DISCLAIMER: Warning ! I make no claim to any property of J.K Rowling's, and am in no way profiting by this. I do offer her my sincerest thanks for allowing us this garden of the mind in which we play. Further Warning! This story...and likely any I ever write..are dominated by gay themes and characters. That's how it is, if this in any way makes you uncomfortable...do not read further.

Dignity...by Samayel

The new year hadn't been good to Draco Malfoy. In fact, it had been downright vicious. Harry watched the dejected looking blond walk into the Great Hall with his shoulders slumped, and waited for the usual catcalls and ridiculing to begin.

Ron Weasley was first as always; sometimes Ron was up half the night thinking of the perfect insult for each new day.

"AHH! Thank Merlin! Hogwarts' very own wand polishing service is finally here. I was afraid the class might start to suffer from the 'horn'!"

Malfoy didn't respond. He just slouched his way to the distant end of the Slytherin table, alone, and disconsolately tried to tuck into his breakfast. By the way he picked at his food, it was obvious that he hadn't much appetite.

Malfoy had fallen from grace at the start of the year. He'd enjoyed a discreet reputation as an easy lay for almost two years. Despite his unapproachable demeanor and snide comments, it turned out that he'd been gay, and apparently quite rapacious in his sexual appetites. It was Draco's misfortune to have been caught during one of his trysts, by Filch, no less, and in the resulting debacle, he had been 'outed' to the entire school, as well as the wizarding community in general.

Lucius Malfoy had been less than pleased. By all reports, the man hadn't cared if his son shagged house-elves, as long as he could sire an heir, but the news that Draco was, for all intents and purposes, a complete and utter bottom, and entirely incapable of performing any sexual act that might impregnate a woman...well...that was sufficient to induce a state of apoplexy in Lucius. Draco had been disowned and disinherited before the week was out.

Without money or a name to back him up, Draco slid to the bottom of the social ladder in Slytherin. He'd been in the infirmary seven times, recovering from hexes and beatings, before Snape laid down the law and forbade any further incidents from happening between members of his own house. That was no protection from insults, though, and they had come thick and fast.

"Hey! Last winter...Malfoy blew more guys than the North Wind!" That one brought guffaws from most of the Gryffindor table. No small number of Hufflepuffs could be heard chuckling, too.

Harry watched Malfoy intently, and Draco's face was firmly fixed above his plate of eggs and kippers. Ron was so loud that Malfoy couldn't have helped but hear him, but his eyes never left his breakfast. He looked empty, at least to Harry. After a few months, Malfoy had stopped fighting back, and the last few weeks he didn't even bother to speak or look. It was hard for Harry to believe, but sometimes he wished that Malfoy would shred his tormentors, even if Ron was one of them. Instead, the icy gray eyes that used to flash and shine just looked dead and hollow, like an automaton's.

When breakfast was over, they made their way to Potions, where the Slytherin who was forced to work with Draco did so with a look of disgust and revulsion, and at a critical stage of the process, someone obviously tampered with Draco's potion. Despite his gift for potion making, the brew boiled over quickly and covered Malfoy and the table in stinking goo. Snape was comparatively patient, but Harry could tell by the exasperated tone in the professor's voice, that he blamed Draco for not being more on guard against pranks.

The last class of the day put Ron and Harry among those walking back from Herbology, with Malfoy trailing along in the back to avoid attacks from behind.

"Get this one, mates! Malfoy's been ridden more than the Hogwarts Express. 'Course, he's the only train that's got no engine, and everyone climbs in the caboose!"

Ron's catcalls touched off a new round from the other students. Everyone laughed, except Malfoy. Draco just kept walking like a silent zombie, and Harry suspected that this was only way his rival could function in public and stay sane.

They were almost to the hall where they'd part ways, Slytherins to the dungeons, Gryffindors to the tower, but Ron couldn't help but get one more crack in before the day was done.

"Malfoy, you nancy bitch! More wizards have been through you than Platform Nine and three-quarters! You're father wasn't pissed about you having it up the bum, he was pissed because you were working all his trade!"

Occlumency had taught Harry more than a few tricks. Hiding his own mind was just one of them. Reading others' minds was the obverse side of that, and Malfoy's was practically screaming inside. Every word was a prayer for his own death. Malfoy had separated from the Slytherin pack, and was standing at a fork in the hall, paler than ever. Ron's words struck him like blows, and Harry winced as he watched.

"Enough." It came out half a whisper. Ron turned in amazement.

"What? Harry, it's fucking Ma-"

"I said fucking ENOUGH! Leave him be!" Harry knew his face must be crimson, his own skin felt tight and hot. His entire body felt like a live wire, and Ron was about to cross the line. There was no going back from here.

