished and in some cases offended that he would address them only for information on Malfoy, of all people. Harry decided he could only rely on himself to find out, and that's just what he did.
"So, what is it with you, Malfoy?" Harry approached him in the owlery after following him all over the castle. Malfoy looked sick, literally sick. He appeared exhausted and had a general look of dishabille that was noticeable only because he usually managed to keep every hair in place at all times.
"Just leave me alone, Potter. I stopped taunting you. I expected you would at least return the favour." He finished tying a letter to one of the owls, picked her up gently and took her to the window. The owl stretched her wings and fled.
Harry was about to tell him that just because he had started to behave civilised it didn't mean he'd paid for all the harm he'd done before, or maybe remind him that it was Harry's duty to suspect of any apparent good intentions from someone as devious as Malfoy. But then he realized he didn't really mean any of those things. Malfoy could be taking over the Wizarding World tomorrow for all Harry cared.
"You've got a point," he said instead. "The only reason I'm here is because I'm curious. It may be hard to believe after what we've been through together, but it's the only reason I have to do something, anything, since the world just stopped being a novelty to me."
"The ever self-pitying Harry Potter," Malfoy scoffed. "How predictable of you to be the sole victim of this world's adversities. Though I should congratulate your strategy. It has certainly made countless people side with you and dedicate their lives to kissing your manipulative arse." He turned his back on Harry.
Harry raised an eyebrow. "I should be the one to congratulate your persistence in trying to get to me. But as you must've already noticed, your mean intentions don't get to me anymore," he said. After a pause he continued, "Your silence, on the other hand; that is new. Tell me what's going on. Maybe if it helps me rediscover the secret of giving a damn, I can go back to being everyone's favourite hero and we can continue our legendary spats. Surely that would make your day. Hell, it would make your year. Wouldn't it, Malfoy?" Harry was amazed at the length of this speech, which was longer than what he had said to Ron and Hermione during the school year, put together.
Then he noticed Malfoy wasn't replying. In fact, Malfoy's back, all Harry could see, was twitching and trembling convulsively. His breath was coming quicker and in gasps, and he was supporting his body with both hands against the owl perches. One of his hands was covered in droppings, a fact Malfoy either hadn't noticed or was in too much pain or anger -or whatever it was he was in- to mind. "Malfoy?" he asked tentatively. Harry walked towards him with a fleeting feeling of concern. "Malfoy," he repeated, and placed a hand on his back. Malfoy yowled, and Harry jumped back.
"Don't touch me," he yelled. "Get out of here, Potter, and don't tell anyone about this if you value your life." He was still trembling. And then, as an after-thought, he added, "If you still want me to ignore you."
Later, Harry realised Malfoy's threat was threatening. It may not have been much, but Malfoy's uncharacteristic lack of bullying towards Harry was the only thing keeping him sane in this unchanging universe. Also he decided, with certain shock, that he wanted to stay sane. Harry kept silent.
The next week, Ron and Hermione at long last commented on Malfoy's strange behaviour, but only after his disappearance. Just a few days after the owlery incident, Malfoy had stopped attending class, and then wasn't showing up altogether. The Gryffindor consensus was that Malfoy had gone to be marked as a Death Eater, the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws either hadn't noticed or didn't care abut his whereabouts, and the Slytherins weren't available for comment. Harry knew only he could investigate further.
He found himself questioning Snape about it. As much as the bitter man made his best effort not to spill, Harry knew there was something going on backstage. He interrogated all the members of the staff, including Firenze, who only offered some ambiguous observation that merely served as further frustration. He was about to leave from the Hospital Wing after being shoo-ed out by Pomfrey, when he saw a door that he hadn't seen before. Harry was acquainted with the Hospital Wing's facilities since it had always been his home away from home, and he knew he should trust his instincts if they told him something wasn't right. He wondered how a whole room could have passed unnoticed all those times he was a patient, until he realised the reason: before, the door had always been open. He remembered seeing some provisions and extra bed clothes piled in there; it was nothing more than a storage room. But now the door was closed, and somehow it led Harry to believe that right behind it he would find was he was looking for. He approached the door, slowly. He turned the handle and pushed. Before he could see more than the shelves full of supplies, Pomfrey caught him by the collar and shoved him out the door.
