Disclaimer: Characters, settings, themes, etc. from the Harry Potter universe are property of J.K Rowling. I make no profit from the writing or sharing of this story.
Thank you to the wonderful betas Sonomia and oblivionbaby for taking the time to look over this story.
He wasn't sure why he left the castle. There was too much snow and the wind nipped at his cheeks like angry pixies, but he gripped his cloak tighter about his shoulders and kept walking.
For months, he'd walked from the front doors to the lake—silence his only companion. For months, he'd felt the continual ache in his chest that something wasn't right; something was missing. After the war, Draco was more alone than he ever imagined. Lucius was sentenced to life in Azkaban, and Narcissa was on permanent house arrest at the Manor—a sentence that he was both grateful for and incredibly afraid of. Every time he visited home, the gaunt look in Narcissa's eyes deepened, and he wondered when she would simply dissolve into the shadows, become something less than alive.
He shuddered against the wind. A warming charm would have been lovely, but his wand was restricted to classroom-use only, and so he continued with blue lips and a light stutter to his breathing when the gusts grew too strong.
Thick, wet snow filled in his footsteps as he passed, leaving little trace that someone had dared go outside at all. When he turned around, staring up at the castle he'd once treasured, all he felt was revulsion and regret. They burbled low in his stomach, acid coming to the surface, causing him to vomit at his feet. In the pale of the night, it looked black, and this comforted him. Anything coming from him should be black; he was a vile thing, to be sure.
Wiping the bitter taste from his chin, Draco swallowed thickly and trudged on. The lake was peaceful. It would be a perfectly good resting place for a wizard no one cared about. As he neared the edge, his feet slowed. It seemed the snow here was thicker, rougher. He grimaced and tried to lift a foot, his toes frozen and painful as they crashed against the top of his boot, but he did it again—and again, and again.
When his toes hung neatly over the edge, resting—just so—before dipping into an open section of water, Draco heard a soft snort. Thinking someone had followed him, come to berate him or belittle him, Draco lifted his foot to move forward but—there it was again.
The snort was louder, more insistent. From across the lake, something caught his attention, and he wobbled; his unsteady legs buckled and just as he would have crashed face-first into the lake, he made out the image of a stag running straight at him, butting his shoulder with its own.
Draco landed on his bum. A bit dazed, he looked around and saw nothing. He scrambled in the snow and got to his feet, calling out, "Hello?" in a hoarse voice, breathing quickly.
No one answered. Rising to his feet, Draco saw the white tail of the stag darting into the forest, and he shook himself, thinking it all a dream. His steps were uneven, his feet half-frozen and his breathing labored, so when he snuck back through the door to the eighth-year dormitory, Draco was shocked to see someone still sitting by the fire.
"You've got to be freezing," is all he heard before his cloak was dragged off his shoulders and a mug of hot cocoa shoved into his hands.
A very bewildered Draco stood there, the too-warm ceramic starting to burn, but his mind remained empty—blessedly empty.
"Sit down before you fall down, Malfoy."
Draco stumbled forward, feet moving lazily, awkwardly. When he fell onto the nearest couch, it was a shock to his system to watch Harry Potter sit right beside him.
Jaw working slowly, Draco managed to mumble, "W-what are you doing?"
Harry stopped his jiggling knee, looked over to Draco from where he'd been staring at the large tree with its glowing lights and smiled. "You looked thirsty."
He didn't miss the disbelief on Draco's face. The slack jaw and scrunched brows were enough even for Harry to see that Draco needed something more than that.
Harry tilted his head to the side just so, his words soft. "You looked like you needed it."
Draco looked down into the mug as if seeing its contents for the first time and realized that he hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. Harry's goofy smile radiated across the couch over the rim as Draco lifted the cocoa for a sip. It was perfect.
"I had one of the house elves bring some up earlier," he said, gesturing to his own cup, forgotten on a nearby table.
Draco acknowledged Harry with a small noise at the back of his throat, unwilling to look him in the eye yet. He continued sipping his cocoa until the cold, hollow feeling in his chest eased. Perhaps he was simply hungry, he mused.
Harry seemed to find him delightful, and began chuckling to himself.