"Are you fucking daft? That wee bender...he's nothing but a come-farting, sperm-burping gutter whore! What the fuck are you defending him for? Did you forget 'Weasley Is Our King'? Or 'Potter Stinks'? What the hell is wrong with you?" Ron looked stunned and pissed. Given that he weighed two stone more than Harry, most people wouldn't have taken it further. Harry was not most people.

"WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU, YOU GIT? HE'S HAD ENOUGH! WHAT COULD HE POSSIBLY HAVE DONE THAT WAS WORTH ALL THIS? SHUT YOUR FUCKING GOB...OR I'LL HEX IT SHUT FOR GOOD!" Harry had lost all sense of reason, and a vein near his temple was bulging dangerously. Ron was too taken aback to do anything. He just turned and stormed off in a huff.

Harry heard the half-hearted insult as Ron rounded the corner. "Go find your little fairy friend and fuck him, then. I think yours is the only flavor he hasn't sampled yet!"

Harry looked back down the hall, but Malfoy was gone. Harry was too worked up to think clearly now. He was in it for better or worse. Before Ron was done, Gryffindor would have heard the worst side of the story long before Harry was calm enough to set foot through the portrait.

He pulled the Marauder's Map out. A tap of the wand and a whisper later, Harry was tracking the dot that was Draco Malfoy through the castle. Luckily, Malfoy wasn't moving fast, but he was headed for the Astronomy Tower, and he had a solid lead. He must have fled the second Harry started arguing with Ron. Harry had glimpsed a lot in the few seconds he'd been scanning Draco's thoughts, and he couldn't ignore what he'd seen.

Harry ran like his life depended on it. It didn't, but someone else's likely did. When Harry reached the Astronomy Tower, the door was still open, and Malfoy stood in the center of the room, pale and shaking, with an unstoppered bottle in his hand.

"EXPELLIARMUS!" The bottle shot across the room and smashed into the wall, leaving behind only a dark crimson smear and a lot of broken crystal.

Draco looked at Harry with eyes that burned for the first time in weeks. The blond looked like he was about to explode with outrage.

Harry stood, catching his breath in the doorway, his expression daring Malfoy to defend what Harry had just seen.

Draco hissed pure spite. "I'll make more. You can't stop me! You can't watch me all day and every night! Sooner or later, I'll find a way."

"What a shame that all that anger isn't being used to hex those pathetic fuckwits into shutting their gobs. Don't do this, Malfoy. For once, I really think you don't deserve it. Why did you stop fighting back?"

Draco had expected a rather different attitude from Gryffindor's Golden Boy. It was throwing his concentration completely off. "Why the fuck would you even care, Potter? It's none of your fucking business!" Draco was torn between the hope that Potter had something worthwhile to say, and the almost instinctive urge to chase him away with icy words.

Harry set his jaw. He knew a front when he saw one, and Malfoy couldn't fool him or drive him away this time. He looked directly into Draco's eyes, holding him almost hypnotized as he walked forward slowly, and with complete confidence.

Harry's voice was low and even, confident and matter of fact. "Because, I know what you're thinking. I know what it's like. When my godfather died, I lost the only person who linked me to my family. It was the worst summer of my life. I wanted to die. I didn't want to wake up and remember what had happened. Every morning hurt as bad the day it happened. I just wanted it to stop hurting. So do you."

He kept drawing closer one relaxed step at a time. Draco couldn't seem to pull his eyes away from Harry's intent and smoldering gaze. The Slytherin started to tremble rather violently.

"J-just go. I...I don't...p-please..." Draco's voice started to crack, the words just wouldn't come out the way he'd imagined them, and Potter just kept coming closer.

When he was only a few steps away, Harry's voice became little more than a heavy whisper between the two of them. "I also know...that you don't really want me to leave. You say you do, just like I did to the people who stopped me from making a terrible mistake, and just like me, you don't really want to be left alone."

It was too much, and Harry was only inches from him. Draco dropped like a puppet with the strings slashed. His wand clattered on the floor beside him and he buried his head in his hands. Harry waited in silence while Draco unleashed a few minutes of long pent up sobs, and sat down beside his long-time rival, rubbing his back to ease the tension away. Malfoy flinched a little at the contact, but relented a moment later.

"I...I can't take this. This...this isn't my life. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Everything's ruined. Don't...don't you get it? It won't be okay. Not now, not ever. My life is already over, I'm just finishing the fucking job. It's easier this way." Draco's shoulders slumped, and his face was blotchy, but his voice sounded calmer. Harry saw an opening and took it.