Back in the common room Harry tried to remember anything from that brief moment when he held the door open that would give him a clue about the mystery room. He hadn't seen or heard anything, he was sure. They had probably cast a silencing spell on the whole room, else anyone who entered that wing would hear who or what was inside. But, he had smelled something. He kept thinking of that smell, such a familiar smell, and he couldn't put his finger on it. It was not pleasant, more like sweat or rust. But it was not quite those. Ginny interrupted his train of thought by running her fingers through his hair. She stretched her hand to him, said "You had something in your hair," and handed him a feather. "Owl feathers are lucky, you know. Make a wish and keep it under your pillow until it comes true." She smiled. Harry forced a grin back. It was less trouble if he played along.
That night Harry did make a wish, but fell asleep with the feather in his hand. He had been caressing it with a finger, indulging in its soft texture, as if that would unveil the reason of Malfoy's disappearance or make his wish come true in less time than it was due.
"Harry, you won't believe what people are saying about Malfoy," whispered Hermione urgently as soon as he entered the Great Hall for breakfast. She pushed Harry to sit in front of Ron and she sat at his side. Harry listened attentively when Hermione started to talk. "I haven't had the time to look this up in the library, and sincerely I don't know what to make of it. The reason why Malfoy disappeared for?"
"Attention, please!" Dumbledore interrupted in a voice that travelled to the ends of the hall as if he had roared, only he had spoken normally. When the heavy muttering finally subsided, Dumbledore said, "As you may have already heard, one of our students had to be absent from classes for health reasons. Fortunately, he has agreed to come back now fully recovered, and I must ask all of you to receive him with your hearts open. Draco Malfoy has suffered a transformation, but let me assure you he is still the same person we have all grown to love." Ron snorted. "I am sure you will all treat him the same way and won't smother him with questions. Ah, perfect timing, Mr. Malfoy."
Harry heard small gasps from behind him and he almost didn't want to look. But his curiosity overpowered his will and he turned to the source of the murmur that was growing more deafening by the second. What he saw shook him with more feeling than anything had this year at Hogwarts. He felt his eyes open wider and his lips part by their own accord. Malfoy stood between the main doors and the Slytherin table with a confident expression, even though his poise was hesitant. His hair was in order this time, a few strands falling over his eyes. It made Harry think they were there on purpose, to serve as protection from the gawking eyes of his schoolmates. He kept his hands in the pockets of his black school robes and his head lowered. Behind his shoulders were the cause of all the commotion. A pair of impeccably white feathered wings rustled on his back almost imperceptibly. When Malfoy advanced towards his table beams of sunlight fell on him from the windows. The wings caught the light and he glowed.
"Malfoy grew bloody wings!" Ron said short on tact.
"He sure did," Hermione said gravely, "and I have never heard of anything like it before."
"Those wings," Harry whispered. "I want them." Hermione gave him a look and he knew she would be searching the library right away for the information Harry needed. In that way, she did go out of her way to please Harry, like Malfoy said people did. But now Malfoy had wings and Harry didn't know what to make of him. Would he be going around being people's guardian angel now? Was this the reason why Malfoy had been an unbearable sod all those years, because he was a closeted dove of peace? Harry felt a hint of worry at the thought of having lost Malfoy to a do-gooder cherub whose sole purpose was to spread joy. No, that made him sick in the stomach.
Approaching Malfoy in a fairly private manner turned out impossible. Wherever he went he had a league of fans that followed him around asking questions and trying to deviously get a feel of the wings. Malfoy had finally fixed the problem with wing covers provided by Hagrid, who knew best about aviary matters. Harry saw how Malfoy started spending more time outdoors (surely the covers felt warm on his new limbs) and in a few days, the tail of followers disappeared gradually, either seeking refuge from the cold or put off by the lack of wing sightings. In any case, Harry found the perfect opportunity to address him while Malfoy was having his daily walk around the castle.
Harry caught up with him as Malfoy was turning the corner towards the greenhouses. He wasn't sure what to say to him, so instead he searched in his pockets and handed Malfoy the lucky feather Ginny had found in his hair.
"Looks familiar," Malfoy said and gave Harry an accusing glare. "Are they selling them now? A feather a sickle? You flatter me, Potter. I'm sure I could've spared one for Harry Potter, my most loyal fan."
"You spent all that time in the Hospital Wing, didn't you? Inside the storage room," Harry chose to say instead of answering Malfoy's provocative remarks. He looked carefully into the cold eyes but didn't find any sign of assent. "It was painful, wasn't it? And bloody." Harry had finally realised where that distinctive smell had come from.
