Content warning: you should consider all the triggers warned.
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It started with a boy.
Or maybe it started with a boy and a girl.
Not the same boy. That would be too easy. The first boy, he was the quiet sort. Underestimated. More powerful than people ever thought, but self-effacing until that year – that horrible year – when he learned how to lead. He had to, you see. Everyone else was too afraid and it turns out that one of the side effects of being always afraid he was doing it wrong or not good enough was that he wasn't afraid of real monsters. He'd already imagined the very worst things that could happen so many times that, when they finally did, a part of him thought, "Is that all you have? I can handle that."
The second boy hadn't had the sense to be afraid of anything until it was too late.
Worry about our first boy, Neville, watching the world fete a trio of his schoolmates who weren't there for the worst of it. They'd gone off on a treasure hunt, of all abused things, and come back to glory and fame. They hadn't patched up broken children, or taken beatings, or gotten up day after day after day as a place of refuge became a hell. Resentment can curdle even the best of hearts and once a man – because it's wrong to call him a boy – has stood up and become the one people follow, once he's earned that through blood and tears and toil, you can't expect him to fade gracefully back into the crowd. That's not how people work.
Worry, also, about the second boy. Draco Malfoy by name. Coward. Bully. A boy who woke to manhood in a world where it was too late for him to ever be forgiven.
And, if you are very clever, if you are wise in the ways of stories, worry about the girl too. Because she thinks she knows them both.
. . . . . . . . . .
Class felt pointless. Draco Malfoy stabbed his knife – handed out at the beginning of class and checked carefully upon return - as if he needed a blade to hurt people, as if he would hurt people ever again - into the heart of his pomegranate and pried the thing open. Red oozed out, coating blade and fingers and wooden board.
"Careful," Hermione Granger said. She muttered a charm to contain the juice as he stood, staring at it, frozen just a second too long.
"Sorry," he muttered. He began to pry out seeds, plunking them one at a time into the mortar. One. Two. Three.
"It would help," she said with a throat so tight it was a wonder words could escape it. She paused, clenched her jaw, and started again. "It would help if you paid attention."
"I am," he said. He was good at potions, and he could make this particular one – a tonic for magical wounds – in his sleep. He almost had, and more than once. The red of the juice had, for a moment, thrown him back. That was all.
The next seed wanted to cling to the pith and he set his knife down and used his fingers to work at prying it out. Even a speck of the white flesh that held the seeds together and the potion didn't work. Not that you could tell when you brewed it. No. You only found that out when you gave it to someone and nothing happened. Their wound didn't knit up. Their blood didn't stop flowing. They died in your arms even as they drank the medicine that had been supposed to heal them. That you had made, in secret at night, specifically to heal them. He'd learned to turn every seed between his fingers and feel them. Fingers knew things eyes did not.
"Sure," she said. "You're careful." The contempt was loud enough other students looked up from their own, pointless work. Slughorn, ponderous and usually inattentive, lowered the paper he was reading and peered at the pair of them over its edge.
Hermione Granger was not back at Hogwarts as part of a program designed to rehabilitate youthful offenders. She was not here in lieu of prison time, and so her wand hung from her waist, proof she was still trusted. Draco's eyes darted first to that stick of wood, then to the way her lip curled.
He dropped his seed in with the rest, then put his red, stained hands on her robe and pushed her as hard as he could. She stumbled back, shocked, and Slughorn cleared his throat, ready to pronounce another detention Draco would serve. It wouldn't involve whips, so what did he care?
Then Hermione shoved him back. She was stronger than he would have expected, and meaner too. She pulled a wand on him and he hoped – hoped in a way he hadn't dared to hope for anything in years, ever since (don't think about that) – she'd just do it.
"Both of you," Slughorn said in a heated rush before she could, "Go see McGonagall." When neither of them moved, he added, "Now," with enough emphasis Hermione lowered her wand and spun on her heel, taking off for the door.
"I'll clean it up," Neville said quietly from the next workstation.
Draco glanced at the mortar. Six perfect seeds. It would have made a good tonic.
Then he followed Hermione Granger, beloved savior, out of the room, down the hall, and up the moving stairs to the office of the headmistress.