"Oh, nothing," Harry said dismissively.
Draco scowled. "Potter."
That cheeky grin was back, and Draco wished again that his wand worked outside of the classroom. "You just looked happy. I don't usually see you happy 's'all." Harry shrugged, but the smile remained.
"Well I'm not." Draco slouched further into the couch, trying to slink away from the conversation.
The mop of black hair shifted atop Harry's head, and he swiped it out of one eye absently. Draco gritted his teeth. "I'm sorry, Draco."
"What the fuck do you have to be sorry about, Potter?" Draco jerked forward, fingers gripping the mug tightly, his already pale fingers bloodless against the black glaze.
Harry sensed Draco's anger, but tried to remain calm. "You were dealt a shit hand—" It was Draco's turn to laugh, but Harry held up an open palm to stop him. "We both were. That doesn't make yours any less shitty than mine."
That seemed to mollify Draco somewhat, and he slumped back against the cushion, empty cup resting against his thigh.
"More?" Harry asked, gesturing to the cup.
Draco considered the offer, then nodded. "I suppose."
As Harry got up to grab the pot, Draco thought about the whole bizarre situation.
"Why were you here tonight, waiting for me, Potter?"
Harry concentrated on pouring the cocoa for first Draco, then himself. When he put the pot back on its cloth coaster, he turned back to Draco.
"I've seen you leaving the dorm at night. I've watched you do it for weeks now."
Draco rolled his eyes. "Stalking me again, Potter?"
At this, Harry let out a great big belly laugh. "Definitely not. Hermione would have my hide if I was." Draco thought that over as Harry took a slow sip of his cocoa. "I don't think you need watching, Draco. I just thought you might need a friend."
That was not what Draco had been expecting. Rather than the roundabout accusations that he'd been up to something or plotting his next Death Eater gathering, Harry Potter thought he needed a friend?
"So why aren't you cozy at home with Weasley and Granger? I'd have thought by now you'd be surrounded by gingers."
The words were meant to be light-hearted, somewhat of a bridge between them, but Harry's face fell, and Draco wasn't sure what he'd done.
"Oh," was all Harry said for a moment, dipping his finger in his cocoa before sucking on it, licking away the foam that lingered there. Draco remained silent. "It's the first Christmas without Fred." Harry continued looking into his cup, as if this should be enough of an explanation. When he managed to glance at Draco, he must have seen the confusion in his eyes. "Molly hasn't been handling it well. She's…" His hand skated up to the back of his neck, scratching there before running through the hair at the nape of his neck. "She's been knitting our sweaters, and when she went to start George's, she put an F on it without realizing it. By the time Arthur found her, she'd torn it apart and had been crying over a ball of yarn for half a day." The corner of Harry's mouth pulled to the side, as if he was uncomfortable, and he shifted, tucking one leg beneath him.
"That's horrid, Harry. I-I don't know what else to say."
Harry nodded. "Thanks, Draco. It's just been really hard on everyone. I thought the family needed time to themselves."
Draco narrowed his eyes. "Aren't you family?"
Harry smiled, and it was as if the tree glowed a bit stronger for the warmth in the room. "They're family to me, yeah, but it's not the same."
Draco made another noncommittal noise, sipping at his cocoa. "So do you have plans for the holiday, then?"
"I was hoping maybe we could go flying—" Harry's eyes were focused on Draco, the green light and bright in the flicker of the tree. "—maybe play a few games of wizard's chess?"
The hopeful smile on Harry's face was shy and just a bit eager.
"Sure." Draco didn't know what else to say, as his plans had already been ruined.
"Brilliant," Harry whispered into the mug of cocoa he held closely in his right hand, the other tucking a piece of worn parchment back into his pocket from where it peeked out. Draco noticed this, raised a brow in question, but shrugged it off as Harry being disorganized and quirky as usual.
Harry leaned forward, tugging at the pot of cocoa and pouring them another mug before setting up the chess board. Draco instantly chose black, and Harry went for white, but the next game—the next game, they would switch.
"This Christmas is going to be great, Draco. You'll see." He ignored the snort coming from beside him as he made his first move. "Pawn to D4."