"Ironic that it should be Harry 'the apathetic' Potter who would care about how I felt." A pause. "If you must know, your deductions are correct. You can run along and tell your little friends to rejoice, for Draco Malfoy, that spineless bastard, finally got what he deserved." Malfoy was trying to be aloof, only he looked just tired. Harry didn't move. "Go on." Harry stayed put.
"Want to hang out with me, Malfoy?" Harry surprised himself by asking. There was something about the bitter tone in Malfoy's voice, and the newness of this all that made him feel like doing things he'd never done before.
Malfoy lowered his head and closed his eyes briefly while shaking his head rapidly. "What?"
"I feel like doing something new, which is an event all in itself. You seem to need a break. So let's do something together. Here, we can go to the greenhouse and you can give me a tour because I know nothing about Herbology. It'll not only be entertaining but also educational. What do you say?"
Malfoy made an incongruous noise and his previous gesture of complete incredulity.
"Potter, you put my father in jail. I have never wanted to be associated with you unless it involved severe pain being inflicted upon you. Whatever makes you think I would accept such a proposition?" It was quite amusing to hear Malfoy splutter in an eloquent manner.
"Your father got himself in Azkaban," Harry said impassively. Before Malfoy could burst in outrage Harry lifted his hand to silence him. "Get over it, Malfoy. I don't blame you for getting my godfather killed."
"Sirius Black was a murderer on the loose!" Malfoy shouted in disbelief.
"And so was your father," Harry pointed out. He knew Sirius had never committed those crimes, but trying to reason with Malfoy about it was a waste of breath. In Harry's eyes, Aurors and Death Eaters were two sides of the same coin anyway. He could not censure Voldemort's murders and condone the Ministry's. Malfoy sneered but was silent. "Come on, Malfoy," Harry said in bored tones. "Unless you want me to drag you by the wings." Harry made a gesture as if to start doing so, and soon Malfoy was moving towards Greenhouse Five.
They walked in and Malfoy's wings shuddered. Harry gave him a look and Malfoy complained that "it was cold out there." Inside, it was really warm so Harry took off his winter garments. Scarves, gloves and coats were piled up beside one of those scary-looking plants that were actually really nice. Harry saw with some amusement how much effort it was for Malfoy to simply take off a jumper. He took so much care with his wings anyone would think he was afraid they might fall off at the first tug. All of Malfoy's upper clothes now had two small holes on the back side. They weren't expensive clothes, maybe given to him by a teacher. Harry doubted the Malfoy fortune had vanished at the moment Lucius was imprisoned. Either Malfoy's mum didn't know about her son's metamorphosis, or she didn't take the news very well. Malfoy kept a lime coloured T-shirt on, and jeans. Harry couldn't help noticing that the wings' batting had subsided and they lay small and close to Malfoy's back.
Greenhouse Five was the only one open for the students at all times. They strolled around the different passageways not saying much. As the minutes passed, Harry found himself more aware of Malfoy's reactions than anything else. Harry had never thought of it before, but he knew Malfoy was always in control of his emotions. He could only show himself sneering in satisfaction or raging in anger, but never being happy, or excited. Harry wondered if it wasn't that he hadn't bothered to look.
Now Malfoy approached a flower, looked at it for a long time and touched it softly. All of this he did without one change of expression. But then Harry saw the wings starting to flutter, just a bit. He saw Malfoy notice and quickly turn his body towards Harry, so that the wings were almost entirely hidden. That's when it became clear to Harry why Malfoy was the only person in the entire school who wasn't all that excited about his new acquisitions. Right now, with little training, Malfoy's wings were windows to his true self.
Harry held onto his curiosity like it was the only cure to his maladies. He took on the eccentric hobby of watching Draco Malfoy closely in order to interpret his actions and reactions. It was less difficult to do so by concentrating on his wings. But it was a timed contest, in which Harry had to figure out Malfoy before he gained control over them.
It had only taken a couple of weeks to be able to tell when Malfoy liked or disliked things. The 'dislike' part was easy since Malfoy turned out to be a skilled complainer with anyone who would stop to listen. The 'like' part was a bit harder, but simple once Harry figured out the patterns. When he stretched his right wing's lower feathers, or played with one of his earlobes, or started to blink at a faster rate (but never all of these at the same time) Malfoy was pleased.