. . . . . . . . . .
Darkness. Darkness. Whistle.
You hear the sound when the lash hits before you feel it. Fire. The laughter. You aren't holding up your weight anymore. The manacles dig into your wrists because your weight (less than it was, you aren't that chubby boy anymore) -
Whistle. Fire. Laughter.
Your weight drags you down. You focus on that. The feel of the metal on your skin. There's a sharp ridge and, in all the burning hell of pain, you can put your mind on that one thing, that flaw in the metalwork cutting into you.
You're going to scar. Not from the –
Darkness. Whistle. Strike. You're screaming now. You can hear the sound and feel the hoarseness in your throat but you've perfected the art of not being there. They won't kill you. They won't even hurt you past what's easy to repair. You aren't in any real danger, not like some of the others. It's why you step in. Call attention to yourself. Antagonize them. They don't dare hurt you that much. Not a pureblood.
You stopped being afraid a long time ago. But you're going to keep these scars, the ones on your wrists. You decided that the first time Filch locked the manacles around you. His spittle hit you in the eye as he laughed. As he laughed. As he -
Whistle. Fire. Silence.
Someone unhooks you and the floor is there, on your cheek. Stone. Hard. Cold. Welcoming. A foot kicks you and you curl around that new pain. Different. Different is worse. Ruptured organs are easy to heal. A shredded back is easy to heal. You'll be fine. Just another day.
Door shuts. Cold. Stone against your face. You have to get up. Another minute and you will. Another minute. Door opens.
Hands under your head. Glass at your mouth. Pomegranates. Stuff of life. And that's when you start to cry. Juice running down your mouth, running out. Out of time. Out of hope. Hard to swallow. Throat raw. "Just drink it." Perfect upper-class vowels. The kind your grandmother wishes you had. They were heroes. Defied the Dark Lord. Tortured into insanity. You're very proud to be their son. Always wished you were that good. That good. That good.
"For fuck's sake, Neville, swallow before they come back."
Swallow. The throat remembers. Potion slides down, does the work. Hand on your face, long fingers. A thumb wipes harshly at the line of water down your cheek. Skin knits back together. Throat heals. Bit by bit magic makes you whole. Limits are less when a glass of potion can fix what should take a month in hospital to make right. Magic is so wonderful. You love magic.
Your savior looks at you, white-blond hair falling across a face too pointed to ever be handsome. So eminently fuckable, though. Wouldn't that put a stick in their gears? Take your pureblood semen, so good for making new little purebloods, and dump it all into Draco Malfoy's arse.
"You fixed?" he asks. He stands up, brushes his long fingers over his trousers.
Brain stammer. Has to be, that you're looking at Draco Malfoy and thinking you want him. When people escape death, they want to fuck. It's a thing. Survival equals lust, so your brain latched on to the person handing you your cure.
"As good as new," you say. You stand up. "Shirt's fucked, though." It is. It's shredded. You're used to that.
Draco Malfoy shrugs, thin shoulders moving under his own robes. Black. Hard to see in the halls at night, plus robes mean you're in dress code and anonymous from behind. School clothes as camouflage.
You hate the world.
Where the fuck is Harry?
"We'll go shopping when it's over," Malfoy says. "Buy all the shirts in Diagon Alley."
"Yeah," you say. You pull at the cuffs of your shirt, yanking them down over the rings of white, of red, of scars in every stage of healing. Bracelets. Padma used to wear cascading gold bracelets. Dozens of them. They made sounds as she walked. She doesn't wear them anymore. You all glide, ghosts in your silences.
"Sure," you say. "When it's over."
It'll never be over.
. . . . . . . . . .
"The war is over." McGonagall's lips pinched around the words as she fastened her glare onto first Hermione and then Draco. He felt his eyebrows slide up into a sneer so automatic it's almost as much a reflex as breathing. That sort of expression kept the Carrows at bay. I'm better than you, it said, and they believed it so it worked. Didn't keep him from getting punished, but it kept their touch reasonably light. His father might have been in disgrace during that year they stalked the halls of Hogwarts, looking to mete out pain, but the wheel of fortune turned, and the Dark Lord was flighty. Better safe than sorry. Better not to hurt the son of a core supporter too much, especially not the boy who'd breached the walls of Hogwarts and let the Death Eaters in.