"What was it supposed to be? Easy? It never is, for anyone, ever. The only thing that's really different this year, is that you let them pull you down. Draco, you can only lose your dignity if you let it go. NO ONE can take it away from you, you have to surrender it before it can be lost. Things only change if you make them. Need Galleons? Find a way to earn a mountain of them, then laugh in the face of everyone who thought you couldn't do it. Need allies? Be worthy of them and they'll happen. Want respect? Hex the balls off the next prat who shoots their mouth off at your expense. I know you can do this."

Draco laughed sharply. "You think it's sooo easy, don't you?"

"No, I don't. It's hard work, and it isn't fun all the time, but it will get better. Maybe Malfoy's don't do 'patience', but getting tough is better than getting dead."

"Okay, okay, I'll give you that point. I can't believe this shit. I'm just tired, Potter. I can't believe how tired I am. I'm...I'm not good at this. I don't know what to do next. I used to know everything. Where I was from, where I was going, what was coming next. Now I'm just lost. What the hell do I do?"

"I don't have all the answers. I'm not pretending that I even have a clue about what's next. I can give you a couple of ideas, though. Stop putting up with other people's crap. Make a few examples out of them, preferably something humiliating, but not fatal. Talk to Snape about future plans, career choices, that kind of thing. You know he still worries about you. He was the only one who stood up for you, after all. I'm sure he'd help if you showed up ready to try."

Draco had a flicker of realization. "No."

"No what?"

"No, he wasn't the only one. Not anymore. The only other is you."

"Oh." Harry suddenly became intensely aware of his situation for the first time. He'd been acting on impulse and instinct, but now he was suddenly and powerfully aware of just what he was doing.

Sitting on the floor of the Astronomy Tower, rubbing Draco Malfoy's back, and having a serious, and pleasant, conversation with a boy that, a year ago, had been the one student he loathed more than any other...and liking it.

"Ummm...well...it's..." Harry hadn't the faintest idea what to say at the moment.

"Why? Why are you here, Potter? I know we never got along. You snubbed me on my first day of school...in PUBLIC of all things. I'd never been so insulted in my life. Now, six years later, you do...this. Why? And don't give me that it's the right thing shite! Right thing or no, no one else is up here. So spill!" Draco was staring at Harry like he was trying to visually dissect him and examine the innermost parts.

Honesty is a two-edged sword, but Harry finally rallied. Sometimes Gryffindor courage has its uses, and Harry let go and fell back on the truth.

"I missed you."

Draco Malfoy blanched, which was impressive, given his natural coloring. "W-what?"

"I missed you. It just seemed so wrong, you wandering around like you'd given up. I hated seeing it! I wanted the real you back. I liked you better when you got angry, and called people out, and threw hexes at anyone that crossed your path, okay? You're supposed to be like that, and this last few months has been nothing but wrong!" Harry'd finally put words to what had been in the back of his mind for weeks. He knew Malfoy was staring at him, but he just couldn't bring himself to look Draco in the face just yet.

Draco wasn't a Slytherin for no reason at all, and he was quicker on the uptake than most of his own class. The murky realm of motivations, whims and urges were an open book to him, and he wasn't waiting for Harry's eyes. He reached out and took hold of Harry's chin with one hand, balancing himself with the other as he got onto his knees, then he leaned forward and kissed Harry soundly on the mouth.

It was a kiss that was both achingly hungry, and yet remarkably subtle. It was the kind of kiss that would linger in memory as long as needed. It was full of little hints and promises, full of gratitude and open admiration, and it was full of innocence and directness in a world that was possessed precious little of either.

Harry was lost in it until they parted. He was going to say something, when Draco put a finger on his lips and shook his head.

"Don't say anything. I'm saying thank you. I have a lot to think about. We'll talk again, and I...I promise I won't do anything...well...like today. I won't. I'm going back to my room, and I'll talk to you next week. Just nod yes or no."

Harry nodded yes, still drunk on the new memory of lips working gently against his own. Draco stood up, picked up his wand, and left without another word. Harry sat in the Astronomy Tower for over an hour, sorting out his own thoughts, and feeling like he was on a Muggle roller coaster ride. Eventually, he made his way back to Gryffindor, and the inevitable row that was coming.

By Sunday, rumor had it that half a dozen Slytherins, none of them Draco, had been shipped up to the hospital ward to be cured of various grotesque magical ailments.

By Monday, Ron was in Madam Pomfrey's care, magically re-growing his newly absent testicles.

By Wednesday, Snape had announced that he'd selected a candidate for formal apprenticeship. Draco would become a true Potions master, and given his gifts in that area, his apprenticeship would likely require a bit less time than most.

And by Friday, Harry James Potter never had to worry about needing a potion made for him again (and not surprisingly, he also never had to worry about needing a wank to get off, either.)