And in this way, bit by bit, Harry came to understand most of Malfoy's drives and emotions. He also got away with spending a lot of time with him, because much like that first day in the greenhouse, Malfoy had little choice when it came to a Harry with his mind set on something. They never talked much, but Harry enjoyed their silence, it gave him more time to watch, and think. Malfoy had come to put his trust in Harry, after a couple of incidents in which Harry's expertise at predicting what Malfoy would do next had saved him from getting in real trouble. Harry knew it was hard for Malfoy to come this far, but since his appearance changed he had had to deal with a lot of unkindness and lack of understanding. Harry didn't do either, and he didn't think he did the opposite, so he guessed Malfoy had chosen the better of two evils.
When Malfoy ended up in the Hospital Wing for a serious wing injury after a bullying attack, he requested for Harry to come. Harry found Malfoy lying on his stomach and looking out the window. He went around the bed and sat in front of him, blocking the view. Harry waited until Malfoy was ready to talk.
"They don't have much experience mending wings so they made me choose between seeing a vet or staying in bed for a couple of weeks." Harry didn't need to look at Malfoy to know what his choice was. "Madam Pomfrey has told me I need someone to help me change in and out of clothes, maybe help me wash myself? I wouldn't want to ask a Slytherin since they are the reason for me having to stay here in the first place. Everyone else seems terrified of them," Malfoy said in even tones and gave a swift look over his shoulder. He hadn't said the word "wings" once since they happened. "I would of course pay you?"
"Oh, shut it. I'll take care of everything," Harry promised. "And I don't want your money," he admonished. Malfoy gave him an obnoxious grin. He was thankful, Harry knew.
"Whatever suits you," he said, and went to sleep.
During the following weeks Harry got up earlier to have breakfast and avoid his schoolmates' questions. After eating he went over to the Hospital Wing to wake up Malfoy and help him into clean clothes. One time he used a soft brush to comb his feathers clean. This hadn't been a requirement, but Malfoy had kept his wings in good condition all along. Harry guessed it would keep Malfoy's mind off worries and hopefully give him one less reason to complain. It didn't work very well. It was during the second attempt, a week later, that the topic of the wings came up for the first time.
"You must have a few dozen questions regarding these," Malfoy said suddenly.
"No," Harry replied. The trick was to hold the wing on his palm and brush with the other hand: short strokes, from top to bottom. It was quicker and more thorough that way, and painless for Malfoy. "But I'm sure everyone else does."
"Right," Malfoy said in that tone Harry knew meant annoyance. He only seemed to use it when Harry reminded him of his current state of indifference. "We don't know why," Malfoy went on. "But it's possible that it has to do with one of my ancestors performing Dark Magic on herself so that she could fly without a broomstick." Malfoy was unimpressed. "Nothing happened for generations until now," he finished gravely.
"It can't be undone?" Harry asked in between strokes. There was something sticky on one of the feathers that didn't want to come off. He tried separating the little hairs in sections and brushing each one separately.
"The thing about Dark Magic is that it meddles with the natural course of things," Malfoy explained in a patronising tone. "My great-great-great-great-grandmother somehow managed to change the very characteristics of her genes. I was born this way, Potter. The day I got my... wings, I turned sixteen." The word sounded almost dirty from his lips.
"So it's irreversible," Harry stated, "unless fixed with Dark Magic." Malfoy nodded once. "And Dumbledore won't even try."
"I don't blame the man. The Malfoys have a history of experiments in Dark Magic gone wrong and resulting in insanity, and sometimes death." He looked directly at Harry and chuckled bitterly. "I might as well get used to them." Harry gave up with the gooey substance and cast Aqua on it. The stuff dissolved a bit and finally came off. Malfoy shuddered.
"Did that hurt?" Harry asked doubtfully. His injury had mostly recovered; it shouldn't hurt anymore.
"Are you finished yet?" Malfoy asked instead of answering.
Harry had just finished, but some strange impulse pressed him to lie. "Just about."
When Harry cast more water, Malfoy's body tensed and stayed still. "Is it cold?" Harry whispered, even though he already knew the answer. Unless Malfoy was coming up with new ways of expressing his feelings, this emotion wasn't anything Harry had seen before. He kept soaking the feathers and then rubbing them, his whole attention on Malfoy. Harry knew Malfoy wasn't pleased as he had been when he was combing him. Before, he had been blinking more often and breathing deeply in contentment. Now, he was almost never blinking and his breathing was shorter and more frequent. Harry wondered if it was a panic attack (Malfoy was afraid of water?) but that didn't stop him from continuing the exploration, until Malfoy jerked away from his grasp.
