Draco is sixteen when he takes the Mark. He does not want to, but of course, who's asking?

It is all about Kill Albus Dumbledore, or she will die, and Crucio, and Can you do it, Draco?

No, he wants to say. I can't. I'm not strong enough. Draco is not brave enough to speak the words.

But he tries. He tries to save his life and his mother's — he cannot be sorry for that.

But sorry is not the same thing as regret. They are two different things indeed.

⁂⁂⁂

Draco is eighteen when he returns to Hogwarts to complete his education.

Just this year and no more, he thinks. Then, he can hightail out of the United Kingdom. His past might not matter on a different continent. Across an ocean, perhaps — the United States? Across that ocean, who'd care?

The land of the free and the home of the brave, muses Draco. I am neither. Maybe I will be.

All he needs are his N.E.W.T.'s. He can endure it for one year. He can endure the stares, the sneers, the whispers of Death Eater, the site of the destruction he set into motion, for one more year.

There is nothing left for him here. The Ministry was hard on all Marked people. His mother and his father are in Azkaban. None of his friends have returned; maybe it is for the best. Draco had been a minor at the time he'd been Marked, and he had acted under duress (they had not done the same for his mother, who had also acted under duress — Draco pretends he is grateful) so he got off easy with a few weeks of Azkaban and a month of community service.

It is over and done with. Everything has been settled. Nothing is waiting for him here. There is no future for Draco in this post-war world.

That's fine with him, because in this world — a world where his name is known — he does not intend to stay.

One more year, he reminds himself. There is nothing waiting for you here.

⁂⁂⁂

Potter throws a wrench into his plans, as usual.

Slughorn puts the Savior with the Death Eater, maybe in hopes of reforming him. Draco does not need their attempts. There is nothing waiting for him here.

They don't speak to each other aside from simple instructions. What is there to say?

Hey, sorry for that time I stamped on your nose and left you on the Hogwarts Express after you eavesdropped on my conversation.

Or maybe, Hey, I know we've literally hated each other for years but now that the war's over we can just be friends now, right?

Draco cannot even sigh at himself. He does not tell himself he is being ridiculous — he already knows. He knows he is being ridiculous because he likes it, the way Potter's hair sticks up endearingly, the way his green eyes and glasses look perched on that nose...

Stupid hormones, Draco thinks, and this time sighs aloud.

"What?" asks Potter. Draco is so absorbed in stirring the potion that he forgets he's there sometimes.

"Nothing," says Draco. "Just mince those roots for me."

Potter scowls. "Oh yes, thank you so much for bothering to mince the roots while I do the complex work of stirring until it turns purple, Potter, you have it so easy..."

Draco scowls, too. Then he wonders what he's doing. Is he conversing with Potter?

He sighs at himself.

"And what is it with you and sighing?" Potter wonders.

Draco almost sighs in response, then catches himself. He goes back to stirring the potion. Potter is staring at him in a curious manner.

Draco says nothing, keeps telling himself, He's doing it on purpose, stop rising to the bait...

Then he can simply bear it no longer. The staring is getting infuriating.

"What, Potter? Are you just going to stand there looking like an idiot?" Draco snaps finally. Potter looks at him with a stricken expression.

"Just stir the damn potion —"

"— I would, if you'd stop gawping like that —"

"Like what?" sneers Potter. Sneers are more Draco's style; it's odd to see it on Potter, and it does not suit him at all.

Apparently his conversation skills are so far gone that his brain-to-mouth filter is also very far gone.

"What?"

"What?" asks Draco in return.

"You just said sneers don't suit me —"
"Oh, dear Merlin, how far gone am I?" mutters Draco under his breath. "What happened to my filter?"

"Gone, just like your relevancy," Potter quips.

"I was not asking you, was I?"

"Then who were you asking?"

Myself, Draco thinks, but then decides not to say that — thankfully, his mouth complies.

"Merlin, obviously," he says, then immediately feels like an idiot.

Potter laughs. "Right."

Draco almost laughs, too, but then he realizes that none of this can last; there is nothing waiting for him here, and there is no future here for him.

"Ha, ha," Draco replies halfheartedly.

⁂⁂⁂

He reaches into the cupboard and pulls out a vial labeled Dragon's Blood; Draco turns to Potter, and says: "Is it that hard?"