If he looked down, he'd see blood stains on the stones of this office. Some things hadn't come clean. Some things never would. He kept his eyes on the Headmistress and tried not to think of how the castle must want to keep these mementos of the dead.
Hogwarts could be a difficult building when it chose.
"Mr. Malfoy, are you listening to me?"
He hadn't been. He'd been lost, spiraling down into bodies he'd helped, bodies he hadn't, bodies that had soaked down into the very grout and glue of the castle, never to be wholly given up. "Headmistress?" he asked as politely as he could. Tell her his mind had been wandering and she might order –
No. Not Minerva McGonagall.
"I'm sorry," he said. "Memories." He let the word trail off and she nodded. She had her own set of war horrors inside her head, he was sure. They all did.
"I don't think you're being reasonable," Hermione Granger said. He had a feeling she was saying it again. "Or fair. He attacks me and your answer is to make me spend more time with him?"
Shite. What had he missed?
"I suspect you gave as good as you got," McGonagall said. "You've never been an especially shy child, Miss Granger."
"My point," that not very shy child – woman, really – said in a voice so shrill it grated against his ears, "is that -."
"Or you could go home," Minerva McGonagall said gently.
Granger stopped mid-sentence.
"You are not required to be here," McGonagall said. "Both Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley accepted employment. You do not need to sit your N.E.W.T.s, and if you desire to do so, I would be happy to let you come back in the spring and take the exams with the rest of the returning students."
"But I don't want to leave," Granger said in a small voice. She seemed, suddenly, half the size she had been. Draco glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. Her shoulders slouched forward, curling downward. She'd sucked her in cheeks and become a haunted thing. Even her hair had deflated. "I have nowhere else to go."
"Don't be ridiculous." No one could conjure a no-nonsense British attitude like McGonagall. "You can stay with the Weasleys, or in Mr. Potter's townhouse, or get a job and support yourself in a flat of your own. You have many, many options, but if you wish to stay here, you will abide by the rules."
That would be a first. Draco had watched Potter with first resentment, then jealousy, then fear. And if you watched Potter, you watched Granger. Neither of them had ever shown any respect for rules. Perhaps if you were breaking rules in order to defeat a monster, you deserved to be shown a little leeway. By the time he'd slunk to the wrong side of authority, the rule-makers had all been devils and he'd been smart enough not to get caught out late, in the wrong place, talking to the wrong people. The Carrows didn't do leeway.
"So, we are decided," Headmistress McGonagall said into the silence. "Miss Granger, you and Mr. Malfoy will work together in the evenings to restock the infirmary's supply of potions and, assuming the work is satisfactory, I will add a mark of commendation to your Potion N.E.W.T.s."
Draco had never heard of such a thing. He smiled gamely, as though it mattered. No one was ever going to hire him for any job and, fortunately, he wasn't ever going to need them to. Rich. Richer than Croesus. Richer than any hundred wizards had any right to be. Rich enough to never need to do anything quite as vulgar as get a job in order to let some miserable little flat.
Not that any landlady would let him across her mantle.
"That sounds -."
"Bloody insane." Granger didn't let him finish. "Why would you trust any potion he made?"
"Or you may pack your things."
"See you in the Potions lab, then," Draco said when she didn't answer. He pulled the same drawl he'd used when talking to half-bloods in front of the Carrows. Disgusted. A little amused. Ready to slap down any pretension. They'd lapped it up. It made most sane people hate him. Granger, he was pleased to note, was sane. Her eyes flashed and her jaw tensed.
"You haven't changed," she said. She picked up her bag and stomped to the door, getting in one more jab before she exited. "And you never will."
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A/N – I intend for this to be eventual dramione, but it may be a while. I work sans plan or outline, so I can't tell you when we'll get there.
The title of this story is taken from the Emily Dickinson poem, [We grow accustomed to the Dark-].
Thank you to sulisaints, slytherinxbadxgirl, and sm for their alpha reading skills!