* * *
Staring at the embers left from the open fire held Christmas Day (Malfoy had especially enjoyed the roasted marshmallows) Harry pondered more about the incident in the Infirmary. It had been almost a month but as much as he had watched him intently and remembered every detail and thought about it all day, every day, Harry couldn't figure out what it all meant.
Malfoy was looking at the sunset. His eyelashes had turned orange, as they did with any colour of the light that reflected on them. His eyelids were half-way closed and his lips relaxed in a serene smile. It could be a trick of the light, but Harry was sure he could still see the remainder of the smile that had graced his face all day. Malfoy still tried to hide his smiles and for the most part he did (not from Harry, he couldn't) but today he had been more open to enjoying the moment with the rest of the people who had stayed at Hogwarts for the holidays. Perhaps he had never had a Christmas like this one. Malfoy showed no sign of missing his mother.
"Do you like Christmas?" Harry asked.
Malfoy turned to look at him a bit more seriously, and the sun fell on his side, casting shadows across his face.
"I've never liked it," he replied.
Malfoy averted his gaze to the fireplace. "I think it was the presents. I got too many of them, and too soon. I could never wish for one because I already had everything."
"I'm sure you didn't have a pet spider," Harry pointed out. Malfoy twisted his face in disgust.
"Eurgh, who'd want one?"
"I did once," Harry said. "Well, I didn't get a lot of presents for Christmas. Unless you count the toothpick and the old sock." Malfoy sniggered. That meant he was uncomfortable. "So instead I gave myself things. I didn't have much to work with in the cupboard where I slept. But I had spiders to spare, so I wished and begged myself for a pet spider. And wouldn't you know, when I woke up the next day, there she was. I had her for a couple of weeks, then my cousin found out and stepped on her." Malfoy furrowed his brow. It seemed like he was having an internal conflict and he didn't know whether to be even more disgusted or laugh at Harry.
"That's pretty pathetic," Malfoy said instead, and Harry knew he sympathised.
They kept telling each other their stories; how Lucius had never been home when it mattered, and how as funny as it was to talk about the Dursleys, they had screwed up Harry's childhood beyond repair. Then the waning moon was bright against the black of the sky and they had to return to the castle.
The week of Valentine's Day, Malfoy became quiet. After repeated attempts to make him talk, Harry gave up on the polite approach. It was the third day of Malfoy's self-confinement to his room, when Harry stormed into the Slytherin common room and into Malfoy's bedroom.
"What is going on?" Harry said with the most menacing tone he could muster. He filled his eyes with anger and pursed his lips. Suddenly, it wasn't much of an act anymore. All his thoughts, his worry and his confusion poured out. It felt almost real.
Malfoy was taken aback for a moment. It had definitely been a surprise for him to see Harry express feelings, even more such strong ones. He straightened his shirt, walked over to his trunk and took out a bundle of what looked like sealed envelopes.
"These are valentine letters," he spat. "I have over a hundred now."
"Wow, Malfoy, I can see how that would make someone miserable. There's only so much admiration a man can handle."
"Here, please read this one," Malfoy cut in quickly. Harry took the letter and read out loud.
"Dear Draco, I've fancied Milo Dimplecheek for two years now, but he won't show any signs of being interested. This Valentine's, please make him be mine.
Yours truly, Agatha Brooke.
"Dear Draco," Harry ventured and Malfoy gave him a look. "Why is this girl asking you to do this?"
"They are all asking me for things like that. They think I'm-" Malfoy said with growing annoyance. "They think I'm bloody Cupid." He was livid.
A hundred people had sent Cupid petitions. A hundred people thought Malfoy was Cupid. A hundred people... Harry couldn't control the giggle that exploded from inside.
"Get out!" Malfoy roared, and Harry didn't feel like laughing anymore. In fact, he felt like yelling back.
"It's hilarious, Malfoy. Why are you taking this so personally?"
Malfoy did something strange. He walked in front of Harry and grabbed the fabric of his robes where it fell over his shoulders. It felt like he was directing all his frustration to his knuckles, his hands tight in a fist. His eyes were focused intently on Harry's.
"You would never understand," he said. It was Harry who gave him a look this time. Malfoy pondered. "Well, maybe you would."