Potter does not reply — instead he's staring at Draco's left forearm, where the Mark is. He realizes what is going on and hastily pulls back his sleeve.

"Get to work, Potter," he says quickly and turns to the cauldron at their work station. He and Potter work silently for a few minutes.

"...Do you regret it?" asks Potter after a long pause.

I regret everything. Draco is not brave enough to say the words — he is a Slytherin, after all, and they are not brave.

Instead he sighs and looks away.

"Do you?" Potter repeats.

But Draco is not brave enough to say the words.

⁂⁂⁂

The land of the free and the home of the brave repeats like a mantra in Draco's head the entire day. It is just before Christmas break, and Draco has no one to celebrate with.

It's fine, he tells himself, soon enough you'll be in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Draco yearns for the day when he will not have to hide.

Merry Christmas, Death Eater scum! reads the note atop the desk in his dormitory. He doesn't know who put it there. Draco rooms alone, because no one would share with the Death Eater, right? Now that your master is gone, who'll you murder for the holidays?

Draco Vanishes the note. There is no point in keeping it. He never keeps any notes. They are bitter reminders of what he has done, and bitter reminders of what he will never be.

I am not a murderer, Draco points out to himself.

But you almost were, the voice in his head says, and that counts for something.

Today is a bad day. Today, Draco allows himself to sink to the floor and cry.

⁂⁂⁂

There's a lull today in Slughorn's class. Today is one of the practical lessons, reserved for the day before break because potions generally take longer than one class period.

Draco takes notes absently, and occasionally doodles in the margins of his parchment. He'll have to recopy his notes later — he never doodles in his notes, so this rough draft will be discarded later.

Nothing waiting here is mostly what he writes in fancy curlicues, telling himself again and again.

Nothing waiting here.

Recopy later is scrawled in the upper right-hand corner as a reminder.

Potter peers at Draco's notes, whispering, "What did he just say?"

He looks curiously at the writing on Draco's paper.

Draco glares at him. "Maybe try listening for a change, Potter."

Potter frowns. "What are you writing?"

"None of your business."

Evidently Potter is under the impression that everything is his business — and of course he would be, because the Golden Trio is very, very nosy. Draco cannot blame him.

"I know it comes as a shock, Golden Boy, but there are other people in this class you could get notes from. Especially your friend Granger."

Potter's frown goes deeper.

"You still haven't answered me," he says.

Draco says nothing. Potter turns away, his disappointment clear.

He doesn't understand it, but for some odd reason, Draco's disappointed, too.

⁂⁂⁂

Christmas break passes uneventfully. Nothing happens because everyone is at home with their parents or friends and family. Everyone has some connection or the other — everyone except Draco.

He copies down his notes. Doodles more on the piece of parchment with the first draft. Burns it.

Draco thinks of his mother, and his father, and Pansy and Blaise and Gregory and Vincent —

"I'm sorry," he whispers to no one at all in his room. Not a sound leaves the walls of his room, but it feels like he can be heard anyway. It's comforting, and nothing is really comforting in this place anymore. Draco decides he likes it.

He takes out an empty journal. He'd gotten it from Pansy on his fifteenth birthday, and had never seen reason to use it, but he didn't throw it away — Draco did not simply throw away gifts, because it is a matter of principle.

Thoughts, he titles the first page, and flips to the next one.
He writes, I'm sorry.

⁂⁂⁂

Potter asks him everyday.

"Do you regret it?"

Draco answers in his thought journal.

⁂⁂⁂

The note this time says, How many human beings did you murder? Do you even regret it?

Draco is reminded of Potter. Do you regret it? he asks, every day.

Draco cannot give the answer to the person who writes the notes. This person is not Potter, Draco can tell by the handwriting. He wants to be able to say something. He cannot, of course, because none of his apologies will leave this room.

Still he whispers to the walls, "I regret everything," as if they can hear him and relay his messages on.

⁂⁂⁂

"Do you regret it?"

"I — yeah," Draco stammers, surprising himself. "Every day. I regret — I regret everything."

Draco looks down. He doesn't want to see the expression on Potter's face.