He let go of Harry and walked towards the long mirror. Most people in his place would wear a somewhat defeated stance. Malfoy's elegant poise hadn't deserted him even now.
"Look at me, Potter, really look at me," he said once he'd stopped in front of the mirror. "I used to get a dozen of those letters directed to me. Now, not one. They are all fools. Or are they? Can they be blamed for not wanting a half-human? My mother received the news badly. She doesn't want me to return to the Manor again."
Before Harry could state his opinion on that woman, Malfoy continued. "I don't care about that, I was planning on leaving that damned place as soon as possible. But that was before I grew these. Who's going to employ me? And even if I get a job that can satisfy my basic needs I'll be not only a freak but also poor. Who would ever want someone like that?" Here, he hesitated for the first time, as if this part was the actual reason for this whole affair. "Look at me, Potter. Who would ever want me?"
Harry was confused. He had never thought of this before. The idea of Malfoy ever being alone was impossible, and yet here was Malfoy, suggesting it. He walked over and stood behind him, looking over Malfoy's shoulder at his reflection in the mirror. Look at me, Potter, really look at me. Harry did. Malfoy's expression was as bold and daring as ever, his eyes piercing, his lips pursed. Who would ever want me? There he was being smart but doubting himself. And he was selfish and a bully, but he made mistakes because he was a person; not half-human, simply a person. And he was shameless and smug, and remained true to himself. And he was whiny and confident and different, completely different from everyone, in every way. And he was fearless but now feared being alone. And he wasn't alone, he had Harry, but he wasn't recognising that. Harry wanted him to. He drowned his nose in Malfoy's wing, touched the soft texture of him, breathed the scent of him, felt the warmth of him. And that was the stupidest question he had ever heard. And it needed to be reformulated, and in a whisper too, breath blown in Malfoy's ear, so he heard it well.
"Who could not want you?"
Malfoy swallowed with difficulty. Harry had been too mesmerised in his own thoughts to realise Malfoy's reactions before this. His whole body was tense, his wings immobile, but his breathing was full of life and came ragged and arrhythmic. He didn't understand it. All he knew was that making Malfoy react like he had never done before was exciting. It made Harry not want to stop. Made him feel like he was someplace else and the only thing left here was his instinctive self. The one that at that very moment was giving him ideas to do things that were wrong in any other context, but were the only way to go in this one. He put his arm around Malfoy's waist, placing his hand on the other boy's belly.
All of a sudden, he saw the fine hairs on the back of Malfoy's neck stand up, felt his wings pressed against his chest and Malfoy's body falling on to him. The next thing he knew Malfoy was attempting to escape Harry's arm, which wouldn't give up its embrace, forcing Malfoy to stay.
"You're not going anywhere," said Harry, and his voice didn't sound like him at all. He moved his other arm around Malfoy's upper body.
"Let go of me, Potter," he managed to say between gasps. Malfoy was really having trouble breathing now. The pressure of Harry's hands on his chest and stomach made the situation worse for him. Not only was he breathing heavily and fast but also developing a sort of quiver in the shoulders. It wasn't like he was in pain -or maybe it was. But it was more like he was in pleasant pain, if there was such a thing. So Harry didn't listen to him and pushed the side of his head against Malfoy's. That's when Malfoy stopped struggling and gave in to Harry's attacks.
Harry walked around Malfoy until he was looking at him. One of his hands never ceased its embrace around Malfoy's waist. The other hand he raised to Malfoy's cheek, slid to the back of his head and with it he held some of the white-blond hair in a fist. He pulled Malfoy gently towards himself, finding resistance at first, until Harry started rubbing on the small of his back, around the wings and over the backside of his shoulders. Then Malfoy started to relax, and leaned over Harry's body willingly. Harry was not prepared, though, for Malfoy giving up completely and wrapping his arms around Harry in one forceful movement. He pressed against Harry so strongly Harry thought his bones would crack. But he said nothing and continued holding Malfoy in the way Harry had never been held. It seemed like a life had passed before Malfoy backed away, enough to look into his eyes.
"Why are you doing this?" he whispered.
Harry was at a loss. Why? He was still trying to reconcile with what they were doing. He couldn't quite explain why yet.
"Is it because you pity me?" Malfoy pressed on, "Or because I'm a freak and you've found a match for that hideous scar? Is holding your worst enemy in your arms the only thing left to liven up Harry Potter's predictable life?" Malfoy was getting more agitated by the second. His eyes came out of focus and then he was whispering again. "That's it, isn't it? I'm the last chance to get a hold of yourself and find some meaning in your pathetic life. It's over, Potter. I won't take part in this anymore." And with that, he disentangled himself completely from Harry.