He doesn't know why he says it. Maybe because he had told the walls last night? Maybe because he wants to say something, because he wants to answer the question that has been nagging at his mind for the better part of a year and perhaps it is because he has been telling himself the answer to that question for so long that he might as well just tell someone else.

Potter simply says, "Okay."

It is an odd comfort. Nothing is really comforting in this place anymore — Draco decides he likes it.

⁂⁂⁂

For some reason after this Potter decides he wants to talk to Draco. A lot.

"How's it going?" he asks.

"Fine," lies Draco.

"You alright?"

"Fine," lies Draco.

Nothing is waiting for you here, he reminds himself.

"I'm sorry," says Potter out of the blue one day.

Draco turns to look at him so fast he thinks he might give himself whiplash.

"What?"

"I'm sorry," repeats Potter. "For almost killing you that time in sixth year." Draco almost snorts at this. That scene left nothing but scars, and what do scars matter to Draco? The Golden Boy does not need to be apologizing to the Death Eater.

"I think my collective list of crap I've done is more weighted," Draco replies. "You don't need to apologize — I did more to you —"

"Shut up with that nonsense," Potter cuts in. "We both did terrible things to each other, and well — I guess we've owned up to it, so —" He puts out a hand.

Draco actually snorts this time, but he takes the hand.

"What even," he mutters to himself.

The note tomorrow morning says, Hoping the Savior will save your reputation, Death Eater? Don't get your hopes up.

"I wasn't," Draco clarifies to the walls. They remain stoic, but he thinks they might understand.

⁂⁂⁂

Potter introduces him to Granger and Weasley.

"Hello," he says awkwardly. He flushes. What is going on with him? "I don't need to — I mean, I can leave —" Draco trips over the words.

Granger suddenly glares at him fiercely.

"Not a chance, Malfoy," she says, and makes room for him.

Coming from the girl he'd once called Mudblood and the girl who'd once punched him in the face, it is an odd thing. Draco accepts it. He sits. Potter beams. Weasley looks marginally unhappy yet not as glowering as he normally is.

They say nothing for a while, and then Potter says: "What do you plan to do after you graduate?" A filler, Draco recognizes, but he takes it.
"Get the hell out of this place," he says immediately. The Trio looks surprised.

"Why?" asks Weasley.

Draco feels awkward saying it, but, well, what else is there to say? Is he going to lie and say he is not leaving, that he is not planning to hightail it out of the UK first chance he gets? No, that is simply not the way Draco works.

"Who's going to hire me?" says Draco, and tries to keep the bitterness out of his words. "No one — not in Europe, at least."

"But — surely you could get hired with potions, you're really good!" exclaims Potter.

"What's it to you?" asks Draco. "Put simply, no one is willing to risk a Death Eater in their establishment, and people barely tolerate me here studying as it is. I need to put distance between —"

"Can it with your nonsense," Potter scowls. Draco slumps in his seat and sighs.

"What about you?"

"Auror," Potter answers. Weasley chimes in with the same answer.

"That's nice," says Draco, somewhat awkwardly.

"Something at the Ministry," muses Granger. "Well, I'm not sure, there's so much I'd like to do —"

"In five years you'll probably be Minister of Magic," says Draco. "Three, maybe. Don't sugarcoat it."

Granger blushes. "Not Minister," she says humbly, "why me when there are so many others —"

Weasley sighs. "You are the best out of all the others," he says. "Make like Malfoy and don't sugarcoat it." He looks almost surprised by the words.

Draco is surprised, too.

"But back to you, Draco" — Draco is surprised at hearing his first name out of Potter's mouth — "why are you planning to leave?"

"I already told you...Harry," says Draco, testing the name on his mouth. "There's nothing for me here —"

Potter — Harry — cuts him off with a kiss to the mouth. His lips are soft, he thinks nonsensically.

Draco is so thoroughly surprised he cannot respond.

Granger and Weasley sigh. "Smooth, aren't you, Harry," bemoans Weasley.

Harry pulls away quickly. People are staring. He flushes a bright red. "Sorry if that was too forward, uh, but, well, I'm waiting. I'm here."

"Shut up and kiss me again," Draco snaps when his capability to speak has returned, and this time it is him who leans in.

a/n: i surprise myself sometimes with long one-shots and drarry flangst