''And you think the reason you like me has nothing to do with the fact that I'm the only one left?" Harry regretted his words as soon as he said them.
Malfoy's eyes widened and he gave Harry the most disgusted face he had seen.
"Don't ever come close to me again," Malfoy spat dangerously, and left the room.
Harry was in a daze even after he was hauled out of the Slytherin common room by the massive Crabbe and Goyle.
As he walked towards Gryffindor Tower, Harry recognized the finality that had tainted Malfoy's last words. This did not look good at all. His head was throbbing madly out of confusion alone, but he needed to clear his mind as soon as possible.
Harry's favourite spot for thinking was the Prefect's bathroom. He had started sneaking in since the fourth year when Cedric first gave him the password, then continued doing so by means of Ron. Before, he had tried to be careful, but this year he hadn't given a damn and appeared there whenever he felt like it. He still tried to do it late at night or during school events (meal times and Quidditch matches) to avoid people who might ruin the peaceful atmosphere.
Bright pink coloured the warm water in his bath. Normally, Harry liked to be boiled alive in the tub; the prickling sensation on his body when it was trying to catch up to the water temperature was one of Harry's favourite feelings. It also helped that there was so much vapour around that it clouded his thoughts. Harry rather liked having a thoughtless mind. But today, he had to be able to think.
The whole issue rested on one sentence: Harry had no idea what had just happened. True, he had done strange things like holding Malfoy close to him, in a way he didn't know he could hold anyone. But Harry attributed it as one more desire that being with Malfoy awoke in him. They had done strange things before like having civilised conversations, and exchanging clothes the day they had a spontaneous sleep-over. They had shared the same bed that day and yet?
Today they had shared something much more involved than that. Harry could not figure out what is was, but the more instinctive part of him knew it was something huge, something he hadn't realised until now that he wanted. Needed.
Harry stepped out of his bath with wrinkled fingertips and the resolution of getting Malfoy back.
"Please, Hermione, you have to help me"
She sniffed in distaste. "And why do you think you're worthy of anything after the way you've treated all your friends?" she demanded.
"I'm not. And that's why you have to help me treat them the way they deserve." She looked out the window. "I want myself back," he surprised himself saying. She turned around and he saw her eyes glittery with tears.
"We all want you back, Harry," she said in a broken voice, and hugged him.
The next few weeks were all but easy on Harry. Hermione made a rigorous schedule in which Harry had allocated times to do different activities such as read Philosophy books, write essays on morals and even "help friends in need." He was doubtful that this would work. But as the days passed by, and the pressure of Malfoy's absence burrowed in him, Harry found himself keen on doing his homework the best that he could. It was a conversation with Neville, to his surprise, which effectively turned the screw.
"Harry, can I talk to you for just a bit? Are you busy?"
"Um... no." Harry closed his book and made room on his bed for Neville. "Come sit over here."
Neville did. He looked rather uncomfortable. It struck Harry as odd to see that he was nervous. Neville had had his confidence increase dramatically since last year, when he confronted the Death Eaters and got out alive.
"What you're doing is to trying to get back to normal, right?" Harry nodded. "Well, I thought maybe you were forgetting about something. Or rather... someone." Harry motioned for him to continue. "Harry, I lost my parents when I was very young, and I know you did too. What I'm trying to say, Harry, is that I didn't see the last of my loving relatives die. In front of my eyes."
Harry froze. Sirius Black was a topic everyone knew not to touch. Neville was taking a great risk at getting shut out by Harry just like Ginny had for suggesting he should visit Sirius' grave. Harry had thought it was the stupidest idea. Sirius was not there. He was lost behind a veil Harry could never visit again. Lupin had seen to it after Harry's attempt of running after Sirius. He looked the other way, fighting the urge to tell Neville to shut up.
"I can still see my parents, only they are not anything like they should be," Neville continued. "I have to see my mother's face, and imagine the pain she suffered, she suffers, every day." He sighed. "I wish I could say she doesn't remember what happened to her, or me. But she does. I know she looks at me and remembers me. But her body won't let her recognise it." His lower lip was trembling, but he refused to let any tears fall. "I still have to deal with that Harry, and it's hard, but I have to. You don't need to deal with it anymore. Just let him go."
Harry didn't want to listen. Every word Neville said stabbed his well-being. It seemed all the feelings he had not let himself have were all flowing through him now, and it became harder to breath. How could he have missed that all along, all those infinite days, it was all about Sirius? If he hadn't been a coward and had stood up to his sorrow, would he had spared his friends from the pain?
Because it wasn't just about Sirius. It was about having his parents murdered, being confined to a home where he wasn't wanted, being lied to by those whom he hated, and later those whom he trusted. Sirius was just the drop that spilled the cup. The one person who was family, who wanted Harry, who was supposed to take a fraction of responsibility on himself, and not go to a dangerous place against orders, just to get himself killed in the most stupid, careless way. Twelve bloody years in jail, a genius escape, saved from the Dementor's kiss, probably about to be given a second chance, and he could not wait a bit longer, he could not just stay damn put. Sirius had not only stolen from Harry his godfather, he had taken away Harry's last attempt at being happy.
"I know it's hard to trust again," Neville cut into his thoughts. "I know it feels like it won't be worth the risk. But if you were so sure, you would've given up trying." He got up and stood there, looking embarrassed. "I'm sorry for this, I'll go soon. But before I do, I want to tell you how I see it. In order to care, you can only go out there and do it. No-one is born knowing sympathy." He left.
The next day Harry made what was probably his first good decision in the year and spent time with his friends. It was hard to ask the questions that would trigger trivial conversations he had been avoiding, like exams or Quidditch. He had to force the words out of his mouth, and intentionally furrow his brow or nod or smile when it was expected. He found that most of the time it wasn't worth it, but every once in a while Ron would say a brilliant joke, or Hermione would make an impressive point in a discussion. Those moments were quickly becoming Harry's favourites. Sometimes he would encourage a conversation just to increase the odds of an exceptional moment. After a couple of months he couldn't say he was back to normal, he doubted he would ever be. But even if his effort was conscious, he knew it was sincere, and he felt his friends did too. He got back into the habit of socialising, and in general terms, caring. But in the back of his mind he was very aware of how it all started, and his reason to keep going.
Malfoy had stopped stealing glances at Harry after the first month, and during the second had grown gradually sulky. By the looks of it, Malfoy thought Harry had forgotten. But he hadn't forgotten. He was just waiting for an opportunity. Malfoy hanging around in Greenhouse Five presented itself as a perfect one at that.
"Hey, Malfoy," Harry said lamely. He was going to have to be smarter if he wanted this to work.
Malfoy's surprised glance was followed by a suspicious one. At the same time he closed his fist quickly to hide whatever he had been staring at before Harry interrupted him. He took a breath to reply, but then he changed his mind and released the air in his lungs with resignation. He deliberately turned his wings to Harry, and crossed his arms in front of him.
Harry took that as an invitation -he had to try and stay optimistic- and circled Malfoy until he was looking directly at him. Before Malfoy turned around again, he started talking.
"I've read Plato and wrote about the search of happiness and done good deeds. It took me a lot longer than it should have, but I figured out that I'm messed up and currently trying to deal with it." Malfoy was looking away, but Harry knew he was listening. "There's not much good left in me, I wish I had more to offer." At this, Malfoy finally looked up at him. "I'm sorry, Draco. For being selfish and wanting what I probably can't have." Harry hesitated, but he knew he only had one chance, so he went for it. "Even though I don't deserve it, and you've said you don't like it, I still have to know for sure." He paused. "I want you. I can't imagine not ever wanting you." Draco sucked in air like if it was in short supply. "And it's not because I'm looking for an amusement, or because I have a hideous scar. It's because I know your feelings better than yourself, because you are the essence of contradiction, and especially because you make insufferable whining endearing, and because those monstrous wings of yours make you look like an angel." Harry's heart was at full speed. "And because you make me say the cheesiest things I've ever heard."
Draco laughed nervously at this, as if he had caught on to the first reason for releasing some of the tension between them. He looked away, but this time it was because he didn't want Harry to see him smile so inevitably. Harry made a point of noticing. Draco actually blushed, and then opened his fisted hand. It was the white feather Harry had given him the first day. Harry smiled genuinely.
"I'm going to make your life hell, you know?" Draco finally said in a playful tone. Harry nodded.
"I'm counting on it." He grabbed Draco in his arms without consent, and kissed him deeply. After a second, to Harry's delight, Draco became very agreeable.
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